Making a meal of it

For  someone who doesn’t own a mixing bowl or a 12-hole bun tin, I watch a lot of food and cookery programmes. Blame it on Holby City, Toilet Duck, fungal infections and mouthwash. Stick with me on this one.

After a hard day at the coalface of magazine publishing, I arrive home at 8pm, prepare my microwave meal and sit down in front of the TV to eat. And without fail, just as I’m about to tuck into my M&S Lemon & Ginger Chicken Curry, the adverts come on. Suddenly I’m bombarded with giant toes brandishing discoloured nails, close-ups of lavatories in need of a clean, and mouthwash: ‘Simply swish, spit, and see the results in the sink!’ Er, not when I’m eating, thank you. I hastily switch channels, only to witness a patient in hospital drama Holby City vomiting into a bowl. Nice.

In an attempt to skip the sick and lose the lav, I turned to MasterChef. In fact, I’ve become so hooked, that when my microwave pings, I pretend I have two minutes to plate up and present my meal to the programme’s hosts, John and Gregg. Will my Tesco Lamb Moussaka, lovingly microwaved to within an inch of its potato topping, get me through to the next round?

But it isn’t only MasterChef that provides food for thought. Man v. Food, fronted by the boyishly handsome and charismatic Adam Richman has my stomach rumbling and my heart skipping in equal measure. Adam travels around America visiting pig-out establishments, sampling the house specialities and taking on scoff-tastic food challenges.

In Man v. Food, portions are always huge and look delicious. Burger buns burst with chicken, beef, melted cheese and pickles, and come served with generous side orders of fries and onion rings. No use denying it, the show brings out my inner American. I long to devour those juicy burgers dripping with melted cheese, or order a multi-deck marinated meat and salad sandwich. It’s this naughty-but-nice attraction that makes Man v. Food so watchable. I can enjoy my fantasy of  tucking into grub I don’t usually eat, while my hero Adam clogs up his arteries for me. Now that’s what I call love.

Despite the onslaught of boiling and baking and roasting and toasting, until recently I simply let these programmes wash over me as I ate, never seriously thinking I was actually going to cook anything. The notion just doesn’t appeal to me. I get home late, I’m tired and hungry, and I’m certainly not ready to spatchcock a chicken. But the relentless drip, drip, drip of MasterChef and Man v. Food, seems to have seeped into my foodie subconscious.

Inexplicably, on a recent overcast Sunday afternoon, I suddenly had the urge to make rhubarb crumble (or, more accurately, to eat some). The concept of using my oven other than for something to rest pans on, came as a body blow. I’m still getting to grips with the idea, so don’t expect  to find me in the kitchen elbow-deep in flour and marge just yet. But I’ll get there eventually. I’ve found the recipe and am working up to buying a pie dish. One step at a time, Jules. One step at a time. Just  hope I don’t make a fruit fool of myself and crumble at the first hurdle. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.

The phoneyness of the wrong distance runner

Everyone it seems, got a dog for Christmas. Strolling along Brighton seafront at New Year, I found myself side-stepping spaniels and making detours round dachshunds. And if I wasn’t being cornered by a canine, I was at the mercy of another breed that run around unleashed with their tongues lolling — the New Year, New Me Jogger.

Now, much as I like being approached from behind by someone panting wildly in my ear, I like to keep it confined to the bedroom. Being approached from behind by a panter in a public place, however, is somewhat disconcerting — and not half as much fun.

New Year, New Me Joggers seem to gravitate towards me. I was out walking, when, just within earshot, came the heavy thud, thud of feet. The sound gradually got closer and louder. Then came the panting in my ear. Suddenly, a blur of iPod, water bottle, Lycra and trainers flashed past, leaving a view of wobbly glutes and pale legs in its wake. Should a jogger run toward me, we sometimes make eye contact. For a moment, we’re locked together in empathy and agony. I can see the strain in their eyes; feel the pain in their hunched, bewildered  bodies, and our minds become one. They’re thinking: ‘Why the fuck am I doing this when I could be in Burger King?’ while I’m thinking: ‘As much as I’m used to men falling at my feet, I don’t want your adoration accompanied by a cardiac arrest.’

It’s not rocket science. You can’t lounge around all Christmas knee-deep in Quality Street wrappers and panettone crumbs and then expect to run a marathon. If you must insist on pushing your body to the limits, please don’t push it my way. And should you ever see me prostrate on the seafront, it won’t be because of a heavy jogging session. Oh no. I’ll have tripped over a terrier.

