Sunday, 23 June 2013

A marathon forward

We do get up to some eclectic things here in Contrary Towers. And unpredictable. Clare's new found passion for growing things - and killing aphids- acts as a mirror to the existing interest in discovering new areas and challenging the status quo. In my case I am pushing to remember forgotten skills as I ease in to the comfort of simply being me. But more of this in a later blog.

A few weeks ago Clare managed to get herself invited to speak at an event entitled Hear I Am being organised by Nazmin Akthar of the Muslim Women's Network. Now I thought this fabulous, I've been saying for long enough that she needs to be heard more as her writing and poetry is far deeper than the airhead dittys I write. So she got writing and I got inviting my bezzie to act as the support team. And not hecklers. Oh no.

The bard...
There was a minor panic on my part as I had no idea what I would wear as, well, I don't get out much and the thing I vaguely had in mind maybe wouldn't fit owing to excessive pie consumption. Fortunately, it did! Suitably attired as all gathered in Contrary Towers and made Clare go and do a reading of her piece, it was the first time she would do a performance and really didn't want it to go wrong. She happily reported it took the required 5 minutes of reading aloud and was then cajoled, nay, nagged in to performing to all of us. It's really, really difficult to perform to a group of friends and loved ones so this had to help put her in a good frame of mind.


Fortunately, it was yes. Her reading was flawless and we could relax before being taxied by Clare's bf to a strange place called Stratford... Now the funny thing was whilst I'd never heard of the venue, actually, it's not that funny, I knew exactly where I was as I had a 911 break down right outside in the horrendous stationary traffic they used to get before the bypass was built. Which made it weird for me, I was finally going in to one of the buildings I'd stared at so patiently in the late eighties and early nineties on trips to London.

An odd place is memory lane.

Anyway, we got there. Furnished the driver with some pennies to get some, err, essential supplies for after the event, and waved him off nervously as, frankly, his ability to miss turnings has become the stuff of legend and great amusement here in Contrary Towers and we really didn't know if we'd see him again...

...and with that thought we parodied a classic bad joke as these three women walked in to a bar.

The welcome was warm. I know that is such a cliché of a phrase, but oh it truly was. We had a little indecision at first as, well, D'Gaf is dry and we, well, oh you've all read our blogs and know exactly what we're like... But it's lovely and the staff were fabulously friendly and said they'd bring our soft cocktails to wherever we happened to be sitting.

Best friends
One nice little touch was that those who'd bought tickets in advance got little glow bands, which were fab. Honestly, another trip down memory lane as the last time I had one of these on was when I was 15 and visiting Blackpool with friends - one of which I met up with recently - some 31 years ago! Another delightful trip down memory lane. So it was apt that it was with my two closest friends I would be wearing one again!

Now then, the evening: the idea was to support an anthology of poetry being put together by the Muslim Women's Network, hence why we were there as we do poetry and, obviously, have strong views on women's rights regardless of background.

Introducing the evening was, of course Nazim Akthar who, thankfully, had decided to talk rather than try to fob them off with me on the grounds that nobody knew what she looked like. I did explain earlier that other than sharing an accent people might just guess...

She was wonderful in a slightly manic - at times ditzy - way that can only be achieved from somebody of obvious deep intelligence. She introduced the idea behind the Muslim Women's Network, their priority areas and the anthology project before finally dedicating the evening to Cassandra Balchin who sadly died last year after losing her battle with cancer. It's strange to get a pang of utter regret that you will never be able to meet a woman who sounded like the very definition of amazing.

Opening the performance was Mizan The Poet with a powerful poem full of string imagery beautifully delivered. He was quickly followed by Sacha Wise who gave a moving, intensely personal view of her abuse. I was in tears. Actually, I think everyone was in tears. As it turned out they were the first of the many that would follow in the evening. And it gave me pause to reflect, any abuse I suffered was purely mental and whilst I'm still coming to terms with some of it - ok, all of it - I knew I had never been through anything as harrowing as this.

It did though throw my note taking out of kilter and I then stopped writing who was performing and just immersed myself in story after story of a lives I had never lived.

During the evening we found we were sitting opposite Rania Khan who, it transpired, is a Tower Hamlets councillor. As we chatted we found out about an event that we can see from our balcony actually was! There is a mini olympic sports and culture event, the program for today looks amazing! Anyway, it was fascinating talking with a local councillor.

