I could practically smell the spring before I'd even yanked the window up. There is was, a low gold over the grass and the banks at the back of my house.
Saturday, March 11, 2017
I could practically smell the spring before I'd even yanked the window up. There is was, a low gold over the grass and the banks at the back of my house.
Posted by Stevie Mackenzie-Smith at 4:34 pm
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
The plan was to walk in, pick up the three bottles and get home as quickly as possible. It was one of those days that quickly turns from light to emotionally fraught, but internally so that it’s a fight to make sure nobody notices.
At work someone on my team said something like “You can always look at it again tomorrow, don’t let it break you,” and I could feel myself struggling to pass off an airy smile. That was the context in which I walked to collect the three bottles of Masieri i’d ordered from my housemate at the restaurant.
Of course, I was too far inside myself to remember those are exactly the conditions for which a long counter and a bartender were designed. I had that feeling again, that “who can I call?” feeling, but it turns out ducking in and staying for a drink was the only call I needed to make. One for the road. One for February! Funny February.
My housemate brought me a glass of wine "White, Red or Orange?" and I settled in, watching her walk the room, talking wine with the couples at tables. Every table was couples at tables. It looked a bit weird actually, two by two by two by two. But amidst the self-conscious rituals of St. Valentine's, I felt I had the better deal up at the bar by myself. My housemate looked smart in her apron. Because back at home I sit on the kitchen step and listen as she tells me that 2013 is her favourite year, or gets excited about a new order of White from 2005, I felt excited to watch somebody who fucking loves her job doing it right in front of me.
Behind the bar, the tender did that specific Twenty First Century dance of iPhone disc jockeying while making the barflies feel seen. He reeled off a brewery’s backstory when one of the patrons swigged his beer, nodded and said “sublime.” I tasted the wine in my mouth, attention switching between the bartender's movements and my magazine, committing to neither. The same dance. He poured wine, and flipped lids off beers for sporadic checks from the floor. Bottles of still and sparkling drinking water refilled, but each activity lasted only as long as a cruelly short song. Two minutes and 40 seconds, say. Then he’d be back, head bowed over the iPhone, fading and lining up. The songs were great. I tapped my foot against my stool. Songs that make you want to come back: familiar-sounding but unknown so patrons are sated while tasting something new. A Hot Chocolate song that wasn’t Sexy Thing or Every 1’s a Winner. One that was really smoothing over the edges in my mood, and which I was pleased to learn was a Grace Jones song called “Bullshit.”
But it’s not really stylish, is it, the business of iPhone djing? Even the words iPhone djing lack style. (I wanted to write them differently but there’s not really another way.) Too high a value placed on one part of the room’s elemental makeup, so conversational back and forth was always curtailed a moment too soon. But the dance was familiar. A year ago I was behind a bar too. Not a bar quite as calming as this but still, I was soundtracking the room, steaming my face off the pot wash’s latest litter of hot, clean glasses, trying to recall ingredients for this cocktail, holding forth, holding a poker face with a customer who may or may not press £1 into my palm afterwards.
My housemate laid a thickly folded napkin by my elbow. A free-sized bowl of mussels and a plate of something else small and mashed. Mashed celeriac for the adult babies that need it. My neck relaxed. I felt looked-after, glad. Glad for a city that bestows treats like these beautifully smoky mussels alongside all the barging and dogshit. Glad to have these nice things. It’s so easy to slip into feeling stormy. Sometimes food is nurturing enough to calm the seas so you question what on earth got the wind up in the first place. "The harder bits always soften up in time," a septuagenarian acquaintance told me in a Facebook message this week.
"The order is reversed. The mussels are cooked on the grill first, and then in the sauce," the bartender told me when I asked what made them so bonfireish. “But I don’t know which they prefer first,” He said.
“What the mussels prefer first?” I asked and did an impression of a mussel languishing on a hot grill.
