“Dead Cultured”

A review of live streamed performances from ROH, Glyndebourne and National Theatre

Lockdown has made me dead cultured like. So many theatres are offering ‘live at home’ performances, I now attend two to three plays, operas or ballets a week… and there’s no interval-ice-cream, or post-event-tube-crush involved. To be fair, sometimes there just isn’t any ice cream.

Both Glyndeborne and ROH offer weekly programmes complete with English subtitles (kind of essential for me), stunning voices and sets.

Opera has always been a difficult one for me. As a novelist I struggle with opera plot holes, or if not ‘holes’ exactly whole events that seem crucial to the plot just never appearing on the scene, leaving you wondering, “how did that person end up over there?’ (La Boheme being a key culprit!) You also have to prep yourself up for a good deal of cringeable misogyny, especially if it was Mozart’s choice of libretto. How do the singers manage to throw out those anti-women lines without the tiniest eye roll? (My need for subtitles could be working against me here.) Then, on the arrival of a stunning aria in the middle of a scene, all is (temporarily) forgiven. The Queen of the Night’s aria in the Magic Flute for example, could only have been improved by youtube overcoming its recurrent lip sync issue on the live stream.. and actually not by my husband’s google discovery (after sparkling wine) of a marmot singing said aria. I won’t stop you from googling this. But I would point out, you will never listen to it with the same ears again if you do.

Not all opera is sexist by the way. I found Rusulka at the Glyndebourne festival last year, genuinely empathetic. (Okay. I cried. ALL THE WAY THRU. And only stopped for the picnic in the intermission).

Glyndebourne Cosi Fan Tutte (very sexist)

And as for dance, of which the ROH has provided much, I had no idea. I mean, I Had No Idea. Being quite bookish, I’ve always assumed that dance would be more understood by the grown up version of the girls at primary school who were always skipping classes to wear sparkly outfits and be picked up by coaches when they could have been learning about full stops and exclamation marks. And don’t start me on “The Sleeping Beauty” where the whole plot line gets sorted in the first 5 minutes and we’ll all have a jolly good dance about it for the next hour or so nonsense (or were Tchaikovsky’s dancing cats prescient of the social media age..?). But the Winter’s Tale and Metamorphoses have been genuinely mesmerising. This approach also overcomes ROH’s major flaw, its contempt for most of its audience, as supposedly ”affordable” seats actually mean ’painful to watch’ seats, or ‘we’re going to design a set where you could otherwise have seen the action, but now can’t’ seats (presumably to justify a high premium on the stalls).

I’m relieved that the national theatre offerings have grown up a little since the beginning of lockdown when it was all treasure island and tiny tots. Small Island (one of my favourite books of all time) was a great adaption.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Book Cover for Helen and the Grandbees

“Some artisan butters are just plain distraction from butter’s real magnificence..”

A review of Banquist delivering all elements of ‘Michelin star meals’

This whole stuck at home business means that I haven’t so much saved money exactly, as managed to stick to the budget we were always supposed to stick to. Just as I thought I could be on to something, and actually afford some new clothes,  Banquist turned up in my instagram feed, offering a ‘Michelin meal experience’ by asking a top rated chef, in this case Josh Barnes, to pull together a menu, and deliver the ingredients (including wine and cheese courses) at an agreed time. They’re pitched as an upgrade to the usual meal kit options you might have heard of, as the entire meal to dessert and petit four is offered, along with the matching wines,

Things started to look worrying, when on booking I was asked how I’d rate my own cooking ability and I recklessly awarded myself an eight out of ten. Hey – no one was looking!  Then I wondered if I would fail miserably to bring together such an impressive sounding meal. However, this turned out to be nothing to fret about as the more complicated  sauce and oils came prepared in wonderous sheets of plastic that reminded me of how I always thought chemistry classes ought to be.

Here is the main course of seared Icelandic cod, parmentier potato’s and samphire, lemon purée and oil of wild leeks. At this point, particularly the parmentier potato point, I should admit that this is partially a review of my husband’s cooking – There’s no way I would have prepared such neat and small cubes of potato. In fact when I read the recipe it briefly crossed my mind that I could save a lot of faff by just baking the potato. Briefly, right? I gave myself an eight above. I meant it.

He hummed as he cooked. I’ve been using cooking as a chance to get up from my WFH desk, so he has been deprived of cooking lately. Please note: Banquist makes you hum.

So I even had a chef, just no waiter. 

