Wednesday, 25 February 2015

I Study A Photograph



I started at South Hampstead High School in 1975 and left in 1982.  This is a photograph of my form in our first year.  We were called Upper III 13.  Our form teacher was Mrs Audigier.  On our first day, she taught us to pronounce her name by writing 'Mrs ODJ' in white chalk on the board.

We had to sit alphabetically and I can still remember the names of every girl in the class, from Jacqueline and Rebecca to Suzanne and Victoria: we were together, more or less, for five years, until we were reorganised in the sixth form.

The year after this photograph was taken, Gina became seriously ill.  I remember our headmistress, Mrs Burgess, coming to tell us that she had died.  We were in the middle of a Geography lesson.  None of us learnt a single thing from Miss Smith during the rest of that lesson.   Lucy died the year after we left school.  These losses are some of the hardest I've had to try to understand.  They colour my feelings about my school years with sadness.

I hadn't seen this photograph for forty years until earlier this week.  What I had remembered about it is that I was sitting slightly apart from the rest of the class and I looked grumpy.  I remember my feelings of shame when the proof came back from the photographers and my parents didn't want to buy it.

When I look at this photograph now, I see beautiful girls with eccentric potential.  We aren't lined up neatly, and we don't care.  I see myself as fierce and resentful.  Instead of feeling shame, I feel proud of my young self's containment and her survival instincts. I remember the warmth I felt towards Emma.  I see Noele in the back row, who I hardly knew then but with whom I was to develop a long-lasting friendship.  And I see Madeleine: the beautiful, wild American girl who friended me out of the blue on Facebook this week and reconnected me to this part of my life - Madeleine, from whom I first learnt about Sigmund Freud, about star signs, about trick or treating, about glamour, about other ways of framing the world.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

I Pop Some Corn

The usual score in my weekly badminton games with my son has shifted from 2 games all to 3 games to 1.  This week, after the game, he gave me a hug and said I shouldn't worry because everything has a tendency towards decay.

When we got home I claimed the sofa space and did one of my favourite things - watched a film in the late afternoon.  I paused it after five minutes having decided to go the whole hedonistic way and make some pop corn.

For me, the two main pleasures of popping corn are hearing the mini phut phut phuts of kernels hitting the pan lid as they turn themselves inside out, and then trying to guess, from a period of silence, when it's all over.  There's a tendency for a few kernels to wait until they see the light of day, then to make a bid for freedom, bursting into hot, fluffy missles which arc softly up, out, then down onto the kitchen floor.

The transformation of a layer of hard seeds on the bottom of a pan into a fluffy mound of polystyrene-textured explosions via the addition of heat and a well-fitting pan lid is always an expected surprise.   This time I used toasted sesame oil to heat the popcorn and it turned out to be a good variation.  

Apparently it's a drop of moisture inside each kernel that makes it pop.  It goes something like this: as the kernels heat up, the water expands, turns into steam and mixes with the soft starchy layer in the middle of the kernel to form a sort of boiling gloop which then breaks through the tough shell when it's heated still further.

After the corn had popped itself, I sprinkled it with caster sugar and ate the lot whilst watching Bill Murray's top class performance in 'Broken Flowers'. The film beautifully resists the tendency to round off a story neatly.