drink , eat , UK

Wig Wam Bam

Photo stolen from the official teepee website

Photo stolen from the official teepee website

“When,” I asked Emma this morning with some anxiety, “Did I become the sort of person who hangs out in a teepee in Hoxton?”

When indeed. The past year has, without a doubt, been one of upheaval and adventure. I moved countries, twice, moved continents in fact – again – leaving most of my belongings in my mother’s attic in Cambodia. I rode horses in paddy fields, stood naked on a balcony on Marina Bay, got a goddaughter, walked a red carpet, hula hooped in a Victorian hall, and danced the blues in a basement while dwarves played pool nearby. It has been a glorious, unfeasible, miraculous year, filled with laughter and joy and the sort of unreasonable, unyielding tackling of fears I must remember to be proud of.

But back to the teepee.

The teepee sits on the roof of the Queen of Hoxton. It is a pop up, and it is called “Wig Wam Bam”, two facts which would be sufficient to make it a thing of pure loathsomeness. But. The teepee is lit by fairy lights and the glowing coals of a cooking pit at the centre of it. Its floor is strewn with wood chips, the seats are sawn off logs, and it smells of bonfire. It is utterly lovely.

wigwambam2 wigwambam1

It is cosiness. The boozy drinks – hot fudge toddies, buttered rum and mulled cider – are a very reasonable £5, and every night there’s a different meal on offer: venison, wild boar sausage, leg of pork. If you hover by the spit, the cooks will offer you tastes of juicy, tender meat dunked in gravy. And if you ask veeeery nicely, you may very well get a giant slab of wood smoked crackling all to yourself.

Bring some friends to the teepee. Laugh, gossip, eat, drink, and be merry, and revel in all that was good and right with 2012.

Where: Queen of Hoxton, 1-5 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3JX

When: Monday – Saturday, 5-10 pm, until the end of March 2013

eat , UK

My Christmas

christmas-food

 

There’s a visible recoil when you tell someone you’re spending Christmas on your own. A barely perceptible intake of breath, eyebrows rising in suppressed horror, a softening of the eyes to indicate compassion. Christmas? On your own?

You’re welcome to come to my wife’s parents’. They take in strays every year.

said Jamie, my friend’s brother. This was the second time I’d met him.

The thing is, after two Christmases spent in the sweltering heat of Cambodia and the overbearing, sinister commercial mirth of Singapore, I’m looking forward to a Christmas on my terms. Quiet. Cosiness. A complete lack of stress, and guilt. This morning I walked down to Chatsworth Road market and stocked up for the next few days. Then I took a photo in homage to Trish Deseine, who’s had her share of Christmas trauma, and whose Parisian market sprees always leave me aching with longing. Tangerines, like Christmas crack, from the corner shop. Radishes to be eaten straight from the fridge, root and all. Tiny waxy potatoes to go with the tiny wild duck. Apple juice to warm and spice. Chestnuts for the open fire. Apple sausages and black pudding, hiding in the back, for a hearty breakfast on Christmas day before I set out on the bike to see how quiet London really is. And foie gras, of course, because some traditions are untouchable, and that beautiful sourdough loaf will need *something* spread onto it.

Happy Christmas. If you’re in the UK, do watch The Snowman and The Snowdog on Channel 4 at 8pm on Christmas eve. The loveliest, kindest, most talented people I’ve had the pleasure to work with made it, and it’s our little gift to you.

At the top of the stairs a fat hairy ginger cat lies sprawled on its side, head propped up in the manner of a particularly lazy, disdainful Sphinx, surveying his domain: train tracks heading off towards Lyon and Marseille, the murmur of conversations, the clatter of shoes under the metal beams.

I’m perched on a banquette and my feet hover several inches off the ground. The table is vast, generous; the linen thick and crisp. Our suitcases have been whisked off to the cloakroom and we huddle, dwarfed by the arches and gilding and statues of sirens fainting.  At tables nearby the maître d’hôtel is in a constant frenzy of steak tartare: some eggs whisked in a bowl, first, then a dash of condiments, and baskets of golden fries spinning around the room. He is small and neat, alert, genuinely concerned for our comfort.

What do we talk about? The light from the chandeliers hits our glasses of wine and traces delicate lace collars on the tablecloths. We read out loud from the little brochure detailing the place’s history. On the walls we recognise Orange, the banks of the Seine mirroring Venice for the 1901 exposition, an alpine lake. We weigh the merits of butter salted, and not, before wreaking havoc with the salt grinder.

