Wednesday, 31 May 2017

9. Street Food

I’m so over street food.

There are many, many things I like about eating and it turns out that most of them are ruined by the street food experience.

It’s taken me a while to reach this revelation. Many a time I have conned myself into believing I am enjoying an evening of "street" dining (not usually in a street but in a run-down courtyard in East London
or a railway-arch/shipping container south of the river). But those halcyon days are gone.
I like sitting down. That's what it boils down to. I'm not one of those people who happily stands on the tube. My life is always improved by a seat. Do I have webs of spider-veins spreading across my thighs because my short legs rarely reach the floor and I have crushed them through so much sitting? Yes, but such is life. We must make sacrifices to appease our laziness.

There are sometimes seats at these street food events but they're usually communal and, let's be realistic, no one enjoys touching thighs with a stranger (OK, it depends on the stranger, but we’re speaking generally here). The choice of food is overwhelming and stressful. There’s one guy doing a burger, one guy doing a pizza and one guy doing a curry. But If I wanted a burger, a pizza or a curry, wouldn’t I be better off going to an establishment specifically designed to serve me that cuisine? A place with far better facilities and cleanliness standards?

The chefs are all trendy and far too young to be convincing. I always spill food down my sleeve because I'm trying to balance a drink in the other hand in a desperate bid to get drunk enough to enjoy myself. There’s always someone serving mac 'n' cheese with added lobster. Why? The lobster is a fine and beautiful thing, not improved by the liberal application of bulk-bought cheese.
There’s a definite whiff of innovation for innovation's sake (my local establishment sells something called "chick’n" (it's vegan chicken - these are the times in which we live). In an attempt to be original, the stall-holders all invent some sort of sauce, the sauciness of which only compounds the difficulty of eating standing up. There’s normally one desert stall, run by someone who clearly does not eat desert but gets a sick pleasure out of feeding it to other people. It's always the way with anyone who bakes cupcakes.
The result of the whole debacle is that I wolf down my food in record time just to be rid of its burdensome presence.
Nope, it's the restaurant life for me chums.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

8. Weddings (part 1)

With this short post I have reached the pinnacle of hypocrisy; I am scaling the Everest of self-depreciation. I can only complain about the modern-day wedding with any authority because I am throwing one, a term I use intentionally to reveal that what I am in fact doing, is hosting a massive party. A party to which everyone I invite will be obliged to attend, even if they are out of the country; a party that celebrates me and the fact that I got lucky and stumbled (literally, I was very drunk) into a relationship good enough to justify the risk of entering into legal relations; a party that brazenly ignores the sexist and oppressive origins of marriage that I have chosen to disregard.
The modern wedding is, let’s be clear, utterly ludicrous. My parents popped to the town hall, went for a walk round the park and my mum wore a skirt-suit. That we even consider spending the amount we do these days suggests that a sort of generational insanity has taken hold. And don't go thinking it's enough to simply spend a ton of money, you must be crafty and artistic too. A quick glance on Pinterest or on any wedding blog will reveal the true horror of the scene. A wedding is nothing these days without handmade wooden signs, make-your-own-Bloody-Mary wedding favours and photo-booths, complete with dressing-up box. For my own wedding I am hand-making 100 origami butterflies. As an otherwise sane, disparaging person, something is afoot.
Then there’s the fact that it’s pretty sickening to ask people to celebrate the fact you’re in love with someone else. The other day, a mate of mine informed me that she's been invited to a party to celebrate her friend’s relationship  - an in-lieu-of-actually-getting-married party, if you will. I was immediately outraged and wondered who these weirdos were, only to be smacked in the face by the realisation that I am doing exactly the same thing. 

But then again, am I?

I’m certainly taking a bigger risk. Breaking up when you are married is more complicated than breaking up when you are not - there's money on the line. And although marriage is pretty pointless (unless you need a visa and I've heard there’s some sort of tax benefit – snore), there is something to be said for formally committing to someone else. The risk that we'll have to engage lawyers to disentangle ourselves from each other lends a bit of gravitas to the event.

