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TRIP SIX: LAS VEGAS

lasvegaswhitechapelI’ve always been attracted to the tacky and the kitsch, particularly when it involves gambling, cocktails and neon. Friends of ours once got married in Vegas, because they couldn’t face the stress of a wedding at home, and I was quite envious. It was our tenth wedding anniversary last week- yes, you get less for murder, etc, etc- and so we thought it would make a great trip in our house to go to Las Vegas, gamble away our last remaining dollars, and renew our vows in a wedding chapel. This time, because it was a special occasion, we agreed to double the usual budget (well, I agreed and Simon pursed his lips and shook his head, but ultimately had no choice) to £60, so I could create a three-centre extravaganza. You don’t even want to know the sheer level of set-dressing I had going on in my head- I wanted the Bellagio fountains- I was thinking of a water-feature from B&Q, with a colour-changing waterproof light (I actually own one of these, you stick it to the side of the bath and it’s like wallowing in a watery disco) but tragically, I bust the budget and couldn’t afford to do it. I also wanted slot machines, Elvis impersonators, preachers with dollar signs decorating their robes, and a huge amount of pulsating neon, and I didn’t manage any of them. Nevertheless, it was a pretty creditable attempt in the end. I decided to do a casino in the back room, and a honeymoon suite in the bedroom- the only problem was wherabouts in our terraced house I could conceivably fit a wedding chapel. After a lot of thinking, I decided to site it on the landing, so we’d have an aisle to walk up. There’s a little area at the bottom of the attic stairs I thought would be perfect for an altar- although my son wanted to come home and get changed to go out, and I had to say “No, you can’t go in your bedroom, because the door is now part of my wedding chapel.” He was surprisingly understanding. So, I borrowed a white curtain with fairy lights in it from my Mum, pinned a sheet over the attic stairs, and covered up the doors with more draped sheets. Then I was going to assemble a garden arch (£4.99 from Wilco) till I realised that it was insanely complicated and would take me at least five hours of cursing and weeping, plus the instructions might as well have been in Albanian for all the sense they made. I abandoned my idea of walking through a flower covered arch of love, and instead wove lots of fake flowers (Wilco again) through a trellis that I fixed on the wall. Then I used the broken hostess trolley as the altar, with more fake roses in vases and a candle, and strung further fairy lights across the landing to form an entrance. I had the Las Vegas sign on the iMac, and Elvis singing “Unchained Melody” to accompany our walk up the aisle, with “Viva Las Vegas” playing us back down.

When Simon arived home (wearing a full Vegas outfit of mirrored sunglasses, stetson and suede Starsky & Hutch jacket- points for effort) we started off with Tequila Sunrise cocktails in the casino. (I had Tom Jones playing, and my Mum’s full amateur casino laid out, with roulette wheel and poker chips.) They were the tackiest cocktails I could think of and they looked great- the secret is to pour Grenadine slowly over the back of a teaspoon to get the ‘sunrise’ effect.

After we’d drunk the first one, I led him to the wedding chapel- we didn’t have a preacher, so we decided we’d just say nice things to each other, and he presented me with a huge diamante wedding ring from Primark. (I lost my real wedding ring during a screening of Finding Nemo years ago. I must have been twisting it, feeling  tense in case they didn’t find him.) It was actually rather moving, what with the fairy lights, and Elvis singing, and the best cat as a witness. I even changed into a huge white wedding dress I happened to have in my wardrobe (I’d bought it for a fancy dress party years ago). I pretended I’d hired it from the chapel for $10, and changed back into sequins and feathers straight afterwards.

We headed  back to the casino to celebrate, and commenced the all-in $20 Gambler’s Buffet. I thought I’d make the food tacky but delicious – I’m usually quite careful about what I eat, but hey. It was our anniversary, so I threw cholesterol to the winds. We had a starter of shrimp (mushrooms for me), which I dipped in breadcrumbs and Cajun spices and deep-fried, and home-made salsa, which is incredibly easy- de-skinned tomatoes with chili, garlic, red onion and pepper- and it was divine. Also, Nachos, with sour cream, more salsa and jalapeno peppers. And more Tequila Sunrises. We got quite giddy over this, and started to feel we really were in Vegas, about to gamble away our entire lives.

