I like cooking as a general rule but just lately I’ve lost my mojo a bit. I think it is looking back over all the many thousands of meals I’ve cooked and having my nearest and dearest laugh at the memory of the giant memoryfoam pillow sized ravioli I once made or the Dwarf Bread. I manufactured that by fluke, without the benefit of a recipe or even a smallish bag of wholemeal grit. Bread is a hard taskmaster, emphasis on the hard there. It has taken me the best part of 20 years to get it right.
I have always been conscious of budget and quality. I don’t require everything to be dirt cheap because then it is generally made, as my husband might put it, from lips and arseholes. I don’t want my meat ground or mechanically recovered. Some people think this is snobby, they are the kind of people who feed their dog on kibble.
I was always one for eat less meat but eat free range when you do. In recent years we took the idea of Meat Free Monday and ran through the rest of the week with it. Meat is a treat, a special occasion. I am still, however, chided on the future of the planet by my militant Vegan daughter. I am beginning to think that we should have named her Vegan. I find it amusing that my conscious parenting where I brought them up to think about nutrition and food and care about plants and animals, has come back to bite me. Literally. Is THAT CHEESE???!!!!
In my mind my dream time travel job has always to be employed in a kitchen somewhere in a castle or stately home. I think it comes from the Ladybird book Dick Whittington where the kitchen, where Dick met the cat, always looked busy and welcoming, if not very vegetarian friendly with its roasting hog. Also lets not mention the rats. I have previous where they are concerned.
It might also be down to the fact that I was brought up with the idea that food was love. I cannot eat salad cream without thinking of all those crispy Iceberg lettuce and prawn teas at my Grandma McKiernan’s house. There was tinned salmon and celery and spring onions. It might involve tinned crab or ham perhaps as my grandmother had honed her cooking skills in the war. It was a feast, not just on account of the pickled beetroot but because it was with family.
I envision myself as the kind of cook who is called ‘Cook’ and who can concoct a vast array of decorative and delicious cakes and comestibles with one swipe of her ladle. I am wearing rosy cheeks and a pinny in this fantasy and also a mob cap. I’m the kind of cook who is kindly to the snivelling scullery maid and always has the kettle on the boil ready for cups of tea. Although in the castle scenario this alters slightly, the mob cap vanishes and is replaced by a linen caul and dorelet number and there is no tea, only a flagon of something I have brewed earlier.
Did you know that once all the brewers were women? It was considered one of the feminine arts and they were known as Brewsters. Fact. It’ll pop up on The Chase no doubt.
In the Past, I’m the kind of cook who knows all the local gossip but in an informative and secret keeping fashion. I am the kind of cook that Cinderella could ask for a stray pumpkin, or if she can check that the trap has any mice in it to be transformed into footmen.
Oh. So maybe I don’t want to be a cook at all. Maybe, what I really want to be is a Fairy Godmother.
Apparently Blackpool is rather more exotic than I had thought. According to the Civilisations set of programmes on Iplayer, Stuart Maconie tells me that the cities of the North West were shaped by Empire.
It is easy to see I suppose when you look at Blackpool Tower and its older sister, the Eiffel. For those of you snortling with laughter now bear in mind that this edifice formed a great and happy part of my childhood. It would loom on the horizon as we chugged along the motorway and you knew that good times and crazy lights were ahead. There would be the River Caves and high tide.
The Eiffel, I will concede, is fancier, the smart chic French cousin but the idea is the same. The Eiffel Tower was about showing off and attracting paying idiots to the top of it. Blackpool went one step further and put a menagerie and myriad other tourist lures into its hefty red brick base.
Inside of course it was a wonderland. That was back in the 70s when my eyes were rose tinted, never mind my spectacles. I have blogged before about the delights of the Tower Circus but I neglected to mention the ballroom. It’s featured on tv in several dance type or nostalgia type programmes but I remember it filled with dancing people and music, entirely golden and velvet red and seeming too huge a space to fit into the brick boundaries of the Tower. Cinderella surely was about to throw a glass clog and head out, rushing headlong for the Winter Gardens.
The Winter Gardens. They had me at the name. This building is not draped in icicles and managed by the Snow Queen but it was, in my day, a grand old dame of a building. The Victorians, inspired by their rape and pillaging adventures overseas brought frou-frou and rococo to the most basic of buildings. It was bling, even if they called it Gothic Revival.
When you were replete with the delights of the Winter Gardens you could head out towards that other palace of pleasure, Olympia. Here, Zeus himself ran the mini sports car track that took my sister and I on many a circular trip, sitting behind the white plastic steering wheels of trundling convertibles. And always always the merry music of the one-armed bandits.
