Huge basil leaves, proper tomatoes and the best stepmum

After what feels like an eternity I’ve finally arrived at my destination. In the end the plane left London with a delay of four hours. We landed in Rome at 2:30. I managed to grab three hours’ sleep before the coach that took me to the south of Italy. It wasn’t pretty but I’m here now. And for that I’m grateful.

1. Basil leaves the size of a small hand. They grow effortlessly here along with bitter boccoli, red onions, figs, prickly pears, peppers, chillies, and obviously tomatoes.

2. The late-afternoon breeze to give you respite from the heat. I slept for two hours, I was so knackered.

3. The heat and the salty air. This is home. This is what home smells and feels like.

4. Proper tomatoes that are so good you can eat them without condiment.

5. My stepmum. We were never close when my dad was alive. I think he would be very happy to see us now. Maybe all the shit my sister has put us through since dad has passed away wasn’t in vane.

Look at this though. The finger is for sizing.


A stepbrother, a burger and a decent book

Not much to be grateful right now since I’m stuck at Stansted Airport surrounded by justifiably tantrumy children after the flight has been delayed by over two hours. I got to the point when I’m starting to doubt we’ll ever leave.

1. My phone was fixed. I can see the whole screen again now.

2. My stepbrother is coming to pick me up at the airport no matter how late I get in.

3. I finished a dreadful, dreadful book. Mike Gayle’s The Man I Think I Know. Profoundly dishonest. Derivative. Plot-driven. Melodramatic. A soap-opera pretending to be something more. I don’t quite know why it offended me quite so much. But it’s over. It enrages me because I find it fundamentally dishonest; it manipulates the readers disregarding any psychological accuracy.

4. I had a nice burger at Coast to Coast.

5. Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell. At least I’m in the hands of somebody competent.

Whitstable, a book and a lot of oysters.

Best. Sunday. Ever. We went to Whitstable and stuffed our faces with seafood. It then took us three hours to get home because of various train cancellations but that’s by the way.

1. Whitstable is the most charming place ever. Especially on a sunny day like today. It was packed, yes, but there was also an air of jollyness around. I understand what the locals might get a bit protective of their lovely town but if it’s lovely, of course people will come and visit. The shopping is also very good.

2. Oysters. Oysters. And more oysters. In the end we had eighteen oysters and half a lobster each, plus bits and pieces including a donut souffle from The Forge: a scoop of ice cream sandwiched between two donuts. It is as good as it sounds.

3. The Whitstable High-Tide Swimming Club by Katie May. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why I was reading it today, do I? This is Part 1 and I had such high hopes but in the end it was just a bit disappointing. I’m very difficult about characters in books and I’m highly suspicious when an author tries to justify shitty or idiotic behaviour by giving the character a higher moral quality almost martye-like. I would much rather they were honest and call shitty behaviour for what it is and you can learn in spite of their flaws. It’s almost as if they wanted the reader to like the character because of their mistakes. Maybe it’s just me.

4. Wheelers Oyster Bar. From the outside the place looks unassuming. You go in and the deli looks run down. At the back you have to clean but dark rooms with less than ten tables. On the face of it, it looks unassuming . . .  and then you try the food. Oh good Lord in heaven, the Food. It is so good! The highlight for me was the Ceviche of Bream. An enormous plate of goodness, and then the rock oysters and then the lobster cooked to perfection dressed with garlic butter, and then the bowl of samphire. Seriously, the lobster had nothing to envy the ones we’ve tried in the Galapagos or in Maine. I wish I had had room for dessert. It promised to be delicious but I simply didn’t have the space.

5. It was just a lovely day. It did us good to spend some quality time together out of the house. Just being together, talking about anything and everything. We sat on the beach for a bit; we napped, we read and generally enjoyed being together.

Duck and Waffle, polenta chips and the craziest Saturday evening (not)

I’m not very grateful at the moment. I am and I’m not. But I’m struggling to keeps the blog up. I won’t give up though. Exercising gratitude is good for me but it doesn’t come easy right now. Still, there are things that will never fail to gladden my heart.

1. Duck and Waffle for brunch.  It was good. I don’t know whether I was expecting something more, something different but the foie gras creme brulee you see on the bottom left of the photograph didn’t rock my world. Look at the view though. The location is certainly stunning and the cocktails delicious.

2. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent. I’m not sure it works for me or that it lives up to the hype. The buzz around this book doesn’t seem to have anything more than than the pretentious elevation of the titillating and depraved to literary quality.

