Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ten Easy Steps to Survive the Apocalypse for Teens

Artwork from Getty Images/Bridgeman Art Library

Hello, do you like my tasteful new look? I'm no good at HTML, and Blogger has such a range of beautiful combinations I feel inspired to change every time I post!

I was thinking about that post-apocalyptic service station today, and about the amount of current YA books which are set in the dystopian future. It's a very popular genre: the world has ended as we know it, due to war/famine/disease/global warming/pick your event. Some people survive. But usually not the parents. Parents are extraordinarily expendable in children's literature, since otherwise not too much would happen: everyone would have some tea, have a bath and pretend to wash their hair, read a bit and go to sleep. The most exciting thing that would happen would be when the children kept getting up and the parents got a bit narky.

So, just in case it all goes wrong and you find yourselves trying to survive the new order, XX and XY, here is my motherly advice on how to survive the literary apocalypse. I wrote this first in English, but then realised you might not understand, so I have undertaken a crash-course in teen-slang, and hope it might be helpful.

1. Things you may miss

Electricity. Tablets (both screen and medical). Phones. Fridges with food which is not alive. Laptops. Cars. Television. X-Box. Playstation. Airplanes. Facebook. Vine. Instagram. Snapchat. AskFM, YouTube. Netflix. Sky (both real and digital). Amazon (both the marketplace and the rainforest). Safari (both the, well you get the picture). Food, beds, houses, etc.

2. Things you won't expect to miss, but might!

Dentists. Hairbrushes. Coats.

3. The Terrain

OMG it is going to be #massivefail on the world as we know it. There will be abandoned Beemers holding the remains of humans - you might want to barf at their cheese-smelling parts, but you must sometimes hide under these stiffs. When you find a vehicle still in operable condition, just take the fuel for your home-made flame-thrower and move on. You may need it to make some crispy critters later.  You will find pads which are mostly looted, but look for some elite grub in tins which can be used, and perhaps a knife/battery/new threads/tin-opener. Vines will grow over everything.

There will be scores of empty cities, where people live on rooftops/underground/scurry between stuff. Sometimes there will be moments of sentimental value. A child's bedroom. A magazine. Lights flickering in the distance. The odd moment where you think you can still hear 'Blank Space' on Capital Radio. Sunset reflected in gorgeous hues against the shattered windows of civilisation. It will be beautiful, but intense. The forests will be blackened sticks. Everything will be buckled. I recommend you take the high ground, maybe a cave. But no chillaxing, please. You must stay on your guard.

4. Your Gang

There will be some wankstas, but you can kill them, or they will die anyway. If you are not scientifically inclined, add a geek to your gang. Steer clear of the crashies and the crunks. They will be liabilities. Don't become one yourself. No h8ers. You want your gang to be tight. BFFs.

5. Skills you Should Master

Knife throwing
Building a flame-thrower
Hand to hand combat
Stealing around
Looking into the distance meaningfully
Skinning squirrels
Singing along to birds
Running - essential. You'll be doing a lot of this.
Building a camp
Lighting a fire
Opening tins

6. Watch Out!

There is always the enemy. They may be the infected/zombies or the black-clad state/rogue groups of wild-haired people/new religions/the new state dressed in angular grey suits. Killing other young people to stay alive, or maybe killing older people is cool, especially if they are tools, or are carrying some (tools). All the people you kill are h8ers, anyway, so that's OK. Maybe you will get inked, depending on how many people you have killed/famalams have died. If there are noises in the wood, or the hood, don't go in there. OK?

7. What to wear after it All Goes to Shit

I'm afraid you can no longer wear your rainbow-kitty-unicorn t-shirt. But you don't have to suffer the agony of unfashionableness. In this new world, you will wear leather, or if you are very small, squirrel skins (unless you have found a new dress - see under looting pads). If you are a dude, then you have to wear leather all the time. You can accessorise with feathers, or pops of colour from plastic detritus. You will look sick. Especially with your new inkings.