The sauces combined well: just as we were thinking that the cod needed lemon, the lemon sauce came through. But the cleverest part of the meal turned out to be the matching wine (Torres SAN Valentin Parellada, 2018). I’m often disappointed by supposed wine matches, but this basque wine really did complement the meal all the way through the cheese course, and the dessert. 

Sorry about state of garden. Husband got furloughed, and hence house had to be rebuilt from the bottom up.

What a normal takeaway or cook at home pack misses is the little details, the extras that breeze by and add up on the bill without you noticing. The difference here was that these all came included (except for that waiter… I did double check the paper shreds) and they were worth every penny, including a mega red, swirled seaweed butter. Some artisan butters are just plain distraction from butter’s really magnificence, but this left us searching the house for bread on which to spread it, or oatcakes, or frankly, cardboard would have done it. 

What you do have to do, is take a moment for the ceremony, lay the table properly, make sure everything is delivered in order. These are the details that are easy to miss but could ruin the experience. 

However we do need to talk about cheesecake. I have to indulge a cheesecake rant every now and then, cheesecake can be stella or it can be a bland sugary disaster. I blame banquist for this particular rant. I had no choice. I didn’t know they were going to send me cheesecake. If I had, I might not have ordered the cheese platter as an extra. The good news is that the cheesecake lived up to my epic and oft cited cheesecake standards, the suspiciously sweet looking strawberry compote was en-depthed (yes – that’s a thing) with elderflower, locally grown elderflower according to the notes (get them,) and arrived in jam pots. Good thing that my family’s gift-giving habits had resorted to, ‘I don’t think they have long handled teaspoons yet’ levels. But, oh… I am so sorry to say it, the base was a little too sweet. I think it would have worked perfectly if the dessert had been a little more cheesecake shaped, but being at the bottom of a jam jar, the sweetness was not so evenly spread through the rest of the dessert, and proved a disconcerting end.

Fortunately this was redeemed by three great cheeses, more opportunity to dig into that seaweed butter, and homemade truffles. Here’s the thing, the bill was agreed before we sat down, but we ended up with free jam bars and free seaweed butter.

Still no waiter, though.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

“An unusually good coffee machine but yards away..” a review of camping in the postage stamp garden SE3

It’s been kind of warm lately, no? Kind of wake up in the middle of the night wondering how you will make it through August warm. And as flooding sunshine drowned out the bedroom I thought, this would have been better if I’d been camping. 

Now my garden is what is generally (outside of delivery circles) known as a Postage Stamp. I have heard many gardens termed postage stamps before, and I would like to make it clear that they are not postage stamps, they are more small envelopes. For true postage-stampness come visit me in Blackheath. (For everyone who wants to jump up and down in disgust at opportunity to yell at a lack of social distancing, I mean ‘virtually visit me’… actually tbh it was just a turn of phrase. Please don’t visit me. You could be anyone.)
Let me define my terms. Postage Stamp: a garden smaller that two double beds. Now I know they come smaller than that, but frankly that would ruin my story so don’t bring it up right now. Hence putting up a tent is out of the question. And anyway, that’s something you’d just do to keep the kids out of the house, right?
Weeeeell, I mean, I really miss camping. So we forwent the actual tent and just set up a bed. There was very light drizzle predicted, it was definitely going to be cooler than the night before, but I just wanted to go camping.

So I fell asleep to the sight of Venus framed by a mop and a half built shed.

I revelled in the existence of the unusually good coffee machine but yards away, plus the clean hot showers and wondered why I’ve ever paid for a campsite. The only downside was the lack of camp fire. That would have basically required burning down the shed. Or the house

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

The Greenwich COVID testing site. An event to leave the house for!

After two days of convincing myself that my temperature was due to heat stroke, the sore throat to hayfever, the cough to asthma and the seeming inability to stand up and make a cup of tea was due to an early morning bike ride (or even burn out) it eventually occurred to me that maybe I should just check that with NHS 111. Mad as that sounds in retrospect, my social distancing up to now has been so paranoid, it did not seem possible that I could have caught anything from anyone, and I’m still putting the whole thing down to a vicious mozzie bite reaction. 

And hence, I have the opportunity to review for you… the Greenwich COVID testing site. An event to leave the house for! Every sore throat that feels like broken glass has a silver lining. This has been only outside visit I have had in twelve weeks other than my daily exercise and unless this test proves negative, I’m not allowed to do that anymore.

Appointments were aplenty, despite warnings to the contrary, which I assume reflects the low London infection rate that we keep seeing reported at the moment. Following registration, the NHS offer daily text updates of what to do and expect each day, which were unexpectedly useful, and help keep track of where you are in your isolation rules. 

