05 January, 2007

a couple of ways to beat the January blues

Actually, I don't know why they call it the "blues" (isn't that a line from an Elton John song? no, I think he does know, but I can't remember why). If I were in the business of coining phrases, I'd call it the "greys."

Don't get me wrong: I like grey. I wear a lot of grey, my sitting room furniture is grey. John's getting grey and he looks fabulous. I don't even mind the grey London sky. It's more the prevailing sense that everything is at an ebb, nothing new is around the corner, and it's making me sleepy.

Added to this general aura of gloom is the fact that Keechie has once again decided that our down comforter is far superior to her litter box, so back we've gone to the cleaner's with a big plastic bag full of the unspeakable, and John's jaw is set in that way that makes me count the cats every now and then, just to make sure. I don't understand what part of "a quarter of a Valium twice a day" isn't working for her. Sigh. Let's see, what else can I whinge about? I broke a blood vessel in my finger, have you ever done that? Agony! All blue and purple and puffed up under the skin of my knuckle like it's either going to explode, or send a heart-stopping blood clot surging through my veins. Awful. Can you say "wimpy"?

And then there's the ongoing anxiety-making house search. Everything is sickeningly unaffordable, and the thought of packing up again in just a year since our last move is obscurely unpalatable. But then I look around this flat, albeit a nice flat, and there isn't enough room for dishes or pantry things in the kitchen, no room for Avery's belongings in her room, or her clothes in her closet (and she honestly doesn't have that many, it's just bad storage). Certainly no room for the books that seem to enter our lives with no volition on our part. So we have to move, out of unaffordable small square footage into, one imagines, even less affordable but larger square footage. It makes my stomach squiggle to think of it. And John's unshakeable sang-froid is, frankly, maddening. Someone needs to share my anxiety, and I'm not getting any help from my chirpy husband or chirpy daughter. Oh, wait, it's Keechie who is my partner in strife. I wish it could have been someone who is toilet-trained. Double sigh.

So we've been casting about for things to cheer us up. Let's see, there was the James Bond movie yesterday! I survived! I would actually perhaps consider seeing it again, so I can enjoy things like the undeniable eye candy that is Daniel Craig, without wondering whether in the next scene he will lose both arms. He is simply dreamy in the role, I think (yeah, like it wanted only my opinion to establish the fact), even though in general I don't groove to blonds, and he's too beefed-up, I think. I prefer a man who looks as if he has better things to do than beef up, although arguably poor James gets that way just leaping away from certain death several times an hour, and lifting heavy things off damsels in distress. Anyway, it was fun, and I'm proud I made it through with no averted eyes, much less an untimely departure.

Then I felt unfaithful, so I found another Matthew Macfadyen site that's lots of fun to dip in and out of. I'm desperate enough for the sound of his velvety voice that I actually listened to several of his commercial voiceovers. We can but wait for "Death at a Funeral," starring as well the delicious Rupert Graves, as you see. Some kindly soul has created a calendar on the Matthew site that counts down the days. There are 109 left, in case you were wondering.

Then there's the controversial (but we thought sublimely uplifting and inspiring) BBC programme called "The Choir." The show follows the progress of an English school choir, directed as a sort of social and cultural experiment by Gareth Malone, the impossibly youthful choirmaster of the London Symphony Orchestra. I personally believe that anyone who is willing to try to teach young kids anything should be knighted. The development of these very unpromising high school kids, unexposed to classical music until the experiment began, from typical slouchy teenagers to people so proud of their achievements that they were in tears, was terribly moving, we thought. Some people have offered up criticism that the director was so hard on the children, but John and I are both fresh from the experience of being American parents in an atmosphere where singling out, whether for failure or success, is virtually prohibited, and I think children suffer a lot less from harsh criticism than they do from a) neglect, or b) blind, undeserved praise. Avery has so thrived in the English girls' school atmosphere where every day offers a chance to do well, to be roundly scolded if she doesn't, and greatly rewarded if she does, that we're loath to find fault. Anyway, if you can find a way to watch the series, it's definitely attention-grabbing.

Oh, and the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood is a good way out of the doldrums. My friend Bex from my screenwriting course invited Avery and me to meet up with her family there, so we hopped on the Central Line (not without a bit of requisite fumbling in the tube station over the difference between the Circle and Central lines, requiring the intervention of a lovely ticket agent, thank you, how CAN I be so lame about directions?) and ended up in Bethnal Green. Ignoring all the prominent signs directing us to the Museum, it was but the work of a moment for me to lead Avery in the opposite direction and walk several blocks out of the way, finally succumbing to ask a nice lady with a pushchair where I should be going. She firmly turned me around 180 degrees, saying kindly, "Love, you just got yourself all turned about," and within minutes we had we achieved our destination.

