I’ve clearly not been writing any posts in a while and did think that I would walk away from this website/blog all together.
Because I was becoming obsessed with stats, hits and search engines, that’s why, desperate to think of the latest click-bait to push those numbers up.
Because I found I was more intent on recording life on my phone than actually living it (that’s a BIG one). I dislike Facebook but it crossed my mind that what I was doing here had many of its negatives. And that had never been my intention.
Because I wasn’t concentrating on anything else in my life, just writing randomly and uploading it aimlessly. The result, one huge, word soup, fairly sludge-like in consistency.
BUT because I have stopped recording certain things that I find important and useful, I’ve learnt that when a moment has passed (the details of which I think I will never forget), I have trouble calling to mind even the most basic of information about it. The feeling always remains, of course. I can tell you with gushing enthusiasm, for example, my favourite book, or film. But I can’t always tell you why. And ask me what it’s about and I’m completely scuppered.
And so, for that admittedly selfish reason, I intend to continue writing up what I want to remember just in case I ever want to get my hands on recipes for a dinner party or just rediscover what’s so great about ‘A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs’. I know this is not for everyone but as I get older I realise that it’s not about trying to please others but finding things that make me feel alive. The same things might not do it for you, and that’s fine, but this year on Frock Friday I will offer what does it for me and if you want to share it please help yourselves. And I’m going to start with a little bit of Proust.
Back in August I bravely embraced my child, fighting back my selfish tears. He’d travelled the world. He’d gone to university. But I knew that this time it was different. His adult life was about to start and he wouldn’t be looking back. He was leaving the nest for the final time and my heart was breaking.
Fly my boy, fly! May your life be full of joy. Oh , my special one! Words cannot express the depth of my love for you nor my anguish at saying this one goodbye.
As I drove home from the train station I had to pull over, my eyes temporarily blinded by the tears that they could no longer contain. And I let them fall, full and heavy over my cheeks, my head awash with images of Tom. My happy, smiling Tom. Tom. The pain and the beauty of the past, brought back so intensely in the moment, took my breath away.
But now, at the start of October, it’s just bitter.
Because he came back. Why?
Nothing’s changed. He’s still my lovely, beautiful joy of a child. But why did he come back?
Now don’t get me wrong, he can always come back. But to come back when he’d never intended to (and I’d been planning to re-decorate his bedroom and turn it into a workroom) hasn’t been good for him. And, perhaps not more to the point but a consideration to bear in mind, it’s not been good for me either (workroom aside). To see him moping around when he should be out embracing life is painful. I understand his frustration at not knowing what he wants to do with his life. I do. I really do.
But I’ve discovered a frustration equally real.
That is, the very real frustration of the parent of a grown-up child living at home. A parent who knows best. Or, at least, thinks she does.
You could say it’s a sign of the times – grown-up children all over the land having to live with their parents because of student debt, lack of jobs, rising property prices.
I know this.
I also know what Tom could do to prevent this. And therein lies the rub because now he’s back in my house it’s oh so difficult not to tell him this. I’m torn between on the one hand letting him find his own way and on the other, sharing with him the wisdom of my very considerable experience.
I endeavour to do the former as I realise the importance of making your own mistakes but when I see him falter (and that’s the problem, that I can see it ), I resort to letting him have ‘my wisdom’, both barrels. But, looking down just one of the barrels of my experience-loaded shotgun Tom can only see the smoke. What’s happening to my little fun boy?
‘It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and that’s what gets results…’
This old Bananarama/Fun Boy Three song has been going round in my head for some days now and it’s only in the writing up of the words that I fully understand why…
It’s clearly time to rethink my approach ( nearly wrote ‘attack’…). I want what’s best for Tom. I want Tom to know this and to understand that I will do all in my power to support and help him.
Maybe I’m not as smart as I like to think I am.( Cue Dean Friedman song.)
Clearly the overt advice isn’t going down well. Think, think, think.
