Today I have been reading about the latest mass shooting in America.

I read this article, which shows that there have been 994 mass shootings in the USA in the last 1,004 days. That averages out at 4 people plus shot in an incident every day.  That’s mass shootings mind you, not the random killings that happen singly.

There are a great many things I like about the USA. There was a time when we mulled over the idea of moving or working there.

The one thing that stops me, more than the cost of healthcare, which in itself is terrifying, is the shootings. I just cannot get my head around the shootings.

I am not saying for one moment that the UK is perfect. We have violence. We have terrible things happening here. Of course we do, but I never have to worry when my children are not back from school on time that they might have been caught up in a shooting. It is not something that it has ever crossed my mind to think about. Long may it remain so.

I know that there are two sides to every argument and I have tried to appreciate people’s feelings about the sanctity of the Second Amendment.

I still don’t get it.

I am sorry, but I cannot understand a world where people feel that the right to have ownership of a gun is more important than the right to have a life.

I cannot get my head around the idea that indiscriminately allowing people access to weaponry with no checks and balances in place that might weed out those people who should not be allowed them for whatever reason is a positive thing.

I  cannot truly get my head around the idea that gun ownership is about defence.

I find it difficult to see a gun as a defensive weapon I’m afraid. It’s harder when the stories that I read are ones where guns are used to shoot those who are not attacking or hurting anyone and the only person they needed defending from was the one with the vast arsenal of inappropriately powerful weapons.

I know the answer the NRA would offer is that if everyone was armed then these things wouldn’t happen. I find the escalation argument even more baffling. Does everyone keep arming themselves until there are daily shootouts, when those who survive are the ones quickest on the draw?

Where does it stop?

It makes me sad. It makes me sad that children cannot go to school and teachers cannot teach without fear. It makes me sad that there are metal detectors at school gates, that teachers have to learn how to protect children from gunmen and that in Texas they are considering making it law that teachers are allowed to carry guns in classrooms to protect children.

I am sorry that President Obama is vilified for saying that words are no longer enough, that giving out blanket, inadequate solace without anything to back it up is not enough, because I think he is right.

I am sorry that people think that they are safer with a gun than without. I am sorry that people live in such fear that they think a gun is the only way of keeping themselves safe. I am sorry that those who shoot others are in such desperate mental straits that they think that killing is the only answer to the pain they are in, and that nobody hears them and nobody sees them until it is too late.

I am sorry nobody saw them sooner. I am sorry nobody thought that they would be much less dangerous to themselves and everyone else if they didn’t have a  gun.

I am sorry that I don’t have anything pithy to say. I’m even sorrier that I’ve said some of this before in response to another shooting, and not such a long time ago either. How utterly sorry I am that I am thinking about this again.

I am so sorry for all those poor people who have lost loved ones, because it could have been different this time. Maybe. If people had dared to be brave enough not to hide behind a gun barrel and lay down their arms and talk.

I’m just sorry.

I have the brain of a sieve

Every time I leave the house I have a mantra that reminds me of the holy trinity of things I must not forget. ‘Keys, purse, phone.’ (my mother in law always used to intone: ‘spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch’. I believe she pinched it from the act of crossing oneself in church). If I have those things, there is nothing I cannot do. If not, my world spirals even more out of control than it currently is.

Today, for the first time in years I shut the front door to the house on the way to take the boy to school and locked my keys inside. I was left with a lip balm in one hand and phone in the other.

Now, I know that we had a locking out incident a few months ago, when me and the kids were gardening and Tilly wandered out and shut the door, but that was not my fault, technically. Today I had nobody else to blame but myself.

I hate it when that happens. I do like to shift the blame onto someone or something else if at all possible. I know this makes me a feckless, waster with dubious morals. I’m fine with that.

Today not only could I not blame someone else for shutting the door/forgetting the key. I had nobody else to blame for the fact that I have still failed to find a good hiding place outside my house for a spare key.

This is utter laziness on my part. I am bang to rights.

I thought of all the people who have spare keys. Firstly my mother, who is currently in Peterborough flogging Georgian newspapers to the masses. This was not convenient. Then our friend Gavin, who also rather inconveniently, moved down South on Thursday and brought his spare key over on Wednesday night. That left my husband, who was in Nottingham. I called him, envisioning a long wait on the door step surrounded by Ocado bags due to the fact I had a grocery order scheduled for delivery between 9 and 10.

It is the way of my people.