For mains, we had burgers (which were Quorn as Simon doesn’t like beef, and I don’t eat meat), home made fries, a chef’s salad, presented in little gem lettuce leaves with blue cheese and croutons, and corn on the cob. My God, it was tasty. I can see why certain Americans are so fat. The food just tastes so nice, why would you want to stop eating? A person could easily end up lying on their back like a giant beetle, mumbling “more.. bring more..” as trays of liquidised fries are poured down their throats. Or maybe that’s just me.

We thought we’d have a break, and do some gambling- considering we were playing with plastic chips, that had nothing to do with real money, it’s amazing how tense an atmosphere can get. As the cruel wheel of fate span, I felt quite terror-struck, and when the bank (Simon) raked all my chips away, it was heartbreaking. We decided that if real casinos had a glass fishtank that all the House’s money went into, nobody would ever gamble again, once they’d seen what the House was winning. That’s presumably why it goes into a secret slot, and you never see it again. (As you can see, we have spent quite some time in real casinos in the past.)

Once we’d both lost all our money, it was pudding time- I made hot chocolate fudge sundaes with cocktail cherries, and miniature sparklers. They looked superbly tacky, and tasted utterly brilliant- I highly recommend Delia’s hot chocolate sundae sauce recipe with evaporated milk- I used Green & Black’s Butterscotch chocolate, and if I ever find myself on Death Row, I will most certainly be asking for this as my last meal. (Though I suspect I probably couldn’t eat if I knew it was my last meal.. how ironic.)

So, much later, I revealed the piece de resistance of the night- the honeymoon suite. In my local sheet-shop I’d found the most brilliant thing- a pack of hot pink satin sheets, duvet cover and pillow cases for £20. With a velvet curtain and a giant wedding ring pinned over the bed (why did I have a giant wedding ring? I honestly don’t know) it looked fabulous. I added the rest of the fake flowers, and some mini pink lanterns and really, I was convinced we were in a Vegas motel. I wished I could have organised a mini-bar, but I’d run out of money (tequila and satin sheets aren’t cheap) so we took the tequila to bed with us, and began our lives as Vegas newly-weds. After ten years of marriage, we’d finally managed the wedding of our dreams.

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TRIP FIVE: THE SAHARA

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I have, in fact, been to the Sahara desert, on a press trip, years ago. I mainly remember that everyone was banging on about the stars and I couldn’t see them because I needed new glasses. With that in mind, for our latest trip, a visit to Arabia seemed like a plan. I have to admit, it was a bit of an amalgamation of cultures, because I’m pretty sure that the Berber peoples eat a lot of lamb, and possibly fermented camel milk. Instead, I thought we could try Moroccan food, as it’s fairly near (ish) and I might stand a chance of actually enjoying it. Hats off to the Berbers for having iron stomachs, but there are limits.

For this one, it was finally time to leave downstairs and venture elsewhere, because the crucial aspect to the whole thing feeling remotely real was the tent. Without that, we’d be sitting on a cushion in the living room, feeling stupid. I did spend a few hours wandering round the house, trying to work out how I was going to build an indoor tent- I tried dragging in the pole from the washing line, but it just kept swivelling round annoyingly, and in the end I dragged it back out. Then I tried to drape some fabric over a clothes airer, but it fell over. I was getting a bit concerned, because I’d spent all week making wild promises about this tent, and then it occurred to me that in the attic, we have a large wooden beam, which would be the perfect thing to pin fabric too. Finally, I managed to fix up several lengths of velvet curtain (bought at jumble sales- you’d be amazed how many people get rid of velvet curtains. 20p and they’re yours forever.) I pinned them in a roughly square shape, hiding the book case, a heap of dusty strorage boxes, and a Victorian fireplace quite effectively. I made the tent floor from a big velvet throw, and added a tiny sheepskin rug from our bedroom, and then colleted up all the cushions in the house and scattered them on the floor. It was looking quite encouraging, so I added a small coffee table covered in a shiny quilt (from Primark ages ago) and a round hat box that looked a bit Eastern.

