Saturday, November 26, 2011


I enjoy grapefruit, the kind with red or pink flesh.

I also really enjoy collecting cookbooks and cookery magazines from the 1960s and 1970s - the more lurid the photography, the more unappetising the recipes and cookery tips the better. This slim magazine which I found in a charity shop in the mid-2000s for 50p keeps giving and giving.

Within its pages, among tips on how to host the perfect dinner party and 101 ways to make lovely food absolutely revolting by suspending it in aspic, I found an advert for grapefruit.

I initially thought, "Ooh, grapefruit recipes, how interesting." And then on closer inspection, I thought, "OH MY GOD, HOW COULD ANYONE EVEN CONSIDER DOING THAT WITH GRAPEFRUIT?" In order of ascending horror and repulsion, here are the recipes that were deemed worthy of recognition by the grapefruit marketing board.

First: grapefruit salad. Not too awful, as citrus fruit in salad is quite acceptable (by other people - I think it is despicable but can appreciate, in a purely theoretical way, how certain flavours and textures can complement one another.) Here is a grapefruit, cucumber and blue cheese salad, presented in a spectacularly tortured way:

How horrid, but it only set off a mild case of twitches and facial tics in me as I tried to process what it would taste like. Next recipe is chicken a la grapefruit - the speck of French presumably acts as flavour enhancer - with grapefruit wine and grapefruit champagne.

Grapefruit is fragrant and delicate, but easily overwhelms other flavours as its bitterness overrides anything else touching your palate. So, why not drop a wedge in your boutique bubbly to wipe out the subtle marzipan top notes? And how about topping up that complex, floral zinfandel you've been saving with a hefty splash of grapefruit juice? And that chicken? Add grapefruit. Why not? That leg with its tasty, juicy brown meat and salty crispy skin *needs* a good dose of citrus. It nearly works, in all three cases there is potential for interesting flavour combinations but... look at those photos. Just look. The yellow tones look as lurid and unappetising as a selection of urine samples.

Behold: grapefruit coffee and a grapefruit and cheese sandwich! The elaborate presentation with stuffed olive garnish seems to be a desperate distraction from what is obviously wrong with this suggestion for 'elevenses'. Also - can you imagine the disturbing, juicy, bitter flavours flooding your mouth as you bite into that grapefruit segment made confusingly hot with espresso? Can you imagine it? Now try to un-imagine it. Go on, try. You can't. That scar won't heal, not ever.

Could it get worse? It gets worse. Here is a grapefruit omelette.

Omelette. WITH GRAPEFRUIT. Not just a twist of grapefruit juice, or a scattering of grapefruit zest. It's an omelette folded over half a goddamn grapefruit. Those fat yellow segments poke out of the heavy folds of egg like the tongues of seriously ill alcoholics. The omelette seems to be vomiting up grapefruit, retching at its own audacious creation. Somehow that tomato, so plump, so red, so natural and intact with its perky green stalk makes the whole plate so much worse. It decorates this wrong-headed concoction by D. Davis of Phyllis Avenue, Peacehaven, Sussex like the red nose of a clown. As advertisements go, this one is a triumph of reverse psychology: after viewing these recipes with grapefruit in so many horrific applications, I crave grapefruit more than ever. Grapefruit in its purest, unsullied, uncooked, untortured form. Jaffa, circa 1972: you win.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Sir, your zip"

The train carriage was busy and I couldn't help but make eye contact with the rather jolly middle aged man in a suit who boarded and stood opposite me. He was cheerfully flicking through the free evening paper, and caught my eye again with a friendly little smile when he unwrapped a sweet and put it in his mouth. He was friendly probably because he wasn't sure why I kept sneaking looks at him and was obviously not reading my newspaper.

I kept sneaking looks at him because... because his fly was wide open. I saw that as soon as he got on the train. And I felt a terrible urgency to tell him before he got off then started walking down the street with his zip all the way down, cheerful and jaunty and totally oblivious to his minor self-explosure. But how? How could I tell him without telling the entire train carriage too?

I stared at page 2, page 3 then page 2 again, mind whirring with all the ways I could let him know with the minimum damage to his pride and dignity.
Then he got out a pen and started filling in the crossword and an idea came to me. I leaned over and said:

"Can I show you one of the answers?"

Bemused, he handed me his newspaper and pen. I wrote:

"Sir, your zip" in the corner and handed it back.

He gasped and laughed at the same time.
"Oh, I DO apologise!" he cried, then held his paper in front of him as he zipped up. "How horrible for you! How embarrassing for me! Oh dear, did you have to see that for a long time?"

I muttered reassurances that no, it hadn't been a long time, I had just noticed it even though I had actually been plotting how to inform him of his sartorial faux pas for at least five stations. I grinned and gurned at him and then pretended to be utterly engrossed in the cryptic crossword. He got off three stops later and gave me a cheerful "Thank you!" as he walked away. I modestly dipped my head in response and went back to my crossword, which did not require any words to do with clothes fastenings to complete.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Originally posted on Londonist, here.

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10 mg dance, 8mg theatre, 3.75 ml science: Side Effects is a performance exploring society's relationship to medicine. Can it make us feel better about what we take to feel better?

REPORT: patient analysis after one dose of dance-theatre SIDE EFFECTS provided by dANTE OR dIE.

PRESCRIPTION: One hour treatment, evening. Taken with one glass of wine (red).

DISPENSING VENUE: Rich Mix, east London.

MEDICATION: dance-theatre piece exploring society's relationship to medicine.

dANTE OR dIE's latest performance is a series of movement sequences and recitations of a life time intake of drugs. Ibuprofen gel for knee pain, cream for pubic lice, the daily contraceptive pill, antidepressant, Pro-Plus to wake-up, Temazepam to get to sleep... these form the rhythms and rituals of normal, everyday lives. Translated into rhythmic and ritualised movement, set to Yaniv Fridel's moving original score, the performers give us back our casual medical consumption as something special, extraordinary.

SIDE EFFECTS: will not cause drowsiness. Some tenderness may occur.

The five performers range from 20 to 75 years old, representing the full set of medicinal needs and whimsies in one lifetime. They are frank but unconfrontational, confessing what Simon Rice takes to combat hairloss and build up muscle. The touching vulnerability in Antigone Avdi's anti-anxiety medicine sequence, the harrowing effects of Betsy Field's heart attack, Terry O'Donovan's recap of medicine from childhood to adulthood and the significance of the Fraggle Rock theme tune are complemented by Laure Bachelot's private, intimate daily routines. The performance is a complete picture of a society ticking along, quietly medicated, pain-free and getting by on 0.5mg of Xanax per day.

Side Effects is a rare glimpse into the emotional relationship we have with our drugs, without judgement, sentimentalism or sensationalism. This is an uplifting, tender exploration of whether or not we feel better about the medicine we take to feel better.

RE-FILLS: Side Effects, at Rich Mix, Sunday 13 February (7.30pm) and at Laban, Tuesday 1 March (7.30pm).