I have not provided photos as it feels like somewhere I should not be photographing, like airport security, or the inside of a civil service building. No idea why. I must be missing the airport queues or something. We drove past all the summer Londoners revelling in the brief reports that there had been no London cases reported in the past 24 hours, in a way you could imagine making a shocking news headline, although when you stopped to think of it, was anyone actually not social distancing? The only really shocking thing was how many people were enjoying a Costa. Don’t they read my blog??? I was wearing a dust mask and sitting in the back of the car, because my husband has asthma. I felt like my UFO had just crash-landed on this bizarre planet.

Given how long the team at Greenwich must have had for training; and how they likely have to deal with many differing levels of ability to follow the instructions on a four page leaflet – it has to be said that they were both professional and lovely. So professional and lovely that it was possible to see this despite the surreal and quite stressful experience of trying to do an uncomfortable test whilst trying not to pass it on to my husband. There was much climbing over seats which does make you wonder if you are being a bit of a hypochondriac, at my age, can I have really caught anything worth this kerfuffle? If you go, you will need access to a mirror. My only future advice would be that they try to continue this loveliness without cracking jokes, because most of us are there with a cough, and jokes lead to coughing fits, and you’re not allowed to open the window.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Emanating Kombucha cordial rays – more tales from Lockdown SE3

My task this week is to use up all the odd things in the house. It seems that Holland and Barratt is responsible for most of the ‘odd things’ I discover that aren’t actually pickled. Mostly down to those ‘two for one’ traps they’re always touting, and then the penny sales. Of course I do know that it isn’t sensible to buy two of an experimental item that probably isn’t good for me really. But if the extra item only costs a penny, surely I being ripped off if I don’t spend that extra penny (in the non-figurative sense).

All this means that while the world races towards a COVID vaccine/cure/test, I will be performing my own internal experiment. When I have ‘worked down’ this supply of off-beat health foods, will I be superwoman an anti-Covid glowing lamp emanating my kombucha cordial (unused due to high dosages of sugar) and matcha powder (unused because it makes me a tad jittery) rays to stop the pandemic in its tracks? Or will I be so disgusted by my own attempts to make homemade chocolate with date syrup that I will sink into a deep depression and never flaunt my healthy green rays in the future non-lockdown world.

Kombucha modelling on my kitchen table. Look at those glints

I‘ll let you know. Assuming that depression isn’t too bad.

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

“ I don’t often buy carrot cake…” a review of Severn Droog Castle Cakes, SE18

A vast array of waiting cakes at Severn Drood Castle

Severndroog is something of a hidden gem, hosting cultural Shakespeare or opera in better times – some of which has moved online, and Is next to Oxleas Woods which has been one of our regular exercise routes. For weeks now we’ve been marching up to the gates and sighing about the absence of cake, even though most weekends we’d decided to skip the calories, and then we’d march on quick before anyone could confuse our wistfulness of being a surreptious sunbathe. (Not that wistfulness was in the list of essential activity any more than sunbathing).

I don’t often buy carrot cake. I usually look at it on the counter and frown, and say “I’ll sample that sometime”. But my husband chose the apple and blackberry cake, and I’m often disappointed by Victoria Sponge. So this was an exception.

We arrived ten minutes before opening to find an informal queue. Many people sitting on logs, or pretending to photo the turrets, but looking just a little bit edgy if you got closer to the gate than they did. In the end I broke the ice, and asked if they were about to join the queue lines. It turned out that every ‘casual looking’ passer by was eyeing up the queue lines. We were so English. We filed ourselves politely into a line according to arrival time as far as we worked out. This was my first experience of queue markers as I have studiously been avoiding shops since the whole isolation world began. I would review the queue system for you, but I am the least experienced in the skill now.

Sadly I made the mistake, despite my recent COVID negative test, of forgetting that I don’t feel hugely comfortable sharing cake with my husband right now in case I passed on whatever it was that I did have – regardless of my very paranoid approach to distancing. Otherwise I would have had the apple cake too. However my spicy, properly cream cheese icing (none of this supermarket so-called cream cheese icing none sense) was delicious… and rather filling despite being initially a little disappointed at the slice sizes.

All of the queues were to be found on the benches that overlooked the rose gardens, in our bizarre paranoid isolated groups, partially acknowledging the irony of the situation, and causing much mirth in passers-by. But I suspect they headed straight to the castle as they passed…

Yay I needed to move to Tunbridge Wells

There has been an odd entwining of my writing side and my slightly out of step side… the extra time in the day without the commute, the extra worry… I am turning into ‘disgusted from Tunbridge Wells’

Maybe not disgusted, maybe concerned. 