8. What to Eat

At first, you can go into the abandoned supermarkets, after the first wave of death has passed. After that, its berries, tins from the houses, and squirrels. Don't light your fire with wet wood as it smokes and attracts the enemy. There will be no more burgers. However, the Haribos have a half-life of 10ªªªªª years.

 9. The Future

In the end, it will all be sort-of OK, unless you happen to have been born in the first part of a trilogy. In which case see: 3. Watch Out!

10. And always remember: #YOLO


Monday, 23 February 2015

The long road home

Hello again, it has been an exciting day for this blog, as my post on child gambling hits Mumsnet's Bloggers front page! Many thanks to Mumsnet for highlighting this issue. If anyone has any thoughts about my thoughts, please get in touch with me.

Today is especially welcome after the two which came before. We drove home from Switzerland, a journey which should take around twelve hours, but took us nineteen. The journey started, as normal, with me having a tantrum about something or other. I tend to get tense and grumpy before travelling and it becomes very very easy to pick a fight with me. The satnav reckoned we would be driving for just over seven hours.

Fairly early in our journey we came around the side of a mountain to an ominous black cloud, and then came the rain, sleet, and finally snow. At this point the cars coming from the opposite direction started to look like yetis on wheels. Things were clearly not going to go smoothly. The traffic ground to a halt. The next few hours were tortuous, most of them sitting in the car, watching communities build up by the side of the road: dog walkers, men peeing, us watching with our legs crossed. Some people got out of their cars and started doing a can-can like dance (we were in France so I guess it made a kind-of sense, unless it was some other nation being rude about cultural stereotypes). Some others climbed into an Irish lorry behind us to see if they could see over the jam. Faint hope. We didn't know then that the jam went on for a good seventy kilometres.

It was a perfect traffic storm of snow, half-term traffic, and at least two accidents.

At one point we managed to leave the autoroute to try our luck at country roads, but predictably we were not alone, and so we joined another jam, on a smaller road. Then we thought we might rejoin the original jam, but changed our minds and turned around and left. Then changed our minds again, turned back after ten minute's driving and rejoined the queue. Just in front of us was the same Irish lorry we had been ahead of an hour before when we left the autoroute.

We started worrying that we would end up in the car overnight. I started fretting about supplies; how long could the four of us live on five elderly bananas and three packets of chocolate biscuits? Could manage to open the bottle of wine without a corkscrew?

On the whole, the children were the best-behaved of us all. But then we realised that this was life as normal, just in  car, at least until the batteries on the laptops ran out, but perhaps with less variety in the snacking options. Intermittently, we were thankful we were not the ones in the accidents.

Hotels were cancelled, booked, cancelled again as the distance we might cover shrank and the day wore on. Neither phone had internet access. Mine was running out of battery.

Seven hours after we first ran into the jam, we finally left the mountains behind. We passed snowmen on the edge of the motorway, built by other people caught in the storm, and were treated to a splendidly ethereal sunset. The first services we stopped at after the jam had a post-apocalyptic ambience, people eating like they had been starved for days, rowdy jostling queues for the (ladies) loos, cars spinning their wheels in ankle-deep slush. The impression was helped along by a mysterious crater about five meters across which had opened up in front of the building and was fenced off with emergency tape. The satnav, which had hovered between seven and eight hours all day, still thought we should drive for a further three or four.

Down the other side of the mountain, after another hour of driving, we cancelled our most recent hotel, and phoned back-up in London (sister-in-law), to plead for help with yet another booking. we arrived at Dijon, around eleven hours after we had set off in the morning, where the receptionist told us that there were a lot of jam refugees staying that night. We ate, necked a couple of glasses of wine, and passed out.

Day two was meant to be a quick five-hour jaunt, but due to the first day, was a 9 to 5 affair. The weather was all butter wouldn't melt, at least until England. Where the grudge-bearing satnav, obviously annoyed at the amount of work it had had to do the previous day, sent us meandering through the backstreets of South London rather than through the Blackwall Tunnel.

