Having My Shit Really Together

Today has been a rough one. And the extent to which I don't want to is probably a sign I should try to work through some stuff by writing about it.

Last night Keith, who is a bloody hero, put up this post at Public Address, in a piece of journalism that's not only excellent but almost certainly life-saving. I read it just before going to bed, and it put me in a hell of a state. This morning I hit it up again, and wrote a comment trying to express my 'issues'. Basically, the core of Keith's column is that the Ministry of Social Development (in charge of what's generally known as "social welfare") has a system which, if you poke around, makes personal information about 'clients' available to the public. That includes location information about children who've been victims of abuse. Here's my comment:

I read this column last night, and had to go to bed and have a wee cry. And it wasn't just because my daughter's had dealings with Youth Specialty Service that involved funded counselling and drugs.

I was one of those kids. For two years in the 70s, my family was in hiding from my father. He had access rights: on one of those visits he managed to trick me into telling him where we were living (I was six, okay), and we had to move. I had to change schools. The very information Keith has detailed here, which would have been on Social Welfare's files about us, would have been sufficient for my dad to at least find my school and wait for me. He could have used me to find my home, and my mother. She could have died.

If we were in that situation now, all he'd need is some unsupervised time on a kiosk, and the technical knowledge to open a file in Word.

And then I went and had a shower and cried.

For a very long time - like, until the last few years - I honestly wasn't aware that I still had issues around the violence and abuse I witnessed and suffered as a child. Kids just bounce back, right? And it was all a very long time ago, over and done. I should be past it.

A few years back, Karl and I were watching an episode of Child of Our Time that featured a child from an abuse household. His mother had left her boyfriend, was in hiding, they had to do things like obscure the logo on his school uniform when they filmed him and conceal where they were living. And gradually, I ended up curled in a fetal ball on the end of the couch, completely stressed. I couldn't cope.

I react very strongly to depictions of abuse. I over-react to being shouted at. Some of the stresses of the last couple of years, for reasons I can't openly talk about, have made this reaction worse. There's a term for this, of course: it's "being triggered". But that's for people who've suffered really horrific things, right? For people with PTSD. Not me. 

I have seen my GP a number of times this year, in very stressful circumstances. Once, she raised some concerns that led to us talking about what I'd seen in my childhood and the effect it was still having on me. She said counselling would probably help, but of course we can't afford to pay for it. She asked me, obviously hating to do so, if any of the abuse had been sexual. Then, I might be entitled to funding. It was awful.

So it seems I don't really have any choice but to be skating across this ice, never quite knowing when all this is going to surface again and turn me into an unfunctional idiot. It's not just me, of course: the gathering of my family when my mother died was a Carnival of Dysfunction. And none of us talk about it, not ever.

Tomorrow will be a bit better. (Well, actually it'll be bloody stressful because we have to fight with the Ministry of Education. But that's a whole separate shit-fight.) And in a couple of days I'll be okay again. But that terrified child never quite goes away, and I am so tired of being a slave to her.   

Well that was quick

Today would have been the one-year Bonkiversary of my relationship with Tom. Would have been, because a week ago we broke up.

Anyone who tells you they know why is either a liar or betraying a massive confidence - which, actually, none of the people who've been told would do. There aren't many. I can tell you nobody is ever, ever going to work it out or guess it right if they haven't been told. But it was Karl who called an end to it, because of reasons too fraught and awful for anyone to imagine. The last three weeks have been so dreadful, and so melodramatic, I could easily become a slightly improbable Movie of the Week. It's going to take me a long time to get back on my feet again. What I can tell you is that Tom and I still love each other, to a level that's scared the hell out of both of us. Perhaps that's a good way to go out, with no bitterness, just a profound melancholy. And one day we'll get to a point where we can be glad of the things we had, the chances we got. Right now, I just miss him so much it's like an open wound.

We do have one more night. Karl agreed I can still go up for the Fetish Ball in August, which leaves us in a weird hanging place. We're done but we're not really done; we have one more celebration and one more goodbye. We changed each other profoundly, and that will persist after everything else is gone. 

This is not the kind of pain I enjoy.
  • Current Mood
    depressed depressed

Or you could mind your own fucking business, whatever

There is so much stuff I should be writing. My head is all over the place, and has been for weeks now. 

