Archive for March, 2013

  • Running away with myself, or, The Red Shoes

    My jaw is on the floor. I look up at the clock on my computer screen to see that it’s 4.44pm; I’ve been working since 8.30am and I feel like I haven’t done half of the things that I’d planned to do today, and I know that I still have a stack of things that I hope to do before the day is out. Yet, although I have a plan, and although I know that it’s impossible to think that I can accomplish everything that I had intended to do in one day, I feel like time, ‘like grease through my fingers’, is slipping away. I think that I feel that sense of time loss more acutely as I slept terribly last night, so you might say that I’ve been doubly robbed. Personally, I wouldn’t; I’ve been a sporadic insomniac since the age of about 16, so fatigue is something that I have for a long time been learning to combat. In addition, it might be logical to assume that more waking hours should proffer me with more hours of productivity. If this were the case, then I think that I’d have little need to write this post, and you’d all, no doubt, be very envious of the full and productive life that I lead. Alas, while I strive as best as I can to stay ‘on my feet’, sometimes my feet get pretty tired. And, to use another foot analogy, I sometimes picture myself in those fateful ‘red shoes’ that Hans Christian Andersen taunted me with as a little girl – the ones that dance and dance and continue to dance even after I’ve chopped off my feet. A touch melodramatic? Perhaps. I know that my situation is not unique and I know that there are many people in my life that work harder and longer, and have pets and dependants that I don’t even have to worry about, but surely there has to be a point at which we all draw a line?

    This post is not intended to be a diatribe against Chronos, or even against those other keepers and controllers of time that we know to exist outside of mythology, but is rather more of a scoping exercise; on a more human level, it intends to instigate a conversation about the efficacy of knowing one’s limits. As a woman with a strong sense of my own (and indeed every woman’s) potential, I am loathe to use the word ‘limits’, for the fear that it may spiral into derivations thereof (limitations, for example), but I should be very clear in saying that what I actually refer to is our personal right to say ‘No, I’ve done enough, and I’m not doing that’. I wonder, furthermore, how we do this without cutting out the things that we love to do and form the vital core our existence. While reading is part of what I ‘do’ on a daily basis, and while I do essentially ‘love’ it, I feel that it’s important to make sure that I go to bed reading the trash that I’ve chosen to read over the French article that I kick-start my day with.

    My second discussion point relates to guilt. Those of us in academia can always rest assured (however ironic this may seem) that we have never researched enough, read enough, accumulated enough, written enough, and edited enough. The process is perpetual; when we stop, the work is still there; when it’s completed, it could still be improved. What I have found runs in tandem with ‘clocking off’, therefore, is an immense surge of guilt. This year’s Christmas was particularly hard for me, and, while I enjoyed the mince pies and family frolics, I berated myself for not working for a few days. That old adage about ‘work-life balance’ just seems a bit hollow these days. After all, it’s not really a problem of ensuring that you harmonize work and life, but a problem of feeling constantly let down by yourself, even in the advent of harmonization. So, my question is: how do we erase guilt, and how do we absolve ourselves?

    In the time that it’s taken me to write this piece, I could’ve read an article. Alternatively I could have washed the clothes that are spilling out of my laundry basket. If it had to be the latter, then I think I made the right choice.

    To be continued…after I’ve located those darn shoes…

  • Women, Brilliant Women

    Today I want to celebrate the fact that I am a woman. What I mean to say is that I am a woman amongst women. Today, of course, marks International Women’s Day. I am sitting on the tube (yes, sitting – lucky me!) and there are two women either side of me. Both are reading (one a Kindle, the other a paperback). This is usually my commuting pastime. When I get on the tube and my mobile signal drops out and I can’t use twitter or Facebook I descend into my own world. Whether that be a fictional or a theoretical one it is very much my world. It is the time when I most engage with my own thoughts, ideas, and creative energies. I am not one amongst millions of social networkers, but merely one. It makes me truly happy to see so many women in my immediate vicinity immersed in their own worlds: sleeping, reading, working, and daydreaming. While some stranger’s rucksack may be thrust uncomfortably in their face, and while they may be forced to straddle an aisle littered with luggage and feet, this does not inhibit descent into that solo, private world.

    I am now at King’s Cross; I’m off the tube; I’m walking. So are the other women. I’ve lost them.  Whoops, I almost took a wrong turn!

