Old Mother Hubbard

Audrey At HomeFollowing on from the previous kitchen post, this time I’m going to cover what I have in my store cupboard. This is always covered in the front of recipe books and I’d be interested to know if any non-foodie types actually have the same items in stock.

As an aside, I find the term “foodie” vexing and I can’t quite put my finger on it. In my experience, it tends to be used by very middle class people who have the opportunity to eat out a lot but don’t actually cook very often and, when they do, they use a lot of ingredients and spend a lot of time telling you about them. Foodies I have known seem to want to tell the world that they take food a lot more and “respect” food and its provenance much more than normal non-foodie people and imply that they are somehow BETTER than people who eat mash&sausages or beans on toast without calling them “a guilty pleasure” and enjoy it. I’m being unfair and obviously not all people who identify as foodies are like this.

ANYWAY, I’m not a foodie. I do not have sumac or cold pressed avocado oil in my cupboard. I like food and I like cooking things that are easy and quick. I’m the first person to admit I’m not a great cook.

Generally, my cooking is tomato-based with some sort of carbohydrate, or potato-based with who cares. I sneak vegetables into things as though I am trying to trick a small child. Frozen spinach thickens up a tomato sauce quite nicely, petit pois lighten everything. If you chop celery small enough, you don’t hate it so much.

I buy fresh groceries at least twice weekly (bread, vegetables, meats) so as to actually make a variety of meals, but if there was an apocalypse or snow storm, I could live off my cupboards quite happily for a week, I reckon.

By the hob:
– Salt
– Olive oil
– Vegetable oil
– Dried mixed herbs
– Garlic granules
– Crushed chillies
– Smoked chilli powder
– Dried oregano
– Dried basil
– Vegetable stock cubes
– Red tub Bisto
– Cinnamon (I never ever remember how to spell that)

In the fridge:
– Sun-dried tomatoes in oil
– Sliced cheese of some sort
– Eggs (free range, medium)
– Full-fat Greek style yoghurt
– Jam of some kind
– Tomato puree
– Tomato ketchup
– Sweet chilli sauce
– Soy sauce
– Lemon juice
– A pesto

In the vegetable drawer:
– An abandoned red onion with his friend the Garlic bulb
– Salad potatoes
– Proper potatoes
– Sweet potatoes
– Root ginger

In the freezer:
– Petit pois
– Spinach
– Sweetcorn
– Raspberries
– Emergency sandwich thins
– Emergency giant crumpets
– Salmon fillets
– Prawns
– Sliced loaf (either pan or bakery)
– Emergency tub of Ben&Jerry’s (ideally Phish food, but Cookie Dough is also acceptable)
– Bag of grated cheese
– Two blocks of butter (family tradition)
– Bag of frozen lemon and lime slices
– Bag of ice cubes
– Emergency cheese sauce
– Rosemary

In the pantry cupboard:
– Macaroni
– Gnocci
– Pasta shapes
– Ignored wholewheat pasta shapes
– Dried noodles
– Cartons of passata
– Dried mushrooms
– Emergency chicken Supernoodles
– Tins of sardines in tomato sauce
– White rice
– Jasmine Rice
– Tins of baked beans
– Tins of chickpeas, butter beans, kidney beans
– Chorizo

– Plain and SR flour
– Golden caster sugar
– Cocoa powder
– Honey
– Jar of preserved ginger
– Tin of pineapple rings
– Jar of Maraschino cherries
– Plain rice cakes (although a recent study has shown these to be carcinogenic, so I might quit these. they taste like polystyrene, so it’s no great loss)
– Peanut butter, crunchy
– Nutella
– Couple of bars of dark chocolate for baking
– Teas, instant & ground coffee

Blaming my tools

Smitten KitchenI’ve been reading a lot of cookery books of late. Since I decided to try and curb my spending, I have been at the library at least twice a week, stocking up on books because they’re free and the newness excites me. My love of cookery books is more for fun, than for practice. I’ll read a cookery book if I can’t sleep rather than to find a recipe.

That being said, I have spent a lot of time this month pulling together all the photocopies and flour dusted notebook pages and supermarket leaflets and magazine cut-outs that I have kept for years and actually organised them into some kind of a system and some kind of an order. I carefully went through the pile and culled the ones I was never going to make. Realistically, no one needs thirteen recipes for chocolate brownies. I kept six. I also seem to have five recipes for huevos rancheros and three for guacamole, even though avocado makes me nervous.

