Wednesday, 7 October 2015

You at Seven

I can see the three of us standing under the horse-chestnut by the river. The leaves are brown. They float down softly on our heads and toes, they tickle a little. Above us, squirrels leap from branch to branch making conkers fall around us like stars. And as we stand on the crunchy floor of rusted leaves, you jump, and turn seven.

Seven. Today. 

Seasons are easy to sum up, but not you at seven. I often see your thoughts whirling round and up and up like leaves in the wind. My autumn child. Not summer, not winter, but the in-between. You're the in-between. There are two of you, so many of you. One, for the people you love: goofy and loving, nonstop-talking. Another for the rest of the world, in which you hold back, observe, keep your thoughts to yourself. I took out my paintbrushes and tried to draw your world today, you at seven, but I didn't draw your eyes; I can never do them justice. They say so much. You're deeply independent, unflinchingly honest. You can be positive about the greyest cloud. Never conflicted about what you feel. And when your questions come, they're as sharp and clear as raindrops on blades of grass.

"Ma, why does extraordinary mean something really special when it's extra + ordinary, more ordinary?" you asked yesterday.

Happy birthday, our Chotto-ma! You're seven. That's seven whole years of making our lives a little less ordinary. We love you more than all the leaves that fall in autumn.


Thursday, 3 September 2015

A dark pint of Dublin

It's a city of song; at every turn, buskers sing their souls into upturned hats. It's a city of writers and poets. Of bridges over water, and history scribbled all over. It's a city of men with boyish eyes and thick beards. Of quiet humour and a laidback energy. It's a city that likes to brunch. Where food comes in hearty portions. Smiles too.

Dublin stands sure in its skin - old and modern and uncomplicated. Its parks very green, its art very edgy. Its buildings are often painted a deep red, a screaming pink, clover green, old-lady-purple.

There's a certain New-Yorkness to this wee city, especially when you zoom in through the lens of a camera. Parts of it reminded me of Williamsburg in Brooklyn: the red-brown bricks and art-splattered streets, the large loft-like spaces converted into cafes, derelict buildings with funky shops, feet in clean canvas shoes.

With all it's history hugged tightly to its chest, Dublin seems to have marched headlong into the Now. You could walk into a 12th-century pub for a glass of Guinness and some beef stew, or lunch at a restaurant where modern Irish cooking bends expectations, often blending fresh local ingredients with Middle-Eastern flavours.

And if you're lucky (as we were), you could be sitting in an old, old pub with your dark, dark pint, when suddenly, a group in the corner takes out their guitars and breaks into unprepared song. Strong and clear. Their acoustics bouncing off the wood-lined walls. And everyone cheers and claps and they sing one more song, and then another. And you leave Dublin humming the city like a well-worn tune.


The Nitty Gritties: where we slept and ate and drank, and the places we loved in Dublin.

Where we stayed:
The Dean Hotel. Very retro-chic, complete with vinyls in the room. And a rooftop restaurant and bar that's hard to beat.

Where we ate and drank:
We tried lots of lovely places, but there were some clear winners. I've put them together in one perfect day of eating and drinking.


The Fumbally. It was one of our favourite places in Dublin; try their fantastic brunch, and enjoy the gorgeously haphazard space!


O'Donaghue's. A pint of Guinness at this pub, amidst that impromtu jam of guitar and song, was one of my best afternoons in Dublin, and one that I'll remember for a long time.

The Pig's Ear. Modern Irish cooking at it's best, and a short walk from O'Donaghue's. The restaurant also sits near the National Gallery of Ireland where we really enjoyed the Sean Scully exhibition.


Sophie's at The Dean. That's the rooftop restaurant I mentioned earlier. Have a cocktail by the wall of glass and look down at the city and the mountains beyond as the sun sets. You can't do better. The pizzas are great, as is the rest of the food.

Coppinger Row. A Mediterranean restaurant in the hub of Dublin. Our meal here was faultless, fresh and full of flavour, and all whipped out of a busy, open kitchen. (Oh, Beyoncé and Jay Z dined here, if that counts!)

Dublin for kids:

Dublin is very child-friendly. People would bend down to have one-to-one conversations with Chotto-ma as if she were a solo traveller, and we weren't there at all!

There are great galleries and museums to keep kids interested, to learn a bit about Ireland and the influences of other cultures that passed through this island country. Chotto-ma loved these -
The National Gallery of Ireland
The Chester Beatty Library
National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology

In good weather (which we amazingly had almost everyday of our stay) head to -
St Stephen's Green is one of the loveliest city parks, with a duck-filled pond, fountains, gazebos and nooks and cranies to explore.

Merrion Square has a wonderful playground themed on The Selfish Giant. Chotto-ma had finished reading Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince and Other Stories just before the holiday, and had loved The Selfish Giant, so she especially enjoyed this park. (It's also very close to the National Gallery of Ireland).


(None of the places mentioned above have sponsored this post. They're just mentions of things we enjoyed, so others might enjoy them too. I don't do reviews on the blog.)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

It's own timbre

Yesterday, the sky was a flat-packed grey. Under it, wet roofs, wet roads, damp brick walls, damp people in damp socks, the neighbour's cat with a sweet squirrel in his mouth. Bleak stuff. It's August, the prime of summer, but the sky is British you see, it can't comment on summer. So what if the rest of Europe is laid out on their beach towels like strips of bacon in a frying pan? We'll just take the old umbrella out for a walk.

