What a remarkable vegetable the onion is…

As I learnt on an Indian cookery course a few years ago, it’s one of the few ingredient which can bring nearly all the flavours permutations, depending on how and how much you cook it.

Is starts sharp and astringent when raw, softens to sweetness, browns to umami and burns to bitterness.

One of my favourite discoveries has been the Burmese way; half an onion softened at the base of a stir fry and then the other half sliced and added in the final 90 seconds, for some late-breaking crunch and kick.

Today I took my onions slow and sweet with gently bubbled chicken and chimichurri, then later caramelised with celery and carrots as the soffritto base for a main course pasta.

And as with onions, so my moods these last 24 hours… Thoroughly sweated and ultimately browned-off yesterday, after overcooking my week of work. But a sweeter day today, culminating in a golden evening of good food and family board games.

Turn down the burner, and savour and sweetness returns.

Cathedral or Cave II

Whew, I’ve been hard at it recently. And as so often: intractable problems, helping people who are struggling and taking on more than I should; all of which have taken their toll.

But also – as increasingly often these last ten years – I’ve caught myself just in time…

Flagging, tired and increasingly irascible, I had the good sense to book this Friday off and as I texted to a great friend, here’s what I did with it:

For my part I walked the hound and then slept from 9.30am to 11.40am with the dog by my side, and then again from 2.30pm to 5.50pm similarly. I feel a deep basin of fatigue has been considerably drained. My biggest problem in life has always been that I need more sleep than most people.

I also coughed the other truth about myself last weekend – I like people; but they tire me out. And very very helpfully, I have been excused some social outings subsequently.

Which reminded me of this – written eight years ago…

I’m more cave than cathedral I increasingly think. I need more sleep and more time alone than most people:

Cathedral or Cave?

I imagine Aristotle, like the Acropolis, as more Cathedral. The reclusive poet Emily Dickinson would be more cave. Montaigne, perhaps old Paris; earthy rumbustious streets and deep reflective catacombs. 

I’ve been toying with Nietzsche’s idea that our ‘will to power’ is either expressed in the real world or forcibly turned in.

For him, we create a complex inner life in proportion to the scale of our drive we cannot express externally. It’s an interesting thought.

Complex interesting people tend to have a good deal of both – rich inner lives and fulfilling outer ones. But not always. Nietzsche credits civilisation with curbing the capacity to express our animal instincts externally – driving them inwards. This unexpressed energy drives our inner lives – our conscience, guilt and creativity.

I think regularly about the balance of inner and external. I don’t feel I have the ‘will to power’ for a full ‘Cathedral’ in the external world. Too much competition, conflict, one-upmanship and strife in seeking grandeur. I fear I’d lose my health, precious time with my family and my happiness if I allowed a ‘grand projet’ or personal aggrandisement to consume me. 

Talking to a friend – who is a decade older than me – this week, I felt a bit guilty. He has real fire in his belly for systemic reform, transformational change and the great debates of public policy. I said I’m just not attracted to any of that right now. 

We talked about using our talents and our responsibility to improve the lot of others…

He started his career as a lone residential social worker – on a tough housing estate. Beer bottles bounced off the cage that surrounded his outpost all night.

That’s where his fire still comes from. It drives him to want to improve the scaffolding and superstructure of the nation’s health and social care system.

I don’t have that. I’m more a family chapel with a good sized intellectual cellar. My projects are more local and small scale – my family, the people around me.

But never say never. The world is an unpredictable place. Gaudi started with lamp posts and squat schoolhouses, so I suppose you never really know what you might build one brick at a time.

Dog tired

He’s a lovely little fella, but phew! As predicted; a puppy is a whole lot of work.

Still it’s a joyful business. And despite finding myself breathing mist: in a bobble hat, an old coat and a pair of crocs; chucking a stuffed squeaky toy for him at 6am this morning (for the tenth day running) it’s nice to have a dog about the house.

Life’s all about choices in the end. The house is a tip; the brief idealistic moment (after we moved two houses) of thinking we might get the place sorted and tidy is almost forgotten.

But a tidy house and a tidy life is a shrinking life – a puppy creates mess and disorder. That’s no bad thing.

A bit more sleep wouldn’t go amiss though!

It ain’t broke


Hard sometimes to see the point to it all. Earnest people obsessed with status, money, attention or clout. I’m tired. Dog tired.

Stuff which usually makes me happy ain’t working. People who always bring me back, can’t. Rubbish. I’m flagging. Going through the motions. Even the car had a flat this morning.

But as always there are some simple answers. Get some sleep, stop running my engine at 90 mph and get through to my holidays.

Much of what’s broken doesn’t need fixing. It just needs living with. Mankind’s stand-out strength is stamina. We keep chugging along longer than anything; on two legs or four.

So like today’s flat tyre, the secret is running repairs and keep rumbling on.

Over Exposed

Restless night
Facing the alarm.
Breakfast Bonjour
Make up ladies
Chatting gamely.
Mic up
Sit down
Camera in 3, 2, 1…
And On
Sit still
No twitching
Make eye contact
Without flinching.
Engage erudition,
Not anxiety.
Talk – but not too much
Disagree with that,
Work with that
And dodge that.
Remember the punters
Time’s up
Final word
Presenter pleasantries
Get away
Survived another one

From studio to studio and up and down the country, a week of TV news and radio advocating foreign languages leaves me both tired and – when it sinks in – I suspect elated.

It’s all gone very well, but it’s a bonkers way to live. One for the adrenaline junkie methinks. The whole TV news experience permanently teeters on the edge of disaster – presenters, producers, guests, packages, everything last minute, everyone running about.

Seems to me no-one is calm in TV, they just learn to look that way. My top tip, get your head and your breathing right and you give yourself half a chance. Get as manic as everyone else is and you’re in trouble.