Every recipe book has a page, somewhere near the front, where the author explains the equipment that will be necessary for the contents of the book. A blender is usually in there somewhere. The recipes that require a blender are what I classify as Insomniac Reading, rather than Potential Meals.

With that in mind, here is a list of equipment that I do actually use in my kitchen:

– Plastic whisk
I find metal whisks get squashed easily, so I’ve moved on from those and picked up one where the handle does not come apart from the whisk element.

– Two sizes of plastic spatula
Wooden handles are best as plastic handles sometimes melt when you leave them leaning against a pan…

– Potato masher
IT IS HARD TO FIND A PERFECT MASHER. Find it, hold it, do not lose it when you move house. Mine is plastic (metal scrapes horribly on a non-stick pan) and from Sainsbury’s.

– Long handled plastic colander
I use this a lot more than I expected. This is perfect for those draining situations where a sieve is overkill, the colander is too big and using a pan lid is going to end in disaster. Mine is from Joseph via TK Maxx and I will buy this as a new home gift for everyone.

– Selection of sharp knives
I was very lucky that my sister (a knife fiend) gifted me some lovely metal handled knives for my last birthday. I love them. A massive knife, a bread knife, a long bladed knife and a paring knife. I also have a Sabatier paring knife that I love and was the first part of my Running Away Kit when I realised life with my ex-boyfriend was not going to last.

– Plastic chopping board
Mine is from Wilkinson and is super cheap. It is teal and I love it. It takes seconds to dry and I will have no qualms about replacing it. I don’t really hold with wooden chopping boards. I fear for their hygiene. They crack with water and heat and there are few things sadder than a cracked chopping board. Wooden chopping boards are great for serving bread or pizza, but they’re not for me.

– Peeler
Oh, how I struggled with finding a good peeler. I still haven’t BOUGHT a good peeler, to be quite frank. I’ve purchased a lot of poor peelers. My parents have a great one. It’s got string round the handle and a sharp static blade. I want to steal it. Other static blades that I’ve bought have been ridiculously unwieldy or painful to hold and I peel a lot of potatoes. I don’t get on supper well with a moving blade (I can’t think how better to describe it), but my flatmate has one from Norway which is old, but brilliant. I have yet to slice my fingers off.

– Big Kitchen Scissors
The TRAUMA over scissors in my parents’ house. Oh. My. God. No matter how many blue Ikea scissors there are, there is NEVER a pair in the kitchen when you need them. I have no idea what my mother does with them. For a while there they had their own holding station in a spare drainer board (don’t ask, I don’t understand either) under the microwave, but that system fell apart. You need heavy handled, sharp easy to clean scissors. My flatmate is currently the scissor provider in my current household.

– Grater
I don’t really hold with box graters. The handles usually get mangled or disengaged on one side. The three-graters-on-one-plane set up is great, but the plastic frame usually breaks quite easily. I bought a bright red plastic handled Betty Crocker number in Canada and I love it. It has two grades of grating and I haven’t get grated off skin or fingernail.

– Plastic or wooden spoons/ladles
I have one deep bowled plastic spoon which does a lot. I ought to commit to a ladle, but I don’t fancy it.

– Pyrex measuring jug
It’s the law to have one of these, right?

– Electric Whisk
Mine was too cheap from Russel Hobbs. It has five speeds, but speed one already flings the mix around the kitchen. Next time I purchase an electric whisk, I will through some money at it. I have never ever used the dough hooks.

– Metal sieve
It was cheap and I fear for the handle, but it does the job.

– Massive glass mixing bowl, medium sized metal mixing bowl
For mixing and melting. And salads.

– Frying pan, set of three saucepans, one large stock-pot type saucepan
I can’t see how I would need more than this, but every now and again I am tempted

– Plastic spatula for flipping
Lakeland have confused me here with two types of spatula. The one I mentioned earlier is for scraping things from bowls, this one is for flipping things or scraping up chips (for example!) off a baking tray. One of these things is probably called a different name, I just can’t think of it. You need one with a sturdy handle and a sturdy flipping surface.

– Lemon reamer with collector/strainer
I wanted a wooden one but couldn’t find one when I needed it, so bought a bright yellow plastic one with a tray and a strainer. It takes up far too much drawer space and is annoying to clean, but there we are.

