2016: reflections and resolutions


Driving through Yosemite’s gargantuan mountains during a trip to California earlier this year I couldn’t have felt further away from the troubles of the world. Everyday concerns seem small compared to colossal slices of rock that have probably been standing longer than we’ve been counting the years.

It was a peaceful pause, which is in many ways what 2016 has been for me – a year to happily get on with the job I’ve for so long been fighting for, a brief window of respite from financial worries, where I no longer fear the mid-month bank phone-calls, but haven’t yet forced myself to knuckle down and do some serious saving. A year surrounded by good friends, having good times, before people move away to far-off places or move on to new stages of life.

But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that beyond the confines of my own life, the last twelve months have been anything but calm. It’s been barely possible to keep up with the news, with a new unrest or atrocity erupting before you’ve had a second to process the last one. It’s devastating to know that we’ll never hear another new song by David Bowie or Leonard Cohen, that George Michael won’t make any more “fuck you” videos, or that Carrie Fisher has written her last hilarious missive using only emoji, and that’s to name but a few.

And it would be naïve to think the wave of political and cultural desolation we’ve seen sweep through 2016 could be stopped by a simple change in the calendar. Dismissing many people’s plea 2016 to “do one,” presumably to make way for a utopian 2017 and the resurrection of Ronnie Corbett, writer Joe Kennedy recently said he “despise[d] this calendarial meme for its droopy passivity,” and he’s right to call out our collective apathy.

None of these things are happening because the moon and stars aligned particularly badly this year. 2016 has been a bad year only because it’s the point at which result of many years of poisonous politics have finally come to fruition and we will continue to feel the consequences for many years to come. The Brexit vote did not happen in a vacuum this June, it was born out of the failings of several past governments, and its devastating impact does not look likely to be quelled by the current one’s shift to the right, and any opposition’s apparent shift off the face of the earth.

2017 won’t be about breathing a sigh of relief while sticking our tongues out at 2016, then. It will be about fighting for things not to get even worse than they already are, and about doing our best to support the people whose lives have already got harder, and will inevitably see their struggles grow.

It will be about being informed and being vocal; voting for positive change and calling out those in power when that change doesn’t happen. It will be about remembering the most important things, like family and friends and simply living, while sharing kindness and compassion with those who need it the most as the world crumbles around us.

On one of the final few days of this year I attended a wedding. During the marriage blessing, the immediate families of the bride and groom stood beside them while the vows were read. The groom’s father had died a year earlier and his mother stood instead with her other two sons. When she wept at the mention of her absent husband, the groom reached behind him and took his mother’s hand, his brother squeezing her other. It was a powerful show of unity and a reminder that even in the face of the greatest devastation, when you cling tightly to what you have left, life, and love, continues.

Later in the ceremony the bride and groom smashed glasses, as is customary at a Jewish wedding. The smashing of the glass represents the destruction of the holy temple. A description of the tradition explains: “the only antidote to fragmentation is unity”. As the Rabbi offered the cloth-wrapped glass to the couple, she noted the importance of embracing happiness, especially in troubled times. “There have to be moments where joy is not only permitted, but necessary,” she said.

So my resolutions for 2017 are simply this: spread joy, offer kindness. It looks like we’re very much going to need it.


The Best Meals I’ve Ever Eaten


Laura Silver

Duck egg, 1988

I hate eggs. The last time I ate an egg in its pure form was at a Little Chef just outside Bournemouth in 2001, aged 16. There was nothing wrong with said egg, which was fried, but by the time I’d finished eating it I was certain that was quite enough eggs for me for one lifetime.

When I still lived in my family’s hometown of Liverpool, I spent many a Saturday afternoon with my Nan, her sister, my auntie Winnie, and Winnie’s husband, Billy. Sometimes we’d go to the swings at Sefton Park – a dream day out for a three-year-old on Merseyside – or sometimes just play in the garden at auntie Winnie’s house and have lunch.

Boiled eggs were one of the few things I would eat as a fussy child, along with fish fingers, spaghetti Bolognese, dry pasta, and Richmond skinless sausages. One of those Saturday afternoons, my Nan said she had a surprise for me. It turned out to be a duck egg, which my granddad had picked up from somewhere, and she cooked it for me with toast soldiers.