He pointed out that the girls’ have keys. I had totally forgotten this. Also, that Tallulah’s school is a ten minute walk away. I had, it seems, also forgotten this. I congratulate myself on remembering I do have daughters. This is as far as I am prepared to commit to knowing anything today.

I galloped the boy to school and begged a lift from my lovely friend Jenn. En route, we agreed that we would swap emergency keys so that this would hopefully never happen again. I threw myself into school reception, where the lady on the desk was most sympathetic to my stressed demeanour, especially when she realised that a grocery order was probably languishing on the door step.  She rooted Tallulah out from the bowels of the school. She arrived in reception ready to go home, and was rather disappointed I only wanted the key and not her and the key. I don’t know what she had for first lesson but she didn’t look happy about it.

Jenn burned rubber getting me back to my front door, which I could now open.

Furthermore, the Ocado man did not turn up until 9.30 a.m. which still gave me time to take my coat off, have a wee, and indulge in a small adrenalin rush based heart attack.

I cured myself with two chocolate digestives and a cup of cold coffee, and the day has vastly improved since then, although I am still rather forgetful, and must write copious notes on my hand to get through this afternoon’s chores without failure.

I can cross, update blog off the list now though.

It’s all about the snot

My cold is reaching either its zenith or its nadir, I cannot figure out which one it is. Whatever it is involves my nose being red and raw, despite the fervent purchase of four tonnes of Kleenex Balsam and a lot of tender honking. Now, when I am forced to blow it I not only have to make asthmatic whale noises through my mouth due to blockages, I also emit strange wheezing ouch noises due to the fact it fucking hurts.

These make a nice counterpoint to the noise of me tossing and turning at night, as one nostril fills with snot while the other drains noisily, in the manner of a hideously unattractive egg timer. No wonder my dreams are fraught with peril. I suspect the bruise on my leg is where my husband is repeatedly forced to kick me in the night due to the fact that I am louder when asleep than I am when awake.

Then there are the accompanying breakouts of randomised blemishes that show my skin is militantly coming out in favour of my inflamed mucus membranes, and the splits on my lips where my mouth has been desiccated by the ravening onslaught of the cold germs. My voice is at the Meatloaf stage, without the skill at singing, and my glands resemble small, Frankenstinian bolts in the side of my neck.

I have also put on five pounds since my fasting/exercise kick of the early summer. I would like to tell you that I am about to leap back into the fasting saddle, but this is not true. My cold is leaving me permanently starving, and feeling too ill to do any exercise.  Sitting in front of a computer throwing words into my book is also making me hungry. I eat about a calorie for every word I write. This is on top of my already packed daily diet of biscuits and potatoes washed down with bread and butter. I might as well just have a lard based drip fitted and have done with it.

I have a week of Tallulah’s plays to get through, followed by Oscar’s birthday and a half term holiday near one of the best baker’s in the world. I am not going to find the way, the truth and the light just yet. Especially the light. Mostly I am all about the heavy.

I will deal with it later.

In the meantime just know that I am a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Good news though:

I have had my hair cut and coloured. I have been sporting a badger stripe of roots since the end of July. The relief at finally finding the time and money to sort this out is palpable and goes a long way towards me not just giving up and going out with a large bag on my head at the moment. Or not going out at all.

Other good news, which is much more exciting is that I have managed to purchase tickets to see Daniel Kitson doing a trilogy of plays in November. Let joy be unconfined. This is truly stupendous and was worth the twenty minute wait on the phone this morning.

Further good news. I got the Boden sandals I had been eyeing up all summer and telling myself I could not justify spending £70 on for £20 in the sale, with free postage. I shall put them away until the clement weather returns and wear them jauntily and full of pride at what a massive bargain they were. As I do not follow fashion in any way shape or form I shall not care one iota that they are so last year. I am so 1978, so we will work well together.

I have also finished reading Allie Brosh’s superb book Hyperbole and a Half. It made me howl with laughter. It is superb. I highly recommend it. I am now reading Mariana by Monica Dickens. This too is wonderful, albeit in a different way.

The word count of the dratted book rises daily, despite the thick headed incompetence that the cold drags with it. Progress is being made.

The Great British Bake Off 2015 – Episode 9 – Semi-Finals – Chocolate

It is week 9 of The Great British Bake Off.

How the hell did that happen? It only started last week for goodness sakes. I think they should do it all again, because I’m sure I missed some of it. There should be at least eight more weeks of episodes as far as I’m concerned. Not one.

ONE left. Oh God. I shall be bereft. If it weren’t for the fact I saw an advert for Luther this evening and nearly fainted into my tea with Idris Elba based desire I don’t think I could go on.

