My last day in Madrid didn't start there; I was mincing to my Metro station with my little wheelie suitcase, trying not to cripple the folks on their way to work and doing my best not to look like a tourist when trying to work out how to buy a ticket. It was already very hot and I wanted some breakfast but had to get to Prandial before I could indulge. I made it to his part of town without any particular fuss and marvelled at how different the streets felt, like a different town altogether from the place I had just left. It made me think of London. We had breakfast then walked over to the big museum where I was overwhelmed and overjoyed to see all the artworks I had read so much about (in particular this one). I went back into the hot, dry, glaring noon time sun for adventures.
What did we do? - We went to a flamenco school and fell under the spell of the dancers practising their stuff in their classes - despite my companions' best efforts I was not at all distressed by the trotters, brains, testicles, hearts, intestines and... other on display in the market. I'm Chinese FFS, what did you think I would say when I saw that kind of thing? - ate steak in a charcoal grill place, had beer and ham in my beloved Museum of Ham - took a long, hot and slow walk to the Egyptian Temple via the Royal Palace - took a trip around Atocha Station which seemed particularly important considering what had happened in London just a few days before and then got a taxi to the airport and went home.
Thanks to all who took the time to show me around - I wish I had had my full five days in a city that made me feel instantly comfortable and relaxed and kept my attention and imagination at every turn. I want to go back! I will! iClaro!
Well, it wasn't - it was very, very hot. Being in the very centre of Spain, Madrid is scorching. And wow, I loved it.
My five day, four night trip was cut short to a three day, two night trip by the 7th July bombings - I was in floods of tears trying to decide whether or not to fight my way out to Heathrow that Thursday morning or to stay put, all the while fielding panicking calls from my family and friends and frantically tuning in for news reports about my beloved city being torn to shreds. I wasn't keen on flying at all but flights in and out of the airport seemed fine so I knew I had to decide quickly what I wanted to do before my flight left without me and I was faced with a packed suitcase, an unopened bottle of suncream and a set of non-refundable tickets.
The decision was made me for me in the end. The entire tube network was closed, the roads were chaotic and though the Heathrow Express from Paddington was an option, getting to Paddington was unlikely. I tried to board a coach out of Victoria Coach station but just as I bought a ticket, it was announced that all buses coming in and out of London had been suspended and all roads closed. I went home. I couldn't go any where else.
I was secretly relieved.
And in the end, I got a flight to Madrid on Saturday morning with the necessary long delays, stressful and confusing ticket exchange business, small children fighting around me and, what was worse, their sniping, bickering, end-of-my-patience parents. I touched down with some relief and headed to Parque de Retiro with my little wheelie suitcase and joined my friends - at last! - and got my holiday started.
Woke up some time after noon the next day and despite my best efforts to look as fit and healthy as the others, I had to excuse myself from the afternoon's activities to stay in the flat to be sick as neatly and tidily as I could manage. Oooh, I felt rotten. But then a short nap and some serious teeth-brushing later, I walked out feeling better and better with every step along the glorious Madrid boulevards, eventually encountering this:
which put a further spring in my step. Had a reviving lunch in the sun with friends and a really uplifting trip around the Prado, eyeing all the works of art recommended to me and more, then finally, finally met Prandial for a drink and a chat on his turf. What a dude and his friend G too.
Rounded off the evening with paella at a very chic little place towards the north side of the city and when we left, we all had flowers in our hair that had drifted down from the tree above us. Others had early flights to catch so we went back to the flat and went to bed with all the windows and doors open. Only the next morning did we dare to admit to one another that the coffee after the meal was a bad, bad, sleepless and exhausting idea. That was the end of my girlie, vegetarian weekend in Madrid. I wasn't getting a flight until 6.30pm and I still had a few things to do, people to meet and I lepat onto the Metro with my little wheelie suitcase for the last and most fun-packed (non-vegetarian) part of my Madrid adventure...
