NaNoWriMo Day 5 & 6 Update

Fuelled by the complacency of (almost) hitting my word target four days in a row, I happily allowed myself a lighter writing session on day five (what? It was a long day, I was tired – excuses ad infinitum). Despite feeling justified at the time, I am kicking myself today. Because, the fact is, week one of NaNo is about getting AS MANY WORDS DOWN AS POSSIBLE. I KNOW this, because I’ve done it several times before. According to Chris Baty in No Plot, No Problem (the edited version of which I have started re-reading to aid me along this attempt at the challenge) Week One is the fun part, when all the words come tumbling out and your characters are romping away. Week One’s evil twin, Week Two, is the bitch of the family, and by cutting myself some slack now I’ve played right into her cunning little hands.

The truth is, my characters were romping away, getting themselves into all sorts of scrapes without my even having to exert any influence. But all of a sudden, after yesterday’s pithy seven hundred words, the well of inspiration has run dry. Actually, that’s not true. It’s not inspiration that’s run dry, it’s my brain that has decided to down tools and stop. Take now for example. It is telling me, quite clearly, that it is Friday night at 9pm and I should, categorically and without question, be curled up on the sofa with a LARGE glass of Cab Sauv watching some heinously terrible TV programme. It does not, and let’s make no bones about it, wish to be sitting at the same computer it’s been sitting in front of all week, trying to make up stories about fictional people. In short, it’s just not having it.

So you see my dilemma. And even as I’ve been ruminating on this blog I have been switching over to the WIP, limping along with a broken stream of uninspired words, wishing my way to the word count target for today. And, to be fair, I have at least crossed the 8,000 mark, which feels like a bit of a milestone (until you consider I started today at 7,004 words). But it’s not flowing and I want with every fibre of my being just to stop and veg the hell out. ARGH. This is torture. But I SHALL NOT be defeated. I shall pour myself a glass of wine (hell, it IS Friday. I’m not a bloody saint) and plough on for just a little longer….

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Christmas Swish

It’s been a while since Susy’s last swishing party, so tonight was warmly received by all those who attended. As usual Susy was the perfect hostess, plying us with what have now become the customary sausage rolls to wash down our Prosecco and girlie banter. The turnout wasn’t huge (damn Christmas parties) – around ten of us in total, which gave the evening (and indeed the clothes selection) more of a boutique feel. That said there were still plenty of good quality clothes to go around, and I think most of us walked away with several quality items in our Christmas sacks as well as full bellies.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Swishing parties rock. What could possibly be better than getting together with a group of friends for some wine, party food and a natter, with the added bonus of taking home some lovely (and, more to the point, free) new outfits? Christmas swishes are the best as everyone is also feeling festive and up for a giggle-not to mention particularly keen to bag themselves a sexy number for the office Christmas party-which makes for an even better paper, scissors, stone-off at the end of each round…In short, it’s been another splendid swish. Thanks Suse! X

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Growing old disgracefully

As predicted yesterday’s wedding was magnificent in every way. The weather gods were smiling and there was barely a cloud in the sky. The church was beautiful, the reception venue stunning. But nothing and nobody was as radiant as the bride herself – just as it should be.

As the sun beat down the champagne flowed, followed by wine with the wedding breakfast, and by the time 10pm rolled around it was unanimously declared to be jagerbomb time, though everybody had drunk more than enough. There was dancing and much merriment…and then there was today.

Waking up at half past six in the dress you wore to the wedding with the bedroom lit up like the Blackpool illuminations is rather disconcerting. What’s more disconcerting still is having no memory of getting back to your accommodation. And what’s even more disconcerting than that is the grim realisation you have an unavoidable three hour drive ahead of you.

After downing some water and eating a hearty fry up I hit the road, convinced once I got going I’d feel better. Not so. Shortly after leaving the bed and breakfast, in fact, I was forced to pull over and eject the aforementioned fry up on the side of a country lane – watched by a herd of unimpressed cows. Clambering back into the car and convinced that now I’d feel much better, I continued on my way.

After almost an hour of driving around narrow country roads I entered a village and my heart sank – it was the same village I’d driven through forty minutes earlier. I had, in fact, been driving around in a circle. As this realisation sank in my body decided to eject another bit of fry up for good measure. This was rapidly descending into the journey from hell. Not only was I overwhelmed with insatiable nausea, I was also now stuck in the countryside, in my very own version of Groundhog Day.