– Silicon pastry brush
These can be thoroughly cleaned and don’t leave suspicious hairs behind!

– TONGS
Wow, tongs are great. From lifting toast to hoking kippers out of the boil-in-the-bag bag to grabbing pizza straight off the oven shelf. So so good. I love mine.

– Ceramic dishes
For lasagne and crumbles

– Ramekins
For measures, tiny desserts and mise en place. Mine were originally salted caramel dessert pots from Waitrose. They are blue. No one should ever buy ramekins. They are an excuse to buy puddings.

– Baking trays
A roasting dish, cake tins (round), a flat shallow “cookie sheet” and a square number for brownies. All non-stick, because SCIENCE and washing up.

– Electric measuring scales
Accuracy and space

 

Things I don’t bother with, because I find them either unnecessary or too much of a faff:
– garlic press (just chop things)
– electric mixer (don’t make those things. Or invest in a stick blender, I guess)
– slotted spoons (why?)
– colander (I have a sieve, a small one and a pan lid. I rarely need something so large)
– ice cube trays (Ice cube bags are more my thing. Bad for the environment, I know)
– pasta spoon (why? Who is making this much pasta? Why is a fork not enough?)
– a steamer (Jamie Oliver it with a sieve and some tinfoil)
– pizza wheel (I have a big knife)

Things I should probably get:
– wine bucket (shoving a bottle in the freezer isn’t classy)
– gravy separator (but Bisto exists…)
– more saucepan lids (I only have two. This isn’t right)
– oven and hob proof Le Cruset type number for making tarte tatin
– rolling pin (but I don’t with the pastry, so…)
– a stick blender
– whetstone (I fear I would only blunt the knives)

Things I want but shouldn’t buy:
– crepe maker
– waffle iron
– copper pans
– electric doughnut maker
– candy floss machine
– pale blue Kitchenaid.

Why I Shouldn’t Have a Boyfriend: Weekend Edition

To Good To shareSATURDAY:
Alarm goes off at 9am.

Luxuriate in having own schedule free to do as one pleases.

Ignore alarm for two more hours.

Get up and make a bucket of instant coffee, black. Return to bed with coffee, scroll through Facebook, Instagram and The Guardian Lifestyle section for an hour.

Get up and make something HIGH CARB-HIGH SUGAR for breakfast with another bucket of instant coffee, black. Possibly have some fruit. Nothing savoury at this point.

Return to bed, or to sofa where the wi-fi connection is better to read The Pool and watch Caroline Hirons or Ruth Crilly talk about skin care you can’t afford.

Put on some washing.

Note that it has gone noon and I haven’t spoken to a human person yet. Note that there is not a human person I would wish to speak to until cocktail hour.

Contemplate having a shower. Reject notion.

Hang out washing.

Decide it may be time for a shower. Don’t rush it though.

Spend at least an hour an a half face-masking, deep-conditioning, hair crop-harvesting and debating whether to use a treatment lotion or a mosturising lotion on self.

Do not dry hair.

Do not put on a bra.

Realise that it’s now about 5pm and lunch should have been had. Scrabble together something lunch based, preferably involving bread and cheese.

Go to the supermarket and use self-checkout to avoid talking to a human being.

Return home, have a sit down and another coffee. Think about slicing a Mars bar into five morsels.

Spend a few hours tidying up, reorganising something and Getting Things Done.

Realise hair is still wet. Take it out of bun until it is found to be irritating about 12 minutes later.

Feel tired and have a sit down. Look at some library books. Swear no more library books are to be taken out until these are all read and returned.

Feel guilty about not maximising the day and the free time. Think of all the people you could have seen or things you could have done.

Decide that getting on the tube during week days is enough, that you encounter enough tourists as it is, congratulate self on keeping this day free.

Make dinner. Ideally involving potatoes. And cheese.

Mentally argue back and forth that five potatoes is really more than a portion. Ague the cultural angle (=IRISH) pretty damn hard.

Eat and watch a DVD.

Half-way through DVD start actively completing things on the To Do list.

Realise it is gone eleven pm. It will be at least another 45 minutes until you are ready for bed. Debate whether or not to watch end of DVD.

Think both “Saturdays are made for staying up late” and “I could do with an early night. I don’t need to double cleanse my face tonight, do I? I should just sleep now. The DVD will keep.”

Spend 45 minutes getting ready for bed, do not watch end of DVD.