Posted by discotheque confusion at 9:25 pm
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Posted by discotheque confusion at 11:08 pm
Friday, January 06, 2017
Two head-clearing lunchtime walks to the Barbican this week. It seemed, both times, the thing to do after feeling myself slipping down into a dark one. I think you have to find ways to hang onto the edges before you get sucked under, that you can manage on auto-pilot.
That's usually walking for me. Just getting out into a street and moving forward physically helps to smooth over the edges. No pressures, no need to do anything with your body but put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes a feeling of moving forward mentally follows too.
So on this Dead Eyed Day I bundled up and left the office, and headed quietly to the Barbican, deep in a Thousand Yard Stare. What I really wanted to do was go into the Conservatory and stand amongst warm leaves, burrow into that wet smell of any misty greenhouse. Dip my fingers into a pond, or touch a banana plant, or something. Sadly, the Conservatory is only open on Sundays. I asked one of the security guards, and he said "it's used for private events during the week." I peered inside and saw a small group of women, some moving slowly in twos, the others listening to a person wearing a lanyard, with all that space around them. I walked to the centre of the Estate, and sat on a bench watching the fountains.
The funny thing, and it feels surprisingly hard to type this in a plain way, is that this week i've felt jostled by social media. I've taken visible and even ambiguous signs of other peoples' successes very much to heart, in a way that I didn't used to. And it's left me feeling so glum! That i'm moving so slowly towards to things I want (even if in another week, I may feel differently.) Early January can be so raw! So it makes perfect sense that people want to do things to warm their own hearts a little, to reflect on the tangible successes our society is so obsessed with, and share them online. I do it too. Only standing on the other side it doesn't always feel so good.
There's a line of thinking i've been holding onto. It's this: when you feel things deeply, you get to live the utter euphoria of sheer highs. To experience a sort of giddiness which, for quite a lot of people, gets lost with youth. I felt that a week before Christmas. Listening to this remix of Bamboo Houses by David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto, and feeling that warmth that comes from deep within when the ride is smooth. I was walking to work, hands shoved deep in pockets, frosty nosed and I had a moment of thinking God, I never want to stop feeling this deeply. I never want to stop feeling like a teenager with a soaring heart when I have music that switches something on coming through my headphones. When you feel things deeply you get to experience all of those layers and that is a fucking gift.
But the point is, with the sheer highs come the utterly glum lows. Of course, how would either one side be sustainable alone. You need to air the whole thing out, to turn between the two. To keep moving, not static. Otherwise you wouldn't recognise soaring, even if it hit you across your frosty nose.
And so it follows. Last week I was building fires in my parents' woodburner on a daily basis, gladly cocooned in Christmas. Back in London, I was giddily sharing gelatinous steamed spring rolls on New Years Day with cute company. It follows that a little wave of grey could come, a sense of battling against a crowd but not being seen. Working in a building with 300 other people who check their phones whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, or the lift to reach the ground. Living in a city of 8.6 million who barge by (like I usually do) on a day when you need to go slow.
I'm writing this to put it somewhere. The fragility of mental health continues to be an absolute revelation to me, with every year that passes. There's still this side of me that thinks Jesus, why didn't my parents warn me? I knew there was something that separated adults and children, I just thought it was something vacuous like paying bills, or occasionally scary like cervical cancer screenings. I didn't realise being an adult involves sometimes turning around to find a fucking large cresting wave coming your way.
Words continue to bring solace, even if it's not always uncomplicated solace. Stringing words together is obviously a labour of it's own, and one that very much takes on the shape of ones mood. It's my day job, and the thing I try to tuck into my other hours too. Not always successfully, sometimes I spend more time admonishing myself for not writing, that my finest moments of eloquence will forever be confined to my Instagram captions. (No wonder Zadie Smith won't buy an iPhone.) But you keep chipping away.
