Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Surrendering onions

I've been away. I know. I have noticed. Thank you for your patience during the disruption to your service.

I've been terribly ill, you see. Sick, so sick. Morning sickness it is. Was. It's over now - sort of. I still get the odd billowing wave of it, bobbing up around my solar plexus but I'm no longer a drooping, greyish figure haunting my house. Urgh. I hate - hate - people who say that horrid thing to pregnant women - "You're not ill, you're pregnant." Really? Because it feels an awful lot like norovirus to me.

Anyway I feel better now. And I had my 12 week scan - just one spratling, thank god, in the right place - and so I can start moaning on about being pregnant again. The other thing that's happened is that I've finished putting together that book I was talking about. In the end it really wasn't very much work, it was just impossible to do anything feeling so sick. Ten minutes typing, 1 hour lying down, ten minutes typing, one hour lying down. SO SO SICK. I got some pills off my doctor, The Beast, in the end. I just couldn't take it anymore. But they only took the edge off, it wasn't like I was bouncing out of bed in the mornings.

I honestly am still reeling from how awful it was. It just wasn't that bad with Kitty. And I wasn't that tired either. But for the last six weeks I've been wiped out, asleep from 1-3pm every day. Wiped out like chalk on a blackboard. And then wake up feeling like shit. Poor old Kitty. Or rather lucky Kitty - she has eaten biscuits and watched telly solidly for six weeks. But thank god for telly. Thank GOD! What would we have done without it.

I am trying not to think too much about being plunged back into a babyhood. I am trying to look on the bright side. I must have learned something since Kitty was born. It surely won't be as awful as it was. I don't want to go mad again, I really don't.

It has to be different this time - for one, Kitty was brought home to a house that didn't have any children in it. It was a grown-up house, really quite spooky in a lot of ways - silent and strange and unfit for a baby. These days it has a chattering lunatic nearly-two-year-old in it, dropping crumbs and kicking balloons and watching telly and running from one end of the house to the other for no reason other than youthful high spirits. The changing mat now has its own room, rather than squatting on the kitchen table. The kitchen extension means that everyone can slob about in the kitchen, rather than me being at the stove, running out every ten seconds into the living room to make sure everyone's okay.

And maybe I'm different. Broken in, broken down. Resigned. Institutionalised. Used to that special sort of monotony you get with small children, so intense particularly in babies. My expectations from life are different now. I am surrendered, like onions.

Surrendering onions is a slow but pleasing task. It is what you do if you want very soft, aromatic, almost creamy onions (for an onion gravy for example, or a tangle alongside some sausages) and the trick is to cook them for a good 1.5-2 hours on the lowest heat on your smallest available burner.

You slice them into rings, reasonably thinly and scatter them in a pan with some oil - and butter, if you like. Then sprinkle over a generous pinch of salt and put a lid on and leave them. Do not turn the heat up and do not poke them about too much. Take the lid off if at any point the onions start to even think about sizzling. Towards the end of the cooking time, the onions will almost in a matter of seconds collapse into themselves - they will surrender. I can't help but think of motherhood like that. But not in a bad way.


Monday, 1 October 2012

How to get ahead in journalism

I spent almost all of my adult working life feeling like a fraud. I wanted to be a journalist because of a television series in the 80s called Press Gang, to which I was completely addicted. I wanted badly to be the Julia Sawalha character: brilliant, tough, uncompromising. I was a terribly unfriendly child, very angry, resistant to organised fun, terrified of humiliation - in this cold and unbending fictional telly character I saw how some of my unfortunate personality traits could be handy.

But it became very obvious very early in the postgraduate thingummy I did in journalism after leaving university, that I was never going to be a good journalist.

Please, by the way, do not laugh at me for having done a "course"; people do these things nowadays because it's so hard to get a job in newspapers. In fact, unless you are incredibly brilliant or insanely hard-working (with a private income), getting a job in journalism these days comes down to luck. When pompous parents tell me that their blobby children are "thinking about" going into journalism I laugh nastily and say "as if it's that easy".

