Stop All the Clocks, Cut Off the Telephone

July 25, 2012 at 9:51 am | Posted in Communication | Leave a comment
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It is rare for me to mourn the dominance of the written word, but the fact that it has overtaken its spoken equivalent with regard to phones, as Linda Grant points out in her excellent article, upsets me somehow. No one enjoys the PDETR (Public Display of Emotional Telephone Ranting), of course, nor overhearing pointless telephone calls of the ‘I’m on the train’ variety, but there is something sinister to me about the phone being used for everything apart from its original purpose: talking.

Earlier in the year, I wrote a paean to my IPhone, & it is smartphones in general, with their countless apps, which Grant implies are to blame for the decline in telephone conversation. We are simply too busy emailing, Twittering or blogging that it is our fingers, rather than our lips, which we prefer to move nowadays.

My phone, like Grant’s, rings rarely nowadays: friends prefer to tweet or text, & I am the same. My reasons, however, are perhaps different from theirs. (Certainly, there is something to be said for the opportunities to procrastinate which texts and emails allow, whereas the telephone call, like a toddler demands your attention immediately.). I rather enjoy, and have enjoyed always, the sound of silence: whereas my best friend enjoys the television as background noise, I would only have it on twice a week if possible.

According to a 2011 Ofcom article, 1 in 7 houses are landline free now, and I can count myself as part of the literally rootless generation. But think on this: some of the world’s most stunning art would not have existed without it. Sylvia Plath’s ‘Words heard by accident, over the phone’ would not have been written had the landline been extinct in the 1960s, and Salvador Dali’s Lobster Telephone would have looked rather different had it had a Blackberry at the centre of its design.

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I will not miss the landline: I would only buy one myself as decoration (this retro Wild & Wolf design is particularly lovely), but it certainly seems that the more forms of communication in which we indulge, the less qualified we become to actually talk to each other.

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So Long…And Thanks For All the Writing Material

July 16, 2012 at 8:13 am | Posted in Honesty, love, men, relationships, women | 3 Comments
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There were some poignant but funny reasons for ending a relationship in this Guardian Weekend article: not a recent piece, but one that has been waiting patiently, in the nook of my coffee table, to be discussed. They were taken from The Breakup Project, a truly democratic website which allows you not only to sever ties with that no longer ‘special someone’, but also with the rather more abstract concerns of death, God & fear of rejection. My favourite was this one:

We break up because communists always break up with me. We broke up because you are so busy being a communist, you forgot how to be a person, how to treat people. We broke up because there hasn’t been a revolution yet.

If I ever met this man or woman (but somehow, I think it’s the latter), I would ask her these two questions:

1) Just how many communists have you dated that you are able to utter the phrase, “because communists always break up with me”?

2) Are you going to stop dating communists now?

Karl Marx 1, matching Ikea bedside tables 0.

But I think the one to which I could relate most was this:

We broke up because you love the feeling of falling for a girl more than you loved me.

What touches me so much about that sentence is the way the tenses move from the present to the perfect. This is you now, this is the behaviour from which you can’t escape; that was you then and can only ever be you then.

Here are my most bizarre reasons for ending relationships:

We broke up because you were obsessed with World War Two, and I wasn’t.

We broke up because you wanted a civil partnership, and I had to break it to you that, being in a heterosexual relationship, we didn’t qualify for one of those.

We broke up because you ran away from the chavs in Coventry city centre. And then told me I was ‘just perfect’.

We broke up because you thought that aura photography was an actual career.

And the most bizarre of all:

We broke up because you had a vitamin D deficiency.

So come on, spill: what are the weirdest reasons for your relationships ending?

Nosy Parker

July 13, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Currently, there is more than one car per UK household. Around 50% of us, therefore, own a car, and most of us use it to drive to work. In Tenterden, where I work, parking is at a real premium: there are just four town car parks & the average cost is £1 an hour. Whilst the national average salary for a full-time worker was £26,200 last year, 46% of UK residents earn less than £20000 annually.

