Thursday, 5 November 2015

Not Dinkelbrot, Nigella! On Sexpo, Cooking and Semi-Tame Llamas.



  Watching Nigella dump some mashed avocado on her favourite toasted Dinkelbrot, my first thought was: Why play right into their hands? Dinkelbrot, indeed. Just say that your favourite is Melba Toast.  
  Actually, not.  In the interval before she would sing star-like Top Cs in Lucia's "Mad Scene", Dame Nellie Melba would find a quite other use for her coccygeus muscles, bribing a Covent Garden stage hand to pay a conjugal visit to her dressing room. And, apparently, not obeying the order on the signs she had asked for as part of her rider, either: 'Melba.  Silence!  SIlence!' 
  So, not Melba Toast then, what...aha!  The Innocent Primate's Vegan Nun's Communion Bread.  There - mashed avocado on a nicely slice of that, please. 
  And just an occasional winsome simper to camera.  Stop with all the grinning already. Nigella grinning, the magimix grinning - even her guests grinning. They're meant to be from Crouch End/Ladbroke Grove/carefully chosen part of the Cotswolds. They're the wrong end of forty-something.  Still working in media. WIth trust funds misappropriated by their Unlimited Liability Lloyd's underwriter fathers.  You wouldn't grin if grinding and rising bile had seen off your milk, adult and sixteen pairs of false teeth - and counting. 
  The fake guests are my main bugbear with this and other cookery programmes.  The ratio of singleton to family households in the UK is 2-1. I want to see a TV chef drive home in his Jensen Button hand-me-down, dance around the aga to Louis Armstrong, unwrap zombified cheese from reams of the brown paper that Nancy Mitford once ordered from Army and Navy to do up her father's urn - all for little, alone him. 
  We bedsitites are the norm, so start broadcasting to us as such and stop cooking for fantasy friends, all sipping daintily from a wine glass you could fit a cow's arse in, filmed through an aspirational lens filter: Lauren Conrad, Kitten Club Burlesque Pink or Luiquibeads K-Y.  

  Take my mate Robert.  Chronically lonely.  Goes from one relationship to the next without a break. Except when the girl does - up with him.  The latest one had just texted to say she's keeping the obligatory one of his sweaters, the White Company bedding and the love eggs - but he can go round between four and four-fifteen next Thursday to collect his testicles. Robert dreads what he calls the italicised days on his calendar - Guy Fawkes, Remembrance Sunday, Christmas - days when he'll be alone while everyone else hordes together to smile at each other over mashed avocado on Innocent Primate Vegan Nun's Communion Toast. 
  'Well, I'm going to have a lonely time on one of my italicised days, Rob,' I told him. 'Gigging as Madame Galina for Sexpo. We performers aren't allowed to make physical contact with the punters. How am I meant to get my chosen Warrior to put his hands just under my floating ribs if he can't touch me? And what about my kiss of life gag?  Let alone giving him a choice of end!'
  For the record, I'm planting Jamie-Ray Hartshorne out front on the Sexpo Sunday, and taking requests for Friday and Saturday, if you'd be so kind. 
  Robert dreads Christmas most of all.  He'll go to his parents for dinner; but being forced to spend the rest of the day alone frightens him. Whereas I always spend Christmas Day alone through choice. 
  And I am happy!
  'It's all about my Army and Navy Stores's brown paper mentality, Robert,' I said. 
  Except, scrap that, let's hope I never have to buy my own brown paper to wrap up my own urn.  
  'At solo-Christmases I have my favourite CDs of Carols, films to watch, my walk, and, of course, there's food. Food. Being with my family  - food! - always got in the way of me having a nicely time, so when I was seventeen - food! - I told them I wouldn't be doing a family Christmas ever again; and I've stuck with that. Food!' He was smiling. 'Look, I'm not saying to cancel on your folks, or anything, but for the rest of the time - and at all other times, actually - you must make the effort for you to enjoy. And just tell the rest of it to fuck off. Robert plans for Robert, cooks for Robert, has the argument about crosses or no crosses in brussel sprouts with Robert, lays the table for Robert, sits down with Robert, toasts Robert, serves Robert second helpings, leaves the toilet seat up for Robert, falls asleep in front of the Queen's speech with Robert, leaves the washing up for Robert.'

  And I ran him through my own typical Christmas Day Doings and Gubbins Diary.

  Preparation.

  I soak the amount of coffee grounds I'm going to need first thing in milk and leave it in the fridge overnight.
  I make my YouTube Christmas Mix Playlist: Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price, Kiri Te Kanawa, Julie Andrews, Kathleen Battle, Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters, Pinky and Perky.
  I replace the chocolate that was originally behind the last window in my advent calendar and stick the window back closed with eyelash glue. On December the sixth, you see, I will have been on the Cava, winkled through windows seven to twenty-five, and then tried to fit all the chocolates in my mouth at once.