Anyway, the course director declared to us on the first day that journalism is "not about writing. It is about information. It is about being nosy. It is about being a gossip. It is about always wanting to be the person who knows things first."

My heart sank. I am none of those things. I am terrific at keeping secrets and I'm always the last to know everything, I don't pry, I feel sorry for people and do not want to put them through the media mill even if they've done rotten things. I think pretty much everyone is entitled to a private life.

I struggled on, experiencing full-body cringes whenever I had to make awkward phone calls, hating every second of interviews, fighting with sub-editors over ultra-mean headlines to interviews with people I had thought were perfectly nice. I edited quotes so that interviewees wouldn't get into trouble.

Years ago, before the media was in such a terrible state, I probably would have been able to swing some sort of "mummy" column when I chucked in my job and smugly retreat home with purpose. But those gigs are few and far between these days. My husband has a friend who in the early 90s earned £80,000 from writing two weekly columns. £80,000!!! Those were the days.

I resigned myself to never making any money again, and took to the internet and here we are. The internet being, as it happens, the reason that newspapers and magazines are in the toilet. But you certainly can't beat the internet, so I joined it.

So much so that I threw open the doors of my home the other day to some of the editorial staff of a website called What's In My Handbag.

They wanted to photograph the contents of my handbag, focusing particularly on my make-up, which they would then use to do something or other. I don't really understand how it works. But I've always wanted someone to come round to my house and talk to me about make-up, so I screamed "YES!" when they emailed to ask if I wanted to do it.

Browsing their website the night before, I saw with rising panic that other handbag interviewees had prepared exciting banquets for the website's photo shoot staff, or at least plied them with exotic breakfast liquers.

It was a full week since my last Ocado order. I had no eggs, no milk, very little butter not at freezing temperature. It was 10.30pm and I had just returned from a night out, the remains beside me of a hastily-scoffed kebab from E-Mono, London's finest kebab house (I am not joking).

I suppressed a luscious burp. My mind started to race. These bitches would be expecting treats!! My mind first turned, as it always does, to in what ways I could throw money at the sitution. Could I beg my husband 10 minutes' grace in the morning while I ran up the road to Sainsbury's, bought 25 assorted pastries and then try to pass them off as being from an artisan bakery?!

No, think - think!!! I don't know how it came to me, but it did. Divine inspiration, or something, I don't know.

The answer was: flapjacks.

No flour, eggs or milk required. Some might say they are a thing that requires no actual cooking. But in that moment, they presented themselves not as a delirious cop-out, but as a lifesaver.

What I did happen to have, which made all the difference, was a box of extremely expensive posh museli from a company called Dorset Cereals, which are filled with all sorts of exciting nuts, grains, raisins and sultanas. I had only to bind the whole lot together with an appropriately enormous amount of melted butter and golden syrup.

I am not going to give you exact quantities for this, because flapjacks are, thank god, a thing you can basically do by guessing.

I got a square, loose-bottomed tin and filled it with museli to a depth I considered respectable for a flapjack (about 2in). Then I melted about 3/4 of a block of butter in a saucepan, added to that 3 generous tablespoon dollops of golden syrup and a big pinch of salt, poured in the museli and mixed it round.

Then at this point I, fatally, panicked and poured over a tin of condensed milk. I mean, the flapjacks were really delicious but the condensed milk made them fall apart in an annoying way and in actual fact, they were a bit too sweet. So leave the condensed milk out, if I were you. I also chopped up some chocolate and sprinkled it on the top, which probably wasn't neccessary.

After turning out the buttery rubble, (sorry that's all a bit Nigella isn't it), into the square tin, I patted it down with a spatula and shoved it in the oven for 20 minutes.

They worked incredibly well, even allowing for the condensed milk over-kill and the girls pretended to like them well enough, while marvelling at how quickly and efficiently I had filed the product descriptions for my chosen make-up.

What can I say? I should have been a journalist.