Carl Sagan and the milk float of eternity

NPG x27064; Naomi Jacob by BassanoNaomi Jacob is now pretty much forgotten but at one time, around the middle of the last century, she was Britain’s most popular romantic novelist.  Fond of wearing a very great deal of tweed and not the prettiest of ladies, the novelist Paul Bailey told me once that when he saw her in Harrods in the early 1960s, where he was then employed as a sales assistant, he mistook her for JB Priestley.  One of her many, many volumes of autobiography is called Me Again and I suspect I’m saying a very similar thing when I invite you to read my column in yesterday’s Sunday Express.  There or below:

On a 1962 album of his Frank Sinatra sings the Saul Chaplin and Sammy Cahn song sinatra-basie frontPlease Be Kind.  Infuriatingly, when my CD gets to that track I can hear a click accompanying this most recognisable of voices and the Count Basie orchestra which plays behind him.  The odd thing is the compact disc is actually in good nick and so the noise doesn’t come from that.  Rather my own imagination throws it into the mix like some out-of-time finger-clicker who has wandered into the studio.  There he lurks primed to snap into action whenever I listen to this song, and should I hear it being played on my iPod, or on the radio, or as I did once in a hotel bar in Brussels he’s there too.

The thing is my parents had this album on LP and at some point it must have got damaged; a result of which is this click, at the start of side one track two.  I played Sinatra – Basie a very great deal as a child and when years later I bought myself a copy of it on four-and-a-half inch plastic rather than twelve inch vinyl my mind seemingly made the executive decision to recreate for me the experience of listening to our cherished, if impaired, LP – wilfully ignoring the fact that was partly what I was trying to leave behind.  Why my brain decided to hold onto this aural gremlin I don’t know as the sound of physically damaged recordings is thankfully not one that bothers the average person in 2014.  By and large, clicks, bumps and scratches only exist unheard on un-reached for records in collections which are not being played on turntables that probably no longer work anyway.

manual typewriterAnd although digital technology has made extinct for most of us so many of those once everyday sounds such as the rewinding of a cassette, the fitting of a film in a camera, the retuning of a radio, or even the turning of pages in a book it isn’t only that particular advance that has done it.  Along with car engines revving up on a winter’s morning; coming to, cold and chilly on the sofa, woken up by the high-pitched squeal television channels used to emit after close down; the hooves of the rag-and-bone man’s horse; the mysterious mechanical chord produced by the compound of levered buttons cashiers depressed to register the price of something on a till; and the clack of chalk on a blackboard there are plenty of once common noises that have simply vanished, present no more outside our memories or specialist archives.

My ghostly Sinatra clicking came to mind this week when I read that a loudspeaker has been installed in the newsroom of The Times to broadcast a recording of manual typewriters whirring away.  Apparently as the deadline for the print edition approaches the tapping gets louder and more urgent-sounding supposedly spurring on those wearying hacks to file their copy.  As well as, I should imagine, making them come over all nostalgic for the days when almost everyone was willing to spend money in order to read a newspaper.  An object that not only told you what was going on, but behind which you could hide, and which on crowded trains you could practice your origami skills by folding it into a neat little square.

As Helen and Maurice Kaye of Bournemouth celebrated their wedding anniversary this week so many of the sounds carl saganwhich must have unwittingly underscored their eighty years of marriage exist no more.  And as with sounds so with language.  Research by Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press indicates that the use of certain words – marvellous, pussycat, catalogue, for example – is on the wane whereas words like awesome, internet and treadmill are far more commonly encountered.  But as with my scratched record it will take a very long time indeed before these words that are losing favour become entirely obsolete and even then people still might take a pleasure in using them.

sinatra-basie backThe golden records that were packed aboard the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 are still awaiting discovery.  Circling space, this product of Carl Sagan and his NASA committee, are an account of life on earth through a compendium of the sounds of both human activity and those of the natural world.  Whether they will ever be heard is anyone’s guess but if they are the samples of music from different cultures, of animal cries, the crack of lightening, and greetings in a multitude of languages may strike their audience as only marginally more alien than that which was the mere hubbub of the late 1970s does us today: the gentle burr of a milk float at dawn; the slow, deliberate noise of letters being formed by a Dymo label maker; or even someone saying cheerio.

