Friday, 19 October 2012


The name says it all really; I invented a pudding. It’s delicious. Warm sponge, topped with spicy ginger plums and fluffy meringue. It’s a great way of using the disappointingly solid plums that the supermarkets are full of at the moment. I would suggest that you use the egg yolks left over from the meringue to make custard to go with it. 

It's a lot nicer than it looks in this terrible camera-phone picture.

Vauxhall Plum Pudding.
1 egg
65g SR flour
65g caster sugar
65g butter, softened.

5 plums, halved and stones removed
1 chunk of stem ginger in syrup
1tbsp syrup from the ginger jar

3 egg whites at room temperature
Lg pinch cream of tartar
175g caster sugar.


Preheat the oven to gm4. Butter a 7” pie dish. Put all the sponge ingredients in a bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until the batter is fluffy. Smooth in into the pie dish and bake for 20 minutes, then set aside and reduce the oven temperature to gm2.

While the cake is baking, prepare the plums and meringue. Slice 4 of the plums into 6ths and then chop the last into tiny pieces of plum confetti. Slice the ginger as thinly as possible and then cut the slices into tiny slivers (if you prefer, you can grate the ginger with a microplane grater) put the plums, ginger, syrup and 1 tbsp of water into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the large slices are just beginning to soften, but holding their shape. Set the pan aside to cool slightly.

To make the meringue make sure that the bowl you’re using is scrupulously clean, (wipe it around with a slice of lemon if you aren’t sure). Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until just at stiff peaks. Start to add the sugar a spoonful at a time until it’s all incorporated and you have a stiff, shiny meringue.

To assemble the pie, spread the plums over the sponge in the dish and then spoon or pipe the meringue over the top. Bake at gm2 for 25 minutes. Serve with cream or custard, or crème fraiche if you don’t have such a sweet tooth.

You’re welcome.

Monday, 2 July 2012

A Doll’s House at the Young Vic (Or, “Naive young woman takes a gap year”)

Last week The Director and I won a pair of theatre tickets in a raffle. The play was Ibsen’s A Dolls’ House at the Young Vic, so this evening we roped in one of our wonderful friends to babysit and went along. I’m glad that we didn’t have to pay for the tickets.

A full house on a wet Monday evening is certainly something to be proud of, and certainly the play has had glowing reviews from the Guardian and has had to extend its run to meet demand. I can see why it’s been such a success: what the audience is given is a shallow, easily digestible slice of jaded propaganda.
 The direction, courtesy of Carrie Cracknell is patchy- Hattie Morahan works incredibly hard as Nora, but the rest of the casts’ performances are so painfully restrained that she has little to work with. The blame must be shared by the director and playwright who between them seem to have conspired to produce a play in which only the protagonist is allowed to show any depth of character. I felt particularly sorry for Dominic Rowan as Torvald, who showed momentarily in the second act what he might have been capable of, had he been allowed to fill out his part. The character of Christine was wasted: so much more could have been made of her role, but she felt like nothing more than a handy deus ex machina. The “sexual tension” between Nora and Dr Rank feels formulaic and superfluous. The combination of acts one and two results in an interminable first half, by the end of which even an enthusiastic audience were starting to fidget and one gentleman behind me was audibly asleep.  There were numerous small errors- things getting stuck, lines getting lost in laughter or too-loud music which, while not terminal were irritating.

When Ibsen’s play had its debut, it must have been groundbreaking; the story of a young wife dealing with the repercussions of borrowing money and deceiving her husband comes to a dramatic close when the protagonist, Nora, opts to leave her husband and three young children to set off alone on the path towards self actualisation. At least, I think that’s the way the director saw it, and judging from the jubilant reaction of the audience it’s how quite a large proportion of them saw it too. I had, shall we say, a less sympathetic interpretation. Carrie Cracknell’s presentation of Simon Stephens’ appallingly awkward script was an irresponsible, immature treatment of a story which could have posed fantastically complex questions about love, honesty and self awareness. Cracknell takes a character who, through her own cupidity gets herself tangled up in a mess of debt and deception and portrays her as a devoted wife taking assertive action. She twists her attempts to pass the blame and run away from the repercussions into a defiant act of feminist self determination. Perhaps when Ibsen first wrote the play this kind of presentation could have been excused, but now, when we are dealing with soaring divorce rates and crippling debt through vast swathes of society, it felt lazy and clichéd. A tired, guardian-stroking feminist middle-finger salute to an obsolete image of “the patriarchy” which simply doesn’t feel relevant to a modern woman of Cracknell’s generation, at least, not to this one.
 Henrick Ibsen in “The Enemy of The People” writes, “The worst enemy of truth and freedom in our society is the compact majority. Yes, the damned, compact, liberal majority”. I think he would have been rather disappointed that his work has been given such an unimaginative outing.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Isolde, (that's Iz-ol-deh).

This post has been a long time coming.

I have sat down at my computer so many times over the last 10 weeks to try and write this story, and every time cowardice has got the better of me. I’ve looked at Facebook, I’ve bought yarn I didn’t really need, and tortured myself with Google searches into websites which I never thought I’d need to read, but to actually sit down and tell the world- or at least the three people I know of who habitually read this most sporadic of blogs- what I am about to write took fortitude that I couldn’t find. But now I’m ready.

