Sunday, 7 August 2011


It is 1am and I am lying on the single bed in the nursery staring at the ceiling, listening to Kitty's shallow breathing in the cot next to me. She has just fallen asleep.

She is very ill. Strep throat, a doctor will say two days later. She was boiling - boiling - to the touch with fever when I arrived at her bedside. I got myself ready to adminster some life-saving Nurofen but she didn't want it - gagged and vomited a little bit down herself in protest. So I jammed as much in her mouth as I could, changed her pukey sleeping back, walked her round, waited for her to nod off and then lay down braced for a sleepless night listening to her whimper.

It's a terrible noise, a baby whimpering in its sleep.

And as I lay there in the dark listening to the whimpering and to the nursery clock ticking and the aircon whirring I thought for the first time in a long time "At least I'm not in Australia."

That is my thing, my "At least I'm not..." thing.

I ended up in Australia in the late summer of 2001. I went out with no clear idea of what I was going to do but my sister was out there for a year and I was bored, so I went. My sister was working in some snazzy bar and going out with a very posh Australian - yes they do, in fact, exist - called Jimmy. He was terrific, Jimmy - he was hilarious. Tall with dark hair and long dark eyelashes like a girl. He was always stealing his flatmates' food - usually dinky little take-out pots of spicy asian-fusion salads - late at night when drunk and peckish.

"Hmm..." he would say, his head in the fridge. "What's Polly got in here? A little snacky-snack for Jimmy before bedtime?"

Anyway you get the idea.

I couldn't stay in Sydney with them so I took off up the East Coast. It was boring. I had a shit time. There was one okay week where I worked on a cattle farm and I should have stayed there mucking out the horses and working in the bar, but I moved on in the wrong belief that there was more to see.

What happened instead was that I unwittingly became a thief.

It happened like this:

I was sitting about in some hostel or other with a girl who was going home soon. "Just going," she said "to have a quick rummage round lost property for some flip flops. Mine are broken."

"Is that a thing you do?"

"Yeah there's always great stuff in hostel lost properties. These Miss Sixties?" She said, pointing at her jeans. "Alice Springs. This bag...?" etc.

So off we went to the lost property box. There was nothing that fascinating except a shitty brown t-shirt with red Japanese writing on the front that I thought looked quite unusual. I tucked it under my arm and thought no more about it.

Three days later I was sitting in another dull, depressing hostel somewhere hot and crappy, wearing my scavanged t-shirt, and an angry Irish girl stormed up to me.

"Where did you get that t-shirt?" she demanded. "It was stolen out of my bag. Why have you got it?"

And here is where it went wrong. Why didn't I just say "Found it. Lost property in X. Is it yours? Have it back!!"?

I don't know why not. What I did say, however, was "My sister gave it to me."

Why did I say that? WHY?

Maybe I thought she wouldn't believe the story that I'd found it in lost property and scream "Thief!" at me. I can't be bothered to recount exactly what happened in the days that followed but it was nasty. The angry Irish girl and her friend accused me to everyone they could find of having stolen her t-shirt. And the Eastern Coast of Australia turns out to be a very small place. I somehow kept up with my lame story that it was mine.

They followed me up the coast for three days, telling everyone at every hostel that I was a thief. Hissing at me as they passed me that I was pathetic. Then one day the angry Irish girl's friend came up to me and said that they'd called the police. By then I had lost all sense of perspective and couldn't see that it was obviously total fucking rubbish. I'd had enough. I hadn't eaten for about three days or really slept. I am an anxious person, you see, and being accused of being a thief is something I can't really style out.

I went to my rucksack and took out the t-shirt. "If I give this to you," I said. "Do you promise to leave me alone and never speak to me again?"

I saw, on the girls' face, a flicker of doubt that she and her angry Irish friend were right.
"I'm not an arsehole, you know," she said.
"Sure," I said, and handed her the t-shirt.

Then that night, in the middle of the night, I split. I took a taxi to a hostel well off the beaten tourist path, filled with cattle station hands and middle-aged women travelling cross-country to see newborns. And that was that.

It's bothered me for years, that incident - although with hindsight I didn't really do anything that bad. Just really thick. But still, I have never told anyone that story. Not. A. Soul.

(A week later I arrived back in Sydney and went straight out and got a tattoo. I've always wondered if the two things are connected.)