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Lucy, you silly girl

scarlett johansson lucy 1Until yesterday afternoon the brightest person called Lucy I knew is a 13 year old girl, the daughter of friends of mine.  I was wrong.  Apparently the brightest person called Lucy is Scarlett Johansson playing an actress-slacker-student type called Lucy hanging around Taiwan in a film called Lucy.  At the start of the film, Lucy is chatting with some dodgy bloke called Richard who handcuffs a silver briefcase to her and insists she drops it off at the hotel they’re standing nearby.  As she stands nervously at reception not making much of an attempt to conceal her handcuffed wrist, Richard waves encouragingly through the window, but is then shot dead.  This is unfortunate for Lucy as his splattering blood not only spoils the spotlessly clean hotel reception’s windows but lets her and us know that things are due to take a turn for the worse.

Anyway, to cut a long story short Lucy ends up with a load of blue blobby crystals inside her which look a bit like that stuff that comes in sachets with a bunch of Marks and Spencer tulips and is supposed to keep the flowers fresher for longer, but apparently is also the stuff that reminds foetuses in the womb to make some bones and skin and belly buttons.  In Lucy, apparently, it transpires that this unwillingly ingested something will look to make some bones but once it realises they’re already in place instead it turns her really, really clever and also gives her the ability to force villains in black Hugo Boss suits to stick to ceilings so they can’t make a nuisance of themselves.

A good chunk of the rest of the film involves itself with Lucy’s alternating feelings about the drug.  Sometimes she wants it so much so she eats bags of the stuff in a plane toilet and on another occasion she’s so unenthusiastic about it all she shoots dead some bloke on an operating table who’s having his kidney removed so as to jump the hospital waiting list and have the drug swilling about her guts whipped out there and then.  One of two main messages in this Luc Besson movie is that drugs severely bugger about with your mood.  The other is that the French police have control over all other police forces in Europe and all the non-French police accept this as a perfectly acceptable state of affairs.  Amongst their number is a quite handsome craggy-faced cop with whom Lucy almost has sex as “a reminder” but then forgets to.  Not that clever, huh?  I know it’s wrong to give the ending away but the upshot of 90 minutes of Korean gangsters and library footage of lions dining out on hyenas and some time travelling to boot where she witnesses the building of the Flatiron building and then chats with a nascent man-money type at a waterfall before almost being eaten alive by a dinosaur is that Lucy dissolves away into black soot the like of which makes me think to myself I really must get the chimney swept, and then all that remains of her is a crappy USB stick.

She’s been given 24 hours to live before she gets to this point however and the drug enables her to start utilizing ever scarlett johansson lucy 2greater swathes of her previously untapped potential.  Morgan Freeman pops up from time to time to inform us that we only bother with about 10% of the brain’s capabilities and how amazing we’d be if we used more of the old grey cells: like one of those people who can do the laundry, the weekly shop, drop the kids off at school and write 2000 words of their novel before they’ve even thought to treat themselves to a nice cup of coffee and a Bourbon cream for their elevenses.  JG Ballard, perhaps.  Rather than doing any of these more useful things, instead once our Lucy reaches about 40% capacity usage she decides to spend twelve hours of her remaining 24 on a flight from Taipei; an activity Rory pointed out that is a very great squandering of her time and only goes to prove that being fearsomely intelligent is not the same as having any bloody common sense.

In fact, she’s living proof not only of the lack of common sense inherent in heavy drug users but of the chaos that can ensue from being oh-so clever-clever – to say nothing of the car chases and dull shoot-outs in Paris.  At one point Lucy rings home and informs her poor old mum that she can “still taste your milk on my tongue.”  At this icky piece of news her mother makes out the line is breaking up and rings off.  If anyone is, Lucy’s mum is the hero of the film.

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Of Doctor Who and the ice bucket challenge and how I rose above it.

My column in this week’s Sunday Express:

ice bucket challenge If you’re not grumpy by nature, eager instead to always look on the bright side, then please consider the following and let me see if I can’t change your mind.  Even disregarding the grimness of the news, for those of us safe at home we’ve had to endure enough irritations to drive all but the most saintly up the wall.  Providing a tiresomely self-aggrandising backdrop has been the sight of people throwing ice over themselves, filming it, and then helpfully putting it up online should we ever find ourselves forgetting what someone chucking icy water over themselves looks like.  I’ve got an ice bucket too.  I keep it near the gin bottle.  I’m sure you don’t need to see it in action.  

