Sunday, 19 July 2015

On forgotten remembrances

My dad is gone and not gone. The only way I deal with this is forgetting. If I was the drinking sort, this would be a bit of a problem. If I was the career driven sort, I'd be a millionaire. Given that I'm the studious sort, it's a slightly more worthy way of making stuff go away. When I was at university originally, my old life and family in Hereford were gladly and thankfully lost at the back of the mental cupboard. 

As I get older it occurs to me that there is so much else I've forgotten. Not just some of the unreally traumatic bits, but the valuable too. Whether it is a family holiday, an old family friend or even just a pet I used to have, I'm not sure why, whether it's a normal part of age or life. Or whether it's something more perniciously psychological. 

Do people who live in the same village they grew up in, surrounded by physical manifestations of memory retain more? Is my emotional amnesia due to a combination of a thirst for knowledge and the inevitable grief caused by loss.  By looking for connections, have I lost the obvious ones? And by trying to distance myself to avoid being vulnerable, I've actually lost myself. Or are some people hard wired to keep the stories alive and I'm simply not like that?

I've spent so much time avoiding or hiding from family I think I've forgotten it's importance in the cultivation and maintenance of what made me, me. It's not that I want to sit there with a notebook and pen and write my family stories but when I'm with them, they jog so many distant images, its almost unbearable. The sounds of my fathers' friends enjoying themselves is the sweetest music. To sit and listen and simply be is to revert to being twelve. 

I was touched by the memory of my father today in an unusually visceral way. I'm used to my wonderful aunt, and she keeps my dad and grandparents alive in her own unique way. She is so like him in presence. Her voice encapsulates all that I love about them all. The pattern of speech is my grandad and the laugh is pure grandma. She is inspeakably special to me. 

But it was dad's old motorbike police partner that did for me today. I didn't remember the gentleman but inevitably he remembered me. 'Bob's daughter'. I've not been called that for many years and it was like being a kid when I went to meet dad at the police station. His Wirral humour was suitably and familiarly macabre on recounting the usual decapitation/body parts stories, so beloved by ex police officers. I genuinely wish I could run back and ask him everything that he could tell me about dad. God I hope we meet again. 

I am becoming cautious about my year away because I'm sure it's just an escape from negligible responsibilities and an avoidance of an empty familial ache. But in the meantime I'm determined to see everyone more, appreciate and remember how they helped shape me. When I get back, I want to be the best aunt I can me, after all, I have the best role model! 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Just an average birthday...

This weekend has seen a return to personal form on a level not known since about October last year. There is clearly a correlation between holidays, lack of stress, and being able to live a normal active life. Or it's just taken me six months to get over completing my MA and emerge, blinking mole-like, from  dark book baggage.    

On my return from foreign parts last week my brother called me to remind me about the imminent maternal birthday festivities. He was wondering when the heck I was arriving on 6th June. My brother stresses a lot. Strange, because I don't worry about stuff at all. 

Oh no. 

To be fair he was right to be worried. It turns out I had the wrong weekend in my befuddled head. After a hurried ticket booking and further consultation with the man of the family, everything was organised. All I had to do was get to Pewsey at 9.30 and he would pick me up. I managed it despite over-sleeping and set a world record for crossing London in the process. 

We arrived at his and I finally had my first cup of tea of the day. My nephew hid under a cushion. So my sister in law decided that we'd better put on our party faces as we didn't want to send anyone else scurrying under the soft furnishings. Chris made a fabulous eggs benedict and we sat in the sunny garden, discussing food. It's pretty much staple conversational fodder in our family. 

My brother is proud to announce that in four years he's grown one stalk of purple asparagus. He reports it tasted the same as green. I'm glad we cleared that up.

Roo's favourite colour is red. And he enjoys writing his name. He also loves cars, doing roly-polys, telling stories, swimming, BMX tracking around the garden, and playing catch with Izzy the dog. He doesn't do sprinting competitions at school because he isn't fast enough to win. After all it's not the taking part... His ambition is to explore the jungle. He had me in stitches. He's also a perfect budding worry-wart. On being left in the car, we conspired to drive away; neither of us have a driving licence. He thought about it with a naughty smile, then looked panicked. 'We can't drive', he announced, 'we'd be 'rrested'. 

True. I have a feeling I'm going to have to work on his more anarchistic side. 

The party went off well, despite the many and varied ailments of the family grandees. The pub was a lucky find given that someone had mixed up The Snooty Fox and the The Fox. Chris had asked me about venues and mentioned foxes. I thought it was the 'other' fox so he booked this fox. We were clearly utterly foxed. But thankfully the landlady was charming and the food was all home made. The apple crumble was excellent according to those in the know. My uncle only deals in cider apples so went for the icecream. Wise man. Roo agreed that the strawberry was the best he'd ever had. He's a card. 

After all the fox kerfuffle, we went to see the White Horse. Chris and Roo demonstrated the art of rolling down hills, given a piquant twist of sheep droppings and the boys being in their best party clothes. My mum and uncle enjoyed the walk from the comfort of their stationary vehicle. My family is truly priceless. 

After an excellent day, it was rounded off by a walk in a jungle-like Pewsey nature reserve, and Roo being excited by the trains and tannoy at the station. I only know one person in Pewsey but we haven't spoken in years. Turns out she was standing on the platform, catching  the identical train back to London that I was. Coincidence made for a great ending of a really good day. 