I know, I’ll make him a cake. And not just a Victoria Sponge. Oh no. A raspberry and hazelnut cake with hazelnut liqueur and mascarpone topping.
This goes down well. I may not be as smart as I like to think I am but I’m smart enough. Back in the parenting game And so, fuelled with maternal zeal, I consider my next move.
And then I have it. A calendar. A Christmas Advent Calendar. Genius! Take that Dean Friedman…Back of the net!
While Tom argues with himself about what he’s definitely not going to do with his life as he doesn’t want to sell out, and he wants to make a difference, and he doesn’t want to be a hypocrite, and he’ll think about doing that job he supposes as a stop-gap, and his arm is twitching, and his work experience is boring and he certainly wouldn’t want to be doing that at the age of 40, and he doesn’t see himself as a corporate type or the type who…. I find that I am surprisingly happy just agreeing and cutting out little felt shapes. Whereas before I might have finished his sentence with ‘the type who earns money?’ now I spend hours nodding supportively, making gently sympathetic sounds, all the while cutting out numbers, squares, holly leaves, berries…
In fact, I decide to show my love for all three grown-up children in the same felt-advent-calendar way. Hmm. Foil covered chocolate coins in the pockets? Tom likes this idea. We think as one.
Strangely, Tom has just told me that he is now leaving home to start his life. My Fun Boy is back in the game. But not without his Christmas Advent Calendar .
Where the wisdom-loaded shotgun failed Cake and Christmas prevailed. Up yours Dean Friedman!
The image of those philosophers of yesteryear, Bananarama and The Fun Boy Three, is from the siobhanfaheyrealm.blogspot.com
‘Un livre est le produit d’un autre moi que celui que nous manifestons dans nos habitudes, dans la société, dans nos vices’.
(A book is the product of another self than the one that we show in our habits, in society, in our vices.)
Discuss with reference to ‘Combray’.
It’s been a delight to read and re-read the same piece of writing. And this is particularly the case with Proust as the writing is so very dense.
At this week’s meeting we tackled the difficult question about the idea of the creative self. The quotation that makes up the title is from a work by Proust entitled ‘Contre Sainte-Beuve’, a work in which Proust attacked the notion expounded by Sainte-Beuve that the person who creates should not be distinguished (or distinguishable) from the person as they present themselves in society. Proust clearly disagreed with this, hence his writing of ‘Contre Sainte-Beuve’.
He then went on to challenge Sainte-Beuve’s supposition further in his writing of ‘A la Recherche du Temps Perdu’. And nowhere is there greater evidence of this than in Combray where we are presented with the great composer and musician, Vinteuil, who is seen in society as someone to be pitied.
One specific example : Vinteuil
In his devotional duties as father his attention to his wayward daughter is considered misplaced. Even in a detail as slight as adjusting his daughter’s shawl to prevent her from feeling cold he renders himself ridiculous seeking to protect a daughter who seems to grow in strength on the condition that he diminishes. The assumption is obvious – a seemingly weak and blind father cannot be capable of great artistic achievement. Oh how wrong this is and when we read ‘Un Amour de Swann’ we see Swann’s surprise, and downright denial, when he discovers that the ‘phrase musicale’ that he so loves is by Vinteuil.
-Je connais bien quelqu’un qui s’appelle Vinteuil, dit Swann, en pensant au professeur de piano des deux soeurs de ma grand-mère.
– C’est peut-être lui, s’écria Mme Verdurin.
-Oh! non, répondit Swann en riant. Si vous l’aviez vu deux minutes, vous ne vous poseriez pas la question…mais ce pourrait être un parent …, cela serait assez triste, mais enfin un homme de génie peut être le cousin d’une vieille bête. …
-I know someone called Vinteuil, said Swann, thinking of the piano teacher to my grandmother’s two sisters.
-It’s perhaps him, exclaimed Mme Verdurin.