Get into bed and read something.

Remember a message that needs a reply. Reply to message.

Sleep.

SUNDAY:
Alarm goes off at 9am.

Ignore that for two more hours.

Get up and make a bucket of instant coffee, black. Return to bed with coffee, scroll through Facebook, Instagram and The Observer for an hour.

Get up and make something HIGH CARB-HIGH SUGAR for breakfast with another bucket of instant coffee, black. Possibly have some fruit. Nothing savoury at this point.

Return to bed, or to sofa where the wi-fi connection is better to watch New Girl on E4 and Marian Keyes on Youtube.

Contemplate that if you had a family, you would have been up for about 6 hours by that point.

Shudder.

Think about how a boyfriend would probably not appreciate the convent-like silence you demand at weekends and how you sleep like a hibernating bear with temper to match. Think about possibly adapting this attitude.

Reject that idea out of hand for being ridiculous.

Fetch another bucket of coffee.

Slowly ease into day with no unnecessary background noise. Be slightly resentful of the church bells which do not fall into the usual “ten minutes before a service” routine that you grew up with but instead PEAL TUNELESSLY FOR HOURS.

Shower, argue with self that a bra is necessary for company so you at least look less ironing-board-esque, resentfully blow-dry hair, assemble handbag for an outing.

Leave house with book and radio set to Capital.

Have social event with other people, probably couples. Enjoy self mightily. Have a few moments looking at couples thinking “hmm, that’s nice. That would be a nice way to spend a weekend with a person.”

Feel slightly sorry for self for five minutes.

Get over self when you realise that one of the couple is less connected to this group of people. Feel grateful that you’re not spending your precious free time with people who are not your beloved friends.

Wend homewards feeling slightly hollowed inside as Sunday brings about the blues.

Consider, and then reject, notion of making more potatoes for dinner.

Prepare for bed and the working week, get into bed with end of DVD.

Adulting: July Roundup

Half way through the summer! And I’m not sunburnt or drowned yet. Taking stock of what else has been going on, here’s the round-up.

Delightful living conditions
In July my inner 1950s housekeeper came out again. I washed net curtains, I washed the bathmat and shower curtain, I thought about washing the hall rug. I stopped at the hall rug because I was exhausted and it would have involved using the bath and possibly trampling on it a la wine production and that it when I thought enough was enough. Having these things clean made me happy. I am happy when things are clean and tidy.

I also channelled my inner 1950s husband and did some basic DIY. Well, I say DIY, I mean using an aggressive glue. With NO MORE NAILS I glued down some tiles in the bathroom (those wee diamond-y ones in between sensible tiles) that have annoyed me since I moved in. I then went on a SPREE gluing (Microsoft is telling me that’s a word. It looks very odd without the E, but glueing also looks wrong. I can’t write “adhering” because that sounds a little too serious) things that have been flapping about.

Ultimately I dealt with small niggly things which have irked me for months but either assumed I couldn’t fix them (DAMN THE INTERNALISED PATRIARCHY) or assumed that they were something to adapt to. NO MORE.

Fabulous friend
July saw me spend a lot of time with my adopted German family (to be clear, I am not adopted. A German colleague is now a friend and her family have essentially adopted me. I have my own room there and her husband has become used to me opening the door when he comes home from work to offer him a glass of his own wine. I still feel weird about it, but he seems to have moved on).

Last month I was talking to my fiend Foobing about her birthday and mine, and what our plans were. She didn’t want a party, but did want something as last year was such a disaster (basically, her family weren’t around, so nothing happened). I decide that we should have a girls’ day out, without any children or husbands, and do something fun. This turned out o be perfect as her daughter called me about throwing a surprise party for her and they needed her out of the house for an hour.

Realistically, she would need to be out of the house for slightly longer than an hour and would need to be back for a certain time, so I organised a programme of events and pretended that the kids wanted to make dinner for her as a surprise and that was why she couldn’t be at home and why we needed to be back on time. This worked quite well to cover any slips on the home front (the youngest child refuses to keep secrets. Actually, if you tell Foobing not to mention something, she will usually blurt it out too, so that must be where he inherits it!).

The plan was to meet in town, grab a coffee and head to Kensington Palace for the Fashion Rules Restyled exhibit. It was quite small, but lovely and I found myself recalling seeing the dresses from Diana and realising how they had influenced my mother’s fashion as I grew up. Next was on to Bobbi Brown in Covent Garden for a makeup lesson, before heading to a fancy cocktail bar for drinks and then heading home.