Of course there was no mobile phone reception, so when I saw the first car in what felt like hours I flagged it down and asked for directions. As I spoke the man inside regarded me with a bemused smile – it was only afterwards when I looked in the mirror I realised my hair was sticking out at right angles to my head and I had sick on my top.

Fortunately I did eventually make it out of the maze that is the Shropshire countryside, and four and a half hours later I arrived, dishevelled and grumpy, at my parents’ house, where mother saw fit to point out that I’m far too old to behave like this. And I realised I’d left my shoes in Shropshire.

In another life

If you had to choose five alternative careers what would they be? I’ve thought about this question for some time and my five (besides being a famous author, which I haven’t put on the list since I’m hopeful it might yet happen) would be:

1. Restaurant critic

It’s no secret that I love food (the only eating disorder I’d ever be capable of would be extreme binging – without the post-binge purge), so I’ve always thought being a restaurant critic would be right up my culinary street. Can you imagine making a living out of stuffing your face? Not only that-stuffing your face with top quality fare (because I’d obviously only be sampling the delights of the top rated Michelin star restaurants, not Happy Eaters or Wetherspoons. Hang on, do Happy Eaters even exist any more? Oh God, I think I may be showing my age).

2.Chocolate/cheese/wine taster (ideally all three)

On the same theme as number one, this is a no brainer. Chocolate, cheese and wine are unquestionably three of my favourite things, so why wouldn’t I want to spend my working day sampling them? One possible danger of this career choice would be risking getting sick of what you spend all day tasting. Possibly also the high chance of becoming morbidly obese and/or an alcoholic. Would still be fun though-for a while at least…

3.Photographer

I have my second job to thank for my  interest in photography. A colleague – who sadly passed away from a brain tumour while I was working there – taught me the basics of working in a studio with an SLR camera, and when I subsequently went travelling I bought my own second hand SLR to take with me. In the years since I’m ashamed to say the manual settings have taken a back seat in favour of automatic, and after my camera died a death (RIP Canon EOS 3D) I reverted to taking snaps on my phone, as I still do today. The iphone does have a good camera but nothing beats the feel of an SLR in your hand and the thrill of capturing a really crisp, professional looking shot. I wish I hadn’t let my photography skills slide. I think I’ve got an eye for a good picture and could have been a good professional photographer.

4.Travel journalist

Another no-brainer; I love to travel, I love to write, hence getting paid to do both would pretty much be my dream career. It’s not hard to see why this is one of the most sought after and competitive careers out there. But a girl can always dream…

5.Psychologist

I studied psychology as an undergraduate, and have always wondered whether I should have pursued it as a career. I’m interested in all of the theory (in particular Freud’s psychoanalysis) but in practice I was never all that academically minded, and I was beyond useless at statistics. Perhaps I’m just looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but if I had my time again I might just consider taking it forward. Fortunately I now have a job that has an element of psychology to it, so I suppose I’ve got the best of both worlds.

Thinking about it, in one way or another my life does incorporate most of the things I’ve mentioned, it’s just that not all of them bring financial gain. And as everyone knows money can’t buy happiness, that suits me just fine.

 

Of course another career could have been as a pop star. I think I look right at home with McFly in this picture, taken way back when they came to play at McDonald’s on the Strand for competition winners when I worked for Ronald McDonald House Charities. Can’t think why they didn’t ask for a duet…

Epiphany on me

Every so often when I’m engrossed in a book, or lost in a song that’s so beautiful the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I get a sudden rush of overwhelming anxiety. Why? Because in that moment it dawns on me that I will never be able to read all of the amazing books in the world, or hear all of the glorious music that’s been produced over the many years since music began. It’s obvious, of course, but whenever I think about it for any length of time it’s still a sobering enough concept to take my breath away.

Phase two of this bizarre anxiety involves my ruminating that I haven’t read the right kind of books, or listened to the right kind of music. As I’ve grown up – and I should point out at this juncture that I still find it hard to accept that I am, in fact, grown up. Indeed when the prodigal and only child of the family returns home for a familial visit my parents also often have some difficulty believing this – I’ve always thought my capacity and hunger for knowledge would increase and my tastes would mature, not unlike a fine wine.

