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Showing posts from November, 2010

Making Sandwiches

For a couple of weeks in the autumn of 1976 I lived on grated cheese and sliced tomato sandwiches. It was the only food I could bear to eat during the initial stages of an illness that would eventually be diagnosed as Glandular Fever. Each day, sometimes twice a day, my mother brought them upstairs to me with a cup of hot chocolate.
My memory of that time is muted, slow. The sandwiches are almost weightless as I lift them from the plate, as I chew and swallow, in contrast with the weight of my body that can only surrender to hour after hour, day after day, of dreamless sleep. Sometimes I opened my eyes and saw them on the bedside table: triangles of soft, white sliced bread holding an airy pillow of cheese and thinly sliced tomato.
How many times did she come in while I slept, not wanting to wake me, and deciding in the end to make them and leave them within reach? She must have been worried during those first weeks when the doctor could not say what was wrong with me. How does a mother…

Cooking Catalunya, Part 1: 42 – 44 Carrer Pi i Margall


 There’s a supermarket opposite, a bodega on the corner that will fill your empty bottles with the local vino negro, a wine darker and heavier than rojo, and a little further up the road, one of Barcelona’s covered markets for fresh fruit and vegetables, chicken, meat and fish, and a stand-up coffee bar where you can grab a café con leche or café cortado and throw your crumpled sugar packets on the floor.

The first time I buy a chicken there I come home with its sawn off feet in a little bag. The Catalans roast and eat them, perhaps a parallel to how the British roast and eat pork crackling, though a chicken’s claws strike me as a rather more challenging culinary experience. After that I always make a point of saying, No quiero las patas. No feet.

I nearly give up on the market after my third visit. Okay, my castellano (standard Spanish) is limited, my Catalan non-existent, but surely that doesn’t merit the loud, rapid-fire rebukes I get at nearly every stall? I tell Leonardo, our…

Spilt Milk and The Perfect Fried Egg

I have cried over it.
As a kid losing at Draughts, Dominoes, Monopoly. When I wasn’t picked for the Three-legged Race in my final year at Junior School despite winning it three years in a row. When Maxine McBride chose a new best friend. When Mr. Warlow, my Welsh teacher, said he was sorry but he’d somehow got it all wrong: I hadn’t qualified to recite Mae’r Abertawe yn yr haul on the Eisteddfod stage. An ‘O’ level pass in my ‘A’ level English Lit. And later, when I was overlooked for a job, a promotion, time off; when I didn’t make the shortlist, or get the award. When the funding for my first collection was unexpectedly withdrawn. That was a weekend’s worth.
We are leaving France. We are part of a statistic that says 50% of Brits who move to France return home within two years, well, three in our case. I arrived with plans to speak French fluently, to run creative writing courses on the Côte d’Azur, to live and work here for the next ten years, at least. I am trying not to use the wo…

Take One Red Dragon: A Recipe

St. David’s Day – Dydd Dewi Sant. I wore my welsh costume to school: a black felt hat, plaid shawl, a small white apron over my kilt, and, pinned to my shawl, a fresh daffodil from the garden whose big trumpet head bumped my chin, releasing the sprinkle and scent of pollen. The boys wore leeks attached to their jumpers with nappy-sized safety pins, until playtime, when some show-off would decide to eat his raw. 
There was a school concert and we sang Calon Lân (listen here) and Oes gafr eto, a ridiculous folk song about white, blue and red goats which had to be sung faster and faster with each successive verse until the words fell apart in our mouths. And the finale of the concert: a play in welsh written by one of the teachers. When I was ten, I was picked for the leading role of Maggi, an enterprising cook who convinces a  bunch of hungry cannibals not to boil the poor missionary but to add a packet of her tasty powdered soup to their cardboard cauldron instead. It was one of the mor…

Three Houses


Cae Cottages, Penceiliogi

Memory paints my grandparents like the characters in a Dutch interior: Granny in the doorway between the porch and dark scullery, D’cu sitting in a low chair by the fire where two brass horses rear on blocks of polished oak. I enter silently, from daylight on the unpaved lane, stepping down over the stone hearth into the shadows, as if even the slightest noise could tear the membrane that divides remembering from not remembering.

I am sure I stayed here once although my mother cannot be sure. But I know the two connected bedrooms in the eaves, the cool lino beneath my bare feet, lying in an iron bed with my sister watching the squeeze of sunlight and dust around the edges of the pulled curtains.

The garden is a field with long grass and trees and an outside privy where, a young woman with auburn hair tells her two wide-eyed daughters, I was once chased by a goose.


35 Glasfryn, Dafen

When the cottage was sold and they had nowhere to live the council moved…