As the evening wore on we broke for dinner, we'd settled on the vegetarian option, which, once it arrived, was stunning. But the delay was a marvellous glimpse of serendipity in action as we got to chat with Saleha Begum who would also be speaking that evening. If I do have a regret it's that I didn't have the cash on me to pick up a copy of her book Ruptures and Fragments.

The evening wore on wonderfully. A particular highlight was the performance by Zena Agha of her "Woolwich: Not In My Name" poem, this was simply amazing. To follow it up she gave a rendition of a very personal piece on what she wanted to say to some oaf in a nightclub. It gave an amazing insight in to the strength and clarity of mind that this eloquent young woman gained from her faith. Wonderful.

Eventually... It was Clare's turn to talk. It was her first performance and given that she was shaking with nerves it was beautifully delivered. And, I'm pleased to say, well received.

The evening closed with a video of street interviews by to ladies of the MWN to the men of East London. It was both engaging and fascinating to watch.

And I had my first experience of henna!

So what did I learn. Well, difficult to say, in advance of the evening I had refreshed my memory of what the five pillars of Islam are. I'd pondered how I would be received and, also wondered what I would ask as the chance came along. So what I learned was actually quite simple, the sorority of womanhood crosses many boundaries with people from a seemingly unlimited diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. I learned that regardless of what our backgrounds were we could easily come together and chat like old friends and be left wondering just what the hell the media keep wittering on about.

Which leaves me with the strange title. In Zena Agha's talk she used the line one step forward and a marathon back. But that was a specific event. For me this was, simply, a marathon forward.

My thanks to Nazmin and all those that were involved with the event, you are all utter, utter stars.

السلام عليكم

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Lazy like a Sunday Morning

Summer, my dears, has finally arrived at Contrary Towers. At least for a while. Which is why I'm sitting out on the balcony wearing as little as I can get away with without scaring the bejesus out of the French couple that live next to us. Or scandalising the local community with a flagrant display of leg.

If I go out I'd better change...

Anyway. As Clare's boyfriend said on Friday night, I've been a bit of a social butterfly this week. This was all unexpected but goodness has it been a giggle. The week started quietly enough, too quiet really. I was visiting chez Nearly-Ex to spend time with the children over a weekend that may or may not have included my age incrementing in the most frightful manner. Mostly I survived this and even - rather shockingly - managed to have a giggle. I know! Go me...

By the time I jumped on the train on Wednesday morning I'd definitely had enough and really needed to do something different. I had, after-all decided that being fed up was, frankly, becoming really quite tedious.

And that would never do.

Fortunately Wednesday was the last in the month and the Science Museum were doing one of their fabulous lates events. If you've never been you should go, all the fun of the museum with no children about, teh winez and interesting themes. This months being sex and sexuality. What could possibly go wrong?

Having roped in my friend Ray I promptly went for a nap, it was going to be a late evening and nappage was not so much a luxury as a singular requirement. Zzzzzzzzz. Incredibly, after a mad quick change and shower I managed to make it to Mile End on time to rendezvous. Unfortunately there had been a double presumption which lead to me sitting at one end of the platform with him some way away. At least I started off on time... Not that this was a problem, there was loads of time and my intention had been to get to South Kensington and quaff an iced latte. Which is what we did. Obvs.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the queue at the Museum for the 18:45 opening was, well, impressive. Apparently sex and sexuality is an interesting topic.

Who knew?

The tone was set when we were offered bracelets to indicate sexual preference. Red if you liked girls, blue if you liked boys and green for both. I, being utterly contrary, was obviously green. Oh, there was also black, which I think meant you liked sheep.

Next stop was to see the thrusting connecting rod of a stationery engine that was obviously all steamed up. What I didn't know was there was a Science Museum photographer snapping pictures. And they managed to catch me and my poor compagnon dé soirée as we looked on. The first I knew of this was when Clare, squealed on Twitter that it was me! Such a fabulous memento of the evening.

The rest of the evening was filled with the delight of chatting about things we saw as we wandered the museum.

Mostly we didn't go to the organised events, though did stumble on Bingo, which was mad, and found the board where people could express something about who they were. At the end of the evening we found ourselves on the top floor and saw another talk was on. This time by a surgeon on some of the issues to do with being transgender, what the process is (in simplified terms) and how big a deal it is. I'll not go on about this too much, but all I will echo is something said by the surgeon and which I've said a thousand times.

