Lockdown for me

Fireflies and blossoms dying and grass growing from seed carefully sprinkled on freshly raked topsoil. Every single day things grow. New shoots poke out from between the cracks in stone tiles, and lilies shoot up so high they are a shock to see on sunny, summery mornings.

Hunger sitting in a belly, for hours and hours, gnawing and gurgling until it is satiated with a plate of spaghetti tossed in olive oil, garlic, chilli flakes and lemon rind.

Small brown paws explore fresh compost, putting it into empty buckets and down little shirts, tumbling over soft baby skin and fat cheeks streaked with the remnants of what a baby has had for lunch.

Exploring waits for no man. Exploring does not even wait for a face to be washed.

Diggers and dumper trucks work hard at removing rubble from an ancient building site, the old Victorian signage toppling down under the sheer brute force of heavy metal machinery. Large brown eyes stare in wonder as the dust rises around high-vis  jackets and yellow hats reflecting the glare of a May sun.

Lilacs dying and being replaced by masses of large round yellow roses, their lemony scent overpowering and sailing with the breeze down a deserted road.

Broken images and a clamour of familiar voices from a computer screen, then silence and the thumping of little feet from room to room, carrying objects from one end of the house to the other.

Shrubs miraculously turning into trees, and the incessant watering of lupins lest they shrivel their purple blossoms up and wilt.

Daily bursts of motivation following slumps of deep exhaustion, and days blurring into a sludge of minor events following each other like dominos.

What is lockdown like for you?

Food for Comfort

There is this beautiful book that I have become acquainted with, and it is called Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger. It is the perfect recipe book, just filled with the most decadent, good quality foods you can imagine. You can just think of eating these lovingly made dishes in the comforting, cosy glow of lamps, on rustic tables, using aesthetically pleasing cutlery, while the city just carries on outside. A loved one to share food with you is always a bonus.

My favourite ingredients to use lately are lemons, olive oil, coriander and garlic. You can combine these any way you please and you are guaranteed that the outcome will be decadent. Comforting. Quality.

The best food, in my opinion, is rice. It is so versatile. So filling. You can do so many different things to it and have an entirely new outcome every time.

I take my saucepan out, and drizzle in some extra virgin organic oil, turning the heat to low. I hum while I smash my garlic under a large knife, peel the skin off, and chop it up into little pieces that I throw into my pot. The garlic sizzles gently and the warm smell of it cooking gently wafts my way as I deftly squeeze the juice from a lemon, turning my spoon around to pull out the pulp. I don’t mind pulp.

In goes the juice, just when the garlic is sizzling  but not browned, and in goes some freshly grated lemon zest, and in goes a healthy amount of salt. And in goes some pre-soaked rice, and also a nice heaped teaspoon of bright yellow turmeric powder. I stir it and sniff it and pour in some water until it covers the rice so that when my wooden spoon is inserted in the pot it covers the spoon halfway when the tip of the spoon is on the rice.

I then make sure my heat is turned as low as possible, put the lid on my rice and let it cook gently.

I then take some coriander, garlic, olive oil, salt, curry powder and smash all that together in a mortar and pestle. I have a lovely paste, which I smear onto some freshly defrosted cod (or fresh!). Into an oven dish it all goes, shoved in the oven for a good 25 minutes.

While my food simmers and sizzles away, I chop up an avocado, some cherry tomatoes, some rocket, some coriander (yes, again!), some cucumber and squeeze some more lemon over it, salt and pepper, olive oil (YES!!!) and toss it all up. Maybe some sumac? How about a little sprinkling of chilli flakes? Yes, that’ll do.

And then the yellow lemon rice is done, on a plate with a piece of soft salmon, the salad on the side, a drink poured into a glass, set on my rickety green table that is actually an old garden table but we don’t complain.. and that is my favourite meal ever.

(for now).

What is your favourite meal ever? What are your go-to ingredients? If you could only ever eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?

(mine would be rice!)

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I LOVE lemons! Image credit: Still Life with Lemons and Oranges. Luis Melendez 1760s. (National Gallery, London)

A Secret Thought

Folks, I was exceptionally greedy today, and had two helpings of chocolate cake with custard after dinner. Dessert is not a normal occurrence in our household, mainly because I don’t make any, and my husband cannot cook. Scratch that, he has NO INTEREST in cooking and therefore cannot make anything remotely edible. Much like me when I am forced to watch old Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson boxing matches. Yawn.

