Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tank

I've got the lurgy.

No, not Manflu. There is a difference between the lurgy and manflu. The lurgy is genuine.

Quite ironic really; in the last month I've had a stomach bug and now the lurgy. I haven't had much more than a sniffle since April of 2009.

However, despite having a sandpaper throat and a thick head and a heavy chest (oo-er); I'm fit enough to continue doing my job. I saw a doctor today regarding whether or not I can continue doing my job and, if I want to be really honest, the outcome was never in doubt. The doc, a very nice man, who also happens to be a magistrate, not only understood my job, but knows it well and feels that in my case it is possibly the best kind of job I can have.

I have to watch my driving and keep active when I'm not active; I need to manage the pain as best I can and I can't forecast when I'm going to have as AS attack, so it's a hypothetical question as to whether or not it is going to affect any continuity issues. plus he feels I need to be moved closer to my home base. In other words, providing we all do it right, I should be fine. I can put away thoughts about being retired off on medical grounds!

***

[Damn!]




Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Robots in the Garden

The car accident was possibly the crappiest way to return to work after a break. I feel sorry for the wife because she loved her Fiat Doblo; for all of its lack of aesthetics, it is a great holiday car and so practical.

It was on a 54 plate, which means that we'll be lucky to get much for it, which will mean that we'll be very lucky indeed to get a replacement car of the same standard. You see, I'd stake a month's salary that it'll be written off. There is a certain unfairness about insurance. We've had that car for 6 years; it has been serviced regularly and has sailed through its MOTs. Yes, it could be like driving a horse drawn cart at times, but it looked set for a good 5 more years and that was the plan. Plans, as we all know, have to change...

The wife is okay - thanks to all who asked. She's pissed off with the man who drove the car and his idiocy (his name and address are available to anyone who wants to exact revenge for me) and sad for the loss of her car. I'm just happy she wasn't injured badly, other than a touch of whiplash.

***

Is it me or has the 'mayor' of New Delhi got the most unfortunate name in them world? Sheila Dikshit is the lady responsible for liaising with the Commonwealth's leading sports leaders and dignitaries. I'm going to be wondering how news readers tackle this one. Diks-hit, perhaps?

***

A couple of months ago, I mentioned I was toying with a new story and the hero would be a builder. With October and November around the corner - oddly my most productive creative writing months - I'm still working on it; but maybe not as intensively as I have. It's hard work and my brother-in-law would be proud; he reckons writing isn't easy and things don't write themselves, not unless their rubbish. I passed the 15,000 word mark last night; another milestone of sorts and while I'm not completely happy with it; it's building and developing in ways that previous efforts haven't.

I'm writing it differently; instead of ploughing through it and growing disillusioned when it comes to the rereading and editing; I'm doing am lot of editing as I go along. I'm sort of sketching the skeleton and then adding the flesh afterwards. Going back to it, changing sentences, chopping paragraphs, making sure it has continuity and working from a framework plan - something I never do. I have chart which shows how I see the story panning out from start to conclusion - with all the branches of subplots sprouting from it. It's under constant revision, but that's good. I think the story is now a better one than when it started.

I actually think talking about projects is normally the kiss of death for them. Most of the stories I've finished have been done in almost complete secrecy. But, I'm not going to tell you what it's about; so that should be okay.

***

That's all I got, for now...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Another Brick in the Wall

And so ends two weeks of relaxation, laying in bed until 10.30 and other unstressy things. I don't think I've ever felt less enthusiastic about going back to work or returning to the daily grind. It's been a long time since I was unemployed and it seems a long time till I get the chance to retire - and by that time I reckon my back and hips will have given up the ghost. And I positively do NOT want to end up a pensioner with a motorised cart thing.

That said, I have an appointment with a group called Medigold on Thursday. They will assess whether or not I'm fit to continue doing my current job. I'm torn in a way. Part of me would like to walk in there and feel better than I have for the last 4 months, but I know that would be a false reflection on what my physical state is like; but that said, I don't want to go in there racked with aches and pains because I don't fancy being retired on medical grounds or being moved to a department where I'm going to be even unhappier than I currently feel.

One of the key issues is driving. The purchase of the expensive Fiat Sedici last year was done purely on the grounds of it was a good deal and it was considerably easier to drive than the bloody poky Seat Ibiza. When I say easier, I mean comfortable, but a year on and driving more than about 20 miles causes me a lot of grief; I think it's because, unlike sitting, my legs are moving but nothing else is; so subsequently my hips seize up and I get this sharp ache down my right thigh. Getting out of the car in Stamford - after driving the Sedici was... grating. Getting out of the Doblo - about the easiest car to drive with a bad back, or so I thought, was like someone had replaced my hips with ground glass. I could barely stand up and this is from a man who has recently had it confirmed he doesn't have arthritis! That said, the ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis is just as bad in many places.

I started to get problems with my back in 1988 - I was 26 and I will always blame a packet of sausages. Throughout the last 22 years, it has had its moments, but I've never really been free from it. Yeah, I've had months where I've barely noticed it, but it's always been there and now it always will.

The wife didn't enjoy our trip to Leicester the week before last, mainly because I was in full Victor Meldrew mode. My love affair with the city seemed to evaporate that day, but that's regardless. Anyhow, she had a good break, but she said I really have to lighten up a bit, especially when I go to places like Leicester and London. I was much better in Stamford, which is a quite beautiful town with more character than just about anywhere else in this sometimes godforsaken county - shame its in Lincolnshire.

Mushrooms dominated - I picked more mushrooms this year than I have since the turn of the century; the storage jars are full and if things stay the way they have for the last few weeks, I may see even more. Even yesterday, almost a week since any significant rainfall, I picked half a dozen agaricus augustus, which are currently drying the the airing cupboard. This year, I've picked more of this Prince among mushrooms than I have in the previous 20 years!

Finally, I'm considering stopping smoking. it's been said and tried before and many people have seem me continually fail - even going 18 months once and then buckling. But despite my brain having been rewired by nicotine, giving it its own independently autonomous voice, the rewiring appears to have broken. The voice isn't telling me the 1billion reasons why I shouldn't stop, or the ways in which I can stop but not stop, if you know what I mean? If you don't, unless you've been addicted to something you won't understand, so there's not a lot I can say that would make it easier for you to understand. It's like an itch you can't scratch; it's a pain you can't rub; it's a tickle at the back of your brain; it's an anxiety that isn't the same as a normal anxiety; it's a feeling of falling, but also of stopping and its like losing something important. I know ex-smokers, 30 odd years since their last drag, who still get that urge to light up.

I told the voice the other day, while I was lying in bed, that I either stop smoking or I die prematurely. It said nothing. I asked the voice what it would rather have - a few more years and then BAM! - a heart attack or an emphysema diagnosis or maybe a stab at another 25 to 30 years - yes, boring years if I don't get a hobby to replace ciggies, but 30 years as opposed to maybe 12. It said nothing; in fact, I'm pretty sure it harumphed something like an agreement. The only time it spoke in the week since I decided was when I told the wife, I added the caveat of, "even if its only for a few weeks". But that was more to do with not dashing her expectations.

This ankylosing business and smoking don't get on. My lungs and smoking don't get on. My mind loves it; it has been my adult pacifier for years; even nowadays when people are actually surprised to know that I smoke, because hardly anyone ever sees me doing it. I am, according to Sheila one of my former no-smoking nurses, the most difficult patient; not because I'm Phil, but because I smoke about 5 cigarettes a day. I have a routine - one in the morning, one on the way to work, one on the way home, one after dinner and one, sometimes two when the wife has gone to bed. I smoke less than 50grams of tobacco a week; the habit is ingrained; I'm not a constant 40 a day person - who it seems have far more success at packing it up.

I've no doubt I'll fail. Won't probably let on to anyone for weeks and will have cheated two people - yet again. But at least I'm in serious stage 2 mode:

I'm writing this with a fag on; the voice is obviously going to be quiet. I've spent the last week thinking about the stop day; preparing for it. The voice has been up in an attic room, mumbling away, but it hasn't said anything audible yet. Fingers crossed, eh?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Don't Stop Believing (contains spoilers)

It's not often you can avoid one of the most talked about TV shows of all time, so that three years after it finished, you can sit down and watch it without knowing what is going to happen. When The Sopranos began in 1999, it seemed that everybody was watching it; everybody except me. It just didn't appeal to me; a program about a Mafia family based in the Garden State of New Jersey. So, while everyone else was watching and talking about it, I wasn't.

I bought all six box sets in late 2007 and the intention was to watch them during the following summer, when there was bugger all on TV. In 2010, we started to watch it and really only because many people said, 'If you're going to watch The Wire, you need to watch The Sopranos first'. Apparently, they're miles apart, but in many eyes the former eclipsed the latter and The Sopranos wouldn't be as good (or something like that).

The conclusions I drew are probably no different from what others thought. There are several motifs throughout the entire series - food, family, fucking. There isn't a single episode where food doesn't play a centre stage; but that said, family plays the big part - Tony Soprano's families, the surrounding families and families isn't just blood.

Watching the series the way I did was interesting; instead of watching it weekly and waiting months for the next series, the entire series was watched over the space of three months. This gave it the feeling of a true ongoing story, but it also showed how (through necessity I've no doubt) characters could come and go and be explained away in an instant. This was a little jarring at times, but didn't spoil the over all trip.