-Oh!No, Swann replied laughing. You’d only have to see him for 2 minutes to know not to ask that question…but he could be related…, it would be quite sad, but then a man of genius can be the cousin of an old fool…
one general observation
Ironically, Swann, as an artist ‘manqué’, is also presented as a fool in love in ‘Un Amour de Swann’ . This contrasts with the Swann we see in ‘Combray’, where Proust also hints at another Swann, the one interested in art and ideas yet who conceals what he really feels. Personality itself is seen as multi-faceted where the facets are sometimes contradictory and this informs Proust’s notion of the artist.
one real-life example
And who better to provide us with this than Proust himself? Turned down for publication by the very eminent André Gide because he deemed that the Proust that he had met was too lightweight to have written anything of particular merit, it was only later, when he had actually read Proust’s work, that Gide realised the magnitude of the mistake he had made.
Now, I’ve never been to a book group where the start of a novel has been discussed with such enthusiasm nor indeed at such length, nor indeed read and re-read so many times.
And it’s been a joy.
And so, it’s with a mixture of regret – at leaving Combray behind – and excitement – at what’s to come – that I have to say that, at last, it is time to move on…
Next meeting : ‘Un Amour de Swann’ – love and jealousy
After bonding with the cat formerly known as the Devious Defecator, I am now attuned to all things pet-y.
When my good friend Pam calls and tells me all ( and I mean ALL) about her dog Honey’s hilarious exploits (‘Oh she’s a hoot!’), I no longer zone out, wander off to the kitchen to fetch myself a coffee, to return in time to pick up the receiver and say, ‘Oh yeah?’
Although zoning out has often brought with it its own unforeseen consequences…such as unwittingly subjecting myself to Pam’s favourite Honey-rings-the-doorbell trick ( imagine the scene : door bell rings, I answer. I look down, I see Honey framed in the doorway. Alone. Muddy front paws already up on the doorstep. Seconds later, attempting to hide the horror in my eyes, Pam’s head pops into the frame – ‘We’re here!’ If only I’d paid attention on the phone…).
Once in, the funniest, most beautiful and tallest labradoodle in the world continues to delight and entrance…Pam. Oh how she laughed when Honey went into the kitchen, and helped herself to a lasagne I’d made for tea. ‘She’s such a hoot!’ ‘Isn’t she!’
Then there was the time when ‘My lovely little funny Honey bunny’ sat in my postage-stamp of a pond while Pam sat and watched her. Chortling away. As for me, I was transported back to a time when friends (probably Pam) would allow their toddlers to crunch their biscuits into my carpets or wave their wax crayons scarily close to my newly painted walls. And I couldn’t do a thing about it.
But now I’ve changed. Or at least I’m changing, after the cat (formerly known as the Devious Defecator) experience. Take last week, for instance, when Pam and I left Honey home alone. Even I felt a strange tugging on the heart strings to see the oversized puppy, huge muddy paws up on the sofa, beautiful face tilted beseeching to the right, watching us walk away. Without her.
And I didn’t even think, never mind say ‘Why?’ when an old friend bent her head forward and whispered confessionally into my ear, ‘I’ve got a puppy.’ As she waxed lyrical about her lovely, funny bichon frise her face took on a beatific glow. ‘It’s like having a baby! Oh my word! It really is.’
Then it hits me.
I gasp as I foresee a future full of wellies, pooper scoopers, Pedigree Chum and a faint wet dog smell…
Now there’s no frock for this Friday just a pair of jeans and a top from Marks and Spencers!
Straight leg jeans £22.50 M&S Indigo Collection
Pretty, flowing pull-on top £29.50 M&S Limited Edition
Lovely delicate blouse. Fewer ruffles on the sleeves would make it perfect. Dresses up jeans a treat.
Time to get myself togged up for all those dog walks. I’m just going to phone Pam to see if I can tag along.
..to arrive with my parcel. And I have been for hours. I’d forgotten just how frustrating that can be.