The custard came out of a tin costing 75p, and started its life in powdered form. The old me would have lovingly made it from scratch out of egg yolks, which would have resulted in a ridiculously creamy, warm, homey concoction. The new me does things by halves, and so I ate chemical-tasting custard and I damn well enjoyed it because custard is not a regular occurrence in my household. My son is allergic to eggs.

This time last year my son was 2 days old, and I was cloudy with hormones and recovering from a c-section. I thought he was the most beautiful thing on earth (I still do think that), and my feet were swollen like balloons. I don’t like to think about the immediate aftermath of the birth, to be honest. My mother stayed with me for a week and in my horrible, swollen, post-surgery, post-labour hormonal self, I was a total bitch to her. I did not trust anybody with my baby and could not sleep a wink for over a week; every time my eyes closed my dreams would rise up, cluttered and clustered and mountainous, full of events and sweat, and when I awoke I felt as though I had run a marathon. I was crying, uneasy, anxious and altogether rather horrid. This lasted, gradually fading, for a year. I am still suffering the repercussions of it and while I adore and cherish my son more than anything, I can’t help but have clouded thoughts.

I know this ought to be about him, because it is HIS birthday, and why am I so bloody negative when millions of women have births and c-sections and still manage to make the day about their kids. Don’t get me wrong, I never breathed a word about these feelings to anybody. I genuinely showed everybody sincere happiness, and I danced with my boy and told him how he was one that day, and how special he was to me and his dad, and he relished it all with big smiles and mild chatter. I was all laughs and smiles, folks. But as I walked home from the park, the winter sun shining, spring so clearly on its way, my boy nodding off in his pram, I couldn’t help thinking of the events of last year, and my personality change, and how horrible I was and how awful I felt.

When I got into the house, I put the pram away and rocked my son to sleep, tidied up and washed the dishes and out on a load of washing. I went outside and swept the garden of all the weeds I’d pulled up, I cleaned the tiny hand prints off the window, the table, the fireplace edges, I mopped the floors, I peeled and chopped some onions and put some pasta on to boil… and I just thought about it all and my heart sank.

That is how I can explain it. Mind you, this is all deep within the most secret crevices of my heart. I will never let my son know how I feel.. maybe when he is much much older and time has erased the rawness of it all. Or I will never tell him because there is no way his birth is the reason for this. I can’t have him thinking it is his fault because it most certainly is not. I can’t even describe it. It’s like a lump on my chest, that I can smother with life, but it does rear its head, and it is always there. I am always aware of it. It’s a fact of life, folks, that sometimes, a woman’s mind and body just are never the same after they have had a child.

You can say, well Lenora, get on with it. Well. I do get on with it. I do. I am happy, as everybody around me will attest to. I am full of cheer and joy. Just here, in this nook of the internet, I sometimes release these little feelings like gentle moths.

 

Wisdom (teeth and lemons)

One of my biggest pet peeves is when young people write ‘wisdom’.

It annoys me on so many levels.

Level 1: They are way too young to have accumulated such an insane amount of wisdom (see: ’25 things I have learned in 25 years on this planet). Level 2: Wisdom is more impactful in smaller doses. Level 3: It’s irritating and assumes people will want to hear what a green, relatively inexperienced young person has got to say about life. Level 4: If you overlook all the previous levels and actually delve into what they have to say, you will more often than not discover that they have listed the most mundane, common sense things ever.

So it might appear ironic that I am here today to list some things that I have learnt from other people.

I don’t pretend to think that my things are of any value to anybody but myself. But I like that I have learned them, and wonder at what others might think of them.

Are they mundane?

Are they common sense?

Do they mean anything to anybody?

Who knows.

Thing One: My mother taught me through words and actions that people will like you much more if you don’t take yourself too seriously. You see, growing up, my sister and I were lemons. Oh, such lemons. It shames me to remember it. If we were at a gathering, even if the party was full of people we knew, we would just stand there and wait for people to socialise with us. We never thought to join a group and attend the party properly. My mother, a social butterfly, would become so impatient with us. She would flit from group to group leaving laughter in her wake. We felt awkward and shy and socially inept. Complaining to my mother about my inability to make friends or be happy socially, she told me it was because I took myself too seriously. Let loose. Laugh at yourself a little.

