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(Taken from The Book of Knowledge, edited by Harold F.B. Wheeler)

Good Manners at the Table

Sit upright at the table. Do not slide down on your spine nor sprawl forward on your elbows. Lay your serviette across your lap; don’t tuck it in your collar.

Don’t fidget with your knife and fork, drum with your fingers, or tap your foot on the floor. Don’t make a noise in eating and drinking or take enormous bites or chew with your mouth open. Don’t bite into a whole slice of bread and butter. Break the bread into suitable pieces for eating and butter each piece separately. Don’t bend over your plate and give the effect of shovelling your food into your mouth, and don’t reach for things.

If soup is being partaken of, dip the edge of the spoon that is farthest from you to fill it, and take the soup from the other side, not from the tip. Don’t tip the plate to get the last spoonful.

Table-talk is a fine art. Because unpleasant thoughts interfere with the enjoyment and digestion of food, disagreeable topics must not be mentioned at table. Table-talk is light, bright and crisp, never very serious, and should be as general as possible.

When you have finished eating, drop your napkin unfolded beside your plate, since at a dinner party a napkin is not supposed to be used again; and lay your knife and fork on your plate, side by side, not crossed.

The Black Dog

For the last year and a half, I have been really up and down and the worst thing is that I feel as though I haven’t been myself for quite a long time.

Just recently, things have been getting steadily worse and worse. I’m tired all of the time and I’ve lost the ability to cope with minor irritations, instead becoming irrationally angry. I rarely enjoy myself and I struggle through each day. I’m failing to find the magic in life. The main things that keep me going are pure fantasy and I spend nearly all of my time feeling numb and attempting to escape from reality.

I had similar feelings in my early twenties but after a while, I started to fight back. I started swimming regularly, eating better, reading, listening to more music and learning about anything and everything in my spare time. I had my ups and downs like anyone else but this was an incredibly productive period of my life. I was on a high most of the time, writing music, attending concerts, etc., etc.

During this period of my life, I held down a full-time job, swam 4 or 5 miles a week, completed a degree course achieving a first-class honours degree, plus read and read and read just everything I could lay my hands on. I was incredibly productive and I achieved so much during these years.

After this, I decided to resign from my job (which I hated) and become a postgraduate research student. The first year of my studies was one of the best of my life. I can remember a summer of sitting outside in the sunshine, reading great works of literature and philosophy, listening to Mahler in the evenings and spending some terrific time with my girlfriend. I was still swimming regularly and I even started running on some days, 6 miles being about my average run.

However, after that year, I let things slide and the girlfriend left to study in Amsterdam. Money was tight and I didn’t exercise as much or eat as well. I think that is a major part of my recent downfall. Everything became a real struggle last year and I finally decided to go to see a doctor about it. The result was some counselling sessions. They were useful in the way that I was able to get a lot of my anxieties and thoughts out in the open. However, to be absolutely honest, I didn’t find out anything about myself I didn’t already know. It seemed to tide me over for a while and I carried on. Occasionally, I would have some really dark days and I would try swimming again or whatever, but I didn’t stick at anything and I soon gave up and returned to my usual state of a dreamlike existence.

This year, I have descended to a new low. If it wasn’t for my young friend Melissa, I wonder if I would still be alive. I’m shocked at how bad things have become. I don’t read like I used to. I don’t listen to music like I used to. I can’t find excitement and passion in anything anymore. I miss the old me, who used to be on a high all of the time. Back then, I could do everything and right now, I feel as though I can’t manage anything.

The worst thing is realising that I have been living in a fantasy world for so long. I have recently faced up to reality and realised that I don’t like what I find there. I have always had issues with this world, as I’m sure any intelligent person does, but I’ve normally kept on top of them. I have always had issues with anxiety but I have always accepted this as part of who I am. But it has all become too much for me recently.

Over the last three weeks, I have been trying to turn things around. Starting to swim again has been one step in the right direction. I am also trying to make time for music. Reading is something that I am struggling with as I don’t have much time for it outside of my studies but I am also trying to make some time for personal research. This is hard because my concentration level is fucked.

