Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 15*

To my 15-year-old self:

Please listen to this advice . I know some of it sounds crazy, but I know what I’m talking about here. You’ll thank me later.

• Don’t believe your hairdresser when she tells you that a perm would be a good idea. It’s not.

• In two years, a company called Microsoft will have its IPO, with shares selling at $21. Buy some.

• Grandma is right when she says you ought to have a Plan B for both boyfriends and life. This advice will serve you well.

• You may think these are the best days of your life, but they’re not. (But they are the best days of the star quarterback’s life. He becomes an appliance salesman.)

• Wear a bikini every day. Even in snow.

• You think you know everything. Trust me, you don’t. And believe me about the bikini.

You’re welcome.

*This is my winning entry in a recent writing competition sponsored by Spread the Word, a U.K. writing organisation, where I recently attended a workshop. I was limited to only 150 words, thus the short length. If I had to write down everything I didn't know at 15, it would be a VERY long list. The prize was a gold chocolate bunny (much happiness from the family), and a book, "How to be an Artist" (must happiness from me). I hope you like it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Mother's Day Present: Learning to Ride a Bike

Five days later, he's still talking about it. I don't blame him. As someone who it took an entire summer to learn how to ride a bike (and picked up seven stitches on the way), I know how hard it is. Well done to Thing Two.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

World Book Day 2010

King Midas (Thing One) and the Mad Hatter (Thing Two) celebrate World Book Day 2010.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Oscars: 4:37 a.m.

OK. In the final stretch now. I feel like I should win an Oscar for being up to stay up so late and resist the chocolate tart.

Looks like Sean Penn just parachuted in to present the Best Actress award. Lucky him. He didn't have to sit through the interpretative dance routine.

Sandra Bullock wins, as expected. "The Blind Side" hasn't been released here yet. She's doing a nice shout out to all the other nominees. She forgot to thank her husband, though. She'll pay for that later.

Kathryn Bigelow wins for "The Hurt Locker." The camera cut away before I could see if she got a hug and a kiss from her competitor and ex-husband James Cameron. THAT would have been worth waiting up for. James Cameron seems to be smiling graciously, but maybe he's an actor too.

Finally! Best Picture! Might get to bed before 5 a.m.! Indeed I am, because Tom Hanks didn't mess about: he just did it.

Kathryn Bigelow looks like she's about to hyperventilate, have a heart attack or both. I don't blame her. She's got an Oscar for each hand.

Until next year...

Oscars: 3:50 a.m.

Doing a large dance sequence for the Best Original Score award is not a bad idea IN THEORY, but it only makes me want to break down and finally have a piece of chocolate tart. I resist, though.

Glad that "Up" won again, if nothing else because I finally got to see the Ellie Badges that the entire "Up" team is wearing. I want one of those.

Now I know why Matt Damon had to stick around: he was presenting the award for Best Documentary Feature. Cunning move No. 2, Oscar organisers.

Shabby editing tonight. I keep spotting seat warmers, when I've never noticed them before.

I believe that the hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin have changed their tuxes, but the fact that I noticed speaks volumes about the quality of this show (read: not very exciting).

Minor upset: Neither "The White Ribbon" or "A Prophet" win Best Foreign Film, instead it goes to "A Secret in Their Eyes". You would think if they're going to cut off the Argentinian because his speech is too long, the orchestra should play some sort of Spanish tango.

Had to think for a moment about the connection Kathy Bates has to "Avatar" but then came up with it: She played Molly Brown in "Titanic", another bad James Cameron film that made bazillions of dollars.

Finally, a big one: Best Actor! I really hope The Dude wins, even though we haven't seen the film yet (it either just opened here, or will open next week). Colin Firth sure is dreamy, and he was terrific too. He's been in Greenwich now three times for filming, and I STILL haven't met them. It has to happen some day. It's meant to be.

I like these personal introductions for the main awards, though it does add to the length.

Jeff Bridges wins! Now have to wait for a Dude reference. It's bound to come. He gave props to his mom and dad, though, which is nice. Several "man" interlocutations, which seems very Dude like.

Oscars: 3:16 a.m.

Kristen Stewart is there to introduce the Horror Movie montage. Hey, Kirsten, it's the Oscars, would it kill you smile? Would it kill you to smile EVER??

Morgan Freeman is teaching me all about Sound Editing, which is actually interesting, but isn't going to get me into bed any earlier. They're showing scenes from "A Dark Knight." Do you think this is the Academy's way of apologising that it wasn't a nominee for Best Picture last year?

Kathryn Bigelow just stood to congratulate the winner of Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Every time I see her, I think, "Really? You're almost 6o? Could I please have the name of plastic surgeon or your oxygen chamber supplier?"

(Note to self: Really must go see "The Hurt Locker." Should probably see, "Inglorious Basterds" too.)