It was huge, with a creamy white shell, and was far more exciting than the boring beige eggs I was used to. Best of all, it was especially for me, in all its cartoonish glory.

Winnie and Billie died a few years ago now, and I don’t see my Nan nearly as much as I should, but I still cherish those Saturday afternoons we spent together, and few meals have given me the sheer joy I got from eating that duck egg.


Chicken McNuggets, 1990

Me, my parents and my brother moved to Birmingham in 1989, and Saturday afternoons there were more often than not spent trailing my music-loving dad around record shops, or worse, record fairs. I’m not sure there’s anything duller for a child than waiting around while nerdy-looking adults flick through box-after-box of vinyl in disused shops or empty office spaces.

On a recent Record Store Day, there was a picture doing the rounds on Twitter of a bored-looking little girl standing outside East London record shop, Rough Trade, presumably awaiting a record-collecting parent. I felt for that child. (Although I must admit, I benefitted from my dad’s dedication when years later, he moved to Spain and gave me all his records).

Around the time of my fifth birthday, on one such music hunt, we were finally heading back towards New Street Station when my dad uttered the dreaded words: “Just one more record shop and then we’ll go home”. Whatever the five-year-old version of “fuck this,” is, I thought that.

But instead of turning into the now-closed Virgin Megastore at the end of Corporation Street, we carried on into a nearby McDonald’s. Whatever the five-year-old version of “FFS, what’s going on now? What are we doing in here?” is, I thought that, because we never went to McDonald’s, except for when it was a serious treat, which there’d been no such talk of.

But a treat it turned out to be. We were going for a fifth-birthday tea and they’d tricked me with the extra record shop talk to make it all the more exciting. My best friend from school was already in there with her mum and sister, completely by coincidence, so we sat with them. Whatever the five-year-old version of “well this is a turn-up for the books” is, I thought that.

I had Chicken McNuggets and strawberry milkshake, things that taste wonderful at any time, but are especially glorious when they’re a birthday surprise and you thought you’d be surrounded by dusty cardboard for another half an hour.


Chicken and ham pie, 2007

I’m of the belief that a true food lover will embrace the whole culinary spectrum. For every fancy dinner out they might save up for, or unusual ingredient they’ll work out how to cook, they’ll have a six-pack of Pepperamis stashed at the back of the fridge and an unflappable loyalty to microwave lasagne.

At 31, I love chicken McNuggets as much as I did when I was five years old – and yes, I’ve seen how they’re made, no, I don’t care – but I’m pleased to say I’ve expanded my horizons. I find cooking deeply soothing, and I’m always keen to try and recreate a dish I’ve read about or eaten, especially if I have people around to feed it to. Bringing people together and having them enjoy food I’ve made is one of the truest forms of satisfaction I know.

I also love to have food cooked for me – particularly if it means going somewhere nice and making a night of it.

One of my first trips to a posh restaurant was by accident. I was 22 and had recently starting going out with someone, and one Friday night, we met up at a pub in Notting Hill with the vague intention of finding somewhere good, but cheap, for dinner.

We were at that stage where you’re past the uncertainty of whether or not you like each other, while still being high on each other’s existence. Several drinks in, we absent-mindedly wandered towards Westbourne Grove, not a place I would recommend for a bargain dinner, and ended up in one of those fancy restaurants disguising itself as a pub.

You’ll know when you’re in one because despite the casual façade, you won’t be allowed to sit at a table if all you want is a pint and some chips, and said tables will be set with heavy cutlery and more than one kind of wine glass.

Resigned to our fate (and let’s be honest, drunk), we decided eat there anyway and deal with the consequences later. As we were being seated, I spotted BBC Sports veteran Des Lynam across the dining room, enjoying dinner with a group of respectable-looking friends. This was going to be expensive.

I got a creamy chicken and ham pie that had the crispiest pastry and juiciest, smoky ham with the kind of obscenely buttery greens you only eat in restaurants, and dauphinoise potatoes. All of it was as comforting as you’d imagine a table-full of high-end stodge to be to a pair of pissed people, and we washed it down with another bottle of red wine.