Still, the weather doesn't irk me like it used to.  Maybe it has something to do with a little girl who goes 'Yay, rain!' every time it rains. I mean, who says 'Yay, rain!' in this country?! She can be positive about anything, this one. A couple of days ago, she hopped and grinned and danced around me saying "Ma, I'm really, really excited about nothing!" So yeah, it could be her; she makes me notice the grey less.

There's something else I like about days like these. The silver light. Like a snail's trail that has dried on the ground in slow, shiny loops. This light, even through a bare window, is diffused, discreet. It's incredible how a land's people mirror its weather.

I was writing this post when I looked up and saw Chotto-ma engrossed in her book, and realised how utterly quiet the house was. Only the rustle of a page turning, and her foot softly kicking the arm of the sofa, thup thup thup. I picked up my phone quietly and took this photo. Of her and the light and the quiet. There's a special kind of silence on grey days. It's different from the silence of a sunny day. Like the difference between synonyms - each with it's own timbre, its own use.

I've been meaning to share a recipe for weeks. It's for a plum cake that has been baked, eaten, baked in a loop recently. It's beautiful; soft, sweet, tart and almondy. I'd Instagrammed it, just out of the oven, and now here it is. These photographs are off my phone camera too, because I forget to do any better when this cake is sitting on the table making our rainy-day house smell all kinds of wonderful.

Almond, Plum & Brown Sugar Cake


1 cup plain flour
1 cup ground almond
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup coarse demerara (you can use white sugar too, but this gives the cake a rich, roasty flavour)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 heaped tbsp of butter
1/2 cup oil
1/2 - 3/4 cup milk (as needed)
4-5 plums, halved, then sliced (with peel on)

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F).
Grease a rectangular baking dish (or a cake tin of your choice) with butter, keep aside.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl - flour, ground almond, baking powder and sugar.
Make a well in the middle. Crack in the eggs. Add the vanilla essence, the butter and oil.
Start mixing it in a circular motion. Pour the milk a bit at a time as you mix, till you get a nice smooth batter, easy to stir.
Pour batter into cake tin. Top the batter with the sliced plum, laying them on with a gentle hand so they settle into the batter a tiny bit, but not sink in.
Bake for 40 minutes if the baking dish is flat and rectangular, and about 45-50 minutes if it's deep and round. Slide a knife in to check if done.

Monday, 3 August 2015

The smell of old books

I wrote a short, short piece, which was published today on River Teeth, a US-based journal of narrative nonfiction. Only some of you will know the shops in Calcutta I talk about, but all of you will know the smell of old books.

I'd love to know what it makes you think of - leave me your thoughts here, or on the River Teeth website when you get there. I'll give you a bunch of sunflowers and wild leaves in return.

Monday, 27 July 2015


On Saturday, I got this beautiful issue of Structo, with my fiction on its pages. I read an excerpt of the story at The Society Club in London where the issue was launched, and met some of the other wonderful writers. There were softly lit lamps, good people and Hemingway Daiquiri. All things right.

To everyone who's asked, the issue is for sale from August 1, and you can pre-order your copy here (they ship worldwide, and you'll be supporting a wonderful, not-for-profit effort to produce good literature):

You can also pick up, or order, a copy from select shops in the UK. Or from shops in New York, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam. The list of shops/stockists are here:

If you're oceans away and the shipping costs seem too much, or you'd rather not make a purchase now (and that's perfectly reasonable), please wait a while - the online version will be available after three months, and is then free to read. I will post a link to my story here when that happens.

Thank you, always, for supporting, and reading, and following my work! I really appreciate it, you know.

Love, P xx

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A year older


Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

There's been much said about what James Wright meant by the last line. For some, it means what it says - a wasted life, a regret. But in my mind, there's never been any doubt that he meant quite the opposite. I can see him, lying in the hammock, his proverbial tongue in his proverbial cheek, gently laughing at those who rush and run. Laughing at those who think lying in a hammock at William Duffy's farm is a waste of time. Because James knew, even then, that they were all wrong. That life was in watching a bronze butterfly sleep, listening to cowbells, and seeing the chicken hawk float home. And so he laughed and changed not a damn thing; just swung on his hammock as day turned to dusk. 

When I was young, I would stare at the clouds for ors with my school books open in front of me; Ma Baba kept the curtians drawn before an exam. And now, as I get in with this business of being an adult, I still find time to waste. 

It's midnight now. July 22, 00:00 hours, the laptop tells me. Which means I've just turned a year older. Two sleepy voices, one big and one little, will sing me Happy Birthday in a few minutes. And there's one thing I know for certain: I've wasted my life well. 

If you're in London, and fancy joining me for a spot of time wasting, please drop by The Society Club in Soho on July 25 - I'll be there for the launch of Structo Magazine's new issue, and I'd love to meet you! Structo publishes a fantastic anthology of fiction and poetry, and I'm very proud to have my work in its new issue. I'll be doing a reading from my story 'Dancing in the Drawing Room', which is part of the anthology (available online and in bookstores post July 25).

Details for the launch and reading, here, if you can make it!

Have a happy, wasted week, everyone!