My wait so far
7 a.m. Got up. Showered before Gabriel left because, as everyone knows, the moment you decide to take a shower when you’re in the house alone the doorbell goes.
And I know this from bitter having-to-wait-in experience.
The time when I tripped over the towel and hit my head on the side of the wash basin only to drag myself to the window and see the delivery man speed off in his van springs to mind.
As does the time when I made myself a cup of tea. As the kettle clicked off so the delivery man rang the bell. Once. As I walked past the front door, ever-vigilant, cup of tea in hand, I saw him through the frosted panes post the ‘called-but-you-weren’t-in’ card. I opened the door in time to see him running off at speed, seemingly unable to hear my hysterical cries of ‘Wait! I’m in!’ Perhaps he’d exceeded his 1 minute per delivery target time. Or he just wanted to piss the hell out of me. As I watched the delivery van zoom down the road I can safely say he succeeded in doing the latter.
7.30 a.m. Up and ready. Checked outside for signs of van. Coming. Or going. Opened all doors in the house and turned off the radio which Gabriel had left on in the kitchen. All for optimum hearing-the-bell conditions.
9.00 a.m. Decided to load the dishwasher and the washing machine, thinking may as well while temporarily captive. So much for optimum hearing-the-bell conditions…The whooshing and gurgling of the water pipes made me beat a hasty retreat to the living room where I remained on guilty look-out for a while. Felt bored and tempted to chance it back in the kitchen to make a cup of tea but the thought of a note with the details of a collection depot in the middle of nowhere which I might have to go to in 48 hours stopped me.
10.00 a.m. I tried to read the Guardian online. Found a very silly cat quiz and some even sillier pictures of famous paintings where the key figures have been turned into cats. Really. Funny how, when you tune in to something, you suddenly start noticing them everywhere. The Meowna Lisa…who would have thought it?
A van pulled up outside. Promising. I hovered in the hall waiting for the doorbell to ring. Which it did. I experienced a peak of exhilaration. ‘Would you mind taking this for … next door?’ Followed by a trough of disappointment.
11.00 a.m. Got bored. Moved to the bedroom. Made the bed. May as well. Caved in and switched on the radio. Heard something ringing. Couldn’t have been the doorbell but I went downstairs to check. Just in case. No tell-tale ‘we’ve been’ notes on the doormat. Phew! Returned to the bedroom and fluttered around, picking up socks and other articles of clothing, one at a time, and putting them into the wash basket.
11.30 a.m. Machine noise finished in the kitchen. Was it too early to have lunch? No. Heard that strange not-the-doorbell ring again. What was it?
It took me a while to figure out that it was a What’s App message from Tom, my son who’s not a child any more (although he does a mighty fine impression), informing me that he’s arriving at Bristol airport tomorrow at 5.
Tom:‘Any chance of a lift?’
Me: ‘Of course.’
Tom:‘i’m off to london at 8 that eve so will be a pretty quick turnaround – actually don’t suppose i could ask another favour – would you be able to wash my pink shirt and the blue and white small checked one?’
With the midwife’s words ‘rod for your own back‘ ringing in my ears (and that was when we took our first baby home ) I checked the front door and looked out of the window -all clear – before rushing upstairs to Tom’s room, a maelstrom of emotions and thoughts eddying around in my head.
‘Shouldn’t do it.’
‘Happy to help if I can.’
‘Is it good to make things too easy?’
‘He’s off to his girlfriend’s graduation, don’t want him to turn up looking a mess.’
‘But perhaps I’m not helping her – or him – by doing his washing for him.’
‘But I have the time.’
‘He should have done this before he went away.’
‘He would do this for me.’
And that final point was the clincher, the one that if it didn’t erase all others, it certainly put them into perspective.
