Monday, 27 February 2012

Ruadh Gu Brath (Redheads Rock)

So Ed Sheeran did quite well at the Brits, didn't he? I felt a bit old watching him perform though, like my mum or gran, wishing aloud he'd put a smarter shirt on, brushed his hair a bit, maybe even shaved. Anyway, the boy seems sweet enough and plays the guitar nicely, in that kind of way a sixteen year old would want her boyfriend to, you know, meaningfully, around a bonfire, probably through a haze of Barcadi Breezer, in front of her friends, who she knows are trying to ignore their own boyfriends crushing beer cans against their foreheads and wishing he was theirs.

Now Master Sheeran has red hair. This fact seemed vitally important to those watching the Brits and recording their thoughts on Twitter. For example I've now learnt that Ed is Prince Harry's brother, most likely related to James Hewitt, and undoubtedly Geri Halliwell's long lost great nephew. Oddly, quite a bit of this redhead nonsense was hurtful. For God's sake, people...stop with the ginga-bashing!! Red hair is bloody gorgeous! So naffing gorgeous that twice a year I spend money - money I could have spent on shoes - adding red hues to my own dull thatch. My middle daughter has red hair - the natural kind rather than chemically enhanced. On the Scale of Red (dark auburn through to strawberry blonde) she is at the darker end, conker-coloured in the winter, lightening to copper in the summer. She has pale skin with cappuccino freckles that pop out like stars at night when the sun winks at her. Along with the generalisations - the fiery temper, for example, (my own little red has the sweetest of natures and literally wouldn't hurt a fly. In fact, if she found an injured fly she would make a Fly Hospital very quickly out of a yoghurt pot and nurse the fly back to full buzz) - what I will never understand is hatred/teasing/bullying of people with red hair.

A few facts: there was a group on Facebook which called itself Kick a Ginger and campaigned to establish a National Kick a Ginger Day. It had 5000 members. Tesco were recently made to withdraw a Christmas card which showed a red-haired child sitting on Father Chistmas' lap with the strap line Santa loves all kids. Even ginger ones. In 2010 Harriet Harman - who is a grownup - called the Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, a ginger rodent. Mick Hucknall often complained he was called ugly because of his red mop (nothing to do with the snake-hipped dad-dancing or the cringe-worthy proclamation he had sex with three different women a day, then...)

Red hair rocks! We know this. Artists, the translators of beauty into a record of contemporary culture, know this. Titian, Klimt, Modigliani, Botticelli, the entire pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, they all knew this. Perhaps this is why I have such love for red hues in a barnet; it goes hand in hand with my love of art, all that passion in those pensive, lustful, romantic images, tumbling red hair and milky skin. The first painting that stirred me, Toulouse-Lautrec's La Toilette, depicts a flame-haired woman in the process of washing herself, a black stocking adding a flash of the illicit. This painting drew me in, touched me; I was desperate to know what she was thinking about, looking at, what she was smelling and hearing. Lautrec was an aristocratic artist whose growth was stunted by a genetic disorder. Mocked and shunned by many, he steeped himself in alcohol and sought solace in the bohemian lifestyle of Montmatre where his homies were other artists, writers and prostitutes. Lautrec loved women and painted them in a manner that ignored academic convention, that focussed on their inherent femininity and laid their humanity bare. They nearly always had red hair too. He celebrated the copper-top. Revered their russet tresses. The man was a ginger groupie.

La Toilette, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1889 (Musee d'Orsay)
It's time to put the gingerism (racism for the follicly-ignorant) behind us. Consign it to the days when we didn't know better. Leave it to the Loose Women to discuss alongside the likening of breastfeeding in public to a pervert flashing his meat-and-veg at old ladies (yes, a woman on the telebox really said this.) Let's make like artists. Let's love this genetic miracle with a passion that only a true redhead could muster. Let's kiss every one of their precious freckles (maybe only do this if you have a redhead in the family.)
Middle when she was little.
And for Mick Hucknall and his moaning that we think he's ugly because of his ginger locks. I have two words. Damian Lewis. Now there's a RILF...