I've stopped telling people about my Lifestyle Changes, pretty much, because I am so tired of hearing it. Seriously, about 9 out of 10 of the people I've told have said either, "I hope it lasts" or "I hope it works out". Word for word. And I'm sure they're all trying to be positive, but seriously, have you EVER said that to someone starting a monogamous relationship? If you went to a friend and said you had a new partner, how would you feel if they said, "Well, I hope that works out"? Seriously. How would you feel? No-one has said, "Congratulations, I'm really happy for you," without me bitching about this first. (Some people are genuinely happy for me. They tend to be people who have at least met Tom.)

Another pro tip for reacting to news of other people's non-conventional relationships. The first time you say "I'm not here to judge" is much more convincing than the third time.

Also. I'm tired of people repeatedly asking questions about how it's going in a concerned tone, and pushing it when given a polite but non-explicit answer. Even if things weren't going well, you wouldn't be helping. And I've really fucking had it with anyone who thinks their own feelings about this matter are more important than ours. You know what? They're not. You're just unbelievably fucking insensitive and self-obsessed.

And yes. That is actually worse than the couple of people I've told on-line, who simply never replied. Though that is particularly classy.

Another favourite? "I'm just saying, I've never seen it work." To which I have yet to actually say out loud, "Really? How many times have you seen it?"

There is enough pressure in trying to make two people I love happy, and trying to negotiate a "lifestyle" (note: straight monogamous vanilla people get to just have "lives") that doesn't fit the mould. No, I don't need people's approval, but I could really do without how incredibly exhausting their disapproval is.

So... How It's Going, the WTFAQ Edition

Yeah, I know, I haven't posted here in over six months. They've been... a very interesting six months. Yesterday was the first day I've really been able to talk about what's been going on. For the moment this entry is friends-locked: I actually have very little idea who that means can read it, but... small steps. Later on I'll probably unlock it so I can send people here instead of having to keep repeating myself.

Right. In June last year, I started having an affair. That wasn't the intention at the time, of course. It was supposed to be a one-off. And then a two-off. And then we were never supposed to see each other again. And then we were going to be in the same space and just behave ourselves. So, y'know, we slept together again. And then we stopped pretending. And then we got caught, which brings us up to January.

I suspect anyone who doesn't already know, but who's actually met him, has an inkling of a suspicion that the man in question is Tom Beard. If you've never heard of him before, pertinent things to note are: he lives in Wellington so we don't see each other very often, and he's polyamorous. Um. And a Dom.

Anyway, I don't want to go into too much detail but the last six weeks or so have been pretty horrendous. Karl seriously thought about leaving me, and who'd have blamed him? Once we'd made a decision to stay together, and to go to counselling, we had to decide what to do about my relationship with Tom. Because here's the thing that might surprise you if you do know him: Tom and I love each other. Again, not what anyone expected, it just happened. Neither of us said it until we thought we were over forever, that I'd never be allowed to see him again.

Not, as it turned out, what happened. Rather than forbid me, and then spend the rest of our lives jealously checking up on me all the time, Karl decided to see if he could cope with Tom and I having a publicly-acknowledged relationship. So. Karl and I are partners. Tom and I are lovers. Tom and I will see each other a few times a year, in Wellington. What we have been doing, basically, except now everyone knows about it and I don't have to try to hide the extensive bruising I come home with.

I figure people will have some questions. Let me try to answer them before they're asked, in my usual style.

Q/ So, your partner, quite whipped then?
A/ Anyone showing less than the deepest respect for my partner and the depth of his love for me can expect to be imminently stabbed in the face by me. If you can't get your head around it, at least keep your fucking mouth shut.

Q/ Are you sure you've really thought this through? I mean, it's not going to be easy, is it?
A/ All three of us have actually been in poly relationships before. I'm thinking we all have more of an idea of what we're getting into than most of our observers do.

Q/ So, Emma, if you'll sleep with him, you'll sleep with me, right?
A/ Short answer? No. Long answer? It's like that no, except I snort-laugh for about three minutes as well.

Q/ So, that means Tom's In a Relationship, right, and unavailable?
A/ See above. Except the laughter goes on for longer, and at some point I start crying, probably just before I slide under the table.

Q/ This is hardly going to last, is it?
A/ You mean, unlike all monogamous relationships, which last forever? The simple answer is, I don't know. Also, we've really only just started this. You want me to be thinking about the end all the time? 