It wasn’t about gender inequality, and it certainly wasn’t all about point-scoring. As for his washing, I don’t ever do it, thus explaining the carpet of clothes on his bedroom floor while he’s staying with us (which makes me feel vaguely hypocritical to mention as I’ve just spent quite some time this morning trying to separate the pants from the shag-pile in my own room). Clearly, he rarely does it either. But that’s up to him. No, it was about helping out someone you love if you can. I love him and, trapped here in my own house with nothing to do but wait, I certainly could.
Now: Still waiting BUT the doorbell has just rung as I’m putting Tom’s shirts into the washing machine! My wait could soon be over. Need to get Tom’s shirts in first. There. Done. It’s ringing again. For the second time.
‘Mrs Morgan? A delivery for you!’
It’s arrived. And as I close the door I reflect on what a great morning I’ve had.
And on all the jobs I’ll be able to get him to do when he does finally make it back home for a week or two.
Did I say that it wasn’t allabout point-scoring? Well, it isn’t. Not completely…
And as for gender inequality, worry not as I’m looking forward to re-dressing the balance and preparing him for the outside world.
I’m just off to the shops to buy the ingredients to make my Boeuf en Daube for Monday evening’s ‘Life in Squares’. But, it just occurred to me that it might be a pleasant idea to think of a Bloomsbury-inspired frock for this fine July morning.
Possibly too much for the end of July?
What about this one?
The sun may be out today but it’s not that hot.
But then I found this one. In this painting what seems to be the same dress looks perfectly decent to go out in on a sunny day. Long, floaty, cool. So, it might need a wrap to protect against the cold, but apart from that, it looks perfect.
And so remind me, which one did Vanessa Bell have a relationship with?
International Food Parties – the ultimate indulgence
I’m teaching English at the moment to Montse, a girl from Chile, and Clara, a girl from Italy, and last Friday we decided to host an International Food Party.
In case you haven’t heard of one before, and you can’t possibly work out what one is for yourself, let me enlighten you.
An International Food Party is a party where people from different countries get together and each brings a typical national dish to share. A cultural, language, food exchange , it’s such an amazing ‘thing’ on so many levels. Apart from one. Or possibly two.
Montse chose to prepare ‘Calzones Rotos‘ and Clara opted for her favourite dish, ‘Gramignia con Salsiccia‘, neither of which I had tasted, let alone heard of, before.
And so, we bought the ingredients. Couldn’t get the gramignia for love nor money so, after much soul-searching and concern that this would drastically change the essential nature of the dish, Clara went for serpentini.
And then the cooking fun began…
gramignia (Serpentini )con salsiccia
1 pack gramignia
1 Finely chop 2 onions.
2 Put in pan with olive oil and cook until soft.
3 Skin the sausages and add the sausage meat to the onions.
4 Stir until cooked.
5. Add the milk a little at a time.
6 Grate the parmesan and add to the sauce.
7 When you’ve made the sauce cook the pasta.
8 Add the pasta to the sauce.
Serve and add more grated parmesan.
The charming thing about this recipe is that Clara called her grandmother to get it. And the reason that we have no amounts (other than for the sausage) is that Clara’s grandmother (and now Clara) cooks by taste and how it looks.
Next up, Montse’s Calzones Rotos.
These are sweet pastries from Chile, called Calzones Rotos because they were said to resemble the torn underwear of the pastry vendor who sold them. As a gust of wind blew her skirt up so her customers thought her pastries looked not dissimilar in shape to her torn undergarments…
But how to make them? Let alone give them their distinctive shape.
Calzones Rotos. Challenging on oh so many levels. Not least because I don’t think Montse wanted to cook them at all… And so, just minutes before our guests arrived, Montse started to make the dough for her dish. It was a case of all hands on deck (explaining the absence of photos).
The recipe : Calzones Rotos
500 g plain flour
2 cups sugar
zest of half a lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
half a cup of milk
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
half a cup of melted margarine
vegetable oil for frying
icing sugar to dust when finished
1 Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then add the sugar.
