Wednesday, 23 September 2020


Brace yourself. Stay positive in one way but negative in another. 10 years of austerity followed by the biggest spending spree the country has ever embarked on. On top of this chaos we now have the little problem of Brexit to deal with on January 1st. The phrase 'perfect storm' has never been so accurate.

I am not looking forward to the New Year's Eve summing-up of 2020.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

A rose by any other name

Has anyone been watching 'Harlots'? I've watched a few (episodes), but I have a low tolerance for cod historical  dialogue, and when someone was offered a slice of sultana sponge with the words, 'Have some seed-cake', I got up and went into the kitchen to read H.V.Morton. I used to love seed cake.

When one of the lesbian harlots suddenly morphed into a Keith Richards/Johnny Depp character as a land-locked pirate, that put a strain on my suspended disbelief too. It was hanging by a thread. I can't help but think the series is piggy-backing on the wonderful  (I would say inimitable, but didn't Phoebe Waller-Bridge give the second series to her friend to write?) 'Fleabag', and I can't help but make the comparison. Sorry.

So, here's a recipe for seed cake like my mother used to make... only joking. I haven't quite turned into Miles Jupp in 'In and Out of the Kitchen' yet, although I am going to make another pair of quince tarts this weekend - one for the allotmentier who grew them.

I was teaching a young mason how to carve a large stone panel depicting one of the four seasons that I had designed recently, and we moved onto the part which had a pair of quince dangling suggestively from the stylised branch arrangement which framed it.

He had never even heard of quince let alone seen a fruit, so I had to talk him through the little differences between them and pears when it comes to a three-dimensional representation in stone. I had photos, but when you get down to it there is very little useful information to be gleaned from a photograph. It was the wrong season for quince, so I couldn't show him one in the flesh.

"The underneath of the quince has a deep depression where the flower used to be, and as the fruit swells and develops, it forms creased lumps and nodules around it which are much more pronounced than a pear".

Eventually it was decided I would carve one fruit while he was at lunch, then he could simply copy it when he got back. The German word for sculptor is Bild Hauer - literally 'picture hewer'. 

When he returned we talked about the fat quince I had chopped from the block, and I suggested that he get a picture in his mind of what the various shapes reminded him of, then say the word out loud occasionally as he was carving to keep the image in his mind. This is a good trick which aids concentration when transposing thought into form.

He stared at the underside of my quince for a few moments then said, "I'm sorry, but all I can think of is that it looks like an arsehole".

So he carved a perfectly good quince into the stone whilst mumbling arsehole... arsehole... to himself all afternoon.

The trouble is that I am now cursed with spending the rest of my life thinking about arseholes whenever I look at a quince. The tarts still taste good though.

Wednesday, 16 September 2020


Boris Johnson is a child at heart. Everything he wants has to be bigger and better than anyone else's.

Not only that, but - like a child - he knows he cannot get it without the unconditional cooperation of all the grown-ups. They have to make it happen.

He makes unfeasible promises like a child. He breaks his promises on a daily basis, just like a child. He knows even less about negotiation than his big brother over the pond, so if the grown-ups don't give him the toy, he threatens to run away. The grown-ups know he will be back by teatime and he is never fully out of their sight, but he often tries their patience.

Like Mr Toad, he lurches between one grandiose idea and another. He is beginning to lose his natural ability to inspire enthusiasm and mirth. The cabinet no longer sits at the table together to chant the mantra of the day.

He needs to go away and tidy his room.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...


Ha ha! I have left it as late as I dare for this title, but since most of you have chickened-out I claim it as my own for the sixth time in six years. You have already had the Ceps, but now you have the quince tart made by me tonight, also from ingredients which were almost free.

For the filling: Two large quince, roughly chopped and boiled with a little sugar for a fucking age until they turn into something approaching spoon-friendly, having blunted your sharpest knife.

For the pastry: Select the finest flour available, gently rub in the butter until it can be formed into... Get a ready-made pastry base from the supermarket and shove the cold quince into it. Grate nutmeg over the surface.

Serving suggestion: Cover with double cream and eat. The 16th/17th century tastes of an English Autumn.

I was going to moan about Tony Abbot and Dominic Cummings, but let's have a weekend off.

Cut this post out and save it. A culinary one from me is rare.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Rio Tinto acted perfectly legally

Who gave permission for Rio Tinto to use high explosives to demolish sacred Aboriginal caves in Australia which have been in continuous occupation by humans for 46,000 years, just to extract a little more iron ore?

We thought that ISIS were bad enough, but Rio Tinto's act had nothing to do with ideology.

It makes me feel ill - literally.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Piss-ups, cover-ups and breweries

Today I thought to hell with work, I'm going mushrooming. Result: a wonderful walk amongst the trees with beautiful views over whoever is Lord Bath's estate right now, and enough Penny Buns/Porcini/Ceps to supply a small restaurant for one night, or us for two. To Colonel Blimp: NYA, NYA, NYE NYA NYA! (this to be sung with tongue poked out and trousers around ankles, arse exposed).

OMG, what is the fucking government doing now? Never mind Captain Hindsight, everyone has predicted the outcomes of their headless-chicken policies for six months now, so all that is left to them is to use the chaos to try to cover up some of the worst, before they hit the papers.

People are encouraged to begin to get back to normal for the sake of the economy and everyone else's mental health. Young people are let out of their cages and begin to party like it's 1999. Winter comes and people like me (us?) begin to die in large numbers as the weather gets colder.

It's not rocket science, it's a delicate balance between public health and economic recovery. To put it mildly, I - along with most young people and about 50% of old people - have lost confidence in their ability to organise a piss-up in a brewery.

I refuse to be ashamed of my kitchen

 I have this large lump of amber, bought some years ago from somewhere/someone I cannot remember. Amber is my favourite incense, but it would be sacrilege to burn so large a piece. There's a thought - the Anglican High Church committing sacrilege at each mass. Excuse me vicar - your handbag's on fire.

I miss the smell of someone else's cigars. Cigars were the first smokable things to be banned, and restaurants were the first places to ban them. Lingering cigar smoke brings back childhood memories of Christmas and - like roasting coffee - London. I love the scent of a room in which an uncle has smoked a fat cigar the previous evening. The Van Dyke browning of the family portraits is a small price to pay to a child.

There is a cosy pub near here called The Star. It had a ceiling which looked exactly like the inverted surface of a well made Creme Caramel. 100 years of cigars, pipes and cigarettes had produced such a special and subtle finish that they tried - and failed - to reproduce it during cleaning and redecoration following the smoking ban. Scents and aromas are not the only things I miss.

There is an unhealthy trend to shame anyone whose kitchen doesn't look like the waiting room of an expensive private clinic these days. The latest plague doesn't help either. Now it is acceptable to publicly shame them.

My ideal kitchen would be the sort which museums mock-up to show what life was like in the 17th century, when one plague followed another and sanitisation was effected by a real fire of catastrophic proportions. Call me old-fashioned.

One of the H.V. Morton books I bought recently has the title, 'Ghosts of London'. In it he describes London traditions and eccentric shops which he remembers as a boy, but had disappeared by 1939 when he wrote it.

There was an apothecary run by an elderly man who carefully weighed bundles of herbs and powders and a Georgian shop which sold nothing but snuff. I remember visiting a dark and dingy, wooden-clad shop run by two old men who spent all day grinding oil paints for artists. That was only about 30 years ago.

Diagon Alley really existed in the back streets of London.