Personally, I would hate a surprise party unless I planned it. I’m a massive control freak. Foobing would love it, but I knew she would want to look her best. Her morning was taken up at a school fair, so I had to contrive a reason for her to be looking smart, without suspecting or without us looking like fools during the day in London. We both like makeup, but would never go to a Beauty House alone, so I figured safety in numbers. A lesson is always fun and it would leave us looking smart and allowed us to not look like dusty tourists when we went to the cocktail bar. And, because we were going to a cocktail bar, we brought heels which meant she would be dressed appropriately for a party without looking especially done up.

Bobbi Brown is known for her natural beauty aesthetic and, while I knew they did lessons, it didn’t occur to me until another friend of mine, Lisbet, had been on a whim and really enjoyed it. This was perfect for Foobing who doesn’t like to not look like herself (I am quite happy to look like anybody!). I booked us both a lesson (focusing on eye makeup) and put a note about the surprise party. The artists were fabulous despite a screw up in the booking system. They had us in the chairs for an hour and made sure we knew what they were doing and how they chose colours and were just fabulous. We were both astounded by how well we both looked, yet how we looked like OURSELVES.

(I sprung for a colour correcting serum which erased my dark circles in a way I hadn’t known possible and also a purple-y eyeshadow stick which was wonderful! I love this serum and have taken to wearing it daily. It’s almost replaced eyeliner in my must-have list).

Next up we headed to Christopher’s Grill (where I had been previously for a hen party and a ridiculous Tinder date – on different evenings, obviously) where we popped into our fancy heels and ordered some fancy cocktails. What Foobing didn’t know was that I had arranged for a dessert plate, so she was speechless when they brought out a platter of dessert with “happy birthday Foobing” surrounded in table fireworks and the whole bar sang happy birthday to her.

On the train on the way back to her house she admitted that she wished she had planned a party for her birthday, which made me squee a little inside. There were a few little hiccups between the train station and her house (the kids weren’t ready, we accidentally saw a guest, some guests didn’t understand the concept of a surprise party etc etc), but we made it, she was totally shocked, everyone was delighted and, even better, Germany won the football that night.

It was such a lovely day. Selfishly, I got so much joy out of making a fuss of my friend and making her feel special. Also, I can’t lie, I loved being part of a subterfuge.

Staying with the Germans, this month I was also sponsor to their eldest child. Wikipedia helpfully defines Confirmation as “one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. It is the second of three initiation rites for Catholics, the other two being Baptism and First Holy Communion. According to Catholic doctrine, in the sacrament of Confirmation, the faithful are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and are strengthened in their Christian life.

Growing up in Belfast, I made my confirmation at age ten, and it was the big academic aim after the Eleven Plus. The two oldest classes (Primary Seven) at our school and another school joined together in our uniforms (we were a dashing brown and orange, they were red and black, I think) and the local Bishop confirmed us.

The point of confirmation is to essentially take over the reigns of your faith from your parents. You are now a fully paid up member of the Church and have renounced the devil for yourself and welcome the Holy Spirit. You also select a sponsor, who will bring you to receive the sacrament, present you to the Bishop for anointing and later help you fulfil your baptismal promises faithfully under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Your sponsor obviously has to be Catholic and you do need to know them.

I was honoured to be asked to be Treeza’s sponsor and slightly wary of such responsibility. Ultimately though, it’s a position like godmother, but where the child chooses you and you just keep an eye on them. I am possibly not the best person to speak to about crises of faith. Me and the Church have some issues. I don’t especially like its approach to women, to gay people or to the people Jesus would have stood up for, but on the whole, I appreciate that it is doing the best it can. It should be doing a lot better, but as with anything involving so many men in fancy outfits, change progresses at a glacial pace. That being said, I do have a faith and I am a modern woman in the world, so I’m possibly a good person to come to and discuss issues with. I might not have all the answers, but I can find some blogs that could shine a light.

The Germans did confirmation in a slightly different way from how I did it decades ago. For a start, the children were all at least fourteen. And, to be honest, I think that’s better. I remember a very awkward class discussion with the local priest as part of our preparation class and we got stuck on the Gates of Heaven. Our teacher was mortified that we kept focusing on St Peter and the fact they would be pearly while the priest did his best to steer us away and into more secure waters, but we just couldn’t explain what we meant. I think ten is possibly too young to take on your full faith, but it doesn’t make a huge difference in the scale of things, so never mind.