2 Add the 2 eggs, melted margarine, vanilla essence.
3 Make a dough.
4 Roll out and cut into strips.
5 Make a slit in each strip then twist (somehow).
6 Fry in hot vegetable oil until golden brown on each side. When cooked place on kitchen paper to remove excess oil.
7 Place on serving plate then dust with icing sugar.
Montse did all this but after she added the wet ingredients the contents of her bowl looked very, very wrong. The dough looked less doughy and more wet cake mixture-y.
Too wet to roll.
We added more sugar. Then more flour. Then more sugar. Then more flour.
Roll time! By this time our guests had arrived with their food offerings.
As Montse created her works of pastry art, Clara and I swept up the sugar and flour that now covered the table…and floor.
10 very interesting dough shapes later and Montse was ready to fry (with enough dough left over to make at least another 20 …)
The recipe said to fry for 3 seconds on each side but when Montse did this she had a floppy-sloppy mess which dripped back into the pan as soon as she tried to scoop it out.
So we took a leaf out of Clara’s cooking book, waiting until the fried pastry seemed done. Not an exact science, perhaps, and we did end up with quite a few burnt offerings, but overall we ended up with enough perfect calzones rotos to satisfy everyone.
Not sure if the calzones rotos looked like calzones rotos but they tasted sweet, lemony, with a lovely hint of vanilla.
Think we’re going to have to take up Sarah’s step-counting challenge…
For our fourth Proust book group meeting we discussed the idea of ‘loss of innocence’ in Combray.
So, what did we come up with?
That Combray can be seen as an earthly paradise, a Garden of Eden, where the narrator encounters the world from the safety of his comfortable childhood. A before-the-fall world.
Yet all the reasons for the fall are in place: Combray contains within germ all that will unfold throughout the rest of the novel.
However, loss of innocence proved difficult to pin down, raising more questions than answers.
Is it in the anguish suffered for want of his mother’s goodnight kiss?
Or is it in seeing the fullness of individuals? Flaws and all?
Francoise, when the narrator sees her kill the chicken.
The actions of Mlle Vinteuil and her lover towards her father’s picture.
Meeting the woman in pink silk, so representative of women he would go on to meet, at his uncle Adolphe’s.
Seeing Mme de Guermantes in church at last, pimple and all.
Is it in the disappointment (or, sometimes, elation) at discovering that the world is not really as we think it is? And that people aren’t as we think they are?
When the narrator refers to himself as Dante, and his father and grandfather as Virgil, leading him away from temptation on a Combray walk, is his childhood self longing to mix with a world that is not quite within his reach?
Perhaps, as the narrator is, in the main, a passive observer in Combray. His loss of innocence is based less in act and more in observation, feeling and thought.
Is Combray where the narrator longs to return to recapture his innocence?
As you can see, we found this one tricky.
But isn’t it funny (or, perhaps, perfectly understandable), that when you re-read a passage you see something that you’d initially missed? And you see it oh so clearly! Suddenly we heard Proust’s wit and humour everywhere.
And so it came as no surprise when Connie wrote saying that this is exactly what had happened to her with ‘loss of innocence’. (Click to read Connie’s post).
As for the paintings referred to in Combray I leave you with just one.
‘Lost Illusions’ Gleyre
The key is in the title…
Next Book Group Meeting – 4
Thursday July 2nd
Next up –
‘une foule de vérités relatives aux passions, aux caractères, aux moeurs'(Proust). Discuss Combray in light of this description.
Just used Dropbox to access our latest post on Sarah’s mission to count steps and walk her way to health and happiness. Why? Because it takes an eternity to copy and paste and re-format Word documents into WordPress, that’s why. There must be an easier way!? And, at the moment, I’m up to my eyeballs cooking for an International Food Party and planning differentiated lessons. Just when I thought I’d finished with all that…
Dropbox? The result is not ideal, as you can see ( you have to click on ‘steps’ above which takes you to the piece) and so, when I get the time, I will copy, paste and re-format this post. Promise.