Then there’s a looming bank holiday that promises foul weather aplenty and the concomitant battening of hatches.  Nevertheless, hordes will pretend it’s still summer and then regret not taking an extra layer and brolly out with them.  We of a saner, grumpier mind will prevail.  Staying indoors, we’ll hurrumph our way through an afternoon’s pitiful television viewing whilst anticipating a week where everybody else says, “oh, I thought it was Wednesday and it’s actually Thursday.  I’m all over the place.”

And to top it all Doctor Who is back on our screens.  Here he is yet again interminably wandering about through time and space battling Cybermen, losing the directions to Gallifrey someone wrote down for him once, and doing whatever elsepeter capaldi doctor who it is he does.  This was all souring my mood most nicely but then I read that Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the time travelling quack might be as the crotchety middle-aged grump you’d expect him to be what with his spending the last six decades having his life determined by the whims of BBC commissioning editors, and so I quite cheered up.  The rumours are that this time around there is to be no mooted love interest for him and no attractive floppy hair to get in the way of his intergalactic shenanigans.  Instead with any luck Capaldi’s Doctor might well be an absolute misery guts.  William Hartnell eat your heart out.  

But still, but still.  There are always those sunny types, happy in heart and mind.  Seeing a field of daisies they want to skip through it and then slake their thirst by sipping eagerly at a permanently half-full glass.  If this is you then you have my condolences, constantly teetering as you are on a precipice overlooking Disappointment Canyon and knowing that at any moment you could tip in.  But as someone calling up from the bottom you have my guarantee that it’s not that bad at all.  In fact, any sunshine that actually does manage to permeate the ineffable gloom down here is all the sweeter for it.  

grumpy from snow whiteIn this last week alone there has been plenty to bring out my more grouchy side.  There was the postman who treated the delivery of a parcel like a grown-up version of knock down ginger by making sure he scarpered within fifteen seconds of ringing the doorbell.  Later the same day, I received a return email from someone some fourteen months after I wrote in reply to his first one. In this latest message he asked me a question the answer to which was contained in my previous communication; I anticipate having to say the same thing once more late autumn 2015.  In a single train journey on Tuesday many of life’s annoyances were laid out for me like the buffet car’s singularly grim display of hot and cold snacks.  Fellow passengers included those who put their feet on seats, and others who treated the inspection of their train tickets as the most unexpected event imaginable so spending ten minutes digging out the required paperwork; prior to this the entire carriage (including me) gave into that overwhelming urge to wolf down every last scrap of food we’d brought along for the journey before the train had even left the platform.  Then there were those passengers who chose to sit next to me even when there were plenty of other seats available, and even more infuriatingly those others who selected not to do so despite their options being severely limited.  What’s wrong with me?  Do I look like someone you wouldn’t want to travel alongside?  I asked myself this as I caught a reflection of my taciturn, glowering features in the train window.

It takes time and effort to be this bad tempered but the rewards are there for the asking.  This coming week, for example: while everyone around us bemoans the wash-out that was their weekend the Grump can listen politely for a short while then employ his very favourite expression, “I told you so.”  And if you’re Peter Capaldi you can beat up some Daleks to boot.



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Breakfast, the most dislikable meal of the day

sunday-express-logoIn yesterday’s Sunday Express I was all over my dislike of breakfast.  People have occasionally noted I’m a rather negative soul and have a very long list of dislikes.  I wouldn’t dispute that but to balance things out a bit here are three things I adore: Carmen McRae’s mid-period LPs; the way the geraniums in my window boxes are blooming again after a few weeks of doing absolutely sweet Fanny Adams; and sharing the table at home with Rory while he is drawing or designing something and I’m pretending to write.  See, quite the wide-eyed optimist, actually.   


