Friday, 4 July 2014

Ice-Cream and Goosebumps

To mark the end of the first week of the summer holidays I decided to take Junior on a tour of our home town. I’m so painfully aware that time is slipping through my fingers and I want to relish the moments we share as best buddies before he leaps into the realm of high school. So we headed for the bus laden with rucksacks full of picnic goodies, cagoules, sunglasses and umbrellas. I’m quite sure only Scottish people carry something for every season in their bags. 
Up the back of the bus like the cool kids
 One of the things I really wanted to do this year was to go on the open top bus tour which travels around the sights of Edinburgh, old and new. Our favourite was definitely the Old Town as there were far more gruesome tales to be told from that part of the city. As we travelled through the Cowgate we heard the story of Burke and Hare - a definite favourite for gore hungry 10 year old boys. We passed a pub called the Burke and Hare which, rather surprisingly, has very little to do with the murdering Irishmen from 19th century Auld Reekie.

“On the right you will see an establishment named after the infamous Burke and Hare,” explained our friendly tour guide, probably for the umpteenth time this week. 

Heads swung to the right and cameras clicked furiously.
“You may notice that this particular establishment caters for anatomy of a different kind.” 

There were gasps as tourists caught sight of the sign, complete with writhing shadow women advertising lap dancing, pole dancing and stripping.
“What’s pole dancing?” asked Junior as the bus continued its journey through the Grassmarket.
“Erm. Well…” I stammered. “It’s when ladies take their clothes off and swing around a pole for entertainment.”
It took a moment for the penny to drop but when it did Junior’s eyes lit up.
“Is that part of the tour?”

We hopped off the bus at the Museum of Childhood on the Royal Mile, a favourite place from my own childhood. It was nice for Junior to learn about toys and games from a time before consoles and social media. 
We stopped for some fun at the Bubbleparc and Bungeedome which is located on the rooftop of Princes Mall. It all made me feel a little squeamish and I was glad we hadn't chosen to do this just after our enormous picnic! 
The Boy in the Bubble

We took a stroll through Princes Street gardens where we fed some noisy seagulls and played under the tree which inspired me to write about Bree McCready’s first date with Adam Eastbough (you can read the excerpt below if you want to.

Later, we bought Mr Whippy ice-cream and huddled together in the wind to watch a live band play to a gathering crowd on The Mound. 
Children danced and people clapped enthusiastically despite the drizzle. I think that’s one of my favourite things about the Scottish Summer. Where else on earth would you find the perfect combination of ice-cream and goosebumps?

It was a pretty perfect day, right down to our chance meeting with a good friend and her lovely boys at a pedestrian crossing at the West End.

On the way home, both exhausted and windswept, Junior cracked open a can of Irn Bru.
“This is the best invention to come out of Scotland,” he announced proudly before taking a swig.
“Really?!” I replied. “Did you not learn anything from our open top bus tour? What about the telephone, chloroform, Harry Potter? Go on, tell me one more amazing thing to have come from Edinburgh.”
Junior thought about this carefully before his face broke into a wide grin.
“I know!” he said smugly.  “Pole dancing!”

Thanks for a great day, Junior. You are and will always be my best bud X

Excerpt from Chapter 21 of Bree McCready and the Realm of the Lost (Book 3 in the Bree series)

“Bree knew she was dreaming. A snapshot of the happiest day of her life; her first date with Adam. The first flush of spring meant it had been warm enough to wear T-shirts with no coats. They had browsed some gift stalls and then stopped for a picnic in the city gardens. The thunder had been unexpected and they had had just enough time to pack away the food before the rain came, great drops that made everything look fresh and green. Adam had grabbed her hand and they had run together, splashing through puddles and laughing. They sheltered under the lowest branches of a spreading oak tree where the air took on a different quality. Adam’s fingertips had grazed her hand lightly….

Bree's tree. Probably not an Oak.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Banana Turd

"There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colours are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again. ~Elizabeth Lawrence
Staring down at the neglected, brown-speckled banana on the worktop I had a sudden brainwave.

I remembered a recipe from three decades ago, one I last attempted in a muddy field in 1979. The Brownies were well known for inventing ‘recipes’ that could utilise the bonfire. Of course there were the obligatory ‘Marshmallows on Sticks’ but our troop was much more creative than that. Necessity is, after all, the Mother of Invention. One bright spark came up with the idea of gripping the edge of an empty apple pie tray with a clothes peg and using this miniature frying pan to cook pancake batter over an open fire. There were a few blistered fingers and tears before we realised it would be better using wooden pegs rather than plastic ones but our injuries never put us off continually striving to find the perfect edible outdoor creation. For us, this came in the form of Baked Chocolate Bananas. A basic recipe, this involved cutting a banana lengthways, slotting in a Cadbury’s Flake then wrapping the whole thing up tightly inside a tinfoil parcel. We’d then chuck these on the fire and wait, making sure not to take our eyes off which particular creation was ours, nestled amongst the other hundreds of silver parcels. The excitement and anticipation was intolerable.

