Friday, September 07, 2012

Kitchen, Breton clichés in onions and books, and a shadowy angel.

More from the diary of home improvements.  But it is something to be quite smug about: top cupboards all done. We got spice racks that hang on poles from Ickier-and-ickier, then my motley collection of ancient and encrusted old spice jars, reused jam jars etc didn't fit and really looked a bit yuk, so for the first time in my life I have a set of matching, spring clip spice jars (not from Ickier), all lined up and new and shiny.  My slight unease that I may have sold out my make-do and mend anti-consumerism, that I have descended into the final stages of Stepford wifedom and my brain has shrivelled to the size of a pistachio, is easily allayed by the sense of order and the quite immoderate delight I take in spring clips.  I didn't throw out the old spices, mind.  I observe that I own very few dried herbs, only really oregano and tarragon, preferring fresh ones.

The only cupboard remaining to be built is the one over the cooker hood. We had begun to hate the old cooker hood, which was quite a few years old now. It was noisy and inefficient, bits had broken off it, it had sharp edges inside which would cut us when we tried to clean it. Tom tore it down and took it to the tip. I understand steel, which it mostly was, is totally recyclable and recycled.  We got a new one, from aforesaid  Swedish-home-store-bent-on-world-domination-much-hated-by-many, with charcoal filters.  In the picture above it can be observed held in place by a piece of kitchen string, an interim arrangement.  It came with its own screws and rawl plugs, Tom began construction of the cupboard above it, removing the string, believing he could trust said fittings for a short time while he did so.  He stepped outside the door to cut a piece of wood, where I was already to be found, probably doing something pumpkin related or putting away the deckchair after an interlude under the sumac tree with a cup of tea and Mr Weston's Good Wine, for such is the indolent and whimsical life I lead while my husband toils to improve our worldly lot

We hurried inside when we heard the crash.  The hood lay prostrate on the cooker rings; it was still plugged in though the pins were rather bent, but the motor and even the bulb still worked.  Our beloved yellow tea pot, Tom's new china tea mug with the periodic table of the elements on it, and various other important, cherished or simply potentially messy items which were close by the scene of the catastrophe were mercifully untouched. A saucepan of peas defrosting on the cooker had been interestingly catapulted across the surrounding area, but there was no water in the pan, and they were easily picked up and rinsed, though one or two showed up in unexpected places later. Tom was mortified and could only see the calamity, while I could only imagine how much worse it could have been and felt rather silly with relief.  I don't tend to think of myself as a glass-half-fuller; I suppose if it had been something for which I had felt responsible it might have been different.

The screws turned out to be pathetically inadequate wood screws, and barely to make an impression in the ill -fitting rawl plugs.  They were replaced by something more fit for purpose, and as I write now, the whole structure is much advanced, the cupboard largely built and, like the rest of the kitchen for which Tom had sole responsibility, it is of industrial strength and solidity.

And while we're in the kitchen, I did the done thing with the Roscoff pinks, or the ones which were up for being kept, there were a few which were damp affected and needed to be used straight away.  It's not exactly a bicycle-handlebars' worth, but they're very good and satisfyingly strong-stemmed for plaiting.

Mr Weston's Good Wine. Though I'd read a few John Cowper Powys books over the years, and knew about this one by his brother Theodore, for some reason I'd never picked it up before, and can't remember quite how I came to decide to do so now, except I've long been fond of Salley Vickers' Mr Golightly's Holiday, but only lately understood its debt to Powys's earlier novel.  Though in an afterword Vickers acknowledges this debt, while asserting that the essential idea which they share came to her initially independently, I hadn't quite realised quite how much of an after type of work Mr Golightly is. I felt somewhat cheated, as the whole conceit of that book, which ideally one shouldn't spot immediately, but which once you do, makes you want to re-read it again to pick up all the previously unseen pointers, jokes and references (such as the line about how, within the firm, Michael was considered to be a 'perfect angel', which the first time I read it was unconsciously with the stress on the word 'angel', then, with hindsight, it shifts to the word 'perfect') seemed so original and surprising, whereas now I know that if I'd been acquainted with the earlier work I would have seen everything straight away and wouldn't have been so pleased and surprised. 