But still, why make such a big fuss? How does it come about that someone like me, for whom public displays of affection are bile-inducing and who finds the very idea of openly declaring non-platonic love in front of friends and, even worse, family, is so happy to do so in front of 90 people, some of whom I don’t know that well. Obviously I love my husband-to-be (thank god, or this would be a very expensive mistake), but I would love him with or without the big country wedding and the poofy dress, so I can’t really claim it’s got much to do with him.
After much self-reflection, I have come to the conclusion that the reason I am so happy to throw a massive wedding is that I enjoy being the centre of attention and, as an adult, the opportunities are slim. When I was a kid I always wanted to be an actress (not willing to let crippling shyness deter me). Perhaps this wedding is my way of recapturing the dream of stardom - the aisle shall be my stage, the speech shall be my glittering d├ębut (yes, I am giving a speech, down with the patriarchy!).
Thankfully, I have no problem admitting that I enjoy being the centre of attention and so I don’t have to pretend that my wedding is anything other than a vehicle to achieve that dream. It’s so much easier to do something barefacedly self-indulgent if you’re happy to admit to being barefacedly self-indulgent.

p.s. My brother bought me a wedding magazine as a hilarious joke. In it, there is an article entitled "Our seven day eating plan for stress-free, radiant brides." The diet will ensure that I glow from the inside out, with "no bloating, clear skin, glossy hair, better quality of sleep and tons of energy". Well that's one worry to cross off the list! If only someone had told me that persistent acne, digestive problems and crippling tiredness can be cured by "harissa eggs on pea pesto courgetti". And stress too! Personally I can think of nothing more relaxing than a regimented eating plan. Throw in a candle and some dolphin music and call be a Buddhist. 

p.p.s Did you know that good fats like eggs and coconut oil are good for your sex drive? So that's the consummation sorted. Chuck me an egg-mayo sarnie and I'm your gal. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

7. "Strong not Skinny"

When I was a young whippersnapper, it was all about being thin. Kate Moss ruled the world and belly tops were for displaying flat, desert like, stomachs - not an abdominal to be seen. Obviously, I didn’t particularly enjoy this skinny obsession and I never could hold down an eating disorder, but there it was.

Thankfully, Ms Moss’ remarks that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” have been largely discredited through the introduction of sourdough pizzas and Deliveroo. But I can’t see that the replacement mantra is really any better.

Now before you have a go, which I know you will, I accept that “strong not skinny” might be better for us physically. It's good to be strong, as long as you’re not a sumo wrestler or one of those really big rugby players who push everyone out the way. For anyone young, impressionable and liable to obsession, it’s surely better to focus on strength rather than starvation. But psychologically speaking, I don’t believe that blazoning “strong not skinny” across pictures of toned buttocks is doing us any good at all.
There is a small proportion of the world who find being skinny very natural. There is also a small proportion of people who enjoy going to the gym and who genuinely take pleasure in building muscle (I know, it's a mystery to me too). For everyone else, both desirable physical forms are a pain in the arse to acheive. And whether you’re telling us to be skinny, or telling us to be strong, it all rests somewhere in the realm of preachy and annoying.
Also, being strong requires a great deal more physical effort than being skinny. Being skinny can be done in bed. To my mind, it always has that going for it.
If the phrase was “healthy not strong”, things might be different. After all, healthy can come in many shapes and sizes and is something we can all aspire to, whether we’re bulging with muscles or as puny as a new-born lamb. But then, alliteration is very pleasing.
"Healthy not Hangry"?

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

6. Taking Pictures of Food

There are people on Instagram who have so many followers, they get paid to take pictures of food. And good for them, I suppose. OK, they're not exactly furthering humanity, but who is these days? (I have a friend who’s a neuroscientist, so I suppose she's a fair example, but I try not to think about her).
There are also people who take pictures of food for Slimming World/Weight Watchers/insert the dieting organisation of your choice. There is an online community who finds that sort of thing useful and I ain’t gonna say that’s wrong.
But, what about everyone else?
What on earth are they doing, leaning over the table, annoying their companions? Nothing of any use to man nor beast as far as I can tell.
At first, I put taking pictures of food into the same box as selfies – the box labelled “heinous developments of the early 21st century”. But now, I’m not too sure. I can understand selfies because 99% of us are extremely vain and self-centred and we enjoy looking at our own faces/hot-dog legs/whatever body part the kids snap these days.
But food? Pictures of food? If I keep saying it, will it make sense?
Apparently not, because I say it a lot.
Very occasionally, I see a picture of food and think it’s worth looking at. Perhaps you went to a Michelin starred restaurant and the plate is akin to something hung up in the Tate – I’m very slightly not bored by looking at that (although, let’s be clear, I could live without it).
But your toast? Your avocado? Your smoothie, the palid colour of grouting paste?
Once upon a desperate summer, I worked in a sweet shop. Every day a poor, anorexic girl, used to come in and stare at the sweets, knowing she’d never eat them. Have we all become sweet-starers, gorging ourselves on photos of foods we’ll never know? Do we flick through food-porn and lust after exquisitely-iced doughnuts, as illicit as a threesome in a parking lot.
Is food better than sex?
I digress.
Perhaps it’s just plain old-fashioned showing off. The avo post tells me you’re healthy, the cocoa nibs tell me you're on-trend (I miss the days when blueberries were on-trend, it was a simpler time). The fusion hot-dog in a plastic tray tells me you go to pop-ups and have more fun than me. It's just an extension of all that social media is - a desire to have others care about what you do and, it seems, what you eat. If Instagram was a personal depository of photos that no one else would ever see, would anyone take pictures of their food? I doubt it. My family have plenty of photo albums stuffed in a cupboard, but as far as I'm aware none of them contain pictures of the brunches my father ate in 1996.

