For no particular reason, yesterday I was thinking about the really quite terrible 2007 film Evan Almighty. You don’t need to know anything about it other than that Steve Carell plays a new congressman who finds himself imbued with the powers of God (who is portrayed by Morgan Freeman in a crisply tailored white suit, of course). A lot of stuff happens, including Carrell growing a humorous beard of Biblical proportions and a giant flood, but at the very end God reveals that “ark” doesn’t just mean “boat that is 300 cubits long” but is also an abbreviation for “Act of Random Kindness”. Wow.
I don’t even remember when or why I watched this film, but this mindblowingly banal conclusion stuck firmly in my brain. It surfaced again yesterday when I was trying to find a way of describing the new way I’ve been eking out my capacity for enjoyment with small, inconsequential pleasures since being confined to the house. I hadn’t noticed, but I used to rely a lot on the enjoyable expectation of future trips, social occasions and treats to keep my spirits up. I would wake up on a Wednesday morning and think “Oh, this weekend we’re going to the theatre! That’s something to look forward to as I do this laundry and answer these emails.”
Of course, the obliteration of expectation caused by this pandemic means, essentially, that we can have no trips to look forward to or certainty about when we might leave the house again regularly. So as a replacement, I’ve been very consciously trying to offer myself acts of random kindness and enjoy these smaller things that are obtainable right now. I thought I’d share some of them with you.
Things to Watch
Not to get all “I liked them before they were famous”, but I have been obsessed with the YouTube channel run by the American food magazine Bon Appetit since my favourite chef Claire made gourmet Cheetos and have watched every video she appears in within 24 hours of release since March 2018. Bobby Finger explained much better than I ever could what the incredible appeal of the Bon Appetit Cinematic Universe is, so read his piece then watch this video and feel better about the world:
We have also been watching a lot of 30 Rock. Now, I have been a Liz Lemon superfan since 2007, but my husband had never seen it before so I bought the DVD boxset and we’re powering through about 6 episodes a night (I mean, they’re 22 minutes long and there’s nothing else to do). For a show that had a lot of topical references in it, it stands up extremely well — in fact, those gags now seem like they come from a surreal alternate universe and make the whole thing even better. Please enjoy this early scene with my favourite character, Dr Leo Spaceman:
In addition, we’ve been devouring the 1970s BBC sitcom The Good Life. Partly I like watching it because we might actually need to start growing vegetables in our back yard, but partly because the clothes and hair are just out of this world weird:
Oh, and this also made me laugh/feel old. Remember when 2020 seemed a long time away!
Things to listen to
This interview with a 12 year old Joe Biden fan made me laugh so hard that I almost knocked my phone into the sink while washing up:
This podcast that features only music from early twentieth century cinema organs makes me extremely happy:
And this daily podcast about self care manages to be helpful without making me feel like a failure:
Things to read
Apart from Wolf Hall, I have mostly been reading comforting books from childhood or detective novels. Of the former, I recommend:
—The Wool Pack by Cynthia Harnett—the Chalet School series, because there are 62 of them! I am also selling some duplicates I have on eBay, if you’d like to try them cheaply—I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (not strictly a children’s book but I first read it when I was 13 so it counts)
For detective novels, try:
Things to cook
—We’ve been on holiday to Orkney a few times in the last couple of years, and last summer I bought some beremeal flour and a recipe book called The Book of Bere. This special form of barley dates back to Viking times and is only really grown on the islands, but you can buy it online from the mill there and I’ve been really heavily relying on it when I’ve found other flour hard to come by. I’ve made beremeal sourdough, beremeal pancakes, beremeal shortbread, and they all came out delicious with an extra nutty taste from the special flour.
—A boiled egg. This might sound stupid, but eggs have been scarce where I live so I’ve been treasuring and savouring each one. On Easter Sunday we had four minute eggs with buttered beremeal toast and it might be the best meal I’ve eaten in a month.
—This red pesto. If you like cooking, chances are you will already have all the things required for this (basically anchovies, garlic, tomato paste, chilis, and a nut like walnuts but I’ve used others and it works). It seems obvious once you’ve done it once, but I don’t think I would have put this combination together myself. Once made glossy with butter and extra pasta water, it’s truly divine.
That’s everything for now — do send me your ark things if you have them.