Something I wanna bring up…

While the heaving masses around me lie stricken with the winter vomiting bug, I’m just plain ol’ lovesick. That is, sick of not having someone special. I want chemistry. I want electricity. Not a 13-amp fuse type of love, but a full-on, CPR shock-your-heart-into-realising-you’ve-been-flatlining for-years, type of romance. Oh, for the honeymoon period of a relationship! Oh, the agony! Oh, the ecstasy! Oh, stop putting exclamation marks after everything, Jules!

Perhaps if I ask Santa very nicely, he’ll bring me a lover for Christmas. No, that’s what I thought. Best be content with my Barbie annual and a Walnut Whip then.

From hot to not (or The cruel exercise that is internet dating)

I recently joined a well-known internet dating site – let’s call it Match.com. I’ve had 170 hits so far and things are shaping up nicely. That’s to say the six or seven men who have contacted me, I’ve politely not pursued, and the six or seven men I’ve contacted, haven’t replied. That’s what us Librans like. A sense of balance.

 

But there was one guy I did make contact with. Let’s call him Stan.

I checked out Stan’s profile and sent him an email. He replied saying that he wanted to meet me and thought I was ‘hot’.

Now, I’ve been called ‘cute’, ‘funny’, ‘creative’ and ‘intelligent’ (all right, so I lied about the ‘’intelligent’), but never ‘hot’. OK, so Stan may use that line on all the girls, but it was a cheesy remark that made my little heart flutter like a lifeguard’s flag on a windy day.

We arranged to meet for coffee on Saturday. So there I was standing outside a well-known coffee establishment – let’s call it Costa – waiting for my date. And waiting. And waiting. After half an hour shivering in the winter sunshine and suffering with cold hands, I decided that Stan wasn’t the only one with cold feet and decided to call it a day.

Back at home, I checked my emails to find Stan had written that morning saying he’d had to work and couldn’t make it. Unfortunate, but it happens. He suggested dinner to make up for it, but I said that would be difficult during the week with me working in London, and that perhaps coffee at the weekend would be best.

No reply.

I wrote again four days later asking if he was still up for coffee, but as of today there’s nothing except  lovelorn tumbleweed blowing gently through my inbox. Stan is obviously the strong, silent type.

The word on the street is that I’ve been ‘chucked before fu**ed’, but being a romantic, and because my mother may read this, I prefer to say that I was ‘dismissed before  kissed’. Although, I admit, the word on the street’s version does have a certain ring to it.

Poor Stan. Now he’ll never know that he would have fallen hopelessly in love with me on our first date. He would have smiled as he gently brushed away the sticky, perfectly formed crescent of cocoa powder that I’d branded between my eyebrows after draining my cappuccino. Now he’ll never read the love poems I would have left in his pockets or feel my arm slide gently around his waist as we sat watching repeats of A Place In The Sun. Stan, it’s a cruel world.

So now it’s back to the searching. Match.com sends me five new ‘matches’ every day but, of late, accompanying my would-be suitors is a strange, scratching noise that gets louder with every batch. Oh, yes, I recognise the sound now. it’s the scraping of the bottom of a barrel as the Match.com computer tries desperately to pair me up with that suitable someone .

Could I really have exhausted the supply of single men in a 25-mile radius of Brighton in a month? Seems so. Now I’m being sent profiles of men who live in Aberdeen and a urgent request from the Match.com computer to ‘edit my profile’, thus widening my love net.

But there isn’t much of my profile I can change. Basically, I’ve said that I’m a Penelope Cruz lookalike who pole-dances in her spare time and has just finished researching her new book, How To Make Your Man Happy In Bed. I know, it’s a lousy profile. No wonder I’m not having any luck. Perhaps I need to sex it up a bit. Maybe say that I’m a stamp-collecting trainspotter who stays in on a Sunday to watch Downton Abbey.

It’s Valentine’s Day. I could have been spending it having my eyebrows licked clean of cappuccino by a man called Stan who thought I was hot. Instead, I’m writing this and updating my Virgin Media phone and broadband package.

Like I said, life is cruel.

A girl with altitude

Forget Burberry, BlackBerry, Jimmy Choo and Green & Black’s. If you’re after real shopping satisfaction, buy a stepladder. You may well raise your eyebrows, but once you’ve handled that firm but lightweight body, got up close to its supportive side straps and appreciated its British Standards-approved build, you’ll realise life will never be the same.