Q/ You really are a selfish, self-centred little bitch, aren't you?
A/ I'm a bisexual polyamorous sub bitch. For eighteen years I lived in a monogamous vanilla relationship, and I thought everything was fine. Until, y'know, my daughter started school-refusing, my city fell apart in a series of earthquakes, and my mother died a lingering death from cancer. Karl understands why this started. He's really the only person whose judgement of my actions matters.

Q/ You must have had help, carrying this out and covering it up, right?
A/ The only people who have ANY responsibility for our affair are me and Tom, alright? Alright.

Q/ Wait, if I'm reading this right, he HITS you? Seriously? Are you insane?
A/ If I ask nicely. Or I'm bad. Or we both really really feel like it. Also collars me, cuffs me, feeds me... The dodgier you find this, the more detail I'll give you, okay?

Feel free to add any other questions or comments you have in, well, the comments. This might well be the only place I give any answers. Just bear in mind that I'm pretty fucking happy about this, and we're all trying to make it work. You know what I say about harshing my buzz.
  • Current Mood
    ecstatic ecstatic


 I'm very aware that all I seem to have done lately with teh blogging is whine. Which is, yes, traditionally what it's for, but still, if I'm getting sick of it? You guys must be well and truly through. But then I end up becoming completely uncommunicative, and people don't know shit... anyway. This is the latest "where we're at".

Me. A couple of months ago, I developed a shiny new fucking appalling health problem. Look away from the brackets if you don't want to read Woman Stuff. (I've been having periods roughly every two weeks, and with that, much worse cramping and bloating and mood swings and shit than normal. Like, way worse.) My GP is pretty convinced the root of the whole thing is stress. Two weeks ago, the strain on my body proved too much, and I had a minor relapse of my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. That Thursday, I went up to Auckland. And I had a completely fabulous time, don't get me wrong. I wouldn't have missed it. And the day after I got back to Christchurch? I could hardly walk. Sicker than I've been in over a decade. And every day it dragged on I was more and more terrified that I wasn't going to get well, that I was going to get stuck there again.

But. I have, gradually and by dint of doing nothing at all, crawled my way back to about as sick as I was before I left. And I feel like I'm improving. Thinking I may actually be able to start achieving things again - like finishing the last half a scene that's been holding up PA Story for over a week. 

Rhiana. We may have found her a new counsellor. She doesn't like him as much as she did Scott at Youth Specialty Service, but after they told us to piss off, and that they didn't give a shit if our daughter was cutting, we were running out of options. Then my GP -during an appointment about ME - realised that we might be eligible for funding for counselling for her, and yay we are. So she's had one session with this guy my GP recommended, and she's agreed to see him again. I don't know if it's going to help, but it can't hurt, she won't talk to us any more, and we are shit all out of ideas.

Which I think has been the hardest thing about this. We had to admit that we couldn't cope. That we didn't know what to do. And "managing" is a huge thing for me. And when we finally got to that point and broke down that far? Nobody would help us. 

I just... y'know, I love her. I want her to be well and safe and happy. And at this point, I don't really care what it takes. And maybe that means accepting that I can't help, or even that the things I've tried to do to help, because I love her, are making things worse. And honestly? That I can't cope. That my physical and mental health is coming to pieces under the strain. 

Anyway... I got paid (well, I will) for the Auckland gig, and I'm thinking I really should treat myself. Because, from a practical point of view, if I feel better, I can better look after others. I'm thinking maybe that thing I said I couldn't afford to do...

The Self-Obsession Chronicles, continued.

 The other day, I read this, and then, as you do, went off and tried to determine my own core values. Basically, from a comprehensive list you choose twenty-five values, then whittle them down to ten, and then again to five, which are your core. Now, being me I had some real problems with the legitimacy of the process (particularly the part where I had to work really hard to find 25, and then promptly throw away all the ones I'd added to get up there). Then you examine your values to see if any of them are in conflict. Which I guess is a useful way to find out what your areas of conflict are. 

So my values turned out to be:


Frankly, I was just relieved they turned out to not all be intellectual. But then of course I whittled down a bunch (self-thinking, knowledge, problem solving, competence etc) by deciding that they were all part of "wisdom". To me, you can be intelligent or knowledgeable without necessarily being wise, but not vice versa. Fairness also umbrellas quite a lot of different values, as does practicality. So, really, I've kind of cheated, but I've done that in a very Me kind of way.

Practicality CAN be in conflict with fairness, with creativity, and with love. Or you can see them as tempering each other. Because my tendency - and people who've worked with me will back me on this - is to be relentlessly practical, and say things like "well that's all very nice, in an ideal world, but can we get the fuck on with talking about what we can actually DO?"