It was Somerset Maugham who once observed: “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”  Assuming it wasn’t glum bowls of breakfast cereals with their discoloured milk he had in mind, I imagine he’d be pleased with some new research that indicates the popularity of the full English breakfast is on the rise.  And so quicker even than the fat man asking whether anyone minds if he takes that final sausage, I find myself reading yet again about the importance of the first meal of the day.  

A fact I don’t doubt, but the prospect of eating so soon after getting up, dressed as I am in a fetching combo of pyjamas and crumpled face, singularly lacks appeal for me.  Nevertheless it is the meal we’re told we mustn’t skip.  scott's porage oatsInstead, why can’t it be seconds of roast chicken and bread sauce with all the trimmings that nutritionists recommend?  Of course it isn’t.  Schools set up breakfast clubs so as to avoid legions of eight year olds turning into sugar-craving zombies by mid-morning and no doubt there are government statistics informing us that those who do without the first meal of the day are 400% less productive than somebody who stamps their little feet with delight at the prospect of a bowl of muesli and a banana.  

That’s my real problem with breakfast.  It’s what’s readily available to me that truly makes my heart sink.  If you asked me what my ideal breakfast would be then that’s easy: a cappuccino and a cigarette quickly followed by an espresso and another cigarette.  But as with the roast chicken I’ve yet to find a nutritionist advocating the virtues of this one and anyway I don’t smoke any more.  So, what’s left?   Cereal, toast, that sodding muesli, for heaven’s sake?  An egg, if you feel like pushing the boat out.  I think I’d rather take a bath in devilled kidneys and squirt grapefruit juice in my eyes if it’s all the same with you.  

About a year ago I was booked by a radio show to consider live on air the respective merits of a traditional English breakfast versus a vegetarian one.  Both were nice in their way and ideally I’d have combined elements from each plate.  But a winner had to be chosen, and to my own surprise I opted for the non-meat contender as at least it lacked baked beans –  an item I find unforgivable in a cooked breakfast.  

me comparing breakfastsComing home afterwards I realised to my even greater surprise I’d actually enjoyed any kind of breakfast at all; but surely it was because I was washed and dressed, had been up by then for about three hours, and most importantly someone else was preparing it.  In a word it was lunch.  

Indeed, if one morning I entered my kitchen to find some kind soul has prepared tea, kedgeree and hot toast then I wouldn’t complain.  If the following day, the devilled kidneys were scooped from my bathtub to be served alongside a pot of coffee then I wouldn’t object either.  But as things stand they tiresomely require me to actually cook them myself.  Before eleven a.m. most days I’ve found little more can be achieved other than to roll my eyes at Thought For The Day still being deemed an appropriate feature for a news programme and shuddering at the state of my bank balance.  The prospect of cooking and eating something nice is entirely beyond me.  So instead, I get up, hanker after the cigarette I no longer smoke, and try to ignore the whines of the neighbour’s cat through the back door which are certainly not heralding treats unless I can develop a taste for shredded starling.  

Of course, someone always suggests I try porridge.  Now, of course we all know it’s spiffingly good for you, adds six months to your lifespan with each spoonful consumed, and undoubtedly enjoys working with old people and children in its spare time but surely no one in their right mind thinks porridge tastes nice?  Someone prepared for me some admittedly delicious porridge once but it only acquired that status because it was awash with double cream, malt whisky and sugar.  Any good it might have done would be more than off-set by the ensuing heart disease and ulcers.  Clarissa Dickson Wright wrote that once upon a time in Scotland it was habit to make a vat of porridge, pour it into a drawer, let it set and then chew at cold slices of this culinary punishment throughout the week.  Was this actually a dream she had?  No.  It’s something that passed muster as a recipe north of the border.

So, with cooking beyond me, smoking forbidden, and porridge inedible there’s nothing for it but to go back to bed.  I’ll see you at lunch.

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Maybe some other time, Google

victorian farmingWould I like you to translate that, Google?  That’s very kind of you but I’m pretty much okay with English, thanks.  Nothing too fancy, you understand; I’m not being arrogant.  For example, no matter how many times the word ‘gerund’ comes up and how many times I use your splendid search engine to explain it to me give it a few minutes and I’ll have forgotten what it means.   So, please don’t think I’m being cocky.  I’m willing to admit there’s plenty about the English language with which I’m still grappling but the word ‘pasture’ is not any part of it.  Whilst admittedly I’m not following everything about the soil improvement techniques detailed in this essay I’m currently reading on Victorian farming methods in Norfolk, the word ‘pasture’ is not one I need either translating into a language other than English, or indeed as a concept.  

