Thursday, March 23, 2017

Practical tips from friends

We're an amalgamation of all sorts of habits and off-cuts picked up from others, so there's usually a story behind everything we do, even if we don't know it.

A cool thing about being a human is that memories become tied up in smells, tastes or routine tasks, so you can be washing your hands with a particular soap, or clipping the hedge in a certain way and quickly be transported to another time or place. There are certain tasks we do, that halfway through make us think vividly of those who showed us how to do it in the first place.

Maybe you know somebody who receives practical tips they didn't ask for un-begrudgingly, and you could be the person they think of as they approach small daily tasks with a new confidence!


When you rinse an empty jar of mayonnaise there's inevitably one stubborn blob at the bottom, just beyond reach. If your tap is strong enough you might make it budge, but either way, it's good to have autonomy in these moments. My friend Rose taught me that popping a sponge inside the jar, filling it with water before screwing on the lid and giving it a good shake does just the trick. Think of all the uses for a squeaky clean old mayo jar! Or the deep sense of citizenship you'll feel to recycle well-rinsed vessels only. 

My Granny was a marvellous present-wrapper, and she had a few tricks up her sleeve which are perfectly attainable and really down to organisation rather than skill. Her wrapping was neat rather than meticulous, and it looked fun - clashing colours and ribbons curled with a scissor blade. First, there's the matter of owning a wrapping box. You just make one and fill it with whatever you find - that fun pink tissue paper than comes with orders from Zara, silly fruit stickers, bubblewrap offcuts or ribbons from cakes or Lindt bunnies at Easter. Recently my favourite bakery started selling goods in these little bags with line drawings of people having all sorts of fun so I shook out the crumbs and put that in my box too. The other thing: tape. Treat yourself to a proper heavy dispenser. Life is too short to be chasing the end with one hand or hanging it off a table edge while you hold a fold.

To make a fire, start with a bed of paper 'doughnuts'. My Dad showed me how to pull a double page from a newspaper, roll lengthways and fashion into a double knot. Tuck it in on itself nice and tight. For a smaller domestic fire (like in a woodburner for a fireplace) 4 or 5 should be enough. Build a pyramid of kindling on top, and with a match, light the doughnuts, and blow. Place two logs on top. You just completed one of the oldest rituals known to man!

After my last break-up Simran lent me her Nars lip pen in 'Dragon Girl', because it's good to wear punchy red when your heart hurts. I was struck by how generous this was, to just hand over a fabulous lip pen like that. (I'm not really in the habit of lending anything other than books, and even then...) This pen, I learned, is so much better than lipstick because it clings to your lips through meals and drinks, so you can look good without constantly checking whether you still look good. Another thing I learned is that you don't always have to buy something new for your friends, sometimes you just give them a thing that'll tide them over.

I'm sad I spent so many years cooking carrots with such a lack of inspiration! I make a great salad with grated carrot. And of course, there's roasting. But any attempt at boiling spawned these joyless orange things of the school dinner variety. All of this changed two months ago when I saw Henry cut a load lengthwise and throw them into a small frying pan with olive oil, and just enough water to cover them. Some cumin seeds, salt and pepper and a few minutes of steaming under a lid. What emerged were these beautiful, oily carrots - for once a complement, a pleasure to fill a plate with, rather than an shitty afterthought.

When in a public toilet, never fill your hands with soap before checking the water runs first! We've all been there, but there are only so many times one should endure the humiliating routine of wiping handsoap from your palms with thin toilet tissue on a train that's tossing side-to-side. This one's from me to you. Think of me next time.

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