Monday, 20 February 2012

There's No Place Like Salted Butter

The trouble with holidays is they come to an end. We've just arrived back from the French Alps. A week of breathtaking scenery, fantastic skiing, loads of family time, great friends, lots of laughing, too many vin and chocolat chauds, pommes frites, baguettes with French butter (how can another country's butter taste so sublime?), and not a utility bill, Tesco queue or traffic jam in sight. Heaven. We were all sad to leave, flatter than Flat Stanley, wistfully watching the mountains disappear behind us. On the flight home I did some thinking. Could we sell up? Could we move out? Eat baguettes and unsalted butter forever? Bask in the sunshine, breathe the air, feel the tang of snow-chill on our skin, throw out the television, declutter, downsize, choose the simple life? It would mean sending the girls to a French school, of course, which they would fight against. But we'd convince them. We'd argue the importance of language skills in this day and age. Fluency in a second language would set them up for life...sod leaving all your friends and having to learn the French for you're it and no you can't have my kit-kat get your own. Combine the language proficiency with fresh air and healthy living and what better gift could we give them?

This type of post-holiday thought process is not unusual for me. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't considered moving to Majorca, the Dordogne, Tuscany, Naples, Cornwall, Devon, even Norfolk, in the time spent travelling back from these places. But then again, I spend most my life living in imagined unreality. I'm under no illusion that this character trait (flaw?) is the principal reason I write fiction - hiding in fanciful other-worlds, immersing myself in a crowd of made-up friends and enemies, spiriting myself away to a wordy haven of anywhere other than the-same-old-same-old. I am, it has to be said, a professional starer into space.

By the time we walk into our freezing house I'm feeling the full impact of a serious case of the holiday blues. What seems like a hundred suitcases now block the hallway, all of them stuffed with grubby clothes (good intentions to work the washing machine in the apartment went out the window amid a flurry of those-socks-have-at-least-another-day-in-them and let's-have-another-gin-and-tonic-instead). We have six dead house plants, a towering pile of post heralding the return of life-mundane, and the spectre of Monday morning school run drudgery looms large. 'That's it,' I state. 'We're moving. We're really doing it this time.'

Before I get on the internet to search for houses in the snow, however, I do what any self-respecting Brit does when they've been away from the homeland for any length of time. I make a cup of tea. When I take a sip I let out an unfettered sigh. It's the best cup of tea I've had all week. Then I hear my youngest daughter squeal with delight as she rediscovers the toys in her bedroom. My middle daughter is cooing over her hamster who seems genuinely pleased to see her (though I must admit, I'm not an expert in reading small rodent body language), the cats are purring, and I have a surge of warmth as I think about how pleased the dogs will be to see me tomorrow - tails wagging so frantically I'll worry the silly creatures will dislocate their hips.

Mr J shouts through from the living room that he's lit a fire. I glance at the suitcases and decide it won't do any harm at all to leave the clothes unwashed for a day, or maybe two, and instead I make a plate of toast, suddenly remembering how delicious a toasted slice of bread is, and how, when crowned with lashings of melting salty butter, it tastes like nothing else on earth. Mr J and I sink into comfy, familiar sofas with the younger two, and turn the television on. It's Ski Sunday. Maybe promising to give up the telly was a bit rash...

Then my eldest wanders in to join us, grabs a piece of toast and stretches out on the floor in front of the fire. 'That was a great holiday,' she says, her mouth full of toast. 'But I have to say, it's cool to be home.'

Monday, 6 February 2012

7 Things About Me...

A blog tag. This time to reveal 7 facts about myself as done by We Love Peas (who tagged me). This is without doubt self-indulgent, but here goes...