The Sopranos was essentially a very black comedy, inhabited largely by self-important imbeciles. Not one of the New Jersey Mafia had enough brains to blow his own nose; they reeked ignorance, but this only added to the charms of the series. It was also not really just about Tony Soprano, although he was the titular character; Carmella, Meadow and AJ all had vitally important roles to play as it became clear that the series wasn't actually about Dad being a mobster, but about a dysfunctional family facing a turbulent time in a difficult period of time for the USA. If it had a side story, it was never really clear. yes, each season had a specific theme and an always fulfilling denouement; but what it was wasn't defined; there was the feeling that events in the Organised Crime side of the story were always going to be second to the main event.

There were many things about the series that I didn't really like. I found the sessions with Dr Melfi almost pointless in many instances - almost like they kept Lorraine Bracco on the series because that was what the original episode was about - Tony's mental health problems. However, his sociopathic behaviour was never really addressed; instead we had almost a stereotypical look at the quack/patient scenario with much of Tony's state of mind not down to the fact that his father was also a big wig mobster, but because he had mother issues.

Tony Soprano is about my age; he looks considerably older; he's fat, he's going bald and above all else he is ugly in person like he is in soul, yet he managed to bed more women than Tiger Woods. It was like David Chase, the series creator, wanted to suggest that most women in America will sleep with a fat ugly bastard if he has money or power - however it was earned. I couldn't believe some of the women (and girls) that Tony slept with that he didn't have to pay.

Once a couple of regular characters were offed, it also took on the feel of who's going to get whacked next. You could call it a juxtaposition on other TV shows that rarely kill cast members unless cancellation is imminent or the actor wants to leave; but by the time Tony disposed of his nephew towards the end of the final season, I could be heard uttering the words, "Oh no," under my breath. I almost expected the extermination of just about every cast member by the time the finale came around.

But, don't get me wrong; it was a stupendous TV series, with some unbelievable highs and some genuine lows. I found it awkward at times rooting for a murderous and thoroughly despicable human being. But during the final episode when Agent Grasso proclaims after hearing about the death of Tony's biggest enemy, "we're gonna win!" you sort of understand why we ended up rooting for a really nasty man.

It was also inhabited by unbelievably hateful and selfish characters - such as Olivia and Junior Soprano; Ralph Cifaretto; Phil Leotardi; Janice Soprano and Richie Aprile - all of which made the equally hateful and selfish Tony Soprano look like a man of the people. Yet, despite being a sociopath, Tony occasionally displayed moments of genuine tenderness - but you had to wait a long time between each of them.

Like I said, I was sorry to see Christopher go; but his story was perfect in many ways; he was Tony's protege, but he was also the most conscientious, the one who thought too much, the one who became trapped by his own mistakes. Equally, while Silvio Dante was portrayed to be almost clown like - a parody of the Godfather films - he also had an equally nasty edge to him. He did jobs, as Tony's #2, that Tony needed doing properly. Steve Van Zandt was excellent in the role, even if he did come across as totally 2 dimensional at times, but the same can be said for a number of the characters. Yet the likes of Paulie Galtieri, Bobby Baccalieri and Johnny Sac all had back stories that were explored, in depth, Sil was and remained essentially a mystery man - almost like Tony's shadow.

Which brings us to the final and I think pretty controversial finale episode. Much has been made of it; there are web pages devoted to the final episode; many more than for the entire series. There appears to be 2 schools of thought regarding the now infamous 'Don't Stop believing' final scene. There are those, like my wife, who believe that that final scene was symbolic. Tony arrives at the restaurant early - almost unheard of throughout the series - and he sits so he can see the door. There is a sense of ease, but also of menace. Tony is obviously worried about his family, but he is also clocking everyone that comes in. The tension is ramped up by a guy at the bar, who keeps looking at Tony, but also by the way everything seems to be set up like one of those classic mobster gets killed in the diner shots. Our feeling of dread is further heightened by Meadow's inability to park the car; further delaying her arrival and making Tony even more worried. It almost reaches breaking point as the guy at the bar stands up and walks towards Tony - is this it? But the guy walks passed and enters the Men's room. The conversation at the table is good natured; the family have come through a lot and there's much more to face. Tony just wants a night in peace with his family. When Meadow walks in, we cut to Tony's relieved face and the screen goes black and silent. 10 seconds pass and the credits roll. The school of thought believes that once she arrived, he relaxed and the cycle begins again. He is going to live the rest of his life fearing for himself and his family, but tonight all is well.
Then there's the other, almost more prevalent, school of thought that believes the moment Meadow walks into the diner, the guy who was looking at Tony emerges, off camera, and shoots Tony in the head - killing him just as Meadow is walking through the door. There are reams and reams of words, written by people who have analysed every aspect of the series and are convinced that the ending was the ending of Tony Soprano and as the series was from his Point Of View once he was dead there would be no point of view any longer.

Personally, I don't care. It was a fictional TV series about larger than life murderers, adulterers and unstable people. It was really enjoyable and quite painful at times, but isn't all good TV?

Would I recommend others who haven't seen it to watch it? Most certainly, but it is no way a fulfilling piece of television. It isn't like it leaves you empty; more like you don't care, because you struggle to find any character in the entire show even the slightest bit likable.

Personally, I like my TV shows about murderous psychopaths to be based in Miami. I think Dexter perhaps might have never been made if it hadn't been for The Sopranos, but unlike Tony, Dexter Morgan is likable - that's part of the show's charm - he doesn't want to be loved, but everyone does and there's not a lot he can do about it. Dexter returns tonight in the USA, this is something that makes the end of my holiday a little bit better.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Don't Stop (Discotheque)

As summer sinks slowly into the past, I had a day that in many ways couldn't have been much better. In fact, I've had two days that would grace the best holiday days I've had in this country.

Tuesday was a relatively exhausting day, because we crammed so much into it. It was also designed to be a dummy run for an idea I've been toying with. Every year, I see adverts for Mushroom Forays and most of them are in October. Not, in my experience, a particularly brilliant time of the year for finding either the variety or the really good eaters. Don't get me wrong, if we've had a mild and damp September and October then there's a good chance you'll get bucket loads of interesting specimens. You won't, unless the conditions are good, find the best this country and its side has to offer.

The idea was to a) see if I know my mushrooms b) if I could take two novices out with me and teach them how to do what I do and c) to make it a good enough experience to charge people for my time...

I know my mushrooms, but probably not well enough to come across as an expert. I know what's edible, what's not and what is but I wouldn't, but you're welcome to try it if you want. I don't think I succeeded in doing anything that really enthused my guinea pigs - I think they enjoyed it, but I don't know if it's something they'd do regularly. And the third part is, at the moment, probably a real no-no. I'm too bloody pumped up by the volume of mushrooms I've picked over the last 3 weeks and the amount I have dried and squirrelled away for the winter stews.

We found a place that I discovered the week before, when I came home with about a pound of scaly wood mushrooms and 3 wonderful agaricus augustus - or The Prince. We'd not had much rain and I was concerned that we wouldn't find much at all, but boy was I wrong. I filled the basket with wood mushrooms, Princes, scaly wood mushrooms and even a couple of small yellow cracked boletes, which make good eating before they get too big and spongy. This however was to be usurped by something which I will have photographic evidence of within the next couple of days!

I'm playing this a bit cagey, you see. Mushroom hunters are a bit precious about their places and while this place is very well known, I'm pretty sure that my kind are still in the minority. I also know what grows when and where, while most casual hunters take pot luck. I don't really want to tell you where I was, despite its size, but to be able to really tell you how I discovered the find of the day, it would be a dead give away. So, using a bit of unlikely artistic licence... I was climbing this very tall tree and I happened to look down and to my right I saw the biggest mushroom I have ever seen. I mean absolutely as big as a football and it wasn't a puffball!

After 'climbing down from the tree', I retraced my steps until I found it. I really expected it to be riddled with maggots or well old, but it was, amazingly, neither. It was a wood mushroom, which is related to a horse mushroom. It must have been as wide as a football and the stalk was at least 6 inches long. But, a photo was taken of it and it will find it's way here, soon enough.

After a couple of hours foraging, my back started to groan at me like a bastard, so we retired to a nearby hostelry and sat in the sun supping pints of Yorkshire Terrier. Later we finished second at the weekly quiz and thus ended what I described on Facebook as a 'proper holiday day'.

Wednesday was always planned to be our day at the seaside. We had intended to go and see my Godparents in Lincolnshire, but circumstances meant we had to change our plans; the wife decided that we ought to go to Heacham, because we love it and it has the Fox and Hounds, home of the Fox Brewery and a lovely stretch of The Wash beach, that the dogs go crazy for. So that's where we set off for at 9.45am.

After almost killing one of the dogs, in what would have been a crap start to the last day of summer, we made heavy going. It took us over 2 hours to get there (I've done it in 1 hour 40 mins back when I had the Seat) and my hips were screaming at me by the time we stopped. All the walking of the previous day was taking its toll. However, the sun was shining, the tide was right out and considering what a truly glorious day it was, there weren't that many people about and those that were were all armed with hounds!

I won't bore you with beach designers, malfunctioning steam cleaners, the cat incident, or the pint of Bullet I had that was brewed less than 20 feet from where I was drinking it, but we did discover that Marley will dive for rocks. I've only ever seen two dogs submerge themselves in the goal of retrieving, my big rangy mutt is the third. The other thing that's really worth mentioning was the UFO...

I'm standing on the beach, looking out to the sea - which was about 1 mile away and in the distance I saw something fairly low in the sky; it seemed to swoop down and then around and was this dark smudge on the horizon. "What the f...?" was my initial reaction. Then I realised what it was, as it twisted and turned in on itself, sometimes darkening, sometimes almost disappearing - it was a flock of birds fishing. One of those natural phenomena that is quite fleeting but sticks in the mind.

We found a relative short cut on the way home that effectively takes about 10 miles off of the journey; it could have been more had I been allowed to go cross country. We got home about 6 feeling absolutely buggered. The dogs were knackered and grubby and all that sea air had made me hungry and tired. It was a great day though, one of the better ones.

***

I'm friendly with a number of Indians and over the years I've also been friendly with a number of Pakistanis. The simmering dislike between the two countries has always been a puzzle to me; but cultural or religious differences have always been something I've had trouble accepting. One of the things about the Indians I know is that they are very disparaging about their neighbours. Over the years, I've heard many bad things about Pakistanis and dismissed them, the way you do. I'd never met a Pakistani that fitted any of the low-life descriptions I'd been given. That is except one.

When this cricket scandal business broke a few weeks ago, we got a stream of 'dignified' Pakistan officials renounce the allegations, dismiss them as unimportant, insist the players involved haven't been proven to have done any wrong doing and generally appear to throw the blame in as many directions as possible. Even resorting to the low tactic of counter-accusing the England team of throwing a match.

If India had been exposed as cheats in world cricket. The Indian cricket board would have suspended the players involved immediately; they would have attempted to offer no mitigating reasons or supportive gestures, they would have co-operated 101% with any authority and there would have been a general feeling of disgrace for the entire nation. Perhaps they picked up this trait from being occupied by the Brits for so long; if they did, it stayed. Some Pakistan cricketers have besmirched the good name of their country; some of their politicians, senior cricket officials and diplomats just made it worse.

***

On an early October day in 1982, I attended an event, which if it happened today, would have been considerably bigger and drier. In 1980, Peter Gabriel had been instrumental in launching WOMAD, but because of financial problems, it was in danger of bankrupting everyone involved. So, Gabriel contacted his old pals in Genesis and they reformed for a one-off concert in aid of WOMAD. It was held at the Milton Keynes Bowl on a cold, wet and windy day.

It started raining when we got there and continued on and off all day and night. It was one of those days where you really wanted to be anywhere else apart from outside in the rain in MK. There were a number of support bands playing that day, The Blues Band, John Martyn and a little known band from Essex. They were supporting 6 of the Best, the name this mega-Genesis line up were performing under.

With hindsight, the most ironic thing about this concert is that I went to see my favourite band of all time in a unique line-up and within a few years the little known support band from Essex had usurped Genesis to become my favourite band of all time!

It was an inauspicious start however. The band, who were due to open the event at 5pm, had just had their first Top 40 hit and were very possibly the wrongest band in the world for this event. Talk Talk were a pop band and very much being marketed by EMI in the same vein as Duran Duran.

The Bowl was full with thousands of hairy bikers and die hard prog rock addicts. this was during an era when pissing in a bottle and then heaving it into the middle of a crowd was common practice. I'd been to Knebworth in 1978 and seen the bikers and greebos throwing everything that came to hand at Devo and what Talk Talk got was almost as bad. They had more shit thrown at them than a communal toilet.

The sad thing was that I didn't really give them a fair crack of the whip. In fact, one of few memories of their show was when all seemed lost and the crowd were growing increasingly hostile to them, Mark Hollis joked that the next song would be Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun. I think he got hit on the side of the head by an apple. I was one of the many thousands of people yelling for them to get off the stage... Oh the irony...

In January 1983, I met the wife. By the spring of 1983, she had moved in with me. I often joke that my wife can't cook, that she learnt how to be awful in the kitchen from her mother. The very first time she ever cooked a meal for me was memorable for a number of reasons.

I think it was around April or May of 1984. I had a case of genuine influenza and she was busying herself around the house making sure that me and my lodger Rob, who also had the flu, were looked after. Neither of us had much of an appetite, but she insisted that she cook us something and opted for a spag bol as she'd seen me do it a number of times.

While she was in the kitchen, Rob and I had the cable television forerunner to MTV on. It was called The Box and essentially they had about 50 videos that they played over and over - at least that's how it seemed. this video came on from Talk Talk. We were both very unwell, bordering on delirium at times and this video left both of us feeling a bit weird. Neither of us were sure we liked the video, we were pretty much agreed that we didn't like the song. Dinner was horrible.

However, as we spent the next week alternating between sofa and armchair as we tried to get rid of the flu bug, this video played about twice a day and we often caught it. Our dislike started to change; I grew increasingly obsessed by the video, because there were things 'not quite right' about it and gradually the song started to inveigle its way into my head and heart. The first thing I did when the flu had gone was go to WH Smith and buy the 12" single. Such a Shame began its journey to become my favourite song of all time.

By the end of 1984, I was a fan. By the time the band split up, in 1992, they had transformed themselves from a synth pop Euro pop combo into the world's first post rock band, producing pieces of music so far removed from their debut single you would be hard pressed to believe it was written by the same man.

Like so many bands I fall in love with, they split up and unlike others have never got back together. Mark Hollis, possibly the greatest unsung hero of music history, released a solo album in 1998 and has disappeared into his estate in Suffolk, with his wife and his kids (who all must be pretty much grown up now). Hollis hated the music industry. He got shafted by it many times; but at least can know that he shafted it back with just as much gusto.

On the release of Spirit of Eden, EMI were horrified. The band who were on the verge of being massive, had released an album without a single and with a load of tracks that sounded like nothing they had ever expected. They put the record out on Parlaphone and expected it to whither and die. This is an interesting article by Alan McGee: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2008/apr/09/markhollis and it basically tells you all the things I could have.

12 years after Hollis' solo album and nearly 20 since the release of Laughing Stock, I still think of Talk Talk as my favourite band. This was kind of highlighted at the pub quiz on Tuesday. It's My Life was the final song in the music round and as it came on my arms went up, in salute. Hearing this classic record rounded off an almost perfect Tuesday and reminded me of a time when music really meant something.

***

What a load of Cobblers!

Could the ignominy of losing to the Arse, at home, on Tuesday, be erased? The League Cup is a bit of a Mickey Mouse competition and for the first time ever Spurs treated the competition the way many wished they would - by fielding a B team. They were eventually roundly thumped by an Arsenal team with more 1st team players in it than we did. I should be gutted; but I'm not. We can focus on the two competitions we need to at the moment - the Champions League and the Premiership.

However, last night, Northampton Town went a long way to making up every bad result ever. They knocked the once mighty Liverpool (known as The Red Shite in these parts) out of the League Cup, on penalties, after leading 2-1 until the last five minutes of extra time. Now, my hate for Liverpool is much less than it used to be; especially as the Fat Spanish waiter has departed for pastures new. I like Roy Hodgson; he's a nice guy. I think he's made a boo-boo.

***

I have had my new PC a couple of months. I like it 99% of the time. My new keyboard is a pain. It's considerably smaller than my last keyboard or any other keyboard I've used for that matter and I'm still struggling to come to terms with it. I rarely write a single sentence without a typo, because my stubby fingers catch other keys. I'd change back, but my old keyboard is knackered and I figure I might as well just get used to this one rather than go through the process all over again. So, if you spot the occasional 'bhajism' or more commonly 'top' instead of 'to'; then you now know its down to my keyboard and not because I'm stupid.

Still can't quite work out how I missed 'bhajism' - what with it's bright red jagged line under it! Nice word though; bet it goes well with a nice creamy chicken korma...

***

As it is now officially autumn, I have an excuse to be miserable for the next 6 months.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Little Fluffy Clouds

Sport. Mainly cricket.

My family returned back from Canada in the autumn of 1969. Where I had been an incredibly healthy kid in North America, the damp and moist English winter did me no good whatsoever. In fact, my Godmother cried when she received my first school photo - she thought I looked really ill. Looking at that old photo - I did look really ill...

Because I was only 6½ when we came home, I hadn't really gotten into that much sport. I was terrible at skating so ice hockey - almost a religion in Canada during the winter - was ruled out, so I took an interest in baseball. In the months before we flew back to the UK, I was involved in a local little league. So when I returned to Blighty it wasn't football that I was attracted to, but this peculiar game called cricket - one that my family seemed ill-equipped to explain what it was.

We had moved to Daventry by that time and in early 1970, my mum liked going to Rugby and even Leamington and Coventry, to look around the shops. My earliest memories of living there was going out towards these places every weekend. Therefore, I spent my first couple of years living in Daventry thinking it was in Warwickshire. Subsequently, when the cricket season started, I adopted Warks.

Amazingly enough I can still reel off a host of famous ex-Warwickshire players: Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharran, Denis Amiss, Bob Willis, Gladstone Small - the list, I promise you, goes on far too long. So, you can gather, despite receiving some ridicule for thinking I lived somewhere I didn't, I stayed loyal to Warwickshire. I never really warmed to Northants, perhaps it was because they've always been perennially crap. Arguably, you could say that I've never been that loyal to the county of most of my life. I used to support Wasps at rugby union, until i saw the error of my ways and I've sort of followed Rushden and Diamonds as my second team since they came into existence during the '90s. I do follow the fortunes of the Cobblers, and I like to see them do well, but, you know...

Anyhow, there have been so real highs and lows with Warks. For much of this season just finished, I would look at the daily scores and after a great start to the season - 2 wins out of 2 - this once mighty team proceeded to lose just about every game that wasn't rain affected. With two matches to go, there was a great chance they would be relegated back to the dungeon of division 2. Then they won the last two games and avoided relegation handsomely; they had done well in limited overs cricket all season, but managed to beat Somerset in the Clydesdale 40 over trophy at the weekend and have finished the season on a high when it could have gone terribly tits up.




Toccata and Fugue in D Minor

Between 5 and 6% of the population isn't a huge amount. Not in practical terms, at least. In 2009, there was an estimated 3.5 to 4million vegetarians residing in the UK.

