Monthly Archives: February 2013

Raging Bull the cheese

Raging Bull cheese

Full of character, just like the real Raging Bull

Last week I am informed by a well-connected friend that a local supermarket is selling a cheese called ‘Raging Bull’. I greet this news with a mixture of hilarity (I’d had three glasses of wine when she told me) and the feeling that someone has stolen my intellectual copyright.

For the year and a half I’ve been slogging away at this blog, my three-year-old child has been known as the Raging Bull. I can sum up the reason why in just one word: temper.

I decide immediately that I have to try this cheese. Is it worthy of such a name? The notes from the supermarket say: ‘ The brilliantly named ‘Raging Bull’ is a hard mountain cheese with the nuttiness of a Gruyere and the creamy buttery taste of Raclette.’ Well, that means nothing at all to me. I like cheese, but I’m hardly a world-class connoisseur.

I venture to Waitrose on Saturday afternoon, a time of the day when it’s hit by a combination of fraught mothers, hyper children and people who don’t know what they want to buy but are hoping it will occur to them if they walk up and down the ailes long enough. Put simply, it looks like it has been hit by a cyclone.

I tell the girl behind the deli counter – when she arrives 5 minutes later – that I want about £2 worth of cheese. She looks at me skeptically and I fear that £2 will buy me the tiniest sliver. Which it does.

I have a sniff at home – it’s pungent and strong. This is not a cheese for fans of weak, creamy French bries. This is fiery, Spanish cheese with a Latin character. Forget crumbly crackers, eat this with olives bursting with flavor. It has a nice, smooth finish too. I could get addicted to the stuff if it wasn’t such an expensive habit.

I come to the conclusion that it’s okay someone has decided to name a cheese after the Raging Bull. She’s one of a kind, as is the cheese. It reminds me of her strong-willed personality; it stands out. And because her diet largely consists of cheese, it’s entirely appropriate.

Raging Bull

The Raging Bull on a winter beach

Winter blues

Speaking of the Raging Bull, she charges into my room yesterday morning before I’m ready to engage in conversation. She asks slightly forlornly: ‘Is it winter every day?’

It’s the middle of February on this desolate chunk of land in the Atlantic. I don’t have the heart to tell her that it could be winter for a while yet.

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The cleaner, part 2

I write this at the great risk of sounding ungrateful.

Those of you who have cast more than a cursory glance over this blog will know that I deliberated over hiring a cleaner when I went back to work full time. Well, I did finally hire someone and she has transformed my life. I truly don’t know how I ever lived without her. I had much the same feeling when I discovered make-up at the age of 13. I can never go back. I will be applying mascara and lip gloss until the day I finally take to my death bed, and I can’t imagine ever scrubbing the bathroom floor again (although I suspect I will).

The woman responsible for my domestic bliss is Maria (not her real name), who comes from Bulgaria and has a degree in molecular science and can’t find a job in her field, so she cleans houses to make ends meet. She was going to get married last year but ended up being jilted the day before the wedding. She is now trying to sell the apartment she bought with her ex-fiance.

Maria seems remarkably cheerful considering everything she’s been through. I suspect it comes from being Eastern European. They make them tough over there.

We have been having a bit of a love affair. I write her these little notes and leave them in the kitchen. I offer her chocolates. I think this is my way of easing my guilt. I’ve never felt great at the thought that she cleans my toilets.

Maria writes me back. She tells me to have a nice day, she thanks me for the chocolates and my notes. Her writing is immaculate and the English is perfect. Never have I spoken one word of criticism. We’re very much in the honeymoon phase of our relationship.

But the other day she told me that she wouldn’t be able to clean the flat this week. I have already started to rely on her visits like you rely on the world to spin on its axis. She throws me a little lifeline before my eyes glaze over with all the chores I will need to do over the weekend. ‘My friend said she might be able to come instead just this once.’

The friend shows up yesterday and I am reappraising my love affair after her brief visit. There’s only one way to say it: she’s a much better cleaner than Maria. I feel like I’ve had a visit from the staff at a five-star hotel. All the toiletries are neatly lined up in the bathroom in order of size. She’s folded the towels neatly on the towel rails. The bathroom is whiter than I’ve ever seen it before, the tiles gleaming. The mold that had been lingering in the grout is gone.

She’s taken out all the trash and even cleaned the outside of the bin. I’m afraid Maria doesn’t usually get that far. The friend has even tidied up any loose wires, neatly coiling them so that no one trips. Everywhere I go I see yet another example of her industriousness. Meanwhile, I have a growing suspicion that my regular cleaner is more like Amelia Bedelia, charming but rather useless.

I realize that this is how it must feel to always have the same, reliable lover. You think the sex is great until you have an affair with someone else and discover, perhaps too late, how much better it can be. (No, this is not a personal remark on my own life.)

Next week it’s back to Maria. I’m wondering if I can turn my love notes into a set of useful instructions… I fear not. I have only myself to blame, but I believe I have set a dangerous precedent. Like applying mascara, there is no going back.

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The Kindle revisited

Book cover

I got an intro, a glossary and illustrations. Kindle readers got nothing but electronic text.

