We do like to be beside the seaside. We do.

I keep thinking I’ve pretty much recovered from jet-lag until I get behind the wheel of the car when my brain seems to slip into a fog and I have to remind myself to really focus. It must be the repetitiveness of the actions, or, along the motorway, the monotony of just staring into drizzle and tarmac.  

Having left Miami last Wednesday, arriving in London Heathrow mid-afternoon on Thursday, I headed off to Folkestone on Friday afternoon for a meeting with French haiku poets to start organising an Anglo-French Haiku Festival for 2013. I really did think I’d be falling asleep over the discussions and meals but I was surprisingly alert for the majority of the time. Partly because the Southcliff Hotel on The Leas kept me generously and tastily well fed (I had ‘top points’ fried eggs on toast for breakfast each morning) and partly because of the energetic weather along the cliff-top and gardens below. 

I don’t know Folkestone that well. I’ve been to the harbour for cockles and shrimp doused in vinegar and white pepper. I took my grand-daughter to the funfair that has since been dismantled, and I watched Tony perform at the Burstin Hotel when he was a professional entertainer. Perhaps those experiences limited my perception of the town. I’d forgotten about its reputation as a faded Victorian seaside resort and dilapidated grandeur has a charm all of its own, as does the zig-zag path from The Leas to the beach.

I’d called Tony on Saturday morning to let him know how things were going. Folkestone is his childhood town: his grandparents lived here and he spent his summer and Christmas holidays in their three story Victorian terraced house. On the phone he suddenly recalls proposing to his first wife, at the tender age of 19, halfway down the zig-zag path. ‘I thought I was being romantic,’ he said, ‘but I remember she was really scared of the dark path and the caves. Unless she was terrified at the idea of marrying me!’

marriage proposal
the zig-zag path
to the sea

The path and caves and gardens have been spruced up since 1964. I don’t know if they’re still scary at night but I fell in love with them by day.

If you can’t face the long walk down and back up you can replace one way (or both ways) with a trip in the Victorian lift for a £1. The lift, the path, the gardens… they’re not the neon-flashing, theme-park, sensory overload attractions that are proliferating all over the country. They hark back to Folkestone’s Victorian past when a brisk walk in sea-air was a more than satisfying reason to come here.

I’m glad the council have invested time and money here, renovating the caves, planting wildflowers, creating a grass-banked amphitheatre that has the Channel as a backdrop. They’ve kept their bandstand too and on Saturday there were performances by local bands while people lounged on chairs and blankets with picnics and enjoyed themselves doing a respectable nothing. 

The only thing that could have been, would have been, a perfect finale... an ice-cream. A whippy ice-cream with a Cadbury’s flake of course. But I ran out of time. Another day. Perhaps here, with a picnic basket and good company.

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about monotony.
Write about breakfast in a hotel.
Write about a path to the sea.
Write about a proposal of marriage.
Write about doing nothing.

Cheese, dreams, dream breakfasts and my cat.

My Dad’cu (maternal grandfather) used to melt cheese in a glass dish at the side of an open fire then spread it on a thick slice of hand-cut white bread. Grampa Rees (paternal grandfather) used to like Crackerbarrel. Do you remember Crackerbarrel? A brick of cheddar in a red foil wrapper? I haven’t seen it, or perhaps I haven’t noticed it, for years in British supermarkets but it’s really popular here in the US and comes in a number of varieties – sharp, vintage, aged. I had high hopes. I remember it as being a sharp and slightly crumbly cheddar but the one I bought in Publix last week was the same as most other pre-packed American cheeses: rubbery and anonymous. What do they add to their cheese to achieve that texture? Silicone?

And it must have been the cheese that made me dream: three rough, unshaven men in paint-stained t-shirts who become aggressive when we refuse to sell them the wooden cupboard that opens out into a piano. Twenty quid, one of them says, pushes it up to £35 when we still hold out.  £125 is the lowest we’ll go, Tony tells them and they leave the house, head back to their rusty, green pick-up parked further down the road. But something makes me follow them, take a note of the registration, which triggers a loud ‘Shit!’ from the driver and they all pile out of the cab and chase me back to the house and I don’t know if I’ll reach the front door in time or whether the back door is already locked and one of them is heading around the side of the building and I realise that they never had any interest in the wooden cupboard, they were only there to check out the house, its doors and windows and all the time I’m repeating the reg. number  like a mantra. HGER 7AT. Like a brand in the forefront of my mind when I wake. 

