Oyster Therapy

with Patty & Shirley

'What's My Line?'

The above was intended to be the original title of this week’s review and remains so. I had written it in my head completely, however it has been edited to the point of non recognition. Patty you can keep your dignity but I feel happy enough to admit I can be a cringe-worthy and embarrassingly misplaced show off, so here is a taster of what should have been, whilst the official slightly less edgy update follows under that.

———We get talking to the guy next to us. Everything is very civilised and upbeat and friendly. He is quiet and I tend to be a little loud. It is habitual behaviour and nothing I am particularly proud of, I just accept it. I am not sure why, but on more than one occasion I hear myself blurting out the most crazy stuff and am then left pondering why I said it, and what relevance whatsoever it has to me now. Deep breath. As part of my ‘most important information about Me’ I feel compelled to tell everyone I meet in exalted tones, ‘I am a trained beautician’. And . So. What! The truth is that I last gave someone a treatment in 1979 (which is also the same year I gave up ironing; another of my nine virtues I extol to anyone in earshot) so I always astound myself when I hear these dreadful words spewing out of my mouth. I question firstly why am I so proud of that, like ever since that time I have never accomplished another single thing of note (which is absolutely not true) and why I deliver it in a whiny 17 year old teenage show-offy manner. Does anyone think that, having never met me before and whilst sizing me up, the balance was leaning heavily to one side until this clincher is served? That is it! That is what I wanted to hear! She is a trained beautician. Now it makes perfect sense! I say it to everyone and to good friends even now, so it is not something I target to a particular gender or circumstance. It is an absolutely obscure thing. And what a sad little aspiration and admission. Perhaps I feel more self conscious than I realise and have to point out that even though presented to the world is a slightly shabby chic, fraying around the edges, middle aged woman, I have to let the world know there was a time when I actually gave a shit about how I looked and my cosmetic background was backed up in hard evidence. But it is not a new thing. It has been going on way before the middle aged thing. Who knows but yep, that is what I said, again, to this complete stranger. He looked suitably unimpressed. Perhaps by making this awfulness public I can finally put my teenage angst and abilities behind me and perhaps drag myself slightly more up to date…..say, the late 80s. Well, I cannot bring it forward to right now can I, overnight? Shameless and slightly pathetic and simple. Now onto the review proper. ———

And so it came to pass we made it to the last of the three Wright Brothers establishments that we hadn’t visited. And as it turns out, it was the first in the chain. It is nestled in the hustle and bustle of Borough Market. And hustling and bustling it was, with escapees from the surrounding offices and some tourists thrown into the mix. The place is small and consists of a long bar with several high tables and even though it was an autumn night the fans were spinning and the windows open and it was still warm. I arrived earlier than I had intended and was shown to my stool. I ordered a martini – gin of course – and was handed a menu and a quick rundown on specials and procedures. It is a very slick operation as are all the Wright Brothers establishments. Again the staff are spot on. They are knowledgeable, friendly, approachable and you never have the feeling that any of their behaviour is less than genuine. The management has struck gold with their hiring specifications and hit the target unerringly. I sat and closed my eyes and I could have been in 17th century olde London, enjoying ageless noisy and cheerful revelry from the drinkers and eaters in one of the oldest parts of this wonderful city.
Patty arrived and we sat deciding on our choices for the evening. There were several options for oysters but that was narrowed down to the Jersey Royals after the waitress said they were the only ones that weren’t creamy at the moment. We need to get back into the cool water for that to change and as it has been the longest warm spell in London this year that I can remember, who knows when that might be. We ordered half a pint of prawns – always loved that quaint English tradition – along with a whole crab. We knew we were in for a treat. Patty let slip she was reflecting on eating oysters as she had been pondering the fact that they are alive when you eat them, and much like me in Portugal, questioned the whole thing. However I got over that tentative thought and suspect (and hope) Patty does as well. So that left me five of the oysters and she did have one and they were very good. All the food was served at the same time so our little bench space was crowded to overflowing with seafood and it was decadent and delicious. We ran through our respective weeks and compared notes, which as usual, were pretty much in parallel.
During the evening we made the acquaintance of Hal. Hal is a sports writer from Florida. When I think of sports writers I instantly think of Jack Klugman’s version in ‘The Odd Couple’; beer swilling, cigar chomping, gambling loudmouth. So it was the opposite to the quietly spoken, gentle man that was sitting drinking tea next to us. He was in town to cover the Miami Dolphins vs Oakland Raiders NFL in London. We had a nice chat, swapped stories and compared notes and bade him adieu. I always am heartened to meet modest people, when I can be brash, blousy and utterly brazen. They remind me to calm down and be quiet, that decibels are not necessary to convey thoughts or get a point across. There is no point scoring.
Bart, the manager, your turn. It was delightful to meet you and your enthusiasm and dedication to your job was obvious and contagious. We discussed again the strategies employed by Wright Brothers and again it was so refreshing to see such zest in the delivery of first class food and service.
Wright Brothers is quite high end and not a cheap option but always is spot on with quality produce served with gusto and flair.
After we paid our bill we wandered through the now closed market. It has such a wonderful vibe to the area and we spotted several day time stalls that offer cheaper oysters and I will attach a photo of the largest oyster we have ever seen. We had to throw a penny through the wire barrier for comparison but it was almost unbelievably big so I need to find out if it is real or not. It would be meal on its own for a family of four.

