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Chaz'z Blog

Monday, April 25, 2005

As it happens, I did go off to Glasgow, but not because I was bored. I don't think I understand adult boredom as a concept; certainly I don't experience it. There is always too much to do, and most of that in my head, things queued up waiting for my mind to engage with them.

In fact I went to Glasgow for a crimewriting conference, but not before I went to Julia's funeral on Friday. It was a wonderful occasion, wonderfully sad and stirring; Charlie Hardwick called it a Geordie state funeral, and she wasn't far wrong. Many hundreds of people, standing room only in a fabulous chandeliered hall; lots of poems and songs and remembrances, spontaneous applause for her partner Bev and then again for Julia herself as she went off in her horse-drawn hearse. It's an outrage that she's gone, but her leaving was as charming, as moving, as witty as she was herself. It was always one of her gifts, that she could transfer her own idiosyncratic good cheer to other people; it was no surprise to any of us, that she could still do that all through the process of her dying and beyond.

Posted by Chaz at 11:24 AM GMT [Link]

Thursday, April 21, 2005

I found a fungus, strolling through the hospital grounds - no, I'm sorry, let me recast that: Strolling through the hospital grounds, I found a fungus [barely better, but hell, you know what I mean. Ah, all my days are like this, the endless conflict between grammar and aesthetics, sense and sensibility...]. And I picked it, and I brought it home with the fixed intention of finding out what it is and whether I can eat it; and I have never done this before, so I thought it worth recording.

Thing is, Iíve always been scrupulous about fungi. I have had two rules: "if you donít know what it is, donít eat it"; and "a book is not enough to tell you what it is".

Trouble is, you can wait all your life for an expert and still never find one at hand. My patience is fraying, and at least I do now have a book. (Actually, I found a lovely book a few months back, and wanted it severely - until I realised that none of its entries said whether or not a fungus was edible. So I checked the front, and behold, that was policy: they didnít believe in picking wild fungi, didnít want to encourage the practice and so deliberately never said whether a particular fungus would nourish you or kill you. Bah, humbug, said I, and bought another book. To be fair, I have only picked one sample from a clump of fungi, so that if it's not edible the rest may grow and flourish; but I'll tell you, if it is edible, I'm going back for the rest.)

So thatís what I'm off to do now, identify the object. Not sure how, exactly, but there must be a system. No doubt the book will explain. I was going to pass on my solution to the pasta salad problem (whatís the problem, you ask? Pasta salad!), but this is more urgent. If you donít hear from me again - well, draw your own conclusions. Maybe Iíve got bored and gone to Glasgow.

Posted by Chaz at 03:05 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Ah, what can you say about days like these? Peter Sarah died on Friday. Peter was chief exec at the Theatre Royal, our big city stage in Newcastle; he took it over when it was in trouble both financially and artistically, turned it around in both directions, made a major success of it. For us he started as a new broom, became a good thing, developed into a useful contact, then a generous supporter (free tickets and wine for every opening, bless him) and was just poised in that interesting gap between someone you know well and a genuine friend. And Friday lunchtime, he was just in the theatre cafe for a meeting when he had a massive heart attack and died.

Itís opera season, and Gail and I are in the theatre yesterday, today, tomorrow. The sense of shock is palpable, and the sorrow too.

On Sunday, we were in Durham for the New Writing North annual writersí awards, which arenít prizes so much as cash, grants for specific projects. And I was given one, to work on my beloved Taiwan novellas, hurrah! (Oh golly, what, good news? Whatís going on?)

And this week, Iím trying to juggle my own work with organisational stuff for The Write Fantastic, and very aware too that Peterís funeral is on Thursday - tomorrow, but probably today by now - and so is the launch of an art project, a collaboration between an artist and my old friend the writer Julia Darling; and Julia is desperately ill and only hoping to be there, so of course everyone who knows her is hoping to be there also, and 'everyone' is the only acceptable definition of the people that Julia knows, so itís going to be a mad, sad crush of a do.

And I go to the opera tonight - Don Giovanni in a new production from Opera North, austere minimalist set and a witty translation, punchy singing and a tight band, I liked it; itís interesting, though, how it takes an English version to underline just how utterly charmless Don G is, because the music will seduce you every time - and Iím walking home thinking about Peter and thinking about Julia, wondering whether itís worth skipping the Rossini tomorrow to try to get a word with her sometime during the evening; and I come in and there are messages on the answerphone, to say that sheís died already this afternoon.

It could have happened years ago, when she first got cancer. It could have happened any time this last couple of years, since the cancer recurred; or these last months, these weeks, these days, when sheís been getting sicker and sicker. Itís like Zenoís paradox, sheís actually been living in half-lives that have been getting shorter and shorter. But the trouble with Zeno is that you get to recognise the pattern, and then you start to believe him, you forget that the world doesnít actually deal in paradox and think that the actual moment will never actually come. And then, of course, actually it does.

Posted by Chaz at 12:24 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, April 8, 2005

Ah, hubris, hubris... Remind me never to say again that the work is going well, or even going.

