Babylon Blisters

The weather forecast had promised a day of cloudy skies and showers today. We got a stiff wind blowing in off the sea, unbroken blue skies and clear golden sunshine, which for some strange reason encouraged me to spend my day off listening to my Very Best of Steely Dan double cd, when I wasn’t on a fifteen mile bike ride and clearing away small piles of post-winter debris from the garden. There’s little to beat a good cycle alongside the estuary, with the salty gusts sweeping across from the bay and the sun in your eyes. There wasn’t today anyway, so I made the most of it. Summer draws closer. So with thighs a-throb and splinters of dead wood stinging a tender patch of skin between the roots of thumb and forefinger, I set to to make a pleasant dinner for me and my little Squaw Juanita to enjoy when she got back from her monthly visit to her ma and step-pa. They had been discussing the future, and had decided that they were going to be buried together when the time comes, leaving my father-in-law alone in his double grave which the mother-in-law purchased on his death thirty five years ago. Unless Juanita’s brother can be persuaded to take her place in the double, seeing as he’s a bit of a skinflint and he’ll probably see it as a good way to save a bit of cash. She came home quite fraught.

This is why I don’t go on these family visits. It’s far easier to visit my folks. I just wander down the hill to the old church graveyard and stand by my brother’s grave wherein we lifted a few turves and sprinkled my parents’ ashes in after their respective cremations, and absorb the ineffable calmness of the place. Ivy, box trees, and spring bulbs poking through the grass. Low Spring sunshine dappling through the branches of the overhanging trees and dead Winter twigs crackling under the feet. It’s a tonic for the soul.

So, I’d decided on a pasta type thing for dinner. Mainly because I’ve had a fair amount of fish lately. I sliced a couple of chicken breasts thinly across the grain and set them to rest in a dish with extra virgin olive oil and a crushed clove of the garlic and a couple of dozen twists of black pepper, then set a pan of conchiglie to boil. While that was cooking I finely chopped and softened in more oil an onion and another crushed clove of garlic along with a generous pinch of crushed dried chilli flakes, followed by a glass of malbec which I reduced for five minutes. The pasta was cooked so I left it cooling under a trickle of cold water. We’re not on a meter yet, so old habits persist. Then I sauteed the chicken bits in a HOT PAN with a splash of yet more olive oil.  The HOT PAN is vital, as it seals the juice in the chicken and imparts a lovely golden hue, after which it can be rested on a plate. Which I did. Meanwhile, I added a carton of chopped tomatoes to the onion pan and simmered it a while along with a handful of fresh basil leaves. I also made a pint of thinnish bechamel into which I stirred a couple of ounces of strong cheddar. Now for the construction!

You mix the tomato sauce into the pasta and stir in the cooked chicken and a tub of drained mozzarella balls and use it to fill the base of a good sized baking dish, then sprinkle a bag of grated mozzarella (which you found in the back of the freezer on Sunday when you were looking for the bag of mussels you knew you’d put there a couple of weeks ago) over it. Then you gently spread the cheese sauce over it, followed by a whole large mozzarella ball which you shred over the surface by hand. Cover the whole surface with ground black pepper and dried chilli flakes, basil and oregano. Don’t put it in the oven yet, but let it stand for an hour or so before baking it for half an hour. Eat it happy, and listen to good music. Your taste buds will thank you.




Blimey. Squdookle. So recent yet it seems so long ago. Thank you, Joss.


Weevils, waffles & weading.

There was Jane, sighing and close to tears as usual.

“You know I’ve had to move house again? People think it’s me, Graham. But it isn’t. You know it isn’t. I always get on with people. I try to anyway.” I must have a face that attracts the weak and the vulnerable. Or something like that.

“Well Jane I just don’t know what to say. What happened at the bungalow?” The last time I saw her Jane had moved into a lovely new bungalow because she thought a man who lived upstairs from her at the block of flats where she’d been living was stalking her. Because he said hello when he noticed she was following him round Lidl because she thought he looked like he might be shoplifting.

“Oh, I spent a few months in a park home after the bungalow, but there was a man with a dog….” and she was on the brink of tears again. All welling up and snotty dribble everywhere, most unattractive if you ask me. It’s not Jane’s best look, simply her usual one.

I didn’t ask about the man with the dog…or what might or might not have happened at the bungalow. She was already telling me about her latest disaster, in the latest second floor three roomed flat.

“I kept finding weevils, everywhere. In my bed, in my cupboards, in my clothes, everywhere. Not nice Graham”. I nodded my agreement and sympathy.

“Did you fumigate, Jane? It sounds like you needed to.” Well what would you have asked her in the circumstances?

But she hadn’t fumigated. She’d called the pest department at the council. They’d told her, apparently, that it was all the fault of the man upstairs who fed pigeons on his balcony. The pigeon feed attracted the weevils. But weevils aren’t a health hazard so if she didn’t like it she’d have to move.  That’s what she said the man from the council told her, and who am I to disbelieve Jane? So she’s looking to move again. The local estate agents put the kettle on and send the boy out for cakes and biscuits when they see her coming. And possibly browse through a holiday brochure or something similar.


And so it was that Juanita and I took our granddaughter to Amsterdam for a long weekend in the middle of February, the cruelest, shortest month. It’s a fair old city is Amsterdam. Or an old, fair city. It’s lovely anyway. We stayed a little way out of the city centre but the hotel was on the tram and bus routes so all was good. We did the canal cruise twice, the round city bus tour, and spent a morning on Damrak, taking in the Body Worlds exhibition and some delicious vries and  fritessoss. Not at the same time. We took her to the Anne Frank House, which was the main reason for the trip, and also passed an afternoon at the Van Gogh Museum, which was probably more my treat than theirs. Food, including waffles, was good, drink was good, so all was good. I like good. Next stop Berlin in a couple of weeks time.

One afternoon last week my dear friend Fretful Mathew was deploying his favourite distraction technique in a futile attempt to prevent me kicking him out and closing the shop on time. He was trying to convince me that he’d read an interesting article about a 1970s female newsreader but he simply couldn’t remember her name. She had dark hair. I rattled off the names of all the newreaders of the time whose names I could remember. Richard Baker. He had dark hair. No. Robert Dougall. No. He had little hair. Kenneth Kendall. No. Not a woman. Moira Stuart? No. Selina Scott? Too blond. Anna Ford? He blushed. No, not her. Why blush, Mathew? Something to do with a proposition. You should be so lucky. I didn’t mention Hugh Burnett. He had a great voice. A dynamic voice. But he wasn’t a brunette. Mathew was looking desperate.

I eventually bundled him out of the door with a warning that if the name came to him in the small hours he was not, repeat not, to telephone me in a state of rapture with the good news.

He came into the shop the following afternoon for his tea and cake. Half way through his Danish pastry he smiled. I was preparing to take shelter when he told me he’d remembered the name.

“Name, Mathew?” I queried, my face blooming with confusion.

“Yes, the female 1970’s newsreader.” He was almost triumphant.

“What female 1970’s newsreader are you talking about Mathew?”

“Jan Leeming!” He said.

“Jan who?” Asked I.

“Jan Leeming! That’s who we were trying to remember yesterday!”

“We were? I thought she was more 80s than 70s. But never mind. More tea Mathew?”