So, keen to relive my youth, I informed Junior that we were going to try the recipe out. He wasn’t convinced when he saw me brandishing the unloved banana but when he heard there was chocolate involved his enthusiasm grew tenfold. We didn’t have a Flake but there was plenty of leftover Easter chocolate so we opted for the next best thing, a Galaxy Ripple. 

Now, I’m definitely one for tweaking recipes, forever adding a squirt of this and a pinch of that to the list of standard ingredients, so I decided for this timeless delight a nice addition would be a drizzle of Maple Syrup.
When we'd finished constructing things Junior carefully wrapped the sweet delight inside the foil and I slid it into the hot oven – the closet thing we had to a hand built bonfire. As we waited, I resisted the urge to break into a rendition of Ging Gang Goolie, opting instead to tidy away the breakfast dishes. 

As the smell of cooking banana and melting chocolate wafted out from the oven I was transported back to that muddy field, rain tic-ticking off my red cagoule, breath pluming in the cold air, warming stiff fingers near the flames as I willed the chocolate to melt as quickly as it could. I remembered dodging the sparks from the fire as they drifted through the air like fireflies. These are the kind of magical moments I like to share with Junior, who is still unconvinced I had a life before he came along.

I could barely contain my excitement as we sat at the table and carefully unwrapped the hot foil to reveal the treasure inside. Baby, our greedy cat, licked his lips in anticipation. Spoons at the ready we pulled the foil aside and a hot plume of sweet steam escaped. We looked down at the mixture of black banana skin, chocolate and melted syrup. The Ripple had somehow managed to retain its shape, only now it had a glossy sheen to it.

“Ew! It looks like a giant turd swimming in olive oil!” shrieked Junior, his face contorting with disgust.

My heart sank. He was right. This alien object would not have looked out of place in the cat tray. Perhaps the Maple Syrup had been one step too far.

“Oh. It’s not how I remember it,” I said, genuinely saddened.

Baby looked down with pure disgust before skulking away.  For a cat that will eat anything, a creature that is partial to licking his bum for long periods of time, this really spoke volumes.
Junior dropped his spoon and folded his arms.

“There is no way I’m eating that.”

I totally agreed but I was not ready to back down. My boy needed to toughen up.

“Listen matey,” I said sternly, “when you’re stuck in a marshy field in the middle of nowhere with the rain pelting down around you, when you’re homesick and smelly and you have wet feet cause your wellies are full of holes, when the wind is blowing your tent away and you’re dreading going to bed because someone has put jelly in your sleeping bag, THIS is heaven!”

Junior looked dubiously at the sticky slop spreading out across the plate.

“I think you had to be there, Mum.” 

And you probably did.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Tonight I came across...

...this diary entry from October 19th 1985 (age 14) 

I feared the darkness as a kid
Behind the curtains terror hid
The wardrobe creaked, the floorboards cracked
The shadows ready to attack.

And then he came, The Bogeyman
His icy breath upon my palm
A whisper crawled inside my ear
Coiling, twisting pioneer
And with it came a solitude
A certainty of nothing good
A layer of frost across my skin
A thread of crimson dread was spin.

And then he’d slither out again
His tapestry left in my brain.

© Hazel Allan

Wow, I thought, that's pretty impressive, I don't remember being that cool. I must've been going through my Smiths/Joy Division phase. 

Then I flipped a few pages to Tuesday 22nd October 1985. A hastily scribbled felt-tip heart leaps off the page. 

Inside it reads, 

"Saw A in the canteen at lunchtime. He was eating chips and custard. His hair is so gorgeous. I will die if he doesn't notice me soon."

So, not so cool after all. What's worse is I have absolutely no recollection of who A was.

This song was Number One when I wrote that diary entry. It felt like it dominated the charts for about 20 years but it was only 5 weeks - which I suppose is a lifetime for a moody 14 year old. The opening bars still bring me out in a sweat as they transport me back to those awful school discos where the aroma of Impulse spray combined with the heady scent of teenage desperation was thick enough to choke on and where geeky, awkward, misunderstood teenage girls inevitably (to paraphrase one of my favourite songs) left on their own, got home, cried and wanted to die.