Of Walkies, Candles and a Party Faux Pas 10/25/2011
THE VIETNAM VET (This memory makes me cringe so much I have to crowbar my buttocks apart afterwards.) At a party in Nashville I met a very affable, rather rotund man over the canapes. As I grappled with a prawn the size of a labrador (American food is so big) he told me he was a Vietnam vet. 'How lovely!' I said, eyes shining.
'I don't like to talk about it,' he said, looking away.
'Why not?' I was puzzled.
'I saw some …' The man's eyes misted over. '...terrible things out there.'
'Oh…' I thought for a moment. 'Like when you had to put hamsters down and stuff?'
And that was the moment I realised and he realised that I thought he meant he was a veterinary surgeon who worked in Vietnam.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MAVIS Whisper 'walkies' to a dog and they'll go berserk, jumping up and down, squealing like an X Factor auditionee, but Mavis is not as other dogs. Upon hearing 'walkies' she sighs. She averts her frog-esque eyes. She flattens her furry bottom ever deeper in to the £2 Primark fleecy blanket lining her basket. And she hopes you'll go away.
But I don't go away. I clip her lead to her collar and cajole her out of the front door and drag her around the park as if we're rehearsing for a state funeral. Occasionally she breaks in to a lumpen trot, if she sees a stray crisp packet. If other dogs romp around her, keen to sniff, she endures their overtures without responding (think Queen Victoria having a smear). As we walk she flashes me pleading looks, silently begging to be taken home where it's safe and warm and there might be a Jammie Dodger left unattended on a low table.
A CANDLE IN THE WIND Ooh, he knows how to wound. On the doorstep of a friend's house with my husband, anticipating a sunday roast, an epic gossip, too much wine and zero washing up, I waggled the gift bag in my hand as I rang the doorbell, eager for marital Brownie points: I had remembered to bring a pressie for our hostess.
And no ordinary pressie. I was waggling a pastel candle in a frostedholder, the finest that John Lewis' gift department could muster.
'Ah, a scented candle,' said Matthew as we heard footsteps approach the other side of the door. 'The successor to supermarket flowers as the classic impersonal gift.'
(He doesn't get it. Men don't get candles, like they don't get bunting. Or wanting to murder everybody you know with a pick axe once a month.)
I MUST DO A TO-DO LIST Many years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and Take That were famous the first time around, I peeked at my friend's To-Do list, written neatly on a page of her Filofax in purple felt tip. I laughed. Because it went like this:
1. Get married
2. Have baby
3. Buy house
I laughed because my friend didn't have a boyfriend at the time.
You know the punchline here, don't you? Yup. By the end of that year, she'd married a nice man (that I introduced her to), got pregnant and was choosing the tiles for the en-suite in her new house.
MY OTHER HAT How do you feel about musicals? Does it charm you that people burst in to song at inappropriate moments? Can you cope with choreography? Me, I'm in two minds about musicals, which is surprising because I write them. Well, co-write, along with Matthew my husband.
Yes, my other hat is covered in glitter, despite my misgivings about a world where characters wear tap shoes and croon about the moon in June. I've co-written two musicals, and the third is being staged in London in November. You could come and see it! If you want!
They're a bit different, our musicals. They're funnier and more dramatic than your average specimen, with deeper, richer characters. I write the dialogue, and Matthew supplies the music and the lyrics. Mavis supplies the bored expression and the faint smell of PuppiChunx.
Ifyou're interested in knowing more, visit the website. And say hello if you come along – I'll be the one hyperventilating at the back.
THINGS NOT TO SAY TO AN AUTHOR (2) Should I have heard of you? (How in the name of God can anybody answer that? “Yes! I am extremely famous. You should be ashamed that you don't fall asleep every night with my name on your lips,” or “No! I am so unknown that I have to re-introduce myself to my Mother every Christmas”.)
IRISHISMS "I'd eat a child's arse through a chair."