I remember waxing lyrical about the wine’s “deep cherry flavours”, like simply entering a nice-looking, grown-up restaurant had qualified me as a sommelier. In all likelihood I’d read it on the menu.

Turns out though, throwing such rich food crashing into the waves of a stomach full of booze is prone to make one sick and walking to the tube station afterwards, I began to feel very queasy. But I was determined not to ruin the evening’s romantic vibe by heaving behind a parked car and I didn’t want to splatter £30 worth of food – a lot to me at the time – all over the pavement. Thankfully, I managed to hold it in.

The next afternoon we sat in the park finishing off half a bottle of last night’s wine that we’d been too drunk to drink, and too poor to consider just leaving. It didn’t matter that we were probably too hungover to properly enjoy it, or that the weather was greyer and damper than you’d want for sitting outside. Life felt sweet.


Roasted cod with confit cherry tomatoes, 2012

Just under five years later, we split up. For months we dragged out conversations about what we could change or things that might make each other happier – insisting that all couples go through rough patches, and that if we just spent a little bit of time doing things separately to work out what we each wanted, everything would probably be fine.

What we wanted, we eventually admitted, was to spend all of our time separately.

When a relationship has simply run its course, rather than ended as a result of an event or betrayal, it can be hard to know where the full stop goes. We knew it would be at least another month before we could get rid of the flat we rented, but in reality, we’d not been “together” for months, even if we hadn’t known it ourselves. Keen to avoid such limbo, and not to have yet another, “is this over?” conversation at home, which would only end when sad and exhausted, one of us would tearfully fall asleep, we decided to go out for dinner to discuss our next moves.

Choosing a restaurant to mark the demise of something you once thought might have been forever, is, as you can imagine, tricky. Pick an old favourite place and good memories will make the process all the more painful, let alone ruin it for the future. Go somewhere you don’t like, on the other hand, and you’ll simply invite further displeasure into an already bleak situation.

In the end we chose Dean Street Townhouse, which has a chic, brasserie-style dining room and is on the discreet, rather than grand, side of elegance – like an expensive black silk shirt or a light pinot noir. Neither of us had been there for dinner before, so it held no associations, nor was it somewhere either of us were likely to frequent much in future.

We would have dinner, formulate a plan, and then go home together, perhaps for the final time. I arrived first and sat at the table for two I’d reserved with a glass of crisp white wine and the paper, before our waiter showed my soon-to-be-ex-partner to the table. It probably looked like we were on a date.

The roasted cod I ordered was light, juicy, and fell into delicate flakes with the slightest prod of a fork. I’ve never been able to get fish right when cooking it at home – it always ends up dry with slimy skin. But in a chef’s capable hands, it was perfect. Served with it were sweet little confit cherry tomatoes, offering a burst of intense flavor to the mild fish.

We talked about how sad the last few months had been with a glimmer of hope that it proved we were making the right decision. The four-and-a-bit years we’d spent together had mostly been great, and we were thankful to each other for that. We could still be friends, which was far preferable than growing to resent each other by dragging something out that wasn’t meant to be. I could stay with a friend for a couple of weeks while we looked for new places, and he’d heard earlier that day from our landlady that she was understanding about breaking the lease on out flat.

It was early summer, and the soft, golden evening light poured through large windows into the airy dining room, shimmering on polished cutlery and voluptuous wine glasses. I was glad we’d decided do this over dinner. It felt like we were raising a glass to the past, rather than severing ties and burying it.

When I think of that relationship now, I think of happy times from a different life, and I’m certain that having ended it over a dignified, memorable, and ultimately celebratory dinner plays no small part in that.

Home, hope and yellow lentil soup

lentil soup

Laura Silver

Pulling into Peckham Rye station after a few days away recently, I felt instantly at ease. The flat, grey sky and leaky-roofed platform might not seem like a pleasant contrast to Lyon’s glittering turquoise Rhône, beside which I’d sat with an icy glass of rosé just hours earlier, but it was home. A lifetime of sun-kissed French aperitifs can’t compare to that.