I was in Stamford on Friday, absolutely stunningly lovely town, especially on a sunny day (pubs are a bit suspect, mind) and we were looking around the market - a huge sprawling affair that winds through the town centre streets and makes Northampton's once famous cobbled market look like a really big waste of space. It reminded me of Chapel Street market in Islington, where my great grandmother owned a shellfish stall. It had a real cosmopolitan feel about it and stalls selling things from all over the world.

We spied an 'authentic curry stall' and were drawn to it. A guy was selling Indian takeaways in microwavable dishes; rice, bhajis and samosas. He had a big selection and was doing a roaring trade. The only thing he was offering that was suitable for vegetarians were these humongous onion bhajis - everything else had either chicken or lamb in it.

Just up the road was this swanky Asian Fusion place - actually looking just a little too contemporary for Stamford - and we looked over the menu. I did a bit of mental arithmetic and totted up 70 items on the menu. There were 3 vegetarian main courses and, not counting breads, rice or noodles - nothing else on the menu that was suitable to a genuine vegetarian or vegan. I wouldn't have wanted to eat there even if it had been appealing, because there is zero guarantee that the vegetarian food will have been prepared away from the meat.

Pedantic? Yes. But I'm a vegetarian for a reason, not just a laugh. I had a vegan friend, who is sadly no longer with us, who refused to listen to me - would stick her fingers in her ears and go la-la-la - if I tried to tell her that every Friday, when she treated her family to chips from the local chippy, that the chips, she was going to scoff, were fried in the same oil as the fish, the chicken, the saveloys, the sausages and any other deep fried mammalian-based delicacy that is on offer.

No. I don't eat fish. If I ate fish I wouldn't be a vegetarian. If I had to have a label - because I'm not a vegan - it would be Lacto-vegetarian, because I eat milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs - bi-products of animals, either natural or processed. My argument is simple - you don't need to slit a cow's throat to get a pint of milk from it (yes, I am aware that milk is intensively bad for cows and isn't strictly natural to have a mammal lactating 365 days a year, especially when its not in calf, but...) and I don't need to kill and dismember my ducks to get eggs - they lay them whether I ask for them or not.

I don't eat most shop bought desserts. A huge percentage of them contain the words 'pork gelatine', sometimes 'beef' and occasionally, if you can believe this and in the case of Heinz's Treacle sponge pudding - fish oil! I don't know about you meat eaters, but the idea of mackerel sponge pudding with custard isn't that appealing (unless you're pregnant or a bit sick). However, it's the inclusion of gelatine in things that, in my humble opinion, means the manufacturers' miss out on that 5% of the market. Because the 5% of the market are genuine vegetarians and vegans, not weekend warriors or people who think by having jacket spud and beans once a week they're being 'veggie'.

Actually, that reminds me of someone else, who is also no longer with us. He always refused to come round our house for dinner, claiming that he could stomach vegetarian food, yet his favourite dinner was the aforementioned jacket and beans. He would argue that it wasn't vegetarian food it was just food. which technically is correct but technically it isn't meat either, so semantics don't win this one, baby.

My vegan friend with the chip shop thing was just relaxing her beliefs for something she loved. I won't condone it - I have chips from a chip shop, once or twice a year and I occasionally eat in restaurants where I really can't vouch whether or not my food was cooked in a pan that had had meat cooked in it and was maybe not washed properly.
I once found a small piece of Char-sui pork in a mushroom fried rice; it was a shame as I patronised the takeaway for years and they knew I was a strict vegetarian - I have never been back. Nor have I ever been back to the Star of India in Northampton, ever since my vegetable samosa was actually a lamb one - and while it was a restaurant run by Muslims, who aren't veggies, they know enough to know better!

About twice a year, I actually get a FISH and chip craving - it's normally when I go to the coast and smell that sea air mingled with the nearby chippy. I've yet to cave in.

Plus, in the 15+ years since I gave up meat entirely, I've noticed one thing above all else - have you noticed how bloody expensive it is for meat and fish nowadays? Jesus Harry Christ, it's incredible what you people will pay for good cuts of meat. Which leads me nicely to the enigma that is vegetarian food in restaurants. Before I get into the lack of imagination and choice, what about the cost? In 80% of establishments I've been in, the vegetarian option is comparable in price to the meat options! But it's not just restaurants, what about supermarkets? In Sainsbury's last week and they've introduced this new vegetarian lattice pie jobby - looked interesting and maybe worth a try. That was until I noticed it was the same price as a pie pertaining to have 'the finest' beef in it. Since when does potatoes, a few vegetables and some cheese cost more than a piece of Aberdeen Angus steak? You are, of course right, it doesn't, ever.

It's like the Pope's visit. Catholics represent 9.6% of the UK's population. That's almost double the amount of vegetarians. We paid for Pope Nazi-Pin-Up-Boy XVI's visit. Everybody paid for 9.6% of the population's absurd anachronistic dogma. Incredibly, but I don't know how accurate the figures are, but there are only 3.7% of childless couples in the UK; even so, these people have to contribute to the education of your children. People supporting fox hunting ranged between 10% and 55% of the population, depending on which side of the argument you spoke to. The reality is that less than 1% of the population were actively involved in the blood sport. Actual figures suggest the number is closer to 0.01% of the population of the UK. Have you noticed the number of things in a supermarket designed for one person? Outside of the wonderful things like Pot Noodle or cup a soup, how often do you see a single piece of meat on the pre-packed counter? Always two and "fuck you if you haven't got room in your freezer, you shouldn't be so sad to be on your own" is what the supermarket is saying to the 13 million people who are single and over 18 in the UK. 13 million? What's that? About 18% of the population. Nearly a fifth.

I heard from a militant friend of mine that at least 1% of the top 1000 earners in this country avoid paying tax - in a at present legal way - and that unpaid money amounts to the tax paid by 13 million people on low wages. It seems fanciful and slightly unreal; but Yaya Toure, who plays for Man Citeh is currently pocketing before tax the grand sum of £225,000 per week. That's £12 million a year. He's not even the best footballer in the world.

One good bit of news is that empty allotments places have dropped by almost 100% in the last five years. 10 years ago allotments were under huge threat, now they are as safe as the houses that surround them. Good news for fans of vegetables. You can see yourself how cheap and easy it is to grow your own veg. Growing your own produce gives us back one thing we've lost - odd shaped carrots, weird spuds, wonky runner beans, British grown green beans, lettuces with slugs, pathetic onions, scabby apples, bent peppers and unbelievably tasty soft fruits - nothing is uniform when you grow your own and it looks and tastes better for it. Someone I know who belongs to the local allotment society claims there are approx 65,000 allotments in the country and a skim round the 'net seems to confirm this. What this has to do with the rest I'm not totally sure about - just more spurious percentages; but the point is if you own an allotment, are a footballer, support Catholicism or are childless, you aren't regarded as some kind of freak, which is the general consensus that, I'd say, 90% of vegetarians get for not eating dead animal.

[An aside: at its height Big Brother was viewed by about 8.5% of the population. If you were an alien and landed on earth at that time and had nothing but newspapers to educate you, you would have believed that it was the most important thing happening, not just in Britain, but the entire planet. In a four week period during 2004, the program amassed almost twice as many column inches in all newspapers than any other single story!]

Vegetarians are not just treated like weirdos. They are also treated with no imagination or respect. In some societies, people who don't eat meat are honoured. You rarely go into any restaurant and find a vegetarian dish that has had some thought gone into it. Many places still seem to think that a sloppy vegetable lasagne is acceptable. Buddhists and Hindus - Chinese and Indians, both (mainly) vegetarians and yet walk into a Chinese or 'Indian' restaurant and regardless of how much is on offer, there is a lack of imagination or, dare I say it, urgency to please. "Oh, he's a vegetarian, they're all hippies who treat carrots like gods".

Most cuisines will cater for non-meat eaters in some fashion. In Poland, I found that my meal was the most expensive on the menu (and possibly the most disgusting to to be honest) - it was a bolete stew made with locally picked mushrooms. It was a bit like how I'd imagine a slug casserole to be like in consistency, not taste. I struggle to find anything in France and the Germans seem to struggle with the concept of why people wouldn't want to eat meat. Friends in the States reckon being a veggies is easy over there unless you want to go out to a restaurant, then it's more difficult for them than it is for us.

Amazingly, despite millions of people in India not eating meat (approx 58% of all households is vegetarian), the estimated total percentage for veggies worldwide is... 5.8%.

Obviously this figure would be higher if the conglomerations that run the world weren't constantly thrusting the need for us to consume dead animals - we even throw new science at it and insist that meat and fish is better for you because it has Omega 3 in it. BFD.

One last thing. I actually liked meat. I didn't stop because I didn't like it (the wife's reason) or because I was politically motivated; I stopped because I didn't want to contribute to the death of an animal to fill my stomach when something I could grow would suffice.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Glass Onion (part B)

Chilli Paneer

This is a new one for me, despite having enjoyed it in restaurants for years. It's actually quite simple, but can be a bit fiddly if you want to do it right.

A slab of paneer
1 large onion - diced
5 cloves of garlic - obliterated
1½ in chunk of ginger, shredded
3 green chillies - sliced or chopped
assorted chopped capsicum peppers - green and yellow are the preferred in restaurants, but red works equally well.
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cornflour
1 cup of water

3 scallions
½ stalk of celery - chopped very finely
A good handful of coriander leaf
3 green finger chillies

Method

Cube your paneer, then fry it gently in some butter until golden on all sides. Then drain and put in a bowl and cover with warm water.