But then I can’t help but wondering whether, Google, if it’s you that needs some help?  You see, for most people the opposite of the word Yes is No but you seem to think it’s Nope and I wonder why you want us to think of you as an entity that would use the word nope when the very much smarter and so much less dim-sounding word no is readily available?  Nope, I don’t need you to translate the word ‘pasture’ sounds odd, n’est ce-pas?  I can hear President George W Bush saying such a thing and that’s not a nice sound, you’ve got to agree.

Maybe it’s the down home, folksy attitude you’ve become accustomed to at Pancho’s – your favourite restaurant – that’s to blame.  Sweet as it is that as I fill in my Google calendar you’re always desperate for me to say yes to your suggestion of a 7pm dinner booking at Pancho’s I’m getting frustrated that you refuse to take no for an answer.  If it’s easier to understand (as with the translation of ‘pasture’) it’s a nope from me on that one too.  

I imagine you, dear Google, snuggling down in your favourite booth at Pancho’s and that smiling waitress coming over and you squirm a little because we all remember that night when you asked her out on a date and it didn’t go so well.  She smiled that cheesy smile of hers and you thought of those perfect bright white teeth heralding a bright new future but then she said she always dinner at pancho'sthought what a sweet guy you are, really bright too, generous tipper, but actually no she didn’t think a date would be a great idea, but really thanks so much for asking so, so, so much, you’re so sweet.  (I bet you she even told you that it was the nicest thing anyone had said to her for ages, didn’t she?).   To be honest, Google, you go into the same bloody restaurant every bloody night at exactly the same bloody time so she probably thinks you’re a bit boring.  

pancho's waitressSo, while you try to not to find the whole thing too embarrassing as she takes your order and hope against hope she’s somehow forgotten the time you asked her out on a date and you want to look interested as she enquires whether you’d like to know about today’s specials you can still hear her saying No in that definite way she unexpectedly had when you didn’t take no for an answer the first time.  “Just one drink?” you’d pleaded and she put away her teeth and simply said, “No.”  You can’t help but think, mistakenly, I’m afraid, that if only she’d said nope instead it wouldn’t have sounded so harsh and finite and so this much gentler let-down is the one you offer the billions of your users today.  You find it too painful for people to keep saying no to you.

That’s my guess how you got to using the word nope, Google, and I respect your reasons but we’ve all had to deal with rejection in our time – just look at Yahoo and Ask Jeeves – so you’ve got to grow up and take the word No on the chin.  If you really can’t, and I appreciate that these things can be hard, then go somewhere else other than Pancho’s for your dinner.  Seriously there are loads of nice places out there for a meal, even as early as 7pm.


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The lack of gays of Weatherfield

Here I am yet again on the subject of why I’ve stopped watching Coronation Street.  This appeared in a slightly truncated form in yesterday’s Sunday Express.  Maybe read it there, or you can, should you wish, read it below.  If you do opt for the newspaper version do treat yourself to the comments section at the end which include: “We too have stopped. Too many gays, too much talking with their mouths full…”  Although these weren’t my reasons for saying farewell to Weatherfield, interestingly they are why I gave up on attending gay orgies some years back.

eileen grimshaw at homeFor Eileen Grimshaw of 11 Coronation Street, Weatherfield cookery is a cause of some disappointment. Not being much of a whizz in the kitchen, her meals are unceremoniously slapped down on the table and then greeted with disdain by the vast numbers of people with whom she shares her two-bedroomed house. Therefore, I very much doubt she takes any pleasure whatsoever in the return of The Great British Bake Off on BBC1 what with all that lip-quivering excitement about perfect buttercream. Eileen and I, I feel, are as one at the prospect of watching competitive baking, an activity about as absorbing as watching uncompetitive baking.