The one-armed bandits, what a gang they were with their daylight penny robbery.
Psychogeography. It might be said that this is a term coined for my experience at secondary school when the geography teacher, Mr Map we’ll call him to protect his identity, took against me and aside from blanking me out of every lesson also started to mark my work with grades such as ‘7F’ and ‘9G’, grades which didn’t exist in the strictly A-D 1-4 grade scheme at my school. I looked at my work and thought ‘I am really bad at geography’. I was a shy kid, avoided confrontation and so I toiled onwards with my cardboard contour 3d project (a particular 10H grade for that green painted, corrugated epic) with my learning of the workings of the Severn Bore and the quest for extracting aluminium from Bauxite in some godforsaken desert somewhere. Definitely an 8Z for that sticking in my memory.
In those days (the 70s! Did you guess?) kids did not show up to Parents Evening. Instead this was an opportunity for the grown ups to talk about you behind your back. My mum and dad headed off to quiz Mr Map on my lack of geography skills. As they put it, I had no idea what I was doing wrong, could he enlighten them?
“She gets A’s in everything else. I thought it would make a change for her.”
My mum and dad, non-confrontational beings themselves, nodded sagely. They were also teachers. On their return home they suggested I write off geography as, clearly, Mr Map was mad as a box of frogs. It was bullying but we didn’t report it. I didn’t care about geography, at least, not in the way that Mr Map taught it.
Because the land is not thin as paper and cannot be captured there.
Psychogeography is about the contours of the hill that hide a castle from view until you are at just ‘that’ tipping point and the land falls away like a magical illusion to reveal the hidden fortress. It is about the feeling you get that this wood you’ve wandered into is a bad place. That the trees here are darker and thinner and more hostile, that the paths through it will maze you, the brambles snatch at you. Psychogeography is about looking up and seeing the dragonshead waterspout, or knowing that there is a little lane just here, Red Hat Lane, that will cut you through town and no one else ever goes there. It’s knowing that if you drop down from the canal path you can pick up the river path and you’re on the edges.
Psychogeography is feeling the land. It is knowing your place because, in a moment, you have let your contemporary digital guard down and your mind, your heart, I’m going to say it, your soul, the most primal parts of you, have reached out to check on the lie of the land. There are places where we fit. There are places where we don’t. These instances do not require thought, they yell at you. The trick to enjoying this experience is to listen to them. When the hairs on the back of your neck prickle, don’t simply comb your hair down.
This experience extends outside your own country too.
On our honeymoon to the West Coast of America we travelled extensively, even venturing into Utah and Arizona to see the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. Along the way we stopped off, one afternoon, at Zion National Park.
We set off on a hike bound for a waterfall. The day was warm and bright and the landscape beautiful. We walked a fair way, through orange red rock to a place where the river that had been thin and brisk, widened out into a shallow pool closed in on all sides by the soft surfaces of the rising cliffs. This place was greener, shaded by slender trees that crowded near the water. The sunlight, the heat, the rock, the water, the closed in sense of the valley floor where the river had eaten through, ought to have been stunning, manna for the passing tourist. There was nothing dark, only the dappled shadows of the sunlight broken by the canopy of trees. There were lots of people, many of them ankle deep already, walking through the water towards the other end of the small canyon and the rest of the walk.
We didn’t go any further. A few steps into the water and I suddenly felt dreadful, that unexplained sense of things not being right but being unable to explain why I felt that. There were no sudden drops or the blackness of deep water to cause concern,quite the opposite, it was green, sunlit.
This is where psychogeography kicks in. I was feeling bad, really wanted to turn back but my husband, a hiking sort of bloke, had looked forward to this walk. He is also a scientist by qualifications and is a genuine sceptic. He’s what you’d call level headed so I kept my misgivings to myself. He was walking slightly ahead of me, armed with his camera but, I noted, taking no pictures. I said nothing but in a second he turned to me suddenly and, taking my hand, said ‘Let’s go back’. We were silent, hurried even, as we walked back along the path, passed by the stream of people in primary coloured shorts and hot weather gear headed to the pool.
It was only back at the car, safe in the air conditioned space that he confessed how bad the place felt, a sensation strong enough to persuade him we must leave. Now. My husband said he had felt that we just shouldn’t be there, that it was wrong.
You might say that in going no further we missed out on an epic tourist experience of further waterfalls and emerald pools. We didn’t miss anything, we might have been the only people that day who were privileged to have the deepest experience possible, not that of the tourist looking blindly out through the lens of a camera. Instead the land spoke to us, and we listened.
photo from visitutah.com. Seriously, visit.