So, before I devote the whole blog post to talking about my fantasy of Idris Elba and me alone in the Great British Bake Off tent, accompanied only by a super king sized duvet set and a large pot of tempered chocolate, let us get on to the job in hand.

There were four bakers left for this week’s semi final;  Ian, Tamal, Flora and Nadiya and this week everything was covered in chocolate. I was completely impressed by the way at how little chocolate actually got flung about the tent actually. If I had been in there it would have been an entirely different story. The entire place would have been running with it. I would have had to make a chocolate canoe in the show stopper round this week, just for Paul and Mary to be able to navigate up to the further reaches of the tent.

I love chocolate. It isn’t that I want to waste it by flinging it around willy nilly, but when you’re cooking with it, it does tend to slide rather.  I’d be skidding around all over the shop if I had to fiddle around with it to the extent the bakers did. They call that glossy shine you’re supposed to get on chocolate, tempering. I know that if I had to do it, it would put me in a bad temper. I wonder if this is why they call it that?  Maybe there is good tempering and bad tempering. I know which one I would be doing.

In the first round they had to make chocolate tarts. This seems relatively easy until you realise what an absolute git pastry is to work with, and then add in the absolute git chocolate is to work with and reason that what they’ve actually asked you to do is make git tart. Double git tart in fact.

Tamal went simple with a dark chocolate filling in a chocolate pastry case with a layer of raspberry coulis on the top and some fancy pecan brittle crunched up on it. Like my dear friend Rachel, I don’t really approve of chocolate and fruit together, despite loving raspberries in pretty much everything. It is kind of against the law to mix fruit and chocolate, a bit like mixing the grape and the grain. so although his looked nice, I wasn’t keen.  I’d have quite liked to lick the bowl though, just to help out with the cleaning up.

Nor, for the same reasons, did Flora’s float my boat, although she did use passion fruit in hers, and I like that too. Hers was a bit more yucky because her passion fruit curd split. This basically means it turns into passion fruit scrambled egg, and no amount of chocolate can really redeem that in my opinion.

She also made macawrongs, which is something my friend Nicki and I thought were the preserve of this small area of the East Midlands, but which, it turns out are spreading their evil tentacles through the land. You’ve got to feel sorry for anyone who ends up with a macawrong, except that Flora didn’t even need to make them, and she keeps making them, and Mary keeps politely asking her not to make them, or any one of the other four hundred twiddly bits she keeps making. Will she listen? Will she heck as like.

Ian blew this one with his insistence on putting bay leaves in his tart. I love Ian. I even admire the way he ruthlessly shot and cooked his guinea fowl just to impress Paul and Mary (although if I was one of his children I’d be nervous at how competitive he was likely to get round about now), but he will insist on shoving herbs in things that shouldn’t have herbs in them. It’s like he’s working for the national herb council or something.

When I used to go on holiday with my friend Rachel and her family. If you got the bay leaf in your portion of dinner of an evening, it meant that you were saddled with the washing up. I never expected to find it in my chocolate tart, and neither did Paul and Mary. Clearly in a tent that size, nobody appreciates having to do the washing up.

Nadiya’s tart was chocolate, salted caramel and peanut. All of these things are good, and are good together. Not only that but she totally won me over when she put in chunks of salt crystal rather than fine, pouring salt. I like a bit of salty crunch. It’s divine.

The technical this week was to make a chocolate souffle. Souffle’s are not my thing. They’re faffy and difficult, and if you’re in a restaurant you have to wait at least fifteen minutes for them to make it for you, and you get fed up because everyone else is tucking into their dinner and you’re sitting, drumming your spoon on the table, waiting…waiting…waiting, for something that when it comes is usually a lot of hot air and which, if you don’t eat it quickly enough, resembles a wrinkled party balloon by the end of the meal.

I appreciate they are technically gruelling, and the evil glint in Mary’s eye was worthy of Paul at his very worst when she unveiled the perfect souffle, the perfect souffle it was clear nobody else was going to make as it gradually transpired nobody else in the tent had ever made one.

It was so stressful, even Nadiya got grumpy and shouted at Mel. Mel is the least likely person you could ever think of shouting at, and the intensity of Nadiya’s outburst took them both by surprise. It was the death knell of Nadiya’s souffle dreams, which turned out to be lumpy, soggy and full of clarty great bits of unwhisked meringue. It was almost as bad as that dream I had where I had to do the fox trot with Bruce Forsyth.

You can imagine.

Flora turned it round in the technical with a hot to trot puffball of chocolate wonder. Tamal scraped in second just ahead of Ian, who, by this stage was wondering whether he had shot a robin instead of sacrificing a guinea fowl, and so we limped into the show stopper with everyone hating souffles for the rest of their natural lives, and all still to play for.

The show stopper this week involved having to make a three dimensional chocolate centrepiece that had many wondrous variations of chocolate work and general top chocolatey skills.  Sitting ferally on the work surface tearing lumps of Valrhona from the packet without unwrapping it and snarling like Gollum was not an option, which was a shame, because I’d definitely have rocked that one.

Ian, ever one to show off new skills, and in fact, coming across more like the culinary version of Bear Grylls the longer the show continues, built a chocolate well. Yes. You did read that correctly. A well, made of chocolate, that dipped a small bucket into a vat of liquid white chocolate. The sadness was that the bucket was metal, but pretty much everything else was chocolate. It was intense. It was chocolate engineering. I was utterly impressed, but Paul and Mary didn’t think it was twiddly enough. If he had decorated it with tiny chocolate guinea fowl, say a brace of them, dead and swinging from the crank handle, I reckon they’d have liked it better.

Tamal made a bell tower that was not as impressive as it could have been. It looked rather like he’d put it together in a hurry on Christmas eve after several snowballs and no sleep,  in a bid to make it before an expectant child woke up. To be fair to Tamal it was more impressive than any chocolate bell tower I’ve ever tried to make (i.e. none at all).

Flora made a carousel, which, as ever, was decorated every which way from Sunday, although it did not have any macarons, or macawrongs on it. That was because there was absolutely no room on it due to the fact that every other single item she could think of had been stuck to it, including Paul Hollywood’s fag lighter, a bunch of tea spoons and one of Mel’s eyebrows. It was the final straw for Mary, who by now was basically jonesing for a Carr’s water biscuit and a lie down in a darkened room. Flora was out and away, sent home to Scotland with forty eight kilos of excess baggage on the flight home, consisting entirely of macarons and shortbread cut into the shape of ponies.

This left Nadiya to romp to victory with a stunning peacock crouched over a basket of eggs design. It was quite, quite amazing. So life like in fact that the last shots before the credits saw Ian eyeing it up and approaching from under cover of a gingham bird hide with a shot gun crafted entirely from tempered chocolate.

Next week. The finals.


You can watch this week’s episode here.

Dolphin Nipples

Derek was stalking a particularly fat squirrel in the garden this evening. We were watching the progress of the stalking with interest, taking bets on whether Derek or the squirrel would win.

The squirrel kept darting off but coming back. There was obviously something it felt it had to do, and Derek was getting in its way.

Eventually it darted up the apple tree, snatched a fairly huge apple and staggered away with it.

As we watched it go I commented that the squirrel had particularly huge nipples.

It did.

This led the children to discuss whether the squirrel was a girl or boy squirrel. Then we got on to breasts in general:

Tallulah: Are humans the only animal to have boobs?

Tilly: Well, cows have udders.

Oscar: Yeah. That’s right.

They think about this for a moment.

Tilly: I think dolphins have boobs.

(I am stunned by this. Surely this cannot be right? I have never seen a dolphin with boobs, but then maybe I’ve only ever looked at boy dolphins. In fact, I don’t even remember ever having seen a dolphin’s nipples)

Oscar: How do dolphins have babies anyway?

Tallulah (scornfully): Well first they have sex, and then they have babies. Duh.

They think about this.

Tallulah: Can you milk a dolphin?

We all think about this. We have nothing to say on the matter. Having given it some thought I would suggest it would be difficult, slippery and smell a lot of fish.

Tallulah: Dolphins are the only other animal apart from humans that take pleasure from having sex.

Tilly: How do you know?

Tallulah: I saw it on Sprinkle of Glitter. It is SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN.

I think what kind of a programme is Sprinkle of Glitter? And why are they talking about dolphin sex on it? Have I failed in my parenting duties yet again by inadvertently allowing my daughter to watch dolphin porn?

Tilly: How? How can it be scientifically proven?

Oscar: Yeah. Did they get them to fill in a questionnaire?

Tallulah: NO! The scientists sponsor them.

Tilly: What? To have sex?

Tallulah: No! No! That’s not the right word. I don’t know what the right word is OK? Anyway, they do have sex, and they like it.


I’m feeling a bit sad today.

