Archive for February, 2011

On the weekends when I don’t have my children, and if I’m not bound for Madrid (where Unfeasibly Attractive Girlfriend) is temporarily based, I prefer to be busy (busy as in “bordering on the “Up phase of a manic-depressive” “), and so I have been looking at ways of doing something that I can devote a lot of time to.

This has meant that I have devoted time to the following labour-intensive activities:-

  1. Painting a climbing Rose on the outside of the dolls’ house that I built for Daughter, according to her strict brief on type of Rose, colour of Rose, distribution of Rose across architectural features and other sundry issues.
  2. Moving rocks. Not in a Prisoner of War tribute, but as part of a plan to make my parents’ garden rather lusher, brighter and less full of (frankly) rubble than it has been to date. This involves “going to the tip” – which I love, as well as digging (which I also love).
  3. Finding new ways to get from Richmond to Stoke Newington. No mere flaneur’s hobby, this: Stoke Newington is where Best Friend, Talented Art Director and God Daughter live: so I have been improving what my fellow world-class athletes would recognise as their “best time” in completing this task. So far, I am down to 57  minutes and am prepared to share my secret with fellow cross-London travellers – just leave details below and enlightenment can be yours.
  4. Writing a novel. I know everyone does this: especially English Literature graduates. More to the point, I’ve already DONE this twice before: the first time I actually finished it, and (on re-reading it) am so disgusted by how self-aware it is (and so embarrassed by the sex in it – I even used the phrase “he pushed himself inside her, urgently”) that I have locked it in a strong box and set gryphons to guard it; the second attempt is about a third of the way through – not too bad, but not brilliant. THIS attempt, though, is simply amazing and the best book ever written (INCLUDING “How To Be Topp” – so you can imagine how brilliant it is) and I often manage to churn through twenty pages in a day, with nothing but coffee and the pretence that I am in a film (played by John Cusack) as a tired, idiosyncratic, but epoch-crowningly brilliant novelist, dedicated to his craft.
  5. Drawing. I am quite poor now (well, comparatively to how I was; not compared to rural China), so there has been more of a focus on drawings and paintings as gifts – and people genuinely DO seem to prefer them. The details of this are the same as above, except in this film I am played by Tom Hardy, and Penelope Cruz plays my girlfriend/undraped model.
  6. Making Marmalade. This is the crowning glory of “Things that make you busy, take a long time, and leave you with something to show for it at the end of the task” and I shall tell you, dear reader just what it is that positions it here in top slot:-
    1. Marmalade is delicious.
    2. Home-made Marmalade is better than shop bought – and yes, I am including Wilkins & Sons’ Tawny Marmalade in that, of course I am. What kind of fake comparison would it be if I were to leave out this king of preserves?
    3. It is simple and mindless. Cutting up the shred of the fruits is methodical but mindless and can be done whilst listening to Radio  4 or an Audiobook (“The Complete Sherlock Holmes”, obviously).
    4. There is a bubbling cauldron involved. My mother has a proper, copper preserve pan and it is beyond great to pick up something that weighs as much as my legs, apply fire to it and then see a great, bubbling lava scream away inside it.
    5. There is a weird kind of urgency to it, as Seville Oranges are only available for five weeks in a year.  Once one has subtracted weekends with children, and weekends with Unfeasibly Attractive Girlfriends, this leaves relatively little time to make Marmalade: but one can make more than one batch a day! And one can make full use of the fact that a weekend has not one, but TWO days in it.

As I am such a big-hearted, generous being, I am prepared to share the secret of my Marmalade successs (for success it was, and with a variety of fruits, flavours and additional touches that will make your head SPIN) with you – but I shall sign off with one piece of advice gratis and free of charge: “When you make Marmalade for the first time, don’t forget to stir it and let it burn. It will taste horrible and you will end up saying “Fuck!” a lot.”

That said, I am evangelical about the stress-relieving, mind-absorbing properties of this joyous task (to say nothing of the world-class product I have created) and urge you all to set January (all of it) aside as “The Month In Which I Make Marmalade”. You won’t be sorry.

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I’ve never had a long-distance relationship. At University, one early romance was nearly cut short by the (seemingly) insuperable barrier of a fifteen minute walk between my college and that of the woman who was the object of my hot and sleepless nineteen year-old passion. I tended to get round the problem by moving her (and subsequent girls) into my room with an alacrity that would make a lesbian look tardy, and so ensure that I had all the benefits and none of that exhausting travel.

So it was that I would consider with a mixture of wonder and disgust those couples who would, every other weekend, pack a Karrimor rucksack and get the train up to the other end of the country for some hand-holding, fucking and watching Wim Wenders/Peter Greenaway films (for it was the `80s, and EVERYONE I knew was pretentious). It probably doesn’t position me as the most romantic of chaps that my thought was always “Your girlfriend’s not THAT hot. Why don’t you save the time and money and have a curry and a wank?”: so imagine my surprise to find myself in not merely a “long-distance relationship”, but one that needs aeroplanes, rather than trains or cars to service it.

Unfeasibly Attractive Girlfriend is now working in Madrid for three months (although, to be fair, her job brings her back here at least once a week), so on those weekends that I don’t have the children, I am commuting to Madrid’s very cool, very beautiful airport, and thence on for hand-holding, fucking and Almodovar films or exhibitions at the Prado (the pretentiousness being something that I seem unable to shake, although I have woken up to what meretricious shit Peter Greenaway is). Not only is UAG there, but it is also my favourite European city – apparently always warm and with a much better feeling to it than other places, so what’s not to love?

So, perhaps I was wrong to be so readily dismissive of Harry jumping on the train to see Sophie in Durham; or of Geraldine (bag already with her at lectures) before she hot-footed it to Edinburgh and the awaiting Neil all that time ago. Or perhaps I’ve just grown up and realised that sometimes, she (whoever she is) really is worth it.

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I was playing a game with Eldest Son this weekend: a game which he has created. This means that he has drawn the playing cards that are used (some very impressive dragons, monsters and “creatures of deep evil”, to quote his evocative and sinister phrase) to which he has accorded various powers. It’s “Top Trumps” for mythical creatures of destruction, essentially.

Or rather: it would be great if it were. Top Trumps has much to recommend it, and chief amongst its virtues is the fact that it is very easy to get the hang on: pick an attribute and off you go. The same cannot be said of Eldest Son’s game, which made “Inception” look childishly straightforward and focused.

“Are you putting that guy into Attack or Defence, Daddy?”


“That guy can only go into Defence.”

“Oh. OK, darling. How can I tell?”

“Because his fire doesn’t touch the edge of the page.” (This is delivered, needless to say, in the tone of voice that Jeremy Paxman might use to a “University Challenge” contestant who had guessed that the Shakespearean play starting with “M” was “Middlemarch”.)

“OK. Well I’ll put this one into Attack, then. Is that OK?”

“Yes, but he’s only got a low life.”

“How do I know that?”

“Because it’s lower than his anger level.”

“Ah. I see.” (Not true.)

We played for about half an hour. You may not be surprised to learn that one of the effects of Eldest Son’s game creation is that it’s impossible for anyone else to win (my confusion must have been how Alice felt when confronted with The Red Queen and her bracingly singular take on logic), and so he cleaned up in round after round, although always with a gentlemanly and sporting “Never mind Daddy. You played very well.”.

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