See, lately I've been feeling kind of overwhelmed. I feel like I have just far too much to do, so I end up not doing anything at all. Or at least, not doing the Big Things, and feeling like I'm doing nothing at all. And given the last year, I guess it's not all that surprising that... I feel like I'm losing my grip on my sense of self? And the tools that have worked for me for a long time (primarily my stop-check phrase "What do I want, how do I go about getting it?) aren't so much cutting it any more. 

And... it's really important to me to understand the world, right, in a very conscious way, to be aware of how our society shapes us, and how we shape it. And I know that all the information I take in in that regard is filtered through my personality, so I need to understand myself, as a tool for that greater understanding that drives me. And lately, the song lyric that keeps running through my head is "When you find out who you are, too late to change."

Also... sometimes you are lucky enough to be able to see yourself through someone else's eyes. That's happened to me lately, and the effect has been... rather more than I expected. 

I'll settle back down soon. Part of the problem is that my basic stress response is avoidance, flight, and that option simply isn't on the table for me. I need to do some reappraising, work out where I should be putting my energy, where my focus should be, what I should be trying to achieve.

It shouldn't be surprising. My world has changed enormously in the last year. Perhaps it's because of how much of that has been unavoidably utter shit that the thing I did that should have been terrible? Has been utterly brilliant, and possibly saved my sanity. I'm just, basically, always surprised when I'm not super-competent and emotionally unassailable. 

I know. For a smart chick, I'm a fucking idiot.

The Isis Knot experience: a Retrospective

Wank wank... Yeah, okay. A bit over a year ago, I put out a plea to my readers to please gods help me actually get my novel written. Writing long-form in a total feedback vacuum was driving me batshit. I'm spoiled by the near-instant feedback of Public Address and the co-operative environment of Bardic Web. And about a dozen lovely people offered to read the MS for me, chapter by chapter, and possibly offer feedback. Once or twice, I've asked for feedback on a particular point, but mostly I've tried very hard not to shape people's views or their experience of the story. Because if I ask about something, I'm making that something Significant.

At this point, I'm working on Chapter 16, I've whacked out about 35 000 words, and we're maybe... halfway through in terms of words and about a third of the way through in terms of plot points? Which seems to me like a good point to examine the experience. Also, a bunch of the basic situation is about to change, Stuff Happens. People not in the Isis Knot writing group might find the process interesting, too.

However. If you do want to keep your feedback entirely uncontaminated, you might want to choose not to read this. From here, SPOILERIFIC up to Ch 15, but not about where the story is going.

As an exercise to get me actually writing, it's sort of worked. I have not, even faintly, stuck to my original schedule. In my defence, Fuck of a Year.

One of the unplanned things I'm loving is that one of my readers is about ten chapters behind everyone else, from coming in much later, and this has turned out to be incredibly handy. F'r'instance, Isaac has asked about Lynne's suicide note being in an envelope. When I wrote the scene, I saw it in my head, it was just a folded piece of paper. Months later, detached from that, I can actually ask myself if it might not be better in an envelope, if that would emphasise what Laura does when she reads it. Previously, I might have been too wedded to what I originally envisioned to accept that. Also, Isaac's feedback is coming from quite a different place from other people's. So actually, I'd quite like it if he DIDN'T read this, just in case.

Am I getting any consistent reading from my reading group? Am I fuck. When I asked "At what point did you work out what had happened 'off-screen' between these two chapters?" I got a lovely bunch of specific answers, and they were all, every single one of them, different. I love you guys. Not so helpful with the "do I need to make this more/less obvious?" but still actually helpful. I should note that I know what happens in this story almost the whole way to the end, so nobody's comments can influence plot points, it's more a matter of what gets emphasised, cut, developed, and how.

I also love it that some people have clearly got attached to particular characters, and they're not ones I expected. I adore Laura. At least one of my readers hates her fucking guts. People appear to want to slap my fallible narrator a whole lot less than I had expected.

My absolute favourite, though, is when someone says "I want to know what happens next". It's a suspense novel more than anything else. If you don't care what happens, I really have fucked up. (Well, or, it's just not your cup of tea. That's going to happen, without my writing necessarily being Bad.)

Things I have found surprisingly difficult. I'd like it to be funnier. It was to start with. But it is actually quite difficult to lighten something that, so far, has involved two suicides and a rape.

