The Results of the Great ELC Bake-off

DANIEL // Bake Off – The Finale

About my ‘competitor’

At the end of a competition, we should be gracious. We should be respectful. We should be a good sport, no matter whether we have won or lost. We should be an example to those that follow in our footsteps. It’s not always easy to be that gracious, respectful good sport – especially if our competitor wasn’t very good (mine wasn’t), or if our competitor was terrible at trash talking (mine was), or even if our competitor’s cooking made you wonder if they have ever seen a recipe before (I did wonder!). Regardless of these problems with my competitor, I’m a picture of restraint and respect.

About the competition

It appears I lost. I know, and I agree with you – it’s unjust. It’s unthinkable. It’s illogical. It’s simply…impossible. Now, I’m not saying that it was because the judge and my competitor are related. It may possibly be because I’m not as good a baker as I think I am. No, I agree with you again – that’s not feasible. Well, either way, I say congratulations to Katie. Well done, good job, a fine effort on your part. We both made an apple crumble last week, and actually, I must admit, her crumble has been amazing – I’ve been using hers as a doorstop. It works great.  

Vocabulary:
Gracious: Courtois, digne // Respectful: respectueux // A good sport: beau joueur // No matter whether: peu importe si // Wonder: se demander // Regardless: quoi qu’il en soit // Restraint: retenue // Appear: apparaître // Unjust: unjuste // Unthinkable: impensable // Related: lié (à) // Feasible: faisable // Apple crumble: crumble aux pommes // Doorstop: cale-porte

KATIE // Bake Off – Another one bites the crust!

 

About my competitor:

He gave it his best effort but unfortunately my opponent’s best just didn’t cut the mustard. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I won the bake off and I will never let Daniel forget it! Despite his attempts, we didn’t all come down with food poisoning but I did appreciate his hot cross buns which I keep in my kitchen as a knife sharpener.

About the competition:

I thoroughly enjoyed the competition and the banter with Daniel, it was a wonderful team building exercise. I think we’ve both learnt a little from the experience: I have learnt that the simplest approach is often the best, that I am much more competitive than I thought and Daniel has learnt to stay out of the kitchen.

We’ve all had lots of fun but now, as the summer approaches, it’s time to set aside our dessert spoons and pick up our salad forks. The diet starts tomorrow!

crust = la croûte // cut the mustard = être à la hauteur // come down with food poisoning = souffrir d’une intoxication alimentaire // knife sharpener = aiguisoir à couteaux // banter = se charrier //put aside = mettre de côté

 

 

Bake Off – Hot Cross Buns

Bake Off – Hot Cross Buns / DANIEL

Non-fighting words

Competition is a healthy activity. It pushes us to be better, and can test our limits. And what better type of competition than a cooking one! However, every competition needs a winner and a loser. Lucky for me, for this particular competition my opponent is Katie, so this will be an easy win for me.

No good competition is complete without some good trash talk, in order to demoralize your opponent. So please sit back and enjoy the reasons why I’m not concerned about my chances of winning.

  • Someone once said that British food is bland. I don’t think that’s true – I think they just had dinner at Katie’s house.
  • I heard that Katie once dropped a loaf of her bread and it broke her foot.
  • I’m not saying the Taste Tester is in danger because Katie is baking, but I did hear that they took out extra insurance.
  • I’m not saying Katie’s bread would make a good paperweight, but the evidence shows that they do.
  • I heard that last year a local builder ran out of bricks when building a house, so Katie donated a batch of her bread rolls as a substitute. I don’t think that house will ever fall down.

Vocabulary:

Bland: sans gout, insipide / Trash talk: échanges verbaux / Loaf (of bread): miche (de pain) / Taste tester: goûteur / Paperweight: presse-papiers / Evidence: indice / Builder: maçon / Donate: donner, faire un don / Batch: fournée / Bread roll: petit pain

Bake Off – Hot Cross Buns / KATIE

INTRO:

There’s nothing better for team building than a little friendly competition. This month, Daniel and Katie have decided to have a bake off; England vs Australia, and their first challenge is The Hot Cross Bun. Amy will be the judge and we’ll share our winning recipes with you. So, Daniel and Katie, on your marks, get bready and go!

HISTORY

All my family know their way around the kitchen. My mother and father have always enjoyed cooking (and eating), my brother is a chef and has worked in many different restaurants around the world and my sister is always inspiring me with new healthy recipes.

One of my very fondest memories is of baking with my Grandma who was famous at her church’s bake sale for “Amy’s boring buns” which were simple but always the first to be sold out!