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I needed proper lighting for this tent (which was, in my head, pitched at the foot of a sand dune, with goats bleating plaintively outside, and a large Berber guard protecting it from attack.) I know naked flame and fluttering fabric aren’t a great mix, so I went straight to Quality Save without passing go, and bought four little tin lanterns to put tealights in. Then I rounded up all the coloured Morrocan glasses in the house (for some reason, we have several, from back when Changing Rooms made the entire nation buy them in the 90s), arranged them on a silver tray, and put tea-lights in them.Suddenly, this tent looked magically great. It was easy to ignore the fact that just feet away, there was a spare bed and two armchairs. I wasn’t bothering with a slideshow this time, as my logical brain suggested that in a desert at night, we wouldn’t be seeing a whole lot – except the bloody stars, of course, which I’d missed last time. But that meant the sound was even more crucial. I only had a computer up there, so vinyl was out- brilliantly, itunes offered a track called “desert soundscape: night”, which was perfect. It was nine minutes of wind whistling in the dunes, distant birds of prey shrieking, crickets chirping, and a wolf howling. On a loop, with the window open so the sides of the tent really did ripple in the breeze, it was bizarrely convincing.

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Next, I had to sort out the food. I could have done the easy thing and bought a pile of Middle Eastern dips, but a) we’re still skint, and b) if I don’t make things hard for myself, I don’t feel I’m truly deserving of a good time (Virgo, puritanical ancestry, you name it). So, I bought the hummus purely because our blender hates chickpeas and makes hideous grinding noises when I put them in, but I made the tzatziki and aubergine baba ganoush (thanks, Nigella, and thanks, ancient book of vegetarian recipes in the cupboard.) I also bought pitta bread- I could have made it, but that would be weird and obsessional- and I also knocked up a tabbouleh which had far too much garlic, but  I hoped  it might be authentic.

The slight problem was that pesky Berber ‘no alcohol’ rule, but I thought vodka cocktails made with pomegranate juice, ice and mint might count as Morroccan moonshine. Certainly after a couple, it really began to feel like the desert, what with the noisy crickets, and the incense (£1 a pack from the local new age shop.) For mains, I’d made a butternut squash tagine, with lemon cous cous (BBC again- never lets me down) and we were forced to have quite a long pause before pudding, during which Simon explained how he made his head-dress (he found a video on youtube that explained everything.) I was sorry about the lack of camels, but the budget would not permit- and once the cats found out where we were, it was easy to imagine the snuffling outside the tent was the camels whiffling about in the sand.

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I made Nigella’s Morrocan almond cakes for pudding- (they were divine, even though I couldn’t find any rosewater at Tesco) and presented them on a silver tray (£2, auction) with mini dishes of halva, dried apricots, figs and Fry’s Turkish Delight, chopped up. It was exactly like the advert- I even wore a sparkly top and baggy trousers and bangles. Simon ended up falling asleep in the tent, and didn’t wake up till 11.30, which is unheard of. I decided the desert was a bit cold, and went to bed- I didn’t even notice that yet again, I’d failed to see the stars.

TRIP FOUR: CONCORDE

Concorde no longer exists- and even though I can’t stand flying, and think every minor change in engine noise is a cue to adopt the brace position, I was sad that I’d never get the chance to break the sound barrier (if you don’t count having rows.) So as it got warmer, it seemed appropriate to celebrate the past glories of Concorde, zooming above the earth, and admiring the views. And knowing that I wouldn’t actually be risking my life by being forced to hurtle through space in a thin cigar-tube made it even better. Again, how to recreate the world’s most famous aeroplane in a small Victorian house wasn’t my first consideration- I just assumed I’d think of something.