Since the English Husband boycotted Amazon because of a small matter of not paying their fair share of corporate tax in the UK (along with the illustrious likes of Starbucks and Google), I’ve inherited the unloved Kindle.

The Kindle was a controversial Christmas present from a year ago that never sat well with the Husband, who held it responsible for the destruction of the printed book and the bookshop. These things, I would argue, are debatable, although there are plenty of rather depressing statistics about the end of bookshops.

According to one statistic – and there are many – the sale of consumer ebooks in the UK were up 366% in 2011. They are likely to be even higher now. Meanwhile, the sales of printed books are down year on year. In one article in a national newspaper in this country, it said the sales of printed novels in the first four weeks of 2012 fell by a over a million copies compared to the same month a year ago.

As a book lover, I must admit to being sceptical about the Kindle (read my first Kindle blog), but not because I don’t like Amazon or what they represent. I am American and generally greet success happily and without too much suspicion. The English, however, are a bit sniffy about it.

What I don’t like about Kindle derives mainly from how I use books and my love for print. I suggested reading The Diary of a Nobody for my book club. It’s a short and amusing story of Victorian life, mainly centred on one lower-middle-class family and their rather eccentric friends and acquaintances. It’s often referred to in other books and has been a gap in my reading until now.

You can get this book free on Kindle because the copyright has expired. This has generally been regarded as one of the great pluses of the Kindle and it’s certainly an argument I have used to champion it. On this occasion, I decided to buy the book because it was only £1.99 and I figured I might need the physical book on hand for a discussion.

The thing about classics is that they generally have a glossary at the back, which tells clueless Americans like me about certain phrases, expressions and trivia that I wouldn’t otherwise know. There was also a lengthy introduction to The Diary of a Nobody (not essential) but which made for an interesting reference point.

The Kindle readers in my group didn’t get any of this and they also lost out on the very critical illustrations in the book, which were sketched by the author’s brother and added substantially to it.

All in all, the Kindle readers lost out hugely. Okay, they kept their £1.99 but they really didn’t get the best from the book and probably skipped over the passages they didn’t understand but which were explained in the glossary.

This wouldn’t be the case for many books – modern novels don’t often have pictures and glossaries. But I learned a lesson. Sometimes it’s better to pay for things you can get for free. Better yet, get it from your local bookshop.

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Four days a week

Raging Bull in stroller

One stroppy child and the stroller that nearly caused my nervous breakdown

It is the end of a long week. It shouldn’t have felt this way – I had Monday off. I am going part time after five months of five days a week. Coincidentally, the Raging Bull had Monday off too, because her pre-school was shut for a training day. So much for snatching a few hours for myself.

I thought, No big deal, we’ll enjoy ourselves. I think I have forgotten what a full-on day of uninterrupted mothering feels like. I realize, halfway through the morning, that my three-year-old is not about to leave my side. With her big sister at school, she’s looking to me to provide all the entertainment. This is not entirely without some challenges, since her attention span is somewhere between five seconds and two minutes.

But at least I have arranged to meet a friend for my fix of the day, a much-needed shot of coffee. Too late I discover that the pile of dirty clothes I put in the washing machine will not be ready to come out before I need to leave the house. I am more stressed than I ever am at work. If I leave the clothes in there for a couple of hours, they will come out more creased than the face of an 80-year-old chain smoker.

Twenty minutes later I am hanging up a bunch of clothes on these antiquated racks so that they’ll dry. (Americans won’t understand this that well, but a clothes drier is a bit of a luxury around here.)

So I am late, horribly late to meet my friend, and running frantically around with the Raging Bull. I forgot what this feels like. What I need now is not coffee but a tranquilizer.

After 30mins in the coffee shop, the Bull is rather tired of my rendezvous and starts punching me in the back, telling me that she wants to go. Over and over again. I try to placate her with chocolate, interactive storybooks and threats, but it doesn’t buy me that much time. At least I grabbed a few fraught moments with my friend.

Then it’s time to rush off and pick up the other child, who is at school. We are, of course, now running late. I catch a bus, which seems to be moving backwards. I am crushed next to a blind person and her dog, who is wet (it has been raining) and smells.

I run off the bus, with the stroller in full flow. As fate would have it, a plastic bag chooses this very moment to attach itself to the wheel. I don’t bother to stop as it swirls and flaps under my feet. Who has time to draw breath?

To cut this story short, the plastic bag ends up so tightly wound around the wheel that it seizes up and stops moving altogether. I have to unstrap the Raging Bull and plead with her to run the rest of the way to the school while I half drag/carry the stroller.

It’s now lashing down with rain and the wind is whipping my hair into my face. I am crouched in front of the stroller, tearing off bits of plastic, one piece at a time. But it’s completely in vain. No boa constrictor has ever wrapped itself more tightly around its victim. This plastic won’t come off without a very sharp knife and steely determination.

My hands are filthy as I push the stroller ahead of me, on two wheels, all the way home, with a screaming three-year-old behind me. It is then that the thought rises up unbidden, a thought I never believed I would have: I am better off at work, it’s easier.

This was my day ‘off’.

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