The thing i've been wanting to get to, is swans. This week Helen MacDonald wrote this utterly beautiful piece of writing about swan upping, English national identity and a Stanley Spencer painting. I suppose that reading it was, for me, the equivalent of going to that greenhouse and finding a warm pond to dip a finger into. It is crammed with warmth: of the high July sun on skin, and a tenderness towards complicated feelings. Peppered throughout are dozens of words new to me.
So I think the task is to keep chipping away and finding warmth wherever it can be located, even if it takes a while. The tasks change over time, of course, but this one never feels far from the surface. I'm quite absorbed by the fact that next week marks the two year anniversary of my Granny dying. So my immediate task is wading through that. But this week, reading about the little boy describing the feeling of holding a cygnet threw off some heat of it's own.
Posted by discotheque confusion at 1:45 pm
Wednesday, January 04, 2017
The Christmas trees are out on the streets again. Some of them lying inches from the front door, so they look as if they've been kicked out arse first like the disgraced cat at the end of every episode of Tom and Jerry.
Knowing when the niggling thought ought to be put to bed. Knowing when the sentence is done, and the words are fit to stand without more fiddling. Writing is different, it's not always like the end of the meal or the end of a relationship when you can feel it coming. You get stronger in your convictions though, year by year, even if you might not realise it at the time.
Posted by discotheque confusion at 8:12 am
Saturday, December 03, 2016
This morning, like most Saturday mornings, I walked the few minutes to my favourite cafe. Past the restaurant where the owners and the head chef sit by the window, planning the order of service at a laptop among the empty tables and polished glasses. Past the kitchen door, open ajar, with sound of the radio and frying, empty cardboard boxes that probably held trays of mushrooms or greens stacked on the recycling bin outside.
People keep asking if, after six months, I am happy in London. They ask in a way that makes me feel self-conscious, that they doubt I am. Have I been too forthcoming about my awareness of the bullshit traps it's easy to fall into when you live in the capital city? Have I told the story of my colleague spending £8 on a smoothie with activating charcoal minerals too many times? Have I talked too readily about how much I love Manchester? I do love London. But I do not forget how living here means choosing to tolerate a certain level of comfort. A level that is probably slightly below the level you aspire to, or could have elsewhere. Smaller rooms. Inevitable acquaintance with other people's armpits on public transport. You throw yourself into a cycle of earning money to spend it quickly, and to spend it in a public way. To eat out. Go to markets, go to the theatre. To send the money back out, instead of putting it somewhere to pile up. Everything is transcient, especially the money. What I do love is that every Saturday I wake up and know there is something new for me to do. I meet people I might not meet in another English city. But maybe you can't love a city wholly when you live there? Any city becomes embedded in the ebb and flow of daily life, the fast tides of mood change, when it is home. I don't know if love is the right word for a city. Swells of happiness one moment, and domestic irritations the next: maybe love is entirely the right word after all. I haven't yet loved long enough to weather the highs and lows over a long period of time and see what's left at the end.
But walking to the cafe I felt heady off the low sun filling every corner, and the sight of a tall Christmas tree through my neighbour's window. (A house where children live.) On December 1st I saw the Dad dragging it down our street and felt the inner child, that jumps up and down so much more readily in December, rising inside me. "I'm really happy living here, right here," I think.
I meet Simran at the cafe and we decide we both ought to get Sea Salt Hot Chocolate. The room was filled with other women, all having their Saturday morning catch-ups. It often feels like that. Most mornings I get to listen in because i'm there by myself. A few months ago two friends in their fifties were talking about the break up of a marriage. Overhearing it made me feel claustrophobic because it was the same conversation I was trying to avoid having with myself. "The thing about being an adult," the reassuring one said to the sad, reluctant one, "is that you have to learn to be your own adult."
Posted by discotheque confusion at 3:08 pm
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
“Do you ever eat Aligot?” I ask my French housemate after reading about this marvellous, hug of a dish which - because it is French, is clearly so much more than bog-standard cheesy mash.