In a pan, add your ginger, chillies and fry for about a minute - hot pan. Add you onion, peppers and eventually your garlic. Fry but don't overcook. When you're happy that everything is getting cooked, but still has some crunch, add your tomato puree and soy sauce, mix together until you have a thick coated mess in the bottom of your pan. Mix cornflour with a cup of water and chuck it into your mixture, stirring all the time until it starts to thicken. If it gets too thick add some more water, or a squirt of lemon juice.

Cook for a further minute or so, to cook out the cornflour, then add chopped coriander, thinly sliced spring onions and celery, stir together and turn out onto plates.

Goes exceptionally well with mogo chips - deep fried cassava chips - and/or chapatis or unleavened bread. Also goes very well in pitta breads with a bit of crispy green salad.


Lentil & Vegetable 'Lasagne'

Another recipe the wife road-tested and I... perfected.

This is a weird one because it really depends on what you have in your store cupboard and what's seasonal. There appears to be summer and winter variations on this and to be honest whatever you have in the fridge can work with this. But here's the one I did a week ago.

6 oz lentils - preferably brown or puy
Boil these in 10 fl oz of water with two bay leaves and a clove of garlic cut in half - discard these when the water is all but gone.

1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
1 carrot - sliced then quartered
½ stick of celery - chopped finely
9 medium sized mushrooms (I used wild ones recently, but bog standard ones will do) - chopped but not too big
1 pepper - red or green depending on your tastes - chopped evenly, but bigger than your mushrooms.
1 courgette (I chopped this into slices and then quartered them and stuck them in with the mixture just before
1 tin of tomatoes, or a carton of pollpa (finely chopped toms from Sainsbury's), or, if you want to be clever, get about 6 large, ripe tomatoes, stick in a dish, splash some olive oil and black pepper on them and shove in a hot oven for about 40 minutes, until they are nothing like they went in. Shove these in a blender with some torn fresh basil or a teaspoon of dried, placed in an egg cup of hot water to sort of reconstitute, and then blitzed. Add a touch of tomato puree if the colour is a bit anaemic.
1 good sized glug of red wine (if you have it, don't open one just for this; some stock - vegetable - will do at a pinch)
1 slab of pizza mozzarella or a nice fat chunk of buffalo mozzarella and some gruyere - grated

Fry onions, garlic, carrots, celery in some oil until tender, add mushrooms, peppers and fry some more, then add the lentils, the tomatoes, and the courgettes and cook until it starts to look as though it's blending together. Season if required and add more fresh basil it's lacking.

Get a nice high sided lasagne dish, put a layer of the cooled mixture on the bottom, spread out, put sheets of lasagne over and repeat until you nearly reach the top of the dish. Then cover with your sliced mozzarella and throw some grated gruyere (or mature cheddar) over the top. Shove in a hot oven, at the top so the cheese gets a nice crust on it and serve with a green salad or a jacket potato.


Pan-fried gnocchi with spicy tomato sauce & mozzarella

Essentially, I found gnocchi dull and boring; then I bought some again for the first time in years and thought I'd do something different with it.

If I make my own gnocchi, I start by taking about 2lbs of floury potatoes and sticking them in an oven ala jacket spuds. When they are done, I split them in half and spoon out the cooked potatoes, then mash this up with some butter, pepper (white this time) and salt. I then add an egg and beat that in, then about 300g of flour. Sieve it in and mix gradually to avoid floury lumps. Then, make it into a dough and make your gnocchi shapes. I, however, sometimes add some dried herbs or some spinach puree or even some chopped up oven roasted red peppers; just to give it something else. Boil in water for about 3 minutes and then drain and leave on the side to cool off and dry.

You can either blitz a tin of plum toms or roast a half dozen vine ripened ones in them oven for about 30 minutes - 200 degrees - with a little olive oil and seasoning. Once blitzed, add to a pan where you have been sauteeing:

1 small onion or shallot
½ dozen chopped mushrooms
1 diced courgette
1 red pepper, cut into strips.

Add some torn up basil and cook for about 2 mins on a medium heat - until its bubbling away.
Season.

Get a nice big ball of buffalo mozzarella or a nice fat chunk of any cheap soft mozzarella and slice up into rounds. Place these at intervals around the pan and then remove from the heat and shove under a hot grill until the cheese has melted and it's starting to go crispy on top.

Serve with fresh bread and some chilled rosé.

***

Next time: a bitching vegetable dahl, a cottage pie for lazy veggies (ish) and a samosa pie!

Us versus Them (part 3)

How many England football fans wish that Gareth Bale had been English? A good part of them would be my guess. Gareth Bale began his career at Southampton, along with Theo Walcott. Walcott chose Arsenal, Bale went to Spurs. Obvious then which one was the better player, eh?

To suggest that a player who pulled on a Spurs shirt for over 20 games without being on the winning side could be now regarded as one of the best left sided footballers in the world seems far fetched; but there are some pundits who believe Bale is just that.

In the spring, regardless of how well Spurs are doing, it won't be transfer speculation surrounding Rafael Van Der Vaart, Luca Modric, Robbie Keane or Aaron Lennon; it will be focused on Bale. In some peoples eyes he's worth in excess of £20,000,000 already. If he continues in the same vein he's started the season, that could easily double and then Spurs well structured money making machine will have to ask some serious questions about whether it has real ambition.

Bale has already scored arguably the goal of the season - the volley against Wolves from neck height. He has torn some great defenders new arse holes week in and out and he's only just 21. No wonder there are fan sites sprouting up as far as field as Italy and Malaysia. The boy is a revelation.

He showed that as Spurs rode out comfortable 4-1 winners against FC Twente in the Champions League. To be fair, the result was aided by two dubious penalty claims, but the stone wall penalty was won by Bale, who then went on to score a sublimely wonderful goal, when Spurs down to 10 men, seemed to be playing better football than when they had 11.

Discussing with Roger about Spurs' hopes of retaining Champions League football next season; we were both of the opinion that, despite the indifferent starts of every team focusing on 4th spot, it's going to be a wish too far. The only way they can realistically qualify is to win it. The thing is, the pundits were all saying that for Spurs to improve they have to keep world class players like Van Der Vaart and Modric and to do that they have to finish at least 4th in the EPL. They need to ensure they keep Gareth Bale more than anything else, because he really is world class and if he stays free from injury will only get better.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mondo Bondage

Despite sound advice from a number of friends, I failed to kick my Haven habit and I sat and watched the latest episode the other evening. It was, quite possibly, the worst episode so far, if that was possible. It was so bad, I'm not even going to bother highlighting the bad bits, because I'm pretty sure there will eventually be a drinking game called Haven Inconsistencies, at which I will die of alcohol poisoning.

Haven's biggest problem, apart from that its utter crap, is it feels as though it has been made by people who don't know how to make television. The Gates might be a major network attempt to cash in on True Blood, but at least the people who make it know how to make television. Rhona Mitra might be the worst actor in the world, but at least the production values disguise this some what (and this is a show with zero budget for SFX).

Last night, I settled down to watch a show that had just received the accolade of being the most watched show on US TV that was written and produced by Canadians. What significance this has to anything is beyond me. I will though stick my neck out and suggest that by the time the viewing figures come in for the second episode, it may be the lowest watched TV show written and produced by Canadians.

Lost Girl is the sloppy seconds of the current horror TV genre. Lost Girl makes Haven seem like an Academy Award nominee. Lost Girl is actually so bad, I'm not going to watch any more.

The opening episode was jaw-droppingly abysmal and was riddled with so many holes they could have just called the show Swiss Cheese. It begins with a slimy bar hound attempting to chat a barmaid up; he buys two drinks, slips a rohipnal in one and offers it to the barmaid, saying he bought it for her. She declines, saying its against company policy to drink while behind the bar. Disgruntled, the would be date rapist turns his attention to the rest of the bar and spots a pretty blond, who we know is actually a pickpocket. He offers her the drink; she downs it and splits. Mr Rapist follows and as she succumbs to the drug, he begins his moves. Out of nowhere appears the girl behind the bar, the one who declined the drink. She comes on strong with Mr Rapist and eventually drains the life out of him through a passionate kiss. Our heroine is a succubus!

What followed was a hotch-potch of half-arsed ideas, never explored and replaced with unbelievable dialogue; wooden characters and really bad acting. The succubus - Bo - is a stunningly attractive brunette, except, she's not stunningly attractive. Anna Silk looks a little like your plain next door neighbour put through a Gok Wan treatment and remodelled to look a bit like Kate Beckinsale in Underworld. She refers to herself as hot; a doctor tells her she is unbelievably beautiful and people - male or female - look at her with lust pouring out of them. She isn't. Perhaps this is the in joke of the show or perhaps it isn't.

Lost Girl is gritty - someone says 'shitty' and there's a hint of nudity. The sidekick speaks Russian and is sponsored by iPhones. The bad guys (?) all. Talk. Like. THAT! And get this, the strange creatures in the show, including Bo the succubus, are all Fae - the name for 'a superior offshoot of the human race'. The Fae are better than humans, much much better, and a damned more civilised. So, when Bo becomes known to them, what do they do? They put her through a series of ordeals designed to kill her. A big monster man with hammers and a guy with long fingers that tries to convince you to die. Mind and body tests, which Bo completes easily, then tells the baddies to stuff their offer and walks away. Despite having been in chains for most of the scenes.

It's not just bad, its awful. Anna Silk, the star, makes Jaime Murray (of Hustle, Dexter and Warehouse 13) appear like Dame Judy Dench's equal; her potential love interest is a hybrid of Chris Martin and Yosemite Sam and there's another character who talks like he's got a poo sticking out of his arse and is desperate not to drop a load in his pants.