Or perhaps we simply have nothing better to do these days. After all, if you take pictures of food you can claim eating as a hobby, right?

Thursday, 18 May 2017

5. Kindles

Don't get me wrong - people who won't move with the times are annoying. There's nothing worse than nostalgia for the good old days because, most of the time, the good old days were shit.

Now that's out of the way, I shall carry on moaning about the good old days. And today's piece of technology I can't/won't/haven't actually tried to embrace - Kindles.

The problem I have here is that there's no way to verbalise my dislike for Kindles without sounding like a bit of a dick. Describing the pleasure that comes from reading a physical book smacks of a high-school student writing a poem for National Poetry Day. It’s all rough paper beneath the fingers, curled edges, the soul and character of ink on the page.

In search of some more concrete reasoning I asked the internet to tell me the downsides of Kindles. The best I found was somebody's lament of “inability to skim as effectively”, which, along with sounding like some sort of sexual criticism, still feels like a pretty weak attack (as much as I love a good skim).

Slightly more compelling is the “death of the book-shelf” argument. If nothing else, books are useful decoration. A nicely displayed bookshelf makes you look intellectual (if you hide the easy books at the back).  And there’s something about a living room filled with books that speaks to Sunday mornings with coffee and croissants and sun pouring through the french windows (never-mind that you live in a third floor flat with a smokers' balcony that overlooks a rubbish pile and a man playing the accordian outside Sainbury's.)

And anyway - what is the point of  a Kindle? Does anyone really read so many books that they need to carry more than one at any given time? I know Kindle books are cheaper (it's something I'm cross about), and I know you get them instantly rather than waiting for the postman - but isn't a bit of delayed gratification a good thing? And think of all the posties you're doing out of a job. I don't see any of you writing letters for them to deliver.

Ultimately there is no way to express my dislike for the Kindle without embracing the tortured soul of the high-school poet. I like the feel of a book in the hand, the cosiness that comes from curling on the sofa with something tangible, something without a screen that can be bent and dirtied. And yes, the ability to flick back easily to the last chapter is a joy. Let us skim!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

4. Candles

There was a time when I would go round to someone’s house and only notice the smell if they had a wet dog or, like the old lady who lived round the corner, had smoked heavily for so many years the tobacco had seeped into the wallpaper.  (That lady also had a statue of a panther in her living room - visiting her was disturbing in so many ways).

 These days, no matter how small and grotty my friends' apartments might be (it's London after all), my nostrils are caressed on entry by the most gratifying scents. Jasmine, gardenia and pomegranate vie for attention. In the bathroom, sitting politely on the top of the loo, is one of those pots with bits of wood sticking out, gently releasing its fragrant oils. The chemical fumes of a Tesco air-freshener will no longer cut it - olfactory bliss is the order of the day.

 I can’t tell if this is a modern phenomenon or if it’s simply to do with getting older. While I think nothing of blowing £60 on a new dress, I baulk at spending the same on some scented wax. My friends however, have grown up. A fragrant home is as valuable and uplifting to them as a fantastic new frock. But isn’t it all a kind of vanity? As we learn to care a little less about our appearance do we transpose those hang-ups onto our unwitting homes?

I now find that I am ashamed of having people over if there aren’t candles guttering in every alcove. I linger in the homeware section of Selfridges, agonizing over the unbelievable expense of a DiptyQue candle. These ancient lumps of light have been elevated to exorbitant luxuries and we have lapped it up, almost as if their heady aromas have hypnotised.

The other day I caved and bought a candle whose wick crackles to emulate the sounds of a roaring fire - what kind of middle-class hell have I succumbed to?

P.s. The restaurant, “Restaurant Story”, serves a candle starter. The candle is made of beef dripping that, when lit, forms of a pool of delicious molten fat in which to dunk bread. Now that’s my kind of candle.   

Friday, 5 May 2017

3. Instagram

I recently did something wonderful and I’m going to advise everyone to do the same. I don’t expect anyone to follow my advice, they rarely do. But, I will get a perverse satisfaction in knowing that they will be all the unhappier for it.