Not particularly polite, but colourful and gets the message across. If you turn up at a friend's house, faint with weakness for want of a Hob Nob, and they ask politely if you are hungry you can say, with feeling, 'I'd eat a child's arse through a chair' i.e. I am beyond hungry and if you don't feed me soon I can't answer for the consequences.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MAVIS Mavis doesn't like to boast but she and the rest of her breed have special rights enshrined in law. Oh yes. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels so entranced Charles II that he passed a law allowing them access to anywhere in the land. Mavis can go anywhere. You can't, and nor can I, but Mavis can. She can saunter in to Buckingham Palace, she can waddle through Parliament, she can fart and grumble her way up and down the corridors of number ten. She won't, though, because she can't be bothered.
GENTLEMEN OF THE PRESS I used to find it distracting when certain newspapers insisted on listing the value of the houses owned by people in the news. You know the sort of thing – 'the murdered woman lived in a three hundred and fifty thousand pound bungalow'/'the shamed actress is hiding out in her two and quarter million pound villa high in the Hollywood hills'/'neighbours on the street where the fraudster lived in a nine hundred thousand pound executive home were shocked last night'. Now the press obsesses about weight. They know everybody's weight. Shout random names at a journalist and see what happens: 'Peaches Geldof!' 'Seven stone thirteen!' 'Her Majesty the Queen!' 'Twelve stone two!' Never mind phone hacking, the Daily Mail has hacked every cast member of Hollyoaks' bathroom scales.
A WOMAN'S WORK IS NEVER DONE I'm clearing out the cellar. No, more precisely, I'm rearranging the cellar. It's a Rubiks Cube of tat down there. I move the steamer I never use to make space for the platter with a crack in it I never use, but then I have to move the steamer back in order to move the chocolate fountain I never use. Meanwhile, Mr Henry the hoover keeps nipping behind me and tripping me up. Christmas decorations wink at me, covered in dust, and the boiler lurks in the corner like a heavy-set woman I've invited to a party and neglected to introduce to anyone. There's a box of broken china in one corner: I hang on to broken china because I've always had an ambition to build a mosaic-y garden feature. I have enough broken china to build a Great Wall of Broken China but still I collect it and still I don't make a start. There are dolls' faces down there, busted zips, ink cartridges that don't fit our printer and a wok I particularly hate. But I must keep going, I must clear the cellar. To make room for more tat.
FUDE Picture the scene. You are alone in a kitchen. The phone rings. 'Honey,' says your husband, 'I'm bringing the boss home for dinner. Make something REALLY IMPRESSIVE. Oh, and he has a sweet tooth.' OK, this isn't going to happen: you're not in a 1960s US sit-com and you would garotte your husband if he spoke to you like that. But here is a recipe for something yummy that sweet toothed people will swoon over. Really. You could turn them in to sex slaves afterwards if you wanted to. And it's uber-easy. It's vanilla ice cream that you don't need to put in an ice cream maker or whisk after its frozen. It just sits there in your freezer waiting for surprise guests whereupon you say casually, 'Oh, would you like some home made vanilla ice cream?' and they reassess you rapidly. Here's what you do. You throw 600ml of double cream and ½ can of condensed milk in to a big bowl. Dribble in about a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Whisk them together (use the electric whisk – there are no brownie points for martyring yourself) until it looks like clotted cream i.e. a little clunched and uptight. Pour it in to a freeezable container (I use an old fashioned metal loaf tin because it looks pretty when you're serving it) and freeze. That's it! An idiot could do it; Mavis could do it. Remember, won't you, to take it out half an hour before you need it, so it softens and yields creamily to your scoop.
Of Changing Rooms, Plots and Playboys 06/23/2011
SUMMER CLOTHES What is it with clothes shop changing rooms? Why must they be coffin-sized spaces with one remorseless fluorescent tube overhead? In Bentalls I found one corner of my cell where the lighting didn't make me look like Gollum and squashed myself in to The Position* to view myself in each garment. If you're interested, this summer I've gone for a Grace Kelly on safari look (white capri pants, linen shirt, ankle strap shoes). This Grace Kelly, however, is size 14, with plasters on her heels and a smidgeon of Vienetta in her fringe.
*The Position = tummy in, shoulders back, chin up, look of girlish hope on gob.