I am still trying to learn how to do that.

Thing Two: My father taught me about faith. Real, sincere faith. This thing is perhaps an incredulous thing to believe, if ye are of little faith. Or not religious at all. I am religious. Not fanatically, but respectably so.

My dad has such strong, unwavering faith. He always says to me in Arabic, ‘you will see wonders’ (If you have faith), and I always see goosebump wonders happening to him. Once his car got stolen. Somebody broke into our home, stole all the keys and phones, and took the car from the garage. We reported it to the police, nothing. It was a Chevrolet Suburban, and our first big car since the seven of us used to cram into my dad’s ’89 caprice. We loved it. I was in tears. My father, however, was stoic. You will see, he told us, it will come back. I have strong faith. It’s in God’s hands. God has never let me down. Two days later, my father received a phone call from an old man who said, Your car is outside my house. It was the strangest story. The old man had noticed this strange new car outside his house for two days, and on the second day went out to investigate. He said he found the car keys under the car, and when he got inside it he found some of my father’s work papers with his work number on and gave that a call. The car had cigarette butt stains on it and the seats were a little torn, but was otherwise in perfect condition. This is not the only story I have about my father’s faith, there are many more, but this one has stuck in my head for 12 years. You could call it luck, you could call it coincidence, but I have never seen anybody as sure as my father that he would get his car back. And he did.

Thing Three: My sister in law taught me to wash the dinner dishes, clean the counter and broom the floor in 15 minutes. Look at the clock, she would say, porcelain arms slipping into rubber gloves, in 15 minutes, I shall have finished everything and will be sipping my tea. Then she would daintily, yet efficiently wash everything up, wipe the counter with a furious deftness that was fascinating to watch, and then neatly broom the floor and empty the dirt into the bin with a little flourish. Gloves off, neatly and quickly draped over the tap, feet sliding out of slippers, cup of tea in hand, little tidy dance, arms out, hands elegantly swaying. It all looked so neat and tidy and efficient and deft and, dare I say, exciting. A challenge. So that is what I do now. And seeing a tidy kitchen in the morning makes me more likely to have a productive day. Also my sister in law is a little sparrow and makes me laugh, so it’s nice to remember her as I deftly and neatly scrub away at my kitchen counter.

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Image Credit: Elizabeth Floyd. Check out her beautiful website!

Gutted

Well, that is that. This country just elected the conservative party to see them through Brexit. A win so big it hasn’t been seen in this capacity for 80 years.

What on earth does that mean for this country? What does that SAY about us?

I must say I felt terribly disappointed. I feel like a lot of people are smug and happy about it. They think they have done the correct thing. They think they have voted to leave the European Union and that is it. How wrong they are.

I’ve been shocked by people who are quite close to me voting for the tories because they think this is a nanny state, saying things like people ought to work hard for things and shouldn’t have free healthcare. I agree! I think if you are able, you must work hard and earn money to pay for things. But if you genuinely can’t, then my taxes can help you until you are back on your feet. I think that is the best way to go. Less poverty, less depression, less cruelty, more happiness, more equality, more peace in society! The biggest driver of crime, I think, is poverty and lack of education. The cuts to the education system and the cuts to benefits has certainly seen a rise in crime in the UK!! Invest in a rich country, not just economically, but socially!!! How thick do you have to be to NOT see this? How privileged???

Saying things like I’d rather pay for health insurance than pay taxes so more vulnerable people don’t get free cancer care and free ambulances.

I feel sickened to my core.

Boris Johnson says they are not selling off the NHS, but facts show the conservatives have been selling parts of this valued service to private companies since 2015. They have already sold so much patient data to American drug companies, so they know exactly where to hit to drain the NHS of its finances. So when it goes belly up the tories can raise their well-fed fingers and say, OOPS! It’s ok for them, though. They can afford private hospitals.

I am stunned and gutted.

 

On Reading and Narrating

I am reading a book now called Mrs Bridge.

It is written quite simply, with simple events and simple people. So far. Chapters are 3/4 of a page long, and deal with the simple people doing simple things. Except there appears to be an underlying shift under all the simplicity. A coiled snake, waiting to spring. It is a far cry from the previous book I was reading, in the manner of its writing. Less of the explosion, more mature. No feelings. Well, barely any. And always concealed under decorum.