There ARE things I'd really like to know that I can't ask, because asking will change the answer. I was telling Karl last night, "I'd really like to know what they think happened [REDACTED], because it becomes pivotal later on, and there should be some suspicion but no certainty. I'm betting [REDACTED] has totally worked it out though, and probably even knows where [REDACTED]." *sigh*

I have concerns about pacing. The first three years or so of the story are, of neccesity, ones where lots of stuff happens, but increasingly I'm skipping over blocks of time, and that increases further into the story. I'm worried that makes it seem jumpy, the switches between describing something with actual dialogue and detail, and then having Hera just tell what's happened over a few months.

I worry that I am the only person in the universe who gives a flying fuck whether Laura and Peter ever sleep together. And I want people to care. Srsly, I've made the central relationship* in my book a sexual relationship between two people, neither of whom is the narrator, who aren't fucking. WTF was I thinking?

When one of my readers says something like, "This off-the-cuff comment here, that's a character point, right, this is really significant?" and they're right, I do a little dance in my chair. Yay. These people, they talk a LOT. Not perhaps as much as your average Oscar Wilde character, but there's a lot of people sitting around talking, and they should be revealing themselves as much as what they're talking about.

The feedback that comes from quite a different place, that suggests a different reading or that something should be radically different, is harder to deal with, but I really like the challenge. There's also been a couple of "this is an unfamiliar term, or not immediately clear, if you just put this bit first it's much clearer" which is also excellent.

I have not managed to clearly deliniate two members of my ensemble cast, Darren and Natasha. And I'm beginning to wonder if I really should. I would actually cut the character of Darren if I didn't need him to do something later on that none of the others can. But if they're naturally secondary, maybe they should just stay that way.

I get a little frustrated because my narrator is not my most verbally-dextrous character. Initially I tried to sort of talk her down, too far from own voice, and I've sorted that, it's just not necessary for her to come across a a muppet because most of her friends are more articulate than she is. That probably means I need to do some tone-ironing in the initial couple of chapters where I'm trying too hard to make her sound "down-country".

Hmm. This was supposed to clarify my thought processes. It kind of hasn't. But. I am really enjoying the process. I do hope you guys are a little as well. Right now I'm on a bit of a roll with The Isis Knot, which makes my brain all kind of breathless and racy.

Readers, do feel free to use this as an opportunity to make general comments in the comments, or by email if you don't want to influence other people. Also, anyone reading this who isn't in the reading group and wants to join, I think having someone else start from the beginning again about now would be handy. Or possibly send me into a never-ending feedback loop ensuring the writing process is eternal. Have at.

*Okay, yeah, it's NOT the central relationship. A photo of a pony for the first person to tell me what is.


Been six weeks since I last talked about anything personal in public.

May has been kind of a shitty month. I mean, it's May, right, and I normally start to struggle emotionally round this time of year. Then there was Mothers' Day, which was the bearer of a mass of unforeseen (by me) suckitude. I knew her birthday was going to be difficult, but when I start getting spam suggesting presents I could buy for my dead mother? Yeah.

Then my brother turned up one morning, on his way back down from scattering our mother's ashes on her first husband's grave up in Taihape. He was heading back to do the last cleaning out of her house before the settlement date. So that's all dealt with and gone now, and I'm very grateful to them for taking care of it.

And Friday, my inheritence turned up in our savings account. It's not a huge amount of money, but we're going to take a wee chip off the mortgage, and then build a deck. I think Mum would have approved. I talked to Rhiana about it and she's really keen, and she suggested we plant roses around it, because Mum loved roses. We've had some rough times with her, but she's a Good Kid.

Otherwise... it's looking like the kids will be going to school at the "temporary" site out in Halswell until around about Kieran finishes high school. That's really hard to take. We got the Red Cross transport grant, which was a decent sum of money and isn't really covering our transport costs for this year, let alone the next couple. Meanwhile, all the other schools are getting back to normal: even the other badly-affected ones expect to be back in business by term four. It's hard.

I have, I guess, lost my resilience. The bad things weigh. Things I used to shrug off bother me. I struggle to write, to think. Creativity seems a mile off, and that's how I value myself.

On the up side, next month I'm heading up to Wellington to see Megan and Susan, and take part in the Wellington Slutwalk. I know, I was just in Wellington a couple of months ago, but that's worn off. I need to recharge again. It feels selfish, taking off on my family, but I am pretty much going mad. I keep wondering what the fuck is wrong with me, why I'm so precious and frail and needy, and then I remember what an utter fuckmonkey of a year it's been. People are coming apart under the strain in Christchurch who haven't been bereaved as well.