FIGHTING TALK

Katie: “Knead it and weep

This is going to be an easy one and I plan to make like bread and rise to the challenge. Daniel, prepare to go home because you’re going down…under! If I may misquote The Beatles: “all you knead is love” and there’s nobody who loves Hot Cross Buns more than me! I’m confident I’ll be taking home the gold and Daniel will be taking home his buns that nobody wants. I hope Amy has the number of a good dentist because she’ll need one after tasting Daniel’s baking!   

Pun Glossary:

-On your marks, Get Ready and Go! = À vos marques, prêts, partez

-Read it and weep = quand tu verras ça, tu auras envie de pleurer.

-make like bread and rise to the challenge = faites comme le pain et relevez le défi!

-The Beatle’s song: All you need is love (knead = pétrir)

 

What I have learnt on maternity leave.

On Monday I returned to work after 12 wonderful weeks with my new daughter Stella. The time had flown by so quickly, and I couldn’t believe that she was already 3 months old.

I was nervous. I was used to my new routine and was worried I had forgotten how to speak to adults, but I was equally excited to see my lovely colleagues and students again.

So, what have I learnt?

  • Team work. Whatever you do, it’s always helpful to know that you’re not alone and to have a strong support system. As a parent, I know I have family and friends to turn to if ever I feel overwhelmed. As an employee, surrounded by caring, dynamic and inspirational people motivates me to do my best.
  • There’s no shame in needing and asking for help. As a working mother especially, I feel there is a lot of pressure to manage my home and work life simultaneously and it’s difficult. Nobody is perfect but asking for and accepting help can only make me stronger.
  • Take your time. Progress is still progress, and with patience you can achieve many things. You don’t become bilingual in one day and you don’t suddenly become the world’s greatest parent as soon as your baby is born. I am proud of every achievement, big or small and working hard for something only makes the result more satisfying.
  • Self-worth. It was only when my older daughter pointed out my roots were showing that I realised I had not thought about myself as a person for the past year. I had been an oven for 9 months and a milk dispenser for the next 3. After taking a little time for myself, I felt less stressed, more confident, and ready to face the world.

It’s for that reason that I plan on taking any training opportunity I have this year, to improve my skills and make me a better-rounded person (but with a flatter tummy!).

ELC Finds a New Home!

Since its creation in 2004, ELC’s headquarters have been a closely guarded secret and the team has managed this because we have always made it a point to go to see our students in their own companies …. Whether it be a lovely village setting at the entrance to the calanques, a chic financial hub in the centre of town, a place where ladies still design underpants for gentlemen in the northern suburbs or a trendy hangout surrounded by vegan restaurants …. We love coming to you, because it helps us know you even better when you are surrounded by your natural environment.

However, ELC is now blooming and growing and adapting to new post-pandemic ways of working. We are becoming ELC 2.0 ….. Basically, we’re down with the kids!

Since February this year, we have joined the NOW co-working community on the Vieux Port of Marseille and we are loving it! The atmosphere is great thanks to Laurie, Andréa and Vanina at reception, the other co-workers are from so many different professions that we are bursting with curiosity and …. We are even training some of the most fabulous members in business English so as to make them even more fabulous internationally.

Check out our new group in the brainstorming room with Stéphane from Easiware, Andréa from Now, Anne-Laurence from Attention Fragile, Félix the graphic designer and Matt from Le Petit Ballon!

If things continue to be this good, we might even have to give up our secret office in that undersea volcano ….!

Big Fat quiz

ELC has a tradition every year to put together a quiz containing what we view as the most interesting news events of the year. Now, the events in question might not be the ones that made the headlines. Arguably, they may not figure on your list of top 50 events. It’s quite possible, even that they slipped your attention completely. But they caught our attention while we were skipping through the press daily, seeking the best articles for our dear students. Some of them made us gasp, some made us smile. Some even made us reach for the gin bottle. There are 28 questions, a few traps, three mad billionaires, some big business, a secret crush and a prize for the first person to send back a test with all the right answers…

It’s Graduation Day at ELC!

In October 2018, 11 brave men and women arrived at the Maison de l’Avocat with a sense of trepidation and embarked on a marathon 18 months of legal English training with ELC. Some were lawyers, some were in-house lawyers, and one member of the team worked for an expert witness. Each member embarked on a voyage of discovery of the common law, visiting company law, contracts, damages, sale of goods law, intellectual property law, real estate law, tort, white-collar criminal law, debtors and creditors and even the dreaded litigation process.