We eat in happy, drunken complicity. We take our time and mop up the rich juices with crusty bread – like peasants, my friend says. There’s fish, mine on a bed of spinach and preserved lemon, and then a fig and raspberry tart. Outside, a lone palm tree curves against the sky – so delicately blue – and the sparkling roofs of Paris. It is impossible, I know, to freeze the moment, to stay there in that grand dream of a place, in that perfect Saturday afternoon.

With a few minutes to spare we walk down the steps towards the waiting TGVs and Transiliens.  We say good bye at the edge of the tracks, and everything, it feels, is brushed with sunlight.

Where: Le Train Bleu, Gare de Lyon, above the old section of the train station.

Amazing.

The Fox Family album cover, by the multi-talented Andy Fielding.

UK

Summer notes

Forgive me, Fat Ponies.

It has been a month since my last confession. In my youth, this, the very prime of summer, the blessed month between the fireworks of the 14th of July and the  holiday klaxon of the 15th of August, would have been spent in a fug of carambars, Picsou Magazine, and Fort Boyard, stewing gently on the old leather sofa of our summer house in a slick of sweat. Instead I have been stewing, in the rolling heat, in an animation studio. Since news of the production ran in a few papers today I might as well link to it. The Snowman and the Snowdog! It’s the Snowman! Again! But with a dog. Made of snow. A snow dog.

What can I tell you about summer in London? Yes, there has been the small business of feats of athleticism, buoyant mayors and surreal ceremonies, but apart from a fairly entertaining opening night I took very little notice of the whole thing.

Which leaves me wondering… what exactly have I been doing with my time? I turn to foggy, fuzzy mobile phone pictures to jog my memory, a thing leaky and  broken by long hours of pressing computer keys in the manner of a Chinese virtual gold digging monkey.

Spying on the fox family

They are skinny, belligerent, and have taken up residence in the construction site next to my old flat. I love this picture. If they  ever released an album, this would be their cover.

Drinking cocktails from mason jars

Plus ça change etc.

Again at the damp cocktail bar.

Falling asleep at the theatre

Yes. I am officially 105 years old. I can no longer make it through a civilised evening without nodding off in that jerky commuter fashion, like an overworked Japanese mid level manager. I had to run away during the intermission, my cheeks burning with shame. SHAME, I TELL YOU. Mildly incontinent granny shame.

Eating Afghan food

Fried pastry triangles filled with pumpkin and leek and spiced lamb with lentils and dumpling things smothered in a sauce made of crushed halos topped with unicorn dust. YUM.

A bargainous treat at Ariana 2 in Kilburn, named after Ariana 1, in… Manhattan.

Getting a pho fix

… at this hole in the wall on Upper St.

Their banh mi has the works: roast pork, pâté, and pork floss, but at £5.50 it is exactly 18 times the price of the Phnom Penh version. OUCH.

Next up: flat hunting, something about polo ponies, and the joys of Hackney.

But not now. Granny needs her beauty sleep.

 

I am in danger of falling in love.

It’s a strange thing, after all these years of avoiding moving to London, how swiftly I have embraced the city. Getting a job here has transformed my experience of it, and I have been swept away, grinning and willing, in the steady, oiled flow of London days, rocked by the rhythm of my daily commutes. There is a joy to being lost here, to finding small treasures in all the bustle and tourist hordes and transportation woes. I think back to the similar post I wrote, this time last year, about Singapore. I couldn’t help listing everything I hated about the place. How my life has changed, how I have changed! I come home, weary from a day at the studio and a long commute, and look forward to the next. I walk, endlessly, through forests and parks, and along the wide, placid Thames with its small shingled beaches and improbable bridges.  I watch people: shiny-eyed toffee-coloured children with hair like cotton candy, angular, dessicated women in worn ballet flats, the man in a camaieu of mustards and yellows rolling a cigarette on the tube. I smile, and I am soothed.

Each week end I try to fit in something new, but it’s hard, even in a city as rich and variegated as this, to resist the lure of routines. Here are 10 of my small London joys. Try them. Let me know if they did anything for you.