THE WRITING PROCESS For book seven (I'm almost finished!) the plan is airtight. Nailed down. Bullet proof. I jog from plot point to plot point and it's reassuring to have my path mapped out, and, crucially, it's also very fast. For my male love interest I watched old Cary Grant films (not a chore!) to imprint his very male, very glamorous appeal on my mind. The really old black and white ones generally feature a sparky girl who doesn't make it easy for Cary: their banter is fast and irreverent and modern. But it's always romantic: we know Cary wants her and we know he'll get her. She doesn't go down without a fight – they circle each other, each giving as good as they get, each fancying the (beautifully cut) pants off each other.
My current hero, a Hollywood-style handsome devil, is a departure from my usual 'slowburn' males, but if I do my job right, this chap will have you at hello.
THINGS I'LL DO WHEN MY HUSBAND DIES Go round Ikea really slowly. Looking at everything.
WHAT I'M READING The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis. Just the best company, I'm snuggling up with Martin every night for half an hour before sleep. How he makes me laugh out loud while contemplating death I don't know.
The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. Despite the manifold charms of Rpattz I don't 'do' werewolves and vampires (Buffy being the honourable exception) but this book is a thing apart from run of the mill teeny horror. It's a 'proper' book, literary in its aspirations, and a thriller, too. Werewolf sex, by the way, is rude.
Muriel Spark The Biography by Martin Stannard. I love Spark for, well, her sparkiness, how her writing fizzes and sparkles. Even before I wrote for a living I devoured biogs of writers, and this is my go-to book at the moment for a dose of pre-internet London literary life. It's taking its time, and it can feel stodgy, but I feel I'm getting to know the mercurial, ageless woman.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MAVIS Our boggle eyed lodger was AWOL for a few days this week, and now I know why. She was in L.A. at the invitation of Hugh Hefner, having her photograph taken. Mavis, you'll agree, maintains her customary hauteur despite her position on the lap of a knickerless lady smoking a pipe.
ENCOUNTERS WITH THE FAMOUS This week it's somebody who seems to grow more famous hourly. I used to represent Stephen Fry for voiceovers. I called him umpteen times a day, telling him which studio to go to, who to ask for, and which products his National Treasure tones would be flogging. Unfailingly polite and funny, Stephen was one of my favourite clients, despite the fact that we'd never met.
One evening I went to see him and Hugh Laurie (another client) record a programme at the Beeb. 'Meet us in the bar afterwards!' said Stephen. A little overexcited (these men were comedy gods, after all) I introduced myself. 'Darling!' roared Stephen, 'I had no idea you'd be so ugly!'
STOP IT, LADIES I mean you, Kylie, Dannii*, Nicole, Lulu et al. Please stop saying that you 'tried' Botox but 'didn't like it'. That's like me saying that I tried cake but didn't like it i.e. the physical evidence disproves it.
* And spell your name properly.
IRISHISMS “For every old sock there's an old shoe”.
A typically bracing Irish response to the late night gripes of your best friend, the wrong side of a winebox, when she moans that she'll never find anybody, she's too old, she's too 'set in her ways', she's too picky, she's not picky enough, she's too tall, she's too fat, she's too clever, she's too yada yada yada. 'Don't worry,' you can say, patting her hand and hoping she's not going to be sick, 'for every old sock there's an old shoe.' Or, to loosely translate, there's a match out there for everybody.
Comforting, if you can get over being referred to as 'an old sock.'
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MAVIS This week, surveying the world from her unfeasibly large rattan dog bed, our frog-eyed correspondent received a gift that puzzled her. Mavis surveyed the proffered pig's ear much as Queen Victoria might survey a Pop Tart: she's aware that the proletariat eat such things, but she has no idea how to approach it. Eventually, hunger overcame her girlish timidity, and she gnawed and sucked her way through the ear, smacking her lips and pausing only for the occasional burp.
CURRENT CRUSHES A good friend tells me that she is living from “Zen to Zen”. In other words, that chunk of the week between episodes of BBC1's 'Zen' on Sunday evenings is meaningless, as it contains little or no Rufus Sewell. Another friend is still recovering from sudden exposure to Ed Stoppard in an Edwardian dinner jacket in Upstairs Downstairs over Christmas.