I think it is going to take me some time to get on top of things again, especially as the very nature of my depression is such that when I am down like this, I cannot manage very much at all. When content and happy again, I know that I will return to my high state and be able to be incredibly productive again. That’s actually part of the depression that feeds back into itself. It is horrible to find that you cannot manage even a quarter of the things that you used to find so easy to do.

At the moment, I’m in a desperate state as I don’t want this dark period of my life to impact upon my research although I think that it already is. The doctors can offer me only more counselling, which I feel is a dead end, or medication. I don’t want to take the latter option as I have my concerns about it. I don’t like the idea that taking medication might take the edge away from my life. I thrive on my anxiety when I find it is at a manageable level. I don’t want to lose it entirely. I have, however, started taking St. John’s Wort after having it recommended to me by my young friend Melissa. I don’t know how much help it will be but I am at my lowest ebb and I will try anything at the moment.

A lot of my darkness has to do with my anxiety and the nature of my personality. One of the major difficulties I have had for my whole life is the ability to interact with groups of people. Unfortunately, I have little or no ability to read other people or understand them on a social level. It causes me an immense level of anxiety to be around people. A symptom of my general anxiety is a mild obsessive compulsive disorder, which can be difficult to live with.

In addition to this, I also have little in the way of practical abilities, which is why I have pursued abstract and intellectual occupations as opposed to remaining in my previous job in the civil service, which I found both intensely boring and also essentially meaningless.

I began my studies with the romantic notion that “truth flourishes where the student’s lamp has shone” but I quickly found this notion challenged and undermined. Everything must be questioned. This is not only potentially very exciting but also profoundly shocking and quite depressing.

There is also the necessity of making money versus the desire to do something meaningful with my life. I love to read widely and to learn about anything and everything. I feel extremely disappointed with my education up until this point, even though I have a first-class honours degree. There is so much out there for me to learn about and I feel disappointed that I don’t have the time or money to do so. I also have doubts about myself and my own intellectual abilities even in the face of a fairly distinguished academic career thus far.

I also frequently have the feeling that life is somehow passing me by like a dream and I am left with little but a faint indication of what has passed. I wish I had the time and money to achieve so much more. All this, while around me, I see little but stupidity and mediocrity winning the day. I’m drifting on the perimeter of my own life.

Part of the problem is how exhausted I feel at the moment, as though I just have no energy. I feel as though it is impossible to study and to write, and this depresses me even more. I haven’t been writing for the last few days. I thought I would try not to force it. The trouble is that I am running out of time and I really need to start again now. I feel a lot of guilt and fear of failure, which is probably the main reason for the block. The guilt is because I feel I am not working hard enough, even I have been trying so hard to work through the block, but I have nothing to show for this time. I wish I could just get a good night’s sleep too. I have been having very vivid dreams, often involving this fear of failure in some way. I wake up at stupid o’clock and cannot sleep again.

On a lighter note, these anti-depressants are fun, aren’t they? Personally, I just love the sleepless nights, the lack of appetite and the way that I gained weight when I was taking them.

Have any of you ever read the instructional leaflet that comes with them? My advice is don’t, especially if you intend taking them.

The side effects cover just about everything awful that you can imagine. The funniest thing for me is the variation on the theme, with contrasting side effects often listed side-by-side as if the manufacturers and testers couldn’t work out what would happen, so just listed every eventuality.

For instance, I could:

– Be sleepy or have difficulty sleeping.
– Have constipation or diarrhoea.
– Lose weight or gain weight.
– Have increased appetite or loss of appetite.
– Have an increased sex drive or decreased sex drive.
– Have low blood pressure or high blood pressure.
– Experience a dry mouth or have increased saliva.

I could go on but I think you get the idea. Seems to me that they just want to cover all possibilities, with the general message being “these tablets are going to fuck you up, one way or the other”.

My latest theory is that the tablets work by giving you various side effects to distract you from your depression. You end up so busy feeling shit that you don’t have time to feel depressed.