You may be wondering how I am now managing to read whilst also navigating busy days with an ever-moving, ever-learning 6 month old (7 months on Sunday).

Well, I now read arduously during his ridiculously short naps. 40 minutes is all he has. I no longer rush about doing chores or beautifying myself. I am done with that. Chores accumulate the minute I have finished choring them, and I am just fat now. So until I lose this baby fat I really am not going to bother shoving myself uncomfortably into nice clothes and feeling depressed that they don’t fit me like they did pre-baby. I am just going to wear my leggings and my hoodies and feel comfortable, and lie on my sofa reading until the baby wakes up, when the cycle of shallow breaths (from me. Need to learn how to breathe deep more often) and nonstop exhaustion starts again.

How do people with more than one kid do it? Am I just so selfish?

I also strap baby in his pram, stick my headphones on and walk for two or three hours, listening to audiobooks. The weather is lovely for that now. It is September, and the August wasps are waning. There are so many Painted Ladies adorning flowers and fluttering here and there, landing on the top of the pram more than once. Blackberries drop lusciously from pregnant wild bushes, and their juice is just so sweet on the tongue. It is a lovely season, this season of late summer. Things are lush, there is no heavy sticky haze of heat, and the wind is fresh.

So I get my reading in, and the baby stares out at nature, smiles and gurgles at me, attempts to grab things, and eventually falls asleep, tired out by all the colour and stimulation.

And for me?

Well, it is a break from chores and baby entertainment.

We read so many books together everyday, sing songs, play games, and I try to talk to him as much as I can, narrating EVERYTHING. Right, i am putting your sock on. Oh stop wriggling your feet, naughty boy. That’s it. There. Both socks on. They had better stay on else you’ll get cold toes! Oh look it is raining outside. Shall we try to touch it. That’s it. No, don’t touch the muddy windowsill that Mummy hasn’t cleaned since before you were born (true story). Ok. Shall we read this book? No? You want to put it in your mouth. Alright. Can Mummy drink a cup of tea now? Look at this toy. How it rattles.

I am sick of my own damn voice I tell you. And sometimes I just want to be silent.

And I am quite isolated and know that lately, in society, a lot of new mums are, whereas they weren’t before. It is just how we live now. And I just can’t help thinking how bad that is for mental health, and how it might negatively impact the good I am trying to impart to my son.

 

Luck

I am challenging myself to write a post every single day in May, to kickstart my writing again. I will be following some prompt words that I ‘stole’ from somebody on instagram. Here is my seventeenth post.

There is a quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt that goes ‘I think we consider too much the good luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm’.

And I think that just about sums up what I think about luck – that it simply does not exist. Things are meant to happen to who they happen to and when they do happen. The things we want will come to us when they are ready to come and when we are ready for them.

Also, if we really want things, we have to work very hard for them. We have to do our very best and if they don’t happen despite that, then it was not meant to be at that time because we were not ready for it. No matter how much we think we are.

Does that make sense?

I just think that if we go on and on thinking of things in terms of good luck and bad luck, we become enraged at the universe. Why does the worm deserve the bad luck? What did he do wrong? Nothing. He just woke up earlier than usual and went for his daily walk, only that morning his walk happened to benefit the bird. It just was the worm’s time to go, and I am sure he lead a good life and did all he was supposed to.

Life is supposed to happen.

What do you think about luck?

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Image stolen from Circadiana

Doughnut

I am challenging myself to write a post every single day in May, to kickstart my writing again. I will be following some prompt words that I ‘stole’ from somebody on instagram. Here is my third post.

 

In order to get them, you had to walk through a smoke-filled section. Men in white thobes  (a long garment worn by men in the countries around the Arabian Gulf) lounging on comfortable chairs smoking cigarettes and cigars, cups of coffee steaming before them, immersed in a halo of smoke, chatter and laughter that would last well into the early hours of the morning.

There is no drinking there, no partying, at least not in the way the Western world knows it. No clubbing and drunken brawls. Things are safer and more peaceful. Somewhat. There is danger everywhere, in all places and all cultures, of course.

My father would stop the car there on the way to a function or a family get-together or a dinner party, and sometimes it would be just my brother who would get out, and sometimes I would too. We would walk through the double doors, hit instantaneously by a cooling blast of air from the AC, and the baking heat of the Arabian desert, even at night, was trapped behind those sliding doors. There was external bit, with plants and beautiful beige tiles, gleaming under the spotlights overhead. They really know how to set the mood here. The cigarette smoke wafted into every corner, and it was strangely tasty, intertwining with the smell of strong coffee and the sweet anticipatory smell of those doughnuts.