Each topic was approached with flair and finesse, leading to some memorable debates, some hilarious role plays, a lot of chocolate biscuits and a legendary tax law/pancake evening.
At the end of the course, 9 of the brave men and women took the TOLES (Test of Legal English Skills) exam and did brilliantly! In fact, they did so brilliantly that we had to celebrate in style (finally … after a year juggling covid restrictions) with a picnic and a game of pétanque.

 

They are the class of 2020: Nathalie, Pierre, Justine, Ali, Chloé, Anne, Agathe, Bastien and Jennifer. They are beautiful. We salute them!

ELC did a 30-day challenge

Juggling with Katie

I think there are very few people who are successful in every aspect of their lives.

A lot of things take time and practice to perfect.

As we tell our students: consistency is key. If you’re learning a language, practising a sport or even trying to be the best parent you can possibly be. It takes work.

At the beginning of the 30-day challenge, I was highly motivated. I love drawing and I always wish I have more time to do it. As the days went on I found it more and more difficult to prioritise my own hobbies. My daughter began CP in September and is beginning to read so I’ve loved helping her do her homework and watching her progress. I also love my job and my students and working between home and Marseille has kept me active; which is important because I’m also pregnant and getting bigger, slower and less flexible every day!

Very often, I realised that it was the end of the day and I hadn’t picked up my pencil.

It’s not always easy but I haven’t given up yet. So, if you too are struggling to juggle everything, I completely understand. But keep going, we’re in it together!

The Challenge… thirty days later

One month ago, I enthusiastically threw myself into learning a new language. And for at least ten days, that enthusiasm made me push myself to learn as much as I could every day. I was very proud of myself, managing to crunch my way through fifty exercises a day, but then work and responsibilities slowed me down. I began to realise that what I tell my students must be true for me too: take it slowly, and don’t try to run before you can walk.

I realised that repetition, although quite boring, is actually very useful in helping to remember things, and that vocabulary does not simply enter your mind and stay forever – you have to work at it!

I understand that, as a language teacher, I have an advantage in understanding the processes and grammatical structures, but the mental gymnastics required to say things not only in different words but also in different ways can be exhausting.

Sometimes, in the past week, I have only managed five or ten minutes a day, but I believe that spending some time every day to maintain what has already been learned is extremely important. I’m happy to say that I feel my Spanish has improved a great deal, at least in terms of understanding. I fully intend to continue learning, because it has been such a pleasurable experience. And I’ve won myself more than four hundred crowns on the Duolingo platform!

All I need to do now is to actually speak the language with some real Spanish people!

Hasta la vista!

 

Regularity is key!

My challenge for September was born from a challenge that my 18-year-old daughter had set herself: be able to do the splits within 30 days. And of course, as I cannot resist a challenge myself, I joined her, safe in the knowledge that I had been able to do the splits when I was a young girl so there was no danger of me not achieving the same flexibility 40 years later.

 30 days later, I am probably a centimetre closer to the ground than I was at the beginning of September, but I am more determined than ever! My sister-in-law used to boast that her grandmother of 90 would do the split at parties to amuse the crowd, so I have decided that THIS is my new challenge!

 We always tell our lovely students that learning a language is like doing sport: regularity is key, but it is a long-term commitment. It is wonderful to observe the gains, but fluency is as easy to lose as a pert bottom if you don’t test it on a regular basis.

 So, watch this space. I haven’t given up yet!

 

 

Post-30-day challenge

Jugglers (jongleurs), that’s what we are. Work, tasks, errands, cooking, friends, family, sleep—every week we try to juggle those, attempting to (en essayant de) find time for all of them. Some people even like to play on hard mode (en mode difficile), adding children, volunteering (volontariat), and other activities to the list. And, like a juggler, the more balls we have in the air, the more likely we can’t find time to catch them all.

One thing we might forget to add to our list is exercise. ‘I don’t have the time,’ you might say, or ‘I’ll start next week.’ How about this one— ‘I used to be fit! But I hurt my back/knee/foot.’ I’m certainly guilty of (coupable de) saying one or all of these. There is an expression, however, that we tend to forget: ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ (un esprit sain dans un corps sain). If we believe that saying to be true, then we must consider the long-term (à long terme) health impact of our busy lives on our bodies, if our bodies are not capable. We look after (s’occuper de) the engines in our cars, so that we can continue to use them, but we don’t always do the same for ourselves.

How much exercise should we get each week? There are many different recommendations, but about 30 minutes per day for about 5 days a week is a common recommendation. Even if (même si) we might need to exercise for longer, 30 minutes is better than 0 minutes. It could be as easy as parking your car further away from your work and walking, or sometimes choosing to ride a bike instead of taking your car or scooter.

Last month for my 30-day challenge I committed to (s’engager à) going to the gym (salle de sport) at least 5 times a week. That was my commitment (engagement) to ‘healthy body, healthy mind’. I succeeded in doing this, going a total of 35 times during the month. Now my goal is to continue. Healthy body, healthy mind!

 

 

Mad dogs and English Coaches Go Out in the Midday Sun

My Life as a Crab by Amy

After 30 years of living in the South of France, I would like to be able to say that I understand Mediterranean summers, but apparently, I haven’t learnt a thing!

Three (of four) mad dogs in the Cala Goloritzé.

In 2 BC (that’s two years before covid – or 2019 for those more traditional among you), the family and I decided to spend summer in Sardinia, having been told about its wonders by our Nick who spends many months there every year. And indeed, it is wonderful …. Crystalline waters, empty beaches, magical creeks, great food, lovely people … Our trip took us from Oristano on the west coast, to Orosei on the east coast, to Chia in the south – all extraordinary places. 

During our stay in Orosei, we decided to visit the beautiful Cala Goloritzé, which can be reached either by boat, or by a 3-hour hike through the creeks. As we are a family that enjoys a challenge, we decided on the latter and set off at noon, the time at which mad dogs and English families start a marathon trek.

The hike took us through some beautiful settings. The views from the cliffs were breath-taking and the vegetation gave some welcome shade from the 42° temperatures and the punishing sun. From time to time, we came across a fellow hiker who was sitting on a rock, panting, or drinking furiously from a bottle of water, but on we went …. The temperatures continued to climb and so did we, through the rocks and the sand, sitting from time to time to catch our breath and drink and drink and drink …. And on we went, ignoring the scorched earth and the skeletons of the lizards until we could hear the sounds of the beach nearby.

And at this point something happened to my body. Something that I can only describe as a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde experience as pins and needles filled me from head to toe, all my limbs became rigid and unmovable, and I transformed into … The Crab.

Luckily for me, we had practically arrived and there was a bar nearby and my daughters were able to run to get me some sugar in the form of a Magnum ice-cream, after which the feeling generally returned to my hands and feet, and I was able to open my crab pincers … but it was a close shave, and we all learnt a valuable lesson about being Mad Dogs.

The family still speaks in hushed tones of The Crab and I have never been able to look a Magnum ice-cream in the face since!

 

 

To cream, or not to cream…that is the question.

Proof that the sun does exist in England. (Newquay, Cornwall)

I am rarely mistaken for a French person. I’m too pale skinned and freckled (taches de rousseur). After more than 10 years living in a hot country I think I’ve finally learnt how to handle the sun, but it’s been a long journey!

When I visited as a teenager, the objective was to absorb as much sun as possible. Even walking up the steps to the plane I would walk like a zombie just to make sure my arms and face were as tanned as possible. When I say tanned, I am either slightly less white with more freckles or burnt to a crisp (cramé). There is no in-between.

When my friends come to visit they are the same. I once took a friend to a hammam after a week of Marseille sun. The masseuse wanted to practise her English but the only phrase she could think of was « haha, red tomato » while pointing to our burnt skin.

Before we were old enough to go abroad we would go to Cornwall in the south of England for our holidays. For those of you who think it rains every day in England, you’re very wrong. We would spend all day on the beach, sunbathing, swimming, body boarding and of course flirting with the surfers. Suncream was for wimps (les poules mouillées), and it’s the English sun so there was no danger, right? Wrong! In the evening, when we got changed into our nightclubbing outfits we realised how burnt we were. We couldn’t sit down at the restaurant because of our burnt thighs and we danced like starfish in the clubs as our clothes felt like sandpaper (papier de verre). We covered ourselves in aftersun cream but it just evaporated off our hot skin. That night we basically slept against the wall of our hostel to cool off.

The next day though we were back on the beach, sizzling like bacon. We didn’t learn. Back home, we would compare our tan lines and delight in peeling our damaged skin off like dried glue.

This is why my daughter is always the whitest child on the beach. She always has at least 3 layers of sun cream 50+ which makes it very difficult to hug her as she slips right out of your arms like an oily fish. But at least she’s protected. I’m sure there will be a time when she rebels but when that moment comes, I have photo albums of horrifying pictures of her mother on the beach, just in case.