Bex was there with her darling baby Tilda, dressed in a completely English fashion with a flowered blouse topped by a handmade leaf-green cardigan. She followed us solemnly with her eyes at first, but soon was wolfing satsumas as fast as Bex could peel them, and seemed ready to accept us as afternoon companions. What is the difference between satsumas, mandarin oranges, and clementines? I do not know, and every English person I ask has a different answer. Someday I will find out, probably the same day I get the definitive answer on what is a prawn and what is a shrimp. Are all these questions basically down to size? Or is there a creature difference? A project for a day when I'm not looking for a way out of the doldrums.

Anyway, the museum was great fun, with the most amazing collection of doll's houses (I love how they say that, not "dollhouses" as we do in America) I have ever seen. How did the children not destroy all the little pieces, or lose them eventually as Avery did? And she was a careful child. There were rocking horses to ride, and thousands of stuffed animals, board games, puzzles, dressup clothes, you name it. Eventually Bex's husband Joe turned up, fresh from his night work as a fish purveyor! I would love to know more about that. Must ask Bex for details. His family firm work all night to provide fish to Selfridges, among other food halls and restaurants, all over London. How fascinating. He took off with Tilda to the Miffy exhibit and Bex and I trailed around after Avery, gossiping. One of our fellow screenwriters turns out to be a ... stripper! I always did notice the lacy tops to her real-live stockings, when she sat down in class, and thought, "Gee, that's a lot of effort to go to, to be sexy, for a screenwriting class." In his typical lackadaisical fashion, our tutor never seemed to notice. Wow, what a job.

Finally Tilda had reached the end of her considerable attention span, and we parted, with plans to get together again. I always find it absurdly flattering when an English girl wants to be friends, so I am definitely not letting Bex go. It's such fun to be with a smart, talented, new friend about whom all the details are yet to be learned! Like that she and her husband met "speed-dating," a concept new to me. Apparently you and the friends you go with meet lots of people all in a row, and then sort of tick a box to say which of them you'd like to meet again. And it was instantly clear to Bex and Joe that they had hit pay dirt. This is so alien to my own history (take one look at the impossibly gorgeous and cool 18-year-old John, lo these 24 years ago and... that's it! game over, in a good way) that I could hardly credit it as real.

She and I both have sort of frustrating wishes to be writers, now knowing exactly what we want to say, but knowing we want to say something. And there's always the lure of someone who appears to be as besotted with her daughter as I am with mine. How well I remember, however, the pressures of a day with a person who cannot talk. I remember sitting with Avery, as she had her blueberries and melon balls and cheese cubes in her high chair, looking at her longingly and murmuring, "Please say something." I was roundly rewarded, as it turns out. The other night we were finishing dinner and I looked around all the empty serving dishes and said, "We decimated that meal." Avery coughed self-deprecatingly and said, "No, actually that's not the word you mean. 'Demolish,' perhaps, but not 'decimate.' That word refers to the ancient Roman tradition of choosing the tenth person in a group of prisoners to execute. That's why troops are always referred to as 'decimated,' although they don't do the tenth-person thing anymore."

Well put. Thank you.

The best way, however, to beat the "greys" is... meatloaf. And while my father is practically perfect in every way, I have moved away from his super-simple (and delicious) recipe, lifted from my grandmother's recipe file, containing little more as I recall than ground beef, bread, onions and eggs. No, this meatloaf is of my own design, because I wanted a little more variation in the flavors. And last night's version made one last change to my original recipe, because there was no plain ground pork at the grocery, and John made the excellent executive decision to substitute pork sausage. With mashed potatoes and a big plate of asparagus spears, sauteed slowly in olive oil and sea salt, you cannot get a more comforting dinner. Enjoy.

Kristen's Pretentious Meatloaf
(serves six easily, with leftovers)

1/3 pound each: minced beef and minced lamb
1/3 pound pork sausage
4 slices wholemeal bread, without crusts, torn into shreds
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup grated parmesan
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 medium onion, minced
3 stalks celery, minced
1 handful curly parsley leaves, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
six slices streaky bacon

It couldn't be any simpler: mix everything together, except for the bacon, which you drape over the loaf once it's shaped in a glass dish that you've sprayed with nonstick spray, or lined with aluminium (note the darling extra "i" there) foil. Bake at 400 degrees for one hour.

Now, curl up with a movie, and a nice woolly throw, and a hot water bottle, and if you can get one, a nice little girl. Put your feet up, and wait for February. It can't take longer than a few weeks...


Anonymous said...

Hey, Kristen --

I'm finishing up my (belated)
Christmas cards and wanted to send to you in London. However, I seem to have misplaced your address. Could you email it to me? -- cjo1@nyu.edu --

thanks --


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