Back in the Saddle, sort of

It has been almost six months since I last wrote anything for pleasure. I am aware that that sounds like a confessional (“forgive me reader, for I have sinned…”), but the reality is that most things I love to do have been put on the back burner for personal and, in part, professional reasons. At present, writing copy and research reports for Fox & Squirrel and our clients is more important to me than writing musings on food and life and culture and my daughter; juggling a multi-pronged career amidst a husband studying an MBA at Cambridge and a rather bonkers two year-old means free time is a bit of a foreign word in my house.

But in an almost serendipitous turn of fortune, a bit of information I need to start yet another facet of this circus of a freelance working life hasn’t arrived, and while I came to Tate Britain with the hope of working in their sort of exclusive-but-not-that-exclusive members area, I have discovered their internet connection is something similar to dialup, so really, why fight it? All of a sudden, for the first time in almost six months, I have some actual free time.

Today is one of those uniquely British summertime days, when the rain is warm but torrential, and August already feels like September, with dead leaves sticking to the pavements, full of resignation that yet again, the summer is, and almost always will be, a disappointment. I have written before about the weather, but after 13 years of living through it, my main belief now is that it is the meteorological equivalent to a bad boyfriend. When it is lovely here, it is the best city in the world. The trees flicker soft light on the street, the Thames sparkles despite its silt and ancient pollution, and the city never looks more beautiful; I am deeply in love with London on these days. But when it’s bad, it’s so, so bad. It doesn’t care. It’s dismissive of your plans, your feelings; it doesn’t care that it’s July, it feels like being 15 degrees and windy. It won’t return your calls, and you’re sure it’s cheating on you… or something…

So on days like today, the British put on a brave face along with their Macs and reassure themselves that there will be an Indian summer and this is all worth it. Stiff upper lip, etc. But we probably won’t, and then we’ll slowly descend into self-pity as the days get shorter and eventually so dark than we won’t even remember what summer is like in the first place… Anyway, what was my point? Oh yes, I have some free time and I need to use said time indoors because basically it’s ridiculous outside; I might as well bloody write.

I broke my phone last week. I dropped it in a (unused) loo and basically it is completely out of commission. The screen wigged out in a way that resembled an iPhone possessed by Lucifer himself, and despite resting in rice for several days, the phone is so very dead. Initially, I took a rather philosophical view about it. How nice to not be easily contactable these days, I thought. But it’s now been a week and not having a phone is driving me crazy. It’s not because I need something to do with my hands, or zone out on Facebook, but because so much of my work is done on my phone. Bar the two days I’m in my office, the rest of my working life, which happens to be roughly full-time at present, is balanced between nap times, bed times, Sesame Street aka the Babysitter, and everything in between. Not being connected is bad for business.

Or maybe it isn’t.

A couple weeks ago, Lauren Laverne wrote a really great piece on the idea that perhaps the idea of a “work/life balance” is actually bullshit. It doesn’t really exist, and perhaps just being “good enough” is more realistic. She says embrace the crazy, and do it with the support of others. This is difficult for me. I’m not great for asking for help and really, I don’t want to be just good enough; I want to be amazing at everything (I never said I was realistic…) which is why having no connection to work when I’m not in front of my computer is stressing me out. I intrinsically feel the need to reply to emails quickly to show that I’m not just sitting around, as if I need to justify being at home with my daughter. Like I said, bullshit.

What I’ve mostly discovered is that nothing bad has happened if I haven’t replied to an email within 15 minutes. I can leave my house for two hours and not come back to a barrage of emails demanding replies. My inner cynic thinks this is because it’s August and London has been emptied of its residents, but I think the truth is more likely that no one passes judgement on me quite like I do. No one is as harsh on me like I am. I really could probably do with giving myself a break on this one in the future.

But I still want my phone back, if purely for CityMapper.

I feel like this summer has been the summer of croutons. I have discovered that making them ticks more than a few boxes: it encourages me to buy real bread, not some of this half-assed E-numbered so-called sliced bread from the supermarket; making croutons combats food waste, because real bread goes stale instead of mouldy, and such staleness creates crouton greatness; it makes me eat more soup, which is healthy and a good way to keep my energy up (according to my acupuncturist). All in all, it has been a happy discovery using up stale bread in this manner.

It can be a messy process, especially if, as was in my case, you’ve got more than a couple loaves to use up. I was picking up flakes of crumb off the floor for about a week after the last round. Essentially, croutons are stale bread, baked in olive oil (or butter, if you’re feeling sexy) and tossed with salt and pepper. It makes a perfect foundation for lots of earthy herbs like rosemary, thyme, parsley or oregano. I personally prefer to keep it simple and use only salt and pepper and garlic powder.

For a standard loaf of sourdough bread, I’d use about 100ml/3.5oz of olive oil, give or take, a generous amount of salt (a half of a tablespoon should be plenty) and black pepper to taste, and about a teaspoon of garlic powder – use your judgement. Cut the bread up into little 2cm/1inch chunks, crusts and all, and then toss everything together. Make sure there’s oil on every bit of bread, and add more if need be. Bake in about 180C/350F for about 15 minutes, then turn over, and bake for another 10 or so, until they become nice and golden. They’re lovely to munch on straight from the oven, but obviously go with salads and aforementioned soups.

It appears to have brighten up outside so I think I’ll risk my exit from Tate Britain and head home. If you have a chance, please take the time to visit the Barbara Hepworth exhibition here. Her sculptures are so incredibly beautiful – sumptuous in their curves, but calm, gentle, and contemplative.

Here’s to hoping that another six months don’t go by without more writing, but if they do, please note dear reader, if you exist, that it isn’t for lack of motivation, but rather I’m either too involved in other things or, as is the most likely scenario, I’ve got my face stuck in a bowl of croutons.

Much love x

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