Big mistake by Sandra Bullock, who looks as nervous as all get out. She says, "And the winner is..." rather than the now encouraged "The Oscar goes to..." (because EVERYONE is a winner, after all).

Now for the "I See Dead People" montage: one way to get around the clap-0-meter to see who was the best linked is to have James Taylor sing. Cunning. How does Michael Jackson get in there? I know he was an International Superstar, but he was hardly Oscar material.

Oscars: 3:06 a.m.

Avatar finally wins an Oscar. Honesly, though, if it wins Best Picture I will have to boycott next year's ceremony, because I thought that film was TERRIBLE. I know millions of people disagree with me, but hey, I still think it was a bad movie.

Oh! Fashion faux-pas! Sarah Jessica Parker in Chanel Couture presenting alongside Tom Ford. Surely she knew this ahead of time and should have asked him to throw something together for her?

Sandy Powell, winner for Best Costume Design for "Young Victoria" is wearing a fetching hat. A woman after my own heart. I think she was also helped by the fact that it was partly filmed in Greenwich, but she didn't mention that in her speech.

Charlize Theron presenting for "Precious." OK. I can't think of ANY connections AT ALL between her and the movie. As I cast listlessly about for a connection, I guess I'll just have to look at the Look At My Boobs dress.

Oscars: 2:47 a.m.

Oh! There's Matt Damon!! I read on my Twitter feed he was going home after he lost in the Best Supporting Actor category. I guess he changed his mind.

A really good speech from Mo'Nique, who wins, as predicted, for Best Supporting Actress in Precious.

Can someone please tell me what Colin Firth's connection to "An Education" is? Or did they think, "Oh, he's British. They all know each other over there, don't they?" OK. Just thought of a tenous link: He starred in "Fever Pitch", based on the book by Nick Hornby, who adapted "An Education". (You're welcome, my American friends.)

Oscars: 2:29 a.m.

Seems slightly inappropriate that Carey Mulligan and Zoe Salanda enter to the tune of, "Thank Heavens for Little Girls." I think both should get an Oscar for navigating those stairs with those shoes and those trains. Any time they saved by not singing all of the Oscar songs has now evaporated due to the over-long introduction to the Animated Shorts Oscar award.

Oh no! Wallace and Gromit lose! This is terrible. More long faces at the breakfast table tomorrow morning.

Ben Stiller as Avatar. Are they ever going to let that poor man come to the Oscars in a tux? He is funny. Ironic that he's doing the Best Makeup award in makeup for a movie not nominated for it.

Time for a Dodgeball reference, just because I can: "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball."

Oscars: 2:02 a.m.

Sweet merciful God: it looks as though we're not going to have to listen to all of the Best Song nominees in their entirety this year. Maybe we will finish up before 5 a.m. this morning. I REALLY would like to get to bed before Mr. MarathonMum gets up at 5:10 a.m.

T-Bone Burnett just wins, which has got to be the greatest name of a winner ever, though not the best name of a winning song. That honour would go to: "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" (2006).

Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. are pretty funny. Man, I wish "30 Rock" was on a regular time on a regular channel, rather than channel 129 at 10 p.m. on random days.

Hurt Locker wins its first award, and I'm cheered to hear that the writer who won is a former journalist who wrote

I just thought, "Who is that with Matthew Broderick." Oh! Molly Ringwald, and they're both doing a nice tribute to John Hughes. I'm sure this is making all of us Children of the 80s choked up

"Ferris Bueller's Day Off": Definitely in my Top 10 favourite movies of all time. "Life moves pretty fast. You don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Now a nice assemblage of the Class of John Hughes (Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Anthony Michael Hal, Matthew Broderick, Mac Culkin and Judd Nelson). It has to be said: Judd Nelson hasn't aged well.

Oscars: 1:46 a.m.

OK. Best supporting actor is out of the way, but we're already on to the only category this family cares about: Best Animated Feature.

We all voted for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Don't get me wrong, Up was great, and I won't be disappointed if it wins, but I thought Mr. Fox was, well, Fantastic. I've seen it three times now in theatres, and it holds up: it's clever, it's hilarious, it's inventive and it's faithful to the book.

The winner is: Up.

OK, that's all fine, but I still think that Fantastic Mr. Fox was better, and I say this as a HUGE Pixar fan. (Note to self: Does this mean that our "Up" art book, signed by director Pete Doctor and another name we can't decipher, is now actually worth more?)

Maybe this is why George Clooney seems grumpy: he knows he'll be losing out on all of the awards that he's up for tonight.

Sadness at the breakfast table tomorrow, I have to say.

Oscars: 1:03 a.m.

It's time for the Main Event. Sky just warned us that this program, "May contain sparkly diamonds and flashing images." Funny.