Some of the more worrying potential side effects:

– Ringing in the ears.
– Impotence or inability to reach orgasm.
– Hallucinations and mood disorders.
– Loss of contact with your own personal reality.
– Feelings of unreality and strangeness.

My absolute favourite side effect though, which apparently only has an effect on 1 in 100 people, is that the tablets may make the individual “feel cheerful and optimistic” or experience a “general feeling of well-being”. That’s kind of the point of taking the tablets isn’t it?

All in all, it’s pretty hilarious stuff. You have to laugh, don’t you?

THE SUSPENSE IS OVER!

The Queen of Gastroporn’s new book “Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home” will be published on 2 September 2010.

Exclusive recipes from Nigella Lawson’s new book

There’s something intensely satisfying about cooking and eating, says the Queen of Gastroporn – whether it’s feeding family or snatching a greedy treat – and the kitchen, her ‘messy, ramshackle sanctuary’, is no place for guilt or self-denial. Here, introducing her new cookbook, she explains what the kitchen means to her, and why food is not just for body but for soul, too:

In everything I do, I try to beat the drum for the non-expert: I am not interested in some romantic idyll, but real life; call it making a virtue of necessity, but I declare myself, hand on cynical heart, the anti-perfectionist. But it appears that it’s hard to enthuse about the kitchen without either seeming to be whimsically nostalgic or bustlingly virtuous. I am neither. But still, the kitchen is my favoured space, my messy haven and ramshackle sanctuary – the place I feel most myself and yet most part of the world.

Maybe it is ungracious to admit this publicly, but I often feel that those of us who like cooking get an unfairly good press: we are hailed as loving, warm and nurturing. And it’s true that I am – to a fault – a feeder; there is scarcely a person who can leave my kitchen without something wrapped in foil to eat later, and just thinking about what I might cook for the next meal gives me a surge of absolute if greedy delight.

But sometimes I wonder if the interest I pay to what I might be giving someone to eat is more selfish than anything else. Of course, I want to give pleasure, but life in the kitchen is, for me, as much about personal gratification.

I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not such a bad thing. Of course, when you set it against the model of the ideal cook, that all-giving provider of good things, it doesn’t sound so great. But as I get older, I appreciate more and more that enjoying what makes you happy in the everyday is crucially important, and that self-denial (never my forte, let’s be frank) is not the path to virtue but to unhappiness.

So yes, for me the kitchen is not merely a room, but a pleasure palace, an interior garden of sensual delights – and all the better for it. While I could take the line that those who turn away from all that – whether it be the gorgeous, fatty richness of some long-braised belly of pork, or the melting intensity of a chocolate lime cake, dolloped shamelessly with margarita cream – must surely be blessed in their lives if they can so casually afford to deprive themselves of extra occasions of pleasure, I don’t really believe that; my admiration is sarcastic.

The joys of food are so great that I really do believe that those who cannot allow themselves to wallow in them have lesser lives. Of course, they have lesser dress sizes, too, and I can see that the trade-off works for many. It just doesn’t for me – or not that way around.

I know I eat a lot, but my refusal to bow down to the daily diet and all-round self-denial doesn’t mean I believe in indiscriminate gluttony. For me, it’s about savouring food without guilt or shame and not thinking that less flesh (either on your plate or your skeleton) is necessarily better.

Besides, I do think that enjoying food is a way of celebrating being alive. People often say that no one lies on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time at the office and what I’d add is that I am sure that no one lies on their deathbed saying I’m so glad I turned down the bread, the cheese, the pudding, so thrilled I spent all those years on a diet.

We are all shaped by different things in our lives, but the memory of my perpetually dieting, self-denying mother saying – once she knew she had only a few weeks to live – that this was the first time she had eaten what she wanted and could enjoy it, is still shocking to me. She was such a fantastic cook and actually understood food and the joys it could bring, but the lesson I have learnt from her self-inflicted deprivation is as much a part of her legacy to me as is My Mother’s Praised Chicken, which is the fundamental, actually essential, dish to emanate from my kitchen, as it did from hers.