I won the battle and the war. 14 September 14

I have been promising an oyster review for weeks and I am sad to say the one I offer you is one of duty rather than enjoyment. Patty and I met up without any fuss yesterday in the basement of Selfridges - many of you probably feel you have been there with us, and some of you have - and we ordered a dozen oysters. We had so much to catch up on and it was so lovely to see my buddy walking through the door, looking as beautiful as always. I will however, keep the review short. The oysters were creamy, served at a slightly too warm temperature and neither of us were impressed or able to finish our servings. We had some tasty bread and some dodgy butter concoction that I avoided but Patty tried and didn’t enjoy. We were overcharged by the establishment and overcharged with emotions. Our meeting was brief and sweet and we managed to visit the slightly overpriced and uninspiring Christmas shop on level 4. See attached photo.

I have struggled the past few weeks with inspiration for this blog. I have experienced some incredible personal breakthroughs and breakdowns and it is that which I wish to address this time. It is therapy time. Before I start this confession of sorts I wish to add a disclaimer. My expressions of unconditional love are genuine but were masked by the other persona I adopted. Some of the game playing and neediness that has ensued is not.

I have been seeing my current psychotherapist for six months and this round of counselling has proven to be without doubt the best ever and the most productive. I have bashed down walls, faced my demons and come out smiling at the end of it, albeit through a veil of tears. That is therapy at its finest; painful, satisfying and inevitable. I am never sure how it works or why but it sometimes feels like a magic trick, a sleight of hand, that turns your long held beliefs on their head and they run away screaming, finally released from the terror and trap of the mind. This week I had such a moment of realisation. Like many questions in life the answers are simple. But not easy. I never have appreciated those words more than now. Simple. Not. Easy. I reached a block in therapy and have skirted around things for maybe two months now. Every week I turn up, with set ideas in my mind of where I wanted things to go. Nothing happened. I remained in a state of unimaginable and constant anxiety, pretending to myself I was in control. What a lie. Freedom is a total lack of controlling. Freedom is allowing the truth to appear.

I have been conscious of a steel shutter in my heart that I can almost physically feel close down whenever difficult things come up. I shut down emotionally and what happens is that I then start a charade that I used to call my ‘reality’. It is a game I have played for so long now I am too embarrassed to tell you the number of years. There were reasons for it of course. Childhood and teenage trauma. I am aware of the deceit I displayed for others’ benefit as well as my own to maintain the status quo. It became my first nature, not my second, but it was all a facade. I heard myself say things and display emotions and behaviours, all the time inside, feeling nothing. This of course had to end. I have spent weeks discussing my fear of opening the steel door and I couldn’t see any way in, any way forward or any new direction. And then something happened. Through the gentle guidance of my therapist, I realised and accepted that I had taken on the thoughts and feelings of someone else, almost a possession if you will. Hence the clashes within myself, with myself. I finally acknowledged that this week and said my goodbyes. I no longer could hold someone else’s pain and suffering and live my own life. My fear of opening the shutter filled me with dread, as I imagined over time all my real feelings would have lost interest and disappeared. I left the hospital and walked down the street, in tears like so many other times. Suddenly the shutter went up. And the most unexpected thing occurred. Where I was expecting death and destruction, I found light. The steel door was not shutting down my feelings but keeping them safe from this perceived threat, which now no longer existed. I found my younger emotional self, alive, intact and ready to come out of captivity. The depression lifted and the anxiety abated.