I  had a bit the same experience reading Zadie Smith's On Beauty before I read Howard's End.

This doesn't constitute a review, and is somewhat elliptical, I know, but I don't want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't read the books but wants to.  I don't actually like trying to write reviews; picking up that Wiki link about Zadie Smith, or anything of the kind really, gives a glimpse into a world of ideas such as hystoriographical metafiction which I am too atrophied, dull and limited, and always was, to gain admittance.  Never mind, there are always kitchens and pumpkins.

I keep wondering whether to give up on contemporary literary fiction altogether.  One way or another I often seem to finish up feeling cheated and or unsatisfied, but then I'd miss out on so much too, cutting off my nose...

B the German doctor passed on a Joanne Harris, Coastliners.  I really wish she hadn't, I'd given up on her (JH) once but felt I ought to try again as a friend had offered it. Anyway, I just found this review of it which made me heave a sigh of relief that it wasn't just me who felt that way, but in the same sigh made me miserable that I didn't have the courage of my convictions, or couldn't have expressed them so forcefully, or that even perhaps I saw something of myself and what I do here as practising something of the same crass romanticising dishonesty ... 

Anyway, at least I didn't waste my time trying to finish it, and my excuse when I returned it was a genuine one, that I really can't cope with the strain of dialogue which is supposed to be in French in the story written in English.  I don't know how this can be done well, or at least to my satisfaction; it will either sound like it's written 'with a French accent', using words and idioms conveyed as transparently and literally as possible, which ends up sounding cod and self-conscious, or else you write in ordinary, colloquial English which is equally unconvincing because of course language isn't only about expressing the same ideas using different words, the words actually shape the ideas, people think differently, express things differently in different languages, or even different dialects or versions of the same language, which is why Americans writing as Brits and vice-versa can seldom quite pull it off.  I just keep finding myself thinking, yes but can you, would he, no you couldn't ever say that in French, or if so, how? It may be partly a block of my own; I'm frustrated that I wouldn't know how to say those things in French myself, and the strain is greatly increased when the characters concerned are Anglophone's supposedly speaking French amongst French people, so that a sense of jealously mingles with the unsuspended disbelief that they should achieve such a degree of mutual ease of expression and comprehension when I can't. Whatever, it gets in the way. It got in the way of my owning the conviction that Joanne Harris writes totally meretricious rubbish (at least in this book, and in the other French set novels of hers I've read, I quite liked that spooky Victorian Gothic pastiche she wrote before she got famous with her winning formulae), because I thought perhaps it was just my problem, and it perhaps gets in the way of my appreciating better writing when I can't get past it.

Don't know if this makes any sense, or if it matters or is of any interest. 

Jean-Paul has finished at last, and his work is beautiful.  More on that very soon.


Angel in the house.


Zhoen said...


the polish chick said...

just so you know, people with pistachio-sized brains rarely use words like "immoderately" and "allayed" so you have absolutely nothing to worry about.

i love the joanne harris review, by the way. i've been blathering to all who want to listen (and many who don't) about the first in that horrid "girl with a dragon tattoo" trilogy (i simply could not force myself to read beyond the first book) and my feelings are very very strong. this review made me feel justified in expressing a vociferously negative opinion. hurray.

by the way, nice onions! (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)

Dale said...

Oh yes, it's usually excruciating to read supposedly American dialogue by Brits or vice versa. In mystery novels I usually think "we're supposed to spot this person as an imposter, right? Can't possibly be an American."

I'm glad the teapot survived!

Roderick Robinson said...