As I fall into that latter category, I choose to avoid paying ridiculous amounts for parking in a council car park, and find a space instead in a residential area (I shan’t name it here, it’s pointless for most of you, but those who frequent Tenterden will know exactly where I’m talking about). Let me make two points absolutely clear. Firstly, I am forced to do this: my earnings simply do not allow for parking expenditure, but I have to drive here because I live 42 miles away and Tenterden’s transport connections are appalling. Secondly, as the law states, your owning a property in a road does not give you automatic parking rights either outside your own property or elsewhere in that road. Where I live, you are required to have a parking permit if you wish to park for more than 2 hours. But I’ll say it again: in the same way in which I would have no more right to park there than a non-resident, were there no parking restrictions, my owning a permit gives me no more right to park there than a non-permit holder.

So, as you can imagine, it made me rather angry today when, after I declined his suggestion to park elsewhere, a resident of this Tenterden estate spat on me for parking there. Not only is that abuse, it is also suggesting that he has more right to park there than I do. This is rubbish. Don’t like it? Move elsewhere or put up with it. He made his choice when he moved there, knowing it is a popular place to park in Tenterden. Unlike me, and presumably most of the other people who park there: because financially, we have no other option.

Keep On Running?

June 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Posted in depression | 4 Comments
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I was interested to read in The Guardian last week that exercise does not cure depression, although I very much enjoyed Simon Hattenstone’s enthusiastic dismissal of this theory.

I suffered from crippling depression in my final year at university. What triggered it, I cannot tell you: the shock at being back in England, perhaps, or the idea that it was time to work out what I was going to do with my life; certainly, discovering that the man I loved was in love with someone else did not help.

Initially, I retreated entirely behind that metaphorical black dog, smiling madly at everyone I met in the hope that I would start to believe that there was something worth smiling about. I thought of days in the way which Will does in About A Boy. Somehow, breaking them down into those precise ‘units of time’ satisfied the control freak in me. I thought that if I could control exactly what I did with those units of time, then I could also control exactly how I would feel at every moment of the day. Put simply, I believed that if I could reason with my sadness, then I could make it go away.

Eventually, I allowed my parents to take
me to an extremely unsympathetic GP in Leamington. He prescribed me fluoxetine, which somehow, when my scientist boyfriend told me it was Prozac, made me feel so ashamed. I had been taught by everyone I knew – my parents, my aunts, my teachers – that I led such a privileged life, and was so bright, that there was simply no reason for me to be depressed. ‘Snap out of it’ was a phrase heard frequently, and my deputy head brought up the ‘starving children’ and ‘broken limb’ comparisons on many an occasion. How some people are permitted into the teaching profession, I’ll never know.

But here’s the interesting thing: I don’t think either Prozac or exercise helped. I had become a total convert to the gym when living in Berlin the previous year, and would feel tremendous guilt if I didn’t go one day. But the problem was, whenever I left my flat, there was always the risk that I would burst spontaneously into tears. It would happen anywhere: the supermarket, a lecture, and yes, even at the gym. Perhaps exercise itself did help: it was trying to become stable enough to do any which was so challenging.

And Prozac: did that sort me out? Well, I suppose being permanently high was a solution of sorts: I wrote the best essays I had ever written, you couldn’t shut me up in my final year oral, and I think I left all of my written exams early, because I simply couldn’t sit still. Being completely manic at 5am was pretty interesting, and I was definitely instrumental in getting my friends in to the library: it was either revision or listening to my incessant chatter.

So I still have no idea what cures, or at least alleviates the symptoms of, depression. To date, both anti-depressants I have tried have only resulted in making me constantly manic. Worse still, Citalopram made me feel paranoid all day long, and as if tiny creatures were crawling all over me. When I told my GP this, she said that I should persevere. That day, I stopped taking them. That was eighteen months ago, and I’ve been more or less fine since then. And I think that on this occasion, my friends, ‘fine’ is a word with which I can live to describe my mood.

Peanut and Rosemary Cookies

May 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Posted in Baking, cooking, food, Recipe | 4 Comments
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I love a good biscuit. They beat chocolate and crisps in culinary scissors, paper, stone every time. You’ve got the crunch of something savoury combined with a sweet hit: heaven.

