Between me entering the shop and leaving three minutes later, the sky has bloomed from a dark bruise to the blow-to-the-head glow of a computer screen, and the rain is thick. The few people visible are clotted in shop doorways, staring up at the sky like peasants in an illuminated manuscript. I am alone on the pavements, John Wayne in a ghost town of pedestrianised shopping streets, feet sliding in his flip flops, plastic bag of M&S soup and Nice biscuits hanging from his curled fingers. All he’s thinking about is how quickly he can get back to the saloon, and whether his Amazon order of comic books might arrive there today.
Me: Do you want me to make you some scrambled eggs and smoked salmon again?
Cancer Dad: No… I’ll make… myself… some poached eggs.
Me and my mother: BWWWAHAAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
Cancer Dad: [indignant] I’m… serious.
[My mother making him poached eggs while he slowly zimmers to the table.]
For the record, my scrambled eggs are astoundingly good.
It’s been such a class-A shitfuck of a day today, please just imagine me biting my lip so hard to keep from Saying The Things About The People that blood is gushing from between my gnashing jaws.
And with that magical image in place, come closer to me around the fire, sweet children, and let me tell you about my regrets. I’ve been thinking about this all recently anyway, while I was astride my poor, worn out, but never-to-be-spared hobby horse of Constant Feminism and occasionally switching to its tiny mule sidekick, Jesus But I Wish I’d Had Any Kind Of Feminist Education As A Young Woman At All, after a particularly dire piece in the Guardian the other week about Feminist Weddings (I’m not linking).
I’ve tried to be nice about it, but if you’ve changed your name on marriage, I think less of you. And I always will. I know that’s my problem, not yours, but there it is. This fantastic piece about a woman giving her child her surname, not her partner’s, made me delighted again that I’d kept mine after the wedding (Why doesn’t everyone? I just don’t get that. Can someone please explain it to me in slow, simple English so even I can understand why you would *change your name* to this guy’s? *waggles thumb at some dude over my shoulder*) but disappointed I’d not given more thought to the kids having mine as a surname. It took three weeks after getting the birth certificate for us to go back and request M to have my name even as a middle name, a naming pattern we’ve continued with the other two, but why just a middle name? Why would I do that? And so my mind travels back to our wedding: Why at our wedding would I not do a speech (although at least my bridesmaid did)? Why would my *dad* do a speech, but not my mother? Why would our tables all be named after Great Men in comedy, literature, exploration and more? I JUST CAN’T EVEN *claws face off, marries the four winds*
Anyway, I’m furious tonight, and this appears to be my punching bag. Bon soir, mes amis.
As this bug continues, I’m still sofa-bound and forced to watch all the films I’ve had taped for millennia (tiny violins play). Today’s: Beginners. I loved it so much more than I thought I would (CAVEAT: I still think Vanilla Sky is an excellent film and EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG), considering I usually find Ew-Mac pretty much unwatchable, but he’s good, Melanie Laurent manages to avoid MPDG, and Christopher Plummer (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role) is just fantastic. Achingly so.
Was it the right film for me to watch today? Maybe not. This is Ewan MacGregor’s character (Oliver Fields) with his father in the kitchen at a party, shortly after the father (Plummer, as Hal Fields) has been told he’s terminal.
OF in VO: He started telling everyone he was getting better.
OF: Why are you telling them you’re turning the corner?
HF: Oh, well…
OF: You have *stage 4* cancer.
HF: [sighs] It’s not as bad as it sounds.
OF: Pop. There is no stage 5.
HF: [chuckles] That’s not what it means!
OF: Well then what does it mean?
HF: It just means that it’s been through three other stages.
Yup. We well know that game. And later on, when Plummer is completely discharged from hospital care, referred instead to hospice care - we had that treat the other day. The final goodbye from the oncologist we liked so much. The hospital bed brought in. The rounds of medicine lined up by my mother in pill boxes ordered specially.
I know Hollywood illnesses are nothing to base a life on, but so much here echoes. But it was the stuff which doesn’t echo which makes me the most sad. Oliver Fields says of his father, ‘For the first time, I saw him really in love.’ Hal Fields’s final years, after he finally comes out in his seventies, are filled with activism, passion, singing, movie nights, parties, food, and love. Now, I’m not saying someone with three types of cancer plus a galloping case of PSP has any responsibility to show us what a whale of a time he’s having, but my god. If you don’t count contentment with sitting in an armchair reading the Daily Mail, I don’t remember the last time I ever thought my father was happy.