Crash, bang. I returned to work after this beautiful revelation to be given a mid year performance review. As most of you know I have never settled in the job I currently have and it is for no particular reason. From the high I had just felt, I was to crash down equally low as I was berated and given a litany of my inadequacies in the workplace. I cried again, but this time of embarrassment and anger. I fought my case and went home to contemplate the day. The next day with my new found peace and inner strength, I typed a short and sweet letter of resignation. Life is too precious and too short to be undermined by other peoples’ misguided perceptions. I am not scared. I feel liberated and excited about finding out what is in store for me next. I resolve not to work in an office long term again doing meaningless things. Why such highs and lows in one day? Is this a coincidence? No.

uncanny likeness. review to follow.

uncanny likeness. review to follow.

Welcome home!

Thank God you are back Patty! I took myself on a little date the other week at The Cow which was very pleasant but my mind was unfocussed and wandering and the ramblings that ensued just didn’t pass muster, even though I gave it my best shot. We have to go to the Red Lobster together, I think I have been to one sometime but not with you.
Meet up soon, right?
Another update en route then.

Red Lobster, Bloomington, Minnesota

Up here in the Land o’ Lakes, you couldn’t be farther from a salty body of water. So you don’t really expect to see fresh raw oysters on a restaurant menu.
On my quest for a taste of the sea, I found myself at Red Lobster, Bloomington. In truth I’d seen their commercial on TV advertising a Crabfest, so in typical North American style, I followed what I was being spoon-fed. The fact is that they do what they do so well: the service industry in America is second to none. It’s no secret that restaurant servers in the US don’t seem to have the same dismissive attitude they so often display in England and France. Perhaps it’s something to do with Americans not being shy to take their tips! Good on them. I smiled when I got my bill and it very helpfully calculated several tip options for me: 15%, 18% and 20%. (The full experience was worthy of a hefty 18%).

As I wasn’t expecting to slurp oysters, I only ordered 3, plus there was just the one variety on the menu - Crassotrea. Never being quite sure what to expect, it’s always wise to start small. Plus, ok, I admit I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for crab!

I put several questions to my very pleasant and smiling waitress about the origin of these Crustacea. She then invited to the manager to come over with a printed leaflet informing about the variety, taste, geographical origin and everything I needed to know about what I’d ordered. Again, the service was outstanding.

When my little sea-treats arrived, I wasn’t disappointed, but I was a little surprised by the taste and texture. Way less salty than European and Australian oysters, they were also a little jellified, very odd. The meaty bit was borderline chewy, the flavour mildly bitter. Have I put you off? They weren’t excellent; just unusual. In fact, they were more bland than anything else, but they looked good, well presented, and I’d expect no less. Most importantly, they lacked the fearsome splurge of cream!

These oysters may have had a touch of alien about them (don’t they all?!), but the leaflet says they are from Louisiana, the Gulf of Mexico, and ‘wild caught’. I’m also happy to report they were good for me, being high in heart-healthy Omega-3.

Lastly, now that I’m all boned up on Oyster facts, I’m heading back to London and looking forward to getting the lowdown from Shirley!

Charity Run

My daughter, son and I are doing a charity run in October in London for the British Heart Foundation. It is a 5k run and as India and I are jogging novices we thought it would be a good thing to do. If you have some spare change any donation will be welcome.
Oyster review to come soon.

Tears of a clown - do not judge anyone by their appearance

It is always headline news when someone ‘funny’ commits suicide. It somehow seems more poignant as it appears to be diametrically opposed to the persona of the person. It jars so hard against what we see. This is no more clearly demonstrated that with the death of Robin Williams. From the outside he had it all; the adulation, the wealth, the loving family and all the trappings of international success. How utterly contrasting this must have seemed to him alone with himself in his own mind. The contrast would perhaps be even sharper than for most. I wonder if this reality gap made it too much to bear. How helpless would you feel and how ungrateful that with all the material trappings, you experience not an iota of relief? And it may resonate with so many others who suffer from depression: well, if he can do it with all he’s got, what hope me?
Suicide touches everyone. The person who does it is so involved in themselves that the bigger picture disappears. They probably consider their action a totally personal one, which of course it is. However, it is not someone sneaking out the back door of life. It is not a ripple caused by a stone being tossed in water. It is a bomb going off in a small pool and its devastating tsunami effects reach out to all of us. Not just the person is gone, the family is blown apart, the friends get the fallout of guilt and the world at large suddenly feels vulnerable. This ripple continues. This sad event can serve as a timely and ongoing reminder to us all that we need to be kind to ourselves, to each other and never be too scared to say and do the things we need in the hope that this deep rejection and sad action need not be the only choice for a despairing person. And who of us who have lost someone in this tragic way would give anything to have their loved one back, in whatever fractured, frightened or fragile state, to let them know it needn’t end like this. I am not here to preach or convince, as everyone has their own story to tell, but it is occasions like this that we need to reflect on what we are here for and what cost the trappings of fame and pressure to perform, publicly or privately, can have on us all. And at this time it cannot be said loudly enough, depression kills. And the sooner it is taken out of its bag of shame and stigma the better. Consider this also, that it remains a criminal offence in some countries. Cold comfort today for Robin Williams’ family and for the families of the approximately 3,000 other souls worldwide that have taken this option today alone. Rest in Peace.