The other difference was that the children, being German, don’t wear school uniform, so were kitted out in fancy clothes. I sound so old saying this, but they were adorable. The boys were in suits, the girls were in smart dresses. They were well turned out and appropriate. The Bishop had come over from Paderborn and was very eminent. My German family and another German family had dinner with him the night before and I established that all Bishops are cut from the same cloth. It was reassuring.

My job was to accompany Treeza, sit with her at church (second row. The photographer took way too many pictures with me in the background. Thank God (really) I wasn’t slumping or scratching or yawning in any of them!), stand with her at the anointing. The anointing has been described as the “meat” of the confirmation. This is where you stand at the front of the church, with the hand of your sponsor on your shoulder and the Bishop makes the sign of the cross on the forehead with the oil of chrism, has a bit of a chat with you about the Holy Spirit and you receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit Wisdom (understanding, knowledge, courage, counsel, Love and fear of the Lord. Although that last one strikes me as a bit much, now I think about it).

It was a whole day of festivities and Holy Spirit and watching young people find their place in the world. I was honoured to take part.

Great hostess
July is when I celebrate my birthday. This year I decided that I would have some people over and have a gathering. This I did.

On the back of that, and given how much fun it was and how well these unconnected people got on, I decided to make a reason for it to happen again – albeit with a little less fuss. While I’m already in a book club with some lovely people, I’ve had the same conversation a number of times where people have an aversion to book groups. People don’t want to read a book they didn’t choose, the pressure of reading a book to a deadline, to have to make time once a month to meet, to analyse a book in a way they haven’t since school or university, or being afraid of looking stupid in front of other people and so they don’t join a book group.

All my friends read. They all like books. They all like me. So I figured I would turn it on it’s head. We’ll have a book group where you talk about a book, any book, that you liked and say why. Everyone else can ask questions and take recommendations. You don’t have to come to every meeting. That’s it. No one judges your choice, no one cares why you like it.

We had the first one last week and there was a small turnout. We were three. It was lovely. We talked about our books, and then we talked about a million other things. We each went away with recommendations for books or authors. It was fun.

I did pizza and rice krispie buns, crisps and yoghurt. And wine, obviously. My fuss levels were at about 40%. I’m going to try and bring that down for the next one.

Confident in the kitchen
For my birthday gathering I made a few things from scratch. Not a lot, granted, but I did two pastry numbers which went down well: a pastry-pesto-tomato-mozzarella situation (shout-out to my friend Furry for the soggy bottom advice) and a pastry-lemon-curd-pistachio set up.

On the meal front, I have adventured with Quorn in a bolognaise (I’m not convinced, to be honest, it’s a bit spongey) and some left over salmon (baked in a parcel with frozen lemon and lime slices) into a chilli noodle dish. Nothing very fancy, but tasty!

Also, I tarted up some Rice Krispie buns with a medley of seeds and peanut butter and they were so delicious my boss ate double helpings. This is a man who declines cake on a frequent basis.

Good husband
So the good news is that I found a man and eloped.

Oh, wait, no. That didn’t happen. Probably best I know someone for longer than a month though, so that’s okay.

What I did do was spend a lot of time watching couples and talking about things with wives. Again, I’ve spent a lot of time with Germans this month, so a lot of the information I picked up was European, but it’s probably still quite relevant.

At Foobing’s party I watched a host of middle aged couples (who, on reflection, possibly wouldn’t thank me for describing them as middle aged, so perhaps I’ve got that wrong) drinking and chatting and dancing. I watched couples who are very demonstrative and some who aren’t. But they all shared smiles across the room and sought each other out. They were pleased to see each other. They backed each other up in conversations, even if they didn’t agree. They’re all here in London because one of them got a job and they up sticks (I feel that upsticked, the possible past tense, is wrong here) and moved to stay together. They learnt how to compromise but maintain their identities. They found their tribe in a new country and were stronger as a couple.