And the most exciting thing? Next week I get to introduce my nephew to Dippy at the Natural History Museum! 

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Let them eat cake...

Today was something of a first and a last for me. The first time I've been to a garden party and wandered aimlessly around Buckingham Palace gardens. And probably the last time I'll be allowed back. Not that I did anything naughty just that that's what most of my readers would presume...


Queue hats...
Best laid plans of mice and harridans meant that I didn't actually leave my office until after 2pm for a 2pm start, which was nice. On the bright side it meant I was expecting queues from Buck House to the home counties. Wherever they are. The event was part of the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the Women's Institute.

I wasn't disappointed, the queue from the main gate was along most of Constitution Hill, but fortunately it disappeared before I found my intended queue at Hyde Park Corner. I whiled away the time chatting with a lovely lady from Wiltshire - I think - who was looking for her mum as she knew she was there and wearing a hat...

Hats. There were a lot of them.

I was definitely in the minority as I didn't have one as a) my head is slightly larger than Phobos and b) it was a trifle windy and I'm actually not as daft as I look.

Fortunately the extremely well behaved queue moved quite quickly and after a quick look at my passport and a suppressed smirk from the policeman we were inside. I forgot to mention, we were warned clearly, everywhere, that no pictures were to be taken and phones should be switched off.

It seemed only I read that bit...

Hats. And cranes.
There were endless excited ladies of a certain age having their photo taken amongst Lizzy's shrubbery, I even took one for the nice lady from Wiltshire, though had to decline one of me as yes said phone was firmly switched off.

We meandered through the fabulous parkland with no idea of where we were going until we reached a frenzy of hats and heels. As near as I could gather this was waiting to meet a royal lady in a hat who also probably had heels. Sort of a cult thing was all I could thing.

At which point I fell in to conversation with a fabulous lady from Oxford. When I say conversation I really mean cackling, lets's just say we were kindred spirits and had an almost identical sense of the occasion...

Nobody but me and a tree :-)
Eventually she went off to attempt to get near the tea tent as I wandered off to have a snout round the garden. I didn't actually get massively far as I found a bench by the lake under a glorious tree where I sat and thought. Living in London you don't get much time in the open to yourself and there was something utterly magical about being so isolated with the sound of the wind in the trees drowning the traffic on Grosvenor Place and beyond.

A lady came to join me, I explained that I was simply enjoying the peace because normally in London I get so little, she made to go but I insisted she was welcome. It turns out she was from Norfolk so I naturally asked whereabouts, she launched in to a familiar explanation of "about 15 miles south of Norwich" when I interrupted her and said where my Norfolk house is. We chatted amiably for quite a while before we wandered back towards the tea tent as she explained she'd come down from Norfolk with friends and she'd mislaid them. Oops. Turned out that you will always find a Norfolk lass near food as they were all there when we wandered in.

Band. Ladies. Hats.
In the queue I began chatting with a lady from Northamptonshire, I think, she'd left at 7am to get there! I admitted I didn't leave until 2pm... She couldn't quite get that I was happy to have just one small slice of victoria sponge and a cup of tea. For me the joy was in simply being out and soaking up the atmosphere.

As the day wore on I slowly wandered towards one of the two military bands that were entertaining the massed hats though I was slightly distracted by a tub of ice cream that a young man with a tray offered me. It would have been rude to say no...

After a few hours of being windswept I decided it was time to head home, I'd toyed with the idea of popping in to Duke's for a martini as I was so close, or maybe wandering up to Claridge's for similar, but as ever the feeling of not wanting to drink alone in a place won over so I scuttled to Green Park and the journey to Contrary Towers.

It was a pity I didn't bump in to any of the ladies I wanted to bump in to but it was also unsurprising and really didn't detract from what was a very pleasant afternoon.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Crystallising Pipedreams

Here I am back in the very village where I first had thoughts which eventually coalesced into what is now The Plan. I have extremely fond memories of this place; romantic, 40th birthday, happy, contented, a certain kind of home coming. 

It was mere a stepping stone on the way to where I am now regarding The Plan, and even Orebić was a continuation of this journey. I've had a spectacular holiday, of course, but it was also another pause to see if I could live in a cottage, alone, in a foreign country, and not go crazy in the process. I'm aware that a fortnight is not a year, and I still have many concerns. 

I've been listening to two American ladies honestly discussing ex-pat life, and their experiences have given me more insight into the pleasures and challenges than I ever thought possible. Their discussions around language, frustrations, isolation, making friends, cultural differences, jobs and employment, health etc etc have enabled me to re-assess my naive 'oh everything will be fine' attitude. 

It's one thing to have a pipedream, an another to set the process going in order to make it happen. Crystallising the Dreams. Or alternatively in Croatian, sve je moguće. I think that pretty much sums up what I've been having mental fun with recently. How can you prepare for what is going to be a fullfilment of a dream? It makes the saving, language learning, and practical research simple in comparison. 

Many people spending time in a different country may wonder why I'm agonising about this so much. 'Is it that a big a deal', they'd query. It's not like I've never travelled, or am from an unadventurous family. I mean, when my brother was fed up of family, he ran away to Barcelona, and had to be sent back by the authorities! We are fairly intrepid, so I think the podcast ladies have stirred up some deeply embedded insecurities. 

