New Year, New Dreams

January’s a funny old month; Christmas a distant memory yet daffodils a hopeful pipe dream.  Sunshine is what we need and where better to recharge, recalibrate and fire oneself up for the year ahead than… er… the Northumbrian coast.  A great big Greek bloke, posh Jersey bird and their brute of a rescue dog holed up in a teeny tiny whitewashed cottage in Seahouses.

My mother’s uncles were  fishermen in Seahouses, back in the day.  I grew up with Mum’s endless stories of Alnwick, Bamburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Of Lowry’s paintings.  Of how the endless consumption of oily fish made her aunts  the least wrinkly ladies ever.  Of the time Mum was supposed to be looking after her little brother, Jimmy, when they got cut off by the tide and nearly drowned until she spotted steps to safety.  Magical steps, that appeared magically!  Steps that had never been seen before nor again after.  The steps that saved their lives.

I confess, I didn’t want to listen to Mum’s dreary old northern ramblings as a child growing up in Jersey.  But I suppose those stories became embedded because, well, here I am.  The old girl has talked about coming back to visit for years – along with all the other places she’d been saving for her retirement.  But her eyesight’s gone, unexpectedly.  She can’t even stalk Seahouses on Google Maps now, so here I am.  Seeing it all for her.   I’ve seen ‘her’ castle; the Bamburgh butcher (Carter’s, established in 1887, and one of Rick Stein’s original food heroes) where I ‘had’ to buy sausages (the Greek God’s cooking them as I type).  I haven’t seen the magical life-saving steps though.  Funny, that.

The weird thing?  I’m strangely at home here.  I can find my way without satnav.  I’ve fallen in love – hopelessly, helplessly and irrevocably – with the arse-bitingly cold wind that chases us as we slip and slide over the frozen rockpools and frosty rocks; mad cows guarding the gate from dune to beach; hot kippers in a bun; proper pubs full of glowing glass and brass with pints of Farne Island beer to be swigged by a roaring fire.

Tomorrow we visit Holy Island after which my grandmother, Lindis, was named.  The perfect way to spend our last day.  But we’ll be back.  I’m already secretly searching for houses.  Shhhhh.  It’s our little secret.  I need to talk the Greek God round first.

A Lovely Christmas Post

So I know a lot of ‘blended’ families aren’t all ho ho ho but luckily, from their first well-timed meeting on the doorstep a few Christmas Eves ago like a Richard Curtis film scene, the four boys we have between us all get along jolly well.

The blended Crimbo tree, however… oh dear lord.  Past years have been a tragic tinselled tangle of mismatched ancient decorations because, you know… tradition. And it’s always so heartwarming as the sprogs gasp with great festive joy, ‘oh, not that lame old shit again’ or, my personal favourite, ‘for God’s sake Mum, what’s actually wrong with you?’ as they behold the beauty of 20-year-old bits of curled up, mangled foil with their name spelt wrong on the back.

I’m not really sure what constitutes a good tree but this one’s got balls, I’ll give it that. The Greek God’s angel has taken precedence, the smug cow. Mine looks rumpled if relieved to have been retired after years of being strapped to the tree like a hostage. It’s a great comfort that her successor seems to be wearing handcuffs though. A new adorable tradition in the making.

Merry Christmas then…

Cold in Kebabylon

‘Seven quid? Bloody ‘ell. What do I get for that then?’

‘Well, my fine fellow…’ I don’t say. I’m thinking it though. I think a lot of things, whilst wearing my special Dealing With The Public smile.

‘You get free-range chicken. Blythburgh pork. Pitta bread which I baked myself last night. Tzatziki made with mint I grew in the garden. For two Great British pounds less, however, you could go over there and have a cheap old sausage in a dry roll from the cash and carry.’

He glances over at sausage lady who is wearing a ‘comedy’ outfit (the only thing she could find in her van to combat the cold, apparently) and having a fag.

‘Er, maybe I’ll live a little,’ he says, counting out his change.