I also had a very fun conversation with a friend outside in the garden under the stars drinking prosecco. She’s been married a long time, lived abroad, done it all and she introduced me to someone I had a few dates with. We had a proper drunk-girls-in-the-bathroom conversation. There should be more of those in life. To be honest, I didn’t talk to much. Milla talked a lot. She told me that modern love is so complicated now and they the boundaries are so fluid. That it’s so hard to know who likes you and how much they like you and how real something is, because it seems that everything is so casual nowadays. That you can smooch someone today, but tomorrow they’ll smooch someone else. That smooching has less value today. That sex has less value today. That being upfront about what you want is not encouraged and being cool and relaxed about everything is seen as the norm, even if that’s not how you really feel.

I mean, yes. The world is a lot more CHILL about things. Sex and The City showed us that. There wasn’t public outcry at women dating and having casual relationships. That’s a great thing, but I did understand Milla’s point. That you can really like someone and think they like you without having a whole big conversation about it and then find that you were more invested than they were. That today establishing What This Is and Who We Are To Each Other early on is seen as bunny-boiler-y and a bit like you have marriage planned on the third date. That it’s off-putting.

We talked about boundaries and how you have to define them for yourself and be both courageous and vulnerable in defining them and informing people of them. It made me think a lot.

Brave (braver)
This month I had people in my house TWICE. That’s pretty good, I reckon.

Also, this month I finally bit the bullet and downloaded Windows Ten. Now, I am a huge technophobe. This is somewhat hilarious given that I manage our company website, but essentially I don’t understand the basics of technology (I can do them, I just don’t UNDERSTAND them. I do not think in a logical way, so logic is like a foreign language to me). I am afeared. I depend on my phone and my laptop for so much, plus they were a financial investment, so I am a nervous wreck if something goes wrong, or if something has the potential to go wrong with them.

Windows Ten felt like a huge mistake waiting to happen. For months, every time I turned on my laptop, an aggressive and authoritative window would appear threatening me with Windows Ten, warning me I only had so long before it would just download itself. The threats turned to wheedling and I trusted that even less. Then came the deadline for 19 July – then no more free Windows Ten (this is nonsense, but fair enough).

Having buried my head in the sand for some time, I started actually doing some research about it. The download should be straightforward; if you hate it, you can roll it back to Windows Seven; it shouldn’t lose or ruin any of your work. Some things would be different. Some programmes would be gone. The Start button would be there. It was designed for tablets and touchscreens.

A lot of shoulds. A fair few reviews from people who HATED it and listed problems I couldn’t comprehend, which made me even more reluctant.

Finally, I sat down and thought, okay, you have no dad and no boyfriend to sort this out for you. You have to do this yourself. You’re a grown woman. Do it already.

My sister, who is adventurous in many things, just downloaded it and got on with her life. I decided I should make a back up of All My Important Things. My laptop is not fancy. It has music, photos and Word documents on it. I figured it would all fit on a few CDs.

It would not.

I figured if I bought a stack of 10 gig flash drives, I could stick everything on those.

Yeah, no. I have more photos than that. Working out how to spread everything across CDs and flash drives was more trouble than it was worth, especially when I realised there is no handy labelling mechanism on those flashdrives.

So I dug out my old hard-drive that a friend removed from my last laptop and gave me with some kind of external hard drive …machine. And then I just copied and pasted my computer profile over.

Now, I am aware that this is not actually how to back things up. But I don’t know how else to do it. And the main focus was to sort out Windows Ten. Frustratingly, the helpful dialogue box was telling me that it would take MORE THAN A DAY to paste over my photos, music and Word documents.

Long story short, it didn’t, the download went fine, nothing was lost and now everything is fine. Okay, my laptop no longer automatically works out whether to play sound through the speakers or headphones and my research has told me it is something to do with DRIVERS (? What?), but for the meantime, I will just fiddle about with a box and sort it out.

Success.

Healthy Mind & Body
Earlier this year I had some (a lot of) dental work, including an inlay-onlay (it’s like a crown, but it isn’t. More explanation I do not have) and I was never able to floss on one side because it was so tight. I also had a sneaking suspicion that it was coming loose. Rather than let it go for a long time (years, probably!), I went back and sorted it out. My dentist, who is a delight, had it sorted in under ten minutes, gently rebuked me for not talking to her about it sooner because it’s always good to talk to her about concerns and send me on my way without a bill. Win!

On the back of that success, I made a medical appointment with my GP to speak about a foot thing.

IF YOU HATE FEET, SKIP AHEAD. NO OFFENSE TAKEN, FEET ARE GROSS.

