Corned Beef Hash, in a Dash

Morrison’s M Kitchen Corned Beef Hash

image

This was tonight’s offering from the M-for-microwave kitchen chez moi, supplied by Morrison’s M Kitchen.

The M Kitchen Corned Beef Hash is currently available in a promotion: three ready meals for six quid, so this was two quid and it was worth every penny: make of that what you will. This is what I made of it:

Two of your earth pounds Sterling for a 450g serving isn’t bad from a bang-for-your-buck point of view. But was it tasty? We shall see, after we’ve cooked / re-heated it.

The dish is described as “Corned beef and onions blended with buttery mash and topped with crispy roast potatoes. Sounds good. It looks good on the packaging. Into the microwave…

I followed the instructions as given, with no deviation: remove from outer packaging, pierce film lid several times and microwave on full power for four minutes. Peel back film lid, stir, then microwave for a further four minutes. Stand for one minute. So I did, as instructed. Serve immediately. Given that I wasn’t playing tennis and that I couldn’t wait an undefined period of time, I took the instruction literally and turned the thing out onto a plate.

As you’ll see from the picture, my serving reality isn’t dissimilar to the serving suggestion pictured on the box. To be fair, I did rather tip this one out, rather than spend too much time matching what was on my plate with how they imagined it.

The first observation is that there are no crispy roast potatoes. This dish does give instructions for cooking in a conventional oven and had I prepared it in that way, no doubt the roasts would have a crisp to them. They do have brown edges but the roast potato topping is on the bottom in the picture, so you can’t see the potatoes which proclaim to be crispy but which aren’t.

The meal was served with no additions: no seasoning, sauce, nor accompaniments. As such, it was quite bland.

The corned beef tastes like corned beef, although not the tinned stuff full of seasoning which I would use if I were making this from scratch. There are onions but they’re a bit crunchy for my liking. When I use onions in a hash, I sweat them slowly in butter, so that they are soft, then caramelized in the pan when mixing the hash. There was no “goo” in this dish. The whole thing is held together by mashed potato but I wouldn’t describe it as “Buttery”, as Morrison’s do. That said, I use a lot of butter when I make mash. The roast potatoes are not crispy, as I’ve mentioned but we make allowances for microwave cooking.

Overall it was functional, as it was on its own. I wouldn’t say I relished it but it was filling and had the flavours I expected: those of the things which were in it.

Before I rate this dish or any others, an explanation of the scores:

0: Just don’t. The only reason you may see this rating is if there’s something I wish to warn you away from.
1: Functional. It serves the purpose of filling a gap in your guts but not in your life.
2: Passable. Merely acceptable. Something you might eat alone but may not wish to share.
+: Right in the middle. A 2-rating at least but which can be elevated by additions, not in the instructions: seasoning, sauce, or just something else.
3. Pleasant. Something you may savour and wish to have again. Some ratings below this achieve this score and those above it by the addition of something else. That’s the plus symbol.
4. Enjoyable. Really actually quite nice. Something you would eat again, many times over and enjoy. Something to literally make a meal of.
5. Quite literally, five stars. The sort of thing you would rave about, serve to others and try to replicate yourself. Like the zero rating, five ratings are not likely to be seen here in these reviews. But I’ll keep looking, researching, tasting and reviewing.

The Corned Beef Hash then:

Score-wise, this is a 2+: as it is, firmly a two. Add some seasoning, or just a dollop of ketchup to improve it slightly but it’s really not worth revisiting. Do that, then plonk a fried egg on top and it gains a 3 rating.

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A Symphony of Syndromes

30.04.15 (Day 494/51)

15.42

Is it Thursday? I never could get the hang of Thursdays.

I must admit that I’m struggling to get the hang of this new life; this life which I now have, where before I didn’t have one; or I’d sometimes wish that someone might take it away. I don’t miss the old life. I certainly don’t want to go back to where I was and sleep on the streets which I now overlook. But it is a struggle, accepting that I’ve finally found something and somewhere; to realise that I belong somewhere: here, where I live. Paranoia dictates that whenever something good happens to me, I’m just waiting for it all to fall apart. If only I could accept the reassurances given to me by those around me that I am indeed welcome to stay here with a degree of permanence, I just can’t get a grip on it. They are not just having a giraffe.