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Obviously outfits were a prime consideration here- I’m a raging feminist, but as I was organising and cooking it all, it seemed silly for Simon to be serving me- so I decided to be the 80s-inspired Stewardess (I would not answer to ‘trolly dolly’) – I happened to have a blue hat that looked vaguely convincing with a little badge on the side, and a suit with a striped  scarf (charity shop, of couse) did nicely. He came as a rock star with mirror shades and a medallion, which apparently, he already had in his wardobe. I wanted everything to be convincing, so the first thing I bought was a navy washbag, from the Pound Shop. It turns out they have a fabulous little section devoted to international travel (I love the sophistication of this.) I managed to buy the washbag, an eye mask and ear plugs, a blow-up neck pillow, plug-in headphones and a pack of playing cards embossed with aeroplanes, all for £3, and then I found a masculine-looking little set of travel toiletries at Quality Save for a quid. And amazingly, some weeks before, when the idea was only a strange germ, we’d found some actual Concorde luggage labels at Preston market, for 50p, so with one tied on the washbag, it looked superbly plane-like.

The next question was where to locate this plane. Again, I ended up choosing the hall, because the landing’s too narrow (despite the rich potential for jokes about landing lights). It required vast amounts of googling to compile a vague notion of what Concorde actually looks like inside, but thank God, one man was so excited by his trip, he devoted an entire website to it, including details of menus, photos of inflight meals and excruciatingly dull details of cabin pressure, crusing height, and probably the steward’s inside leg measurement if I’d read that far. Nevertheless, it was very helpful, specially when it came to choosing crockery. Everything was laid out with OCD perfection on white trays, on white  tableware, with all the plates at right angles. I bought two white plastic trays from Tesco for £1 each, and found that my own bog-standard white plates looked fairly convincing when laid on white paper napkins.

Actually attempting to make the hall look anything like the inside of Concorde was difficult. I had a long white curtain left over from the bedroom, so I hung that over the front door, and used a white sheet to cover the stairs. (I also had to take down all the pictures which was tiresome, but I don’t believe Concorde had any Arthur Rackham illustrations up.) There was no way I could fit two chairs side by side, so I cheated and pretended that Concorde had a private section with chairs (My parents have two black leather chairs that were perfect- again, borrowed) that faced each other across a small fold-out table (borrowed from my friend in the basement flat.) Laid out like  that, it looked pretty good.

Then we needed views to marvel at. I couldn’t think what to do about this, until I happened to walk past Oxfam and see a book in the window called “Britain From Above.” An 80s coffee-table book, it was the sort of glossy nonsense that everyone aspired to 20 years ago, and was page after giant page of- yes- Britain from above, featuring lavish castles, dramatic mountain peaks and rugged coastline. I spent abut two hours standing on a chair, taking pictures of pictures- but once it was a slideshow, it really, totally looked like the view from an aeroplane. Of course, everyone goes on about seeing the curvature of the earth from Concorde.. and luckily Mr “best day of my life”‘s  website featured a few shots.. which I, er, borrowed and incorporated into the iphoto slideshow fairly seamlessly. How exciting- we could see the edge of space from our own hallway.

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Next, I wanted a bit of technical business- so while the imac was balanced (doing it’s usual ‘window on the word’ job) on one side of the chairs, on the other side, I had Simon’s laptop featuring close-ups of the flight deck. I found those on line too- along with the logo, and the menu, which looked excellent when I’d printed my own version out. You’d be right in thinking this was all a ridiculous amount of work. But as our trips went on, I became quite obsessional about detail- if I could get it right, I wanted to; as half the fun was in the hilarity of sitting in the hall, feeling, for a brief moment, as if we really were somewhere else.