You see, it’s all very well living in a character building, but with 13ft-high ceilings and me being just shy of 5ft 3, it’s character building just trying to change a light bulb. My floor-to-ceiling windows are impressive, but I can’t reach the curtains to take them down when they need washing, or comfortably reach the smoke alarm to replace the battery.

It was time for action and when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. It was time to resist the seductive pull of H&M, Next and New Look. It was time to say ‘no’ to a Greggs’ Steak Bake and a Costa coffee on a Sunday morning. It was time for this girl to grow up and go shopping for a stepladder.

Determined to get over my fear of all things DIY, I gingerly stepped into Robert Dyas, willing myself not to roll over and die of boredom at the sight of screwdrivers and spanners, Rawlplugs and white spirit. Then, hanging out with the laundry baskets, there he was, tall, strong, and ready to help a damsel in distress – my £43 Atlas five-tread aluminium stepladder.

It was love at first sight. I quickly took in his sturdy frame and swooned over his lockable platform and slip-resistant feet. Now all I had to do was get him back to my crib. I did what any woman in need (and in love) would have done. I paid my money, slung him over my shoulder and headed up the hill to home. Reader, I carried him.

Within minutes of getting back, I’d torn off his protective wrapping, got him into my bedroom and up against the wall. I gently caressed his unflinching frame and he stood proud and steady as I mounted him. Suddenly I was working my way up to heaven and my tab-tops were getting the attention they so richly deserved.

An hour later, it was all over. I was emotionally spent, physically satisfied and deliriously dreamy. My tab-top curtains had been safely taken down, washed, and were now clean and back up at the window. My bedroom was a haven of happiness and heavy with the aroma of ladder love and Bold 2-in-1 Lavender & Camomile.

And it won’t stop there. Now I’ve got a taste for altitude and aluminium, I’m going to be mounting my ladder at every opportunity. I’ll relish resetting the smoke alarm, painting peeling cornices and making light of blown bulbs. Mark my words, this girl’s going up in the world.

The French connection

So there I was, staying with friends at their home in Burgundy. Immersed in enchanting countryside, warmed by the summer sun and seduced by the language, I had no choice but to surrender. I didn’t go to France to find myself, but I did come back wanting to find someone else.

One evening, sitting around the camp fire, mesmerised by the heat and the light of the flames, my thoughts turned to love. It was easy to fall. Gentle wind chimes soothed my soul. A warm breeze teased my bare skin. The sky was starry, and I’m a romantic. Nature had bought the orchestra – sadly, being a single girl, I didn’t have a conductor to bring it all together.

I love my life and my own space, but that night, and under those stars, I would have given my right arm to have been kissed. Sacrifice a limb for love? Melodramatic? Moi? Of course. Practical? Yes. I’m left-handed.

Cheap thrill

As well as the undertaker’s, my daily trip to the station has me passing an adult boutique. Handy. If I so desired, I could get suited and booted and ferried and buried in one fell swoop in one short street. How’s that for customer service?

Unfortunately, fetish clothing and fetish sex has never done it for me. I’ve never got roped into it by previous partners and the thought of being smacked and seduced doesn’t whip me into a frenzy. I’m more an H&M than an S&M girl, me.

If I want to get a thrill while wearing something plastic, I can slip a carrier bag over my head and stand next to the chilled desserts cabinet in Waitrose. Ooh, that wickedly rich tiramisu is such a turn on!

Dead strange

On the way to the station each morning, I pass an undertaker’s. Funnily enough, it isn’t the shop that makes me lose the will to live, but regular commutes on the Gatwick Express. The undertaker’s is merely a daily reminder that my travels up and down the same stretch of track are ultimately worthless, and that one day we all end up on the same path clutching a one-way ticket to Deathsville. See how commuting instils one with such joy?

But I digress. The undertaker’s window display is always, let’s say, imaginative. Previous exhibits have included a  wicker coffin (great if you want to go to heaven in a hamper). Then there was the white cardboard coffin with a patchwork denim lid. Dead groovy. Now, inexplicably, the window boasts a sea of pebbles and a deckchair. So Brighton, so bizarre. No gold handles. No brass nameplate. No explanation. Do the recently deceased simply sit back, admire the view and wait for St Peter the deckchair attendant? Is the message: Life’s a beach, and then you die? Whatever the intention, congratulations to the undertakers who, when it comes to coffins, obviously think outside the box.