This utterance from my good self sprang forth during a moderately tepid online conversation this morning and, indeed, having typed these immortal words I at once threw down my phone and marched to the kitchen to get some sausages out of the fridge. Being so incredibly British, I am not especially comfortable with either dealing with or expressing emotion that extends much beyond ‘I’m very well, thank you’ and rely heavily on food and drink to handle unexpected sensibilities.
Sausages are a good failsafe food for all manner of things. They are appropriate at any time of the day or night and cover such diverse applications as the humble sausage sandwich to elaborate casseroles, toad in the hole to the mighty bangers and mash (with onion gravy). My personal favourites are the magnificent Newmarket sausages, but I tell you – there’s absolute nothing wrong with a Richmond, either. (Other brands of sausage are available).
And as I devoured with some ferocity my breakfast sausages, I began to think about all the times I turn to food in place of actually just expressing anything close to what would be described as ‘feelings’. The following is far from definitive and variants on the theme are of course influenced by availability of time and supplies, but this is a passable example of my menu of maladies…
Over The Moon – Steak and chips, with a huge salad and variety of condiments. And that pepper with all different coloured bits in. Whether there is something to celebrate or everything is just great for no real reason at all, nothing says utter delight like steak and chips. Sometimes I like an egg on my steak, sometimes cheese (a spicy cheese, if possible). I don’t mind if the chips are skinny or built like railway sleepers, but they must be crisp and piping hot.
Very Chirpy – Ideally I will have the time and energy to make a lovely curry from scratch and spend several happy hours doing so. The only problem with this is that the joy of making the curry is in danger of tipping me over the edge to ‘over the moon’ and then I want steak and chips. I see no reason why one cannot have both.
Delighted – Why, it can only be a traditional roast dinner! Whilst best enjoyed on a Sunday (when not playing cricket), a roast dinner is perfect any day of the week. For mid-week delightedness, a roast chicken dinner is wonderful. But nothing beats really pushing the boat out with, perhaps, slow-cooked beef or lamb, accompanied by crispy roasties (cooked in goose fat, if we’re really making a thing of it), honey glazed carrots and parsnips, asparagus in butter and the humble garden pea, gently steamed. Yorkshire puddings are an absolute must and, if you can bear it, chuck some of your lovely red wine into the gravy. I could go on all day about roast dinners and the endless varieties, but the most important thing is to get everyone you can find around your table and have a few bottles of the good stuff close to hand.
Happy – All of the food, all of the time. This is my default setting both in temperament and appetite, a fact for which I am very grateful. When I am consuming everything with gusto, I know that all is right with the world.
Subdued – When not exactly unhappy, but not quite full of the joys of spring, I turn to comforting and easy to construct food such as cottage pie or spaghetti bolognese. Levels of onion and garlic in both dishes can be adjusted according to the mood of the moment and there is excellent cheese potential here as well. It is good to make a huge version of either and then I feel comforted in the fact that there is now a lot of nice food at my immediate disposal.
A Bit Fed Up – Cheese on toast or pancakes, if possible made by someone else – if not possible, then made while tutting a bit and sighing occasionally. Actually, I’m not fed up at all, but now I’ve written ‘pancakes’ I really fancy some.
Grumpy – This is not a good state of affairs as I have the tendency to be rather unreasonable when I am grumpy. The only recourse under grumpy circumstances is something like an all-you-can-eat Chinese, or tapas or a sampling menu. Lots of different flavours, textures and aromas are required to distract me from my hump and remind me what is really important in life – which would be eating, obviously.
Sad – Oh dear – this doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I find it best to treat it with the same regard as ‘happy’ – all of the food, all of the time. That way, I fool myself into thinking I’m happy and – voila! – happiness descends once more.
Absolutely Furious – If I am especially volatile then it doesn’t really matter what I eat, but I would advise feeding me very quickly as the source of my fury is likely to be because I am hungry.
Smug – Crispy duck breast with plum sauce, horseradish mash and steamed green beans. I don’t know why, but this is my go-to dish when feeling particularly pleased with myself.
Love (unrequited) – Pies are the best way to deal with all kinds of heartbreak and romantic disappointment. I favour a sturdy beef and ale over something lacklustre such as chicken and mushroom, personally, but whatever pie it is, it must be a proper pie with pastry all the way around – not just a stew with a top on it. Shortcrust pastry, at that – save the puffy stuff for desserts and buffet food.