So I sought the advice of my doctor. The emphasis is on the word “my”, for this guy is a credit to his profession. He’s everyone’s doctor as he is a GP but his bedside manner is that befitting doctors of the old school. He knows his patients and he genuinely cares. He’s diagnosed PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is something I’m familiar with, as I suffered it when I was robbed at knifepoint in Lewisham back in 2011. Following that was the beginning of everything bad in my life: depression, alcohol and all that resulted from both. Both were always there but they were brought to the fore by the robbery.

Back then I received counselling in the form of a very capable psychologist who is also a credit to her profession. I got through it but like alcohol, depression is always there in the wings; never truly gone but kept at bay with the administering of drugs and just dealing with demons.

When I compare my PTSD triggers to those of others I know who also suffer, I don’t feel worthy of the accolade; for it is a badge. My friend Tom who was retired from the Royal Marines on the grounds of ill health, suffering PTSD after he’d had to euthanize a three year old Afghan girl is a prime example. But as my doctor pointed out, when we consider all that I’ve been through over the last fifteen months, it’s enough to tip anyone over the edge. I’ve lost nine friends, had more than one attempt on my own life, got into many fights and spent nights in hospital beds and police cells. There has been the day-to-day uncertainty of what the next day might bring; each day lived in doubt and fear. Taken alone, some of the experiences and events might trigger PTSD in some people; when taken together, it’s no surprise that they’ve done this to me.

I’m predisposed to the condition now simply because it’s all over, yet I can’t let it be. Those memories will stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m scarred, mentally as well as physically. Apparently I now face the next battle, to try to get over it but I’ll never forget as I learned so much. Would I do it again? I’d rather not but if life were to force my hand again, I know that I survived last time.

For now the advice is to place all of that in the past and accept that I have something now. It may not be much but I have this cosy, crooked, pretty cool place to live. And to work. I have to accept that I am good at certain things. I used to be good at running a business, being a husband and a dad but I lost all of that. So I have to let go, not of the kids but of that which wasn’t to be. And to focus on what I’m good at, even though my chosen pursuits are not likely to make me wealthy. I have to accept that my ability as a writer has been recognised. My ability to craft words into stories is something which very few possess. I am skilled in my art. I have published a book and write regularly for magazines. I’ve signed a contract for my writing to be published in a periodical. I am qualified and proven: I am a writer. When I’m asked what i do for a living, I simply answer that what I do is write. It’s not a living but it is a life. A humble one but one which I enjoy and it took me that fifteen month sentence, incarcerated in a personal hell to make me what I am. I am a writer. An alcoholic living above a pub, practicing my craft.

The chef side of things has had to go on the proverbial back burner while I’m limited to only a microwave in the kitchen but with that limitation placed upon me, I’m discovering some really quite nice things in the ready meal aisles of the supermarkets. As with everything, I’ve conducted research by reading and testing and can conclude that ready meals really do have a place, not least in my kitchen. When I’ve looked at the available ready meals, considered the ingredients therein and the time involved in preparing the meals in a box from scratch, I have had to conclude that ready meals are not a false economy. Less time spent preparing and cooking meals means that I have more time to write. I’d love a fully equipped kitchen but I make the best of what I have and besides, I’d rather be writing.

Top of the pile in the microwave ready meals generally is currently Morrison’s M Kitchen range. They’re currently on offer at three for six quid and when one considers the preparation and time involved in creating these meals from scratch, two quid is a more than fair price to pay. I’ve researched the various retailers’ ranges, through reading reviews and tasting the dishes themselves and M Kitchen is the place to go. Currently lined up in the fridge for tasting and reviewing are corned beef hash, chicken and leek with bacon and roast potatoes, and liver and bacon with mash and gravy. Reviews to be posted soon to the food blog.

So life really is good. I just have to keep reminding myself. Even though I have PTSD to add to Alcohol Dependency Syndrome, Multiple Personality Disorder, OCD, manic depression and borderline psychosis, I’m on drugs to control all of that. It’s a slow journey and some of my conditions are ones from which I may never recover but collectively, they’re what make me, me. And I like being me for the most part.

A symphony of syndromes is quite a poetic collective noun. As a writer and a student of the English language, I like many things: metaphors, similes, palindromes, onomatopoeia, rhyming slang, anagrams, palindromes; words and their ways in general. My favourite palindrome makes no sense at all but kudos to the person who thought of it: Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas. Collective nouns are also wonderful things and I like to make up my own. My favourite – which I didn’t make up – is the collective noun for giraffes: a tower of giraffes.