3. Polenta chips. An almighty faff to make but so worth it. If you want to try, Nigella Lawson has a recipe in Nigellissima or The Guardian has useful tips on how to make them here

4. An evening spent reading. What does it say about my social life that I can’t think of anything I’d rather do with my Saturday evening?

5. The courage of my dreams. It’s not meant to be easy but you’re still meant to try because what else is there?

Two very different films, a Magnum and giving the Devil the benefit of law.

1. How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days I find it soo hard to watch people making fools of themselves and this possibly relies on the chemistry between Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson, but I could honestly get lost in his eyes while tracing the shape of his jaw. Sorry, what?

2. Magnum Mint. First Magnum of the season. And it was all I wanted it to be.

3. I’m actually funny. I had a listen to the episode of the podcast I recorded on Monday and I didn’t hate it. Granted, I was setting the bar rather low but I was pleased to see that some bits were genuinely funny. This is not something I’m grateful for but making people laugh is something that makes me happy.

4. Thank God, Love Island is over. The commentary on Twitter was driving me slightly crazy. People cannot complain about unobtainable beauty standards and then watch Love Island. How can they not see it’s part of the same industry and if you feed on you also feed the other?

5. This quote from A Man for All Seasons which I think it’s very apt for the times we live in. You can watch the clip here but here’s the basic exchange:

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Holiday reading, bus drivers and The Fear

Short and sweet tonight.

1. Bus drivers. I’m always grateful for kind bus drivers. Even when i don’t mention them. You should always assume I’m grateful for them. The tube was chaos this afternoon so I had to get the bus in the middle of a very busy London to get where I needed to go. It was hot and it was packed. The driver didn’t lose his cool even when a guy started shouting at him not to let anybody else on.

2. Book haul. Look at these beauties. The Summer Book because it’s August’s BookGroup book. The English Patient because I can’t believe I’ve never read it. And Crazy Rich Asians because I’m dying of curiosity with all the buzz going on. By the way, remember the book I mentioned the other day? The Bestseller Code? Well worth a read if you’re curious about what makes a bestseller but don’t hope it will give you a shortcut to writing your own bestseller. You still have to sweat for it.

3. A tough yoga class to keep me humble. I got cocky and I was punished for it by my own practise. And for that I’m grateful. I’ve been practising yoga for years now and I’ve rarely felt proud about anything I could or couldn’t do. But I was practising once or twice a week, not enough really to make me better. Now that I’m practising three or four times a week the results start showing. So today I went for a slightly harder class and I was bug eyed at one point. The heat doesn’t help. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

4. A compliment about my work from somebody who gave me freelance work. It lifted me a metre off the floor.

5. The fear.  I have a big scene to tackle in the novel I’m writing, the first proper setpiece, and I’m petrified, absolutely petrified, of getting it disastrously wrong. But if I don’t write it then it will definitely be wrong but I can at least kid myself that if I had tried it would have been marvellous!

Tom Cruise, rule of law and the evolution of a recurrent dream

1. A Few Good Men. This has to be one of the best scripted movies in Hollywood history. 132 minutes of perfect storytelling. It’s a metronome hitting every single beat with laser-like precision. Act 3 is particularly satisfying. Film times are shrinking towards the ninety minutes mark with act 2 still taking the largest chunk of the pie. Resolutions tend to be quicker. But in this beauty act 3 takes over thirty beautiful minutes. No wasted words whatsoever. What am I even doing?

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2. Tom Cruise. I know people think he’s weird because of the Scientology thing and the jumping on the sofa thing but I still like him. He’s in some of my favourite movies (Jerry Maguire anyone) and in most of the movies that shaped my teenage years.

3. Rule of Law. On Twitter yesterday a girl I don’t know accused a guy I know but I don’t like of harassing her. They move in the same social circle and work in the same industry. The mob didn’t take long to descend on him finding him guilty before he had even had a chance to defend himself. The woman deleted the tweets the following day. I don’t know why. But I do know I find these summary trials horrifying. The guy’s reputation is ruined regardless of whether or not he did was he was accused of. We still have the rule of law in the real world, barely, but not on Twitter obviously.

4. The Evolution of a recurrent dream. For years I’ve had the same dream of being unable to catch a flight and to get where I needed to be because I couldn’t remember the flight number, which airport, at what time or which airline. In the new version I got where I want to be but I have forgotten my underwear. Mmm,  I wonder what it could mean.

5. A bit of good news that I can’t share just yet.