I despair. Not least because sausage lady probably makes way more money than us. Good food costs money. If you want high quality produce, it costs more. Simple, innit. Perhaps I’m doing it wrong; nipping to Bookers for a box of buns would be far easier than all the kneading, rolling out of dough and hoovering up of flour.

I try not to mind. People can’t help it. We’re off to Essex for an event soon. While the Greek God tries to blend in and goes all ‘geezer’, I find my inner Joanna Lumley spontaneously erupts.

‘We do try not to use the ‘K’ word,’ I’ll chirp cheerily through gritted teeth as I stand out in sub-zero winds, wearing ALL my clothes at once and lamenting the thread veins that no one mentioned in the Street Food for Dummies manual.

‘So it’s just a kebab then, yeah? For seven quid? Rip-orf…’

It was a dreadful rip-off. I might have that inscribed on my headstone when I’ve died of hypothermia, hurty knees and baker’s lung. It’s cold in Kebabylon.

Doing the Write Thing

06:45 in the morning.  It’s still dark.  I’ve been awake since 4:30 with ideas for my novel turning and churning – details on setting, the characters and what sort of food they’ll want to eat.

I used to set my alarm before 5 in the old days; tea in bed with my laptop as I tapped away before real life kicked in.  Before emptying the dog and making packed lunches and fighting my way through a fug of Lynx to get the teens off to school and then my own madly busy day job.

It’s years since I wrote properly.  It’s scary.  Instead of my old Sussex morning silence broken by cockerels crowing murderously, there are empty buses rumbling out of the depot and cars grumbling around the edge of Ipswich.  The neighbours have had new pipes and the white noise of traffic is punctuated by what sounds like twenty tons of grain being thrown down a mineshaft.  RATTLE TATTLE rattle tattle tattle as they flush their loo.  I’m glad they’re not incontinent.  Not quite the creative flow I had in mind.

The last novel I wrote, about a billion years ago, was submitted for professional critique as part of some new writers scheme.  The Romantic Novelists Association or somesuch.  Heaven only knows why I chose them; I haven’t a romantic bone in my body.  The feedback was harsh and pretty much put me off trying again.  The reviewer lady didn’t like the silk paisley scarf  a male character wore.  She loathed the almost-sex scene because “a nice girl wouldn’t do that”.  But she did say I can write.  I’d sort of forgotten that bit.  We’ll see.

I still think about that silk paisley scarf.  I might buy one and wear it with my woolly socks and dressing gown with some kickarse red lipstick while I conjure up a world for my imperfect characters to cavort in.

There’s long way to go before I become a caped crusader of words, slaying doubt as it chases me about.  But I’m here, in my clapped out telephone box, trying to squeeze into the writerly lycra before anyone notices I’ve fallen over and my bare bum’s poking out…

Mind the (Generation) Gap

I took the Greek God to Jersey last week.  Proper Jersey; the rock off the coast of France, rather than that newfangled American one.  My home, and where most of my family still are.

My life in Blighty remains a mystery to Dad.  Well into his 80s, life revolves around the minutiae of his own little patch of that small island.  He relays the tiniest details of his neighbours’ lives… what they’ve had for dinner, who they’ve fallen out with.

In return, I tell him about my life.  By phone.  He doesn’t do Facebook.  Nor email.  Internet?  Nah, that’ll never catch on… So phone it is.  And phone would be fine but he’s stone deaf.  Conversations are punctuated as his hearing aid screams at crucial moments.

But I persevere.  I explain how street food works; alongside our Greek there’s South African, French, Venezuelan food…  I tell him tales far removed from his newspaper-reading spot at Corbiere where the waves crash and seagulls wheel.

“So you’ve got a burger van, then?”

Er, no… I explain souvlaki, again.  In person.  It’s Greek food; I bake pittas – LOTS of pittas – in my little kitchen before we go to fantastic food festivals all over the place, selling our wares.  I tell him of the long queues, of famous chefs, of mad punk band revivals we’ve catered.  He nods. “Ah, right,” he says.

I bump into a friend a few days later.

“Saw your dad the other day,” he says.  “I hear you’ve bought a van and started doing takeaway deliveries…”

Ah bah crie, as us Jersey beans say.  It’s another world, eh?