But 30 minutes later, I'm still waiting for things to start. Really, they should warn people of this so we could use the time to do something useful, like make coffee or have a piece of chocolate tart. Hooray! Finally starting!

Nice new touch: lining up all the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees. Might as well have them up first thing since we won't see them for another five hours anyway.

Look! There's Doogie Harris, M.D. Obviously trying to recapture the lightening-in-a-bottle success of Hugh Jackman singing and dancing last year. Only one big problem: I can't hear him. This broadcast will not be winning anything for sound, it looks like.

Hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin descend from a large crystal ball. If only I could make an entrance like that...

Vera Farmiga gets to sit next to George Clooney all night long. Lucky woman. But it looks as though George is in a bad mood, and he certainly isn't enjoying the jokes directed toward him.

Wow. A reference to "The Jerk." Now one from me: "The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!"

Poor Sandra Bullock. She looks SO nervous.

Finally. The first award of the night, only 45 minutes in. THIS is why I will be up until 5 a.m.

Oscars: Red Carpet Coverage (Part III)

George Clooney, always charming, looks awfully tired but is being very charming with the innane SkyOne interviewer. But he did say he hopes Jeff Bridges wins for "Crazy Heart." Classy.

Serendipity! Here's Jeff Bridges now, also being interviewed on SkyOne. Even though I haven't seen Crazy Heart, I hope he wins because he's awesome in everything he's ever been in. Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury I submit to you: The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Fisher King, The Big Lebowski, even Fearless (seen by about six people, including me and Mr. MarathonMum). George Clooney was fantastic in "Up in the Air," so Jeff Bridges must be pretty good to beat George. We'll see. Bonus Points if he works in a reference to "The Big Lebowski" in his speech if he does win.

Kate Winslet looks very pretty, but I also worry that she seems to be disappearing. Are they letting her eat these days?

Charlize Theron: Big Mistake with the "Look At My Boobs!" dress. This will not go over well, I predict.

Cameron Diaz just waltzed in at the last minute, but finally, after years of wearing really kooky dresses to Oscar night, looks like the former model that she is. Maybe she fired her former stylist.

Wow. I can't believe it. The pre-game show is over, and it's on to the Main Event. I haven't even had a coffee yet. Might be time to do that now before things kick off.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Oscars: Red Carpet Coverage (Part II)

Just got my first look at Sandra Bullock, who looks like might win Best Actress tonight. She looks, at a very brief first glance, that she's impersonating a little gold Oscar herself in her gold dress. We might have to file this dress under the "Hillary Swank 2005" dress, where it would only looked good from the back, i.e. if she had to go up to the stage and collect the Oscar

Diane Kruger, usually impeccably dressed, is not so much tonight. It's some sort of odd pink-silk-pleating dress with a black neck and touches. Oh, goodness, no. Big mistake.

Ryan Seacrest is now talking to Quinton Aaron, the star of "The Blind Side" who was working security before be got the call to be the star on the movie. Tim McGraw has the best line of the night so far when he says, "People don't know how good an actor this guy is because he's actually a 5'8" white guy."

Nick Hornby is being interviewed on Sky-- you have to know that Ryan Seacrest wouldn't even know who he is, let alone stop him for an interview. He is living my dream, because let's face, it, the only way I'd ever get to Oscar night would be for writing, as it certainly won't be for my acting.

Wow. Sarah Jessica Parker, who's wearing Chanel, has A LOT of hair. Her dress actually looks quite comfortable, but I have to say her face looks a little tight. Maybe she's had some work done?

Colin Firth is being interviewed by SkyOne, but what I really want to know is what his wife, Livia is wearing. She's been trying to wear ethical fashion all awards season, which she's calling the "Green Carpet Challenge" for Vogue. Her dress is actually made from offcuts from other designers, and is unbeliveable, especially since it is, in essence, recycled. Now being interviewed by Ryan Seacrest, he made Colin Firth show the label on his tux to prove that he's wearing Tom Ford. He is, but like I said, I think Tom Ford makes a better tux than a movie.

Oscars: Red Carpet Coverage

Vera Farmiga, who was fantastic in "Up in the Air," is here and just said she's wearing Marchesa in magenta and looks great. She just plugged Kathryn Bigelow to win Best Director for "The Hurt Locker", and then realized she should have said Jason Reitman, who was the director in, um, THE MOVIE SHE WAS IN. I feel bad for her.

Ryan Reynolds is here now but where is his wife, Scarlett Johansson? Why are they never pictured anywhere together? Or pehaps, in the grand tradition of Hollywood marriages, they've already broekn up, 16 months after they married?

There's now a traffic jam of people waiting to talk to Ryan Seacrest: James Cameron, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elizabeth Banks and Sigorney Weaver. Only on Oscar Night.