This is what I did - I went through all the people I follow on Instagram and I unfollowed every fashion blogger, beauty blogger, “lifestyle blogger” etc. Essentially, I deleted anyone extremely pretty and/or thin, thus removing from my life a load of advertising hidden in prettily-tinted photos.

Then, because that didn’t leave me with much going on, I followed accounts to do with nature, geography, space and “real-life” people with much harder lives than mine.

The result - I am so much happier!

Because I tend to have a little Instagram peruse in bed when I first wake up, to gird my soul for the tedium of another working day, it’s essential that the messages I am feeding myself are nourishing - like muesli with no added sugar. Every morning I get up, my mind fed and watered by images of rolling hills, armadillos and the like and, miraculously, my appearance diminishes in importance. Do I really think an Iowan farmer, driving his tractor through fields of golden corn cares that I’ve gained a few pounds? Does the giant otter care about acai bowls and matcha lattes? Of course not, it has to eat 2kg of fish a day just to survive, you fools.

And if things are really bad I can read a story about extreme hardship in Peru and tell myself to get over the inexplicable spasm of morning anxiety and be thankful for each day.

The only fly in the ointment is that the sponsored posts are slow to catch on to my transformation. An Adidas clip popped up yesterday featuring someone called Carrie Kloss. She was working out and then taking pictures of herself. She doesn't care if you take photos of her sweating, but that my friends, is because she looks like a beautiful, sweating angel. The post failed to convince me that I too would look like a beautiful, sweaty angel if I only I would wear Adidas.

So I win.

Funny that it doesn’t feel that way.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

2. The Balance Festival

There is something called the "Balance Festival" occurring in London on 12-14 May. It brings together "well-travelled foodies, world-class fitness trainers, awe-inspiring yogis, and real people who share a common vision - to achieve a better self".

Achieve a better self, I thought, as I passed an advert for the Balance Festival on the tube, what a laudable goal! The festival must be full of suggestions as to how we can help the poor, give more to charity and create a life in which, every day, we do something fundamentally useful for society.

Eager to improve myself, I looked it up as soon as I got home.

It seems I got it all wrong.

You see, what I hadn't realised was that the path to a "better self" is discovering "3 refreshing (and sustainable) coconut water recipes" and attending talks on how to "get toned the right way" (because god forbid you get toned the wrong way). Festival-goers can also "explore how best to live in the moment, be mindful and enjoy a more fulfilling life balance".

Look, I don’t have a problem with this festival existing (OK, I do have a bit of a problem, but I’m all for live and let live). I suppose one could argue it's not doing any harm. It promotes a healthy diet and, full disclosure, there's some sort of triathlon with a bit of small print encouraging donation to an African charity.

Back in England, I remain unconvinced that this festival, its incredibly beautiful and thin exhibitors and the expensive products they promote, are a positive thing for people with normal bods stuck in a cycle of hating themselves (i.e. everyone). I also doubt that it is the answer to our country's obesity problem, not least because anyone more than a pound overweight wouldn't dare set foot in the place. But, I concede that the Balance Festival is probably not the devil incarnate.

What I do have a problem with, and reserve the right to complain about, is the way the festival is marketed. I have a problem with middle-class, wealthy people, deluding themselves into thinking they are becoming better people by attending this festival and drinking green juice. I have a problem with this festival being seen as anything other than self-indulgence - with added kale.

I can't abide the notion that someone is "better" than someone else because of the way they eat, exercise, and/or meditate. People attend this festival because they want to look hot first, be healthy second (if being healthy comes into it at all). It's an extension of our teenage obsession with looking like the girls and boys in the magazines. It is advertising.

I am convinced that the "clean eating"/"wellness" phenomenon is intended to create division, the opposite of the "clean" people being the "dirty". (Unless of course, the whole thing is actually a conspiracy by date growers to take over the world, in which case, good on them).

I resent the fact we have replaced the word "skinny" with "lean" and it's suddenly OK to tell people how they should look. I can't take the sentence "if plant based cooking sounds over-complicated" seriously and I dislike the lack of scientists at an event so over-stuffed with scientific claims about food I'm surprised the Daily Mail isn't an exhibitor. If they prove that turmeric cures cancer, i'll drink it. Until then...

I am also slightly perplexed by the concept of "real people" which pops up on a number of occasions on the website. Perhaps this is to distinguish between the "well-travelled foodies" et al on the one hand and the heaving masses of disconnected normals on the other.

If you would like to attend the Balance Festival you will find it at the Old Truman Brewery. Needless to say - not the best place to go if you're hoping to bump into me.

P.s. If you do go, please report back on the "boys of yoga".