If I’ve got Eileen all wrong however I won’t actually know because after thirty years I’ve given up watching Coronation Street. The shenanigans of that fictional corner of Manchester have been part of my life since those famous opening titles heralded bedtime for me and my sister when we were small. Back then, as we reluctantly climbed the stairs we occasionally snatched a glimpse of Annie Walker and Elsie Tanner slugging it out on the cobbles or Hilda Ogden berating her poor, foolish husband Stan for yet another mess he’d got them into, and slowly my deep affection was formed.

As with most fallings out of love it was a gradual process but the arrival of Les Dennis who in theGreat British Bake-off 1980s used to do impressions of Mavis Riley but is now Gail-at-number-8’s burglar-cum-new-beau had something to do with it. Having said that, if I miss the episode where they entertain themselves by swapping impressions – hers of looking like a punched coin and his of the woman who used to work alongside Rita Fairclough in the days before she took to wearing quantities of mascara that could sink a dinghy – I’ll be more than a little sorry.

It was that and the realisation that Corrie, as with all soaps, would just keep going on and on,

and in middle age I’m not sure I want to invest the necessary hours in staying abreast of developments. Also, it slowly dawned on me that I couldn’t really face the prospect of yet more affairs undertaken in the ginnel and the ensuing violent deaths. To say nothing of the weird vocalising from Dev Alahan in the corner shop who shouts as if addressing someone on the other side of the street even when they’re only standing next to the fondant fancies. And all this is punctuated every decade or so by an almighty fire in the Rover’s Return which in turn leads to a debate about whether it should reopen as a fancy wine bar with olives on the menu, thus precipitating an uprising by the locals who insist Betty’s hot pot should be available to those who require it until the very end of time.

It’s not the writers’ faults; they have mere humanity to work with and we get up to only so much. It’s not as if they can suddenly add piquancy by having a family of shape-shifting alien lizards move into Weatherfield who six months later reveal their true intentions of kidnapping Deidre Barlow, whisking her off to their spacecraft circling directly above Nick’s Bistro and force feeding her with her beloved stuffed marrow. No, that sort of thing is best left to Emmerdale.

mary coronation streetBut in Corrie there is something of a sad shortage of its past splendours. Not just a scarcity of those matriarchs who lent the show distinction, but in the wit and linguistic playfulness often present in their dialogue. All that, by and large, departed along with Raquel Watts. Although credit due to Mary in her mobile home who gallantly holds this sputtering flame aloft. I shall miss her almost as much as that special ‘huh’ noise Audrey Roberts makes when she’s annoyed. Then as now, the drama was borne of familial and neighbourly tensions but the kind that more often than not failed to result in a bludgeoning.

Of course, the day may come when I return sheepishly to the fold but if so I can only hope certain things will have changed. Above all else, may Dev have endured a golfing accident resulting in him unable to even discuss the topic, indeed any topic, but instead only able to communicate by pointing at different tinned comestibles.

Until then, whether I’ll do anything more constructive with this two hours a week I’ve gained remains to be seen. I might I suppose learn how to knock up a seven-tiered wedding cake and some whimsical bunting followed by a main course of eating my own words. Probably not though. More importantly, however, when the end comes I shall have done my best to avoid the epitaph: “He Could Have Achieved More But At Least He Didn’t Miss Coronation Street” being etched on my metaphorical tombstone.



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Pestering you with my news

Hello.  If you are one of the many, many billions of people who have not chosen to receive my newsletter you might be interested to know I am of your number.  However, I don’t want you (or me) to get off that easily so I’ve posted it below.  Once you’ve read it you of course may change your mind about things and want to sign up (safe in the knowledge that with each missive I shall do my best to mix up a Hollywood star and a British comedian / actor / director with a similar name).  You can do so here and your inbox will be sullied by me on a monthly(ish) basis.  You can do something else equally time-wasting here.  Have a splendid weekend.  X


Welcome Reader!

… and Welcome! is about as exciting as this newsletter will get, I’m sorry to say.  The summer is the culprit obviously.  Come September I shall be returned from my villa in Marche (very unspoilt, barely any Brits) and be back both attending and hosting glitzy parties, working my arse off on glitzy stages by night and spending the days in Peckham Library doing various things that bring in so much money I might even find myself eligible for income tax.  I know, I know.  How do I cram it all in?  Enjoy the well-earned rest while you can, our house guests tell me.  So, in the meantime, the days are spent lounging by the pool, having those wise friends to stay (Kingsley Amis and Esme Cannon are due to drop in for a few days next week) and celebrating a cuisine that is both imaginative and yet peasant-like in the nicest not-that-frugal-really kind of a way.