I’m lying on the sofa with the book I just started resting on my stomach. Probably won’t be that committed to it tonight, I concede. Other important matters to put to bed. The ‘Year in Cheeses’ book is found easily on the shelf and consulted. Made with Tomme de Laguiole, served with a Morteau sausage.
“Morteau…does that mean, like, Sausage of Death?” I ask, imagining something Black Pudding-ish. “No,” she shakes her head, “ it’s a region.” We leaf through the book together in silence. There are infinite new foods to eat, and sausages to know the names of. When am I going to learn French? I think to myself. All that, and then the normal things too, like the unread books piled on my bedside table, the e-newsletters to open, films to catch while they’re still at the cinema. Vague panic about the small things starts the rise.
“Aligot doesn’t fix anything,” one Aligot advocate writes in the New York Times, “but it does put a little cushion between you and the abyss.”
My broodiness for food is revived after a spell of dormancy. While the interest in food itself didn't fade, the ability to nurture myself with rustled-up meals did. It was dulled by a general weariness, apathy blotting the effort of making a proper meal in favour of something quick and 'enough'.
Looking for that "little cushion"
The instincts for warming ritual, which coincide with early winter have awakened a somewhat primal urge to fill up and build a nest. Looking for that "little cushion" has become a gastronomic endeavour, in much the way that buying three lambswool jumpers is the equivalent sartorial effort. Hot baths, whiskey in drinks, wrapping up wherever possible. Reading hungrily about Aligot, slicing cheese onto toast, my body leans into a natural desire to hibernate.
And so with this stomach-rumbling reawakening, this November could be recorded as a food diary alone. A quick scan of my bank statement would tell the story. On Sunday 6th, I ate herring roe for the first time. Meaty, and curled in on itself in tumbling piles over toast. We ate it before the ceilidh at the Herring Fair in Hastings. And seconds after the dancing, because it was too good not too. In a demonstration for pickling Herring the woman says that Herring can live up to 22 years old, though you wouldn’t want to eat them when they're that big, as they tend to have picked up more pollutants over time. I ask her how long other fish usually live for, and she doesn’t know, but we agree that 22 years seems surprisingly long.
On Wednesday 9th, I ate a Braeburn whilst listening to Trump's victory speech through headphones, and disbelief allowed my need for sustenance to override the usual appley sweetness as I walked to the Doctors in the rain. The ends of my new trousers sucking moisture from the pavement. My GP didn’t know it had happened until I told him.
On Monday 21st, I once again fall into that end-of-the-day Thousand Yard Stare when faced with the boxes of vegetables outside outside the grocers. To pick one of the root vegetables I would never buy, take it home and drive a knife into it or… stick with what I know? Stick with what I know. I carry lychees and plums home in a plastic bag for pudding.
On Wednesday 22nd, which is the day today, I am writing this and drinking one of the bottles of pink Moscato I bought from Australia last year. I bought it back with me, anxiously wrapped alongside a box full of pottery, only to see it casually for sale in a shop in Manchester. It tastes good, because I don't have to share it with anybody else and wonder whether the transit was worth it. If somebody else was to share it with me, they might say "God, that's sweet", and it is. It tastes like those fizzy apricot Haribos you can very occasionally find in a shop. They too, are worth the transit.
My designated fridge shelf is above the shelf where J keeps all of her cheese. The smell hits me each time I open the door. She eats cheese with most of her meals. White, matte bits of goats cheese, like paper clumsily bashed off a wall with a chair leg. Sometimes just chunks of (I don’t know the names) cut straight off the block and eaten at the counter. At the market over the weekend I buy two cheeses. One is a truffle pecorino, which I gather is rather trashy because who needs their pecorino infused with truffle oil? Still, it is utter crack and I plough through it in two days. The other is softer, good for melting over a tomato sauce. I take our breadboard, piled with slices of bread, the cheeses in their wax paper, and caramelised onion chutney from Co-op, into the dining room and spread out at the table. Rain thuds down on the plastic roof over the utility room. Storm Angus dutifully arrived. Really no reason at all to sweat the small stuff, the unopened newsletters, the episodes my colleagues have watched and I have not, when you can make a Sunday afternoon taste like this.
