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6 February 2003

At Chinese class tonight, we had our first encounter with grinding ink and writing characters with brushes - and the news that will astonish no one who knows me is that I am completely and utterly without a vestige of talent in this direction. My appalling handwriting should have been warning enough (even my mother mocks my signature: 'What on earth is that, how can it possibly say Chaz Brenchley...?' - which is a bit of a handicap when you're signing books. One guy famously took a signed copy back to the shop, to complain that some kid had been scribbling in it) - but it ought not to be so difficult to make a tolerably straight line with a steady hand and a bamboo brush. I have both of those, but the end result eludes me entirely. The teacher tonight tried to comfort me by suggesting that I was a high achiever frustrated by my inability to shine, where in fact I was doing fine for a beginner, but it simply wasn't so. A glance at my neighbour's work confirmed my own opinion; she was another beginner, and producing neat and steady strokes, where mine were shivery, irregular, sorry little things. It's that hand/eye coordination thing; I never did get the hang of that, except obviously at the keyboard, where I can type faster and more accurately than anyone I know, and in the kitchen - though even there I cut myself more often than is sensible. Logically that might suggest that I only need practice, but I don't believe it. Too long experience, especially with the visual arts; I had one of those childhoods filled with crayons and colouring, but I never did learn to draw. I'd like to formulate a theory that says there's something in my head that allows me to learn only those skills that are actually useful to me, as a writer and a man, only it's hard to argue with the suggestion that being able to write with pen and paper is a handy little trick for a writer, and I really can't do that.

Back to the kitchen, though. Chinese nights, I get home late and hungry. I am somewhat known for complex cookery that takes days to prepare, but on occasion, simplest and quickest can be best. Boil a pan of spaghetti, and flash-fry half a dozen large tiger prawns (I like 'em with the shells on, but it makes for messy eating; peel them first if you prefer) with slivers of garlic and chilli, in a generous quantity of olive oil. Pour the one over the other, squeeze half a lemon over the top and throw on a handful of grated parmesan. It takes ten minutes, and there is very probably nothing better to eat on the planet.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2003
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.