The day before I flew back to London the twin towers collapsed. (It was interesting getting on an international flight via the Middle East on 12/09/01, I tell you.) Then about three years later, Jimmy killed himself. I won't go into how. And I simply don't know why. Oh, and someone gave me fucking chlamydia.

So that's why however crumby things are, I'm glad I'm not in Australia.

Although I think I am one of the few people to have enjoyed the film.

I have newly fallen back in love with my husband. Not that I was ever out of love with him but in the last few days I have been crawling around after him screaming "I love you! I worship you! Please marry me!"

The thing is, he comes into his own when there's something wrong with the baby and I am simply vomiting in a corner with anxiety, ringing NHS Direct and crying. My husband takes charge, shooes me out of the nursery, won't let me near the baby monitor and makes me dinner.

All we had in the house was some beef, which he decided to roast - "Although I know we're not celebrating or anything," he said. "I know we're all in mourning because Kitty's got a cough."

And he wanted to make a gravy to go with it.

Gravy is something that can appear daunting but actually it's okay if you give yourself a bit of time.

For gravy, you need:
1 The pan that something has roasted in
2 Some shitty alcohol (even this is optional, really)
3 Some flour or cornflour
4 Some stock or vegetable cooking water

Roughly to make a gravy, take the roasting pan and "de-glaze" with shitty cooking wine. This means you place the pan over a medium flame and pour in some alcohol, about half a wine-glass full I'd say. Then you scrape at the pan and get all the roasty bits and sticky bits off the bottom.

Then reduce this until it becomes glossy-ish round the edges. Reduce the heat and take the pan off the flame. Sprinkle over some flour - about a tablespoon. With the pan off the heat, mush this all round until it is a paste.

Now add some of your liquid - either stock or some veg cooking water - to the pan still off the heat. Mix this round until vaguely combined.

Then put the pan back on the heat and add some more sloops of stock or cooking water. Simmer it briskly until it starts to thicken thanks to the flour.

Pour over your roast dinner.

Then take a Valium. Or three.


  1. being a mum is hard work- you worry yourself sick when they are ill, and they bounce back full of beans while you still feel steamrollered!

  2. Poor Kitty. Poor you. Poor Australia for not having the opportunity to get to know you in your true form. Excellent gravy recipe AND another opportunity for me to use up some of my shitty alcohol stock. I have some 8 year old tequila that's looking for a home but I think gravy isn't the place for it. Still I wait for that recipe...

  3. its like a tornado in your head just leaked a little out of one of your ears and let rip on the keyboard of your computer... there's a book in there somewhere about what the writing on the T-shirt translates into and it could be a horror story... now my mind is reeling!

  4. Simply adore this blog. So bloody hilarious!!

  5. You should give Australia another chance, just avoid all backpackers and come in winter next time!

  6. Hope Kitty mends soon. Mine is 'at least I still don't have e coli from that well in Malacca'- that's a good one to return to. Australia on the backpacker trail is like coming to London and not leaving Earl's Court. It's different. Lots of it is very nice. I promise. (She writes rethinking why she ever left and is currently living in London.)

  7. Awful. Nothing worse than a sick baby. (not even, dare I say it, being followed around australia by a crazy banshee lady). For what it's worth, I'm a big fan of paralink - paracetamol in suppository* form. So much easier to use on a sweltering gagging vomiting baby than calpol/neurofen. Don't think you can buy them over the counter here, so stock up next time you're anywhere else in europe. I hope she gets better soon (if not better already).
    (*I know. the idea of sticking something up a baby's arse really isn't pleasant. But as with all things baby-related, once you've done it once it's no big deal. in fact before you know it you'll be able to do with one hand while you pour yourself a large vodka with the other...)

  8. YES. We got a private GP round in the end and he happened to have on him Nurofen suppositories that he stocks up on every time he goes to Tel Aviv. Amazing. Saved. Our. Lives.

    Kitty was utterly unbothered by having them up her bumhole - in fact, seemed faintly amused by the whole thing and the look on her face made me laugh for the first time in 48 hours.

    Why the fucking, fucking fuck do they not sell baby medicine in suppository form in this country? Do we hate our children that much? I bet you can get it for dogs.

    Esther xx

  9. Oh, I'm sorry you had such a horrible time here - fecking Irish backpackers. There's nothing worse than blurting out a poorly thought out lie and getting caught up in it more and more and it's stressing you out.

    Glad Kitty's on the mend.

