The Sunday Seven: 07/08/16

Mark Ashton quote

It’s Saturday evening and I’m in my pyjamas, nursing a gentle hangover that’s more tiredness than anything, having had just the loveliest weekend so far. On Friday night, Work Best Mate came down and she, Drummer Boy and I ate pizza, drank Prosecco and G&Ts and actually went Out In Brighton On A Friday Night. It was Brighton Pride on Saturday, so we stood in the sunshine and watched the parade, and drank yet more fizz. And felt incredibly grateful and lucky that we can just about afford to live in such a progressive, liberal, inclusive city. Writer Damian Barr (more on him later in the post) said at an event, “I think Brighton saves people”. There’s something in that, I’m sure.

And so to the seven nice things of the last couple of weeks.

Desert Island Discs. (Hello, yes, I’m 56, not 26.) A couple of years ago I read this piece, and though I think Dolly Alderton is a fabulous writer, I have to say, I wasn’t convinced. Oh, how my mind has changed. Last week, Drummer Boy mentioned he’d heard Jilly Cooper on it; Radio 4 is a soothing constant in his parents’ house, and he knows I’m utterly pro-Jilly, so off I toddled to download it for my journey to work. Jilly didn’t disappoint – as soon as it had finished, I played it again, and am listening to her a third time as I type this – and she proved to be something of a gateway drug. I’ve listened to Sarah Millican, Clare Balding (a particular favourite), Professor Tanya Byron (excellent music choices), Nigella Lawson, Russell Brand (also musically brilliant), Antonia Fraser, Nick Clegg (starts off very smooth and sound-bitey, ends up proving himself to be a decent man who’s totally in love with his wife and kids), and David Tennant. What people reveal about themselves, both through their music and book choices and through talking about them, makes Discs both compelling and comforting listening. I’m almost sorry it took me so long.

Special mention to the PanDolly Podcast too, featuring the aforementioned Dolly Alderton, and Times fashion writer Pandora Sykes – it’s a gloriously irreverent slice of pop culture, like a gossip with two of your poshest friends. Cake for the ears (but proper cake, not like a courgette muffin or an avocado brownie).

Pointless Letter: this blog is providing me with endless amusement at the moment. Yes, it will depress and enrage you as you read the horrifying and ridiculous readers’ letters that make it on to the pages of national newspapers – and you may well find yourself muttering “Jesus, these people want shooting,” in an uncharacteristically pro-violence manner – BUT the snarky responses beneath each missive are brilliant. And the ‘Derek’ story is very touching.

Toast, NiIMG_2593gel Slater. My love for Nigel Slater is well-known; I could spend hours watching his cookery programmes – there’s something so comforting and undemanding about his food. I read his memoir Toast a  good few years ago, when I was far too young to appreciate the exquisite prose, and to understand what a terrible time of it he had growing up. That’s the thing with being a stupidly precocious reader as a kid; so many incredible stories are totally lost on you. But it does mean you can go back and re-read them, and their power is still there, waiting for you to feel it. Slater’s way with words is incredible – the only problem I had with Toast is that it’s simply not long enough.

Maggie and Me, Damian Barr. I didn’t know anything about writer and Times columnist Damian Barr until I went to an event in Brighton where he and fellow Brightonian Alexandra Heminsley were talking about their work. Maggie and Me is another memoir that deals with a difficult childhood (Barr grew up in Scotland under Thatcher), but he captures his childhood self perfectly. It’s not a breezy read – he goes through a hell of a lot, and while there are some genuinely funny bits, it’s also quite the wrench on the heartstrings. I finished it in tears on the Gatwick Express a few days ago. And I can assure you, the tears were for once nothing to do with the appalling rail service.

I’m a thumping great cliche and I don’t care.

Kooks, Brighton. There’s not much to say about Kooks in Brighton’s North Laine (it’s nothing to do with the band whose first couple of albums were sparky and fun and basically adolescence bottled, and then who seemed to disappear) except they do a cracking brunch with friendly service, and if you’re in Brighton, you could do a lot worse than end up here.




SanctuaIMG_2631ry Spa Warming Detox Charcoal Wash. In a bid to find something similar to the ludicrously-priced Oskia Renaissance Cleanser, I thought I’d give this a go. And I’m surprised by how much I like it, and though I’m not 100% sure, I think I might have found a skincare product that genuinely does what it claims to do on the packaging. It’s rather fun to use as well – it comes out of the tube an opaque greyish-black, but goes on to your face  pretty much clear. As you massage it in, you can feel it warming up, but not unpleasantly. It rinses off easily – it doesn’t cling to your face in a greasy fashion – and you feel properly squeaky-clean afterwards. I swear my skin is just a little bit clearer after using it every morning for the last couple of weeks. Not perfect, but visibly better.

Banana and walnut cake. I’m pretty liberal when it comes to banana-ripeness – a little mush never hurt anyone – but I had a situation earlier this week when the only thing the three bananas in my fruit bowl were good for was cake. This is super-easy, and cheers up a damp and drizzly evening no end.

Beat 170g of sugar and 115g of butter together until smooth, then add two eggs. Stir in 225g of self-raising flour, trying not to get it all over the kitchen, and then add 3 mashed overripe bananas. Chuck in some chopped walnuts, or chocolate chips if you’re not a nut person, and pour the cake mixture into a well-greased 8-inch cake tin. Bake for 50 minutes at 180C – which sounds far too long for what is essentially a banana sponge cake, but the presence of the fruit seems to add a heaviness that means it needs longer in the oven. I didn’t do anything else to it, except have a slice almost as soon as it came out, but I think it would be really good with a coffee-flavoured icing. And maybe a bit of a espresso powder in the mixture, to give the sweetness a bit of depth.

OK, that’s seven things, but I also need to mention that I currently can’t stop listening to ‘Bring It On‘ by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds (apologies for the awful quality there, I’m sure you can track the song down if you want to). The verse lyrics may be clunky and awkward, but the chorus is lush and anthemic, and that voice, that Gothic bellow, is gorgeous.

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