Delights

A warm, sunlit courtyard in the late afternoon, under a flapping canopy, in view of a body of water, preferably with a selection of colourful painted boats to critique bobbing around on it.  A small round table with enough empty chairs to put your feet up on one, laden with a glistening jug of iced water, a selection of pistachios and olives in small white dishes, a plate of ham, a bit of orange melon, a glass of Campari and soda with a big wedge of blood orange, a beer, a cigarette. People begin to drift in, wind-swept, radiant, skin glowing. A long-winded, wildly competitive game involving the first 10 seconds of every song, descending into triumphant shrieks and slaps. Another beer, another cigarette. The incoming promise of supper – something that someone just hauled out of the sea. Music in the background, Dean Martin, something from the Goodfellas soundtrack, or some unexpectedly 80s synth that you didn’t choose but can't possibly be bettered. Goat bells far away. Bits of white linen fluttering in the distance. Open windows. Beaded curtains, random kittens slipping past. The light slowly melting away. Memories of wandering hazily, contentedly lost through a pomegranate grove. What was formerly impressionist landscape is now in inky black silhouette against luminescent blue grey sky. The gloaming.

Spaghetti carbonara.  The cacio e pepe I ate under a load of scaffolding in Trastevere - a pasta dish so simple, it almost can't be bothered to exist, and yet so obviously delicious it's like a miracle. A Venetian thing with pine nuts, capers, sultanas, onions and sardines that makes me feel wild for having all the wrongest things in the cupboard in my bowl together. Puttanesca sauce on anything. The fact that it's called whore's pasta because it's so sassy, salty, and so brashly flavourful as to be rude. Fettucine al fredo. Linguine Vongole like a culinary safety net. So glamourous yet reliable and fills you with holiday promise even if you are in a backstreet of Holborn. Pappardelle with ragu made of veal or boar. Oh, any meat is fine, as long as that ragu has taken the meat out, seduced it, got it completely off its tits on Barolo and melted it into a breathless pulp. Malloreddus with crumbled sausage and fennel seeds and chilli flakes. Winning a game of 'Categories' with the name Malloreddus. Some kind of glistening, verdant pesto covered in flakes of salt and a parmesan snowdrift. Congealed days-old macaroni cheese. A go-to of Mum's that still makes us all cloudy-eyed with nostalgic fantasising. We would hunt down the leftovers, days later. Cheap pasta, made in shame. Fusilli with tuna, to much mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. A packet of tortelloni cooked in butter with too much water leaking out. Microwavable lasagna, hotter than molten lava. Disgusting! Necessary.

Dressing up as a 1950s Sicilian widow. With a slight drinking problem. And a dark secret. This is my dream look. Ideally you are hoping to look like the entire Dolce and Gabbana ad campaign archive. Every single character. Guest starring Madonna circa Blonde Ambition, and Monica Bellucci in everything. Crucial ingredients include: Slightly smeary black-lined eyes, that give the sense that you were recently crying. Or swimming, inappropriately. Thunderous expression. Heaving bosom. Black lace, sheer stockings, a veil. Small gold crucifixes, smouldering cigarette, hybrid pearls that could have come from Tudor England or 1985.

I think the obsession was born when I first watched a Leonard Cohen music video. As soon as I laid eyes on the heroine of that 6 minute love letter from Laughing Len to The 90s, I was infatuated. She was a slightly washed up looking blonde. Glamourously dressed, but down at heel. Hardened by a life full of knockbacks and bitter disappointment. False eyelashes, resigned expression. Shot of tequila, two inches of ash dangling precariously from her cigarette. This is the icon I chose to represent myself with aged 10.  I have sought to emulate her sartorial devastation ever since (if not her rotten luck).

I am not the world’s most natural lone wolf – I am usually surrounded on all sides by 100s of siblings or if I’m at work; ‘undead crusaders’  - but I do see that it is important to have time to yourself, and be comfortable with and look forward to that. If only to prepare yourself for those tragic moments when you are alone and you did not chose to be. Nothing worse than being alone by default! I work on this by treating myself to solo cultural jaunts around London that can be filed under “research and development” for my accountant.

I was recently instructed in the concept of self-care and it turns out I am great at it. Yesterday I took myself off to see an exhibition of Russian art at the Royal Academy. I invested £3.50 in the audio guide hoping to totally immerse myself in the show but after seeing a melancholy portrait of Prokofiev, I walked around listening to his Romeo and Juliet hammering away in my ears and felt full to the brim with excitement. I didn’t even remember it was the theme tune to ‘The Apprentice’.

Afterwards, having bought a commemorative postcard and wished once again that I could be the person who curates the merchandise in gallery gift shops – I would have bought every propaganda emblazoned tea towel and suprematism tea set they could have thrown at me – I made a pilgrimage to Hatchards. I spent the majority of my childhood scowling in second bookshop doorways wishing my dad would hurry up and leave but now I’ve waved goodbye to 30 and I have an almost fetishistic urge to collect books. Visiting a good bookshop is unbridled heaven for me. On this occasion I bought 6 and carted them off to The Wolseley where I ordered a pot of Earl Grey and an apfel strudel and began reading.

The genius of The Wolseley lies in its being exuberantly but quietly, knowingly grand. Like a reverential Dame, putting everyone at ease whilst keeping a cool distance. Like Emma Thompson. She's way too classy for you, but she's not making a big deal about it . Everything has been done to the best standards and it's the feeling of having The Best as standard that is so transformative. In this way one is transported to a fantasy life in which enjoying a new book over a pot of Earl Grey and an apfel strudel is absolutely the done thing. Don't bother me, see you in two hours.

Every now and then I get an almighty urge to go out and commune with nature, insofar as going outside and “being in it” goes. I am a horrible city child with a romantic idea of the countryside absorbed from books. I want to be Cassandra Mortmain swimming amongst reeds in the moat, frolic and gambol through “sun-dappled meadows” and shoo bluebirds away from sweet peas etc etc. The best I can get in South London is to make the occasional break for it to Battersea Park or trot alongside a trolley laden canal but the prospect of being in “the country” still thrills me. I like to bumble along down winding bridleways, climb over stiles and fight through patches of ‘sticky willy’ or a wall of ‘old man’s beard’.

I can hear Adam Buxton in my head referring to bark as Bach and saying “…uerrurgh so horrible” about a slug. I can name certain types of wildflowers and small songbirds thanks to early schooling from my grandmother. She was removed from her Maths classes by the nuns as they didn’t think it “worthwhile” to teach her, so studied the hedgerows instead and can name anything you care to thrust under her nose.

The countryside has a cleansing power that makes me feel purified and vital and as though there is more breath in my lungs. I also feel emboldened by the sartorial possibilities. As far as I’m concerned, country dressing has no rules. You can wear anything you please, especially the absolute worst, most embarrassing things you’ve ever bought that have no role in your life anywhere else. Thank GOD I don’t live there though. I’d look insane all the time, and they don’t even have Uber.