Wednesday, June 27, 2007


The peasant and the pea

On Monday I joined the nation’s other masochists to watch our very own Tim on centre court for another roller coaster ride at Wimbledon – heads in our hands when he cocks up a shot, hands in the air when he makes a great one. He starts really well and gives us some exciting tennis, but when rain stops play and looks set to stay for the rest of the day, I decide it’s a good time to try out a new recipe. Unexpectedly, the sun comes back and so does Tim, but it’s too late for me because the oven’s hot and eggs have been broken and beaten. Now I like cooking, but one of my rules for recipe testing is doing it when there’s plenty of time so it’s relaxing and stress-free (the other one is not trying it out on unsuspecting guests but I break that all the time) so now I’m dashing between the kitchen (where the tele doesn’t work and is now only for catching fat splashes) and the other room where it does, to see how Tim’s doing and starting to feel anything but relaxed. Then there’s the recipe itself. A pea and mint torte might seem a strange thing to want to make anyway, so I should say that it wasn’t just the peas that attracted me - it had ricotta and eggs and spring onions and mint and basil and parmesan in it too and looked all gorgeous and golden in the photo next to it. But it called for 5 kg of fresh peas (3kg shelled weight). Yes, 3 kilos of peas. That’s one hell of a pile of peas and as it's supposed to serve 6, that means half a kilo each – more than one pound of peas each. Not even a black hole can eat a pound of peas, so now decision-making has entered the equation. What should I do? My loved one says helpfully “yes that does seem an awful lot of peas”. Dithering between the two rooms I decide to go with my instincts and cut the quantity of peas by half, but there’s the mint still to pick and, what’s this: put half in a food processor – damn now I’ve got to find and assemble that and I can hear the wild applause in the next room. Finally my loved one ambles into the kitchen and says “you haven’t forgotten I’m going out tonight have you?” The kitchen’s a mess, and I’m eating the tart (which tastes plenty pea-y enough actually) alone on its own because I'm too fed up to make anything to go with it, but Tim’s doing well so I suppose two out of three isn’t bad. At 9.20 bad light stops play and our Tim lives to fight another day.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Beware if you’re the chosen one

One of the speakers we saw at Hay was AC Grayling, who talked about how strange it was that people were prepared to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about their choice of TV, mobile phone and other gadgets but almost none on why we do and feel what we do and gave a nice little quote from Bertrand Russell: “people would rather die before they think and most do”. Well I tried it recently and I didn’t much like what I came up with. It started with a conversation with my nephew, whose third marriage also looks set to end in divorce, and I thought about how and why couples get together - the reasons seem a lot more complicated than why they split up, which are often simply that having married someone for what they are, we divorce them for what they’re not. When I asked my nephew if there was a common factor in his marriages, he thought not in the wives themselves, who are all completely different, but yes in that they all chose him because he was too shy to approach girls and was flattered by their interest in him. Blimey, does that mean that we’re not as in charge of our destiny as we like to think? I hoped it was mutual attraction and instant recognition of a soul mate that brings us together with both partners being equally enamoured with the other. Of course it must work like that for plenty of people who subsequently get divorced, so I’m not suggesting that being the chosen one spells doom, but when I looked within my own circle of friends and family, the chosen ones didn’t score too highly. Damn, wish I’d spotted that first time round when I was 16, knew nothing, unconfident and malleable - perfect for the control freak who picked me.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Food, glorious food