Lovely isn’t it? Like life.  

The Cult Noise of Depression

Mostly copied from CultNoise, with a few amendments. The point is, these are the important things to know…

Yesterday was the start of Depression Awareness Week 2015. The aim is to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding depression, as well as other mental health issues. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime – so why aren’t we talking about it yet?
To mark the occasion, we have compiled a list of the top twenty things people with depression want you to know, all drawn from our writer’s personal experience.

Stop handling me with kid gloves.

I’ve got mental health issues, but this doesn’t mean that I’m ‘broken’. Do not talk to me like a cat you just saved from a tree; especially when you never cared before. My pet peeve is the head tilt with “So how are you feeling?” from people who previously would never have spoken two words to you and now feels the need to partake in charity. I would be grateful if this was at all sincere, like with loved ones. There’s always one loved one who tries to wrap you in cotton wool and is terrified to even go to the shop, for fear of leaving you alone. Please do not stop your life for me.

You can tell me your problems, I can handle it.

If you are my friend or significant other, please share your feelings and worries. Just because I am dealing with my own problems does not mean that I cannot listen to yours. I can handle it. In truth – focussing on someone else’s problems makes me forget about mine for a while. Also, it feels like I’m being a good friend Normality is key.

I don’t mean to hurt you.

For friends and family of those suffering from depression, life can be just as hard. Watching someone you love struggle and cry, in some cases self-harm and attempt suicide, is hard to understand and accept. We know that and feel very guilty. Unfortunately, depression can be a very selfish illness. Sometimes we can be unintentionally harsh and mean, but most of the time we don’t mean the things we say. It’s out of hurt. The best defence is a good offence and all that. Often we can push people away to ‘protect’ them from us and it just results in hurting them even more. If we take it as far as to try and hurt ourselves to stop the suffering, it is no reflection on them. At that time all you think about is the all-consuming beast that is depression. Without a doubt, it is a challenge to love and care for someone with depression.

‘Am I wearing a sign?’

Paranoia often comes hand in hand with depression, along with the fear that people are judging you or talking about you. It often feels like you are wearing a large neon sign that says ‘I HAVE DEPRESSION’. The thing is – it isn’t noticeable. Depression isn’t like a broken arm or leg – you can’t see it. Somehow, because it feels like such an overwhelming factor in your life, you think others can see or sense it too. People do not have spidey senses. Those with depression look just like everyone else. We are sneaky individuals.

Sometimes it can feel like I am two different people.

When we get really low, it can feel like we are two different people: one is the true us and the other is an emotional, grumpy wreck. Rather than feeling like we are both people, it’s important to remember that the ‘other’ you isn’t you: it’s depression. It can be helpful to disassociate yourself from the ‘other’ you. Winston Churchill referred to his depression as ‘the black dog’. My depression is my shadow: darker in the sunshine. Whatever you call it, remember that it isn’t you! Also, it’s important for us to have others recognise that there is a difference too. I am not my depression.

If I don’t take my tablets, do not yell at me.

Some people take antidepressants to help manage depression. It is not everyone’s cup of tea and that is each person’s personal preference. It is not uncommon for people who are on them to suddenly stop taking them. Admitting there is a problem can be hard. Sometimes they are helpful, despite the side effects, but sometimes they just make us feel worse. The thought of having to take pills to make yourself ‘normal’ can sometimes be distressing. However, the sudden withdrawal can cause a slight meltdown. The worst thing you can do is to yell at someone to take them. That is no use. Imagine you had to take tablets to be happy every day, because your brain didn’t make the right chemicals. It can be upsetting. Logically explaining and understanding the frustration is much more helpful.  And hey, sometimes we just plain forget.

Depression and being sad is not the same thing.

Being sad is a normal human emotion. It is reactive. If something bad happens to you then you become sad and then it relents. There is some opportunity to ‘cheer you up’. It is not constant, but depression is. With depression, someone could offer you a trip to Disneyland on the back of a unicorn and you would not even crack a smirk. It is relentless and life-altering. It can change your personality, interests and goals in life. It can last for weeks, months or even years. If we compare depression to cancer (which a lot of people do not like) then sadness is a benign tumour. It is horrible but treatable. It is not life threatening or cancerous. Depression is a malignant tumour. The cells grow out of control, become cancerous and potentially life threatening – they spread throughout your body.

I know you are trying to help, but don’t try to give me medical advice. I know more about my diagnosis than you do.