  On the day.
  
  I put on my playlist and add water to the coffee grounds.  Bring it to the swirling boil once, take it off the heat; to the swirling boil a second time, take it off the heat; to the swirling boil a third time, take it off the heat.  Few drops of cold water in it to settle the grounds, strain into my The Little Boy who Santa Claus forgot is suing in small claims court for Emotional Distress mug.
 Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. 
 Reading aloud from A Christmas Carol. I make the ending happier still by changing the appropriate sentence to: '...and to Tiny Tim, who did die...' 
  Elevenses. Chocolate - at least ninety-percent cocoa solids - melted in milk, with honey and XO Cognac. Alternatively, I will use a box of Cadbury's Heroes and anything up to four brandy miniatures in the milk. I know I've nailed the ratios when I tilt the pan and can see no liquid. 
 I phone my parents - one in Kennington, one in Norwich - and slur Merry Christmas at them. We go through all the Yes, I know, really impossible with the trains to get anywhere - let alone get back -from panto this year. There's that one train on Christmas Eve, isn't there, going from Kings Cross north, but it's a special one, run for the Salvation Army Band. Our Fairy's going home by sled drawn by her neighbour's semi-tame llamas, but that's because her mother's got emphysema and can't make herself heard over the phone, so she really has to. 
  I ignore my mother's tactless reminder that I'm not actually in a panto this year. 
  Cava. Which you don't even think of poisoning with Orange Juice. 
  Three course lunch.  One part Gordon Ramsey to two parts James Martin, cooked on Baby Belling and eaten at table laid with a candle and napkin, special cutlery out of the drawer polished in honour of the day.  These are items from the silver service that my step-great aunt divided up in her will. They have a raised pattern of thistles.  It's like eating with gangrenous fingers. 
 And, of course, there is the talking point of my self-made table centrepiece...  
 This year I've gone for votive candles arranged on glitter-sprayed mulch, loosely bound in cranberry-juice tie-tied linen, the top knot folded into an attempt at an angel blowing a tiny brass trumpet: Make & Bake Playdough painted with Airfix AA0597 54 Brass Metallic. 
  It's a talking point all right. Even for me to myself. I wonder drunkenly aloud what on the peaceful earth it's meant to be, how did it get there and which of my aunts might have made it in whichever Hengoed District evening class she might have been attending.  Come again, maybe it's left over from Primary School?  It is the kind of thing Miss Postlethwaite would have had us making.  She used to collect, swill out and decoupage Germolene tins.  For the sake of the two Cadbury's chocolate fingers we had with our milk just fitting inside. Eventually all ninety-six of us in the Holy Trinity Juniors had one of his or her own. See, nowadays being old and cynical, I wonder how Miss Postlethwaite came to hurt herself so much she would have got through ninety-six tins of Germolene.  She wasn't married. 
  After Seven Brides for Seven Brothers I pull on my trackie bottoms over my pyjamas for a jog up Primrose Hill.  One climb for each slice of lamb, I think, so - er - sixteen in all, but must get a wriggle on to be back home in time for Everybody Loves Raymond.  
  I will make it back in time. And how?  Because I won't be slowed down by loved ones.  
  All around I hear them:  
  'See, if we'd left ten minutes earlier like I wanted to, we wouldn't have missed the sunset.'
  'We're trying to get him not to kick his new ball when he's within a group, aren't we? Thinking of others.  So you actually joining in with him kicking his new ball within a group, thoughtless of others, is really, really less than ideal, darling.' 
  'No, mummy's not still sad because she heard those silly Christmas Carols; mummy's gone onto being sad about daddy's family, about how he never makes his quotas for that bonus that might finally get us out to the Seychelles, and about his other small endowment. Those sorts of things. You'll understand when you're older.'
  
  As I jog I sing a self-affirming snatch of I'll be Lone for Christmas, You can Count me out! 

  What we don't tell Rob is this: jogging down Primrose Hill that last time, looking forward to more food, listening to all the stress-talk around and feeling smug, I saw just ahead of me a woman, also on her lonesome, also jogging along. 
  'Comrade!' I thought.
  Fifty yards from the gate by the zoo, she suddenly turned onto the grass and jogged to a tree.  She prayed, then took two chamois leather wings out of her pocket and velcroed them to the yoke of her coat. Dancing a Samba around the tree, she sang piercingly to it in Gaelic... 
  
  
  
  
  

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