Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas Dinner

This year, as it has been the tradition for our family gatherings recently, we went to a French 'auberge' called Auberge des Ris for our Christmas dinner. The menu was of course, rich, but as usual delicious.  As it normal at French Christmases, foie gras and wine were the staples of the dinner, which suprisingly extended from 13:00  to 16:00!

Here are the details of the meal:


Appetiser: Salmon slice garnished with creamed crab and basil mousse

Entrée: Foie gras in all its forms - foie gras soup with mushrooms and lentils, foie gras with pig feet, foie gras on a bed of apples, half-cooked foie gras and foie gras ice cream, all accompanied by fruit bread.

Re-Victorian Winter

You may have seen the Victorian Winter creative story earlier in this blog, but I extended it to a fuller story because I thought it needed to be explained. Enjoy!(hopefully..... )

Sunset. The last orange gleams of the day's sunshine shimmer, then fade. The dark Victorian streets are bathed in what seems like an impenetrable darkness, yet a young woman ventures out on foot, dimly lighting path with an oil lamp. Her shallow breathing and the clatter of her shoes are the only sound in the city, and as she realises this, her already anxious breathing gets shorter. What was she thinking? There had been so many killings recently. Even the wind had been silenced, she thought, and as she hurried on, the only thing she could make out were the pale illusions of the four mutilated souls, wailing pitifully. Suddenly, the apparitions were replaced by gentle descent of soft snow. The ground was soon covered, and her cascading auburn hair was glistening with frozen droplets, forming intricate patterns; almost like a spider's web. Though she already had numb fingers, she stopped to look at the beauty surrounding her. Even the old work houses and factories seemed less patronising.

While she was contemplating the city, something approached, stealthy as a cat chasing its prey. Unaware, she continued walking, slower and more trustingly. He always acted whenever there was snow; the victims, suddenly entranced by their surroundings, were less wary. Only a few more steps, then she would be as silent as her beloved city. She changed direction, and he was taken aback. Her hair suddenly radiated light, creating a sort of halo around her. He would have to attack sooner than he expected. 
A piercing scream woke the city next morning. The children were admiring the snow, the milkmaid was delivering the milk, yet something was different. Nowadays, snow always meant something atrocious, and everyone was praying that this scream had been one of joy, though no one could persuade themselves. Tragically, they were right. The halo of light beaming around the woman's head had been replaced by a more sinister crown; one of her own blood. Everyone was up in arms; surely not another one! Why had such beautiful girls, who could have been so prosperous, not been allowed the chance to bloom like the snowdrops? And what sort of villain could possibly be roaming the streets of our good Queen Victoria...?
As the ancient clock on the mantelpiece ticked out the last minutes of the day, Elizabeth prepared herself to escape the vigilance of the many servants prowling around the luxurious mansion. ‘Highbury-on-Thames Mansion’ had been her home since Queen Victoria came to the throne. Somehow, she remembered that it was about then that the troubles started, but she decided that this was foolish; she had only been a few years old when they moved in. The gong from the timepiece resonated, and Elizabeth quickened her preparations. The meeting was only a few minutes away, and she knew she could not miss it. She needed information, but she knew her father would not allow her escapades into the bleak London, especially during the bitter winter. Despite this, she knew that she was doing the right thing. After all, it was going to help her father much more than he could ever expect.    
As she ventured out on foot, she thought about how she had felt when her father first got the position as Mayor of London. Her mother had been apprehensive about this opportunity, realising that working at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign would be difficult, but she did not anticipate that she was not the only one coming to power. Jack the Ripper had also begun the killings from the 1st month of Victoria’s coronation. Her father had been overwhelmed, and soon became more distant. Actually, Elizabeth did not remember the last time they had properly talked, but she had found new ways to distract herself.
She reached her destination and halted suddenly. What if this had all been planned? After all, James, her father’s assistant knew about the sneaking out.
“But he was friendly enough, and it was unlikely that he had told Father. Even then, it was unlikely that he would have spent so much time on his daughter,” she thought resentfully.
She hurried inside.
Elizabeth sat down in horror. Surely this could not be true? He gently told her that it was perhaps the time to go back home. But at the moment, it was too hard. She tried with all her might to get up, but she felt like her legs were made from the Thames’ murky water. With difficulty, she pulled herself straight and thanked her host. She decided that she had to get home as soon as possible.
She was walking on the wet ground, silently praying that she would not slip over. She tried to concentrate on only one thing, knowing that if she thought about what he had told her for even a second, she would collapse in a crumpled mess. She was so caught up in her own thoughts, however, that she did not notice the shadow creeping behind her, silent as a ghost.
As she finally got home, she quickly changed and went straight to her bedroom, ignoring all the disapproving glances from the maids. The bed was perfectly made, and she silently praised the softness of it. She settled down for the longest sleep she had ever indulged in.
Further away, but in the same building, James Cordall was intently listening to his ‘aide’, as he called him.  The spy had seen Elizabeth take a turn, but had not been able to follow her into the dark alleys. James swore under his breath.
“And you could not have followed her? You are incapable! You do realise I pay you exorbitant amounts of money to follow one girl, and yet you fail in even that. Honestly, a cat could follow her, even if it stopped to get a mouse every yard, without getting lost!”
After having taken a deep breath, he tried to think rationally.
“Is there any chance that she has received the information?” he breathed.
“I doubt that she did not, unfortunately,” whispered the spy as his voice trembled.
“Leave me.”
                James’ aide left as quietly as he could, while James imagined what would happen if the information about Jack the Ripper got out. The Mayor had become a good friend, and he did not want to guess what would happen if Elizabeth managed to escape the spy the next time.
                Elizabeth woke to the sound of merchants shouting in the busy street, and everything suddenly came back to her. She even wasn’t sure if it was worth getting up. She knew she had to carry on normally for a while, but eventually she would have to reveal the information to her father. She thought it best to write it down to make sure that she would not forget anything, and then went to have her breakfast. She decided to go tell her father of her findings.
“Better sooner than later,” she reasoned.
In his office, her father was making last preparations. Elizabeth stood at the door about to knock, but refrained to do so when she heard snippets of the conversation going on behind the heavy oak doors.
“If we catch him, then there will no more interference with our plans. And you say Elizabeth might have found out about this?” the Mayor inquired.
“I’m afraid it might be a possibility, but it can be resolved,” James said confidently.
“I will absolutely accept no violence to my daughter, but do anything else that will keep her away from this.”
Elizabeth was shocked, but refrained to make a sound. She listened for any more information she could extract from this conversation – she was curious by nature, although many of her tutors told her this was an undesirable quality for the daughter of the Mayor. She was puzzled. Yesterday, her informant had told her that James had ties with Jack the Ripper, but how come her father let him be in his company if he knew about it? Of course, they could be talking about something else, but she could not think of anything her father would be secretive about other than this. She reasoned that she should share this with her sister Anne and her husband who were living in Canary Wharf. Anne always knew what to do, and was so calm and rational that she soothed Elizabeth immediately. She brought the parchment on which she had written all the facts, and hurried to her sister’s home.
“Elizabeth,” she whispered after a long moment of silence, “do you not think there could be another possibility?”
Elizabeth looked at her in bewilderment.
“You thought that James was linked to Jack the Ripper, didn’t you?” She carried on without waiting for an answer. “But have you ever thought that he was linked to our father?”
“What do you mean?” And then, after a moment of reflection, she looked up suddenly. “Anne, are you crazy? How could you insinuate that our father is the kind of dirt that would do such a thing? I came to you for advice, not for ridiculous theories!”
Anne stood up elegantly, and waited for her sister to calm down.
“Elizabeth, do not think I am doing this on purpose. The idea itself makes me ill, but you have to consider it as a possibility. After all, it would make sense. He has been distant ever since he became Mayor; he has control over the whole police force; and he could easily have hired spies to follow you.”
“But surely you can’t think that he would do this mindlessly? He must have a good reason to take so many lives!”
A flash of anger suddenly pierced through Anne’s eyes.
“Elizabeth, if you do not want to believe me, then you can leave my house and stay in your fantasy world. Why is it so difficult?” Then, she said softly, “It is night. You should leave.”
Elizabeth left without her word, thinking about what her sister had revealed. After a moment, she had to bring herself to the truth. She wrote down what she had learnt and trudged back home.