It wasn't even funny. I should have laughed at it unique awfulness, but it was so dire that even my irony bone had gone to sleep. I mentioned The Gates, the main reason for that was because in it there is a character called Andi. She's a 15 year old horny young thing who just happens to be a succubus. Her section of the Gates' rambling character list gets about 6 minutes air time a week, but her story of a succubus struggling to come to terms with her 'ailment' is so much better and thought out than Lost Girl. Plus Skyler Samuels is a certainty for bigger things in her future.

Avoid Lost Girl even if you think you could do with a laugh. It will have you wondering how shit like this gets commissioned in the first place and makes you scream at the TV - I could do better than that!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Glass Onion (part A)

This is going to sound conceited. At least I hope it doesn't.

I get asked, a lot more often than you'd expect, for recipes. Specifically vegetarian recipes that I have (ahem) perfected over the last 20 years. With one exception - this being Lu who bi-annually asks me for my turkey soup recipe.

Just the other day, the wife said, "Can you write down blah blah blah for blah at work?"

So, I decided that perhaps I could, you know, universally do them, rather than scrawl my spidery writing across a tatty bit of paper that will eventually get lost or incorporated into some bad cook's latest evil creation - accidentally, I hope.

So, to kick this off, here are three house faves...

Saag Paneer (or spinach and cheese)

1 large onion
1 inch chunk of fresh ginger
4 cloves of garlic
3 medium sized tomatoes - softer and redder the better.
1 300g or as near as damn it bag of spinach
1 packet of paneer - approx £1.75 worth
A good handful of coriander leaves

That's your basic ingredients. You can substitute the paneer with potatoes or even chicken if you really want to stick intensively reared creatures in your food.

You will also need:
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
½tsp turmeric
¼tsp chilli powder (more if you like it hotter, but not much more, this is a) a dish about flavour and b) once you put over a certain amount of chilli in anything it doesn't really get any hotter, it just starts to taste of chilli powder.)
2 tsp garam masala - now, I actually find Natco GM really good value and just aromatic enough; there are other good makes, if you don't want to make your own. I do however add
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp asafoteida (optional - my own jury is still out over whether I can taste a difference when I remember to use it)
salt - more than you'd imagine, but I'll not tell you how much, you need to work that out for yourself.
½ tsp mustard seeds - white or black, or use fennel seeds to give it a slightly different taste.
Oil (or ghee or butter)
Water or milk or cream

The method:

Fry chopped onions and ginger until golden, add all your spices except the garam masala and then fry gently until you start seeing the oil again - now coloured by the spices. Add your chopped tomatoes, garlic (never at the start or it will burn) and garam masala and cook this down until it makes a sauce that essentially looks like a curry. Now, you could add some cooked vegetables and some water to this and make a perfectly good curry as it stands, but...
Put your spinach in a bowl, cover and microwave for 3½ minutes, then let it stand to one side.
In a separate frying pan, get some butter, some cumin seeds and heat until the seeds are beginning to frizzle. Then add your cubed paneer chunks and fry gently, being careful not to burn it, because it burns quite easily. When you've gently fried most of the sides, transfer this and the butter and seeds straight into your masala mixture in the other pan - which you've reduced the heat on or turned off, depending on how cooked it is.
Mix the lot together and leave to steep. Get the spinach, and a spatula and go to the sink. You want to squeeze the excess water out of it, but not mangle it. There should be about half a cup of slightly brownish green water collecting in the bottom of the bowl, discard this, or put it in a jug. Then put the spinach into a blender with the coriander leaf and blitz the living daylights out of it. you want something that looks like Regan from the Exorcist spewed at Damien Karras! A kind of vibrant green smoothie. Add this to the other mixture and stir it together. you'll notice that the spinach takes over.
If it is too thick, you can always put a little milk into the blender container and swirl out the left over spinach and add that to make it a little thinner - if you need to; sometimes there's a lot of moisture in the spinach and it isn't needed. Right at the end after you've heated the mixture through, you can add a dollop of cream, just to give it a creamier consistency. I often use a bit of milk, sometimes I don't bother. depends on the kind of flavour I fancy.

You can also towards the end of cooking throw in some sliced green finger chillis, ala your local Bengali restaurant. I don't, but I know people that do.

Have it with some boiled rice and a naan.

Cheese and Lentil Loaf

I can't take any credit for inventing the above recipe, nor can I for this, which is a variation of a Sarah Brown recipe that the wife adapted to suit her tastes and I've since tweaked.

6 oz red lentils cooked till soft and pease puddingy consistency.
3 oz strong mature cheddar - grated
1 small onion or shallot - chopped finely
some fresh seasonal herbs - chopped
an egg - optional
red pepper - chopped up relatively small
a slug of wine

Fry your onions and red pepper until they start to look cooked, you can add some wine to this while its frying. Put to one side. If your lentils are cooked correctly and all the water is gone, you should be able to whip it up into a sort of mashed potato consistency, when you done this, add the cheese and continue beating it like you would a cake mixture. Add your herbs and the onions and peppers, with the oil they cooked in and mix together again. Then leave to stand until cool.
Now, you can add the egg now, which will help it rise in the oven, or if you want to go vegan leave it out, the loaf will be a little heavier, but if you're using it as an alternative to a Sunday roast, then this works very well. If you want to use it with a salad, or as a pate styled sandwich filler, the egg makes it more user friendly - malleable.
Bung the mixture into a greased loaf tin or a Pyrex dish and stick it in a hot oven - about 190 degrees - for about 45 minutes, but sometimes it needs up to an hour. Leave it to stand for a little while before attempting to turn it out or take slices from it. It needs to firm up a little.

Goes well with loads of things and is very versatile.

Phil's Chilli non carne

Most people do a chilli; most people think their chilli is the dog's bollocks. The best chilli I ever had wasn't in Mexico, it was in a pub called the Britannia in Northampton, a couple of months before I got married! I've never had a meat or veggie version anywhere that compared to this since. But, I've honed my vegetable chilli to the point where I think it is my best meal. My signature dish, as it were. Nothing posh or poncy, just good solid tasty food with a kick.

Now, this is also one of the few recipes where I advocate the use of quorn. Personally, I'm not a big fan of it. I think, in general,. it reminds me of spam with all but the essence of flavour taken out. but, the mince works for me big time, even if people criticise me for having a meat substitute. To my knowledge no animals died making quorn, unless they were fed the initial batches and had adverse reactions to a substance that is pretty horrible in its production. I've heard quorn referred to a Vegetarian Soylent Green.

This recipe works well with quorn, or alternatively with a selection of mixed pulses, soya mince - if you want to subject yourself this this... substance or chunky cut root vegetables. It's one of those fantastic one-pot meals and over the years I've discovered the best thing to do with it is just chuck it all in at the same time and cook it. Don't ponce about. This is something that takes 20 minutes to prepare and you leave it. As long as it doesn't stick or burn and keeps most of its liquid, the longer you cook this and then leave it to steep, the tastier it is.

1 large onion - chopped finely
3 cloves garlic - smashed to bits
2 red chillies or ½ tsp chilli powder
tin of red kidney or pinto beans - drained and rinsed
tin of tomatoes - blitzed in a blender
1 tsp cumin powder
chopped mixed peppers - as much or as little as you want (optional)
chopped mushrooms - ditto as above and also optional
a squirt of marmite
½ tsp stock powder - low salt preferably
black pepper and salt
Tomato puree - if needed

AND... if you're feeling very adventurous, you could grate a couple of chunks of high cocoa content chocolate into it or some cocoa powder. If you do though, balance it out with ½ tsp of cinnamon.

Fry your onions and your cumin, add your garlic and fry a little longer, add your vegetables or fungus, fry for about another minute and then chuck everything else in - tomatoes, kidney beans, stock, marmite and if it looks a little anaemic then put a tablespoon of tomato puree in it as well. Stick the lid on, turn it down as long as it can go and leave it for at least two hours - stirring occasionally.

Goes well with brown basmati rice, Morrison's Nacho Cheese tortilla chips, chopped raw onion or fresh crusty bread. Keeps well; freezes well and any non-quorn variation is vegan friendly.

Next time

When I can be arsed, I have a couple of pasta dishes to share, another 2 curry dishes, how to make the tastiest chicken and mushroom pie without the chicken you could imagine; my now almost famous samosa pie - which is a kind of cross between Indian samosas, Punjabi samosas and a Beef Wellington (but obviously without the beef!) and a pasta starter to compete with anything the top chefs can come up with!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's All Too Much

Get your head around this:
These archaeological finds of recent months have been pretty incredible. Things from thousands of years ago and things from a couple of hundred years ago.
Now, how many of you have been to the coast? Specifically the Jurassic Coast line or the south coast in general? There's some big cliffs, yes? You know how some of these cliffs vary in colour and shade as they go up? That's different levels of the earth at different times in its life.
Now think about some of the finds in the UK recently that are between a 1000 and 2000 years old and think about the fact they are a couple of feet below a farmer's field.
At the very bottom of my garden is a bit of waste ground; about three feet deep with a fence and another 3 feet after that to the garden that backs onto ours, where they also have a fence. When my dad and I erected that fence in 2001, we filled the gap between the new fence and the neighbours fence with just about every bit of garden refuse we'd cleared from the recently tidied up garden. Twigs, branches, leaves, roots, bricks, stones, bits of rusty metal - you name it, we chucked it behind the fence. It was packed out so much, it started to make the fence bow and we ended up having to drive metal spikes into the ground to stop the fence from caving forwards back onto our garden.
Now, stick with me because I'm getting there. Yesterday evening, I was down the bottom of the garden trying to work out how I could have a safe bonfire, especially as I have a fireman next door and I noticed that the path which went down the side of this bit of garden wasn't there any more. I grabbed my shovel and scraped off a good three inches of soil, loam and perfectly usable natural compost. I thought that it was quite extraordinary that so much earth could accumulate in so little time. this made me think that I'd not looked over the fence for about 5 years.
In many respects, I'm amazed that the fence is still standing, considering what sits on both sides of it. Piled up against it on my side of the fence is three years worth of shrubbery, and very much the same thing that went over the other side.
The fence is six feet tall and in 2002 the debris behind it reached to within touching distance of the top. My initial intention was that it was a deterrent for anyone trying to gain access to my house via the back. In 2010, there is nearly 5 feet of fence visible. Everything, even the wood, has broken down, rotted and compacted down.
The point I'm trying to illustrate is that if you look at the way composting works on a global scale, the earth is getting bigger and it makes me wonder what the topography of the planet will look like in a thousand years. How much of what we walk on today will be two feet higher?