So, from my small and unscientific survey, it would appear that men in suits are in vogue again.
THINGS NOT TO SAY TO AN AUTHOR WHEN YOU MEET ONE
(1) It must be lovely to make a living from your hobby.
FUDE Do you recognise this feeling? You don't know what to cook for supper and you don't want anything processed and crappy but you can't be arsed to think about it too much, never mind start searching out ingredients and weighing them? Of course you do. If you're anything like me, you have that feeling six days out of seven. Well, next time you feel that way, murmur 'Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino' to yourself and start moving around your kitchen like an assured and smug cook-bot.
Boil a kettle of water, then pour it in to a big pan, add salt (unless you're a salt nazi, in which case forget I spoke) and then pop in as much spaghetti as you desire. While that is cooking, heat a healthy dollop of your favoured oil in a frying pan, and when it's hot squeeze your cheat-tube of prepared garlic in to it. Use as much or as little as you like – I use loads. Let that sizzle and caper (but don't let it burn. If it burns, start again.) and then scatter in some dried chilli flakes. I am moderate with these, but you can blow your hat off if you like. Move the garlic and chilli around the pan, then turn off the heat. You don't want to cook the bejaysus out of them, you just want a wonderfully aromatic and tasty oil. When the spaghetti is cooked, drain it and return it to the pan. Then empty your oil over the pasta, and swirl them together. If the dish needs more oil, drizzle some in.
You're so good at this stuff that you'll already have warmed bowls waiting. Empty the pasta in to the dishes, grate some parmesan over and hand around to the waiting hordes.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MAVIS This week our bog-eyed heroine has been trying out her new bed. Like an internet date, it's rather larger than it looked on the website, and Mavis sits in Queenly splendour, not a coherent thought in that hairy head. She snoozes, farts, and emits the occasional piqued yip when the doorbell rings. Much like her owners, on the adjacent, only slightly larger sofa.
AND WHO SAID THE IRISH ARE UNSENTIMENTAL? Here is a verbatim email snippet from a cousin of mine in Dublin.
"We got your book all right and it came in handy. It’s propping up the kitchen table along with the others you sent. We’ve needed something for that short leg for ages."
It's a good job I love him.
BEING A WRITER There are perks to this job. For example, you can go about your business in a dressing gown, which would be problematical for a bus driver, or the Prime Minister. You can Google hedgehogs for three hours straight and call it 'research'. You can work when you please, before anybody is up or long after they're crept to their beds. You see your name – your real, actual name – on a book in a shop and humans can pick it up, buy it and read it. All these bonuses are nice enough, but the one I cherish is being able to dedicate a book to somebody. My latest, Why Do We Have to Live with Men?, is dedicated to Robert Berry with a teasing 'for all sorts of reasons'. Hopeful that this may have sounded like I had a swashbuckling lover who swung from the chandelier and wore out my G spot, I must confess that he is my bookkeeper. But he's more than that, he's a bookkeeper-plus and a valued old friend who occupies a very special Robert-shaped niche in my life. Robert foresaw the collapse of my business many years ago, and rescued me from the rubble. I gave him the book over tea and cakes, and waited for him to discover the dedication. Suddenly, his face was flooded with feeling. Sometime's it's just lovely being a writer.
THINGS I INTEND TO DO WHEN MY HUSBAND DIES No. 2 Read in bed.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MAVIS I gave my hirsute ward a delicious chewy treat and a bouncy new ball at the same time. Big mistake. She sat, motionless, between them, whimpering with indecision. In the end I had to take them away and let her lie down to compose herself. I would be just the same if confronted with an 'Either Or' situation involving a naked Don Draper and a whole Vienetta.
GORDON RAMSAY I'm taking a leaf out of his book. Evidently skilled in family diplomacy, he printed a critical open letter to his mother in law in a newspaper. I have already taken out a full page advert in The Times bullet-pointing my real feelings about the foot spa my brother in law gave me last Christmas, and I'm drafting one for The Sun to my six year old daughter, making it clear that it's not cute to shout 'My Mummy has boobs' at visitors. But I'll sign it, a la Gordon, “lots of love”. Which makes everything OK.