If I can get my brain to work, Things could be Afoot, which would be awesome.
  • Current Mood
    sad sad

Earthquake whining, part fuck-knows

So Karl and I were talking last night after everyone left, and we'd had a few drinks, and he'd had a coffee so he was awake to chat with me at 1am. Mostly, Because of Reasons, we were talking about a friend of ours, whom we believe is very unhappy. Albeit largely by their own doing, but still, we care, and it's shitty, and probably now intractable.

I really like the way most of my friends who are in relationships are in them with people I don't want to punch in the face a lot.

Anyway, as  result of all of that, I asked Karl if he was happy. Which, as it turns out, is a question that can only be answered in the sort of long-winded fashion he hates when I do it. And it took me a while to drive the conversation back to "are you happy in your relationship", which was of course what I was asking because one of my more endearing traits is the way I am So Totally Self-Obsessed.

On the way, though, he told me that the main thing he worries about at the moment is me. Which makes me feel a weird loved special kind of shitty. Because he's aware that I haven't had any time to myself since the earthquake, and he knows I need it. He knows I haven't been writing because I don't have the mental space. He's aware (because I whine about it constantly) that I've had the same headache for over a week now. We thought it was the chlorine in the water, but it may just be stress. And our neighbours are total fuckwits. I've been internally debating what to call them, The Cuntyfucks or the McWankersons.

Also, I haven't had a cigarette in two weeks. I was starting to feel it in my lungs, and I was worried that I wouldn't be able to stop, so I did. I will start again when Megan gets here. I cannot wait.

And the thing is... I should be going out of my skull without the space I know I need to survive mentally. And I'm not. Because that's part of the numbness, the sense of being utterly stuck: I'm also not getting worse.

Well. It's okay when it's not raining. That three gray wet horrible days last week, I did start utterly despairing. As long as I can get out in my garden, I'm managing.

I'm failing to pick up all the threads of my old life with any enthusiasm. But at the same time, I have a Secret Project, and I'm pretty enthused about that. There's bound to be more important stuff I should be doing, but actually this also Needs to be Done. But I'm also aware that I am not my usual very organised list-making self right now. I keep putting things down and losing them. I have a couple of writing conundrums I can't connive my way out of, and I'm normally pretty good at that. I can't make fairly simple decisions like should I apply to attend TedXChch? Or am I just too fucking tired to bother? Should we get a water filter so I don't have the constant taste of chlorine in my mouth? Should I buy Rhiana a moon jar for her birthday, or make one myself? What are we going to do for her birthday? Should I do an Easter Egg hunt this year, or are the children too old for that shit? How do I stop being such a worry to Karl, and what do I do in a world where he's suggesting I take a break in Wellington by myself?

Day Four: Gumbo

Alison Holst's gumbo recipe. Mince and bacon gumbo. I KNOW. I have tried making gumbo with chicken, and shrimp, and more authentic and exciting ingredients, and I get looked at in a sort of mournful-labrador way. Why, they are thinking, would I ruin gumbo? It's like when I make hamburgers using Morrocan-seasoned lamb patties instead of Alison Holst's beef patties. Experimental cooking is clearing Not My Job.

The Holst has been something of a goddess in my kitchen from the start. Her recipes are so sensible and practical and child- and budget-friendly. Two things I will always do with one of her recipes, though: halve the salt, and double the spices. I up the seasoning in most recipes the second time I make them, to be honest. When we have Meals out with Russell, it's becoming a tradition (which I will encourage) to get Indian so he and I can have Super Spicy Dead Animal, and everyone else can wimp out in their respective ways*.

Anyway, what I've learned over the years is the importance of getting the roux just right. Dark but not too dark. There's really nothing else to this except constantly tasting during a long, slow cooking, and adding more paprika and thyme every time you taste.

The great thing about this is that a) it feeds our family on about 300g of mince, and b) soup is a great way to get kids to eat veggies, should that be a problem. It actually never has been for us. But then, I've never used the phrase "you have to eat your vegetables."

* These days a quite startling number of our friends are vegetarians, something I have absolutely no problem with. It's not actually a bother accommodating that, it'd be fucking rude NOT to. But I will eat dead animals in front of you. My main problem is that nobody else in my family likes spicy food.