I hadn’t even stepped off the train when I forced myself to shrug off the sense of comfort that had begun to wash over me. This is only home for as long as my landlord stays sitting on the sizable investment I pay to sleep in every night.

As soon as they do cash in, I’ll have to find myself a new area to grow familiar with thanks to the continually sky-rocketing “market rate” of local rents (average Peckham rent: £1,698-per-month), which our estate agent has already threateningly informed us we pay below. Staying in the place I call home would cost me an amount I almost certainly can’t afford.

I’ve made a home of wherever I’ve found myself enough times before, and I can no doubt do it again somewhere else, but then what? Try to put down roots in one of the few parts of London that remain affordable only to have them swiftly ripped from the ground again when that postcode also gets swept up by buy-to-letters, trade-uppers and (increasingly rare) first-time-buyers looking for a bargain?

With the government’s “help-to-buy” scheme offering support on “affordable” housing up to the cost of £450,000, buying has long been off the cards for me. Last I looked, half a million won’t buy you very much in London, nor is it by any stretch of the imagination within financial reach of very many people.

A journalist for the Independent recently accused “younger people” (the average age of a first time buyer is anywhere between 32 and 38 in London, depending who you ask) of having a “misplaced sense of entitlement” when it comes to a desire to own a home. But it’s not “possession of deeds to a property” as he puts it, that I’m so desperate for. It’s the security of a home for an indefinite amount of time, which with the absence of any real rights for renters, is currently impossible.

Quite aside from the desire to stay in one place for more than two years at a time, London’s running out of affordable places to move on to. When I first moved to New Cross in 2003 (average rent then: £810-per-month/ average rent now: £1,412-per-month) I saw “Penge” as no more than a funny-sounding place-name you’d see on the front of a bus. Today I’m just about laughing in disbelief that the Bromley-bordering suburb (average rent £2,073-per-month) has already become far out of my reach.

I could of course leave London, which even when the property market still had a vague whiff of affordability about it, was an expensive place to live. But I’m a journalist, and the media’s precarious. I’m lucky enough to have a job even in the city where most of the industry is based, so while I might be able to do away with one form of instability by leaving, I’d only be inviting in another. Besides, with new reports showing a sharp decrease in home ownership outside London, most notably in Manchester, it seems people are being priced out everywhere else too.

Stability itself has become the thing to aspire to, and I’m well aware that I’m coming at this from a position of privilege. I have a good job and I can afford to live in relative comfort even if I have no guarantee on where or for how long. How’s anybody supposed to have any hope if even that’s not enough anymore?

But there must be hope. As I abruptly remind myself most days that I’ve really been served the best possible version of this shit sandwich, I try to remember that there always has to be hope.

I’ve found myself thinking a lot recently about a yellow lentil soup that I’ve cooked countless times over the years. It sits somewhere between an Indian dhal and Northeast England favourite, pease pudding, in that it’s essentially just yellow lentils cooked down in stock until that point just before it goes so thick it’s solid, with a few spices added to give the flavor a lift.

It’s especially nice when you’ve got some homemade chicken stock knocking about, but it’s just as good made with an Oxo cube as its salty, savoury blandness is really where much of its appeal lies. If you’ve only got it in you to throw in a couple of pinches of chilli flakes and a teaspoon of garam masala, you’ll still find yourself with a pleasing bowl of soup, and if you can muster up the time and energy to temper some cumin seeds and fresh ginger in a bit of oil and throw that in at the end it’ll be all the better.

Lentils and stock must be the cheapest most compatible foods you can come by, which is probably why people the world over have been cooking them together in some form for centuries. Just throw them in a pot and try not to forget about it while they bubble their way into a tasty, hearty dinner over the course of about forty minutes.

Yellow lentil soup is a meal you can make when you’ve got nothing left to give, and can always be relied on to offer warm, easy comfort.

I cooked this dish the most a few years ago when I was not only feeling especially displaced, but was also struggling through a mountain of debt on a salary that didn’t even begin to cover it. Not only was this soup incredibly affordable, but cooking up a big batch and coming back to it day after day while my world whirled around me offered a sliver of simplicity that often felt like an anchor.