I keep coming back to the question -what the hell am I going to do here for a year? I'm oscillating between putting Croatian art history on the map, writing a historical novel reconstructing the world of August I of Saxony, continuing my art podcasts...or even all of the above, but this feels rather narrow in scope. And above all 'static'. 

I've realised this last few months that being stationary is very bad for me - actually I've always know this. I've climbed mountains, walked miles along the coast, swam extensively and regularly, and frankly I haven't felt better. Not since the last holiday anyway. So whatever I do here, can't see me sat at a computer for 7 hours a day. Maybe volunteer my gardening services? Or moonlight on a fishing boat?? Teach yoga (badly) to the squirrels???

Yes I know, I think far too much. I should let go of expectations and judgement, and simply enjoy the process of planning, whilst letting the future take care of itself. After all I am really adaptable, confident, and certain I can do anything. What can I say - I'm trying to lighten up. Which is an appropriate place to end this ramble; the sun is heading westwards towards the islands of Lopud and Šipan, turning the tiny village of Donje Celo into a golden setting for the polished coral-red rooftops. A perfect jewel to aid contemplation indeed. 

Doing nothing special...

Yesterday afternoon I received a whatsapp message from our foreign correspondent asking:

Done anything fun this week?

Initially I replied in the negative, probably because at the time I was metaphorically knee deep in trying to understand what was available in a new system. But then I realised I was talking out of my proverbial derrière. So since I last wrote...

Well firstly there was a WI meeting where we had people from Dragon's Hall to talk about tech to the ladies. I have to say it was probably one of the most successful evenings we've had an ages as almost everyone had looks of wonder on their faces as they tried the new toys.

And the best thing? Well as it's rather my day job I could just zone out and natter which was good as my batteries were beginning to fail after a very busy week!

Saturday morning heralded the arrival of the offspring who were dropped off for the weekend. I half expected the elder offspring to agree to join the littlest offspring and I on a trip to Mudchute Farm which, as its name implies, is in Mudchute on the Isle of Dogs. Near Canary Wharf. Yes, there.

I've been meaning to go for ages and having a small boy in tow seemed the perfect excuse to have a nose around! And I'll say if you fancy a wander in a little bit of countryside in the big bad city I can't recommend it highly enough. Especially as the wildlife were so tame that when I squealed squirrel they
didn't even flinch the teeniest bit.

And it was free. Which is always a win.

Back home in Contrary Towers I was persuaded to try flying the kite and as I couldn't really bring myself to wander to the park we went on the roof and flew one from there. If nothing else it's very windy...

Sunday brought the threat of a trip to the Natural History Museum. Now I live in London. Which means day to day I have to suffer a) tourists and b) the underground. Not necessarily in that order. So the idea of heading to one of the most tourist infested places in the capital on a bank holiday weekend wasn't exactly high on my list of things to make me sing with joy.

To paraphrase, I'd rather eat my foot with a spoon.

But the littlest offspring wanted to go so I packed a small packed lunch to keep him going, threw the sun block in my go-bag and after confirming that the eldest was not going to be joining us we set off to the DLR as Mile End was utterly closed.

Of course it was.

The miracle though came when we arrived in South Kensington... There wasn't a queue at the entrance. THERE WASN'T A QUEUE. Crikey. So off we wandered and saw fossils, volcanoes and rode an earthquake simulator. And this kept us entertained for an hour or two until it was offspring refueling time.

Needless to say having stopped, eaten, had an ice cream and a general natter we decided not to go back in as the queue had appeared so after the call was made that somebody needed to go to the loo we headed to the V&A where I managed to persuade the littlest offspring to actually look at some displays...

Sunday evening brought a visit by my lovely friend Stef to eat, drink and make merry. That and I needed some adult conversation.

Monday was... well let's not say too much about that. The big thing today was that the littlest offspring wanted to try flying the kite again. Which pretty much comes down to me running around, skirts flying trying to find a breath of air to make the thing take off. Which it did. For a bit. And then crashed down.

The trouble is this was the kite we found at the surfline of Scarborough beach last year. It was cheap, poorly made and after a life afloat was a little knackered. Also it had clearly flown away from its previous owner so is known to be uncooperative.

But isn't there something magical about a serendipitous kite?

A few modifications were needed so it was out with my sewing machine to repair the seams, lock the structural rods in place and attach a longer tail which I fashioned from a length of wrapping ribbon.

But we never got to try it as their ride had turned up to take them back home. But not before we all scooted off to The Crown by Victoria Park for a spot of lunch with Stef followed by a brief promenade and ice-cream.

Needless to say I was quite squiffy so a several hour nap was in order...

The next day it was back to Fitzrovia for that there work thing. Which was good as a lot of progress has been made recently on a major re-engineering project for the core Energyhive system. Now this went well until sometime in the afternoon when everybody appeared at my desk with cake, fizz and the HotPerm™ wearing a party hat.

The boss told me I wasn't to commit any further code that afternoon so in a rare moment of me actually doing what I'm told I didn't. And finished the bottle.

As you do.

