Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Romance, Mrs Mole and Pasta Bake - what does it for you?

We got home the other night to find the older two Drama Queens enrapt by “Out of Africa”; always gratifying to find your offspring gripped by something you loved. In an effort to gauge how far through they were I asked if they had got to the bit where Robert Redford washes Meryl Streep’s hair – which is one of those moments that I classify as creating a bat-squeak of romance and sensuality. (What a fantastic thing Google is to be sure, I have just discovered that I am indebted for the fabulous ‘bat-squeak’ image to Evelyn Waugh). Being girls they immediately understood why I thought it was romantic whereas Husband being the lone male in the house failed to see any overtones of romance in a good sluicing and dousing of female tresses.

My romantic ponderings were given further fuel by my latest fave rave on the book front, ‘Les Tres Riches Heures de Mrs Mole’ by Ronald Searle the British cartoonist, now in his nineties. The book is a classic example of how romance doesn’t always come neatly packaged in heart shaped boxes, accompanied by diamond rings, chocolates and champagne – not that I’m dismissing these traditional trimmings, I must add.

On New Year’s Eve 1969, Ronald Searle’s wife Monica was diagnosed with a virulent form of breast cancer. The first doctor’s advice was to “put her somewhere comfortable and help her die as peacefully as possible.” Instead they found another doctor who was prepared to help her fight the cancer and she embarked upon 47 gruelling and ‘horrendous’ chemotherapy treatments.

At the time of the cancer’s appearance the couple had just bought a house in the South of France and were beginning the long process of renovation. Every time over the next five years that Monica went into hospital for a round of chemotherapy, Ronald Searle created a picture for her bedside, illustrating for her the riches of life and the future in that house that awaited her.

Whilst Monica lay in a hospital bed, her alto ego Mrs Mole inhabited a world of sunshine and colour. A world in which all the ordinary things in life are celebrated and enjoyed, from tea in bed, singing in the bath, dancing in the snow, quaffing champagne, and wrapping presents to swimming in a very nifty mole bikini.

Miraculously Monica lived for another 42 years, enjoying Mrs Mole’s life in Provence, though sadly she died earlier this year before the publication of the collected drawings, that were in effect Ronald Searle’s love letter to her.

On the face of it, a collection of cartoons about a female mole doesn’t sound like much of a portrayal of hope and romance, but Ronald Searle’s drawings create a tapestry of such love I found it a really inspiring tribute to the value of optimism, love and a life worth living.

Am thankful that I can find romance in prosaic things – hope Husband can too – as he’s just about to get home to discover it’s tuna pasta bake for the second night in a row, to be eaten to the accompaniment of groans from sick child on the sofa – Robert Redford eat your heart out!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Marmite, made to make your mouth water?

I think one of the most evocative things about childhood is the tastes you remember. Whilst Proust may have been a sucker for madeleines, it only takes the thought of an orange smartie, a fruit pastille or a sherbet love heart to get my mouth watering. After Eight Mints were regarded as the height of sophistication in my childhood circles. I was particularly fond of their individual envelopes from which if you were a child of criminal inclinations, you could cunningly remove the chocolate and replace envelope in the box to remain unnoticed until an unfortunate adult took an unlucky dip into what was by then a rustling box of empty envelopes. Another favourite staple was ‘Ready Brek’, a breakfast cereal that based on my memory fits into the gruel category, and whose advertisements featured happy children glowing in the dark with the type of radioactive intensity that would have today’s parents reaching for the Geiger counter. In retrospect this passion seems extraordinary as it has consistency of thin wall paper paste and much the same taste, though I suspect that the golden syrup that we were allowed to write our initials on top of the bowlful of the stuff may have had something to do with my fond memories.

Dependent upon your childhood nationality you either swear by Marmite (if you’re British), Vegemite (if you’re Australian) or just make hawking noises and generally swear (rest of world) when faced by what I regard as the ultimate comfort food. Based on the contents of our fridge I realise we are now the true bi-national family, split right down the middle in terms of our yeast paste allegiance in that I still eat Marmite, whereas the other savoury groupie in the house, Drama Queen no.3 hits the Vegemite when the toast pops.