It isn't a choice.

And with that the lates drew to a close and we headed out in to the cool evening air and headed back East. Via the Merchant of Bishopsgate in Liverpool Street. Call me Ms. Irresponsible. Two large vodkas later and  the evening was perfectly rounded off. Unsurprisingly I found Clare had tweeted that:

My #flatmate is a dirty stop out

But I could live with that, I was, after all, out late on a school night and being kicked out of a bar because they wanted to close. Oops. I would get my own back the next night...

Thursday was quiet, I managed to be only a little bit late for work having had to catch up with what's been going on, it had been quite a while since we'd been able to have a morning chat and I managed to ease myself through the day with a sense of aplomb that largely masked my wanting to crawl under the desk and snooze for England.

The evening was definitely quiet and, as I've previously written I decided steak was the only way to deal with getting back in to the Contrary lifestyle. And mash. Obvs.

It obviously worked. The next morning I looked almost bright eyed and bushy tailed! Which was good as I had (a) a lunch date and (b) an evening out to look forward to. Having not been out in a while I was a little worried about whether I would wilt with tiredness. I would cross that bridge when I got to it. Or slump in the back of a taxi sobbing about how awful it is to be 46. One or the other.

So I scrubbed up, crawled in to a favourite works-for-everything black dress and went bouncing off to W1 for a morning of looking like I'm moderately clever.

Astonishingly, again, I wasn't late. I got to Ping Pong in EC4 with ample time to spare and relaxed in to the lively chit chat that I'd been so looking forward to! And it was fab. I've not been before so was glad to be with an old hand. I loved the food, ate too much and relished the meandering conversation about food, life and even a little politics. I really can't wait to do this again. On top of this... The sun had come out. My optimism and returning joie de vivre was obviously enough to convince the sky fairy that it was about time to shine some warmth on this fair city. St Paul's churchyard was packed as office workers basked in a UVA induced delirium. How wonderful.

The afternoon passed quickly, I actually finished what I intended to do and, at the stroke of 5:30 the Boss and I headed off to the underground for the shortish journey to The Old Bank Of England, for that is where the evenings entertainment would take place. Now it's been a while saw all my friends together and it was wonderful, a really good evening. Even better the Boss had managed to secure a table outside when we arrived. Of course, as you might expect I semi-disgraced myself by becoming terribly tiddly, outrageously flirty (so my Clare told me the next morning) and throwing white wine over somebody (unintentionally). As the evening drew to an inevitable close I found there were just two of us left, so I stumbled out on to Fleet Street hailed a cab and we pootled to Contrary Towers for a late night cup of tea.

The next morning, other than finding a trail of clothes stretching from the door to my bedside, saw me leaping in to action to make bread. I say leaping but, really, it was a bit of a late start, not the usual dough mixing at 6am. Oh well.

As the day progressed we chatted, I painted my nails, Clare tended the plants in the Contrary Garden and generally all was well in the world. Knowing we were going out later I took the opportunity of her boyfriend turning up to slope off to bed for an emergency nap, otherwise I was in serious danger of passing out from lack of sleep.

The evenings entertainment was a dance preview at Richmix in Shoreditch. I've not been there before and was delighted to discover would entail a new bus journey! I really need to get out more. So we hopped on the 309 and made our way to Bethnal Green where - you'll not be surprised to learn - I proved what an airhead I am by exclaiming over there being a green. I know. With one more bus we arrived, collected tickets and went to wait for "Tempered Body Dance: It Goes Here Now" to start.

The dance itself was pretty spectacular, a fascinating way to try to express the science - and in a way folly - of genetic modification - using a very dynamic and physical medium. Do I sound pretentious or what?! What was truly fascinating was before the dance though...

We had arrived in a middle-class ghetto of pretentious twaddle.

It was a good job that we'd decided not to have a cocktail before going in, otherwise we would't have been able to contain the giggles at some of the things we heard going on around us. Anyway, fabulous dance and I hope to see it again when they do a full production.

Before we started on the serious matter of trying a new cocktail venue we headed to Brick Lane Beigel for munchies. And it was epic. I've heard of it before, but never been. The hot salt beef and mustard filled beigel was, simply, to die for. It was fabulous. And seriously filling. The place is something of a legend, open 24 hours and has a constant stream of people from all strata of society. If you're in the area and you've not been then go!