Noisy sods.
Wednesday brought the long awaited trip to the O2 to see Fleetwood Mac with my lovely friends Clarissa and Ryan. The place was packed, the atmosphere electric and the music just wonderful. Having not been to the O2 before I had no idea how bad the crowds would be leaving so the planned Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf then 277 home wasn't going to happen. It would have been quicker swimming the Thames, though that's dangerous so don't try it kids.

Obligatory safety notice done.

Anyway. Home by just before midnight and as Ryan was going to crash here rather than attempting to find a passing charabanc to take him to Essex I broke out the Victoria sponge and made cake eating a compulsory entry requirement.

Next morning I awoke groggily and somehow made progress through the day before scuttling down to the Trafalgar Square Waterstones to meet Stef and hear a talk by Lucy-Anne Holmes of No More Page Three fame.

It was a fascinating talk and I sat next to Stephanie Davies from the campaign, I met her a couple of years ago when she came to talk to my WI about the campaign. There was plenty to take away but the thing I like the most was learning that the now infamous text layout was based on the Frankie Says Relax t-shirts.

Needless to say after the event Stef and I retired to a local hostelry and test their chateau plonk and finish a lovely evening.

Friday night... Okay now this was an unexpected delight as I was invited to dinner by an old and dear friend. We met at Toms Kitchen in St Katharine Docks and proceeded to enjoy the bubbly delights of champagne. Obviously I complained endlessly about the lack of actual plates to eat of, but the pie was really good so they are forgiven. And I was given a plate in the end...

For pudding I chose another special, it duly arrived and before I could take a bite I was told it was the wrong one as it was the old special the one on the board being for tomorrow. Err. Whatever. As it was it was delicious, which was a win. When I was almost finished another pudding arrived. The one I actually ordered as I think the staff felt bad.

So I ate that too.

Is it any wonder I'm the size I am? Anyway, it did mean the rather lovely and friendly waitress could ask my opinion and I'm afraid the first was definitely the best.

And this brings me to today. The big news is that the intrepid traveller has upped sticks and scuttled to Dubrovnik as she begins her long journey home. Hopefully very long as I've not finished tidying the house. Did I say finished? Started. Yes, that's the word.

Ooh, but I did receive a postcard which is exciting in itself and here's an image of it next to the invitation for next weeks excitement when I skip off to Buckingham Palace...

But that will be another tale.

Friday, 29 May 2015

On being a nidiot

Amongst other things - relaxation, culture, food - holidays teach you much about random stuff. So for the benefit of all here are my most recent pearls of wisdom:

- Always check the timetables before catching a ferry for a ferry which isn't running. Fuxakes. 

- When getting in the sea with flip flops and you take them off once you are in, ensure you throw them back up the beach enough... 

- When doing yoga on your favourite jetty ensure pigeons have not left any grey/white presents

- Always take your brolly if you can't see the mountain. Croatia gets more rain than the UK - usually in just one afternoon shower 

- There is always one mosquito in your bedroom, no matter how many you've killed. Even when you're positive they are all dead

- Make sure you sacrifice at least one pair of sunglasses to the holiday god. My new ones are far nicer than my old ones anyway. Perfect for next year's sacrifice. Or for leaving in restaurants 

- Bell towers still give me vertigo and wobbly legs 

- People actually run up mountains. But on the topic of mountains, chocolate doughnuts taste amazing when you're 600m up

- When the little red and white stripe trail markers disappear, start to panic. Turn around, retrace your step and find the next available marker. Also sign posts giving times to destinations - utter fiction

- Oh. Lastly, put your bus tickets in a safe place...otherwise you'll end up hoping that the receipt and a smile will do *gulp*

Two weeks isn't long enough to find out how stupid I am. But then I think everyone knew this already! 

Two ladies go up a mountain

The mountain dominates the town; you arrive and it's right above you, you swim and the sharp rocky folds continue beneath you, and when you go across the channel, its grey/green shadow follows you like a tame wolf. And when the clouds are hiding it, the threatening mood is palpable. 

The gentle seascape of the Pelijšacki waters with its rocky beaches and domestic waterfronts would perhaps lose character without the grandeur above. Climbing Sveti Ilija (963m), I was told, is not something to be attempted lightly or alone. There were reports of venomous snakes, lethal scree slopes, probable exposure, and many other delights awaiting the deluded hiker. 

Never one to shy away from difficulty, I'd wondered how I was going to head up there without needing to warn the rescue teams. My intrepid Kollegin was the answer and we assiduously checked the weather to see which day would be best. Not too hot, not too cloudy... And finally we settled on Wednesday as an auspicious day to go up. 

I'm sure professional mountain climbers have a preparation routine where all equipment is carefully checked and itemised. Crampons, ropes, boots, Kendal mint cake... I took tampons, sandals and some bakery goods. In my defence I had a German lady who would be protection enough against all eventualities. 

We set off bright and early, and fair ran up the first part. A third of the way round we'd been climbing continuously and although the way was reasonably strenuous, the path was well marked. The wind was fresh and we made good time, all the while remarking on the velvet blue of the sea. The view was already spectacular and the town noise retreating. 

We stopped for a snack and a drink, and to add a layer of clothing because the wind was becoming uncomfortable. Eyes watering, we headed up the exposed gully until we thankfully turned onto a sheltered forest path. It was still relentlessly uphill and we nattered to pass the time. We knew that within the forest was a refuge hut and it marked where you'd turn off, heading up to where the mountain really peaked. 