Years ago - or so it seems - I kept prodding you to post a photo of your kitchen. I was BB in those days and quite importunate, but a fat lot of good it did me. Tiny corners we saw, but no panorama. When prodding didn't work I posted pix of our recently renovated kitchen, a difficult task since ours is L-shaped (like yours) but with longer legs. No response other than a sort of stealthy criticism to do with cupboard knobs. Finally I took up a stance that would have been worthy of India-Rubber Man, got about two-thirds in shot, used Photoshop to add a host of numbered pointers, provided a legend identifying the high spots and posted that. Still this secrecy.

Now when my unshared interest runs to words like fugato and our kitchen (as far as I am concerned) does sole duty as the Kings College Chapel choir-stalls you finally strip yourself naked and reveal all. Why the delay? OK you don't have a Neff but then few do, and you do have a ceramic hob which means you have conquered the ludicrous and very British middle-class tendency to revere flames. Neither do you have a four-slice toaster but you can easily defend yourself by imputing (stealthily) that the LdPs are simply given to excess. You are also - at least for the purposes of ensuring a Home and Garden quality (Ah, the virgin tea towels!) to these photos - space efficient. I don't think you need worry about Stepford Wifedom; or, if you must, then the LdPs must admit to Stepford Wife/Husband-dom. Boy are we neat and it's all down to obsessionally anal Lorenzo.

OK your kitchen at the time was work-in-progress and The Fall of the Hood of Cooker was yet to come. But why not a Before and After sequence or is there still a degree of shyness abroad?

Parenthetically may I add my sympathies to both of you - but especially Tom. Cooker hoods are cursed objects. Replacing the filter paper on ours takes on a metaphorical resemblance to the all-intrusiveness of sin. You tell yourself you will restrict the collection of ancient fat to your finger-tips and within an eye-blink your elbows are tainted. Up there with my head touching against satanic grease (a terror out of all proportion to reality) I am in Blake land.

Probably too long. But quite quite heart-felt.

Lucy said...

Thanks chaps.

Polish - I never would have thought you'd need justification to express a vociferously negative opinion! That review is a bit of a belter, isn't it though? I've gone back to it a couple of times I like it so much. Oddly, it's one of the very few negative reviews I can find of it though. I don't know if it's because she's half-French that she gets away with it, to my mind that makes her 'commodified and stereotypical', as Jeffries puts it, image of France even less excusable, as she must know better but does it just to pander to what her market wants. IMHO she is vastly over-rated and hardly anyone seems to have noticed; everyone takes her at her own valuation. Between ourselves I feel the same about Stephen Fry, whom I'm afraid I very largely find a patronising bore, but wouldn't even dare confess that on an open blog for fear of becoming a pariah, or worse still having to justify my dislike.

Erm, onions. Oh dear, I don't quite know what you are implicitating (my attempt at a GWBush kind of word). I'd best not take any pictures of the glossy pert little pimientos I bought to string up from the spice rack (not really to cook with, just to look at).

Dale - that does sometimes happen, doesn't it, that a clever sleuth will spot fake American diction. Mostly you're probably just cleverer than the writer! It's supposed to be one of the insupportable things about the 50 shades books that they are riddled with Britishisms. The least of one's worries if one found oneself reading them, I'd have thought.

We do love that tea pot, and, touch wood and fingers crossed, it's done pretty well...

Lucy said...

Lorenzo - you get your own response lest I use up my 1400 odd character allowance!

I don't remember making any comments about your cupboard knobs. It's quite difficult to get a kitchen shot that isn't all wonky isn't it? I tried straightening these out but it's very lossy and anyway, which line does one take for a datum? It was always unfinished and messy before, now it's proper and worth photographing.

I seem to remember you saying that all the mouldings on the doors were dirt traps and would not find favour in the BB/LdP home, and you have a point, but they were solid wood and affordable, and I still like them, they've not dated badly, though we couldn't get the varnishes we used first time round, and the originals have seasoned quite a bit, but it all comes together OK.