This includes: “have you tried exercise?”, “maybe it’s your diet?” and “it must be hormones”. Honourable mentions go out to: “are you sure you need medication?” and “have you tried reading the Bible?”. If you have had depression for a long time, you will have heard some of these at least once. It’s nice that people are trying to be ‘helpful’ but if you have had it long enough then you will know everything about the medication, diagnosis, causes and treatments. Each person is different and knows what is best for them. What works for one person may not work for another. For those who are new to it all and do not know what to expect, the best advice comes from actual medical professionals and those who have been dealing with it for a while. They can tell you the various routes you can try but, in the end, only you know what is best for you.

This is not a choice.

Why would anyone choose to be depressed? It can mess up your relationships, work, studying and family. Nobody wants to have low moods all the time or to be such a challenge. People do not choose to have flu or polio; it is not within your control. There are ways to lessen the chances and practice good mental health, but no one can 100% say it will never happen to them. We have not “brought this on ourselves” by life choices and we are not weak.

It can also be physically painful.

This is something that many people do not understand. Sometimes depression can be physically painful or uncomfortable. Most of the time I liken it to a lead weight in my chest or like someone has punched a hole straight through me. Chest pain, headaches, back pain and muscle aches are common problems associated with depression. Sufferers can also experience fatigue, loss of appetite and sleep problems. Sometimes medicines which help with depression can change the chemicals involved in nerve cell communication. This can make them more effective, and potentially become more sensitive to physical pain. Depression can also slow down the digestive system, resulting in stomach problems.

Having depression does not make me ‘depressing’.

I’m a nice person, really. Most people who know me would describe me as such. However, sometimes people don’t want to invite you to places or hang out with you because they assume you will be in need, of company; of attention. We do notice how others react to us. I am not going to go to your house and cry into a wine glass, while I tell you how difficult it is to be me. To be honest, most of the time we are feeling super-down we don’t actually want to socialise anyway. There is no point in going out just to be ‘depressing’. We can be fun and interesting even with the depression, just some days are worse than others. On most occasions, people would not even know we suffer from depression because we are as sociable and upbeat as everyone else. The thing is, people do not know what is going on inside your head. The strongest looking people can be the ones fighting the hardest battles.

I don’t want to be a burden.

When you have depression you often have to rely on at least one other person to keep your head above water. Knowing how difficult it can be to accompany us on this roller coaster of emotion, we often feel guilty about it. We don’t want to put anybody out or to be a burden, especially on our loved ones. You have to remember that they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t want to be. If they care enough about you, then they will never consider you to be a burden. You have to ask for help when you need it.

Sometimes I just don’t want to socialise. It’s not personal.

On bad days, we may not want to see anyone or socialise. Sometimes the pressure of trying not to be ‘depressing’ in a social situation is too much and so avoiding it seems like a better choice. We just want to be free to feel our feelings. Support and friendship is always appreciated, but sometimes we just need some space. It isn’t personal. Knowing you have got friends or family willing to be there if you change your mind makes the difference. Just don’t push us to socialise when we are not willing because then it could spell disaster or even cause us to feel worse than before. Trust that we know what our head needs.

This isn’t a ‘trend’ or ‘cool’. If you had it, you would understand.

Films and TV shows paint depressed people as being cool, edgy and moody. This is so far from the reality. Depression isn’t sexy. Crying for hours on end, unable to get out of bed and sleeping all day is not sexy. Trying to ‘fix’ a damaged person is not some sort of Xbox achievement, so don’t enter into a relationship with a depressed person unless you actually care for them. Actually typing ‘depression is sexy’ into Google brought up disgusting pages from uneducated idiots, who quite frankly need high fived… in the face, with a chair. To say that people who are fighting it are sexy, because they are strong, badass individuals, is much more acceptable. It seems, at the moment, that depression is the new black. It’s not a badge of honour or pride; it’s a poisoned chalice. Self-harm is not trendy or to be used as a way to keep your favourite band member from leaving. Children need educated to know that these are serious issues and that this type of publicity is irreparably damaging to mental health advocates. We are trying to end a stigma, not make it trend on Twitter.

On occasions, our thoughts scare the shit out of people.