The joys that emanate from the kitchen are not just about consumption, however delectable, but creation, too. Yes, giving oneself the task of putting together some elaborate, I-must-impress dinner party would be absolute hell, but real cooking contains an element of play that I can’t help but delight in. Mixing up a cake or a batch of muffins is as near as I feel I can get now to the thrill of making mud pies. And I love the feel of food in my hands, almost as much as I like the taste of it in my mouth.

For as much as I find food interesting to think about – and as pretty much a food obsessive, I think about it a lot – what I gain most pleasure from is the fact that cooking is about touch and feel, occupying – tangibly – the realm of the senses.

And I think that is partly why, despite being busy, despite being short of time and despite being able to find a great range of food out there that is already made, we still cook. We need to feel involved in the production, not just the consumption of food; we need to feel that satisfaction that comes from making something to eat, and then enjoying what it tastes like.

But one last request: this isn’t about turning ingredients or cooking into some sort of fetish. I don’t feel guilty that I make my Slut’s Spaghetti more or less by opening a few jars; indeed I revel in it. I believe that the only unhealthy food is not real food, and I feel I eat very healthily, just a lot. So yes, I allow butter, cream and other unfashionable delights into my recipes.

I don’t eat cake every day, but when I do make one I don’t feel bad about eating a slice; having said that, even food that I can’t quite make a case for, such as crisps, I am grateful for. In the kitchen I may be more of an Italophile than a Francophile, but still I cleave to the French saying, ‘Everything in moderation – even moderation’. I may have immoderate appetites, but that gives me immoderate pleasure. And for that I am greedily grateful.

I must have sex with Nigella Lawson before I die. She eats, she writes, she cooks, she drinks, she fucks. The perfect woman.

(Observer)

The artist tells of her food fantasies and raiding the fridge as a child.

Sleeping under a dinner table is safe and snug. I picked it up as a child. As a young artist, at a big dinner, sometimes I’d get so tired I’d think, “If I just snooze for half an hour I’ll be fine”, and I’d slide underneath. More recently I don’t, because my absence would be too noticeable.

In the 60s my mother ran the Hotel International in Margate. I spent tons of time in the kitchen. I used to steal cream caramels when they came out of the fridge.

When little my favourite thing to eat was a pomegranate. I’d peel, take out every single seed individually, make sure all the pulp was off and then eat the hundreds of seeds one by one. I’d like to be a pomegranate.

My favourite cinematic food scene is of the paralysed man dreaming of eating oysters in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The first time I had surplus income, as an artist, I bought oysters. I was 30 or 31 and I’d never had one. Suddenly I’d spend every spare penny on oysters. At one point I was on 70 to 100 a week.

If anyone really wants to seduce me, a picnic is the way to go. I fantasise about them and when I see old-fashioned hampers I get a wave of nostalgia for something I’ve never had. I own a couple myself but I’ve never used them. I just stroke them.

I find it really difficult eating cute things. I mean, I never eat rabbit. Even when Mark Hix makes me his [rabbit and crayfish] Stargazy Pies, I can’t have rabbit in it. Stuck on my fridge is a magnet which says “Foie Gras is Cruel”.

I’ve a really naked kitchen in my basement. It’s got just the basics. And there’s a tiny shelf of cookery books – but I’ve never referred to one in my life.

When falling in love I always imagine what I would cook for the person and how this culinary foreplay would work, but nine times out of 10 it ends in disaster. It’s because of wishing everything to be perfect, when all I really want is a good shag.

I was in Japan, on the outskirts of Tokyo, with Nic Serota [director of the Tate], and he said, “Tracey, tell me you’re not going to eat that.” And as I said “Yeah” I looked down and it was dark and it was alive. A squid in an egg omelette thing with its tentacles still moving. Pretty hardcore. But not too vile to eat.

My table manners are impeccable. I really dislike it when people eat with their mouths open. It’s not difficult – you chew, swallow, then you speak, OK?

When I was a student I did lots of Last Supper paintings. You won’t have seen them, because I destroyed them all. For my own last supper, I’ll probably order caviar and a dozen oysters, if it’s during summer. A cosy shepherd’s pie if it’s winter.

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Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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