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A-Z Booklet

A is for


There's always a reason.

Why you need another cigarette/chug of alcohol/shopping spree. The best solution for the latter is to get carried away in a charity shop. That way it doesn't matter that the jeans are too tight to breathe comfortably in, or that you don't really need another lime-green dress (although it does go with your hair - especially if it's red like mine).


Since I'm giving up tomorrow/next week/next summer, I might as well have more alcohol/tobacco/alcohol now.


This is when you know you've been watching too many soaps: "How dare you!" I hear myself saying in a bizarre shouty over-melodramatic way. Or, "Who do you think you are?!"

B is for

Breakfast/ Balcony

Breakfast is the main reason (unless there is sun) to get up in my opinion. Gorgeous milky coffee (even more gorgeous if with sun on balcony). Perhaps a piece of lindseed toast? Or maybe some oaty clusters... In winter, I like hot gruel with honey and banana and if there's any leftover you can put it on your face (see Natural Products, below).

C is for


Whoops, seems to be a bit of a food fixation developing here...

D is for


When I'm drunk (which is not uncommon, since it only takes about two large glasses of wine), my conversation becomes free-flow association.


"Ah, fruit flies! I knew someone a laboratory..."

invariably ending up in me losing my train of thought altogether - "What was I saying?..."

or, losing my memory - "I may have told you this before..."


Was supposed to have massive, massive clear-out. Spent the whole morning (and most of the afternoon - if morning stops at twelve) sorting though baskets of bags, scarves, shoes; piles of jumpers and folders. Was attempting to 'de-clutter'. Managed to declutter four things, which looked rather unimpressive in the huge carrier bag I'd pre-prepared to take them to the charity shop in. One faded "Kung Fu" brown sweater (his), one pair man's socks, one 100,000 Baby Names book, one babygro.

F is for



Here's a recipe for Insalata Pendino, which myself and friends invented on a recent trip to Puglia.

Ideally, you should be in a hot Med-type location when you make this, using a rough local-wood (but not too rough because splinters are not part of the salad) chopping board, and about to eat it on atop a roof-top terrace. If the worst comes to the worst and you are in rainy England, head to your nearest deli counter...

You will need:

Cucumber (preferably the small fat Med ones)
Tomatoes (preferably the juicy, not anaemic-greenhouse, variety)
Tub of small black oily olives
Tub of marinaded artichoke quarters
Dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar and salt

Chop the cucumber and tomatoes into wedges, throw in bowl, followed by liberal handfuls of olives and artichokes (especially artichokes). Dress (though you might not need to if you're on that Med terrace - only joking). Eat with Object of Desire and large crusty loaf.

G is for

Georgian Feast

See Chapter 8 of My Soviet Kitchen and if your gastric juices run, authentic Georgian recipes are included in the handy Companion Guide.

H is for


The place where you put your spaniel figurines, your Georgian drinking horns...the place where there are crumbs in your bed and left-over onion bhajis that you can have for lunch (or possibly breakfast, depending on how much you had to drink the night before) in the fridge.


Got throbbing, all-over-head headache? Better check with dr that isn't a tumour. Throbbing mole on back? - might have skin cancer. I can actually hear my heart beating it's going so fast - hope I'm not going to have a heart attack.

I is for


Am currently having a Moth War. More casualties on my side than theirs. So far, they have bombed a dress and a jumper, resulting in two huge craters. Found reinforcement chrysalises in wardrobe. Moth-balls and lavender not really sufficient weapons. Other than that, I could just wash all my clothes, which would take the next 6 months.

A Russian friend suggested putting my clothes in the freezer overnight. I think I could probably get a couple of socks in our cold compartment (don't mind moving the peas, but the ice tray has to stay - can't be having warm G&Ts or Martini). Maybe I should befriend someone in a meat-storage warehouse.

L is for


Lurve is not just a drug it's actually like being on drugs (I imagine) - the highs and the lows. An example of the latter is when you don't get an email from him for at least three minutes.

If Lurve (Lust) is present you will know because your pulse will be at about twice its normal rate (bringing your blood pressure up to the pace of modern life, as PJ O'Rourke once wrote, though as I recall he was talking about salt).

M is for

Hurray for everything MADE ON THE KITCHEN TABLE!

Marriage, How to...

Oh gosh, will have to meet a vicar now.

And why do all the dresses that aren't meringues look like nightdresses?

N is for

The Natural product range

When I was in Moscow and didn't have access to my full beauty-care product range (only joking!), I used to use butter instead of hand cream. What it lacks in fragrance and smoothness, it makes up for in moisturisation. It really is a fantastic moisturiser! The only trouble is - how to get rid of that oily residue? The 'my-hands-are-covered-in-butter' sensation. After lengthy experimentation trials, I have found that doing the washing up in rubber gloves helps.

In conjunction with Natasha (or was it Nastya?) I then developed a larger range - we moisturised our faces with a yoghurt mask, then put porridge on them and left it to set - this dried our faces out.

I have already mentioned the Uzbek yoghurt treatment in my book, but you can also treat dry hair with olive oil (only trouble is you may have to use so much shampoo to wash it out that it defeats the purpose) and lemon juice makes your hair shinier and blonder (only if it was blonde to begin with though).

P is for


Themed? It's important to celebrate occasions in life (for instance, all stages of PhD-writing: not just finished PhD but finished chapters, supervisor's thumbs up, PhD submitted, VIVA passed (with no corrections and no amendments), PhD actually published..).

May have a themed party to celebrate - cross-dressing buffet perhaps?


I love picnics. Even if it is blowing a gale.

