Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Once upon a time in west London

You are not the kind of gal who would be at a place like this at this time of morning.

But the fridge is barren and it's nearly high noon.

Online supermarkets are lawless territories. They remind you of the wild west, or at least the spaghetti west, where knackered homesteaders are forever waiting around for stagecoaches.

The man with the van finally arrives. You try not to panic. You know something weird will ambush you from the grocery bags.

He tells you to have a good day. You are not fooled. You unpack gingerly.

Rocket Science.
You watch like a hawk the food item gremlin: that one item of shopping that looked delicious in the picture, but is actually crap in real life.

You are no turnip. You know it will jump out and sneer at you like Jack Palance.

This time it's the rice.

You ordered rice. In a bag.

The man with a van has brought you vacuum-packed, half-cooked, microwavable rice. Not in a bag.

Though you are an old hand at Molvanian marketing, the label really takes the cake:
We understand that cooking rice can be a chore. That's why we have done all the hard work for you. Rice so good you will never need to cook it from scratch again. Microwavable in two minutes. Suitable for vegetarians. 
You mumble "suitable for idiots". Then you feel like an idiot. Luckily no one is watching, except maybe Jack Palance.

You chuck the inferior bag-less rice into the microwave in a huff.

You lean against the counter and recall other hateful food impostors of note: low-fat yogurt, non-alcoholic beer, margarine, decaf anything.

You wonder: when did cooking bog standard rice become challenging? How do these rice-baffled people manage to spoon breakfast cereal into the correct location? How do they muster the energy to chew cake?

That beloved word triggers a vivid memory of every beautiful piece of cake you've ever met in every gin joint in this town. Chocolate cake. Coffee cake. Banana cake. Lemon cake. Carrot cake.

Then you realize with a start that you've let the microwave run far longer than two minutes. Now you have scorched crap rice all over your microwave.

You are a turnip. The food item gremlins - perhaps even the terrorists - have won.

Somewhere, Jack Palance is smiling.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Cookie monster

A word of advice to hostage negotiators: biscuits.

I spent last week studying for exams, literally locked in my bedroom. 

One evening I forgot to remove the key from the bedroom door and hide it from the kids. This same evening our postman delivered a dehumidifier, which Papa unwrapped using a paring knife that he forgot to put back in the kitchen.

Some regions have a wet season and a dry season. England has a wet season and a moldy season, thus the dehumidifier. 

Next morning at 9am, or 'late-o-clock' as it is known in pre-school parlance, Ali ran down the hallway and slammed the bedroom door. Then 'click'...she locked it. 

My heart plummeted to my toes. I called Papa in a flapping panic. I summoned some helpful neighbours by flapping about some more.

We gathered nervously outside the door and planned. Our first strategy was to try talking the self-holding hostage into releasing herself.

"Send one million unmarked biscuits."
"Ali, please unlock the door?"



Nada. Zip. 

We began to worry that the hostage had bound and gagged herself.

The guys talked about shouldering the door.

I dialed a locksmith. 

Then suddenly - hallelujah - she spoke!

 "Needa biscuit."

I stopped flapping long enough to slide a biscuit under the door.

"How about a biscuit in exchange for the keys?" 

Crunch, crunch, crunch. 


"Outa biscuit."

More flapping. Some swearing. Much gnashing of teeth. 

The guys tried a screwdriver to no avail. 

"No biscuit," commented Ali helpfully from the other side.   

Papa had a thought: "Can somebody get me a knife from the kitchen?"

Swoosh - the tip of a paring knife slid under the door. 

"Honey," squeaked Papa in falsetto, "why does our child have a knife?"

We remembered the dehumidifier. This memory triggered some swearing on the topic of remembering to return knives to the kitchen. And some swearing on the topic of remembering to remove keys from locks within child-reach.

Then we stopped swearing and wondered aloud if the paring knife was an olive branch. Was Ali now cooperating with verbal commands? Such a thing would be an exciting and unprecedented new milestone. 

"Ali, can you pull the keys out of the door?" 



"Nee. Da. Bis. Cuit."

The guys had the handle off the door now. But they found the key in a half-turned state, which made it difficult to push out. Papa dashed to the kitchen. Faced with a distinct lack of paring knives, he returned with the European substitute: a fondue fork. 

Two fondue fork jiggles later and pop - out came the keys.