My second daughter, my beautiful Isolde Constance was born just before 6am on Friday 10th February. My labour was frighteningly quick, and the dismissive midwife who examined me wasn’t there. After telling me that I was only 1-2cm, and that I’d “be hours yet” she left, leaving only the instruction to “take a bath, and some paracetamol and call me in the morning”. I knew she was wrong and that my contractions were too close together and too painful for this to be true, but I allowed her to leave and berated myself for being a wuss. Within 5 minutes of her departure my contractions were 3 minutes apart and hurt like hell. I remember wailing like a banshee and begging Harry not to listen, but not to leave me. And then I realised with the same strange feeling of revelation and relief as last time that I wanted to push: relief which lasted moments, before it dawned on me in a wave of terror that there was no one there and that we would have to deliver this baby ourselves. I remember screaming at him to call the midwife, knowing that she would be too late, knowing that within three minutes I would have to start pushing in earnest and that my tiny, longed-for second daughter would begin her final journey into the world which, despite months of planning, of shopping, of knitting was suddenly not ready for her.
I remember pushing, thinking that like last time, I would push, and push and it would take half an hour of agonising, exhausting effort, of labour to get her out, and then before the thought had even finished forming in my head, this tiny purple creature fell into my hands.
It’s a cliché that in moments of panic time seems to slow down, but it turned out to be true. I lowered this tiny thing to the ground and looked down to see the cord which had kept her alive and safe for the last nine months tangled around her neck and as I dropped to my haunches to unwind it Harry, behind me shouted in horror “you’ve sat on her!”. With surprisingly steady hands, I lifted her head and freed her,  and her tiny, furious cry came and shattered the strange calm which had stretched those thirty seconds out to feel like an hour.
When I picked her up and held her to my chest, covering us both with the first thing I could reach, a wave of joy and relief flooded over me and I laughed and cried and kissed her, breathing in the strange, almost chemical smell of a fresh, perfect newborn. I laughed as she wailed indignantly and looked up at me with the darkest of blue eyes. I said hello a thousand times and held her painfully close to keep her warm while we waited for the circus to arrive.

And arrive it did. Two midwives, two paramedics, even the Tea House chef. But for half an hour there was no one, the world had shrank to this one, softly lit bedroom and just me and this tiny, impossibly tiny person, finally calm and nuzzling at my breast for her first feed. For half an hour I felt exactly the same ecstasy and calm that I had felt after my first birth. For half an hour she was perfect.

The next part of the story hurts. For the last two months I had thought that I would never write this down, that I would try and forget the way I felt, the way I behaved and the things I said in those awful, awful hours and days after this troupe of strangers arrived in my bedroom and ripped my world apart. But actually, I don’t want to forget now. This evening I read somewhere that “God never wastes pain” and I want to believe that the anguish of what Harry and I went through in that first week serves some purpose, even if it’s just to teach me something about the danger of my own complacency. I have never loved more fiercely than in the days that have ripped past me since the 10th February and this new, painful love has left a bruise on my heart which will ache every time I look at this new human I’ve created.

The midwife could tell the moment she looked at my baby, that she had Down Syndrome. It was those eyes which had looked at me so irritably 30 minutes before which gave her away. They’re too far apart, on either side of a strangely flat little nose. Their shape too, is foreign- pointed and almond shaped. It is bitterly ironic to me that after having told every pregnant friend of mine that the horrifyingly distorted face of a newborn baby will soften and become heartbreakingly beautiful within days, the hardest thing to face now is that in my case, this will never be true. That funny little scrumpled face which I have already grown to love so much will never smooth itself out and –what hurts more- will never take on the shadow of mine or Harry’s. She’ll never look like a miniature copy of her sister or cause aging relatives to exclaim “she’s just the image of her father!” Isolde will always be, unquestionably, no one else but herself.

In the first few days after the official diagnosis, I felt like I couldn’t go on. The pain was so much that even trying to take a deep breath made it feel as though my throat had been tied. My head and my eyes ached constantly from having wept for the little girl I felt I’d lost, and for the little girl I hadn’t expected. I went to bed every evening and sobbed that I just wanted it to not be true. That I’d give up everything, that I’d live in a box under Vauxhall bridge, if this horrible fate could just be lifted from the tiny innocent in my arms. And the guilt. The guilt was the worst part: the agonising, hateful guilt that I no longer felt the unadulterated joy of that first private half hour. I hated myself for not being strong enough to celebrate the arrival of this child with the same pride and delight that I had felt the first time. For being scared of the future and all the unforeseen obstacles I suddenly saw in the path of me, and my tiny daughter.

But it faded. I am still sad for my little girl. I still worry what her future will hold, and I still feel angry that she has been robbed of the lot to which she should have been entitled. But I no longer weep every time the light is turned out and I no longer feel that terrible lump in my throat every time I look into those same funny blue eyes, which by now follow me around the room and gaze at me while she feeds. For now she feeds, and sleeps and cries just like any other baby and I have begun to realise that by the time it becomes apparent how different she is, I might not care anymore.

The love you feel for a baby isn’t like the love you feel for a romantic partner. Unconditional can’t begin to cover it. Parenting is the only job where you’re effectively trying to make yourself redundant as efficiently as possible, and the better the job you do, the more able you child will be to turn around and tell you “thanks, but I can do this on my own”. It seems strange to think that because of something so tiny as an extra chromosome, the whole world and my position in it might have changed irrevocably but I still hope that one day Isolde- my little Iggy- will be able to leave my side and do something amazing, that she might exceed the expectations of those who love her.

She is still an Iggulden, after all.