Turning over the final page of a much-loved novel.
A starry sky.
The lonely strum of a single guitar string.
Swirling clouds of milk in freshly-poured tea.
Waves rolling against a pebbly shore.
Dipping roast potatoes into gravy whilst no-one is looking.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to burst into song, at least not just yet. These aren’t necessarily my favourite things. No, this post is about the simple things, although I’d probably consider them my favourite things too. After all, it is often the simple things that connect with us most.
So went to another of Johnnie’s wine-tasting workshops last night. He does them in his own kitchen, which I think is pretty brave – having a dozen punters in your kitchen as they quaff ten glasses of wine. Could easily turn into a disaster episode of Come Dine With Me.
But his workshops are hugely enjoyable and genuinely educational. And I can even say that after waking up with a head more fuzzy than a permed-up Paddington Bear whose just bungee-jumped over Tower Bridge in a woolly onesie.
Luckily, it’s not far to get back to mine from Johnnie’s. It involves a two-step stagger onto the pavement, a 90-degree turn left, a couple more paces… and voilà, I’m home. Even after ten glasses of wine, it’s still pretty negotiable – although if there’s sherry involved, anything can happen.
Anyway, in a brainwave that may have had something to do with those ten glasses, I vaguely recollect suggesting to Johnnie that we put an event on together – with him doing a workshop on pairing wine with food, and with me cooking the food.
ME COOKING THE FOOD? Hahaha… What was I thinking? Cooking for a dozen people, each say five courses – well it doesn’t need a mathematician to work out that’s.. a LOT of cooking. Practically industrial. And not only that, I’m asking people to part with their hard-earned cash for the privilege. No, I must’ve imagined it..
So, I’m now 18 months into this blog, and I’ve yet to mention anything about my day job. That’s because, for most days of the week, and some nights too, I’m actually a spy.
Okay, I’m not really a spy. But having a double life as a food-writer and an NHS doctor can feel like I’m inhabiting two very different identities. And you know, I enjoy that. I enjoy engaging two very different sides of me, tapping into two different parts of the brain, experiencing two types of good n’ bad days in the office. (Although, admittedly, a bad day in my NHS office is invariably worse than writer’s block.)
I became a doctor in the year 2000, making me a millennial of sorts. When I look back, it’s certainly been packed with experiences. Mostly highly rewarding. Some terribly challenging. A heady mix of immeasurable joy and painful sorrow. And though of course it’s an incredibly serious job, there’s always room for moments of humour.
And food. In fact, some of my most memorable career moments are related to food ( – ‘quelle surprise’, you might say!)
Home. Mine was once a launderette, back in the ‘70s. I wasn’t living there then. I was hardly even born then. But there’s still evidence of it all over the place – from the peculiar frontage to the panoply of pipes protruding defiantly out of the flooring. But times have changed. At least for this building.
For me though, my home is more than a house – more than four walls, windows, roofs and doors. It’s more than the place where my family and I eat, sleep, or take refuge from the cold and rain. It’s the scene of our everyday victories – big and small – celebrating a good day at work or school, a festival or birthday, or just an elaborately-constructed sofa den. And of course, it’s sometimes where opinions are argued, tears are shed, and shoulders are hugged.
Our home isn’t just bricks and mortar. It’s the stage on which our lives unfurl. And I know how lucky that makes me, especially when so many people don’t even have basic shelter.
I lie by the dockside, just down from the factory whose clanking machinery created my lines and sides and corners and spaces. Freshly painted across my frontage, an array of industrial hieroglyphics – China International Marine Containers, Hapag-Lloyd, HLXU2003419, 22G1, Max Payload 29,230kg – numbers defining who I am, numbers defining what I can be.
Shanghai sprawls resolutely behind the harbour-front; its forest of cranes and concrete criss-cross the dawn sky, soaring totems to the gods of a new world.
Through Pudong’s early morning haze, neon lights pulse green and red, beacons dancing to the relentless beat of the metropolis. And just beyond, the grand old facades of the Bund, still resplendent in their neoclassical and art-deco finery, their stories written over a century ago.
But my future lies in the other direction, not inland but out across the East China Sea. The dawn horizon calls out to me, whispering promises of marvels and adventure.
My first consignment is a cargo of high-tech computer equipment, loaded up by the dock-handlers on the 4am shift. I hear their banter as they work. Their calloused nicotine-stained hands speak of years on the dockside, whilst this passage of time has perfected their collective operations into a balletic choreography. They know each other well; they are like family.
A crane hoists me up high into the sky, a lofty leap towards those skyscraper peaks, wondering when I’ll next see them again. Next week? Next month? Never?.. And then down onto the foredeck, where the stevedores lower me onto a maze of containers, each with their own voyages and destinies.
And so on this day, my work begins. I’m a missionary, whose belly carries the new Chinese economy across the world.