Martinis and Fortnums, August 8th 2014

There is an unusual event taking place at the Royal Academy this month. The Dennis Hopper photography extravaganza orgy? Well that is also there but around at the back entrance of the RA and up the stairs and to the left of dear one time narcissist and nevertheless gorgous, old Dennis, is the Belvedere Vodka “Legends of the Martini”. My daughter had found this little treasure and it is one of those exhibits that London does so impossibly well. It was one of the smallest and cutest exhibits I have seen, offering no more than an oversized mock up of a Martini glass in which you can sit (69kg limit which we both giggled nervously about, knowing full well we both fall way short of that weight but I have history destroying seemingly indestructible items that ‘can take the weight of an elephant’ but not me when I was then about 50kgs! But that is for another time).There was then a 60’s style chaise longue and an oversized cocktail shaker that two people could squeeze in to watch a short and silent film on Martinis being mixed. Well, I consider the Martini to be one of the few cocktails that can stand alone and be celebrated in this way and it was delightful. Beyond the room was a pop up bar where a shaker of barmen ( group noun? no the correct term is a promise of barmen) and groups of twos and threes were enjoying the ‘experience’. We wanted the experience as well and were shown to the bar. Our man was Ian who ended up being not only an events bartender, he owns his own coffee business in south London and tends and sells produce from his own allottment. He is one of many and happily, increasing numbers of young people who are into a new business model of operating. They are into local and sustainable and diverse interests and it served to set my resolve to use some of the wasted space in the gardens where I live - which is such a blessing in central London - to set up large planting areas that could provide free food. There is a definite, if not slow, sea-change in work patterns in the UK and hopefully beyond, which is most welcome.
Oyster review? Coming up shortly.
Anyway, Ian was knowledgeable and provided some insights into the history of the Martini. It was originally a gin based cocktail (I knew that) and that is how I prefer mine. However as this was a Belvedere vodka event you can see where this is going. Was it only last week I mentioned I HATE vodka, and yet here I was sipping at three miniature vodka versions: the dry and stirred, the wet and shaken, and finally one with a hint of gin and a twist of lemon. The wet and dry relates to the ratio of vermouth added. They were ok but I remained unconverted. When we were finally allowed to choose our own mix, I went for what I like best; dry, stirred and with a twist. Oh and yes it was gin all the way. India went for the house ‘Noel Coward’ special which included a very peaty whiskey and a drop of orange bitters which was very flavoursome. What I was surprised to learn and still question, is that the Martini did not make it to a recipe book or officially appear until the 1930s. I cannot believe that and I will do further research but surely somewhere amongst the crazy Hogarth’s London gin swilling days, they knew of Martinis. Apparently not. The film noir glamour and silent screen decadence along with smoking using a cigarette holder were all evoked parked on the stool sipping our cocktails and laughing at the quotes painted around the room. Noel Coward’s went like this. “A perfect Martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy”. Well I laughed and India asked me who Noel Coward was. Please people, google him if you need to ask, same goes for Dorothy Parker. But there you have it. Martini=Gin, unless you are at the Belvedere Vodka “Legends of the Martini” exhibition. OK, enough plugs for them.
After all that, our mother and daughter quality time had hardly passed start so we looked across the street at Fortnum and Mason’s, supermarket to the Queen, and also seemingly, all the detritus which is the general public, plus tourists plus us. In days gone by, the ground floor was always flooded with token seekers but the other floors offered gentle and quality items. Not any more. Each floor is packed with dinky little round tables displaying a limited and expensive array of what I am generously calling here, bric a brac. It is still very pretty but it has lost its chutzpah. As we climbed down the stairs we decided to swing by the basement food hall, just in case. And as we looked around a small restaurant caught our eyes. In fact what caught our eye was the big blackboard with Cumbrae and Carlingford oysters at a most reasonable £1.50 a hit. Next thing we know we are seated in the 1707 bar ordering. As we sat a waitress came and rubbed out the chalked Carlingfords. Our waitress came out asking if we minded only having five Carlingfords and seven Cumbrae. So, we got the last batch. Bread was served in a tiny little wicker basket. Our oysters arrived and we set to work. I recognised the creaminess of the Irish and was not put off as I have managed to embrace rather than dismiss these moreish mouthfuls. Mouthful the first, tantalising and tasty. Then I swapped and went for one of the Scottish ones. It was superior to its island neighbour, was small, succulent and totally tasty. We divvied up the rest so I would be the brave eater of the more creamy Carlingfords and I did well until the last one. I am not sure if it was just one mouthful of cream too far, or in fact this was just too creamy period, but out it came again to nestle, partly macerated, masticated and back in its shell. However the entire oyster experience was wonderful, washed down with a fine Cotes de Rhone and cheery girly conversation. 1707 wine bar, you have managed to save a sinking ship that is now the newly branded Fortnums. We will be back. It was a gentle and soothing atmosphere and very reasonably priced. And they have these fabulous little ‘flights’ on offer which are a trio of different wines presented in a contraption that holds the glasses in space. They cost more but we decided we definitely wanted to try a champagne or red wine flight. See you soon.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