However, we did make it home in one piece, even if our brains felt like they had been whirled about with an old-fashioned egg beater.

In times of trouble, I recommend a takeaway from Lahore One, on Commercial Road. It was the only thing standing between me and insanity yesterday.

The leftovers were good for packed lunches today. The chicken tikka with green sauce is, as XX and XY would say, epic. And, they gave us a free umbrella!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Gambling for Children -please read this and be aware!

Hello, yes I know the title of this post sounds worryingly like something from Buzzfeed, of worse. But it is a growing problem, and especially in our house - and perhaps yours too. I suppose each generation of children has its own vices, in mine it was sweets like cigarettes, do you remember those? White with little red tips. The vices of our eleven year olds are sugar, screens and gambling.

Sugar and screens have been well-documented, but I don't think anyone has addressed the growing child-gambling problem - as I see it anyway.

When I think about gambling, I remember the hotel in our neighbouring town, which the owner tried to burn down three times to claim the insurance to cover his gambling debts. The first time, my parents were playing bridge at the hotel, and my father, by chance, found the fire which had been lit under the stairs and put it out. I need to confirm this with him, but I think he also put out a second fire in similar circumstances. The third time they succeeded and a very beautiful old hotel was destroyed, to be replaced by a boring beige monstrosity. So gambling has never held any attraction for me - I have never been lucky with cards anyway.

The child gambling that is pertinent in our family started with Match Attax, went on to the wrestling equivalent, and is now firmly embedded in Fifa Coins. Each pack of any of these is a form of child gambling, holding the allure of the great player within the shiny wrapping. Over the last six years, I dread to think just how much money has been spent on packs of all sorts. Initially, I was happy to buy the odd pack of Fifa Coins - hey at least I didn't have to wade through the useless bits of cardboard on the bedroom floor any more! But this evening, having spent at least three hours of our precious Sunday explaining and re-explaining to our admittedly over-tired (sleepover hungover) child why I would not be spending yet another three to five pounds on coins which were a 'one time only' offer, I have had about enough.

Yes I know that these cards, or packs are a treat, but I strongly feel that they set up a child's mind to get that little endorphin rush every time they buy one, and train the children into the mindset of gambling which is, and always has been: next time will be better, so let's buy some more. The companies making the cards, or the online packs, are making a fortune, I suspect, from these small children, or actually us, the parents.

So I would like to see all of these cards trashed, these companies shut down.

What do you other parents out there think?

Surely we cannot stand by as our children are turned into gamblers? What will this mean for them as they become adults?

This cannot be morally right.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Walking, less carbs, and Ottolenghi Iranian Stew

Hello, much stomping around London is still happening, and some cutting down of carbs. I seem to be eating a LOT of porridge, stew, curry and soup, and stir fries with no rice, and mountains of pulses. Mostly it is fine as I'm doing my best to make things very flavoursome but there is the odd day that I would swap vital organs for a few slices of toast and honey with a mountain of butter. The trick seems to be not to allow myself to become too hungry. I'm eating a lot of bananas.

One of the best new dishes I have found in my quest for interesting food is this Iranian Vegetable Stew from Yotam Ottolenghi, The dried limes are worth tracking down as they give the stew a great piquancy, a bit akin to tamarind, but slightly fresher. The barberries, I wouldn't miss too much. Both are for sale on Ottolenghi's website but I found them at a fraction of the price in a shop near Finsbury Park. The company which supplies them, Persia Food, sadly doesn't sell to personal customers online, but you can visit their shop in North London. Someday I'll go there, for now there is Finsbury Park.

I also use half a butternut rather than a whole one, and less then half the potatoes, and I add some other vegetables instead, so far red peppers and courgettes, though you could probably use whatever you have spare in the fridge. If you are doing this, add less water - I found a litre rather than the litre and a half which the recipe recommends - and bear in mind how long each vegetable takes to cook, so you may not need to add them all at the start.