The food, however, was the biggest challenge. Having pictures for reference was great- but it also meant that if I got it wrong, I’d know about it. It took me several hours and some cursing and raging to create a fair approximation of a sample menu, which was: Smoked salmon with chopped egg white and yolk- yes, separate- onion and red onion with warm rolls, Chicken breast (portobello mushrooms for me) in truffle sauce with savoy cabbage and fondant potato, and a mango and almond gratin. I did cheat a bit, because the budget didn’t extend to truffles- I used morels. The fondant potatoes were a complete pain (you have to get them exquisitely soft but not falling apart), and as for separating hard-boiled egg white and yolk into exact strips of colour, it’s the sort of thing the wicked stepmother made Cinderella do for a laugh. So I did question what I was thinking of.

But then I was cheered up by finding ‘airport noise’ on itunes, (tannoy bongs, ‘last call to Dusseldorf”, that kind of thing) followed by ‘taking off’ noises and ‘aeroplane ambiance-‘ a mere £1.58 meant that with it playing on a loop, it would sound exactly like being on a plane. In fact, when I first played it, I felt genuine fear in my stomach- “oh no! we’re taking off! Oh, wait, I’m in my hall..”

Finally, I borrowed the 70s tea trolley from work, which did perfectly when the dodgy rose pattern was covered up with white linen napkins, and allowed me to deliver champagne (well, prosecco) and wine directly to our cabin. We spent a lot of time that evening looking at the view, then Simon put on his neck pillow and eye mask and had a little sleep as we came in to land…

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So, now I was getting confident. My cooking was getting less hit and miss, and I was looking for a real challenge. And what was the one trip I’d always dreamed of, but knew I would never, ever, be able to afford? It was the Orient Express, Venice-Simplon line. The whole idea of the best train in the world has always made me faint with longing- partly because I loathe flying so much, but also because it’s so nostalgic, so luxurious, and so insanely decadent. The Virgin Pendolino doesn’t really have a chance in comparison, try as they may to up their game with crayfish sandwiches and copies of Good Housekeeping. Admittedly, my partner in travel crime was a bit dubious that I’d manage to recreate the timeless joy of the Orient Express in our house, but I do love to prove him wrong. Hence we went for it.

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It had to begin with the menu, so I could see what I was dealing with. Luckily, a search online reveals that the Orient Express website handily provides sample menus, for rich people who like to see what they’re committing to. Via a lot of fiddling about and font-testing, I managed to create a reasonably convincing copy of the menu, which even had the logo at the top. It was; smoked salmon wth blinis and ‘accompaniments’, beef with madeira sauce, baby roast potatoes  and julienned winter vegetables, and passion fruit creme brulee. Obviously, the actual menu offers a range of dazzlingly fine wines for about £200 each, but I thought that Tesco’s on-offer Sancerre would do the job, and also offered raspberry champagne cocktails (made with cava)  to welcome guests on board. It’s all very well planning the menu, but without the recipes, I’d be nowehere. Nigella came up trumps with a ‘cocktail blini’ recipe, and once again, brilliant BBC recipes provided the rest. Never one to slack, I also thought the julienned veg would look nice in a little stack of three colours, so I used a buttered teacup (not a phrase you often hear) to make a mini-dome. Too much time on my hands? Apparently.

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The really tricky bit here was the creme brulee- but my Mum has a cook’s blow torch (I don’t know why) so I managed a fairly creditable attempt, and made chocolate hearts by dropping melted chocolate onto foil in vaguely the right shape, then snipping the edges with scissors.

So that was the food organised. The next issue was working out which bit of our house looks like a luxurious train carriage. That would be none.. but as we live in a Victorian terrace, we do possess a longish hallway. After a lot of thinking, I concluded that a red velvet curtain over the front door, some more velvet pinned along the walls, and a table lengthways, would be convincing enough. I also shut off the stairs with another curtain so it felt enclosed and carriage-like, and as if it would be feasible for a worried man in a bowler hat to stumble in and say “I say, have you seen my wife?” as the sinister assembled guests deny all knowledge. The best bit though, was suddenly remembering that at work, we had a broken hostess trolley which was made of inlaid wood.. and that by removing the top and fixing it on the wall (a monumental hassle which I’d never have started if I’d known how hard it was going to be) I could recreate a hint of the intricate marquetry that adorns the Orient Express. With a white tablecloth and napkins and some more borrowed china off my Mum (NB, my Mum is not a duchess, but she does have a fairly large china collection) it was looking pretty good.