Covering up after learning my lesson.
And now: My friends absorbing the last rays of sunshine before they go home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mad dogs and Englishmen

They say only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. That’s not true, no way. English women do it too. I do have a story to support that, and it’s true. Once, long ago now, I was in the army and, like many soldiers at the time, I was deployed overseas. I won’t say the location, because it doesn’t matter–I believe that my story would have been true no matter which part of the world I was in.

 During my time overseas there was a lot of fighting around us and of course, in these situations you need to be protected from bullets (balles), rockets and mortars as much as you can. Simple, right? Of course. Unless you’re British and the sun comes out…

 At one stage during my deployment, I was sent to work with the British Army for a week. At that time this new location was said to be the most mortared place in the world (l’endroit le plus mortié du monde). All the buildings were covered in dirt and rocks to protect them, and there were big concrete walls between buildings to block them. We were under attack every day, but we were safe in our protected buildings. But then something happened that made me question the mentality of British people: Once the sun appeared from behind the clouds, the area was filled with British soldiers who began to lie on the ground with most of their clothes off, sunbathing (prendre un bain de soleil). Suddenly, the danger didn’t matter anymore. Rockets? Don’t care. Mortars? They’re nothing! The sun is so rare in England that the world stops for an English person when the sun comes out. Nothing else matters.

Only mad dogs and English people go out in the midday sun? Well, I don’t know about the dogs, but it’s certainly true for the English.

Mad wasps and an Englishman

My tale of summer madness goes back four years. It was mid-July and a pleasant thirty-five degrees in the shade. I was a widower, living with my wonderful ninety-year-old mother-in-law. My fiancé had just arrived from Sardinia and was sleeping because of missing the last train and spending the night on a hard bench at the station.

Mother-in-law noticed that the bottle-brush tree needed a bit of a trim so I got up and started hacking away at it. What I hadn’t noticed was the wasp’s nest. Wasps don’t like to be disturbed at midday and the entire colony decided to attack my shirtless body. I ran out screaming, but reassured myself that I was not allergic to wasp stings.

I went on to prepare lunch and, despite the pain from a hundred wasp stings, Tetta (my mother-in-law) and I had a relaxed lunch, serenaded by gentle snoring from the bedroom.

I got up to make coffee and felt a little wobbly. Before I knew it, I was lying unconscious on the kitchen floor. I woke up to the wailing lamentations that only an Italian mamma can make, calling on all the saints to save both her and me. I suggested she call my fiancé. Perhaps only an Italian fiancé can outdo an Italian mamma in lamentation! I suggested calling my doctor.

Within five minutes, three ambulances were outside my house and a gaggle of paramedics heaved me onto my bed, fixed up drips on both my arms and told me I was lucky to be alive. Fortunately, one of them had had the good sense to pick a few kilos of figs from the garden, which lightened the conversation from what Tetta had whispered to my fiancé – “What will we do if he dies? We haven’t got the money to pay for the funeral!”

I bit into a fig and laughed at the absurdity of it all.

How your favourite team of trainers stays so happy

How I manage not to throw an axe by Amy

It is not uncommon for people to ask me where I find my bounce … and it’s true that I tend to go through life as though hopping from trampoline to trampoline.

First of all, life is always easier when you are blessed with a happy, optimistic disposition, and I thank my grandmother, Hoo-hoo (yes, Hoo-hoo) for that. Hoo-hoo was named because whenever she came into the house, she would call out at the top of her voice “Yoo-hooooooooo, is anybody there?” and as a young child, I must have identified her like this. Hoo-hoo was always incredibly curious about people, relationships, what made people tick …. She loved a laugh, she loved her food and she was always game for anything. If I can live as long and as happily as Hoo-hoo, I will be a happy woman.

But when the days are long and the nights are short, and dreams are full of administration, two things seem to work for me.

One is my exercise bike: purchased during the first weeks of the pandemic to stop the family from going bonkers, it has been a friend in moments of needing to let off steam. I hop on top, close my eyes and off I go …. Pedalling through the Greek countryside, side by side with Jean Dujardin, probably cycling a lot faster than him but looking as fresh as a rose all the same …. Or puffing up the side of a Himalaya with the Dalai Lama listening to his words of wisdom while I smile beatifically.

The other is bread. There is nothing quite like pummelling the hell out of a lump of dough to put you in a good mood.

The proof is I have never yet needed to throw an axe at someone, although I have been known to get into the odd flour fight from time to time!