Sometimes though, I’d want nothing more than to join my friends at work to have lunch out wherever, and as I spooned my way through the fourth bowl of the week I’d wonder how on earth I could ever make things better.

But things did get better, immeasurably better, in ways that snuck up on me and changed everything.

Now when I make that soup, and contemplate the fresh set of challenges life has brought, as it has a tendency to do, I’m still comforted by the soup’s warm familiarity. It also reminds me that even when you think there’s no hope, it’s always lurking around there somewhere.

Ingredients (makes loads)

1 mug/half a bag of yellow split peas

1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock

a pinch of chilli flakes

a teaspoon of garam masala

1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped

a teaspoon of cumin seeds

a tablespoon of olive oil



Put the lentils, stock, garam masala and chilli flakes into a saucepan.

Place on the hob. Bring to the boil.

Lower the heat to low-medium and simmer with a lid on for 30-40 mins. The lentils may sink to the bottom so it still looks watery, but that’s OK.

Check every now and then that the water isn’t starting to boil dry. Add more hot water, half a mug or so, if it has.

Stir. You’ll know it’s done if the lentils break up and become soupy on stirring. If not, simmer longer until they do. Add more water as needed.

Season. How much salt you’ll need depends on the stock you used. Lentils could do with a bit of salt.

If you feel like it, gently fry the ginger until golden in the oil. 5mins. Low heat. Add the cumin seeds. Fry one more min. Throw in the pot. Stir.

Serve. Remember things can always get better.















I’m through with online dating. Chance would be a fine thing…

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 5.10.01 PMFor work reasons, I spent two solid days reading men’s online dating profiles last week, and what a shit-show of long walks in the park, sipping cocktails and eating roast dinners by a cosy fire they were. Nowhere are afternoons wandering around a gallery or a good gig more prolific than on the quietly needy pages of Guardian Soulmates. If anyone did these things as much as they say they do, the Tate and Brixton Academy would be the biggest pick-up spots in London (unless you’re into tourists or teenagers with Sam Smith tickets, they are not). Speaking of London, there’s a hell of a lot of men looking for love who might already have found it in the form of ‘this enchanting city, with all its exciting possibilities!’.

Of course, women’s online dating profiles probably come with as many of their own tiresome clichés, as plenty of men were quick to point out when I published my takedown of the unoriginal dick-heads that keep liking mine. Personally I think women on dating sites are having the piss taken out of them enough every time some cretin with ‘up for a giggle’ in his bio starts angling for a shag, so I’m leaving that particular stone unturned.

Essentially though, we’re all lying, because admitting that you spend your time getting pissed, watching telly and googling horoscopes until you find one that sounds good, probably wearing trackies, isn’t the best way to get a date. But even if we weren’t, could you really determine whether you’d have a connection with someone just because they tick all the boxes on your mental checklist of what a person should be anyway?

Last week the New York Times recalled a study by one Dr Aron that claimed love could be conditioned between two strangers by asking each other 36 questions, from ‘what would constitute a perfect day for you?’ to ‘what, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?’ followed by staring into each other’s eyes for four minutes. Supposedly, as the intimacy of the questions increases, so does the connection between the strangers involved. While the participants of said study, and the writer trying the technique did indeed fall in love, she’s the first to admit that ‘you can’t create romantic feelings based on convenience alone’, citing various other reasons she and her partner could have ended up together anyway.

That you could coerce intimacy with a simple set of criteria is an appealing idea, but one that I have trouble believing in, both in Dr Aron’s study and in the context of online dating. I recently stopped seeing a guy after a few dates because despite the fact that according to his Soulmates profile he wore the right clothes, read the right books and even in real life pretty much said the right things to make me want to go out with him, the elusive connection you look for in a person worth pursuing was not the sum of those parts.

When I have fallen for anyone in the past, they’ve never fit some pre-determined picture of what I think I look for in men, nor have those connections ever occurred in situations I’d particularly sought out. But that’s the exciting thing about letting chance take over – you learn things from people that might never have occurred to you before, and in turn, end up learning new things about yourself too. Frustrating as it may be, chance is about as easy to go looking for as four leaf clovers, so your best bet is to embrace doing the things that make you happy on your own, and you might just end up crossing paths someone amazing, if chance is on your side, and if you don’t, so be it.