THINGS I INTEND TO DO WHEN MY HUSBAND DIES Buy a chihuahua.
"I'm not as green as I'm cabbage looking".
Handy for when you suspect you're being hoodwinked. If your boyfriend comes home covered in love-bites he swears are self inflicted; if a shop assistant says “they suit you” when you emerge red faced from a changing room in a pair of leggings that give you the arse of Bernard Manning; if your Mother says the reason you are the spitting image of the milkman is her craving for yoghurt all through her pregnancy, you can say, wryly, “I'm not as green as I'm cabbage looking” or, in other words, “I may have a naïve face but I am actually rather clever and I don't believe you”.
WEDDINGS God, aren't they complicated these days? Along with the invitation to a 'do' we received this week, there was a booklet. With an index. It included FAQ's. One of the questions was 'What can we expect?' (How I wish the answer had been an honest 'Damp vol au vents and too many speeches' but no.) My friend Tamsin's big day a few years ago was quite a different kettle of wedding fish. It wasn't done on a budget: as she gravely told me “there is no budget”. She bought her wedding dress in a Warehouse sale and sent the 'bridesmaid' (i.e. least scruffy attending friend) out on the morning of the wedding to buy a cake for the reception in her tiny flat. The bridesmaid came back with Flintstones fairy cakes. When the screaming had subsided, the bridesmaid defended her decision. “They're discounted. Because they're damaged.”
And when Tamsin sent photos of the happy occasion to her new family in Australia, her Mother in Law wrote back “We can see your knickers through that dress”.
Now, that's a wedding.
I LIKE HIM If we didn't have Sir David Attenborough, somebody would have to make him up. Simultaneously old fashioned and modern, he has a passion for the natural world that keeps him young. When we were about ten, my best friend and I wrote to him. I drew him a picture of a cat. A not very good picture of a cat. And he wrote back! In his own handwriting, a personalised letter each. His letter to me ended “I must go now, as I can hear my wife calling me for dinner”. When I heard, in 2007, that his wife had died after forty seven years of marriage, that curly writing came back to me and I felt a pang at his loss.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MAVIS Mavis is famous! Sort of! My latest book, WHY DO WE HAVE TO LIVE WITH MEN?, was published last week (stampede forthwith to your nearest bookshop) and I spent a happy day being interviewed by various local radio stations from a cosy little booth at the Beeb's London HQ (very bad tea, from a machine. You'd expect decent tea at the BBC, wouldn't you?) One presenter, Russell Walker of Radio York reads this blog – hello Russell! - and, to my amazement, he mentioned Mavis. You can listen to our chat here.
Last night I was a guest on Jo Good's late night BBC London show and she, too, asked after my hairy dependent.
As a result, Mavis is intolerably big headed, demanding a limo to the park, asking next door's cat “Don't you know who I am?”, and insisting on sirloin steak instead of Value Meety Bitz.
Not really. She's still the lovely unspoilt girl she's always been, eating snotty tissues and dragging her bum on the carpet.
FUDE Nibbles – they're not easy, are they? I never serve three courses (too much hassle) so the nibbles have to be special. They're fuel for that nice bit at the beginning of a 'do' when folk are arriving and being introduced and aiming their coats at the sofa and handing you bottles and flowers and a jar of home made quince jelly (well, that's what I got last weekend). I have a few tried and trusted nibbly things that make people go 'Ooh mmm' and pull a happy face. One of these is marinated parmesan. This might sound sickly, but it's very savoury and highly moreish, but rather filling, so people tend not to eat too much of it and spoil their appetite for that chicken thing you've been slaving over all afternoon. It's a Jamie Oliver recipe – he really is very reliable.