I'm now toggling between E! Live from the Red Carpet with Ryan Seacrest, Jay Manuel and some annoying woman, and Sky One coverage, who has someone neither you nor I have ever heard of trying to get whoever she can to stop and talk to her on the Red Carpet. It's painful, but I have to go somewhere during the commercial breaks.

Hate to say, but it's back-to-back dresses I don't like: Maggie Gyllenhaal's dress is too busy-- prints on Oscar night could be daring, but it doesn't work-- and Elizabeth Bank's dress, while beautiful, is also gray. Gray! On Oscar Night! Are you kidding me?

Tom Ford, director/writer/producer of "A Single Man", who also happens to be a fashion designer. I think he should stick to fashion: the movie felt like the first offering of a film school student, though Colin Firth was fantastic. Get this: Tom Ford just said he is wearing Tom Ford!

Oscar Night 2010

After a hiatus of one year, live Oscar coverage on MarathonMum is back! Welcome back, all two of my readers!!

Oscars 2010: Will it be the year of "Avatar"? (Hope not). Will Sandra Bullock beat Meryl Streep? (Looks like it.) Will "Fantastic Mr. Fox" pull an upset over "Up"? (Probably not, but everyone at our dinner table hopes so.)

We're only 15 minutes into Red Carpet coverage, so it's still minor stars-- supporting actresses (Anna Kendrick), people who won the Fame Lottery this year (Sam Worthington, star of Avatar) and Zac Efron.

Oh goodness. Ryan Seacrest is interviewing the mayor of Los Angeles, and they said Nicole Richie and Joel Madden up next (talk about punching above your weight). We really ARE in the early minutes of Red Carpet coverage.

Roll on, Oscar night!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Bocca di Lupo: Our Best Lunch Ever

The alchemy of a fantastic meal is difficult, but not impossible, to define. Is it the anticipation? Is it the company? Is it the surroundings? Is it the service? Is it the food? Likely it is a combination of all of these things, but the formula is never the same. But when you have a truly memorable, astounding meal, the joy of the experience will last several days.

Our recent lunch at Bocca di Lupo left me so full of good food that I was happy for two days afterward. It was that good.

To get there, we traversed Leicester Square and walked past Chinatown, and took a left to get to this small restaurant on a side street in Soho. We were greeted warmly and enthusiastically, which helped enormously on a cold day in February. Unlike Locanda Locatelli, where it seems as though you have to take a Hipness Test just to secure a table, there is no attitude at Bocca di Lupo.

As we could only get a reservation at the counter, they asked us if we would like to be close to the chef. We thought that would be great fun, so we said "Please." When we got to our seats, I thought it would be terrible, because we were on the end where all of the waiters go to pick up the food. How wrong I was. They were the Best Seats in the House.

As Head Chef Jacob Kenedy wasn't there, we could see the handiwork of David Cook, the second chef, up close. We could see him discard a dish because it had too much parsley on it. We learned as soon as he did that they had run out of the brioche dessert. We saw him yell at one waiter that he was rushing the diners, and then he told us he was talking about us. We could ask him questions about certain ingredients. We could see what dishes were the most popular-- Cream of Langoustine Risotto went through the pass several times-- and the ones that were hardly ever ordered-- Coda all Vaccinara (braised oxtail).

Bocca di Lupo could be described as Italian tapas, because you can order either the small sized dish or the large dish. We ordered seven small dishes shared between the two of us, and that satisfied us until breakfast the next day. The highlights were the Spaghetti & Parmesan Frittata (fresh eggs + careful preparation = gorgeous dish) and the Crescentini (fried bread) with finocchiona, speck and squacquerone (a fresh runny cheese with a big salt kick=delicious).

When we return, and you better believe we'll be back, we'll probably sit at the counter again just for the Food Theatre. The chef never measured anuthing with a measuring cup, he did it all by handfuls, tastes and smells. When we asked about the squacquerone, we agreed that it was sublime but probably also not very healthy."If you're going to pick your poison," I said, "I want it to taste good."

We finished off with a build-your-own Cannoli and a Bombe Calde (freshly fried donut with a chocolate cream filling). By then we were very fully, very satisfied and very happy.

Once we recognized during the meal that this was going to be one for the record books, we took a trip a down memory lane ranking our favourite meals out. In the Top 5 were the Connaught Hotel with Angela Hartnett for our 10th anniversary in 2005, a place in Dijon we went to on our honeymoon in 1995 and will never find again, any night at Pastafina in Chicago (our local when we were courting and beyond (1991-1998), grilled halibut fresh off the docks in Homer, Alaska (1996), and Bocca di Lupo (2010).

The science of alchemy is a mystery, just like the variables at work in our Top 5 Favourite Meals of All Time. But when you get it right, it's pure gold.

Bocca di Lupo, 12 Archer Street, Soho, London W1D 7BB. 020.7734.2223.