It was supposed to be a lovely day at my parents’ yesterday, me and J and the kids, enjoying my mother’s cooking (side-eye to camera), sitting in the garden, hanging out with my dad. Unfortunately, I’ve either developed Crohn’s Disease from nowhere in a matter of hours, or I’ve caught a stomach bug (My mother: “How can you have caught a bug?” Me: [stares meaningfully at our three sticky children who socialise daily with other sticky children]) which meant not only did I sleep our entire visit, but when I was awake on arrival and at departure, I did a fair impression of someone who was mocking Cancer Dad and his terminal bowel cancer (shuffled step, hunched over, swollen stomach). Real cool.
But it does mean that today, while the children are off picking up new bugs to bring home to us like dogs with a dead bird, I’ve been forced to do nothing but catch up with stuff on the telly recorder box. Hurray! Sadly it’s not on iPlayer anymore, but I’m sure you wizards could find some functioning link to The Battle of the Sexes, from the BBC’s Storyville strand (always excellent), about Billie Jean King and her match with professional troll and proud “male chauvinist pig” Bobby Riggs.
Although the match is the framing device, naturally it’s about so much more than that. From how tiny the women’s prizes were compared to the men’s, to how few their competitions were - plenty of events were men’s tennis only - to how Billie Jean King along with eight others signed up for a dollar each to start their own pro tennis tour (boo, Virginia Wade) - right through to the match with Riggs, and beyond: to the excellent, incredible Venus Williams finally getting equal pay for women at Wimbledon.
But just to remind ourselves why a weary, ‘Sometimes, it’s not about feminism’ is bullshit: the film finishes with the reminder that tennis is still the only sport in which women and men are paid the same. Jesus.
Feeling a bit u ok hun/full of burning rage at the moment, when the temptation to dwell upon the much dickishness of the world seems overwhelming, so I thought I’d instead write a list of some of the wonderful things in the world. Yeah. That’s right. Move over Sister Maria, you’ve got some motherfucking competition.
1. We had M’s school Summer Fete this week, and I was on the cake stall. Parents who buy a 20p cake and refuse change from their proffered £1. They are my fave. We also raised more than twice what we’ve ever raised before. Joys.
2. Twitter, during things like the Germany-Brazil match the other night. In fact, Twitter generally. It’s such a good thing. You who pour such dismissive scorn upon it, you are geese. And anyone who ever DMs me to say they’re thinking of me on those shittier days. You are magical.
3. Rereading Peter Pan with the kids. Holy shit, that is such a fantastic book. Have you read it? You should. It’s good. Loopier than I ever remember. It’s so good.
4. This John Legend video.
5. I’ve got a chicken roasting in the oven right now. That smell is a beautiful, beautiful moment in a short, dark life (the chicken’s, not mine).
6. Tiny children who are kind to their tinier siblings. I *cannot* get enough of that shit at the moment.
7. Pistachio Magnums. The silver ones taste of evil and endless parental disappointment, but those pistachio ones are like perfect synthetic nutfulness.
8. Playing hide and seek in a public swimming pool. I never get tired of it.
9. The pile of books I’m building for my summer hols in a couple of weeks. Besides a day’s kayaking, the only thing J and I plan to do on that holiday is read in silence. I actually cry every time I think about it.
10. My awesome neighbour, who saw me as I came home after a horrific day yesterday and immediately took me on a 5k run. YOU ARE MY MEGA FAVE.
Now all I need is some Adventure Time DVDs, a stash of Cadbury’s Creations Jelly Popping Candy Shells (goddammit why have you disappeared from every shop in a 5 mile radius?) and an escape fund, and I am golden.
Someone retweeted this into my timeline the other day.
So, who’s going to write a dystopian YA novel where a girl is a drug dealer but what she deals is contraception? Because I want in on that.— Justina Ireland (@tehawesomersace)June 30, 2014
It literally gave me goosebumps. It had everything in there: dystopia, a girl doing a rough tough job, issues of female bodily autonomy and the implied criminalisation of that… I wanted to write that book so much I could taste it. As with all writing-related tweets, I didn’t just favourite it to get buried in the hundreds of articles I mean, eventually, to get round to reading. Instead I emailed it to myself, to sit in my inbox with the hundreds of literary prize details and inspirational snippets I mean, eventually, to get round to making the most of.