Fortunately Marmite is readily accessible in Australia, though in a classic bit of rebranding it appears on Australian shelves as "My Mate",(APOLOGIES 'OUR MATE' - conclusive proof of my inability to read what is in front of me - thanks Luce for pointing it out!) thus removing the necessity that was a theme of our New York years, of instructing any guest from the UK to pack a large jar of Marmite and a couple of giant bars of Galaxy chocolate in their bags if they wanted any room at the inn.

Nigella Lawson includes a recipe for marmite sandwiches in her book, ‘How to Eat’. Her description of mixing marmite with butter before spreading it on white bread was enough to have me uttering moans of nostalgic greed, as good quality white bread and marmite is enough to reduce me to a Mastermind moment for those of you who are my British vintage, in that like Magnus Magnusson, I feel a “I’ve started, so I’ll finish’ compulsion coming over me and the loaf of bread vanishes quick smart.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pop goes the pineapple

I couldn’t resist buying this pineapple plant. I have never actually considered how pineapples grow,and if asked would have put it in the 'how many angels cavorting on a pinhead' type basket of tricky questions. If push came to biological shove I would have hazarded a guess at a coconut type tree existence – thus proving my woeful knowledge of tropical fruit propagation. I saw this particular specimen in the local Italian emporium and was immediately besotted, handed over what seemed a very reasonable amount of hard cash for a living curiosity and carried it home in triumph.

When we arrived in America, one of our neighbours very kindly threw a ‘Welcome to the neighbourhood’ coffee morning for us. Being Rye it wasn’t the quick pop round for a cuppa type affair that would be the norm in Australia but rather a full on event with invitations and decorations. Based on the very smart invitation, the theme for the morning seemed to be pineapples, an impression reinforced by the pineapple centrepiece on the hostesses’ table, so impressive it was actually more in the nature of a modern sculpture than a fruit bowl. I discovered that my hostess was sadly not signalling time for a quick round of pina coladas, but was in fact being incredibly clever as the pineapple is apparently a sign of welcome – a less well known fact in the UK, and indeed Australia, where we tend to use a bottle as a sign of welcome, but that’s different cultures for you. However now I’ve got my own particular pineapple production unit, I’ll be greeting guests with a welcoming smile and a flick of the hand towards the table and my own pet pineapple welcome mat substitute.

Friday, November 4, 2011

It's all about Darwin, Darling

As one who generally discovers fashion at the precise moment when the leaders of the pack declare that particular look is passé, there is a certain sweet triumph in being a trendsetter, so the news that Lonely Planet had voted Darwin as one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2012 was a vindication of our ravings about what a fabulous holiday we had in Darwin and the Northern Territory, and I am taking particular pleasure in saying “Darwin, oh yes, just been there. Fabulous, Darling, Absolutely Fabulous” in best Joanna Lumley style.

The dog and builder are making a slow and steady recovery. The builder did take on a Scarlet Pimpernel quality last week in terms of a “they seek him here, they seek him there” feel and I increasingly nervous that we were creeping dangerously close to December where based on my experience all good, and most of the shonky tradesmen disappear for the start of summer and the lure of the surf and sand. However the good news is that like buses, you wait for two weeks for a single tradesman to show and then suddenly as with yesterday, you wake up to find the place is overrun with burly men working in five different places in what one can only hope is a smoothly choreographed manoeuvre.

A friend’s corgi was run over yesterday in dramatic fashion in front of owner, friend and small child. Fortunately he survived going under front and back wheels of a car, though his owner nearly succumbed to a heart attack . Apparently part of the miraculous cheating death experience, can be attributed to lots of thick hair, a build that can only be described as padded and short, big bones – this is all sounding dangerously close to home but at least it is making me feel good about my chances if squashed by something.

Am slightly concerned that the recent birthday heralds the start of my loosing my marbles –I realised with horror this week that I had transferred the payment for the combined gas and electricity bill into Drama Queen No.1’s bank account. Given the lavish way the Drama Queens splash the hot water around in the shower and the household tendency to flick the heating on when the Sydney temperature drops below a level where shorts are a preferred option, we would obviously be one of the energy company’s favourite customers and had DQ No.1 checked her bank account she would have discovered that she was wealthy beyond her wildest dreams (bear in mind normal balance hovers around zero apart from the nano second when her monthly allowance gets paid in). Discovery of the error was enough to have me scuttling down to the bank to remedy the situation in a race against time before she inserted her card into an ATM and discovered the Gods had smiled and coffees were on her.