After publicly lampooning the attributes men were using to promote themselves I became very conscious of what was written on my own online dating profile, a simple list of my likes and dislikes – ‘Lennon not McCartney’, ‘an olive not an onion’ – that probably made me sound like as much of an arsehole as the rest of them, and in the end changed it to the straight-forward one-liner: dick head averse. ‘If you’re basically writing “fuck off” on your profile’, my housemate said to me when I told her about this alteration, ‘it’s probably time to just delete it’, and she’s right, so I did. Am I really likely to find a soul mate on Soulmates anyway? Fat chance.

A resolution, of sorts

New Year's Eve, 2014

New Year’s Eve, 2014

Considering I began 2014 feeling like I’d been smacked around the head with several wine bottles, knocking out any real memories of anything past 10pm the night before in the process, this year is already off to a triumphant start. A pleasant night of (rare) dancing with mates, devoured jerk chicken on the way home and a hangover that was far kinder than a load of chemical beer should allow, is hopefully a sign of a more positive year to come.

For me 2014 was a bit like a service station sandwich – it served its purpose while being completely unremarkable. It was a mediocre year spent trying to change self-doubting, negative behaviours, and tentatively sowing seeds for better times to come.

This summer I lost my job, which turned out to be a total blessing. It hammered home that there are just some things that you can’t control, so stop trying to. You can lay out your intentions for career, or relationships, or what you’re having for dinner tomorrow all you like, and the rug can still be pulled from under you at any time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the best out of whatever transpires -‘life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’, as my mother likes to quote John Lennon.

I’m not trying to suggest that redundancy can be a liberating career change for everyone, but I was very lucky that enforced freelancing meant I finally got to write for a food title I love, interviewed an author I hugely admire, and cashed on all those teenage years spent dicking around Birmingham City Centre wearing too much eyeliner.

So my resolution for 2015 is simply this: stop fretting about the future when you have so little control over the present anyway. Simply be kind to people, don’t be scared to seek out opportunities, write without worrying about it being shit or if anyone will ever read it, and speaking of reading, do as much of that as waking hours will allow, because you can never learn too much. Keep running and eating well because health is more important than anything. Be positive and have fun and the future will probably be fine whatever it turns out to be.

With my 30th birthday approaching at the end of January, this year also marks a new decade for me, and I don’t doubt that it’ll fly by even faster than my twenties did. I still don’t have the answers to whatever I spent those years moaning about, and I fully expect to meet you back here when I’m 40 feeling just as clueless, so instead of wasting time bitching about some existential crisis that I’m totally not even having just because I can’t afford a flat to myself, and I’m still incapable of picking my clothes up off the floor, I’m just going to try and enjoy myself.

Spice apple procrastination cake


Laura Silver

You’ll often hear freelancers, or people who work from home, say that their house has never been cleaner than when they’re working to a deadline. Especially if their line of work happens to be creative. Soothing is the regimented task of bleaching out the bathroom tiles, or following the prescribed formula of re-alphabetising a bookshelf when you’re supposed to be sifting through the messier parts of your brain hoping to find gold.

It’s a peculiar kind of ennui that can set in when you find yourself filled with ideas but unable to focus them in any particular direction. I’ve spent the last six months working as a freelance writer and the hunt for commissions takes up a lot of my time, but when an editor bites, actually writing the thing can become more daunting than the prospect of a financial drought, should my pitch emails go unanswered. I’ve mapped out an entire short story collection while spending my evenings running (my latest form of procrastination), but when it comes to committing ideas to words, I’m stumped. What if those ideas sound naive and juvenile once let loose from my own mind? How could I possibly create something that isn’t a laughable imitation of all the Nora Ephron, Miranda July, A.L. Kennedy, Raymond Carver or Samuel Beckett I’ve been filling my mind with lately in an attempt at expertise by osmosis? Beckett! Who do you think you are? Says the sleep-preventing voice of self-doubt that whispers in my ear at 3am most Sundays.