1. My bus ride through Peckham

The 363 makes its arthritic way from Crystal Palace to Elephant  Castle in just over half an hour. It is not the most picturesque of routes. It passes rows of suburban terraced houses, the grimness of Lidl, and a street called “Bird in Bush Road.” But passing through Peckham I can see rows of cassava neatly stacked, buxom African women in short skirts and elaborate hairdos, a pile of durian at the Chinese store. There’s the promising, inviting neon of Theatre Local, and when I get off the bus I’m often greeted by a fox who seems to welcome me back home.

2. Crystal Palace Park Dinosaurs

Large Victorian statues of anatomically incorrect dinosaurs. What’s not to love, really.

3. Rose and Pistachio cake

It is perfumed and nutty, gluten free, and topped with a layer of frosting like a cloud of cream. Found at the London Review Bookshop, who have great books and even better cake.

4. Urban foxes

Yes, I know, they are vermin and they root through bins and screech through the night and their shit is pungent (I should know, I unwittingly dragged some into an interview room a few days ago). But every time I see one I am transported to Le Petit Prince, and the fox who asks to be tamed.

5. Jacob’s Ladder burger

This one will need a post of its own. Succulent cow slab with roquette, a generous spread of raw stilton and mustard, served in a toasted sesame brioched bun. GOOD.

6. Sydenham Hill Forest

I am still baffled and delighted by this patch of forest outside my door step, a short 15 minute ride from Victoria station. There are fields of bluebells, twisting lanes that smell of earth and leaves and life, and escaped parokeets in the trees. On the other side lies Dulwich Park, with its outdoors exercise machines, enormously fat geese, and golden horses that canter powerfully along the dirt track. There are also children called Margo and people in those annoying reclining bikes, but you can ignore them.

7. Pain poilâne at Waitrose

This week’s grateful discovery. There’s a Ladurée and a Pierre Hermé too. Who needs Paris?

8. The morning commute

These days I get up at 6 to be in the studio by 8 am, so I can get an hour of writing done before the rambunctious crowds of animators arrive. I find, bizarrely, the hour’s commute restful. It’s a great time to write a few notes down, before my brain is completely clear of the night’s fog, or to just look out the window at the crowded, Victorian rows of Brixton, or the ungainly silhouette of the Shard. There are regulars – a thin, calm woman with a different head scarf tied around her head every day, or the small girl with corn rows with a distracted, blonde mother. I always get a seat.

9. Swing Patrol

Nothing has made me more deliriously happy than taking up swing dancing. I come home sweaty and full of love for humankind, possibly with delusions of being an extra in Swing Kids. I have step-step-kick-kicked my way through a couple of classes, trodden on feet and grimaced apologies at a social dance, and I want more, MORE. It’s like crack, innit. Happy swingy crack.

Last week we did this:

CRACK.

10. Cocktails

Well, some things never change. These guys, in a basement bar rife with girls in twee vintage clothing, make a fabulously pink lychee concoction. Just don’t go if you’re allergic to mould or new wallpaper “artfully” ripped off the walls.

What more can I add to this list?

I knew I had a better story for the World Nomads travel writing competition.

Last year I went to Koh Rong island. Ageing Korean buses through the Cambodian countryside. Sugar palm trees and paddy fields, thin cows and sleeping dogs on the road. Karaoke blasting over the air conditioning. Shared pineapple from a plastic bag. A moto ride winding through Sihanoukville hills. 3 hours on a rusty ferry. Tree houses swaying gently in the wind, sand like icing sugar. The great mass of a buffalo swimming towards me, in the encroaching dusk, the bulge of its eye as it strains against the rope, how quietly it moves through the warm, clear waters.

I’ll write it another day. But in the meantime I’ve made a little video – all filmed on 35mm on my Lomo Kino. Hope you like it.

A long long time ago (last year), in a land far far away (Edinburgh College of Art), I had a student called Cat Bruce.

Cat draws things and makes films. She lives with her young daughter Erin in Edinburgh. They get up to all sorts of exciting adventures together, like painting their faces or taking pictures in slow motion or wearing hats with ears on them. I’ve long suspected Cat of being a small animal, like maybe a pensive fox or a wise owl or something. She is secretive, quiet and child-like and never fails to remind me to be amazed and enchanted by every day life. Because, as Cat says:

The fun things you can do with spare time are infinite.

So please check out her new weblog, which is currently focusing on fly CSI, because I want her to post more often. And use your spare time wisely. Like an owl or something.