And Salzburg, and although I promised an update from there, sadly we found no oysters but a proliferation of Italian joints in that most picturesque European town, so for that I apologise.
However last Thursday Patty, India and I traveled to Whitstable to enjoy the penultimate day of the Whitstable oyster festival 2014. It was another perfect summer’s day and we arrived mid morning and followed the trail of folk to the seashore. Although at the tail end of the festival, there was a vibe and hum around town. Whitstable is unlike many other seaside towns. There is no pier (the Eastbourne one burnt down this week as have so many other Victorian wooden piers) and it is a thriving and industrious town, which hasn’t changed in years. It is what one would conjure up in the mind’s eye as the idyllic English resort, being quintessentially British without the tat. Time has stopped here in a nostalgic era of beauty. It can easily be walked around in less than a couple of hours. As we reached the first of the many fishmongers harbour-side, we immediately lined up for the fresh oysters on sale. I had been told that when they run out of local produce they ship in Irish help and this is exactly what happened. At 70p a pop the Irish natives were a bargain, so we all downed two each of these watery treats. Then followed a leisurely walk down along the beachside and we dipped our toes into the warm water. We peered at all the establishments and decided on Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company, as opposed to the Whitstable Oyster restaurant. It was not unlike a the scene from ‘Life of Brian’ with all the separatist groups and their very similar names.
We ordered and enjoyed a dozen local Whitstable rocks which were very large but utterly delightful. They tasted as ocean fresh as could be. We followed this with crabs and sardines and for some reason we all agreed that an oyster shooter would be a good thing. This was an oyster in a shot glass served with vodka, horseradish and tomato juice. It was horrible. As anyone who knows me well, I am happy to drink most things, but you could leave me alone in a room full of beer or vodka and return after six months and every single drop would still be there. So I do not really know why I felt compelled to even try it. I ended up eating Patty’s oyster and let her ‘enjoy’ the liquid part, which she didn’t.
After the food and the view we wandered through the city centre. We visited St Alphege church. There has been a church on the site since the 1200s and it did feel holy. They had a cafe in the foyer and while we were fussing amongst the things for sale we noticed there was a man crying. For some reason a person alone in tears is pitiful and sad and yet we chose not to speak to him. Fortunately the church people knew who he was and offered support. I thought that if only all of us could show more compassion to strangers. Please take note Israel and Hamas, and you too Syria. Where are our hearts and what a world it could be if there was more compassion and conciliation and less sense of entitlement.
We then meandered into all the charity stores of which there are plenty. India and Patty were looking at clothes but much like my son, I ended up with nothing to wear, but found three lovely paintings and a plate from Norway. Just what I needed!
Lastly we visited Whitstable Castle which really is no more than a stately home but a fine home indeed and they had in a basket free sweet peas so we each grabbed a handful and smelled them gleefully as we made our way back to the station. Back on the train we had a quick nap and then something like a ‘Twilight Zone’ time warp occurred, and we were returned back to the last day of July 2014.
We are now planning to visit the Galway festival later this year. For immigrants who have lived in the UK for years, we still are to visit Ireland (island). Patty, let’s pack our bags and book our tickets.