Here's what you do: take a wodge of parmesan appropriate to your purse/appetite and attack it with a knife. Or a crescent shaped herb chopper does the job very well. You need to reduce the cheese to nubbly rubble. Not dust. And not boulders. We're talking nuggets. Then tip it in to a plastic food bag (or a bowl – I use bags because I can mix the ingredients vigorously without getting my hands dirty). Add the following to your cheesy fragments – a clove of crushed garlic, a couple of finely chopped spring onions, a teaspoon (or more or less, depending on your whim) of chilli flakes and a goodly glug of oil. That nice oil you're scared to use because it's so expensive –its time has come. When the doorbell goes, tip the whole lot in to a pretty bowl and sprinkle with finely chopped oregano, and some black pepper.
Some people won't like it – there's no pleasing everybody – but the ones who like it will LOVE it.
ENCOUNTERS WITH THE FAMOUS At a party, in 1997, Eddie Izzard asked me where I bought my dress.
TRAMP ETIQUETTE I once eavesdropped on the conversation of two tramps. It was hard not to, they were shouting with that lack of self consciousness that comes with drinking your own weight in supermarket schnapps before lunch. These were proper, old fashioned tramps, gentlemen of the road in obscenely filthy overcoats tied with string. 'So,' said one in a rather grand voice, 'she hands me a plate and she says Circulate. I says me? Circulate? F**k off'.
Now you know. Don't expect the tramps you invite to your party to circulate.
CAKE RELATED AMAZEMENT My friend Riona is very funny and very talented but we found an alarming gap in her knowledge recently. She ate a slice of an excellent banana loaf and, smacking her lips, said quizzically, 'Why on Earth do they call it banana loaf?'
'Because,' I said slowly, 'it's made with bananas …'
'NO!' she gasped, eyes wide, mouth agape. 'But,' she stuttered, 'you can't cook with bananas!'
I suspect somewhere out there she's still muttering to herself Bananas! Bananas?
Of an Unlikely Passion 10/18/2010
I THINK THIS IS FUNNY if you are aware of X Factor. And who isn't? Damn you, Simon Cowell.
ENCOUNTERS WITH FAMOUS PEOPLE This memory makes me go 'Yewww' very loudly.
Aeons ago, my friend Ann and I were lurking on the fringes of a D-list party. (So much more fun, incidentally, than an A-list bash: A-listers are roped off, but D-listers have to fend for themselves out among the plebs i.e. myself and Ann.)
Reeling off the unimpressive star spots – a Les Dennis here, a weatherman there – we were thrilled to see Michael Flatley, of Riverdance fame, holding court across the room. Even without supertight trousers he was memorable, being white of tooth, orange of skin and buoyant of ego. 'I dare you,' said Ann, 'to go over to him and say whatever I tell you to'. I agreed, because I can't resist a dare. And because I am an idiot.
I approached Michael, who smiled very charmingly at me. I said, as per the evil Ann's instructions, 'Michael, I want to thank you for all you've done for Irish dance.'
He put his mouth to my ear and whispered 'I love it when you talk dirty to me'.
“She saw that on a hall door”
Pure Dublin bitchiness, to be used if a woman lies about her age. When a botoxed, lifted, nipped, tucked and lipo-sucked actress claims to be twenty nine for the tenth year in a row, you can purse your lips, raise your eyebrows and hiss 'She saw that on a hall door', or, in other words 'the only time that particular lady sees the number 29 it is a house number on a front door, as she is undoubtedly older than that'.
THIS MUCH I KNOW No woman needs a peep toe boot.
UNRESTRAINED CUTENESS Look away now if 'the funny things kiddiwinks say' make you retch and reach for your combined mini-pill.
This week Niamh, who's 6, handed her Daddy a note which read “I hav lovd you since I ws born”.
At some age we stop being quite so open about it, don't we? Shame.
THE WEEK ACCORDING TO MAVIS Our bewhiskered adventuress had an injection; barked at a fox; wore a spotty coat; got cheese in her ears. Quite a week, even by her standards.
Of Lollies, Vomit and Su Pollard 10/04/2010
ENCOUNTERS WITH FAMOUS PEOPLE
Su Pollard once told me I have lovely eyes.
BRAVE This word is rashly over-used at the moment, don't you think? When my parents were young, brave people were the ones who dashed in to burning buildings, put themselves in mortal danger for their political beliefs, brought up families of eight on thruppence a year. This morning I read an article about Terri Hatcher's bravery. She had allowed herself to be filmed without make-up for the Oprah Winfrey show.