Definitely serve this with the yoghurt.

I'm on the lookout for more good recipes that aren't too complicated, possibly not stew or soup, but also not a piece of protein with some vegetables beside it.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Cold and Hot - Bean, Pepper and Chorizo Stew with Poached Eggs

Time for a recipe.

I've been doing a lot of walking in the past few weeks, doing the January thing. It is beautiful - when it is not raining - but very very cold.

So I think it is time for something warming. I've been wanting to try that thing where you add eggs to a dish at the end and let them poach.

Bean, Pepper and Chorizo Stew with Poached Eggs

Use a large, flattish casserole dish.

You will need:

1 tbs oil
2 chorizo sausages, cut into 1 or 2 cm dice
I also added some leftover roast pork, cut into dice

1 medium onion
1stick celery
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
3 cloves garlic

Deseed the peppers and roughly chop all the vegetables

1 tbs tomato puree
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 to 3/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 to 1 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp dried oregano (or fresh if you have it)
A good glug of red wine
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
400ml chicken stock
1 tin beans, drained (I used butter beans but whatever you have handy)
4 eggs
1 tbs chopped parsley

Heat the pan and pour in the oil, when it is good and hot add the chorizo and let it cook until it releases it's oil and starts to brown. You can remove some oil from the pan at this point if there is too much. Add the leftover pork, if using.

Then add all the vegetables and let them cook on a medium heat for around 10 minutes, until they start to soften.

Put in the tomato puree and let it cook for a couple of minutes, stirring, and then throw in the spices and herbs. Cook again for a minute or two.

Pour in the wine, let it sizzle down and then add the stock, tinned tomatoes and pepper. You probably won't need to add salt as the chorizo is quite salty, but check during cooking and add some if you feel it is necessary.

Bring the stew to a gentle simmer, and let it cook, uncovered for around 45 minutes to an hour, until some of the liquid has evaporated and your vegetables are soft. Add the beans around 20 minutes before the end of cooking.

Make four shallow wells in the surface of the stew and crack the eggs in. I added a little salt and pepper on top of each egg.

Cover the pan and turn up the heat so that the stew is bubbling merrily, and cook until the whites of the eggs are set and the yolks still runny - around 5 to 7 minutes should do. If they are not cooked by then, turn off the heat or your stew will start to stick, and let the eggs finish cooking in the residual heat. Sprinkle over the chopped parsley.

You can serve this with some good bread, or rice, or if like me you are reducing your carb intake, a green salad.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Dreaming of Summer...

Something I wrote in the summer, and thought I should put here to remind us of those hot, rainy nights in these cold windy times. Spring will come...

The city is sodden. It has been five hours since the last storm. The sun came out for an hour or two at sunset, shooting laser bolts between the skyscraper clouds, but it is still steamy enough to pry open the gum on letters.

I’m drinking red wine which is the temperature of my blood and the air around me. My skin feels permeable, as if the water in the air is part of me. I am an amoeba. At the other end of the room the cats are involved in the slow torture and inevitable death of a moth. They make little murrping noises as they take turns to stimulate the insect back into animation, and then place their snowshoe paws on its floury feathery wings. Tomorrow I will find the small corpse and scoop it into a tissue to put in the bin. It is so hot that they can barely be bothered. They are well-fed and the creature is only a toy.

Even the air seems warped with damp. Little spills of rain have wormed their way through the walls and roof of my home, mapping their path with brown marks for their followers. I’m on my own.

I have opened the windows as wide as they can go but no breeze passes through.  I hear the voices of the Friday night people coming home, or perhaps going out. It’s ten-thirty, and in the city they could be going either way. The odd plane passes over, flight path from the north to the south this evening. The rumble of diesel taxis. Every so often there is silence. Then it starts again: siren, helicopter, footsteps, voices, thumping bass, cars. Later there may be the scream of foxes, or car alarms, or the Friday night people going home.

The rain starts again. I’m on my own. And I’m happy.