Reading and Listening
- Jeanette Winterson on rye bread, carols and Christmas food rituals
- Ruth Rogers on Monocle's The Big Interview podcast
- Cypriot olive oil from Embassy Electrical Supplies
- Double Solitude by Donald Hall and the last Leonard Cohen profile, each purely for their references to eating sandwiches with lovers at lunch.
Posted by Stevie Mackenzie-Smith at 11:26 pm
Monday, October 03, 2016
I'm wrapping my scarf around my neck. (Wrapped around once with just enough left to tie a knot under my chin. Or "shorter than we consider stylish these days" as Henriette Lazaridis describes that particular tie in a article I read in ELLE on the plane the other week. I like it tied like this, it makes me think of my Mum dropping me off at school.) I'm wrapping my scarf around my neck, and throwing my arms into my coat and I have to find a song to play for my walk home that'll keep my mind feeling as alive and full of ideas as it is now. It's easy enough to stop at the pub on the way home from work and have a glass of wine and a generous bowl of green olives (two cocktail sticks) and finish a book. It's better still, lucky even, to feel buoyed by that arrangement. To have things that pop and fizz around your head and require a receipt or slip of paper to scrawl them onto. But then how do you transport yourself home without popping the bubble?
I listen to Steve Reich, who is always at his best when you're kinetic. His strings, his clarinets are lively and cinematic when one foot is moving in front of the other and you're on the go, with a destination and a delight in the getting there. I listen to The Four Seasons: I. Strings because it's high up on the quick-to-click top-rated list. I much prefer Steve Reich when I'm walking. Once I was listening to him whilst walking around Manchester in the evening and came across an empty convertible, all doors flung wide open in the middle of the street outside the glassy Hilton skyscraper. Nobody seemed to bat an eyelid but I convinced myself, I became absolutely certain, that it was about to gloriously blow up. I was listening to Desert Music, the sort of high-octane yet gloomy soundtrack that lends itself to the obvious culmination of exploding car. A car must explode when there's a chorus of operatic voices. Of course nothing happened, and I walked on with only my heightened anticipation, but the point is that Steve Reich, or in fact the majority of music listened to through headphones on the move feels cinematic.
I don't mean cinematic in an egotistical "i'm in a film" sort of way. Really, I'm sure I don't have to explain it at all. The success of the Walkman and two generations of music-in-ear devices comes down to the fact that we all understand that entrancing state. Just like me in the pub, we're with people, surrounded with them, but without people. All alone with the music. It's unnatural to be walking around without the accompaniment of the real sounds around us (stillness, leaves, footsteps, car horns) But it's right! It carries you along, it gives lends your movement a rhythm, it frames a moment in exactly the way a cinema screen frames a moment. The frame of the camera. The frame of the screen against a darkened room. The focus of you inside the room, the world safely outside of the auditorium.
With headphones in your ears, a sort of focused mental frame comes down. Suddenly, with the removal of outside-world sounds, there's less to distract. An awareness of the movements of the people on the street becomes heightened. Sometimes they're heightened because you've had one glass of wine on an empty stomach but. So I walk down Columbia Road and it's properly dark now. My hands are deep down in my pockets, my scarf cosy and tight and the sharp air is drumming little stabs at my knees. A warm upper body and a cold lower body is usually delightful for about two weeks right at the start of Autumn. The novelty soon wears off. But for now it's truly on. This is a great stretch of walk. I'm glad I started taking this short cut. Internally i'm cooing at the fronts of the houses along the street, and how, in the darkness they make me think of Victorian London and kids with hoops. I feel like an American tourist. I never want to stop loving cities like this. If I ever stop loving cities like this I honestly may as well be dead.
Walking down Broadway Market people are bundled up in their coats eating Italian at the tables on the pavement under heat lamps. Up above us in the flats over the restaurants, two men lean out of their windows and hold a conversation across the street.