Rule No.1. Always take an umbrella.

Rule No.2. Try to make sure you're on grass and not sand. Because if there's a severe wind you are going to get extra crunchy gritty bits in your smoked salmon.

The best picnic, in my opinion, is simple and classic. My father-in-law calls it The Millionaire's Picnic. It is:

Smoked Salmon on Buttered Rye with Lemon Wedges
Boiled Quail's Eggs
Steamed & Salted Asparagus Spears with a Lemon Squeeze
Champagne or Sparkling
Chocolate Truffles

However, you don't necessarily have to stick to the Great Outdoors, you can have picnics indoors as well. At the cinema, for instance. Many's the time I've had a brown paper bag down the side of my seat. Back then, it was usually red wine. These days I might add a little cheese as well. You could even just lay a tea-towel out on your floor (like K.K.'s wife, loath though I am to mention her, did in my book) and away you go... why not get some teddies to join in while you're at it?

R is for

Radio 4

According to my other half, I spend about 18 hours a day listening to Radio 4. The trouble is there's no programme I can't listen to (with the possible exception of gardening programmes and afternoon plays). I'm already in danger of not communicating with other half any more.

"Redhead! Cavolo-nero risotto or a fresh loaf with pumpkin soup for supper?"

"Hang on a minute, I'm just listening to The Secret Life of the Victorian Fender..."


Instead of going out to a restaurant (although going out to a restaurant is a lot of fun, possibly more fun than... anyway), why not bring it home? I decided to name mine "Bedsit".

How to Create Your Own in-House Restaurant

1. Make up menu. Type/design, print out & lay one copy by each place on table. Or just put a stand that you have handy in the centre of the table.

2. If you usually live in shoe/junk shop and/or kids' play centre, it's time to clear the clutter. Making sure kids' bouncy stuff and high-chairs aren't visible is difficult but highly preferable. Winnie the Pooh or Peppa Pig could shatter the illusion of a sophisticated adult environment.

3. Lay tablecloth depending on theme (i.e. linen for dinner, gingham for tea).

4. Get candles for table and central floral display (from a single rose to a garden posie to a bought bouquet - I like to have a colour scheme...).

5. Dim lights and switch on soft classical, but not easy listening (unless your restaurant is of the motorway variety).

S is for

Soviet Champagne

I'm really missing my affordable fizz. And what's more, Russians miss it too (especially the brut), apparently it's not the same anymore...

T is for


I love tractors - ever since I had to do some research on the old Fordson for my PhD... Here's an extract below:


Produced in 1917 by Henry Ford and Son, it was one of the first tractors to be accessible to farmers en masse. It had a petrol/kerosene 20 h.p. engine at 1,000 r.p.m., started by a crank handle; there was also a flywheel magneto powered coil ignition system, final drive by worm-gears, no cabin and no tyres. But, as a ground-breaker, it had a few teething problems; it was hard to start, the transmission used to get unbearably overheated and the farmer would also find himself literally sitting in a 'hotseat'. There were calls for 'Meet Thy God' to be stenciled on the side because the Model F's lightweightedness meant it tended to flip over backwards if the plough was not hitched properly and caught on anything.

In fact, I'm thinking of going to the National Ploughing Championships.


Did you know that the t-shirt started out as underwear and then became a kind of overalls-equivalent? Which is precisely why it appeals to me. I must admit, I don't really notice what I wear much - which is why I tend to end up sporting all sorts of leftovers. Currently, I appear to be wearing a t-shirt which says, "Is Your Work-Life Balance balanced?" Must have put one of M's on in the dark...

U is for


A unit is an unbelievably small amount of liquid, which you definitely couldn't call a drink. A unit of wine is give-or-take 80 ml, which I have measured in my Child's milk bottle and it's about half a finger. Not even a very small glass of wine. In fact, it's what I would call a pre-drink: the 'I think I'll just taste this wine before they come' drink before you actually have a drink. To get anywhere near a glass of wine you need at least two units. And well, if you're going for a night of it - it's going to be at least three or four glasses isn't it? So that's eight units right there. So I don't really think that 14 units of alcohol for one woman for one week is very realistic.

V is for

Vodka tasting

The oily ones are good - like Russki Standart or Finlandia. Drink freezing cold from the freezer, preferably neat from a shot glass, with a slice of lemon or lime if you must.

W is for


In common with many other Brits before me, I tend to think I should be living in another part of the world. Preferably one where there's lots of sun. I'll even settle for just a proper summer, instead of having to strip off and run out in the garden every time the sun pops out from behind the clouds.

I don't get on well with the schizophrenic English weather. I don't like leaving the house with a suitcase of clothes because it looks like summer in the morning, is a spring afternoon (put on tights), an autumn evening (add cardigan) and a wintry night (need scarf).

We recently came back from a holiday to a hot destination and, like many Brits before us, when we stepped off the plane in England we looked ridiculous. Ever seen someone walking along a London pavement under a grey sky against a hefty wind-chill factor wearing flip-flops, shorts and a straw hat? They're probably also lugging a suitcase.

Either that, or they're trying to get their money's worth. They've bought their shorts/summer dress and sandals, it's July and technically summer, so they're d*** well going to wear them.

Talking of wind-chill factors, that's one of the reasons the air temperature never seems to match reality. I remember a friend of mine, who was about to fly to Sudan, saying,

"It says 40 degrees, feels like 39."

"In England," I say, "it says 22, feels like 5."

Still, on the bright side, a sunny day, a full sunny day in England, is always an uncommon present.

All text and images copyright 2010-17 Amy Spurling unless otherwise noted