Monday, 31 May 2010

The Geordie Fish Van

Every week, a load of Geordie blokes fill a van full of fresh fish from Tynemouth quayside and drive down to Ealing first thing in the morning, sell it and drive all the way back again in a day. Finally, after years of them telling me, "I can't believe ye've not gorra freeza!" I got one, a free one from my friend Mark. So I bought a freezer pack of fish from the lads, enough to last three months at two meals a week.

We got to talking about growing veg as Alan stacked the shelves for me. I told him that I wanted the rest of the space for freezing raspberries from the garden to last me through winter. He could see the size of my garden (small) and he couldn't believe why I'd bother when I could get down the Asda and buy frozen ones.
"A lot of people in London grow their own vegetables, don't they!" said Alan the fish man incredulously. His question was, "Why make work when you don't have to?"

So I thought about it. It's the theory that time saving devices make your life better. Paving over your garden makes it easier to maintain. Driving to the shops is faster than walking. Using a food processor to mix your cupcakes makes it simpler. Buying cupcakes makes it even better. It's why Aunt Bessie's frozen mashed potato sells by the tonne from the freezer cabinets of British supermarkets. Why bother to grow your own potatoes, dig them up, wash them, boil them and mash them?

It's all very well for me, with no kids to feed, clothe, wash and supervise. There are probably millions of people who must bless Aunt Bessie, whoever she is or which ever corporation invented her brand identity, for charging several thousand percent on top of the price of a potato, in exchange for taking half an hour off the preparation time.

What's with the Londoners, some of the busiest people on the planet, the ones who've been measued walking 10% faster than anywhere else in the UK, trying to give themselves more work by cultivating vegetables in our own tiny plots? Well, it's a question of what we're saving the time and the labour for. So we can sit on the sofa and watch more television? So we can spend more time working? It's the myth that digging gardens, mowing lawns, peeling potatoes and making our own cupcakes is unfulfilling work. When really it's a lovely way to pass the time, and it keeps us a little bit fitter than we would otherwise be.

A raspeberry from my garden will always taste better than a frozen one from Asda, a plot of moss filled, clumpy grass will always look better than a paved back yard, and mashing your own home grown potatoes is better exercise than lifting weights at an overpriced, sweaty gym. Efficiency is not the way to a happy life.

This week, resist the ready meal. If you haven't grown your own, buy potatoes that still have mud on them (they are loads cheaper too), give them a scrub, boil them and mash them. (I like some salt, pepper, skimmed milk and benecol spread squashed into mine.) See how much better they taste. They go brilliantly with haddock driven all the way down from Tynemouth.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Finally: it's time to mention yoga

I've resisted this long, but it's time to share. For the last 14 years I've been practising yoga and I qualified to teach BKS Iyengar's method in 2003. It's not all soft and fluffy; passing the assessments was probably the hardest work I've done. Four years of practise before you're allowed on the training course, and at least two years to get through. The Iyengar approach is rigorous, and uses equipment to help all students do the extensions correctly, but all yoga is yoga. If you are going to do downward facing dog, it's the same in every class you do; it's just that some methods hold the postures for less time and aren't so fussy about whether or not you try your hardest to get it absolutely right. Some go straight from posture to another in a more flowing style. In Iyengar's method, teachers are expected to help students to correct mistakes. Once they're good, then they can flow.

Around the globe some yoga teachers do something a little bit different and name it after themselves, trademark it and see if they can earn a stack of cash. That's not particularly yogic, not according to Patanjali who wrote down the rules over 2000 years ago. (BKS Iyengar says he does Patanjali's hatha yoga, it's just that it's simpler to call it Iyengar so students know what to expect.)

What's yoga anyway? Bouncing about in lycra showing how bendy you are? The definition I like best is that yoga is the quietening of the mind to achieve stillness. Showing your muscles and standing on your head in public isn't yoga, it's just showing off. But if you do go to a class with a decent teacher, concentrate hard on doing your best and what each part of your body is up to (ignoring the others in the room) you'll come out feeling brilliant, with a calm head and a spring in your step.

That's why I'm recommending that you give it a try. It'll help you to think clearly, put things in perspective and keep your body parts functioning smoothly. Since I've practised yoga I've been able to concentrate better while I'm working and I've got rid of the lower back pain I always had from sitting at a desk. (Except the time Nick dreamed he was playing football and kneed me in the lumbar spine.) I've a long way to go before I quieten my mind enough to achieve stillness, but it happens more often than it used to, which was never.

Go here to find yourself a local class: If you're in Ealing, get in touch.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Tye Die For

Is it a brain scan? Is it an aura? No, it's my first go at tie dying a t-shirt since I was about seven years old (when I didn't tie the knots tight enough so the result was all a bit disappointing).
Yes, in answer to Alastair Creamer*'s queston on Wednesday evening, I am single handedly trying to bring back tie-dying as a fashion statement. My pink and lilac hoodie is a wonder to behold, in my eyes anyway.

So far, in my quest to do something different on a Tuesday, this one's been up there with the most satisfying, along with picking 14lb of plums and making fruit leathers (see earlier).
All it takes is two packets of Dylon washing machine dye (but choose your colours carefully my friends), 500g of salt dying session (29p for 750g at Tesco Metro is the cheapest I've found yet), a t-shirt, some string and a washing machine.

For t-shirts, I'm using Anvil 100% organic cotton from PAG. I bought the huge reel of hemp string from Newbury Street in Boston in 2002. I knew it could come in handy one day.


Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The wrong name

I picked up a brilliant little book this week, but I nearly walked right past it. It was only when I spotted in very small red letters "Mandy Wheeler", fellow 26 member and someone I knew years back when we made a radio programme for LBC, that I got a little bit interested.
And here's the problem. It's called "Tell an Outrageous Lie". I don't like to do that, so I couldn't see any need for a book that encouraged me.
Open it up, clarity follows.

This is a book full of ideas, to inspire you in your writing and thinking. It's to help you to explore situations you might not have thought of for yourself. In September I'm going to be running two creative writing workshops, just little ones, in a beautiful place called the Garden Studio. It's in Ealing, the Queen of the Suburbs. I'll be taking my copy of Tell an Outrageous Lie with me, and I'll recommend it to everyone who turns up.

You really have to see it to appreciate it, because it's a visual little beauty. Each phrase is matched with an illustration or a photograph to set its mood. But here's an example. If you're stuck for inspiration, half way through a story or a poem or a script or just a letter to your gran, open the book at a random page and you might find, "an abandoned handbag" or "when the dust settles".

It's so simple it seems obvious, like so many ace ideas. It's the kind of thing we think could all have written - but we didn't, did we, dammit? Have it handy for when your natural creative tank runs dry. It's like inspirational Opal Fruits. And you don't have to tell a lie if you don't want to.