By my early thirties I was certain I’d have moved beyond childish chick lit ‘novels’ and the kind of soulless popular music that’s relentlessly and indiscriminately spewed out by endless commercial radio stations. I would, I thought, be reading Proust and Tolstoy, listening to Beethoven and Chopin, spending my spare time studying philosophy and going on cycling holidays to French vineyards with my similarly-inclined peers.  

But alas, ‘twas not to be. At thirty one I’m ashamed to admit I still spend most weekends drinking cheap cider and falling out of clubs (playing – you’ve guessed it – popular music). I still haven’t read most of the Orange and Booker Prize-shortlisted tomes I acquired some years ago in a fit of pique at my own ignorance of the workings of the literary world (‘you want to be a writer!’ I’d scold myself. ‘How can you write without reading the works of the great writers?’)  And the sum total of my knowledge on classical music and wine would fit on the back of a postage stamp (and still leave room to spare).

The interest in politics and international affairs that I thought was a rite of passage of getting older never quite materialised. Nor the savvy business mind which would easily decipher tax codes, pensions and such like. Instead of a one woman dynamo I stand before you as an empty, muddled and ignorant shell. I am a caterpillar that failed to undergo metamorphosis and turn into a butterfly. I am a Monopoly piece that didn’t pass Go.

I suppose a psychologist would say that the root cause of my anxiety is my feeling small and insignificant, not knowing my place in the world and worrying I will never make my mark. And I suppose with that analysis they would be pretty spot on (in fact I’ve surprised myself by trotting that out without too much thought and whilst simultaneously wondering what to cook for my dinner – who says we women can’t multitask? Oh, I did, in yesterday’s post. Damn).

But hang on just one cotton picking minute. What about the things I have achieved, the books I have read, the music I have listened to? What about the friends I’ve made, the stories I’ve written, the places I’ve visited? I may never know my Beaujolais from my Fleurie, or be able to discuss the merits of Aristotle’s theories over Plato’s. I may not develop a discerning ear for classical music, know the background to every international conflict or be the next Jane Austen. But I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll write for pleasure, read for pleasure and continue listening to music that makes my hairs stand on end – even if I heard it on Radio 1.

And above all else I’ll do my best to be a good person and make other people happy. Because no amount of knowledge, maturity and finesse can make up for not being able to do that.

I took this photo when I went on a walk by myself along the beach in Lombok. It reminds me of a quiet, reflective period in my travels – appropriate for this post, which actually made me feel surprisingly emotional as I wrote it.

Final day in the U, S of A – cheese and cupcakes

My final (sob!) day in New Jersey didn’t get started until gone midday, due to our impromptu late bedtime the night before. We took our time having breakfast and getting ready before heading into Manhattan for the main event of the trip: Murray’s Cheese Bar. Jen had told me about this place a couple of weeks before I arrived and I’d been eagerly anticipating my visit ever since.

Originally set up as a cheese shop, six months ago Murray’s opened its cheese bar where, for a very reasonable price, lovers of cheese and wine can find utopia. The bar itself, located on Bleecker Street, is decked out in pine with red detail. Diners can sit at tables but the best spot is along the bar that runs the length of the room, where the ultra-friendly staff (our server, Brad, was a great character) can chat to you as you sample the fare.

Murray’s does provide a range of starters, mains and desserts but the jewel in its crown is the cheese boards, which can either be selected from the menu or recommended by the knowledgable staff (we sampled Brad’s favourite cheese as part of our five-cheese board and both agreed it was the best of the lot).

And then there’s the wine. Since arriving here I’ve been amazed by the quality of the wine, and not a little embarrassed about the relative rubbish I’ve hitherto been consuming back home. It’s true that wine is more expensive in bars here than in England (a glass will set you back on average £8 or £9 compared to about £4 or £5), but the standard is noticeably higher so it really is worth it. At Murray’s you can have your cheese board paired with different wines in faster form or select one wine to drink throughout. We opted for a 2010 Argentinian Malbec which was just beautiful.