General melancholy becomes quite normal as do the weird-ass things you sometimes say. Some people may not see it that way. Telling close friends, very matter-of-factly, the ways you tried to commit suicide may become quite normal to you, but not necessarily to them. We can scare the shit out of others, but we don’t mean to. This is our normality. Being depressed tends to mean you think more about life and the meaning of things.
To be honest, once you hit that low, you stop caring about what other people think of your opinions and ‘crazy thoughts’. We may also act a bit differently and spontaneously. For example, I once sunbathed in the rain. These aren’t cries for attention – the way your brain functions just becomes a little different… and weird to some.

I am very unpredictable.

One second I can be okay, the next I will be crying. No, I don’t know what is wrong. Nothing happened. Story of my life. Things are never fantastic, but they aren’t always horrible either. They are just… Depressed people don’t become insanely happy: that is manic depression/bipolar disorder – a different kettle of fish. Those of us in that kettle have a whole load of other things we’d like people to know and we are even more difficult to deal with simply because we are so complex. It’s often like someone just flicks a switch and we suddenly become inconsolably upset. There is not always even an explanation for it or, if there is, it’s something small. The smallest tasks can sometimes feel like a mountain to climb. Don’t be surprised if we cry over spilling a cup of tea or losing our keys. It happens!

Small achievements to you are massive to me.

Reaching little goals that we set ourselves are a massive deal. Most people aim to get good grades or get the promotion of their dreams – sometimes just being able to get out of bed is an achievement. So do not knock us down when we achieve them, instead be proud of us! They may seem minuscule to you, but to us, they are each a step closer to recovery and seem as difficult as any task that you attempt. Some day we can aim for bigger things, but today is just about getting healthy.

I can be really challenging, but if you put the effort in, I will be the most loyal friend.

Without doubt, being friends with someone with depression is hard work. It can be exhausting, frustrating and upsetting. When you suffer from depression, you truly see who your real friends are. Many friends will desert you, but you discover that they were never really friends at all. As hard as it can be, we treasure the ones that stay more than anything. And we are guilty of not showing our gratitude to them. We do not take you for granted. Things may be tough, but we are eternally grateful for your love and support. That makes us some of the most loyal friends to have, next to Labradors. The effort is never forgotten and helps to create a bond that few other friendships have. You both also know, that no matter what shit either of you go through, that you will be there for one another. You aren’t fighting alone.

When I speak about it, it’s not for attention, it’s to raise awareness and end stigma.

When people, such as me, speak out about their experience of mental health issues, they are often met with hostility and judgement. People think it is being done for attention. Therein lies the problem. There are so many stigmas about the issues and the things that I have mentioned that people associate many mental health advocates as attention seekers. Really, all we want to do is talk about the issue.

We share our experience so that others know that they are not alone.

Talking openly about the issue will make it less of a taboo.

Do not be ashamed to talk about mental health – especially not this week.

Talk to those of us who know.

Thank you 🙂

Interview With the Samphire

27.05.15 (Day 491/48)

14.42

I’m in the minimalist kitchen, preparing tonight’s microwave marvel. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet but I’m buggering about with the various herbs we have dotted around the place. We don’t actually have any samphire but it rhymes with vampire, so it makes for a good blog post title. Other herbs are here, if you know where to look. Method one is to join up the writing.

I’m currently tutoring the landlady’s granddaughter in writing. She’s writing a song and I’m acting as writer in a residence and helping her with rhyme, rhythm  and metaphors. Once we’ve done the lyrics, I have a good friend who will write a melody, then we’ll have a song and aspiration.

My own writing is keeping me busy, with my latest two short stories – The Child Who Wished for Nothing and Ghost Bird – accepted for publication, A Message going into print, my second novel proceeding well and a possible small break for The Paradoxicon via the medium of a promotional interview I gave to my publisher for inclusion in their next magazine. It went well. It went like this in fact:

What is the title and genre of your book? Can you give us a brief summary?

The Paradoxicon is horror / sci-fi. I like to think that it marries the two, as it does science and religion. It’s an exploration of life as we know it but it proposes so much more. It will make you feel small and insignificant but if you grasp certain things, you may realise that you yourself are so much more. The Paradoxicon is more than just a book, as one test reader put it:

“I have just finished reading The Paradoxicon. Steve writes in a way that just keeps you wanting to read one more page, no matter if you’re exhausted after a 12 hour shift or not. Taking you down roads of the unexplained and the fantastic, but keeping you grounded by making Victor a real person easy to relate to – I too would muse these events over a cup of tea and peanut butter on toast in the morning! The book inspires thoughts and feelings on many different levels from having to keep the light on when first being introduced to ‘they’, to feeling a very real human empathy for a character battling his own demons and the collapse of his life. A pleasure to read and thoroughly recommended.”