    Anyway, I'm off to stalk Holly's blog because I've got a Chicken Tequila Fettucine recipe for her to use up her shitty tequila.

    If you ever venture back to Australia I bags showing you around.

  10. I cook a lot. I don't have a baby. Please keep writing because one day I will need you! Thanks for the brilliant writing and excellent humour.

  11. Oh Esther, you're making me miss home! I'm in Paris with work, in a university dorm room and I really want to be at home. Still, at least I'm not in Sweden, in 2007.

    Incidentally, if my French were better I could bring you back some baby suppositories. But my French is awful and Kitty is too precious! Hope you are all feeling a bit better soon x

  12. Yes, you are quite right re-husbands, like when my no2 daughter was the most horrific little limp baby with illlness and I couldn't string two words together with the NHS 24 or when same daughter 2 years later was trying to say squeakily
    "Mummy come and watch the fireworks from my bedroom" and I was in the loo for a quiet moment.
    (we removed the bathroom lock from the door to prevent children locking themselves in said loo)
    So daughter, supposedly being distracted by husband so that mother could crap in peace ( just wait for that moment, for it will come) had in fact pushed the door open. The reality was, it is very difficult to wipe your arse whilst holding a door shut, the door not being particularly close to the loo. Husbands voice in background "woo, did you see that one!"
    Until finally I blew a gasket and shouted "I am trying to clean my arse!" pushed door shut again but had in fact rammed a door handle into my daughters forehead.
    Blood everywhere and rushing to casualty with my three year old comforting me, a sobbing wreck, thinking the social workers will be called. Knowing my daughter was to be scarred for life.
    Husband very discretely explained my distress and embarrassment to nurses.
    So after that long waffle, 3 cheers for useful husbands. Hip. HIp. HIp
    P.S We do laugh about it now and it makes for an amusing anecdote...
    "oh remember the time mother was doing a poo and..."

  13. I so hope Kitty is feeling better. This was a lovely blog. I enjoy Recipe Rifle so much, this brightened a very shitty Monday x

  14. A cooking question: Can you do the whole 'put the pan over a medium flame' if its a nonstick pan?

  15. oh yes it ought to be fine x

  16. Love the slightly manic stream of consciousness...

  17. I feel for you, I have been a regular down at Thamesdoc for years.
    On the matter of suppositories, ( forgive me I should be talking about your gravy ) you can get them here because I got hold of them once then felt the weight lift off my shoulders.
    Now, on to the gravy. If you add some onion & carrot to the pan that you roast the meat in they give a lovely flavour to the final sauce, along with the dodgy booze quota of course....

  18. Just tried this gravy tonight. I'd ran out of pork gravy and as I'm heavily pregnant I didn't want to waddle to the shop.

    I remembered reading this a couple of days ago and gave it a whirl. It was amazing! I've never made my own gravy before and I'm hooked. Will do it again. Will make it again x

  19. I'll give this a go next time I need gravy but how do I stop it going lumpy?

    My 'at least I'm not' is Cuba in 2003.

  20. You get lumps in sauces - gravy included - when you heat up the flour or thickener too quickly. That's why there are instructions to mix the flour in off the heat. With gravy or any sauce, as long as you mix the flour in with your sauce base off the heat and then add the first bit of your lengthener (stock/milk) also off the heat, you'll find you won't get any lumps.

    Esther x

  21. Gosh you poor thing, I so hope Kitty has fully recovered - the poor little sausage. I have a 7 month old and they put everything in perspective. I think we all have an 'Australia' story, they lose their power so quickly when faced with something that really, actually matters.

  22. Glad to hear Kitty is getting better. The Australia was hilarious - will remember it in sticky situations in the future!

  23. I think this is the only food blog where I don't actually really read the bit about the food. Really interesting. And funny. And gripping!

    Hope Kitty gets better. Awful when they're ill. No worry like it. Your whole life is just so knitted in with theirs.

  24. Hey that's funny, my "At least I'm not" is Australia too! A lovely little near-death experience! But honestly, that sounds like something I would do too - and then literally seconds later I think - why on earth did I just say that??

    Found your blog last night and I can't. stop. reading. It's nice to read something honest for once, not like the usual American BS I read who carry on with this masquerade that they and their lives are perfect in every possible way - one pisses me off regularly because the only adjective she has in her vocab is "unexpected" - she uses this mainly when describing clothes. Very annoying.

    Anyway, this blog is smashing and I'm going to carry on through the archives now, cheers!