Back at the pub the things I wrote on the back of a receipt were: "there is only me, this evening, here on earth." From a passage about an acquaintance, an actor known for his powerful monologues, who is reading Beckett to an small audience in his apartment after a stroke has badly affected his speech. Sometimes you underline a sentence in a book and come back to it only a few months later and fail to understand the significance it held. Maybe tomorrow I won't even feel the same way, but sitting alone with a Picpoul and a briny pile of olives it means something. It makes me think of how no two theatre performances can ever be the same, and how that marks a gorgeous unique energy between a cast and their audience. We will never have this ever again. It makes me think of making eye contact with a stranger on a train. Only a stranger you've enjoyed noticing of course, and standing beside them as the carriage snakes and bounces along. And that moment of shared eye contact says the same thing. This is it! Now or never. I am constantly falling in love with strangers on trains. Aren't we all, though. We don't need to know anything about the other person, only that if you'd said something to them, really said it out loud then you'd inevitably end up embarking on that one great affair. A longer than brief encounter.
I finish the book - Vivian Gornick's The Odd Woman and the City. I'm probably going to read it straight away again, something i've never done. This book has really caught me at the right moment. I check Facebook. "It's too late for sympathy and prayers, so please spare me - i'm now trading only in raw love," this is the latest post from an old family friend. Seng-gye is a character. Calling him a 'character' actually just sounds condescending and doesn't do him justice at all. He's bloody marvellous. And he's important to me, even if I haven't seen him for around 11 years. He and his family lived in the flat downstairs when I was between the ages of 3 and 10. He wore one of those army surplus-type utility waistcoats with all those pockets. Lots of khaki. Always bare feet, even on the streets of Redland in Bristol. He has a bald head, a long grey beard (now temporarily banished with the chemo) and one eye, after a motorcycle crash in his youth. He kept the eye in a jar of formaldehyde in a jar in the flat! I was in absolute awe of it when I was little. He didn't wear a glass eye, or cover it up with a patch, one of the sockets is just sort of... dark. I thought this was very cool. I still do. He lived with two partners and their three children. I'd never been to a house that had three adults in it like that. I absolutely loved them. I was always hanging out with the kids, mixing perfumes from lavender and sage and water in the garden, arguing with them and getting to understand the varying levels of feelings in very sensitive human beings, having them show me slow worms in the garden out the back. My Mum left the latch to our door open do I could come and go, racing up and down the stairs to hang out with them. I'd jump into their beat up Land Rover (sometimes Seng-gye would scream at us to be quiet in the back so he could focus on the fucking road!!!) and later into their old American Chevy (it had actual carpets and armchairs in the back and a heavy sliding door!) and we'd all go to the 24 hour Tesco Superstore in Eastville and get baked beans and chips at the cafe. (We'd go late at night! Like, 11 o'clock at night!) He's recently been diagnosed with what looks like terminal cancer. In his Facebook post Seng-gye scientifically outlines the pros and cons of chemo and the realities of the poison and asks "if you need to visit, bring good food! If you need to see me, you have NOW!" I don't even feel that sad. Of course this is another it's now or never! but it just feels essential. We're all waiting for it, and here it is, explained peacefully. Yeah. What else is there to say? Here's my raw love. I have it. I love this man, and I love his family. I think about the time he put on his roller skates (rare footwear) and cycled over to my Granny's house to help her out because her back was bad. The strange, important adults in my life. They went into her bedroom and closed the door and he clicked her into place and we could hear all these comedy noises coming from the room and my Mum and my Mary absolutely pissed themselves laughing through the whole thing. I looked up at them and didn't really understand why it was funny but I joined in too because it's fun to all get the giggles together. I have raw love for so many people who are and aren't here. It stays though.
Posted by discotheque confusion at 9:29 pm
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Posted by discotheque confusion at 8:38 pm
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Posted by discotheque confusion at 4:35 pm