No Neff, though I'm sure they're wonderful, just a fairly cheap Central European inox gas and electric combo, and actually no ceramic hob, that's the strengthened glass lid to the hotplate which serves as a splashback when raised. I could probably be converted to ceramic or induction or whatever, but I'm afraid memories of crappy slow wasteful electric rings inclined me back to gas, which is supplied from a small bottle under the sink.

We did have a four-slice toaster, and that would be my choice, but they are difficult to come by in the land of the baguette, and the last one we had, despite being some reputable make like Morphy-Richards or Russell Hobbs or something, stainless steel and looking the business, died quickly within a few months of the expiration of the guarantee.

Actually I was a bit concerned the tea towel, slightly less than pristine and a bit of a naff one with Australian birds on it, let things down somewhat, but you didn't really expect us to take a picture with a manky, grubby tea towel did you?

It hasn't quite reached its final state of order, but we're still quite twitchy about keeping it neat, Tom especially, who moves things back into place by millimetres. But it is such a pleasure to have room for things at last, and not have stuff all over surfaces moving inwards all the time as if by slow motion centripetal force, and it is worthwhile trying to get it straight and keep it that way.

The satanic grease sounds horrid, if funny. These filters are kind of flat charcoal filled drums. I usually just open the window anyway.

Catalyst said...

Dahling, your kitchen make-over is simply divine!

No really, skip the Talullah Bankhead accent. I love the look of it. Your Tom is a treasure. Truly.

Oh, and nice onions.

Roderick Robinson said...

We were getting rid of cabinet doors like yours, not for aesthetic reasons but simply for low maintenance. A growing imperative as one ages. The new ones are sleek and featureless and the installers had provided an ingenious system of temporary handles (made out of masking tape) while the knobs were being acquired. I posted a pic and you suggested, perhaps hinted, certainly implied, gently urged, touched our collective elbow, breathed on us breath of God, putting forward the view (HJ eat your heart out) that perhaps knobs would be superfluous if not de trop. Now, two years on, I look at those knobs which I myself chose (no blame must attach to Mrs LdP) and in my heart of hearts I realise you are right. Why else do you think I hang about Box Elder in garment-hem-touching mode?

Re: low maintenance. Better still, employ cleaners. Which we now do.

Lesley said...

Give me some hystoriographical metafiction (whatever that is) over Joanne Harris any day.

Cooker Hood said...

Great work on your kitchen, it looks great.

rr said...

JH is garbage of the most pernicious sort. Someone gave me "Chocolat" or whatever it's called thinking that the subject matter and the rave reviews hailing it as a work of literary genius would be the ideal combination for me. Seldom have I been more irritated by the yawning chasm between expectation and reality. Cheated doesn't even come close. And yet my opinion seemed such a minority voice that I'd given up hope for the world. People reading crap isn't a problem - it's their right to be entertained by it. I read loads of crap. But I know it's crap. It's turds polished and arranged to look like something significant that get my goat. They're still crap. Let's call a crap a crap. Or something like that.

Lucy said...

Lesley and rr - looks like there's more of us Joanne Harris haters about than might first appear, we clearly ought to be more out and proud about it. RR - your turds polished and arranged echoes what Jeffries said that the worst thing about her is her writing doesn't have the courage of its own cynicism and ponces about pretending to be literary fiction. Mind you a lot of what I've read that assumes that label - often affecting to despise genres while firmly laying claim to a better class of genre, as they see it - strikes me as mediocre at best.

As to historiographical metafiction, hysterical realism (I unwittingly conflated the two, which is probably a sensible thing to do, thereby killing two post-modern birds with one stone) I suppose, like ammonium sulfate I've probably eaten plenty without even knowing it...

Cooker hood - I am letting your comment stay, as did Blogger's spam filter, as I think it rather amusing, nay touching, that someone in the wee small hours trawling the web in some lonely box somewhere from a website selling cooker hoods has found my blog and left a comment complementing me on my kitchen. I live for these moments. Actually, your work here is done as I took the bait and followed your link back, so the joke's on me really.

Lucy said...

Damn, I meant complimenting, not complementing.