I woke up full of the cold I thought had gone away. It turns out that the cold was simply masked by the symptoms of a hideous period and a week’s worth of migraine. I am back to necking Vitamin C and echinacea and drinking so much water I am weeing out of my ears. I reckon that I have not had a single day of feeling properly well since the children went back to school. This sucks. I was supposed to be able to get on with things while they were shackled to the venerable institutions of learning. Mostly I am getting on with feeling like pants. It was NOT in the plan.

Also, we had a leak in the kitchen a few weeks back. We have section of flat roof which gets standing water on it sometimes when the tiny drain from it gets blocked with leaves or a gnat’s wing. We often send the children out the landing window to sort it out, if we know it’s happening.

Last time we only knew it was happening when water started dropping from the kitchen ceiling.

We thought we had seen to it and dried the walls out. Today when I was bustling about I noticed one of my pictures had a strange mark on it. I inspected it further. It is mould. Then I inspected all the pictures, and five of them, including one I really love, which is a limited edition lino print I actually paid proper money for, are damaged.

The wall behind the pictures is mouldy, the back of the pictures are mouldy, and the pictures are also marked. I am so very sad.

I called the picture framer and he thinks he can help. I have to take them in tomorrow to be nursed. It could take some time. I know it is only stuff, but it is my stuff and I think my stuff is beautiful, and I am feeling rather bereft.

We are also feeling rather bereft at the thought that the damage to the roof is clearly rather more extensive than we had thought, and we must now talk seriously to a roofer before any more hideous weather sets in. We were only just beginning to pull financially straight after the summer and the girl’s birthdays. We have just begun to think with something slightly less than anguish about Christmas and the boy’s birthday. Now we must think of roofing too.

It is not that we can’t afford it. We are lucky in that I can get the pictures restored, hopefully, and we can get the roof fixed. It is just one of those days when we seem to be faced with problems that we actually thought we had dealt with successfully and which are now coming back to bite us on our proverbial arses. It’s a bit like sitting a test and having the relief of getting through it, only to be told that your initial test was just a test, and now you have the real test.


Ah well. Onwards and upwards. All will be well and all manner of things will be well, and some of the things might be mouldy, and certainly many of them will be damp, but we will persevere.

Early morning blartings

I am still here.

Waves from a distance.

I would like, once again to enter my plea to become a menopausal, bearded woman who never has to have another period in her life.

I have spent the entire week feeling like death due to hormones, after a week and a half of feeling like death due to a stinking cold and the run up to hormones. It is, frankly a huge, hairy bastard of a time. This is particularly so given that I have been incapacitated by migraine for large parts of the week and have mainly existed in a haze of pain and co-codamol.

I have, however, sucked it up manfully, even helping a friend move house, which involved nearly being run over by a fairly large wardrobe which I had manhandled to the top of her stairs and only realised I could not get downstairs on my own when it started to whoosh away from me. That was an exciting moment of my life I never want to have to experience again. Luckily me and the wardrobe came out fine in the end though Narniaesque it was not.

I have also managed to wrestle the roasting pan out of the back of the saucepan drawer where it was wedged for a good forty minutes just as I needed to get to a frying pan which was in the same drawer. Dinner was woefully late, my arm is covered in bruises where I jammed it between the drawer front and a recalcitrant potato masher, and Jason had to come and help, but victory was mine in the end, as was the frying pan.

I have only given in to things in extremis or when faced with anyone who wants to talk to me about amateur dramatics. This fills me with as much pain as all the colds and periods in the world combined and sadly cannot be dealt with by popping various forms of Codeine. In two weeks time, when this dratted play is done I intend to get royally drunk for about twelve hours, and vomit into my own hair with exhilaration.

In the meantime, let me fill you in on some good things:

Nigel Slater has a new volume of Kitchen Diaries out. My copy arrived this morning and I have already wept with joy over the beauty of his writing. I love him. I love him. I love him. Any man who can make the thought of eating a pig’s cheek seem like a thing of beauty and a joy forever should be crowned king. I’d even buy a tea towel with his face on, and you know how I feel about commemorative tea towels and the monarchy.

I have paid my car tax. This has made me very sad because my bank account is sadly depleted, but also very happy for remembering that I had to do it, and you can now do it online, so I did not have to go back to the post office. I feel efficient and delighted.

I have now written 115,000 words of my book. I have also tentatively started editing it. Plus I have done a Twitter pitch for an agent. I did not get an agent interested, but I am very, very proud of myself that I did not hide under the duvet and pretend that I was not a writer and let the whole thing pass me by, which was what I was going to do originally. I have nailed my writerly colours to the mast. It’s a bit wobbly and lists to starboard, but otherwise all is well.