FUDE This is another recipe for dessert, and I do not apologise for this. It's the part of the meal right-minded people look forward to. It's the course my Irish aunties pretend to be nonchalant about (“Just a tiny slice for me … well, not that tiny”) and the course that remains in your guests' memories. A whizz bang main course followed by a sliver of own brand cheesecake = fail, whereas your roast chicken can go wrong, your broccoli can droop and your gravy can curdle, but if you produce a Pavlova loaded with double cream and strawberries, or a magnificent crumble evoking memories of a childhood you possibly didn't have, then you'll be hailed as a marvellous cook. Which is why this dessert idea is possibly counter-intuitive.
Lollies. Yes, lollies. A marvellous antidote to the perceived sophistication of a dinner party, they bring out the inner child (who is, let's face it, usually more pleasant than the outer adult) and provide a playful finish to the meal. I remember reading a cook book with an entire section devoted to feeding boring people. It suggested serving food that provokes conversation, and lollies certainly do that: bear this in mind when Audrey from the office or your husband's second cousin twice removed who collects beer mats comes to stay.
First, buy a decent mould. Lakeland do a splendid one, obscenely pink and rudely bendy, which delivers lollies in the shape of strawberries, with a green stem for the lolly stick. Giving people lollies shaped like strawberries that taste like a different fruit altogether will bond them to you for life.
Use your common sense (you don't have any? Me neither, but you can find it on Amazon.com) to measure amounts. Drag out your food processor (I use a tiny one, as those big ones are like the Hubble Telescope to dismantle and clean). Tip in natural yoghurt, any old fruit you like* and some caster sugar if you feel it might need it. Whizz. Pour in to moulds. Freeze. Produce at end of meal and watch people squabble over the flavours.
*Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries are all excellent, as are mangoes (squeeze a little lime in too). Mix and match the flavours, throw in those kiwis that are driving you mad hanging about in the fruit bowl, add some lemon juice, a slug of vanilla, whatever takes your fancy. It's hard to go wrong.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO MAVIS This week our hairy little heroine has been unwell. It's almost certainly something she ate. If your diet includes snails, leaves, grim items covered in hair you find under the sofa, then you must expect a little tummy trouble. At last count she has been sick fourteen times, poor love. Her long curly ears are full of … but let's not dwell on that. She's looking extremely sorry for herself and the house smells of Flash wipes.
CLOTHES I've put my summer clothes away. I've retrieved my winter stuff from the loft. It looks pretty sorry for itself, wrinkled, crumpled, past its wear by date. So I need new gear. This is frightening. Because fashion always looks like costume on me. If I try on anything gypsy-inspired, I look like a real gypsy. Not the romantic ones of fiction who dance, flashing eyed, around a campfire and bewitch men with their air of mystery. I look like the raddled hags who accost you on Oxford Street, pimping lucky heather. Likewise the military style so prevalent at the moment. I adore those multi-buttoned, double breasted, shoulder padded coats, but they make me look like Stalin.
I am Bernadette Strachan, but please call me Bernie or I’ll assume you’re telling me off. I am an author of romantic fiction, with added funny bits. Six books are already out there in the world (WHY DO WE HAVE TO LIVE WITH MEN? came out in October 2010) and number seven is coming to life under my fingers at the moment.
I live in Kingston, Surrey with my husband, my daughter and our dog. The husband is Matthew, a composer. The daughter is Niamh, she’s six years old. The dog is a spaniel called Mavis. She is quite thick. As Niamh might put it, I superduper love them all.
I’m mad about books, and consider it a privilege to be paid to write. I love to cook, I overeat, I feed gangs of people as often as I can. I’ll be your friend forever if you offer me Pavlova but I may avoid you if you insist on giving me fish. Just can’t be doing with fish.
I can’t bear txtspk, I love bad television, I think Johnny Depp should be available on the national health. I’m rather shy, although I can be horrendously extrovert when the spirit moves me, I do yoga once a week, I have a stationery fetish, I love it when Niamh puts on shows for me in the kitchen.
Err, that’s all really.