Monday, 19 May 2008

In Search of a Red Hat!

Yes folks, today is the day I've been awaiting, for - never mind for how long. Today I get to join the Red Hats of the world! The purple clothing I have already worn most of my life, being a dedicated Purple People. (In fact, I wore purple last night, while giving a creative writing workshop in Diss. A purple sparkly Indian dress over purple harem pants.) I have also worn hats of many shapes and styles, and colours, including purple. (It must be admitted that even while working in the TV/Film world, my own oddity colleagues were prone to saying that I dressed very ... unusually. "Weird" is a term I have heard, too!)

But today, I am officially a Red Hatter, and this morning I am heading into Norwich market to find for myself - yes - a RED HAT! With bells on! (Oh yes, that would do nicely, thank you. Perhaps an embroidered belly-dancer's hat: I wonder if the good Norfolk stallholders will stretch to that? I shall report back!) I intend to then celebrate with lunch at the Thai On The River restaurant, followed by a bone scan at the Norfolk & Norwich. At 50, one can't be too careful.

I became authorised for the above mission shortly after midnight - at about 00:04, if my mother is to be believed. I was asleep by then, of course - at 50, one should observe the beauty niceties. The surprises have begun already: my erstwhile husband got up about an hour earlier than usual, to get me coffee and wish me happy birthday. (He forgot to get me a present. I'll make him pay for that later, at the market.)

I have been instructed by my daughter (and therefore by default also my son) to wait at home for a delivery this morning - a token gift to mark the day, since we'll all be getting together in June to celebrate the fact that we have a string of family birthdays during the next three weeks, not to mention Mother's Day and Father's Day to throw into the mix.

So I watch the sun frolicking on the fields outside my window as I drink my early morning coffee, and enjoy a thrill of anticipation.

After all, it's not every day that one reaches one's half-century.

Jonty Rhodes, eat your heart out!

Saturday, 17 May 2008

In Search of the Perfect Croissant

When we set off on our Indian Ocean voyage, heading first for the French island of Mayotte in the Comoros archipelago, we had read in a sailing magazine article and been told by other sailors about a bakery on Pamandzi that was like no other. Nothing would do but that we should hie ourselves hence the moment we had anchored, and experience heaven in pastry. Our lives would not, could not, be complete any otherwise.

As it happened, we arrived in Mayotte in the afternoon, scampered around Dzaoudzi bay looking for good anchorage while avoiding myriad ferries plying back and forth between the yachts (!), and then had formalities to complete with corrupt officials (well okay, only ONE corrupt official, but that's another story altogether) - by which time it was evening. But, we promised ourselves, the very next day we would feast on the legendary croissants!

Not so. We searched for days for the famed bakery, but never found it. Even the locals frowned in puzzlement when asked about it, and pointed us to Pamandzi, where we indeed found a strange little bakery - without produce. We went back several times during our 8 week stay, but only once did we find that boulangerie open, and it's day's stock was almost gone. In our search we had covered all of Pamandzi and Dzaoudzi, and most of Mamoudzou, and had almost given up on finding a cheap cup of coffee with croissants - when we discovered, way over the other side of the main island (and a double taxi-fee away as it was in the next zone), an actual real supermarket with actual real supermarket food, and a little cafe that did pastries and coffee.

Bliss! and we make the best of this for the last few weeks that we remained in Mayotte. True, we had found other pastries, and even one place that did croissants (at an exhorbitant price, as it was the main tourist hotel in Mamoudzou!) - but everything else we had experienced was just plain "flat" against the ideal that had been described to us, and which we were vainly convinced must be out there somewhere.

The point of this little tale is: are we not all constantly searching for that perfect but mythical croissant, in a manner of speaking? Nowadays I find myself searching not for a croissant, but for the perfect manuscript (although a darned good croissant would not go astray!). Each time I pick up an author's beloved work, I am excited. Will this be The Big One? I hope against hope that it will be, but if you're about to sink several thousand pounds and a whole lot of work into launching a book, you had better absolutely and utterly LOVE that book! And, let's face it, love is a very personal thing. Otherwise we'd all be wanting to marry everyone else's spouse, wouldn't we?

And so it is with choosing a book to expend the next couple of years on. I have to adore the book. I have to believe it's a winner. I have to then adore the author. I have to believe the author will be a winner. I have to feel that wild urge to work on the manuscript, and to work with the author; that heart-flipping excitement that lights up a new relationship - in fact, that elusive passion that will drive this book forward and make it a success. My success, as well as the author's.

These pearls of great lustre are few and far between. Oh, many pearls do turn up, many of them with a very tempting sheen (still more, sadly, with little or no sheen at all) - many that I would really enjoy working on, if I had the capital or was being paid to do so - but every publisher has a budget, and I keep holding on for the next absolutely perfect oyster who will present me with an absolutely breathtaking pearl.

Or - a baker with an exquisite croissant would do, too. Cappucino with that, please ...