This isn’t a case of writer’s block, to me that self-aggrandising excuse conjures images of old Victorian novelists, clutching their brows while waiting to be struck with a lightening bolt of inspiration. Instead it’s a creeping sense of inadequacy, a resistance to creating for fear it won’t be good enough, the feeling of drowning in a sea of ideas that rages stormily, out of my control.

With cooking, there’s none of that. You follow reliable steps, safe in the knowledge that you will have a tangible end product. Even a recipe that doesn’t turn out as you expected, it still yields a valuable thing. Your story may turn out to be boring or derivative, but you can still enjoy a dry roast chicken with enough gravy.

And so I found myself yesterday, amidst a slew of writing deadlines, accountable to actual editors and ones I’d imposed on myself, baking a spiced apple cake. I have no need for cake. Sweet things have never been my favourite, I’m always ridiculously chasing a weight five pounds below what it’ll ever be and I certainly don’t have the money to splash on ingredients for the most superfluous of foods. You can’t have cake for breakfast, lunch or dinner (although that’s what I’ll be doing now that I have a massive, unnecessary cake that needs eating), and I don’t have plans for guests to consume it.

But while I may have only got through two thirds of my work yesterday, and god knows when I’ll manage to move the stories I’ve been thinking about beyond wild declarations in the pub, I found triumph in the simplicity of a cake. It was the kind of damp sponge created by baking stewed fruit into it at the bottom of the pan, like an ‘Eve’s pudding’ I distinctly remember my mother making once, even though she never really baked (hey, maybe she had work to do). Laced with cloves, cinnamon and star anise its flavour turned out to be as warming as the comfort I got from feeling like I’d achieved at least something this weekend.

So here’s the recipe, should you find yourself in need of a creative escape, or just fancy a simple, autumnal dessert.

Writing about avoiding writing might seem paradoxical, I know, but then I’m sitting here with my coat on, avoiding going to the gym, ‘just quickly bashing out a couple of sentences’ that came to mind while staring mindlessly out the window earlier. Justifying wasting time on the internet in The New Yorker recently, Kenneth Goldsmith said that ‘drifting, daydreaming, and procrastination have long been a part of the writing process’. Here’s hoping he’s right.


6 apples (I used Granny Smith, any kind will do)

250g of butter

220g of caster sugar (plus a spoonful more for the topping)

200g of wholemeal flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (Side-note, I was out of baking powder and 2tspns of bicarb worked fine)

4 eggs

1 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

A few cloves

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of all spice

1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

100mls of ginger wine

A handful of sultanas

A handful of oats

A handful of flaked almonds


Peel and chop the apples into cubes. Place in a saucepan with a nob of butter, the ginger wine, the cinnamon, cloves and the star anise and allow to stew on a med heat for 15-20 mins, stirring occasionally. It should end up looking like apple pie filling. Remove the whole spices and set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl.

Whisk the eggs and little by little, alternately add them, the baking powder/bicarb and the flour, sieved, to the butter and sugar, whipping in as you go.

Stir in the powdered spices, the sultanas and a couple of tablespoons of the apple mix.

Grease a cake tin with butter and add the apples. Top with the cake batter and spread evenly.

Bake at 180c for 45mins-1hr, checking that a knife comes out dry before removing from the oven.

Meanwhile, add the oats, almonds and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to a dry frying pan. Allow the sugar to melt and toast the nuts and oats in it while constantly stirring, being careful not to burn it (turn the heat down med-low once the sugar bubbles), for a few mins. Spread onto a chopping board to cool.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool for ten mins. Turn out onto a plate allowing the apples to tumble over the cake.

Break up the oat/almond mix and sprinkle over the cake. Slice and serve warm with vanilla ice cream now, and cold with a cup of tea later.


You’re an open book. We all are.