A summary? It’s hard to summarise a life but here’s how it begins:

You are free to choose but you are not free from the consequence of your choice.

This is the story of a life which hasn’t happened yet. A life that could have been, given the chance. It will happen. In time.

We are about to meet a man who you may or may not like. You may relate to him or you may judge him. The choice is yours. If you’re watching something on TV which you don’t like, there is an off switch. You are holding a book which you may choose to put down at any point.

Does anyone deserve a second chance at life? Who plays judge? You hold a life in your hands at the moment and you may switch it off at any point.

Is it possible to make amends and right one’s wrongs, so that one may clear the slate with life? To live again? Can I put everything behind me and move on?

Is the remorse I feel sufficient punishment for what I have done? Are the constant memories my punishment, to live with me until the day I die?

Travel with Victor Frank in a search for knowledge and the ultimate answer to the ultimate question: that of life. Why are we here?

This is a journey through time, space, dreams and so much more. A trip through the past, present and future. A journey into the unknown.

All of the answers which we seek are here, if we look for them. But we need to know what we are looking for. In order to understand the answers, we need to fully grasp the ultimate question.

This book covers what it means to be human; what life is all about and what it might mean to us and to others.

There are horrors, encounters with strange beings, mysteries, questions and adventure. All are contained within The Paradoxicon; a book about itself and so much else. Hold the hand of the author and be guided through what is literally the story of a life.

After reading The Paradoxicon, you will see your own reflection and shadow differently. You may even fear life itself.

Who is your target audience? Why should they read your book?

I’m my own harshest critic but even I would say that anyone above a certain age ought to read the book, simply because it is so much more than just a book. Those who have read The Paradoxicon range in age from fourteen to eighty two. It’s certainly not a children’s book but it does pose ideas which are apparent to us from the cradle to the grave. It’s made people think and question. Some of my original beta readers still come to me almost a year after I started writing the book and tell me that it is still playing on their minds. They ask me questions which I’m unable to answer of them, for the questions they ask are those which are proposed in the book and which only the reader can fully grasp, if they themselves know what in fact it is which they are questioning.

How did you come up with the title?

Quite simply, Paradoxicon was a word which occurred to me. The Paradox is so many things, in life, the universe and everything: that which we can’t grasp, or aren’t yet able to understand; which may or may not be true but which can’t be confirmed or denied. To believe certain things requires faith. Icon is an image. The Paradoxicon is a book but also an icon, which can’t be explained and which continues to raise questions about itself; just like life. It’s recursion; it’s a paradox, like much of the material contained within it.

Who designed your cover? Why did you go with that image?

I designed the cover myself. I needed something universal, ambiguous and generic but at the same time a graphic which gave the impression that there was something to be found in everything.

Who is your favourite character in the book? Why?

Doctor Miles Brunner. “Character” is an appropriate label, as he is more than one. He’s a bit of an enigma. Doctor Brunner himself is a paradox. I can’t give too much away but you’ll see what I mean if you read the book.

Who is your least favourite character and why?

Well, “They” would have to be my least favourite, simply because of what they are or may be. They encompass all human fear, yet therein lies the root of all questions and therefore, answers. So are “They” bad? They are my least favourite because of the paradox they represent and force us to face. “They” become undeniable in their paradoxical proposition of me creating them and in them, I have created something which even I am afraid to contemplate.

If you could change one thing about your novel, what would it be and why?

On the one hand, nothing. Because the book was written in a relatively short period of time, following a very difficult period in my life. On the other hand, I would perhaps extend it, as I learn more about the life which led me to write the book and which the book and life itself continues to teach me. But my test readers also told me that they themselves were able to draw so much personally from the book, which wasn’t actually contained therein. There’s a degree of ambiguity and suggestion which allows each individual reader to connect, relate and make the story their own.

Do you have a webpage or blog?

http://www.stevelaker.net

My personal blog and my writing can be accessed through the site.

Are you planning any books in the near future?

I’m writing two books at the moment. One is a follow-up to The Paradoxicon: not a sequel but a book which sees “They” from different perspectives. It will be complimentary to the first book and will stand alone in its own right, with no need for cross-reference. The second is a slight departure into a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where we explore whether anarchy can rule and where certain social classes become disposable people.

What advice would you give other writers who want to get published?