I have been very very very lucky with my feet for decades. I’ve not yet (::touches wood::) had an ingrown toenail or a bunion or a corn (I’m not even sure what they are). I’ve never had to have any thing shorn off, or frozen or any of that.

Now, I am slightly less lucky. Not to get into too many gross details, but I have two… situations which are not responding to over-the-counter treatments (tea tree oil, Bazuka (both red and black lids) or, the hilariously named, Wartie which failed entirely to “freeze” anything) and have started to become painful. All the instructions and NHS websites say to visit your GP if they don’t work. And so I did. And she, God love her, had to touch my feet, which I made sure were scrupulously clean and nice looking. She did not faint or look horrified.

TO BE FAIR, my feet are not horribly scary. I deal with their hairy Hobbit-yness on the regular and am a big fan of the foot mask, but these small growths aren’t going away. And OH FEET ARE GRIM.

Now I am waiting for an appointment with a podiatrist. Hurrah for the NHS

Art and culture
July was a bit lean on culture, but I did take myself off to the ballet again to see Cinderella at the Coliseum performed by the Australian National Ballet. It was a delight. An absolute delight. The story was crazy (the father isn’t dead, but a drunk possibly abducted by socialists, she never actually wears the shoes, the fairy godmother is…a bit weird and there was a bit about the solar system etc etc) but a total delight. So much so that I have already booked my tickets for The Nutcracker and Gisele for Christmas and the new year.

I also went up to Oxford to see friends of mine (Albion Basement) perform their comedy gig. It was, as predicted, very funny. The pub also sang happy birthday to me, as it was my birthday.

Organised finances
Off the back of the pension fiasco last month, I looked into some finance blogs. I have a list to work though and, while they are a little dry, I am taking notes. I deliberately went looking for LADY FINANCE with the idea that I would find them less off-putting, but it turns out that I am substantially turned off by “here’s how to save for more shoes” blogs. Ideally, what I’d like is a nice lady to explain to me the financial pages of the newspapers and how they relate to me. I’m finding my way around and pleasantly pleased to find that I’m not a complete dunce.

I mean, I have a pension, I have a current account and a separate ISA, I pay off my credit card bill every month, I don’t have any debts (excluding my Student Loan, which I will have forever at this rate) and I have a basic understanding of how the markets work. I don’t exactly understand how the Bank of England works, or what a Bear market is, but I’ll get there.

Decidedly relaxed
This was a failure. I had migraines because I failed to take care of myself. I didn’t drink enough water, eat enough protein or get even nearly enough sleep. I was stressed and didn’t do enough to relax. I did not exercise enough either.

Career plan
People keep asking me how the hunt for a new job is coming along. Well, I’m not hunting. I haven’t been hunting for a long time. I realised lately that I’m actually happy with my job. My boss and I get on really well at the moment – we work as a team and we understand each other. My projects are good and going well. My working environment is fun and I have colleagues I consider friends. I don’t want to change any of that right now.

No, I don’t want to be doing this forever, but I met another friend (a man) who has been in the same job for the same amount of time as I have and no one gives him any grief about it. I wonder how much of my grief comes from living in London, where everyone changes every few years (this chap lives in Scotland) and the competitive fluid nature of work is the norm, or whether it’s a male-female thing. I feel like I should change jobs, because people remark that I’ve been there so long, but my man friend just owned the statement. He didn’t look abashed or qualify it with “but my role has changed over the years” as I do.

I don’t have the answer, but I am curious.

Finishes projects
Whenever I go somewhere or do something or meet someone, I will collect the ticket stubs and receipts and leaflets and store them in a shoebox. Eventually they will make their way into a scrapbook. This month, I filled a scrapbook with six months of, well, essentially trash, but it’s a project I have wanted to do since before I moved to my new flat.

So, there’s that.

Another thing I collect is quotes. Quotes from people I know, books I read, tv shows I love. You name it. I have collected them for years. I used to write them in notebooks, but they get scrappy and inevitably I can’t read my own handwriting. Plus, I use different blue pens and I had an inefficient system.

Most lunchtimes I read things online and, for the last few years, I have kept a huge Word document with pasted quotes. This month, I collated and edited them together into one 250 page document. An online company called Blurb offers a self-publishing service and I had ideas of having my quotes published by the end of the month. This didn’t happen, but I did manage to take a look at work it out. I plan to have it finished in August.