In a second dream all my teeth fell out. I am never eating American Crackerbarrel again. 

Robert Rowland Smith, in Breakfast with Socrates, The Philosophy ofEveryday Life, talks through both Freud and Jung’s ideas about dreams as missives, messages from our unconscious, or from a collective unconscious. But how many of us spend any degree of time analysing our dreams in the hope of insight or revelation, even if we do agree with Mr Freud and Mr Jung? Being awake and dealing with what each day brings tends to take up all or most of our time.

Perhaps it’s not unusual that many of our dreams are about being out of control because the very act of falling asleep is a surrendering of control, of responsibility. Rowland Smith suggests that we are at our most human while we sleep:

… there’s nothing, while sleeping, you can do to stand out, no action you’ll be taking, by definition, to demarcate you from others or testify to your specialness.

Being ‘out of control’ tends to have negative associations but surely we all recognise that feeling of getting into bed and looking forward to falling asleep? Perhaps we need that interlude of being ‘out of control’, and feeling safe at the same time of course, to renew us for the next bout of decisions and boundary making, of limits and regulations.  
This morning I am having afternoon tea for breakfast. Unable to resist this box any longer:

a gift from a new friend, Tess, before we went out for dinner last night, from a French bakery in Fort Lauderdale. 

In true French style the mini ├ęclairs are filled with custard not cream.

From France and Fort Lauderdale and Florida back to Kent and then to Wales. We fly home on Wednesday, arriving back in London on Thursday 21st. My first task when I get home to the Applehouse is to go and pick up Chica from the cattery. Their weekly email updates have assured me she’s been fine but a month has felt too long a time to leave her. I hope she’ll be as happy as me to have her home.

Hungry Writing Prompts
Write about cheese.
Write about being afraid.
Write about the ways you control your life.
Write about a dream breakfast.
Write about someone or something you have missed.


I pick IPic – lay back and don’t think of England

IPic, Boca Raton, Florida

Think about a Filet Slider Trio (filet mignon with caramelized onions, arugula, and crumbled blue cheese on a garlic-buttered and lightly-toasted brioche bun), or some Tuna Wonton Crisps (seared sesame seed crusted tuna on a bed of asian slaw and lightly-fried wonton crisps topped with wasabi mayo and spicy mustard) or the Blackened Mahi Mahi Trio (tender mahi mahi crusted in blackening spice, with jalapeno pepper jelly, and fresh cantaloupe on a lightly-toasted hawaiian roll). If you do want to think of England then order Fish and Chips (old bay seasoned beer-battered cod, served with fries, tartar sauce and malt vinegar). 

And watch the movie.

IPic Theaters (there are currently nine in the US) are as far removed from bog-standard cinema going as you can get. The one in Boca Raton has a cocktail bar and restaurant, a whole range of freshly made snacks to buy and take into the movie with you, and 8 theaters. And I’m not kidding about the laying back either.

The Premium Plus seats at IPic are fully reclining with a footrest, a pillow and blanket, and a buzzer for waiter service. Oh yes, you get complimentary popcorn too. At $18 a piece, (about £12), if you register (free) as a member, I think that’s a pretty good deal.

My only problem was that I’d been out for lunch and we’d booked in for a late afternoon show so eating wasn’t high on my agenda (for a change) but Tony had the Angus Burger Trio (applewood smoked bacon, crisp shredded romaine lettuce, sliced tomato, sharp cheddar cheese on a garlic-buttered and lightly toasted brioche bun): three mini (that’s mini American size) burgers at $15. I did think about swiping one in the dark but he positioned the plate as far away from me as he could. (You’ll notice that guy in the above shot from IPic’s website isn't quite as proprietorial.)