By the time we reached the stone cottage our spirits were suffering a little. But it's amazing how uplifting a wooden signpost can be, not to mention evidence of other human beings. After not seeing a soul for nearly four hours we were happy to chat with fellow walkers. So we took a deep breath, some water, and followed the path up further. 

The trees disappeared to be replaced with the sharpest rockiest exposed climb yet. Until suddenly the world was dizzyingly spread beneath us; we could see the islands of Korčula, Hvar, Lastovo, as well as the mainland and the interior mountains which were snowcapped. Most breathtaking was the spine of the peninsula which disappeared off into the slight haze. We sat there stunned by the wonder of the panorama. Then I showed my appreciation by eating my cheese pie, watching the swifts catch their aerial snacks.

Many of the people on the summit were going back the way they'd come but we had set our hearts on the circular route. It was a little longer but the guidebook offered wild horses, meadows, and more flora than you could imagine. Why on earth would you miss that?

I started by saying how forbidding and grey the mountain appears, but the hidden sheltered interior is a veritable haven of wildlife. It's a natural herb garden, rockery, shrubbery, arboretum combined. The insect, bees and butterflies made the most of the late spring flowers, with wild sage blooms turning the hillside purple. Many low lying blue rounded plants looked like scatter cushions. Large daisies clustered around low conifers as if someone had put up early Christmas decorations. Empty of people, it is truly a garden of Eden.

Descending back to the refuge, and taking the track to the left, we quickly entered the pine forest. Already the windy exposed summit was a sensory memory, replaced by woodland fragrance, shade and bird song. And suddenly the whiny of a horse rang around the valley; we were in luck, a small herd had gathered at a watering hole. They were clearly used to people because as I took my camera out, they hurtled over to mug us for food. Heike had some bread and she fed them her last snack. They were friendly and extremely curious about the contents of backpacks. A wonderful encounter.

Going down was as relentless as going up. At first leg muscles were relieved about the change in motion but they became shaky and less certain. The slippery surface added to the fun! Most embarrassing were the running hikers that would periodically pass by. Running! Never mind, we were happy to take in the spectacular scenery, noting the differences between the way up and the way down.

Just as I was reaching my limit and the last drops of my two litres of water, the going became less steep, and finally evened out. We were on the road to Orebic and we saw our first olive terraces, work trucks and more people. The sea waved a warm welcome home, and invited us in to bathe our traumatised knees. As I paddled around in heavenly fresh water, I looked up at the seemingly stern mountain and realised that the stony exterior hides an incredibly special beating heart.    

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Jigsaws and showers

Today has been a jigsaw day; when individual elements of your day just happen to fit together to form a perfect whole. Not that I've been doing much planning, but I popped over to see my new friend this morning because there was talk of a walk along the coast today. 

The sun was shining and the sea, once again, it's customary invitation blue. She had already been in, so after a cup of tea, I had my first dip in three days. The weather hasn't been great - cold wet and windy - but was already redeeming itself. I saluted the fish and navigated gingerly around the urchins, and enjoyed just being in the water. 

After making myself walk ready, we set off. Now, we had checked the forecast and it offered a hopeful 30% chance of rain for an hour. 


From the moment we left the village and set off on the coastal path, the torrential showers thought it would be hilarious to play hide and seek. We dotted from one tree to the next, deciding that olive was better than conifer, but fig trees definitely provided the best shelter. 

At one point, the path passed though a chalet park with what should have been a glorious view of the sea. The rain came down so heavily that it was hard to see where the sea stopped and the sky started; islands disappeared and the distant car ferry became a mythical vessel. Even the fish were leaping out of the sea to see what was happening. 

We commandeered a vacant chalet and waited until the shower passed. That was the worst and last, thankfully, and we continued along to the two little villages. By this time we were cold and damp and in need of sustenance so went looking for a place to eat. 

Oh. Out of season in an out of the way place? It meant just one place was open. There were two options on the menu; meat or vegetarian/fish (!). The garlicky calamari with the grilled vegetable was extremely good and washed down with the lemon beer, worthy of Michelin stars. 

My friend is far more assertive than I am, and wondered to the waitress if a ferry or taxi boat could take us home. This would mean that our journey would be agreeably circular. The jigsaw piece fell into place and a tiny ferry would appear shortly to stop at Orebić and then Korčula - for the princely sum of £1.50. 

The journey back up the coast was very pleasant and reminded me what I loved about boats. The thrum of the engine mutes all extraneous sounds, and the hypnotic rise and fall banishes the real world. At Orebić I was reluctant to disembark but couldn't face the inevitable bustle of Korčula. So I said cheerio to my friend, with her boundless energy,  and off I strolled - polako! - just in time for an afternoon nap. Waking later to find that the sun had come out once again. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Danas idem u Splitu katamaranom

If I close my eyes I'm on a Thames Clipper catamaran, off to the centre of London to see some art, or go for a cocktail. Or something. All isn't quite right because if I keep my eyes closed for too long I'm going to fall asleep. What's going on here?

It's 5.50, 10 mins before this elegant craft takes off up the coast to Hvar, then arriving in Split at about 8. It's been a few days since my last adventure; I took the local ferry to Korčula on Monday and thoroughly enjoyed both my vertigo, and trip to the cake and honey shop. Both left me buzzing and slightly nauseous. But since then I've only ventured out on foot, firstly to the monastery and surrounds on Tuesday, then a jog to Moloko bay yesterday. 