The streets were smothering. In the darkness, everything blurred, became unrecognisable, to the point where buildings became bridges and the sky faded into the background, blending into nothingness. Shadows became light, light melted into the buildings, and spies became all the more invisible. As quiet as the world around it, snowflakes began to fall. They descended slowly on Elizabeth’s copper hair, slowly melting until there was just water. As a thin layer settled on the ground, she softened her step, became more gracious and slowed to a stop underneath the icicle-covered street lamp. She gazed at her surroundings, and fell into a hazed state of mind. She did not need to hurry – she was not welcome anywhere. Her green eyes glowed like jewels as she noticed a stray tortoiseshell cat. She turned around to follow it, but was met by a sight that shocked her into paralysis. As she looked back into the darkest eyes she had ever seen, Elizabeth surprised herself by not moving an inch. Her killer looked at her for one more second, then knocked her out with the side of his steel blade. Elizabeth melted into unconsciousness.
The angelic corpse, gently laid down on the cover of snow, was never taken away. The massive spread of tuberculosis left many people unable to move, and whole families were wiped out. The snow began to fall again, soon turning into a thin sheet of ice, then later, it became thicker. The body, still immobile was covered and kept in its whole beauty by the cold. No one paid attention as the fallen angel became immersed in winter.
Two hundred years later, archaeologists were excavating what was soon to become the new Olympic stadium. It was still winter, and a bitter breeze was making all of them regret their beds. The snow was enveloping the site, and numbing their minds. A rustle alerted him. He looked over to the source, thinking that litter was becoming too prominent in England. However, he noticed that the paper was not rubbish; it looked like an old parchment. His curiosity took over as he went to inspect it. The old man’s heartbeat faltered as he saw what the document was attached to. He gingerly called his team over to inspect his encounter. As they meticulously excavated the frozen grave, a lock of red hair fell out, revealing the Mayor’s dark life. 

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

She's here!!

After a long wait, my Christmas present has finally arrived, in the form of a beautiful baby goddaughter named Gaïa! She was born yesterday morning at 12h45 in New Caledonia, where my godmother lives with her husband Benoît. She is probably one of the most beautiful babies I have seen, but again, I am slightly biased :P Anyway, here is a picture: