Real dilemmas, real solutions – from our real-life superheroes. This month, Kate Spicer, journalist and author of Lost Dog, does wonderful things with carrot tops and thanks her dog for the gift of routine and unconditional love
Q What makes you feel wild?
A Weather, being in weather. Rain, sun, wind. If you insert yourself into the weather rather than cowering from it inside, it whips up your primal animal being. I’m sitting here now, looking out at the waves rolling into the north Cornwall coast. The sun is out but I am thinking about the wind and how it will be cold. A few years ago, I’d have zipped myself into a smelly wetsuit and run outside to surf. I think when we get older we shrink from immersing ourselves into the environment and it is a mistake. When your body is strong and fed, you can suck up the elements and throw off those timid human shackles that have us sat inside eating biscuits and slowly wilting beside the radiator.
My dog, Wolfy, has forced me out into weather every single day since I adopted him in January 2015. There was some research recently that showed people who spent just 20 minutes in nature daily had lowered stress hormones. I didn’t need a study to tell me this. Dogs connect us to nature and nature is where we come from. We just forget it in our hermetically sealed, screen-obsessed worlds. Time to re-wild ourselves.
Q What one thing are you currently doing to make the planet greener?
A I’m not a glowing example of eco-saintliness, but I hate waste. Between us – the boyfriend, the dog and me – we manage to eat everything in the house. We buy very little from supermarkets, preferring shops and markets where things can be tossed unwrapped into a shopping bag. If I roast a chicken, I debone it and feed the carcass to the dog while the boyfriend and I eat every last scrap of the meat. Even carrot tops, I turn into pesto with walnuts, olive oil and parmesan. Plastic packaging was making me feel sick long before it became fashionable to be offended by it. Does that sound boastful? It’s not meant to be. If you shop in small places – fishmongers, butchers, markets and so on – it’s possible to buy fresher, riper and without the acres of crap that supermarkets wrap things in. I also love to banter with the people serving me – it immerses you so much more deeply in your community. Portobello Market is dying on its arse because all the rich buggers who live in our now posh neighbourhood don’t understand that the reason they bought a house there is because it has great vibes and some of those great vibes come from the life and colour of the market. Join the dots oligarchs! Duh!
Q Where does your soul most happily reside: city, countryside, or both?
A When I am centred and happy and have slept well, I can be happy anywhere. Hungover and knackered, even a monastery on a mountaintop would struggle to be soulful for me. I love walking down Portobello Road as the market’s setting up with my dog at my side. Wolfy and I sometimes hammer up Rippon Tor, one of the highest tors on Dartmoor, a national park in the West Country. I love deserts, they seem to connect with that blank, ego-less emptiness that is the closest I can get to a proper meditative state.
Q The DJ fails to show up. What’s your go-to track to get everyone dancing?
A Depends on the crowd doesn’t it? “Rave” by Sam Paganini for something new. Old-school house for all my ageing raver mates – how about “Promised Land” by Joe Smooth? Abba? Elvis?
Q Who is the hero or heroine you’d be tongue-tied to find yourself sitting next to at a dinner party?
A Joan Didion or Paul Bowles.
Q What would be your message to your younger self?
A Stop thinking you’re fat. Eat more butter. Take less drugs.
Q Which world conflict would you like to see resolved first?
A What an impossible question. Sexual violence in the Congo. The ongoing nightmare of Palestinian and Israeli conflict. I’d just cut the men and their willy-waving aggression and ego and greed out of the picture and see if the women can come up with a better answer for peace.
Q You’re on a raft adrift in the ocean and the sharks are circling. Who is your companion to get you to shore safely? And who would you feed to the sharks?
A Megan Hine is the female Bear Grylls so I’d hug her to me while chucking that revolting Infowars fake news loon Alex Jones in to keep the sharks fed for a while.
Q What qualities would you look for in a deputy?
A Loyalty, humour, an ability to get me out the door and into nature when I get stressed, someone really cuddly and furry. Someone? Or some dog. I have a perfect deputy, employee of the month, every month. Wolfy!
Q And what’s the key requirement for a lifetime partner of the romantic kind?
Q What’s the retirement plan?
A To be eaten by my pets after filing my last-ever piece at the age of 95 and keeling over on the floor, dead. I don’t have a retirement plan. Or to write some bestsellers that will keep me in my dotage.
Q What’s your favourite lazy-at-home dish to cook?
A I wrote a book with Gary Barlow last year and he passed on this trick taught to him by a chef called Tom Adams. It’s no secret, people have been doing it for thousands of years, but we’ve lost the habit of it. Beef. Cook it at 50˚C, really, really slowly. You can do it with all kinds of meat, also with vegetables. It takes a long time, but because the temperature is so low it retains all the moisture, it doesn’t contract and wring out the juice. All you need is patience and a meat thermometer. The beef comes out perfectly pink, blindingly tender and astoundingly juicy. Pork is transformed before your eyes. Even chicken. So do some Googling, gen up on the method and go for it. As Gary says, it makes you feel “like a magician” when you serve it to your friends. You will never again roast anything above what I call “sunbathing in Dubai” temperature.
Q The blurb on your book Lost Dog: A Love Story (Ebury Press, £16.99) describes you as a “middle-aged woman trying to steer some order into a life that is going off the rails”. Discuss.
A Basically, I never stopped caning it. I never stopped taking drugs. I had very little structure in my life because I am freelance. The dog came along and gave me the gift of routine and unconditional love. It was an amazing, amazing gift. Thank you mate. Lost Dog: A Love Story (Ebury Press, £16.99)
Q Career high versus career low?
A My film Mission to Lars got an incredible review from The New York Times. I still can’t quite believe it. It made no bloody money, BUT THE NEW YORK TIMES LOVED IT! I have career lows every time an editor dicks me around and asks me to rewrite things out of pure fucking incompetence or indifference to the value of your time on their part. It makes me want to stab myself in the head with a pencil. We are paid waaaaaaay less than we used to be and treated more like shit. It’s a horrible life sometimes, being a writer. But it is also the perfect life that gives the opportunity of real freedom, so you take the rough with the smooth.
Q Career advice for the Kate wannabes?
A Look for stories everywhere and pitch them.
Q What do you wish you had said to someone who has departed this earth?
A I wish I could have known all my grandparents now, at the age of nearly 50, as a proper grown-up. I want to know so much more about them, their feelings and their lives.
Q The last time you prayed, what was the occasion, to whom did you pray, and were your prayers answered?
A I pray to the universe and to something eternal that is more than just me but exists inside me, and sometimes the universe and that enduring shizzle inside me listens.
Q Who do you currently have a crush on?
A It’s too early in the morning to even think about that.
Q What would your Tinder profile say?
Q What superhero power would you most like to have and why?
A To find lost things. I waste so much time looking for keys, wallet, phone… I could also find lost scrolls and all that jazz, and flog it thus enabling a life spent lying on the beach.
Q Where do you get your therapy from?
A The dog. Psychedelics.
Q Rescue dog or pedigree?
Q Your book at bedtime?
A I’ve read The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles five times. Currently I am reading Problems by Jade Sharma, a book about an absolutely rotten, self-obsessed junkie woman. I do love a fantastically flawed woman. Princess characters make me sick.
Q Your epitaph?
A I have to rob it from Spike Milligan – “I told you I was ill.”
Q What did you learn from the toughest time in your life?
A To keep going.
Q And from the happiest?
A The periods of delirious love with a new man are always heaven; woman, it won’t last. Best to connect with nature, have a dog at your side and feel a more peaceful connection to the earth. Don’t look to others for happiness, find it yourself.
Q You’re blowing out the candles on a cake. What do you wish for?
A I should say health but probably wealth. I’m fucking sick of being skint.