This isn't normal holiday behaviour for me, where I've usually dashed around all the local sights already, and given myself a migraine getting up at early o' clock.  What can I say, I've been entirely lazy, and caught up on all my reading. Frankly it's been a rough year so far, so Orebić has been a perfect backdrop for rest. Yesterday simply lying in my light and airy bedroom, evernote in one hand, and a glass of red in the other, was one of the highlights of this trip so far. 

So with a stereo peal of bells from St Marks and some other church, we depart at precisely 6am. I'm glad that the little Orebić-Korčula ferry gets in early, because who knew you had to go into the local Jadrolina office to buy a ticket before boarding! This is when you realise that you're definitely not in London; at 120 kuna (return) this is a bargain. Split here I come...

Storm before the calm

The current persistent rain is by turns extreme and gentle. Nothing like an August Southern European storm which would be over in half an hour or less, leaving previously hot sun drenched people slightly confused. And wet. By contrast, this late Spring one has been building for a day or so. 

The evening before was perfect; the hot day had given way to an evening of the purest honey gold. Lulling lovers and amblers onto the bay to touch the reflected colours and drink in the cypress scent. But the alert birds knew better, knew that the rain was coming, and chased the low flying insects as if possessed. They were right. 

Yesterday the sky was thoroughly riled, occasionally indulging in bouts of crying. The shiny slate grey sea persistently sulked and murmured, but the mountain cloud ignored such childish behaviour and hung there, wetly, like a limp linen hanky. Like all unpredictable late spring weather, it refused to accept that after a good cry the sun should come out. So this morning remained cool and Londonly damp. 

After a day of my own private storms and tears of frustration with my own head, the continuing unsettled wet weather was a relief. I adore how the sun transforms the place, but when you're battling demons and a temperature caused by mosquito bites, it's much better when you're surrounded by cool breezes and refreshing showers. 

Yesterday the local restaurant was happy to supply me with constant hot tea, and I stayed there so long through the afternoon and into the evening that the kitchen smells became too interesting to ignore. The black risotto was recommended so I fed my dark thoughts flavoursome fishy rice. Blackness continued its theme; the stars were blanketed, and the wet tiny streets were devoid of their usual bright cheery people. 

If it was damp enough to be London, it was cool enough for some exercise. So I set out up the road on a mission to jog out my own moody clouds; I was doubtful that the brooding hills and threatening sea would lighten anytime soon but it didn't matter. The air was fresh and I got to the next bay along the coast before being caught in a heavy shower. An ancient gnarled olive tree offered some shelter and so I enjoyed the odd splash, without the full deluge. 

Once I was nearer home, I could sense the thunderstorm was immanent. I sat on a jetty meditating whilst watching the different types of clouds regroup, gather strength, and engulf the mountains. The clouds in the higher atmosphere took on dark horizontal stripes, whilst those lower down were a pale angry swirl. 

They could hold back no more, they succumbed to letting the torrential water fall. It was majestic, and a powerful climax to the days of gray. The sky has now perceptibly brightened, and like my own mood, patches of optimism have finally broken through. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Meanwhile back at the ranch...

Whilst the wanderer is out making like a walrus and eating fish, something like that, it's been very quiet in Contrary Towers. As it's midweek and I'm working not a great deal is happening other than me endlessly swearing at the underground on a morning and then tourists on the evening as I march to Embankment.

The big news though is that owing to me a) forgetting to buy any bread and b) not being in the mood to make any I've c) finally rekindled a taste for porridge. This is good, right? Healthy and everything!

Especially when laden with nananas and honey.

Okay so maybe I've not quite got this one right. But at least it gives me an excuse to use the spurtle.

Things will get a little busier at the weekend as I have the offspring visiting for the bank holiday, fortunate really seeing as there might be a rail strike that would have caused me a bit of an issue if I'd headed to Norfolk. But before that I will continue to dodge the rain, forget to do things, and have very early though invariably sleepless nights.

I need a break.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Something Fishy...

The whole point of holidays, I feel, is to do things which you don't do at home. As everyone knows I love cooking but I've really neglected the culinary arts recently, so given the scope for wonderful fresh ingredients here I've been inventing. 

It's not easy and given my modest kitchen circumstances; it's been fun to challenge myself. I'm in possession of two square foot of hob and kitchen sink. There is a fridge, a dodgy grater, a broken garlic press, and various ancient pots and pans, one and a half electric hot plates; one is working fine but the other is hopeless, and gets only vaguely warm. But it's good for keeping a pan hot when you're finishing other things. 

I know a few people who would also relish this challenge - Pete I'm looking at you! Remember the fish? In the past couple of days, I've made pesto and asparagus pasta, fish in white wine, onion, tomato, and garlic sauce, and lemon garlic fish with courgette pasta. Not only this, but I've discovered that chopped fresh candied orange peel really lifts your morning strawberries; move over balsamic vinegar. 

Anyway I thought I'd jot down these simple dishes, as a reminder to over stimulated, sophisticated palates that simple is beyond good. 