Sometimes I look back at days or weeks of not writing, and just canít understand why that happened (and sometimes the reverse is true, I can look back at weeks or months of solid work and just not understand how ever I kept it up so long, but thatís another issue). Other times, itís absolutely clear.

Like yesterday, three separate clarities in one, like one of those cocktails where each element floats at a different level and nothing mingles.

Mífriend Stephen was coming for lunch, so the morning was shopping and cooking and tidying up (then I cooked him pipérade, not knowing that he cannot abide peppers; but that again is another issue). Once he'd left I cleared up, I wound down, I started thinking about work - and my central heating failed. On the coldest day weíve had for weeks and weeks.

Another man would have phoned the plumber, turned on a gas fire and got on with the day. If I were another man, I would not be here now; being me, being here, being entirely thrown out of kilter by any minor domestic catastrophe (especially if it involves phone-calls, and doubly so if it's going to necessitate somebody coming here to fix things), I ran away. To the pub, and so there went any chance of working in the afternoon.

And so the evening came, and I had a steaming hot bath (the boilerís working, the waterís hot, only the radiators arenít: pump? control switch? how would I know?) and felt warm and worky, so came to the computer late, and checked my e-mail as ever before settling down to a session - and found this message from a kind lady who has known my mother for ever, and so hence knew my father too, to the point where my parents were married from her house. And there was a photo too, of my mother as a schoolgirl at this ladyís christening...

So there went any hope of working, as I had to pass that around the family and then somehow find a way to reply. I donít think I made much sense, except that I hope a general delighted gratitude was conveyed.

So that was the day, with no work done. Today I am a little more focused. There are gas fires burning, I have phoned the plumber (well, his voicemail, naturally), thereís a vast pot of chicken stock simmering in the kitchen to provide a little heat that end of the house, itís snowing outside so I can hope for a little insulation, and I have actually done a little work. Not much, though, and Iím still shivering. And distracting myself, of course, with things like this.

Posted by Chaz at 03:44 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Itís spring, and a middle-aged manís fancy turns to thoughts of gardening. Sigh. But itís such a surprise, how much of a passion this is becoming. Iíve spent much of the weekend in the back yard, potting and weeding and pruning and tidying up after winter; Iíve ordered a new compost bin, and planted rhubarb in the original (an old dustbin I drilled a few holes in; and that there rhubarb is now growing in what was my kitchen waste from two years ago, and I love that. I am also thrilled to learn that rhubarb leaves are toxic; websites are full of dire warnings, do not eat. What none of them say is whether "toxic" in this context means lethal. There is still a crime writer inside me, and I need to know...). Windowsills are full of sprouting seedlings, and my new baby greenhouse is already filling up.

Weirdly, my kid sister has undergone the same transformation, only sheís done it in the Cornish countryside, on acres of land, so she can have a whole polytunnel to play in. I am sooo jealous...

Even more weirdly, here I am doing all this displacement-activity stuff, and still finding time to work around it. Nine pages yesterday, to bring me to the end of a section. I still have no love for this rewrite, and no confidence in it - if I was wrong before when I thought I was right, how can I trust my own judgement this time round, or ever again? - but it is at least getting done.

Posted by Chaz at 11:11 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, April 1, 2005

Dear me: I was so exercised over the soup (and other cooking: I made a risotto with mushroom stalks and flavoured it with lemon zest and red pesto, then served it with the mushroom-caps grilled with a green-pesto topping; next time I might cap the pesto with a slice of parmesan, see how that works) I forgot to mention yesterdayís big news, which is that we-The-Write Fantastic have got a very generous grant from the Arts Council, to cover set-up costs and our activities for the first six months. How good is that? And all my own idea, he murmured, polishing his fingernails on the cat, whom he is positively outsmugging at the moment...

Posted by Chaz at 06:18 PM GMT [Link]

People do miss the point sometimes. I had friends for lunch yesterday (this is becoming a thing-that-happens, and I like it: opportunities to cook at a different level, light and easy, with none of the trauma of a dinner-party), and I found a recipe for London particular. Tastes scrummy, but the intro to the recipe says "This soup was named after the thick blankets of yellow fog of Ďpeasoupersí that used to engulf London." How pedestrian can you get? The whole joy about the name is that the fogs were named after the soup and then the soup is renamed after the fogís other name, where it had been named again after a variety of Madeira. There now, didnít that need saying?

Anyway, the soup. This is my take on the original recipe:

Soak a smoked gammon hock overnight, then simmer in fresh water to cover, with a big carrot, a couple of celery sticks and a leek all chopped up, and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. It'll need a couple of hours, till it's tender. Strain and reserve the stock, shred the meat off the hock.

Rinse the split peas a few times in running water, then simmer in lots of water till tender. Half an hour plus. Then blend the bulk of them with some of the gammon-water, till smooth.

Fry a finely-sliced onion in olive oil with a couple of young tender diced carrots and a sweet sliced leek. When tender, mix it all in with the purťe, the remainder of the split peas and the hock-meat, then add more stock to make a soup. Heat it, and stand by to add more stock or water; it will be thicker than you think. Beware of hot pease pudding; soup should flow, at least a little.

Posted by Chaz at 12:23 PM GMT [Link]


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© Chaz Brenchley 2002/2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.