Knuckling down is a great phrase which simultaneously calls to mind the twin thoughts of hard work and orangutans. After the Easter break there was a general sense that London remained a bit quiet, empty even. Many people were taking advantage of the bank holiday to grab a few extra days' rest. Not in our office. Knuckling down is what we were doing. We gathered in the meeting room at Masterpiece the day after the bank holiday and two hours later we were still there talking.
There is so much to do! Each member of the team is beyond fully-stretched; listing it all is too ghastly to contemplate. Suffice to say that from now until the end of the fair everyone will be working late; no task, from the trivial to the profound, can now be postponed. Despite the workload, energy levels are amazingly high. There is the sense that the event ahead is building its own momentum and we are merely facilitating its relentless onward path; we can steer it, guide it, and attempt to control it, but it is pulling on its leash and is eager and enthusiastic to perform.
On Wednesday I moved house too. To stoke my spirits in preparation for this I decided to try a restaurant called Cigala in Lambs Conduit St - I had a hideous meeting to attend in the afternoon and realised it was round the corner from this Spanish eatery. It has been there for some time and I have always wanted to try it but thus far the occasion had not presented itself. At last the moment had come. The restaurant interior is admirably simple with white and off white as the dominant tones. The menu is simple too with a short list of options and three types of paella. We chose the mixed seafood option and drank a half bottle of Manzanilla sherry with it. As I ladled spoonful after spoonful of this colourful and multi-textured confection onto my plate, the delicate, dry, thin, and scented wine worked its magic, rendering the joint stresses of moving and the legal meeting ahead, a softer-edged nightmarish prospect. Even without concomitant evils, I would strongly recommend Cigala for comfort food of exceptional freshness and deliciousness.
Outside the legal offices attended post-paella, lay one of London's most charming coalhole covers. As a city previously powered and warmed by coal, the streets are punctuated with these discs of martial-seeming low relief decoration in cast iron. In addition, all the utilities have their own individual access points which have changed in shape, ornament and material over the last century or so. Wandering home, I discovered that the same model is right outside the door of my new flat. It felt meaningful in some way, a curious coincidence. These tiny essays in the art of cast iron are becoming a bit of an obsession. For example I adore the fact that many of the ones in NY are proud to say on the borders 'Made in India'. A global trade in manhole covers? Who would have guessed. In Budapest they keep them brassy; throughout France they seem mostly to be made by Pont du Musson, who both sign and add their logo of a medieval looking bridge. Endearingly they are inscribed sometimes with their intended location too; 'trottoir' and 'parking' to name but two. Back in London - in Spitalfields - a local artist Keith Bowler has metamorphosed them from a utilitarian form with accidental beauty into works specifically designed as art. Look them up on the internet or visit them, they make for a delightful walk. These days I walk along any given street examining and comparing the various covers and caps that cross my path - our streets are full of these wonders.
Ripping open boxes and putting stuff on shelves may seem like pure drudgery and not a creative way to spend one's time, but oddly it can be. Objects that have accrued a certain look or meaning in one site look transformed when they are displayed at a fresh angle, height or lit differently. Sometimes they appear changed when they are simply viewed from a new direction. Some of the treasures now look forlorn and rather undesirable whilst others have become lovely through translation. It is a very good evaluation process, a sifting has taken place and I find that my taste has changed - it is impossible to say how because it is just as eclectic and peculiar as ever, but a shift has definitely occurred. The cardboard boxes are folded flat and taken outside, hoovering happens and the fridge is filled with fresh food. Suddenly you are in a new home and as you fall asleep to the unfamiliar traffic rumble, your objects chatter down below in their new locations and the next chapter in your life begins.
I have no oven and until it is replaced I was prepared to make do with hob-cooked food and the occasional takeaway. But I do love to barbecue and meandering round John Lewis in Oxford St my eyes fell upon a gas camping stove by Weber. It takes a small gas cylinder and folds up to be eminently portable. It was definitely not a shopping necessity but it came home with me. By the way, if anyone wants a taste of what shopping in Cold War era USSR must have been like they should try using the John Lewis customer collection area. A Kafka-esque sense of meaningless paperwork and people wandering around doing absolutely nothing pervades. It is a scary place as you are compelled almost immediately to believe that you will never receive your stuff and if it does come, there will be some weird reason why you cannot actually take it away. An hour shopping followed by an hour waiting. In my new minute garden beneath an overcast sky with an occasional spit of rain I road-tested the new baby barbecue. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Putting the beef on at a very high temperature I added the pudding bowl with oil in it and five minutes later, with the beef duly browned, the oil was scalding hot and the batter sizzled reassuringly as it was poured in. I reduced the temperature so as to avoid overcooking the beef and half an hour later we consumed delicious pink beef with a charred exterior accompanied by dense and aspirationally fluffy Yorkshire. This was a first for me and it was an acceptably tasty experiment. It made the hours pulling down deeply embedded ivy from the walls of the garden seem like a distant but painful memory. It made the heavy bags of garden waste dragged to the front seem like a delight. Every enthusiastic al fresco cook should have a go - barbecued Yorkshire Pudding.