Take a wobbly used-to-be-non-stick frying pan, pop on the good ring and heat a splash of olive oil. Slice an onion and fry til just soft. Fail to crush a few garlic cloves and with some salt, rub all over a sea-fresh fish. It doesn't matter if you don't know it's name, but I used one where, when eaten, the bones come out looking like a cartoon. Lay in the pan and sizzle with the onion. Add three-quarters of a chopped beef tomato. 

Eat the rest of it with a twist of salt. 

Splash some white wine over the fish and loads of fresh ground pepper. Stir. Pop an undersized lid over the pan and allow to cook - turn over once - for about ... er ... 20 minutes, depending on your cooker, the size of the fish, and how much white wine you've drunk. When it's done white flesh should come away easily from the bones. 

Remove the fish from the pan, let the sauce bubble for a bit so it's thickened. Pour over the fish and serve with lots of bread to mop up the sauce. 


The second fishy extravaganza involves lemon and courgette. Instead of onion, chop courgette, and fry with the garlic. Add the fish and allow to cook. Zest a lemon - pick out the rust if your grater is crap - and squeeze some juice over the fish. 

Remove the flesh from the cooked fish, and with the soft fragrant garlic and courgette, stir into cooked oiled pasta. The temperature was warm but not hot. In an ideal world I'd have added chopped parsley to garnish but, life is hard in this perfect paradise, so more ground pepper had to do. This was splendid with an icy white wine spritzer. 

Today I bought some kobasice and will demolish those with ajvar, and new potatoes finished in olive oil. Basically sausages with a spicy tomato, garlic, aubergine sauce. Given the asparagus need using up, I'll have those too. 

I've actually yet to eat out here in Orebić, but feel like I'm doing better food than the restaurants. It helps that it is all so cheap and incredibly tasty. I'm still hoping to lose weight on this holiday! 

Perfect Sunday

Sunday passed as if in a dream, as hazy as the ancient watery glass in the old Rectory Palace. It had started unnecessarily early with a 4.30am wake up by my ridiculous head wanting to see the sunrise over the sea. 

I indulged it and threw clothes over my nightie, and headed for the beach. I sat on the jetty in my own private world of blue monochrome; I had no idea that there were so many blues. From slate, to steel, to the palest woodpigeon feather streaks - the sun was inventing new shades all the while. Nothing was stirring when I got there but eventually gulls and swifts added movement to the colour. 

Once my head was satisfied that the sea was really there, I returned to collapse into bed. A few hours, it told me, and we could go jump into the water. Yay, I agreed sleepily, now shut up and sleep. So it did until it was bouncing up and down at about 8. 

Grabbing the bare minimum - costume and wrap - I headed to the sandy beach which was now drenched in yellows and greens; the sun had clearly stopped by the Windsor & Newton paint shop to replenish supplies, having overdosed on blue earlier. Apart from the odd local walking their dog, there was no one to admire my graceful entrance; like a reverse Botticelli's Venus, I sank into the sea. 

Who am I kidding? I dashed in like I usually do, with the finess of a large dog, or overenthusiastic walrus. It was blissful and I enjoyed every gulp of salt wash and splash. I lay back to admire the mountains above, and the greenery surrounding the beach. I resolved to do nothing but swim, read, eat, write, drink, stroll - a perfect holiday Sunday. 

Just Beetling About

This morning I had a visitor. He shot in as if being chased, his iridescent cloak underneath him as he crash-landed on the marble floor. I know my parties can be raucous but normally my guests lie on their back in the kitchen at the close of the night, not at 8am. I got the broom and gently swooshed him out the door; he was still prone with legs waving in the air, so being a kindhearted soul I flipped him over with a twig. Stunned at his treatment and lucky escape, he sat there thinking about the vissitudes of life. 

I returned to pick up my handbag and headed out to the bank. I'd mistakenly bought some euros thinking I'd need them for the Dubrovnik hotel so I wanted to change them into kuna. And then i had other fish to fry. 

Last night whilst chatting with a local I asked where I could buy some catch of the day. The harbour, or the fish market on the Main Street, apparently. He recommended I go early. What is it with this place and the incredibly early starts, do they not know I'm terrible in the morning? 

So after waking at my usual work time of 7.40, evicting my house bug, and going to the bank, I hot footed it to the market. I was quite excited about being an actual fishwife and had some choice vocabulary at the ready. The young catch winked up at me; the fish, however just lay there. There were three types of fish; long ones, flattish ones, or long flattish ones. I chose two of the ones which looked a bit surprised. Not as stunned as they will be later when I introduce them to garlic and hot olive oil. 

After wowing the man with my fluency, učim jezik, you know, he skillfully gutted, descaled and cleaned them. This took as much time as it usually takes me to construct a two word sentence in this language. He bagged them, and I left still boggling at the £1.20 for two massive fresh fish. That was main course sorted so went to see the lady across the road for side dishes of beef tomatoes, cucumber, cauliflower and courgette. The strawberries looked ravishing, so I invited them back for dinner too. 

I proudly walked home, after spending the princely sum of £2.50 or so on a couple of days food. Not only that but I'd shown I was capable of going to the bank, shopping for food pre-9am and pre-breakfast. I waved at the beetle who was still lurking, hastily scoffed my muesili, and legged it to the Korčula ferry with minutes to spare. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Whilst the cat's away...