It’s 2.30 in the afternoon in Vienna and we’re whisked onto the train, feeling lively, a little pinched in the waistband department after 5 days holiday but, having had a very early, meagre breakfast, hungry. Hooray, it’s lunchtime and as the train scythes its way through the Austrian countryside, we scythe ours through a pastry & vegetable thingy, fish, quail’s egg on spinach, caramel pudding and a bottle of wine. 5.30 and we’re about to see München and be munchin’ afternoon tea – we know we’re going to eat dinner so we really shouldn’t but … 9 o’clock and though the train zips on at a cracking pace, my skirt zip's well and truly stuck – I’ll have to keep my jacket on for dinner despite the heat, although on the positive side the heat has made my feet swell, which means my matching shoes, which normally fall off, stay firmly put. 9.30 and we’re eating smoked salmon, veal, potatoes, veg, cheese, peaches in liqueur, coffee, and drinking another bottle of wine. An image pops into my mind from that Roald Dahl film Matilda, where the wicked headmistress catches a boy stealing chocolate cake and orders him to eat the whole thing and every time he thinks he can’t manage another slice, the rest of the kids in the school gather round and chant “Come on, you can do it” and he does and so do we, but now I can’t wait to get back to the compartment where some wonderful elasticated-waist trousers await me. The train carries on towards Paris but we must pause for a light sleep until 7.30 when it’s time for breakfast - fresh fruit, rolls, croissants, and pastries – no damn it, I can’t, I won’t. But of course I do, but it’s OK because elasticated-waist trousers are fine today and with a loose shirt over the top, no one will ever know. 12.30 and Arras and brunch approach with more smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, lobster, whirly potatoes, tarte tartin and more wine. Another image pops into my head – ducks and geese being force-fed with funnels to make foie gras. 3.30 and we’ve crossed the Channel and it’s time for champagne, strawberries and cream, warm scones with more cream, sandwiches and delicious little cakes. It’s 5 o’clock in the afternoon and we’re disgorged from the train - they’ve done their job, we’re nicely fattened for Christmas, need no more care and can pick up our own luggage now. God, it’s Murder on the Orient Express.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


Hay Fever

It’s weird how they always come together
Bank holiday weekends and shitty weather
Making festival fields in Hay-on-Wye
Tailor-made for hippopotami

It’s weird when you try to be effective
Reduce your carbon, be more selective
When the size of that footprint can’t compare
With your dirty great muddy ones everywhere

BUT, once you’ve rally-driven your car through the quagmire, parked and squelched your way to the marquees you will have a good time.

I love the Hay Festival, although as it gets bigger every year it loses some of its cosiness - this year the artists had their own entrance and chilling-out area – and now we can’t mingle with thingy, you know, the one in that TV programme, what’s it called? Of course, they’re all there to flog their books and a few are clearly not cut out as speakers, but most are enthusiastic and passionate about their subject. Up in the town itself are the dozens of bookshops, where, among the dusty shelves, I bought a couple of those little blue Teach Yourself books. Quite when I’ll get round to teaching myself Welsh I’m not sure, but the possibility of being able to break what seems like a secret code was irresistible and I couldn't do without the Teach Yourself to Think book! And a snippet from another purchase by Sebastian Faulkes under a section on spoof adverts – this one from Jane Eyre: Married woman, 32, recently certified, seeks loft conversion specialist.

So, there we are, queuing for one of the sessions, when a small group of people go straight to the entrance of the venue. A woman rushes up and says in her best Cheltenham accent “excuse me, I wonder if you can tell me why you think it’s all right to sail past all these people to the front of the queue.” They all look slightly bemused and one says, pointing to another “because … he’s the speaker and we’re taking him to the stage”.

It’s hard to convey just how funny stand-up comedy is – as the saying goes you had to have been there – when so much depends on timing and facial expressions, but if you get the chance to see Sarah Kendall, take it. A young Australian girl did the Saturday evening slot - more of a typhoon than breath of fresh air - starting her routine saying she’d just met the famous speaker Eric Hobsbawm in the bar and gushed to him that she’d studied him at uni. “Oh, really” he responded, “and what did you learn”? “Errm”. And, describing her first visit to Scotland, when the friend she was staying with said that as it was 6 o’clock they ought to go inside because the midges would soon be out, thought he’d said midgets and imagining a troupe of dwarfs tumbling around doing tricks asked “why, what do they do”? “Oh, they just bite you – I had a couple in bed with me this morning”…..and on and on – trust me, it was funny.

And salesperson of the year award goes to our B & B landlady who, when asked about providing dinner as advertised on her website, wrinkled her nose and said “well, yes, but there are so many good places you can eat round here …”

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