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At this point, luck fell our way, as we mentioned our plan to friends who happened to have been on the Orient Express on their honeymoon, and had a bag of (nicked) memorabilia to show for it. They very generously offered to lend it, so we then had logo-covered maps, menu folders, and drink coasters which added enormously to the authenticity. So it was now down to the audio-visuals.

Somewhere on our travels, we’d picked up an album of train noises. I don’t know why, I suspect it was in a job lot of other stupid records, but this was its finest hour- played from the other room, it sounded bizarrely real. And with the Mac back, and balanced on the end of the table, with its cardboard ‘window frame,’ I just needed some convincing train shots. This is why it always pays to buy ridiculous things from charity shops, however random they seem at the time. About a year previously, I’d been rummaging about in a bargain bin, and found a DVD called “great train journeys of the world: The Orient Express”. It was basically a film (with incredibly dull commentary)- of the trip from Venice to Istanbul, showing the train interior, the passing scenery, liveried porters at the stations.. and most of it was filmed from the train window. Thinking I’d quite like to watch it, I bought it (50p), and forgot about it. Till now…

With the rattly train noises, the video in the ‘window,’ the curtained opulence and the food, once we occasionally joggled the table with our knees to simulate train movement, the whole thing was so convincing, it was a bit like a really strange drug trip. We kept thinking, “we’re in our hall.. but we’re on a train!” Even though I had to keep nipping to the kitchen to bring new courses. Not that he wouldn’t have helped, just that I’m a raging control freak. Or did you notice that already..?

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Our Trip To Switzerland

Our next break was to Switzerland, because it was bloody freezing, and it seemed impossible to imagine being anywhere warm. But again, with the power of time travel in mind, we agreed we’d always wanted to be in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in that glamorous chalet. This one required a bit of research, as in no way does our house resemble a log cabin in the 70s. However, I spent the previous week roaming about on the internet, looking for pictures of hot tubs, Bond Girls, Eames chairs and so forth, hoping to spin our living room into a rough approximation of Dr Evil’s stylish lair.

In the end, I relied on the fact that we have a very 70s leather swivel chair (it’s a bit Mad Men meets Mastermind) and a swiss cheese plant, plus a ‘living flame’ fire which, if you half-shut your eyes, does look quite authentically crackly and log-cabin-ish, even though it emits less heat than a mouse’s hot-water bottle. The piece de resistance, though, was a massive piece of snow-leopard fake fur, which we had bought to make fur jackets (we run a boutique, amongst other things). All this was left over, so I spread it across the floor, and suddenly the whole thing did look very “Oh, don’t go to work today, James..”. I also bought several big red candles from the Pound Shop- a brief digression here, while I explain just how utterly brilliant the Pound Shop is, when it comes to room-dressing. Also, special mention must go to Quality Save, who do amazingly cheap homeware, candles, fake flowers and so on- the only thing is, it’s impssible to get out without spending a fortune because everything’s such a bargain. Anyway, what with the cheese plant, fur rug, flickering fire and candles, the atmosphere was sorted.

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Music, however, was a bit trickier- Switzerland doesn’t lend itself to great tunes, but luckily, some years ago, we’d bought an album of horn music called “Echoes of Switzerland 2” purely on the basis of amusement that “Echoes of Switzerland 1” was such a mega-seler they had to rush out volume 2. That was a bit lively, so I thought we could alternate with some 70s-style Mantovani Easy Listening, what with the theme of the evening being cheese. Naturally, you could download all this from itunes, although we had ours on vinyl, as we’re weird foragers who have a 1950s radiogram and can’t pass a car boot sale without buying a shedload of alarming records with grinning milkmaids and bouffanted crooners on the covers.