1. I hate raw tomatoes. This isn't necessarily a secret, everyone who knows me well knows this. But I consider this fact to be fundamental to who I am. Raw tomatoes are the Food of Beelzebub. They make me wretch, hurl, and heave, even just the memory of them, you know, when the offending thing has been removed from a sandwich for example, and leaves it's tinged-red foulness soggying up the bread. What I love about hating tomatoes is the number of others I meet with the same aversion to this is-it-a-fruit-or-vegetable abhorrance, and the equal number who suggest my loathing comes from not having experienced a 'proper' one. A beef one for example, full of Mediterranean sunshine and joy, bursting with glory, lovingly sliced, then sprinkled with salt from a virgin's armpit and drizzled with seventeen-times pressed olive oil. Or a little cherry one? Apparently 'they're delicious'. Apparently nobody could possibly hate these scarlet balls of loveliness. I CAN. They're VILE. Cooked tomatoes, however, maybe on a pizza base, or in a vongole sauce, even sundried, I LOVE!! This is the wonderful idiosyncrasy of my hatred. Cook the little fecker and it's suddenly divine. (There's an enzyme that breaks down with heat, for anyone who's interested. It's this enzyme that spikes my vitriol. Kill it and all is well with the world).

2.  I would love to be a Blue Peter presenter. I've wanted to be one since I was seven. It looks like the best fun ever: cooking fridge cake, making Barbie a living room out of yoghurt pots and sticky-back plastic, setting fire to tinselly coat hangers, and being crapped on by baby elephants. Awesome. And you get paid for it. And when it all finishes, perhaps in drug-fuelled shame, perhaps with a job on Countrywide, you get to go on Strictly Come Dancing.

3. I played the flute for two months aged eight. I gave it up because I found the way my spit collected inside it disconcerting. I didn't tell my mum about the spit. I made up some rubbish about not liking it as much as the piano.

4. I cheat at liar dice. Using sneaky 'magic' fingers, and while people are looking elsewhere, I flip them. This gives the impression I possess the Luck of The Gods. It's wrong. But, then again, sometimes in life you gotta make your own luck...

5. I was nearly an architect. My mother is an architect and she always seemed pretty happy with it, and I loved art and being in a studio, but wasn't good enough to be an artist, so I thought 'why not?' From the first day on the course I knew why not. I'm not cool enough. You need to have a special sort of cool to be an architect, a sort of conservative kookiness, a laid back north-London chic. I possess nothing close to this. So, after a year, I changed to History of Art and I'm now a writer. You don't need to be cool when you work all alone.

6. I share my first name and  birthday, 16th February, with Amanda Holden. We are both married to a (different) Chris. We both have a daughter called Lexi. We lived in Richmond at the same time. Mr J and I spent the night of our first anniversary at the same hotel she got married in. When my friend Vic left Sheen Amanda's daughter got Vic's son's place at Monkey Music. None of this I knew until about a year ago. I am still in shock. I'm also expecting to be a judge on Britain's Got Talent by the end of the year. Simon, call me...

7. My favourite piece of art is Auguste Rodin's The Kiss. I've seen it three times in real life, and every time I've been moved to tears. Even writing about it makes me feel excited. I get a physical buzz when I touch it (I'm not sure you're supposed to, but whetevs). Carved from a chunk of marble, capturing an almost-moment (the lovers' lips never quite meet), filled with passion and longing, with the ability to move people for generations past, present and future. How clever is that?! I was a piece of blinking rock! It's said that Rodin's portrayal of women was in homage to them and their bodies, that he had no interest in depicting them submitting to men, but as fully participating partners. Its eroticism made it unsuitable for public display, so it was hidden away in a back room, only for the eyes of those given special permission. Thank goodness our social sensitivities have dulled enough to bring it out for us all to admire and enjoy. All I need to do is persuade someone to take me to Paris for my next fix...

Please feel free to comment and add a random fact about yourself...especially if it's an aversion to tomatoes.
Now I have to tag another blogger. My lovely friend Ed who has just started blogging DELICIOUS recipes. Let's see how he copes with a bit of chatting about himself... One Man and his Whisk