One word: write. It’s a cliche, I know. But just write. Keep a notepad and pen with you and write things down. It doesn’t matter if they don’t make sense at the time or even when you read them back but they form your insight into yours and other people’s minds. My book was by expansion of three short stories I wrote and even those were born of just random thoughts, about mundane everyday things, which I decided to make terrifying.

Keep a blog. You never know where your hand written notes may end up, so keep something indelible online.

Self-publish: the royalties may be miniscule but Kindle is the best route. Show confidence in yourself and get noticed. Publishing isn’t like it used to be. Self-publishing is no longer considered an exercise in vanity but is instead a statement of one’s confidence in one’s work, the long term hope being recognition from a mainstream print publisher.

Talk to your peers. We are some of the most critical individuals you will encounter and we will offer the harshest words you may not wish to hear but you will gain the best support and advice from those in the same position as you. Actively seek critiques, for it is very easy to become self-deluded.

Finally, can you give us a quick snippet or quote from the book that will whet the reader’s appetite?

“If you are reading this, then you are reading this: you are able to read. And if you can make sense of these words, then you understand and I have made first contact. I think, therefore I am. Or am I? What am I?

I may have to leave any time soon. In the event of my leaving, I hope that what I’ve gathered can be kept together; to be retained as a collection: I think it’s all connected but I don’t have time to join the dots. I may not have time to label or catalogue everything, so if someone with more time than me finds all of this, I hope they can continue what I may have to leave. I hope they can find what I sought.

But exercise caution, for some of what I believe to have discovered may require a broad imagination. If you are of a cynical nature and not open to suggestion, then I would politely request that you pass on what you have found to someone who may be better equipped to continue my work. If you wish to be my student and learn, then please read on. One thing you will certainly need is time, which I can give you.

Briefly yours,

Miles Brunner.”

I was thirsty after that and contemplated some coke but went for water instead, then weed.

Then a real high arrived in the form of an unexpected phone call from my love of once upon a time: Steve’s Dan, as she once was, surprised me in the early hours and we spoke for a long time, laughed, joked and generally got on like we always did. Despite everything that has gone before, we remain soul mates, by her own admission. I continue to serve a life sentence of regret after losing her through my own stupidity, driven by alcohol and she is the only one who can ever release me from my personal prison but I’ll always be on bail, unable to forget. How can you forget when you did something awful to the one you belonged with and who you will never forget. She says she misses me: something I say of her every day. We’ll be meeting soon though as Dan has put the icing on my upcoming birthday cake by inviting me over to her place – our old place – on the evening of my birthday. So a perfect day is planned, with a matinee viewing of Les Miserable on the West End stage with two of my best mates – Meg and Nettie – followed by a night with my soul mate.

All of that, plus the fact that my housing benefit is now sorted out and I’m no longer in arrears on my rent, together with realising quite a lot of success with my writing, means that things are okay.

Now I need to see a man about some herbs.

Currying Around

25.04.15 (Day 489 /46)

16.42

Having only a microwave oven and as I sometimes can’t be bothered to prepare meals from scratch, ready meals are often on the menu. In much the same way that cooking from scratch using only a microwave has it’s limits, so the range of microwave ready meals is also limited. But if you like curry, that’s one area which is well catered for in the ready meal market.

Being on a limited budget and sometimes with not much time on my hands, a microwave ready meal is a bit of a treat. I like to think of my minimalist kitchen as being of the eighties: the decade in which I was supposed to grow up but never did. Back then, when microwave ovens were invented, they were a luxury, costing a week’s salary of the average earner, as highlighted in the recent TV series, Back in Time for Dinner. Back then, families sometimes even abandoned their conventional oven for a microwave.

So here I am, back in the eighties. I have little money, so I’m unable to go out and eat a meal prepared and cooked by someone else. The microwave oven ready meal is the net best thing. I try to keep my daily food budget to around two to three quid and I actually eat surprisingly well on that. Jamie Oliver, watch out. This is the weekend though, so I can afford to splash out a bit and this one comes in at the princely sum of a fiver. The preparation and cooking time is around five minutes, so Jamie Oliver, you should really move aside.

Obviously the main part of an Indian night in is the curry – really – and there are lots available, everywhere. I’ve found a real champion though, through much searching in unlikely places. There are a range of microwave ready meals sold under the “Independent” brand, and as far as I know, they’re only available from one chain of newsagents, in the chilled section if a particular branch has one. There are only three ready meals from the Independent range stocked by my local McColls: cottage pie, lasagne and chicken tikka. The cottage pie and lasagne are mediocre at best but the curry is an absolute delight.