To finish the evening we headed to the Redchurch for cocktails. Neither of us had been there before, but what a find! Really, I loved it. It was just the right level of dark seediness that suggests a warm intense evening of debauchery, giggles and discovering new delights. We started the evening with both of the current specials, I have no idea what they actually were because the barman was stupidly good looking, perfectly toned and had my hot flush klaxon screeching at 11.


The night moved on a pace, a couple next to us were going for the world snogging record, much to the amusement of the staff and all onlookers. We moved on to dry martinis, which were beautifully smooth, now this is high praise indeed, I'm a huge fan of the Duke's Bar which does the best martinis anywhere and this was more than a perfect substitute and coupled with the raw and raunchy atmosphere I was more than happy. Next we went for something different, I just wish I could remember what the names were! By this time we'd moved on to having table service by the wonderful and bubbly young lady that was hovering and helping. This was good as by now the bar was heaving and it was much easier to be waited on then stand at the bar fanning myself over the sight of perfect forearms...

Our head mixer...
Finally, all good things come to an end and we were collected by Clare's boyfriend who had kindly volunteered to be out taxi home. For more cocktails...

The only problem is we were a bit short of the usual base drinks so - inevitably - we had to concoct. And this is what Contrary Towers does best...

With a lasagna we'd frozen from the last lasagna night slowly cooking in the oven the head mixer got to work... Oh my!

As ever Clare came up with some fabulous concoctions, this time created around sambucca, cointreau, cherry brandy and some other things. I really wasn't paying that much attention. And the newly planted mint plant discovered just how short life in Contrary Towers can be if you're edible!

It was a fine way to go.

It wasn't all flagrant consumption though. In the name of science a new tincture was developed that should cure most ills. Or at least make you not give a stuff about said ills. Or forget them.

I present Dr. Brown's Universal Tincture...

It was wonderful and I do hope Clare can remember what she put in it! Not to be outdone, said boyfriend decided to make us something. This may have been to stop me putting on the wax pot as I'd been threatening to do... *cackles*

Now I have to say this also needs to be written up, we really had no idea what he was making - the milk was a surprise - but oh my the results were, simply epic. A truly delicious and smooth drink...

He can come again.

Finally it was way past 2am and having invited somebody to come for fresh lasagna on Monday (though I doubt he will) we decided the dancing, giggling, chatting and generally saying how fab we all were had to come to an end... It was time for bed.

Inevitably there is an epilogue and here it is. This morning I managed to further sleeps before emerging at about 9am. A quick cup of tea and chat with Clare's boyfriend who was heading off and then time to consider what I would have for breakfast. Seriously, all I think about is food. The only thing to have after that much debauchery is eggs. Fried. And some of my perfect bread toasted.

Oh how healthy I am.

It's a quiet day in Contrary Towers, I'm yet to see my lovely flatmate, but I do know she's still alive. I do hope she gets to see some of this glorious sunshine.

And what about me? Well, I'm tired, which isn't a euphemism, and other than obviously looking very drained I think I have largely survived.

More importantly I've had a fabulous few days and truly enjoyed the company that I've been lucky enough to keep. It's always a joy to make new memories, but even more of a joy to know that there are more to come.

Time, my darlings, for lunch.

Saturday, 1 June 2013


So I ate half a cow on Thursday night, it was very nice and I felt today I ought to redress the balance. Especially as I had lunch with a dear friend of Dim Sum and wonderful conversation yesterday.

Shaped for the second proving...
Having done my usual Saturday morning bread bake, a little late this week owing to ebullient last night (apparently) I thought I could do something on toast.

And make use of what's left in our depleted fridge... I've not done the weekly shop yet. There will be trouble!


Baked bread. Obvs.
First bake your bread ;-)

Take a frying pan, add a lump of butter, thinly slice a leek and fry with the butter, cayenne pepper, soy sauce and slice red and green peppers for a few minutes until softened. Slice some bread and toast. Next add some shiitake mushrooms, throw in the pan and fry a bit longer. Turn the toast over. Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce, throw in a last bit of oregano and ground pepper.

Finally butter the toast, carefully portion the contents of the frying pan on to the toast and tear of some bits of mozzarella cheese.


A fab, quick and dirty lunch!