The act of fishing is relaxing

Fishing can be very relaxing. It’s like sitting next to the water, but with a chance to catch a fish. There are, of course, different styles of fishing. Some styles are more active than others, or require more equipment, however the most basic style doesn’t require much. All you need is your rod, some bait, and patience. That last item—patience—is the important one. Because you might wait hours for a fish to come along and find your bait. In a day of fishing you might only have a few moments of action, and so it’s those long periods between the action that the relaxation happens!

While you’re waiting for a fish there are many things to do. You can read a book, you can explore the area (don’t go too far from your rod!), you can play a game on your phone, if you like. Sounds not relaxing enough for your tastes? What would you like to do if you were spending several hours in a beautiful location next to the water? Sunbathe? Not a problem! Practise painting? Well, why not! Start writing a novel that will make you famous? What better time! Go to sleep? Hmmm, possibly, but maybe you should tie your rod to your hand first, in case a fish tries to take it! No matter what you do while you sit there, you’ll have the opportunity to do something that relaxes you. Because, you see, it’s not really the fishing that’s relaxing, it’s what you do while you’re there that’s important.

Doing it Myself

Some might find it relaxing to go for a jog around the park, others enjoy throwing an axe at a tree. Me? I love building stuff!

At university I studied Art and Design. It was a wonderful combination of everything I loved doing; drawing, painting, creating things from various materials and learning how to use enormous power tools that my father would never let me touch at home. I remember the thrill of cutting a piece of wood with a huge circular saw.  The type of saw you could see in a James Bond film, with 007 escaping seconds before losing an important body part. I also had the opportunity to try some welding, like the woman from Flashdance…a wonderful experience, even without the dancing.

As you can imagine, I rarely had the opportunity to use my new skills after university but then at the end of last year my husband and I bought our own house. I saw my opportunity, found my safety goggles and got to work. In English we use the expression DIY (Do it  yourself). During the lockdown, that’s exactly what people did. Instead of paying someone else to build a shed or to put a shelf up, they did it themselves. And thanks to these people I have lots of YouTube videos to help me through my own renovations.

For me, there is nothing more satisfying that being able to say: « I made that ». Anything I can build brings me enormous joy, even an IKEA flat pack. I’ll happily spend my weekends laying floorboards, designing my dream bathroom, measuring, cutting, hammering. If at the end of the day I am covered in paint or wood chips you will also see a big smile on my face.

Finally, I think it’s a good « girl power » lesson for my daughter. If you want something done, do it yourself!

Winding down

Looming deadlines, covid anxiety and the surreal world of virtually meeting people you have not seen physically for months mean we’re all suffering from unprecedented levels of stress. As the world is slowly opening up around us, with restaurants and bars welcoming us to their terraces, and the very real possibility that soon we may be able to stay outside long enough to watch the sun set in the presence of a few friends, there is another form of stress building – how to interact socially when we’re so out of practice?

So we need to let off steam, decompress, and wind down. Personally, there are three things I do when it’s all too much for me: I go into my garden and rage at the weeds and destructive insects. I dig and prune and feed my plants. I take the time to revel in the beauty of nature; but overnight the insects start their destructive work again.

Or I cook. I take out my pots and pans, slice and dice, fry, simmer and steam until the house is full of tantalising smells. But then I turn around and rage at the ungodly mess I have created around the kitchen and I clatter and bang it all into a semblance of order.

Finally, I sit and think: I’m a writer, and concentrating my thoughts, ordering them, connecting them, trying to give them communicative form is, perhaps, the best way I know of draining tension from my body. But then I re-read what I have written the next morning and rage at the inadequacy of what had seemed so inspired.

More than anything, these are all solitary pursuits and, right now, I feel the need of company to really let off steam.

Two weeks ago, I had a truly liberating experience. It was a beautiful day – the heat of summer in the middle of spring – and I spent the afternoon at the beach with friends. Idle chatter and lazy swimming put us all in a good mood. At the end of the afternoon, we decided to walk into town, and we stopped at the first restaurant that had space for us. The owner was a jovial man, passionate about his job. He told us to trust him and in the warmth of early evening, looking out over the calm sea, we were all smilingly at peace with the world. The food and the wine were excellent, the atmosphere that of a family party as the people on the neighbouring tables joined our conversation and the owner came to sit with us.

Whether it was the timing, or the combination of friends and strangers, but that first meal in a restaurant after so many long months of meeting nobody new, was the perfect antidote to stress.