Our cheese board comprised one Camembert, a dolce latte, a blue cheese and two hard cheeses and they were, without exception, the most delicious cheeses I’ve tasted. Each board comes with a selection of bread, crackers and olives which the staff are happy to top up as required. The total bill set us back $100 including a $20 tip (I’m only just getting used to the 20% tipping system, but now I understand how little staff are paid in restaurants here I’d never consider not paying it) and it was worth every penny. We were even given two fresh baguettes to take home on our way out.

After Murray’s we decided one final culinary blow out was in order and walked over the road to Patisserie Rocco, but were dismayed to find it closed. Fortunately Jen recalled the name of another nearby patisserie, Sweet Revenge, which (as it happened) was also the place my friend had recommended I visit but whose name I myself had been struggling to remember – it must have been fate!

Sweet Revenge blows Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes right out of the water. It’s only a small place but it has a lovely ambience and a mouth-watering selection of treats. Best of all, they offer a wine and beer pairing menu to help you choose the perfect alcoholic beverage to accompany your cupcake. I had the self-titled house speciality cupcake, the Sweet Revenge, which had peanut butter frosting and chocolate in the middle, and it was the most delicious cupcake I’ve ever tasted! It was paired with the same Malbec we had enjoyed in Murray’s.

After our cupcakes we rounded off the evening with a decaffinated cappuccino. Just before we left we offered the bar staff our baguettes as we knew we wouldn’t eat them and didn’t want them to go to waste. We were delighted when they not only accepted but promptly brought out a plate of cheese from the fridge and sat together to eat it with our bread. It was a particularly lovely moment given it was Easter Sunday-we joked about the irony of us having had our last supper before breaking bread with strangers.

Back at Jen’s we had one final picnic on the floor (now somewhat customary!) with peppermint tea and s’mores before turning in. As I write this it’s seven hours later and I’m sitting at Newark airport waiting for my flight back to London. The past six days have been nothing short of perfect, I’ve really loved every single second and don’t feel we could have done anything better if we’d tried. Jen’s been the perfect host and I’m now in no doubt whatsoever that we will be friends for life-amazing given that when I arrived here we’d only met once before in an Indian ashram two years ago, where our shared love of wine and food didn’t even come to light! I know we’ll support one another in achieving our writing goals, and I hope I’ll have an opportunity to repay her generosity in London if she makes it over anytime soon.

It’s been the best holiday and I’ll be smiling at the memories for a long time to come. I love New York! 🙂

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Bar Review: Barrio East

Last night I had my work leaving drinks at Barrio East on Shoreditch High Street. Having never been there before I wasn’t sure what to expect of my reserved area, ‘The Caravan,’ but it was everything I’d dreamed of and more.

What strikes you as you walk in the door of this South American-inspired bar is the brightly coloured lego-esque furniture in the front room. And from there onwards things keep getting quirkier, with splashes of colour just about everywhere you look. The friendly bartenders serve up an array of delicious cocktails (Top tip: Get there between 4pm and 8pm for bargain price cocktails and £5 discount on wine) as the music gets you in a dancing mood.

There are three different rooms or areas at Barrio East, each with its own distinctive style. But the one I liked best (and had, by happy coincidence, reserved for my gathering) was The Caravan. Located directly beside the dance floor, it is exactly what it says on the tin: A caravan. In a bar. Amazing. Seating up to 15 people (allegedly – though I’d say 13 tops if you want to be comfortable rather than elbowing each other in the face) it’s comfortable, wonderfully kitsch and also has the added bonus of feeling like an elevated throne from where you can look down at the drunken antics on the dance floor below with a self-satisfied smile.

An hour or so after we arrived, when we were happily ensconced in our self-styled ‘caravan of love,’ with bottles of wine and plate of nachos a plenty, the band arrived. It’s always a bit nerve wracking when a band turns up on a night out; it has the potential to either make or break the evening. But fortunately in our case it made the evening. Freddie and the Freeloaders (great name!) were just the ticket, and soon had us dancing away to their soulful tunes.

Weird as it sounds even the toilets deserve a mention in this place; when you walk in you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported to Brighton seafront at the height of summer, with rows of painted beach huts (the toilet cubicles).

In short, this place is great – a little gem that’s a big break from the norm. If you like your bars to be crazy, quirky and kitsch then this is the place for you. Once you’ve tried it no local boozer will ever seem the same again. You have been warned…

A caravan. In a bar. AMAZING.