|Heathcliffe: my favourite geius!|
To begin with let’s start with some History; I love it, Heathcliffe doesn’t. But in the same way that I use his brain to help me understand Science, he will tap my brain for historical context. So here is some of that historical context!
The eighteenth century was a time when men (and I am afraid it was usually men, both rich and educated, although not exclusively so) were interested in the new Natural Sciences as well as other intellectual disciplines. You could be as interested in new medical discoveries as you were in Archaeology and fossil hunting; from new techniques in agriculture as poetry; Chemistry and the art of watercolours; Botany and Alchemy. You get the picture. These people didn’t feel that very modern imperative to specialise. The Lunar Men of Birmingham or Edinburgh’s men of letters and Philosophy would most definitely have approved of Heathcliffe.
We met at work some 20 years ago. I had heard rumours of a young graphic designer working on the floor below me. (“He has dreadlocks and wears braces”, they whispered). As a square peg in the round hole of a rather conservative software company, I decided to go and investigate. Frankly the news of this fresh arrival was music to my ears. I yearned for someone or something a little unconventional. Not that I was unconventional, but I’d been having running battles with the sales director as a result of my refusal to wear clothes exclusively navy blue or black and my absolute rejection of shorter skirts or higher heels, as much to protect the public as much as my dignity. Actually, with hindsight, they were a pretty sexist company as well as totally hide-bound.
So I yomped down to the 4th floor of our office block and Heathcliffe bounced into view. We have been friends ever since.
We have always had adventures together. I don’t quite know whether I’m his “wing man” although he is definitely “Tigger” to my “Pooh” and put us together and we meet fabulous people, from writers and musicians to drag queens and captains of industry. We’ve met a madam, geeks and geniuses, pagans, a wizard, mathematicians and artists. We seem to meet them all; Heathcliffe seems to bring out the best in people.
We’ve played angels in the snow. We made seed bombs and scattered them around north London. We want to save the planet. Really.
We demonstrated the first ever live music festival over the internet way back when; launched marketing programmes, software and promoted clubs (although as DJ he did most of the work!) We’ve made videos together and worked on magazines (again mainly Heath, although I got some creative input!)
He has saved my bacon more times than I can tell you; making me look good as well as giving me the confidence to do things like sing in public as well as to write. He really has encouraged me to be myself.
As well as his creative talents, he is an inventor and designer – the sort of person who has five good ideas before breakfast. His passion for science and technology can be channelled through his abilities as an educator and teacher. One magical night during a Norfolk summer, after watching falling stars and a satellite drift across the pitch dark skies, Heath explained to me the basics of Covalent Bonding and Organic Chemistry. And for one night only I thought I understood and that the whole universe was mine. With hindsight this could have been something to do with the vast quantities of fruit wine we were drinking.
Later I played the part of a wind turbine as he threw berries at me, until I fell into some kind of prickly hedge. I understood how the turbines worked for about as long as it took me to pull all the thorns out – a week in all.
He has patiently explained the theory of “Schrödinger’s Cat” to me on several occasions. Every time he repeats the lesson I really do remember the why’s and wherefore’s. But as soon as I’ve walked away and tipped my head, all that knowledge falls out . . . it’s not Heathcliffe’s fault.
We have spent memorable nights walking down Camden High Street singing “Paper Moon”; I would try to be Ella Fitzgerald; he would be the Ink Spots - all of them! He likes jazz but his tastes are much more varied than mine, so he has introduced me to fabulous new things to listen to, from mash-ups (my favourite is The Doors' “Riders on the Storm” with Blondie’s “Rapture”) to Paul Anka sings Indie songs in the style of Big Band. I’m not sure about his obsession with William Shatner, but I can never think of Frank Sinatra’s version of “French Foreign Legion” without hearing Heathcliffe saying “Isn’t that just the “gayest” song in the world?” Well, yes. It is now!
But one of the most important things we have done is cooked and brewed together.
Artists have their obsessions as well as phases. With Toulouse-Lautrec it was ladies of uncertain virtue; Rubens had his pillowy women and Picasso had his “blue” period. The Fauvists were wild with colour; Surrealists enjoyed an element of surprise; Abstract Expressionists were rebellious and idiosyncratic.
Heathcliffe has some of these tendencies together with an approach to cooking that is almost Cubist in his vision – he can break things up and analyse them, before reassembling them!
Heathcliffe has developed in several directions, from “dauphinoise” to “kedgeree” and “fridge biscuit” to “fishcake”. Not some esoteric art installation – more of an obsessive need to find “the perfect . . . “ – a bit Felicity Cloake, without the cookbooks – he is more of a recipe developer rather than a recipe tester.
I am quite an instinctive cook as well as something of an empiricist. If something works well then I do tend to repeat it. Heathcliffe is much more analytical. If you are going to break a recipe apart – to reverse engineer it – you probably need to understand the science or at least the rules that you are breaking before you actually break them. But the science is tempered with a healthy splash of creativity.
Like a musician he improvises, running up and down scales, weaving magic with his delivery and imagination.
Like a perfumers, he looks for perfection, combining base notes and top notes and everything in between.
Like a wine expert, he looks for spice, depth and a lasting finish.
Personally I think he may, just may, be a genius!
One of my favourite nights out was where we met the chef of a new gastropub, whom we ended up designing cocktails with into the early hours of the morning, on a roof terrace in central London, while drunkenly nipping off for more supplies from the local supermarket. And while this guy I think was quite favourably impressed with our “Thai Green Curry” martini, I am not sure I ever want to look at a tin of coconut milk any time soon!
Please do not think for a moment that this man is a saint. This is not meant as a hagiography. He can be utterly maddening. He is one of the most stubborn people I know. I can’t cook him shellfish as he has the infuriating habit of naming all the prawns.
And while he is on his quest for perfection, I just want to move on. In “English Food” Jane Grigson writes `We (the English) are always after some new thing. Which is fine in many ways, but in matters of food often disastrous. We are so busy running after the latest dish, that the good things we have known for centuries are forgotten as quickly as the boring things.' I am not quite in that league but I do like to mix things up. Besides after eating say dauphinoise for a week I am feeling desperately in need of a change; I need salad!
One of our mutual friends once said “you know Heathcliffe really is a one-off” and I was forced to agree, rather sadly. I think there should be many more people out there like him in this world. However, we could both happily agree that everyone should have a friend like Heathcliffe.
I think he's clearly unaware about all of this. I know he's going to be horribly embarrassed. But the next time I see him, he'll lope up to me with a big grin on his face and give me a big hug. "Hey", he'll say. "Thanks, you!"
I am willing to share!