We watched 'Snow White and the Huntsman' which doesn’t exactly follow the traditional fairy tale: it’s more Snow White meets Robin Hood meets Joan of Arc, with a slice of Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits slotted in. In short, (no dwarf pun intended) a real hunk of classy entertainment.  

Top marks for the gorgeous Charlize Theron (Ravenna, the wicked queen), Chris Hemsworth (the Huntsman), Sam Spruell (Finn, the queen’s dastardly brother). And for the fairies too, even though they only prance through the movie for a matter of minutes. It’s the kind of CGI technology that can make you believe anything’s possible. Not quite so impressed with Kristen Stewart as Snow White… she didn’t crack the ‘Joan of Arc’ role for me.  

And IPic is calling me back. Mainly because I know it’ll be a long time until I experience anything like it again. And because I want to go there feeling really hungry so I can fully indulge myself with the In-Theater menu.

Did I tell you about the Chinois Chicken Salad Rolls (oven roasted chicken, napa cabbage, radicchio, and carrots tossed with sesame ginger dressing wrapped in rice paper), the Trio of Dips (a collection of house-made dips, roasted garlic hummus, artichoke aioli and olive tapenade, lightly-toasted and garlic-buttered pita), or the Street Tacos (bite-size soft corn tortillas with choice of grilled chicken or marinated steak, avocado cream sauce, chopped onions, cilantro and gremolata)?

I almost don’t care what I watch.

Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about laying back and thinking.
  2. Write about going to the movies.
  3. Write about a fairy tale that had an effect on you as a child.
  4. Write a fan letter to someone you like or admire.
  5. Write a dream or a fantasy that involves food.

Flexing muscles. And chomping them.

I’m not blinkered to the natural state of meat. I don’t have a moral problem with eating it as long as certain conditions have been met in animal husbandry. (I don’t agree with the argument, ‘If you’re not prepared to kill an animal you shouldn’t be willing to eat it’ because that doesn’t make any sense for the way life operates in the 21st century: I’m not prepared to keep sheep for wool, or drill for my own oil, but I’m willing to wear a sweater and drive a car.)

But I’m not attracted to ordering anything off a menu that has the word ‘muscle’ in it (as opposed to mussel). So I can’t imagine myself walking past this restaurant and thinking, ‘Hey, I really want to eat here!’ 

Muscle Maker Grill, Century Plaza Shopping Center, Deerfield Beach, FL
Apart from the name, I’m also put off by the didactic strap-line. Call me perverse but when I’m eating out my focus is on sensory pleasure; I don’t want a menu wagging its finger and telling me what’s good for me. 

The first MMG opened in 1995 and there are now over 200 franchises. I guess that’s not a lot when you consider the size of the United States and compare it with MacDonald’s 14,000+, although they have had a 40 year head start. But MMG are offering an alternative to existing fast-food outlets and they have a nutrition poster that flashes up the differences.

No deep fried food, whole wheat, lean meat without, they promise, compromising on taste. It sounds good so I should really push myself past the Charles Atlas ‘you won’t kick sand in my face again’ suggestiveness of the name and judge it on experience.

There are a couple of things on the nutrition poster that annoy me though: no butter and zero-fat. And one thing that’s not on the poster (or on the website): any mention of sugar. Isn't it common knowledge by now that it’s not fat that’s making blimps out of everyone, it’s sugar, hidden sugar? (In my case it’s mostly the hidden sugar in wine.) And I don't want to eat a bunch of laboratory produced chemicals in its place either.

Maybe I’ll email MMG and ask them for their line on this. But I suppose change is more likely to happen if it happens gradually. Cut out some of the rubbish we eat and replace it with healthier alternatives and once that change has transformed into habit, we can address others. 

So I should be more supportive of the MMG’s vision: it’s worthy, admirable, necessary even. And their food is the kind of food I like too: wraps, pasta, salads, asian flavours. I should peel off my skin of literary snobbishness and appreciate that they’re doing something positive, something good…. so how about The Good Grill instead?

Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about flesh.
  2. Write about what attracts you, what repels you.
  3. Write a list of things that make you healthy.
  4. Write about the sweetest thing you know.
  5. Write about a habit you want to shed, a habit you want to adopt.