So, give it a month or so and this newsletter will really come into its own.  In the meantime, I’m a bit stumped.  If you Google the word ‘newsletter’ Belfast and The National Geographic and The Economist magazines are pretty near the top of the search results.  No help to me as I write this, my inaugural missive.  I haven’t been to Belfast for over a decade; the last time I did Clement Freud brought a girlfriend along to dinner and I had to pay for her car parking at the Europa Hotel the next morning so it doesn’t hold the fondest memories for me, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate.  As for The National Geographic: my dentist fails to keep its back issues in waiting room as he bloody well should but rather Hello and FeMail, and I’ve never even opened a copy of The Economist despite their quite witty advertising campaign of the 1990s.  So, what I’ve learned from this poke around Google is nigh on utterly useless.

But you’re here for NEWS in my NEWSLETTER.  And I don’t want to let you down.  Using the dazzling imagination I’ve been blessed with here are some of the things that might have happened to me if I’d been at home and not having to cater to Frank Muir’s every fucking need instead…

1)    The greengage tree near me is happily weighed down with fruit this year and each day as I pass it I gather a few to eat.  Yesterday morning two girls, about nine or ten, I’d say, were clambering about in the tree and bagging the fruit up for sale.  I had a conversation with them about it and said I’d come back and buy some, but actually I intend to keep stealing their produce.  As the newspaper industry has discovered it’s very hard to ask people to pay for stuff once you’ve been giving it away for free.  These two need to learn this hard lesson before they get too long in the tooth.

2)    My favourite Cat poster attached to lamp posts in Peckham over the last month depicts a black cat under the headline TOO FAT and a request for people who find they are on the receiving end of his attentions not to feed him.  A smaller image of him is in the bottom right corner along with a black paw that is reaching out to a slice of pizza.  It is not the finest example of the Photoshopper’s art.  Try greengages on him is my suggestion.

3)    My second favourite Cat poster of the month was something I acted upon.  It’s a long story (not long really) but the upshot of it is that I single-handedly resurrected Call Me Dave Cameron’s Big Society from the dead.  There was a pleading poster, I spotted a cat, Rory took a photo, I texted photo to number on poster, woman called Amanda went to where we’d seen him waving about an open tin of tempting tuna.  Amanda and cat reunited.  My reward of course comes courtesy of the happiness I’ve brought to this one person and her cat (unless the cat had actually wanted to escape and Amanda had up until now been hobbling his attempts like Kathy Burke in Misery) nevertheless I’m very happy to be offered cash.

So, what else?

4)    Ooh yes.  My dad keeled over in a rather alarming way after we had all returned from my Mum’s 70th birthday lunch couple of weeks back.  The ambulance men decided he’d probably fainted and there was nothing much to worry about which is obviously good.  Indeed, Dad was back in the gym two days later whereas I would have opted for a fortnight’s bed rest.  Full of proud glee, he emailed me to say that he’d done 5000m in under 25 minutes on the rowing machine.  I’ve never even sat on a rowing machine for 25 minutes.

5)    I’ve come across a rather excellent pasta recipe in which the raw pasta is cooked along with all the other ingredients in one pan and a precise amount of water.  The idea is from Puglia and so therefore proves I’m interested and respectful of food traditions and not simply a lazy slut.

Talking of which…

I’d try to think up some other stuff but Kingsley has apparently developed a gluten intolerance and so I need to have a word with the nice girl from the local village who is giving us a hand in the kitchen over the summer.  She’s having an absolute ball, I can tell you, and when I bother to learn her name so I don’t think have to keep calling her Mmm, Err or Hi (in a light and breezy manner) she’ll probably be so over the moon she might not want paying.  Fingers crossed.

Best wishes,

Chris x

Ps. Earlier today, a doctor told me that a colleague of his who works in the large A&E department of a London hospital says of a certain type of patient who frequents his place of work late on a Friday or Saturday night: “I’ve yet to meet a stab victim I wouldn’t like to stab myself.”



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