    I could tell you what I aspire to be as a woman, and what dreams I hope to inspire in my future daughters, but I think it would be better to celebrate what I have achieved and what I am. We cannot celebrate what we have not yet made possible, and we do not need to augment the pressures in our lives by pondering too much on this. Besides, I think I’ve said quite enough (for the time being) about lists. I am a woman, forged by a woman, and by those men that have always reinforced my worth. I am fortunate to have what all women should rightfully have: a voice; a passion; a life. Let’s celebrate us, and let’s continue to fight.

    I’m now at the BL, my intellectual home, and walking into the ladies’ toilets I notice a sticker on one of the cubicles that reads, ‘Armpits for August’. I smile. Yes, we are brilliant. We most definitely are.

  • My first love

    La vita è bella

    Those of you that know me know that I love food. There are a lot of people that love food, and I think that the majority of people grow to love food as they get older and their ‘palettes’ develop (or at least that’s what those of us with fussy partners, children and close friends tell ourselves in the hope that one day we might be able to enjoy olives and red wine with them). My parents will nonetheless testify to the fact that I have loved food since the moment that I first breathed air. As a baby, I used to devour French-set yogurts, cubes of cheese, and pretty much anything that was set in front of me. One of my particular quirks, as I grew a little older, was eating baked beans cold, straight from the tin. Well I still do that occasionally.

    I’m also very lucky that I’ve grown up with parents who can cook, and cook really well (I know that we all rave about our Christmas dinners, but I haven’t come across anything that can touch my Mum’s). Yet their individual experiences of cooking have been totally different from one another; my Mum was a straight-A Home Economics student and my Dad was never really allowed into the kitchen until he left home and moved in with my Mum. On the one hand, then, I’ve learnt to be methodical and practical as a cook, learning and memorizing recipes (I know how to make madeira cake, meringue and béchamel sauce and would never dream of tampering with something that I know to work so well), and on the other I’ve learnt to do things a little fast and loose, using what I have and making things up as I go along. As a child, my parents and my Nan would cook with me, getting me to add, mix, and, most importantly, lick the spoon. I never really envisaged myself becoming a chef, but cooking became a hobby that I really loved, and aspired to be great at.

    Of course, credit where credit is due, I have also had the privilege of knowing and loving a man for the past ten and a half years whose Italian roots meant that he brought a lot to the culinary table. Italian food has always been amongst my favourite cuisines: pizza napoletana (which no pizzeria that I’ve ever been to in England seems to get right), spaghetti carbonara (the simple and ONLY way with raw egg and no cream), linguine gamberi, insalata di frutti di mare, torta di ricotta…the list is truly endless. At the beginning of this year, we went to see Julian’s Italian family for a few days, and it was my first experience of visiting the beautiful Alpine piedmont region in the winter, and my first experience of the liquid heaven that the Italians call ‘cioccalata calda’ (hot chocolate). No ordinary hot chocolate, this stuff is so thick that you can literally stand your spoon up in it, and I’ve been obsessed with trying to replicate it since we’ve been home.

    Okay, so now I feel like I’m going off on a bit of a tangent. But food seems to do that to me. I get one thing in my head, and then I start to think about something else, generally starting by planning what I want for lunch, and then dinner and then moving on to the weekend brunch, and before I know it I’ve planned the next dinner party. There’s rarely an hour that goes by when I’m not thinking of food in some capacity and no doubt my friends get a little sick about me talking about it. Certainly, when I worked with my Probation colleagues, it became a bit of a running joke, and if ever I was absent from my main office for a day or two, they would always be sure to reserve me a bit of someone’s birthday cake or the last mince pie. You’d better not even get me started on gypsy tart.

    All that said, I feel that I’ve been rather neglectful of my first love in recent months. Since starting my PhD, a lot has gone by the wayside, and I haven’t had time to do the necessary and important things like wash clothes and bed sheets (thanks to those that have picked up the slack), let alone cook and enjoy the food that I love. This is not an entirely bad thing. I’ve enjoyed lots of pennoni con salsiccia (courtesy of Julian), some great roast dinners and some wonderful dinners out (my favourite haunt at the moment is a little Persian restaurant just off of Leicester Square – ideal for a post-seminar or post-library nosh-up). It’s not quite the same as cooking your own, though, and getting that sense of pride from a job well done. So last night I decided to go all out, dust off one of my (many) recipe books and make a beef wellington with a French twist (thanks, Rachel Khoo). The end result was rather satisfying, and I hope that Julian would agree.

    No doubt this won’t be my last post on food, and I invite other food lovers to share their favourite recipes (I’m talking about those ginger biscuits, Paul!), innovations, variations and general anecdotes about food. Food does so much for us, and we owe it to food to show it a little love from time to time, wouldn’t you agree?