Then another pair of glass doors would slide open, and an even colder blast of AC air whooshing out, ushering us in along with some remnants of smoke. For they had to have an air conditioned smoking section, else where would their highest paying customers go?

And finally there we were. The familiar pink and orange sign, two bubble words, and a fun coffee cup doodle leaning on the side. An array of doughnuts in spotlighted displays. Pink and orange seats, a far cry from the comfortable plush lounge chairs in the smoking area, dotted here and there. And ovens behind the counter, trays emerging containing rows upon rows of round, holey goodness.

The sweet, warm smell of doughnuts and glaze. A special smell, exciting and lip-smacking. A box of 12 doughnuts for what would amount to £2 at that time – we got two boxes, and some munchkins too.

Then it was back out, from the cold, to the cool smoky air, to the hot dry air of the heaving night city. Lights and traffic and warmth that rose through the pavement and into the very roots of our hair. The city comes alive at night, you see. Families time their outings for sunset, funfairs rage, lights flash, drive thus are brimming, parks are packed until the early hours, swings swinging and slides sagging under the weight of thousands of children. What is bedtime? No such thing here.

Thousands of families out on the weekend, past 12. Past 1am. Past 2, 3… only by 4am do the streets begin to still again. As the dawn creeps in, that is when the merrymakers go to bed, ready to sleep through the arid heat of another day, and then when nightfall hits, it all starts again.

Do I miss that life? Why yes. Yes I do. There was a simplicity in the hardship, a friendly ease. A community of life and laughter. A living that cannot be replicated here where I am now. A safety unhindered by the harshness of drink. Humanity, plain and simple, unmarred by chemical effects.

A tray of doughnuts, and let the merrymaking begin.

 

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A Pain

Nursing a heartache for the last four days. A strange heartache. A growing pain, if you will.

You see, I was introduced to Margaret Mitchell’s South America, and travelled through the pages of Gone with the Wind, dragged along by a headstrong, selfish, vain, villainess who forced me against my will to hate her and sympathise with her in equal measure.

I certainly will not write a review, for I am sure there are countless reviews out there, loving and hating Gone with the Wind and analysing it to the ends of the earth and back. I feel sad that there is so much analysis of it out there, because I felt privy to something rich and private and entirely soul-wrecking, that I wish it belonged to me alone.

I felt sucked into a very real world, taken on a roller coaster of emotions so intense that I could barely focus on my work, and then spluttered out at the end with not a damned care. I felt like crawling away into a hole and licking my wounds, the same way Scarlett did at the end of the book. I felt cheated, but also as though I was given a marvellous gift. I felt angry, but also enlightened, as though a window of thought which had never occurred to me had just opened before my eyes.

And this is why I say I am having growing pains.

You see, the world has shifted a little. Old hatreds and prejudices have moved sideways, giving way to new understandings. I certainly don’t take the political happenings of the book as pure fact, but it certainly gave me an insight into what was fact for a large number of people. It made me think, so to speak, from the perspective of ‘the enemy’. The slave owner. The people who were so morally amiss in my dictionary. They are no longer like that. They are now humans. Humans who err, who have arrogance, and love, and humility, and confusion, and hatred, just like all the other humans who do.

The way the world is currently, is because of systems which humans, who are essentially all the same, follow. People fought each other in plenty of wars, and ultimately, it really did not matter what they were fighting for, because there was error and evil on both sides, as well as innocence and good.

And that is why I have been nursing a heartache.

I feel like I have been blind for so long, and now my eyes have been opened.

I feel like I will no longer look at things at face value, because, underlying everything, is years and years worth of prejudice and heritage and taught attitudes.

I will no longer rely solely on my taught attitudes to make judgements on people and cultures around me.

I will ask, why, first.

I will try to understand the world in which I live, because in order to move forward with people, in harmony, one must understand them.

Gone with the Wind was heartbreaking because nobody understood each other. It was a personification, in a way, of a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, because of stubbornness and greed. And, if you think about it, that is why all wars are fought.

If only people understood each other.

My heart hurts because I have had a stark realisation that they never will. I can, you can, WE can, but the collective won’t.