Realizing that we had run out of biscuits, Ali changed tactics.

"Here you go," she said sweetly, pushing the keys under the door.  

Click: the door flew open.  Papa swooped in to scour the landscape for any sharp objects in a fifty mile radius. 

"Mama!" said my sweet, smiling cherub. 

"Ali!" said her gullable mama. 


Thursday, 12 January 2012

Seasonal disaffection

I hate this time of year. You probably do too. You probably hate me for mentioning it. I am likewise annoyed.

Of course we should both remember ducklings and green shoots. There will be Morris dancers and other goofy expressions of folksy joy.

I normally combat January by eating a continuous stream of chocolate biscuits, however I just ran out of biscuits.

So now I'm going to try 'looking on the bright side', a seasonal disaffection technique I read about in an eye-blisteringly bad in-flight magazine.

Brightness item one: Airplane barf bags! Did you know they double as colouring books? They do! Kids love 'em, which means corresponding grown-ups are spared from airborne mental breakdown.

Give the kids some barf bags and pens and presto: they magically cease their campaign of abuse against business travelers worldwide.
Baby kangaroo sold separately.
Plus you get some nice artwork to send off to Grandma, who is contractually obligated to accept such masterpieces with grace and gloat over them without barfing (cheers, Mom).

Of course if Grandma loses composure and barfs mid-gloat, she will now be prepared.

On the topic of barfing and air travel, there is a man at the passport control queue of Heathrow airport who should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I don't know his real name, so I'll call him Super Heathrow Man. He is seven feet tall and probably a mutant.

Faced with a passport queue the length of Brazil last week, Ali reacted like a screaming cat held over a bathtub of lava. I shared her feeling, but managed to reign in my screaming.

Fellow travellers watched us with growing trepidation. The chickens were restless. A ticker-tape of 'I blame the parents' and 'kids these days' flickered across their eyeballs. Suddenly we found them closing in on us like a net.

In dashed Super Heathrow Man, parting the queue like Moses. He quashed a wimpy chorus of 'queue juuuuuumping!' with one swipe of his mighty hand. He scooped up our tired cat-lava family and spirited us away to the 'priority queue'.

Did you know such a thing exists at Heathrow? A passport 'priority queue' for banshee travelers? It does! Hallelujah!

How did Super Heathrow Man explain his kindness and bravery? With classic English modesty: "I hate the sound of screaming kids."

So next time you are in Heathrow, I suggest you morph into a hysterical lava-threatened cat and request to be carried off in the arms of Super Heathrow Man. If you are not sectioned, you will save yourself loads of time and bother.

And good luck with January. Remember green shoots and Morris dancers. Something to look forward to...if that's your thing.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Playing with fire

The trouble with 'Mama School' (as Ana calls it) is exams.

January exam preparation leaves little time for faffing and whimsy, or blogging.

I'll light the fire. 
However, here I am eating a biscuit anyway.

So there! So happy New Year!

Was yours magical? Mine certainly was.

I spent it in a candlelit apartment in the clouds, in the company of wonderful tall and short people and one yet to be born (not mine - don't get excited).

The kids burned themselves on sparklers and the adults burned themselves on oil fondue. We engaged in a dodgy traditional game that involves pouring molten metal into cold water and demanding answers from the suggestive shapes that emerge.

Apparently residents of Berlin can only buy missiles on the last week of the year. The local term for 'missiles' is 'fireworks', which rather gives England a run for its money in the understatement department.

Due to a shortage of missiles the rest of the year, the place goes nuts on New Year's Eve.

Bonkers, hopping, flapping mad.

See here:

People fire missiles from balconies into the street. From the street, they take aim at windows. Momentarily forgetting their lack of fire-retardant titanium exoskeletons, they even take aim at each other.

This practice is known locally as 'fun' and 'games' and 'chill out English lady'.

I saw people juggling flaming torches on slanted rooftops without safety railings.

Others set sail their dreams on fire lanterns from riverbanks, which drifted into the sky like sluggish nocturnal butterflies, miraculously impervious to the missiles.

Everyone involved in the firestorm consumed vast galaxies of beer within a gathering blanket of missile smoke.

It was pure scary magic.

I always say that Berlin is magical. But it isn't actually the place. Rather, some of my favourite people live there. People I share a past, a future, and some of my very best fire lantern dreams with.

As I'm told they say in Iceland: thank you for all years past.