An idea I've been working on recently is set 100million years in Earth's future, when scientists believe that all the continents, which are continuously moving, will slowly crash back into each other and form a kind of new Pangea, turning the Atlantic into a massive inland ocean and leaving a huge Pacific ocean covering half of the planet. It made me wonder if there is anything that exists today that would be recognisable in the year 100,000,000AD?

It is obviously something in the realms of science fiction, but you'll be lucky to find any 'knowledgeable' person even contemplating it. Do a Google search and you'll find very little aside from the New Pangea theory and a few really crap nerd sites. You're lucky if you can find any one theorising on what the planet will be like in a million years time, so I suppose it's understandable. But, if you work on the premise that there's a bout 150 feet of the past, in layers, below our feet, then our houses and buildings, if they survived that long, would be buried completely by general build up of planet detritus.

Nice.

***

The Pope's visit is costing us £12million even before the policing bill comes in. That's £12million of tax payers money for a man who represents only the Catholics in this country. Not the Christians, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Jews, the atheists, the Mormons, the JWs or any other religious (or not) group. He is also a man who will not condemn priests who devalue the frock by fiddling with kids.

The wife said tonight, "He looks like an SS officer. It's those cold, dead eyes..."

***

Joke of the day from my mate Paul:

My boss said he's going to fire the employee with the worst posture.
I've got a hunch it might be me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mainstream

Leicester...

After five days of seemingly being stapled to the toilet, I woke up this morning feeling vaguely human again. I could, quite easily, give you all a running commentary about the state of my ablutions; but I figure what you really want is tales of good food, humid days and road rage. So here goes...

The wife took her car to be serviced and we decided that we'd have a day without the hounds. Go up to one of our favourite shopping destinations and get some, on the cheap, retail therapy done.

I've been going to Leicester for over 25 years; the first time was with our friends Graham and Clare, before they emigrated to Australia - in 1987. The place (and I hadn't discovered the Indian quarter then) was everything that Shoesville and its surrounding dens of iniquity have to offer.

Sadly, today,. I gave the wife a headache. I moaned about the number of Starbucks, then the number of Subways, then the number of other fast food, coffee and new takeaways that seem to have sprung up in the 5 months since I last went there. I mentioned to a friend earlier that Sheffield has seemed like a vast building site for the last 20 years; well Leicester appears to be going through its own redevelopment and I'm worried that the soul might have been allowed to get out and run for Bradgate Park to live its last days galloping around then fields and woods.

We were in the city centre for only about an hour. The market, normally a haven for the weird, wonderful and fresh seemed almost homogenised - the wife commented that there was a film crew wandering around - perhaps they tarted the place up for this? But... An hour? Only an hour? Yep, Leicester appears to be turning into a clone of every other medium sized city. Each town/city centre has the same shops, the same pedestrian areas and the same vibe. If I was a shopaholic fashion freak with an addiction to caffeine, burgers, beer and mobile phones, it would be heaven. However, I'm not (beer excepted).

I was itching to get to the Belgrave Road area. I feel more at home there, I even commented that perhaps, in a past life, I might have been Indian. I never get tired of the place, despite it having a propensity for jewellers and pizza parlours that offer Indian toppings! There is a vibrancy about the place that you can almost touch and the people will stand and chat with you, pass the time of day or give you directions without a scowl or a frown. The English could learn a thing or two about Leicester. We bought a load of nibbles - samosas, pakoras, potato bhajis, some kind of chips with spicy gram flour coating, some totally authentic naan breads and I did something I've never done before. I bought a jar of Indian pickle - a hot chilli, carrot and mango one. I have this thing about pickles. I like the odd pickled onion or jar of red cabbage, but chutneys and pickles are something I just can't get on with. Dunno why. But I figured I'd give it a go. The good thing is that if I don't like it, my mate Roger will! So, it won't be £2.50 down the drain.

Despite the fact I've just been drenched in a monster rain shower, the earlier part of the day was overcast but warm - humid even. We've always been blessed with excellent September weather for our hols and this year it looks like the exception to the rule. I'd argue with my last breath against anyone who says we've had a good summer. If the last four years are anything to go by, good summers are things to be consigned to the past or Spain...

I'm coming to the conclusion that I was one of the last people to pass a driving test on merit and ability. The amount of complete and utter fuckwits I see on the road nowadays makes me wonder if Driving Test Examiners are all getting bungs.
I was in the sexy tractor today, making dead sure I stuck to the speed limit, as the last time I went to Leicester was for a speeding awareness course. It does, to be fair, whiz along like shit off a stick and so, on the way home, I hit the lovely dual carriageway section of the A6 and put my foot down. In front of me, in a courtesy Ford, was a man doing about 60mph. I sat behind him and he didn't move. I waited. I waited a bit longer and as there was nothing in the inside lane, I illegally undertook him. Jesus Harry Christ, from the guy's reaction you would have thought I'd just raped his children while forcing him to watch. He got right up my arse, gesticulating madly at me, so I slowed down to give him a taste of his own medicine. Bad move. I should just have gone on without paying this wanker any heed. He made a crazy manoeuvre that only someone in a courtesy car would do and undertook me using part of the hard shoulder. The dual carriageway ended and he dropped his speed like a bullet to 25mph and was flicking the Vs at me, making wanker signals in the rear view mirror, you name it he continue to abuse me. The wife didn't want me to pursue him and after about a minute, I decided that life is too fucking short to be almost killing myself over an arsehole who believes the road belongs to him.
The thing is, this guy wasn't your average boy racer; he looked at least as old as me, possibly older. Eventually, he overtook a couple more cars, on a dangerous stretch of the road, and was gone. I toyed with the idea of memorising his number plate and contacting the hire company he got the car from. but, honestly, what good would that have done?

Some things I learned today: Punjabi samosas piss all over ordinary ones. Rubicon Guava fizzy drink in cans (special price 49p) is absolutely unbelievably lovely, and it doesn't matter where you look or where you are, there's mushrooms everywhere at the moment, literally!

Tomorrow, the east coast (sort of, as where we're going is the only west facing coast on the east side of England) and a trip to the delightful Fox and Hounds in Heacham. The in-house Fox Brewery is small, compact and bijou and produces interesting beers; that is where I shall be come lunchtime tomorrow, before heading down to Heacham's award winning Fish and Chip shop, for a bag of chips (only). We'll only be there for about 3 hours, with 4 hours in total on the roads, depending on traffic, but it's a fun day out and the dogs love it.

The barking neighbour (literally, not metaphorically) has built a bomb fire in his garden. Nothing unusual about that you might say, I mean, we're going to have one in November, but he's piled a lot of old wood and garden shite onto the blue polythene and wood chippings that cover the bottom of his garden. Surely the man has enough brain matter to realise that this is about as stupid as using a condom made from short crust pastry!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Thunder Road

I've had a stomach bug for a couple of days now. I've been pretty blessed by general good health, all year - the aches and pains aside. Without putting too fine a point on it, I don't want to see a toilet again for as long as I can manage...

***

The main reason I would never have been a successful journalist is not because I wasn't good enough, but because I seem to have a moral compass that Fleet Street doesn't.

I remember voicing my indignation at Tiger Woods earlier this year. Not for sleeping with every V shaped object he found close to hand, but for doing that American thing of apologising to the world for his 'indiscretions'. Personally, if I had the skill and money of Tiger woods, I would have told the press that whoever I fuck is actually between me and the recipient and absolutely nothing to do with them or their readers. This wasn't me advocating adultery, far from it, it was me making a statement that even public figures are entitled to their privacy.

In the last week we've had a few of these things happen again. First we had Tory dwarf Bill Vague being 'outed' as a possible homosexual because he shared a room with an assistant who just happened to have a penis, too. My first reaction was, "So what?" My second reaction was that the press are basically a bunch of amoral, pernicious and soulless cocks.

Then there's the Wayne Rooney business. Let's put it this way, if Wazza wasn't married to the charmingly lovely Colleen, the headline probably would have read "Rooney has to buy a Shag", because, frankly, he's never going to be an oil painting. Rooney, whether he likes it or not, has become a national icon, therefore he can no longer be himself, which, I think we're all agreed on, is an oik. Personally, I feel the ex-Oxbridge prostitute, who charged him £1,200, should have charged more.

We are fast becoming a clone of the USA (again). Do you know that compensation claims through courts have risen by something stupid like 800% since 1980? That's the Yanks' influence. We now think about what we can get out of a crisis rather than what we can contribute to it resolution. The cult of celebrity, which is laughable to any intelligent human being, has become this incredible industry of its own, with celebrity magazines, website and multimedia at every turn. If you want to know who's been botoxed, butt-lifted, banged by or bunged by just look in your WH Smiths and you'll find dozens of scraps of multicoloured toilet paper to choose from.