Normally you'd expect this mouse to play, however this first week with just one Contrarian meant more sleepless nights and trying to make myself useful.

Which I singularly failed to do on Saturday.

Victoria Park
Instead I took myself up to Victoria Park to spend some time with my lovely friend Veep. This mostly involved walking around the park for a while before having a natter over wine. I mean that's kind of productive, right? And the park was oh so pretty at dusk with happy groups of people sitting around after a day in the sun.

And not napping as I had managed.

Sunday involved a trip to the Fortnum and Mason of E14 which was a delight to behold and something everyone should aspire to do.

If they are insane.

I really don't know what I was thinking, the worst place to be on a Sunday is the Burdett Road Lidl as the entire populace has clearly forgotten that they needed food and must rush out to get it now. Which would be okay if they didn't bring their entire family with them to share the moment.

After a soothing nanana milkshake (two nananas, remains of cornish ice cream, milk, blend, wince at ice cream headache) I tackled the uncharted territory of the downstairs loo. Now you have to understand that whilst we have this for guests we almost never use it as it's normally crammed with shoes, more shoes, bags, extra shoes, boots and a few more bags along with the evil vacuum cleaner, skittles, bits of artwork that have been forgotten about and my trusty zebra trolley bag.

In short, it's not our finest moment. Though it's also not the worse place in Contrary Towers.

After fevered activity and supported by a glass of chateau plonk from a Chez Lidl bag-in-box - I know, all of the class - I managed to somehow beat the room in to shape and empty all the remnants out of various handbags before finally finding a new home for goodness knows how many pairs of boots.

I imagine the room won't last long in this state...

The next job was the scary one... As we will need somewhere to store various bits and pieces of Clare's when she buggers off for her big adventure next year I really needed to do something about the tumult of the useless store cupboard.


You know the phrase it will get worse before it gets better? Yep, that. Just imagine chaos in cardboard. I wasn't totally mean though, I kept contacting the happy wanderer to see if she really wanted to keep X and then relocated whatever it was to the bins. Fortunately by this point Veep turned up and fortified by wine we made a number of trips to the recycling and waste bins to get rid of stuff, stuff and more stuff.

Ta da!
Very cathartic.

So now the cupboard is clear, reorganised and I even managed to not throw out everything! It'll never catch on.

So all in all an unexpectedly productive weekend. I even created a new dictionary definition for a word...

Declare: to make your kitchen spotless whilst your flatmate is on holiday.

Well it made me giggle...

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Pease pudding in the pot...

As some of you know I'm quite northern. My days of parading around Newcastle in a short dress and heels as the snow lays deep and crisp and even may now be at an end, but some characteristics remain. I know, amazing.

The biggest is food. The sort of food that would leave the average southerner might gape at in heart attack inducing wonder. But, amazingly it's not all bad for you. Some even passes as healthy. Ish.

Pease pudding.

I get a craving for this from time to time. What I really* want is a stottie cake, pease pudding and a saveloy dip, but sadly the nearest branch of Dicksons to me is about 270 miles away. I know that they do a saveloy dip kit, but seriously, I want the real thing. There.

My Aunty Sheila still smuggles contraband saveloy dips in to Norfolk when she visits...


As I was saying, I get cravings. The last time I couldn't find any yellow split peas in either Poplar's answer to Fortnum or the WORST TESCO IN THE WORLD. Shocking.

Fast forward a few months to me finding a huuuggggeeeee back of them in the Isle of Dogs Asda. So I could make pease pudding. And that always means... gammon!

You'll need:

  • 300g or so of yellow split peas
  • a chopped onion
  • a bay leaf
  • about a teaspoon of salt
  • half a teaspoon of grated nutmeg
  • half a teaspoon of dried thyme or a bit more if it's fresh
  • a beaten egg
  • ground black pepper
  • 50g or so of butter
As the split peas are dried they need to be soaked first, there are two ways: Fast and slow...

First rinse the split peas in a sieve under the cold tap.


Put the peas in a pan, cover with cold water and leave overnight. Not recommended if you have just told your flatmate that pease pudding, gammon and mustard sauce are on the menu for that evening


Boil the kettle, put the peas in the pan and cover them with the boiling water. Put the lid on to trap the heat and wait about half and hour.

Done, good. Heat about half the butter in a frying pan, add the onion, thyme, and bay leaf to the pan and cook gently until the onions soften and are just starting to colour, maybe about 15 minutes. Keep stirring!

Drowned peas
Drain the peas and add in the stuff from the frying pan. Add about a litre of water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 45 minutes. Or longer if you start chatting with your flatmate.

Or she's desperate for food and you want to torture her with the smell.

Torturing done and the water well reduced remove the bay leaf and use your trusty hand blender to, well, blend until you have a thick puree.

It can take a while.

Finally beat in the egg, nutmeg and whatever butter is left. Obviously adding salt and pepper to taste.


As shown above this can be with saveloy, gammon and even works as a fine spread in a bacon sandwich.

I also found today that it works brilliantly with left over pasta arrabbiata. Lovely.

One note of warning. As you may be aware the nursery rhyme goes:
Pease pudding hot, Pease pudding cold,
Pease pudding in the pot - nine days old.
Some like it hot, some like it cold,
Some like it in the pot - nine days old.
Nonsense, it won't last nine days. The first batch didn't even last until bedtime.