How much time do you spend feeding your inner-monologue into the internet? I, it would seem, spend a lot. I recently noticed it had been exactly five years since I dropped the standard ‘who gives a shit what you had for lunch’ line and signed up to Twitter to publish my thoughts in digital soundbites. At the time of writing this, I’ve tweeted 31,0320 times. A quick google tells me that the average word length in the English language is 4.5 characters, so knocking off a bit for spaces and punctuation, that number of tweets equates to around 900,000 words. To put that into context, my tweeted word count comes in just short of Proust’s gargantuan collection of consciousness, In Search of Lost Time, estimated to be about 1,200,000 words, and considerably ahead of Tolstoy’s notoriously lengthy War and Peace, which Wikipedia claims comes in at 587,287 words. Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations pales in comparison at only 185,258 words. Should I be searching for any time I might’ve lost, I certainly I know where to find it.

A part of me wonders just what I could have created, had I thrown the same number of words about more purposefully, but there’s no doubt my, and other people’s feeds, actually do a pretty good job of telling a story. There’s plenty of things I make a point of not talking about on Twitter – I personally keep relationships, for example, to myself (or a group iMessages at least), but it’ll all be there in sub-tweets, incongruous @s, notable silences, or strings of strategic Instagram likes, if you know what you’re looking for. I would never have announced a break-up I went through on any of my feeds, but having previously crowded my chat with cooking experiments and television commentary, I did publicly register my interest for a room-for-one, and tediously tapped out tweets that wondered how I came to have woken up wearing my coat in bed when last I knew, I was at a party. That, I would say, tells you all you need to know.

In a brilliant piece on The Cut recently, Maureen O’Connor mused on the idea that while you might avoid your exes IRL, you can never fully be shot of them online, such is the inevitability of them lingering in your feeds. I personally have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to following anyone I’ve been involved with on any social networks (Instagram’s the most dangerous) but that doesn’t stop people popping up in conversation threads or pictures posted by mutual friends, and every now and then you’ll wince as much when you see them re-tweeted into your timeline as you would if you actually bumped into them.

Like it or not, the internet means your baggage is laid bare, but has it ever really not been? In an exhibition of work by Jacques Henri Lartigue, currently showing at The Photographer’s gallery in London, the following 1931 diary except precedes images of the blossoming, and subsequent demise of his relationship with Madeleine Messager, known as Bibi: ‘And now it is up to you, modest photographs, to do what you can – very little, I know – to tell everything, explain everything, make everything be imagined. Everything, even and above all, what cannot be photographed’. Indeed, Bibi’s distancing gaze from the lens as the series moves throughout the 1920s expresses as much of a distance from her husband as a verbal explanation could.

I recently found my 3G shielded by mountains in a beautiful enclave of Snowdonia, and in the absence of internet, expected to be offered respite from my, or anyone else’s, subtext. It didn’t take long though, to work out that while social media is an enabler of personal projection on a large scale, like in Lartigue’s photographs, people wear their stories as clearly headlines on their faces, and camped in close quarters among fellow wilderness-seekers, it wasn’t hard to read theirs. Opposite my friend and I, a father and son – who, on a side note, totally reminded me of the central duo in Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Monro – sat in bored silence until a mother and her son pitched up next to them. The two children made instant friends, but the two parents’ reluctance to interact with each other spoke loudly of their differing worlds. In a tableau that illustrated the tale I assumed for them almost too perfectly, both adults sat metres apart, each in their own camps, backs turned to each other, with their children playing in between – a bleak picture of loneliness. Maybe I spent to much time with little more than the moon to stare at, and read more than was there, but you have to admit either way, it’s the smallest things that reveal the most.

Rooting through the boot of my mother’s car, which I had borrowed for the trip, I discovered a bag containing a stale baguette and a pot of hummus. She’ll often carry snacks like this, apparently unable to find anything she’ll actually want to eat away from home, and being very much a creature of habit, she’s been stockpiling hummus since she, and the rest of England’s aspirational middle class, took a shine to whipped chick peas in the early 90s. Looking at these two seemingly innocuous items of food, festering away in the heat, was as good as having her jump out of the car-boot herself, such is the clear snapshot of her character they offer.

It starkly reminded me, that you can opt out of the internet for a few days, or forever, but people, and everything they mean to you, will remain around you all the same. You can can control what makes the cut into your feeds all you like, but happening upon what my mother had absent-mindedly left in her car, I knew that for the rest of my life, and long after she’s gone, a pot of hummus will tie a knot in my throat far tighter than a rogue RT I didn’t mean to see ever could.