Recipes That Should Have Your Children Taken By The Authorities #2 - Cheese Curry
1 oz. butter 1 onion (chopped) 1 oz. flour 1-2 rounded teaspoons curry powder half pint stock or water 1 oz. sultanas 8 oz. cubed Cheddar cheese To serve 4 oz. rice To garnish 1 sliced hard-boiled egg
Melt the butter in a saucepan and fry the onion to a golden brown. Add the flour and curry powder and stir over a gentle heat. Add the stock gradually, stirring thoroughly until the sauce thickens. Fold in sultanas and cheese. Cook rice in boiling salted until just soft. Drain and dry. Garnish curry with egg and serve with rice.
I was speechless when I first saw this recipe. I honestly thought I had read it incorrectly but no, it really is a recipe for cheese curry in the unbelievably awful The Great Big New Book of Cheese Recipes which Taxloss so lovingly presented to me as a surprise gift recently. It's not that big - about the size of a CD case. The recipes though disgusting and disturbing, aren't that new (pages 46 - 60 are devoted to variations of cheese on toast.)
A cheese cookbook could be a useful thing to have if it doubles as a guide to the thousands of different cheeses out there: what wines to accompany, how best to cook and store the various types, where to find the best etc.
This book only acknowledges one type of cheese for fuck's sake - cheddar. And it's always grated, in every nasty, stomach-churning recipe.
The preface to the book proselytizes cheese with and in everything:
Say cheese louder and in more exciting ways. Have cheese, have friends, have fun.
I was about to make some coffee and asked the office in general if anyone wanted a cup but it was pointed out to me that it was almost time to go outside and observe the two minute silence. I put the kettle down and followed everyone else into the courtyard. From the courtyard, we all poured out onto the street and stood in silence on the corner. Most people were looking towards London Bridge Station and the shiny tall towers of the city peeking above our slightly grubbier, soot-covered old brick Victorian surroundings. The tip of the gherkin sparkled in the sun.
It was eerie and sobering and incredibly moving. It's always hard to know just how many people work in our office and studio complex and despite having been here for almost two years, I looked around at all the serious faces, all the bodies held still in the silence just outside where we all come to earn our living and thought to myself, good God, there's so many of us! And we're all thinking about the same thing, and we're all here for the same reason.
People walking by spotted us and realising what we were doing, they also stopped. They hushed their children, they made their dogs stand still, cars went by but the drivers no doubt joined us in their thoughts as it must have been quite an extraordinary sight to see so many office workers standing perfectly still and silent on a street corner in the middle of the day.
"Thank you, everybody."
The two minutes were up. The dogs leapt up and pulled on their leads. The children skipped away, singing to themselves. We walked back into the courtyard and went into our buildings, hushed but no longer silent. I put the kettle on and poured coffee for my colleagues.
As if the whole city had been holding its breath, it exhaled and there was a moment of release, of fresh air into the system. I think everyone who observed the silence feels as if we've been holidng our breath since last Thursday, ribs tight and taut over the confusion and dismay. And now we've let it go. We remembered and will always remember what happened. But the city and its people will continue, we breathe in and breathe out to the unstoppable rhythm of life here, that heartbeat, that music, that sound of a city loved by its people that loves it back. It always changes but never stops.
Sticky Trumpet Hot Tartan (courtesy of Taxloss) Wet Gumdrop Goat-Licking Go-Go-Girls Inappropriate Chapatti Baboon Frenzy
Family Recipes That Should Have Your Children Taken By The Authorities #1: Australian Fairy Bread Pour hundreds and thousands onto a plate. Butter some bread. Cut into triangles or any shapes that you like. Then press the bread butter-side down into the hundreds and thousands making sure the buttered surface is covered with the sweets. Serve.
Then serve time in prison for gross negligence. Using wholemeal bread does not make this a "healthy option" treat; do not expect your sentence to be lessened. Use of margerine and unusually shaped cookie cutters to make this food item "more fun" will incur greater penalties.
Courtesy of the St. Mary's School Cookery Book, compiled for the Duke of Edinburgh Award. Thanks to Taxloss for the gift which is now book 3 in my collection of incredulous recipe books.