Love (requited) – Mostly eating absolutely nothing at all, or if I do, it is healthy and lean, just in case the object of my affection wants to see me in the nude. Once the first flush of anxiety-inducing emotion is out of my system, I default back to delighted, very chirpy and over the moon. Because love is wonderful and should be celebrated with food. Except when it isn’t, and then grumpy and absolutely furious are both perfectly acceptable.
Important To Note – Remember that there is nothing that cannot be achieved when starting the day with a fine Full English Breakfast and a healthy supply of tea and cake throughout the day will overcome all challenges and obstacles. The only thing that can ever hold you back is hunger itself.
By the way, ignoring all your emotions is ridiculous and dangerous but some of us find it very difficult to quantify our own internal workings. I know I do and I’m a bloody writer for goodness’ sake! The best thing to do is have a friend at the end of your phone who is equally inept and will not baulk at messages or phone calls that begin ‘I am sad/angry/frightened for some reason and I want you to know’. I cannot tell you how invaluable this is. Thank you, emotionally inept friends, you know who you are.
I am currently ensconced in the noble endeavour of proofing the final copy for the forthcoming trilogy of PorterGirl novels, Old College Diaries. I’m not going to lie, it is not a task I relished and it is certainly sending my eyes peculiar, but it is not quite so much the onerous mission I thought it might be. For one thing, it’s a good opportunity to pick up on the many irritating typos missed by my hopeless editor the first time around, but what I wasn’t expecting was that I’m actually quite enjoying it. I realised that I hadn’t read First Lady of the Keys since it was released; I’ve dipped in and out to check references from the later novels but I haven’t cast a reader’s eye over it for quite some time. And reading through all three books one after the other is certainly an interest.
As many of you know, large sections of the early parts of First Lady were written for this blog when I was still a Deputy Head Porter. When I first typed those initial, seemingly innocuous words – Late September, just before the start of Michaelmas Term… I could never have imagined the tumultuous and unexpected paths along which they would eventually lead. Reading now the charming naivety of both Deputy Head Porter the character and my own writing stirs something of a nostalgic wonder in my now slightly more cynical soul. Large parts of the book – and, indeed, my experiences at the real Old College – had slipped from my memory and from a personal point of view, it has been quite the joy to revisit them.
Following our heroine through The Vanishing Lord and, most recently, Sinister Dexter, I can really see how she has developed and grown into her role and made it very much her own. The writing, too, has evolved with her and the differences between the first and third books are quite stark, to my eyes. In many ways, First Lady was the easiest to write. It was my first novel and I had no real idea about what writing a proper book entailed. I tapped away merrily at the keyboard until I was satisfied that my story was told and that was pretty much that. It certainly isn’t my strongest work, but that beautiful, unfettered freedom of writing when you have no idea what you are doing is evident throughout the book. It has a definite charm of unhindered ignorance. Much like DHP herself.
I won’t bore you with the processes that followed for the next two books, suffice to say I tackled the steep learning curve as ferociously as possible and, I think, improved with practice. I’m proud of my work and to see it all brought together in one volume is obviously pleasing, but also strangely prophetic. Old College Diaries sees the story of Old College told through the eyes of Deputy Head Porter, a literary device that will be abandoned for the forthcoming instalments. Fear not, though, PorterGirl purists – I am writing the fourth novel as we speak and I can assure you that none of DHP’s whimsical musings are lost at all. We now have the added benefit of other characters’ whimsical musings as well. But anyway. In this way at least, it is the end of an era for PorterGirl, but one that heralds a bold new approach and will, I hope, raise the bar for the books that follow.
And this is prophetic because I myself am facing significant changes in both my personal and professional life which somehow mirror the purpose of Old College Diaries. A chance to move on, to raise the bar, to begin again with the benefit of experience, new-found enthusiasm and a few lessons under my belt. Final details are not entirely decided but final decisions most certainly are. All I need to do is make it happen. And making things happen is something at which I have become rather adept over recent years, so I am certain there will be updates of interest before very long.
There is a rather odd, Joycean, sense of things that everything has come full circle, only to begin again. Change is rarely predictable, but my optimism for the future is encouraged by an overwhelming feeling that this is very much a beginning, rather than ‘The End’.
I’ll keep you posted.