Or disturbed

Or just bored

I’ve been tweeting my concerns at everyone, regardless of who’s listening. @theguardian, did you realise that by saying NHS staff th,,,

@GrantaBooks you’re advertising 99p books that are coming through Amazon as £7

@GreenwichCouncil The bins, the bins Esmerelda!

@IPCC how come there are photos of the police shoulder to shoulder?

I don’t think that in these instances  I am any more annoyed than I might normally be. It’s just that my previous, “I should mention that,” would have got lost in the daily commute, in the daily franticness., (I have a different standard for missing deliveries that does involve fury, and fury is not the purpose of the blog, so I shan’t tell you here.)

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

Wouldn’t want to end up in A&E with indigestion right now – More tales from lockdown SE3

There’s a standing joke in my family that involves an in law, two freezers that are large enough for my very tall husband to stand in, and the bungees used to hold them closed. The joke mostly involves eye rolling with the phrase, “working down the freezer” with a hint of “like that’s really gonna happen…”

Well, I’d say supermarket evasion techniques bring on the best time to set the example for said in-laws and I’ve started to empty my own freezer.  But the reality has proved distressing.  Many labels had fallen off my frozen meals, worse – some revealed old labels with more tasty delights indicated, such as chicken curry (I make a mega chicken curry) that actually turned out to be red bean paste from a vegetarian phase. Seeing as I have two very distinct memories of indigestion from kidney beans, I binned this dish straight away. Wouldn’t want to end up in A&E with indigestion right now.

Some beans are welcome. For me, slow cooked baked beans (with whiskey, bacon, rosemary, whatever’s lying about really) are a weekly staple, eaten with eggs they are bizarrely-head-scratchingly affordable. At least they were until this crisis and every supermarket in the world seems to have run short of borlotti beans. To these nouveau-borlotti- purchasers, i ask, are you actually eating them, or turning them into necklaces with your kids? Undeterred, I ventured into online bean sellers and ordered a wonderful brown packet of wholesome looking beans. I was thrilled, looking out for the postman every day, who’d give me shifty ‘don’t come near me’ looks over her face mask. Then I did the math (bean counter, see?) and discovered my wholesome cheap eat was four times the price of its normal level. 

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall

Crisis exposes evidence for existence of sock monster – More Tales from Lockdown SE3

I’m not a big shopper but COVID-19 caught me in the middle of a wardrobe refresh bought on by too many cakes (I am a food blogger on the side) and early spring days. You know the sort of thing, along the lines of, ‘this is a good top that still fits but the trousers are too small’ and ‘hmm.. what it’s the ultimate colour for a neutral work skirt in a capsule wardrobe.’? 

Then there is the quandary of weighing up ‘keeping people in jobs’ versus, ‘are their employers really enabling social distancing;’ and ‘what about if they’re just plain scared to come into work?’ My asthmatic retail based husband has been furloughed, and we’re kind of well, is this good or bad? Will there even be a job even to go back to?

As with the rest of the world, it quickly struck me that outfits are utterly useless if I can only wear them shopping. Not that I plan living in my pyjamas, I assure you. And then it double struck me, that while it might be nice to save some money by reigning in the spending on clothes, how much will that little hit of joy on the arrival of a purely trivial parcel help with my mental health as we venture less and less outdoors?

Well, I’ve found the reason to keep that hit of joy coming… it’s because of my recent sock monster discovery. I’ll admit, there has been much debate about the existence of a sock monster, but my conversion over the social distancing period to trouser only outfits has proved beyond doubt that there is sock monster. There is no other way that I can have run out of matching socks in just two days. 

I have not actually achieved photographic evidence of the sock monster as yet, nothing as revealing as those lochness monster photos at any rate. However it’s available hiding places are diminishing with the conversion of the house into an isolation survival unit – in other words, almost all boxes have been opened and checked for their present usefulness (300 sachets of clipper hot chocolate anyone? Long story). Currently there might still be a couple of untouched saucepans in the back of one of the cupboards and I can only assume that the sock monster is slinking between them. I’d call pest control, but y’know, #socialdistancing.

Is that the sock monster’s tale by the pipe at the back there?

Have you pre-ordered my novel “Helen and the Grandbees” yet? https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Alex+morall&ref=nb_sb_noss

 Don’t wait for publication date… there might be a run on books by then!

Helen and the Grandbees by Alex Morrall