Salty sweet food is one of my favourite things: I always get a mix of popcorn at the cinema, and Marks & Spencer’s Salted Chocolate Caramel Bar is divine.

However, this post is about something more sophisticated that chocolate and salt: salt, sugar and rosemary. I adore rosemary, but don’t often make dinner, and I prefer to use it in unconventional ways. So when I saw Dan Lepard’s recipe for Peanut and Rosemary Cookies, I knew I had to try it.

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This is such a lovely, stess-relieving recipe. Everything is in one bowl and the cookies don’t take at all long to cook: a massive advantage when you’re as impatient as I am. 15 minutes, however, is too long: even 10 might be enough in some ovens. Mine are slightly overcooked, but still taste delicious.

Spaghetti Omelette

May 14, 2012 at 11:37 am | Posted in cooking, food, Recipe | Leave a comment
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So you’re thinking, ‘What??? Spaghetti omelette?’. Admittedly, it sounds bizarre, but it’s really not so far removed a concept from Spanish omelette, which I love. And if you’re anything as bad at spaghestimating as I am (say, making enough pasta to feed 10 Alsatians & a Jack Russell), then this is the recipe for you.

1) Remove your pan of congealed spaghetti from the fridge. Snip the spaghetti up into 1cm chunks. This is essential: you will be able to mix your eggs into the pasta much more easily.

2) Add eggs: I went for 4. I would say 2 per 50g spaghetti is about right.

3) Add some vegetables/herbs. I’m being annoyingly vague, because it really is up to you. I’m not going to tell you to add onions if you detest them. I only added some fresh oregano and fresh ripped basil (ripping releases the flavour better than tearing), as my spaghetti was a courgette and basil carbonara in its first life.

3) Pour the mixture into an oiled pan and cook on medium until the base is firm and a good even cover. This will really depend on how much pasta you have: I had about 150-200g (cooked weight) and it took 20 minutes.

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Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Syrup Tins

May 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Posted in Book Signing, books, food, History, Recipe | 2 Comments
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I have a incessantly sweet tooth. When I am stressed, I wander down to Waitrose for fizzy strawberry laces, sucking the sugar off each one until my tongue is sore. I’m much the same with chocolate raisins, letting the outsides melt in my mouth until only the shrivelled raisin remains. And do you remember Pop Cakes from The Magic Faraway Tree? I was so disappointed to discover that they were entirely fictitious.

So you can imagine how excited I am that the authors of The Sugar Girls, Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi, are coming to my shop, Waterstones Tenterden, to do a signing. The book has been extraordinarily successful and there have been calls to turn it into a Call the Midwife style miniseries.

I’m planning a window display largely dependant on Tate & Lyle tins, so if you can send me any empty golden syrup or black treacle ones, I’d be enormously grateful. Recipes using either of those would be wonderful too. Email me at amysmith500@hotmail.com and we’ll sort something out.

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Oh No, Love, You’re Not Alone

May 11, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Posted in Friendship, internet, Loneliness | 6 Comments
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In this week’s Grazia, Bibi Lynch poses the question, ‘Have we become Generation Lonely?’. Or, as I prefer to put it, are we spending most our lives living in J D Salinger’s paradise?*

For I believe that J D Salinger would have loved how today’s world is enabling mankind to be ever more reclusive. He’d have loved internet shopping and online banking, and relished the fact that he need never leave his house again. Although conversely, I am sure he would have hated how much, arguably, writers need to promote themselves in today’s increasingly self-promoting society. Unlike Dickens, whom I’m sure would have been all over Twitter and Facebook.

I digress, however. Unlike Salinger, Lynch believes it’s time to ‘create actual – not virtual – relationships’. I certainly agree with her that, were we to keep it purely for housekeeping, the internet would be phenomenally useful. Yet she makes a good point when she says that those who think obsessive Twittering and Facebook stalking counts as a social life are ‘[D]elusional’.