As for Wazza. Well, he's a footballing genius and like previous footballing geniuses this kingdom has produced - such as Paul Gascoigne and George Best - he has always had that feel about him that he could go off the rails at any given notice. this, of course, is what every Red Top editor is praying for every night. because there is something more explosive than watching a genius tear an opposing football team a new arsehole, that's watching the genius tear himself apart.

***

The Dove World Outreach Centre makes me laugh. I just wish a lot of fundamentalist Muslims could feel the same way. What this bunch of Christian loonies are contemplating doing is stupid, senseless and inflammatory; it also doesn't really represent the thoughts of the majority of the rest of the population (apart from assorted enclaves in the Deep South of the USA who will probably have celebratory hog roasts - with Koran stuffing - and raise a beer to Terry Jones, the man responsible for this superbly contemptible PR exercise.

Muslims all over the world should be viewing this as exactly what it is, a stupid act perpetrated by a bunch of ignorant redneck imbeciles. They should not be thinking about retaliation, they should go public offering these idiots their prayers and saying that they will ask Allah to guide these misguided souls. The only way to fight this kind of ignorance is to stand up to it and kick its arse with the kind of rhetoric these bible-thumping miscreants understand.

***

I have put myself in the frame to do a bit of a return to what I used to do best. It was just an idea I had and put to someone else, but I need a bit of a new hobby and this thing might just fit the bill...

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Days Run Away

Apparently, Amazon is selling the Kindle for a new low price of £109. You could buy about a dozen expensive paperbacks or five hardbacks for that kind of money...

I have been told by two separate individuals - one the man who trained me to be an editor and the other, a man who I used as an editor on Borderline, that human beings read paper better than a computer screen. Its something to do with reflected light and the physical presence of ink. Apparently if we're reading on screen, we are having the light pushed at us - it goes into our sensory brain in a different way than printed words.

Now, oddly enough, while I can edit on screen (you train yourself to do it), I can edit considerably better if I have a hard copy in front of me. in fact, trained to be a copy/sub editor for many years, I can pick out mistakes on a page without even having to read it. It's to do with the shapes of words. we become familiar with the patterns of the language and therefore if someone puts a word that is wrongly spelled onto a page, it leaps out. The same happens when reading on screen, but it's considerably harder.

It sometimes makes me wonder if proof readers actually proof hard copies now. Over the last few years, I have been utterly flabbergasted by some of the simple spelling mistakes I've seen. Considering the amount of people who look at a new novel before it's released, you'd think they'd get it all right, wouldn't you?

Recently, I've reread the Dark Tower books. A couple of times during the first four books, the main character Roland has been written as Ronald. Now, back in those days, when proof readers had manuscripts to work from this kind of mistake is almost excusable - Roland and Ronald are both similar shapes, have the same letters and are both names. The last three books, written in the 21st century have a number of mistakes that are so galling that you have to wonder if King's editors are frightened of doing anything to his words. case in point would be Cell, a book that is essentially a rewrite of The Stand but in half as many words. There are so many badly written sentences, spelling errors and inconsistencies that you have to conclude that King's editor, Chuck Verrill, didn't even bother assigning a proof reader, therefore further proving that King could probably release his laundry list and it would be a best seller. Doesn't make for a very professional image though does it?

As for the Kindle. Well, times are changing fast. when I released Borderline in 2001, the net, believe it or not, was still very much in its adolescence. The net was growing exponentially, but download speeds were still in the stone age. as I mentioned her once before, a 1 meg file in 2001 could take as long as an hour to download; nearly ten years later I can download a 700meg file in about 15 minutes less. At the time, spending an hour of your dial up or limited access downloads for a magazine that gave you over 64 pages every month was probably deemed a luxury, especially if you read all the websites and the solitary (and out of date) magazine about comics. If I released it today, we'd have no problem whatsoever hosting it and we could increase the size 100 fold and still not be the slightest bit concerned about its size. But, one of the reasons Borderline failed was because people like to read a solid copy. I knew many people who printed Borderline out when they downloaded it - it felt better in their hands. I think for a large part of the population holding a paperback is far more desirable than holding a electronic tablet. Plus, books don't often go wrong. You don't have a battery or charging problem with them. You don't pick up a book and have trouble switching it on, do you? Technology goes wrong - whether its a design or just the fact we don't build anything to last nowadays.

I wouldn't give a Kindle house room, because that is what would happen to it. It would get stuck on a shelf, gathering dust and be used as nothing more than a trinket or a 'here, look at this piece of shit' item.

***

Genesis. Been talking about them a bit recently. Doing a bit of back cataloguing in the car. Started by putting the first three albums in the car and then the next three. The sixth is the clincher.

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway should be regarded as the high point of Genesis's career, despite all the rumours and stories about the album, its tour and the subsequent departure of Peter Gabriel. Listening to The Lamb makes you realise that in many ways this was the high point of prog rock in the 1970s. Genesis were renowned as the whimsical country gentlemen of prog. They lent classical perspective to the genre and in many ways were in a class of their own in the genre. However, when The Lamb came out it was different. Very different.

Many people, myself included, think that Selling England by the Pound is the band's best complete album. The ones that preceded it had their moments, but Selling seemed to be the sum of all parts. It was, in this modern age, highly conceivable that their direction would need to change. When the album came out in 1974 it was nearly two years before punk became a force and to be fair there wasn't much music before punk that had balls or a cutting edge. The Lamb did. In fact, it had so much that many Genesis fans didn't like it. For my brothers, there were a couple of tracks that they liked, but as an entirety they struggled with it. Therefore, in a house with three record players and only one copy of any album, it was The Lamb that I spent many a long night in 1975 listening to.

Like my brothers, I was impressed with some of the tracks, but I was more impressed with other tracks that neither brother had much time for. I've never declared The Lamb to be anything, really. It's just been another album in a long line of studio albums, but with hindsight it was pretty much groundbreaking for its day. Yes, its a concept album and there are lots of prog signatures throughout; but it's also really different, full of strangeness the exact opposite to the eccentricities the band often displayed. it also isn't just a Gabriel album; far from it. The instrumentals, all written by the band rather than the singer, are full of weird noises, almost post rock like noodlings and a screech of distorted synthesisers and sound effects. If you sat and compared The Waiting room to any other Genesis track from any other album and you wouldn't think you were listening to the same band.

In many respects, I now look at The Lamb as a kind of punk album. The lyrics, the short tracks, the themes are all diametrically different from anything the band had done, or for that matter would go on to do.

I don't know if it's just the passage of years, but I seem to recall thinking that when Trick of the Tail was released (the 7th album and first without Gabriel) it was a step backwards. A good step backwards, but a regression all the same. And the thing that I can't understand about this is that according to biographies I've read, because Gabriel was absent with family concerns during the early stages of the album, 90% of the music was written primarily by Banks, Rutherford and Collins, with some help from Hackett. Documented interviews confirm that it was Gabriel who had to make concessions, which ultimately led to him leaving. Yet, the core that went onto become the most commercially successful of the various incarnations of the band, never really found that groove again. Nothing the threesome did is a patch on the music of The Lamb.

Personally, if you don't know the album, you should at least Spotify it (but be warned, the listing there is not in the order it is on the albums). There are bits that are typically Genesis - this was 1974 after all, but others that I'm sure will have you wondering what happened to the potential.

***

I think if you asked the wife what her ideal life would be, it would probably be something like a nice large house by the sea, preferably in the Northwest of Scotland, in a town with at least five pubs which all hold pub quizzes.

The woman the rest of our pub team like to refer to as 'the woman with the brain the size of a planet' or 'Mon Capitan' is currently addicted to answering questions. She takes on University Challenge every Monday night. Playing the teams, answering the questions before the students and getting bonus questions by the bucket load. Every week she scores her performance the way it would be scored on the show and more often than not beats the two teams. Plus she's totally fair, even if she knows an answer, if the university teams answer it before she does, she won't count that as a point for her.

***

Ex girlfriends are not the kind of thing you tend to bump into, especially when you've been with your current partner for over 27 years. However, through Facebook and a chance meeting, I've reconnected with THREE!

...

God, despite my crumbling bones, I really have aged considerably better than some people I could mention...

***

Back in the 80s and 90s, the BBC's weather forecast took on a sort of subliminal interaction with the viewer. Essentially, when lovely round and jovial Ian McCaskill presented the weather you knew that behind that smiling visage and sunny disposition, he was going to tell us that we were in for some really crap or unseasonal weather. It was like the BBC decided that if they put the nation's favourite weatherman in front of a camera to tell us that there won't be a hurricane, but something equally as nasty, we'd take it better.

In 2010, that job falls to the Beeb's longest serving weather presenter Rob McElwee. He's been about for years, 20 of them next May! We've watched this fresh faced young man turn into a fresh faced older man, greying at the temples and taking on the role that no other weather presenter relishes - the bad forecasts.

Whenever Rob appears on our screens, we're expecting grim news. He's the kind of guy you like but you don't really want to see. If he turns up between may and September, you know there's going to be flooding, torrential rain, unseasonal temperatures, howling gales and he's not going to try to put a positiver spin on it; he'll just act as if its what we all should really expect, while throwing in a couple of bon mots to try and take the edge off the fact that your week's holiday in Skegness is going to be under three foot of water with the risk of snow and tidal waves.

He's a bit of a God.

***

I am counting down to the start of my two-weeks of work freedom. We're not holidaying this year, the austerity measures are already in action in the Hall house; but we do intend to go to the coast, find some funky woods and do some walking and relaxing. Hopefully, Rob McElwee will also be on holiday...