As has become customary I have a little story to tell you, but please scroll if it gets a bit silly. I’ll be in touch again in a week or so with details of the competition, giveaways and prizes.
Once, many years ago, I was very interested in making a marionette and was lucky enough to attend a course with the BRILLIANT John Roberts. I took inspiration from a young storyteller I’d seen taking part in a show a few months before. Tall and delightfully gangly with a shock of bright ginger hair and small glasses, he looked rather like a teenage Mr Mustard.
So I drew his slim white figure from my mind’s eye, and carved out his calves and thighs, feet, hips, arms and head with a wickedly sharp Chinese chisel. It was a miraculous tool. So smooth and easy to use. It cut through the wood like butter. Carving his face was like preparing Brussels Sprouts at Christmas. It was just THAT easy. It sent shivers down my spine every second it was in my hand. One moment’s daydream and there would be a spare finger on the floor I felt sure of it.
The very thought gave me nightmares. I was determined to get over myself but the chisel, once wrapped carefully in many sheets of oiled rags, remained unvisited. And the half-finished puppet rests to this day in an old tin box on a shelf at my studio. Complete with all his accoutrements and my extravagant plans. The marionette was to be the star of his own show. The show was to be called Simon Smith and He’s Dancing Bare.
A while later I found myself again at the very excellent Jane Bombane’s in Kemptown at another event, and I ran into the young storyteller once more. Without thinking (and that was my mistake) I approached him, excited to meet him properly. He was a storyteller and I had a unique story personal to him. He would love it. What could possibly go wrong?
It soon became obvious he did not recall ever having seen me before. But I continued regardless. For I am the Queen, nay the Tsarina, of the awkward situation.
I will leave you to guess the details of the conversation we had. Less a conversation more of a stuttering monologue, as I dug myself deeper and deeper into a slippery hole with every phrase I uttered. Seeing the surprise, embarrassment then growing horror on this stranger’s face did nothing to slow me down as I bulldozed my way into the foundations of indecency.
And why do I find myself telling you this story when I can hardly bear to think of it myself without cringing massively? It’s because of the COVID.
We’ve all had such a terrible scare. It’s made me value my life in all its detail all the more. And to realize that THESE are the days. They are not times to be scared of, embarrassed about, secretive with. This is the very stuff of life and it is to be celebrated, treasured and laughed about.
And I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. In a way I was only sharing ideas with my muse. And perhaps there was no skillful way explain to a total stranger how he’d inspired me to carve him naked out of wood with nothing to cover his modesty but the smallest smattering of an old fluorescent-orange feather boa.
Possibly I can never visit Bombane’s again. Probably I gave a shy young man the fright of his life. Definitely I felt ridiculous, foolish and awkward. Thankfully it was a dark basement, no one else heard me, and I have never seen him again. And no one else knows, except for you.
But THESE are the days... No matter how gut wrenchingly embarrassing, difficult or outofyourcomfortzone something may feel, may I urge you to go ahead and do it? Perhaps not something as ridiculous as I did, but don’t we all need to seize the day?
I will leave you for now with a simple soup recipe and an entreaty to tell no-one about the contents of this email, which may well self destruct in three minutes,
Sam Toft x
Slowly fry a whole head of chopped celery and an onion in olive oil then add 2 cloves of crushed garlic. Next a few cubed root vegetables (a couple carrots, a potato, and half a turnip ?) and simmer with a stock cube, lots of water.
A few chilli flakes and a generous shake of white pepper
A handful of small pasta when the veg is tender and a bunch each of fresh parsley and basil chopped
Salt to taste
It’s simple and yummy
A Portuguese man in his takeaway café told me it was his mother’s recipe. Tastes of home.