But here’s the thing: unlike Miss Lynch, who, as a writer, may well while away a whole day having not ‘uttered a single word out loud’, as a bookseller, all I DO is talk. I talk on the till, I talk to recommend, I talk about books to my colleagues (obviously, sometimes I have to do dull officy things, but you get the picture). So when I get home, to my lovely little house which I have all to myself three evenings a week, I don’t particularly want to have any real human contact, thanks. Sure, I see friends a few times a week, and I enjoy their company. But I wouldn’t want it every night. If you know me (and I suppose by that I mean ‘in reality), you’ll know that I can be positively misanthropic at the best of times: I have been known to avoid acquaintances in the town as I can’t stand small talk.

So thank you, Bibi, for your concern that I may be part of ‘Generation Delusional Lonely’. But if I wish to spend my evening in the company of strangers, after a day filled with real human contact, then I’m sure it won’t make me any more lonely than those who frantically fill their diaries with dinners and dates for fear of being alone. Aren’t they, in fact, the deluded and lonely ones?

*Couldn’t resist the Coolio reference: I’ve had a soft spot for him ever since I drunkenly asked him, outside Warwick Student Union, if he wanted to come to Tesco to buy wine.

Kissing For Idiots

May 10, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Posted in Emailing, Kissing, Texting | 2 Comments
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If you hang out (can you do so beyond the age of 23?) in the cool set in my home town, a continental kiss (a peck on each cheek, if you’re not cool enough to know) is an obligatory greeting. Only one member of this set is actually French, but those are the rules: it’s the tactile equivalent of calling everyone ‘Darling’.

Carole Midgley’s article on textiquette in today’s Times 2 is what lead me to write this post. If you are unsure whether or not to ‘X’ at the end of a text, or are interested in why we may or may not follow this practice, then read it.

I am firmly of the ‘Darling’ camp: shamelessly, I scatter my missives with ‘X’s and ‘x’s like a polyamorous canine, marking my territory. Even my boss gets a textual kiss, although were she not female, I very much doubt that that would be the case.

Midgley has her own rule for ‘X’ing: only to family and people with whom she has sexual relations (can one utter that phrase without thinking of Monica and Bill?). I would add that you shouldn’t give a written kiss to anyone you wouldn’t kiss in real life (a peck on the cheek, of course: I’m not talking about a full-on Frenchie). But then, I’m much more likely to ‘X’ the page than your face, as I’m not the world’s most tactile person.

There are no rules, basically. My niece doesn’t ‘X’ me, but fittingly, all my exes do.

Bicep Bulging Banana Cake

May 5, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Posted in Baking, cake, cooking, food | Leave a comment
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There is something you may not know about me: I only like bananas when they are just ripe. Combined with my optimism when shopping, this means that I am often greeted with a bowlful of browning bananas just begging me to use them in a cake. And so this evening, I did just that.

I adapted the recipe from The River Cottage Family Cookbook. The ingredients are as follows:

100g butter (salted or unsalted, I’m not fussy);
125g light brown soft sugar (Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall specifies caster, but I prefer a richer taste);
200g self-raising flour (I used a combination of that and plain flour as that’s what I had: unless you’re making something which depends on a certain flour for texture, like Victoria sponge, it doesn’t matter);
3 browning bananas;
100g raisins soaked in tea (HFW suggests 50g sultanas and 50g chopped dried apricots, but I had neither. The tea softens the raisins, but won’t add any flavour unless you leave them to soak overnight.);
1 lemon;
2 eggs

Leave the raisins to soak in a mug of black tea.

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Cream the butter and the sugar together in a large mixing bowl, ideally using a wooden spoon. I had only a tablespoon and had to work much harder than I would have done, hence the recipe’s title.

Add the eggs one at a time and mix.

Zest the lemon and add the zest to the mix with the raisins. I don’t have a grater at the moment, so I used a knife (ordinary table knife) and it was fine.

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Add the flour, sifted or unsifted (it really won’t make a huge difference) and mix.

Line a loaf tin and add the mixture, tapping the tin on the surface a couple of times to level it out. Bake for 1 hour at Gas Mark 3, or 160 degrees in electric, I believe.

This was the result. My stomach, as well as my eyes, was pleased.

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