But as it stewed in my brain for the rest of the day, I had a slow, joyful realisation. I couldn’t write that book. Not in a million years. For whomever did get round to writing it, I would be first in line to buy that book by them on launch day, but I couldn’t write it, any more than I could write a nineteenth-century historically accurate thriller, or a hard SF war epic. I’d read the bejeesus out of both of those, but they are simply not in my brain to write. But the joy of that realisation was that the other stuff in my head - the nonfic about my parents’ families, the literary novel, the next women’s humour(ish) fiction book, the children’s picture book - is brewing so nicely, fattening up like the grapes in our back garden grapery (or whatever it’s called), and I know they will all come to fruition.
It turns out that actually, it’s pretty good to occasionally be reminded of what you can’t do. If only to remind yourself of the wonderful things you can.
It’s been two weeks now, and I can’t stop daydreaming about going off on some semi-global 9-10 month jaunt with J and the kids. Two flies in that lovely daydream ointment: 1. We add approx £7 to our savings each year. We need between £40-50k to even begin to manage the flights, food and roofs we’ll require. 2. The most number of days the five of us have spent together without childcare, school, work or babysitters scattering our gang is probably in the low single figures.
Still. How would this be for a trip?
London > Vancouver > Honolulu > Sydney > Christchurch >
Then it gets a bit vague. South-east Asia, which I’ve never visited before, and ending in Japan, which I have, and which I’d so like to visit with the kids. And do you know what? If nothing comes of this, it’s no disaster. There are enough adventures on these choppy waters right now that this happy fantasy is a simple pleasure.
Who knows if it’s my dad’s fast-failing health, my dear sister's life on the other side of the globe, or maddening encounters with M (and soon to be F's) primary school and the education system as a whole - but all I think about at the moment is the five of us fleeing our lovely new house and raising ourselves on boats and beaches and abandoned castles and leafy hillsides as we work our way around the globe with eight languages between us (current number: one and a half and a few words) and a chance to learn some *really* useful skills (because I just can't shake the zombie/apocalypse terrors that films like this just don’t help, and obviously we must raise the kids to know animal husbandry, basic botany, midwifery & medical care, engineering, and weaponry & self-defense).
But we have no money to do it, and we have no guts. Best just wait until the sea levels rise and we’re all forced into stilted abodes and savage battles for the last pack of antibiotics.
This whole post starts with a sad story which is actually, for me, kind of a happy story. I made this recipe again last night and it was so beautiful and so magnificent and so exactly what my mouth wanted that even though my phone was - at most - eight steps from the table, I ate the whole thing before I remembered to take a photo. And it was so beautiful. Truly. So the sad part of this story is that I had to instead just take a photo of the original Sainsbury’s recipe card photo, as folded and mangled as it is. Also, mine looked better.
It was a good initial recipe, but I’ve made some teeeeny tweaks to make it perfect.
Serves 3 (I know that’s not a standard measure, but I think it’s perfect - two plus leftovers, or you and your two best buds. I’m sure you understand the concept of ‘three’.):
200g king prawns (I used frozen, defrosted them that morning, and saved £££)
1 red chilli, finely chopped
50g fresh coriander, finely chopped
2 limes, zest and juice of one, other cut into wedges
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp runny honey
1 tsp rice vinegar
2 x tins green lentils
2 avocados, peeled and sliced
200g radishes, finely sliced
1 tbsp sesame oil
4 pak choi
1. In a bowl, mix the prawns, half the chopped chilli and half the chopped coriander, the zest and half the lime juice together. Leave to develop into something magical while you do everything else.
2. Drain the lentils. Don’t just do what I did the first time I made this and vaguely tip the liquid out - put them in a sieve and preeeeesssss those bastards down. Don’t worry if a few of them disintegrate a bit - they’ll be in your mouth soon enough. But you want to get rid of as much liquid as you can, otherwise that salad will sloosh all over your plate.
3. In another bowl, mix the soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar, and remaining chilli, coriander and lime juice. Add the super-drained lentils, the sliced avocados and radishes and stir.
4. Over a medium-high heat, heat the sesame oil and cook the pak choi (with heart-ends snipped off) until wilted (approx 2 mins). Remove, plate, then add the prawns in their marinade to the pan and cook through for a minute.
5. While the prawns cook, pile the lentil-bowl-contents onto the plates of pak choi. After a minute, add the prawns on top. Squeeze the wedge of lime over that. Demolish. If you’re really hungry, serve with some nice sourdough and lashings of ice-cold butter.