When it came to the slideshow, that was tougher. Books about Switzerland proved hard to find at the charity shops- they all seemed to be about business links to Zermatt, and have pictures of men in lecture theatres. But at the eleventh hour (the morning of the big trip) I struck lucky, with a 70s travel guide to Zurich. I repeated my handy trick of photographing the pages and putting them on a slide show, and off we went.

Finally, the menu. Swiss food was also surprisingly hard to locate online- we couldn’t have three courses of fondue. But in the end, BBC recipes came up trumps, with a baked camembert, with white wine; followed by schnitzel chicken with rosti potatoes. Obviously for pudding, I made a Toblerone Fondue, with fruit to dip in. I’d actually found a fondue set for £1 at a jumble sale the previous week (unused- I suspect I’m the only person in Britain who has actually got a fondue set out of its box and read the instructions- they’re probably second only to ‘foot spa” in the list of unwanted gifts.)

To drink, we had Peach schnapps, which was half disgusting and half incredibly delicious. It must have worked, because we ended up thinking that “Echoes of Switzerland 2” was a brilliant album, and playing it several times.

TRIP ONE: 1950s PARIS

Paris in our kitchenThere are several factors to bear in mind when taking a foreign trip in one’s house. It has to feel as authentic as possible- so the atmosphere, lighting, food, music and visuals have to be considered. Obviously, most people don’t have a vast stock of dressing-up nonsense to decorate the room with, but I find a bit of imagination and a Mac  go a long way. So, to Paris. First, I decided, we’d need some visuals, to suggest Parisian boulevards, lingering views of the Eiffel Tower, the romance of the Seine- all that. But a film is no good, because then you get caught up in the characters, and end up watching Audrey Hepburn instead of pretending to be on a  mini-break. Amazingly, I have discovered that when I really put my mind to it I can find almost anything I require in a local charity shop, a bit like the magic porridge-pot. So, requiring a book of images of 1950s Paris, I then found one in the Salvation Army shop for 50p.

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Next, I took pictures of the photos (I’m saying that like it was a quick process- it wasn’t, it was extremely bothersome, but if somebody understood cameras better than I do, it could be done quite easily.) I uploaded them into iphoto and made a slideshow, which I soundtracked with lots of Edith Piaf. Though I say it myself, it was really very evocative, and once I’d put it on a loop, it was set to just play along merrily to itself all evening. Obviously, 1950s Paris was the home of classic French cuisine, so the menu had to reflect this. It does help if you can cook (I can, but only after years of burning things- I upped my game when my pudding for one dinner party was likened to “a slaughtered whale” by my best friend. She was right, I did need to sort out my presentation skills. Nowadays, I’m not Masterchef, but I’m alright.)

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So, the menu ran thus: Onion soup with gruyere croutons, steak with potatoes dauphionoise and creamed spinach, and tarte tatin. To begin, I served bellinis made with prosecco, and then we drank French wines. We finished with coffee and some little coffee and hazlenut biscuits I’d made. Now, this all sounds wildly expensive (and a touch smug) but it wasn’t (and I’m not, honest.) I just like the feeling that I’ve had a lovely dinner but about a tenth of what you’d pay in a restaurant. Onions are cheap as chips, and as I’m vegetarian, I only had to buy one steak. (I had quorn, which wasn’t very authentic, but what are you gonna do?) The rest of the ingredients- potatoes, spinach, apples and so forth, didn’t cost much at all. Admittedly, it does take most of an afternoon to cook and prepare, but if you like cooking, it’s quite fun. I also remembered to print out a menu- if you’re good at design & crave inspiration, go to http://www.lapl.org/resources/en/menu_collection.html.

Next, I borowed a white linen tablecloth and some fancy white plates off my Mum, and set up the Mac with a cardboard frame round it to look (a bit) like a window. We ate the food with the slideshow going, Edith singing, and we both dressed up in formal 1950s attire. I’d gone to the bother of tidying the bedroom and putting two chocolates on the pillow to vaguely resemble a hotel.

Weirdly.. it did feel as if we’d been to Paris. It must have been the bellinis.