Personally I like a curry with heat but I also enjoy milder ones if they’re well flavoured. Although tikka was invented for the British and isn’t an authentic Indian curry, I don’t care when the flavours are this good.

Two quid will buy you a 400g curry with pilau rice. The proportion of rice to chicken is about equal. The amount of actual chicken in the dish is fairly modest but the chunks are large and they’re breast meat. There’s plenty of sauce, delicious when mopped up with rice or a naan bread. The tikka sauce has a mildly spicy flavour, with lots of coconut coming through and a hint of lemon and herbs. The rice is neither too dry nor wet; just sticky enough to cling together. Ready in five minutes in the microwave, served on white crockery with some green herbs sprinkled on top, it looks as good as it tastes and could pass for something home-made. With some added accompaniments, one of these could even stretch to a modest meal for two. I tend to go for sag aloo and onion bhajis, both available cheaply as microwave ready meals, or relatively cheap from the local Indian take-away. One thing that no supermarket has yet to master is the naan bread, so that comes from the local Indian.

So that’s a meal for one – or two – costing less than a fiver and ready in five minutes. And it really is delicious.

The nineteen eighties just called and asked for their ideas back.

Je Suis Valerie

24.04.15 (Day 488 /45)

16.42

I am Valerie: I am a Singleton. Single and happy to be freed of the chains that bound me but inclined to start looking around.

When the lights go out, I get turned on. Following an after-hours drinking and smoking session last night, the lights went out on a chapter in my life and I got turned on to a new one.

Since I’ve been living at the pub, things been less than secure to say the least. My tenancy was possibly in doubt because I’d fallen into arrears on the rent, thanks to a battle I was obliged to fight with the council. I’ve covered it before but in a nutshell, I was receiving less in housing benefit than this place costs me in rent. That issue has now been rectified and I’m due to receive sufficient benefit to cover the cost of living here.

Slightly more uncertain though was the continued existence of the pub itself, as a pub. This situation has also been resolved and next week, the landlord of the pub – who is also my landlord – will sign a lease on his business and my home. I have a very close friend in the daughter of the landlady here. Following the signing of the lease, she is being groomed to take over the pub. She doesn’t wish to live here with her partner, their three children and their dog, so last night she reassured me that my place here is safe.

So for the first time in 533 days, I’m secure and have the foundations of the rebuilding of my life. The last 45 days have been great, simply because I’ve had somewhere of my own to live but now I also have security for the longer term. And I live in a pub.

So I truly am settled, ready to move on. The last thing to do was change my relationship status, which has been “In a relationship” on Facebook for the last year or so, as I maintained a farce. The relationship status wasn’t a status symbol; rather, it was a relationship of convenience for others and myself. I have had three relationships in the last 533 days. The first was borne of sympathy but turned out to be one of deceit on the part of that particular partner. The second was a relationship which had to be conducted in secret and the other half of which I was unable to divulge. For the purposes of social media, I wished to proclaim myself unavailable, even though I couldn’t reveal the identity of the girl I was with. The third was a means of protection for the other half of that one, who wished it known that she was in a relationship with me. We had form, I had nothing better to do, so I did it for her.

All of those are gone; the third now safe and with no need of my assistance. But I maintained the pretence that I was in a relationship because I simply didn’t want one. I was in a relationship with myself, battling my demons and trying to get things back on track. I am somewhat relationship dependent but my life was not one to share with a significant other. There were plenty of interested parties but the interest wasn’t reciprocated. I put barriers up.

Now that I have a greater degree of security about how I am in myself and my longevity in the place I’ve chosen to live, I am ready to put myself back on the market. There’s at least one in the wings and I’m not about to start pimping myself around. I’m a sex camel and have done without for a long time but a lot of pent up things are ready for anyone who wants to take me on.

I’m done with short-term fixes and I’m a keeper by nature, so if anyone fancies taking on an alcoholic writer who lives in a bedsit above a pub and who indulges in far too many recreational drugs, I’m available.

Why don’t you come on over…

He Walked

After a while, he was tired
Weary from battle
Battered and bruised
Unable to cope, he left
Time he was excused

He looked down
No-one noticed
But his heart had died
Time to exorcise
The demons inside

It could be you
It could be me
So he walked
And so it shall be