Sunday, 28 February 2010

It's just cooking

I've been watching Masterchef.  It's compelling, in a sick, car-crash kind of way. 

It's a cooking contest between four eager competitors from a variety of walks of life; plumbers, secretaries, builders, insurance brokers.    To start with, they each have to cook a dish in about 15 minutes with ingredients selected by the judges, maybe a nice bit of steak, or scallops, or mackerel, and the best two (or three, I get confused at this point) go on to the next round.

Sometimes there is a huge disaster where the finished dish looks like something you'd knock up after a long evening at the pub, when you were drunk and adventurous. Usually there is a sauce that is far too runny, or a bit of fish that has been charred beyond redemption.

The judges taste their efforts and tell them how much better it could have been, while the competitor stands there biting their lip and trying to look pleased to have some constructive criticism.  I assume the big sharp knives are removed for safety before the judging bit begins. 

The next round is set in a "top restaurant", where the hapless competitors are dropped into the middle of a full service to prepare some of the signature dishes for paying customers.  If I were having lunch in a "top restaurant" I'm not sure how happy I'd be at the thought that some wannabe reality TV personality* was making a lash-up of it out the back.  Especially if I was paying full price for it.

There is a very serious commentator who tells us all about the progress of each competitor as the show goes along. 

If the competitor doesn't have an interesting-enough job, the commentator refers to them as "mum of two" or "keen amateur cook" throughout the programme.   If they are under about 28 they get referred to as "keen young cook" as well.

One of the current crop is an "interior architect".  He's called Jonty.  What's that short for?  Jontythan? 

Jonty's speciality is dicking about with huge syringes to "inject flavour" into the food he prepares.  It doesn't seem terribly successful so far.  The judges look at the plates of food he prepares (and they are always referred to as "plates of food", rather than, say, plates of knitting, or plates of cat litter, presumably to help we poor ignorant non-cooks watching at home to recognise them for what they are) and admire the sheer beauty and artisrty with which he presents stuff. 

Jonty is an artiste.

There are usually teeny-weeny julienne of this and frilly fronds of that, all injected full of additional flavour till they squeak.  He was injecting balsamic vinegar into strawberries last time I saw him.  I'm guessing young Jonty didn't have many friends as a child. 

The judges spend a few moments praising Jonty's skill at decorating, then they taste his creations.  Jonty stands there sweating, trying not to look too smug while they praise him.  You can almost see him thinking "I am an architectural genius.  With FOOD."

Jonty gets on my nerves.

He sweats more as they taste his food, their faces betraying their reaction before they say anything.  They almost always tell him that there is "no flavour" despite all his efforts at syringing it in.  At this point I laugh uproariously, in an unkind manner.

It is interesting how the competitors try to justify their desire to win.  Rather than being honest, and saying "I want to be the WINNER.  Not a sad, lonely, broken loser.  I want to become a TV chef, with a multimillion pound business empire, raking in the cash without me having to do much to earn it, other than knock up a tower of handcut chips and an onion marmalade a couple of nights a week, please."  


They say things like "It's always been my dream to cook." The presenters look earnest, nodding and doing the strokey beard thing, as if they are sharing some deep, well-thought-out philosophical ideas.

Well come round my house one evening and make me dinner, you dissembling tiresome slackers. And don't inject anything with anything.

They say insightful things like "Well, I've been cooking for three years now, and I want to take it to the next level."

I've been cooking for about 30 years.  If you don't cook, you are very limited in what you get to eat, usually.  It's not rocket science.  Most people I know can cook, at least a bit.  Some of them are even children.

Some of them are excellent at roast dinners.  Some of them make fantastic puddings.  Some of them have made truly memorable pies.

None of them, as far as I know, have ever dicked about with syringes full of balsamic vinegar. 

And what is the next level?  Preparing the deadly fugu fish?  Making the most exquisite miniature bread known to man?  Cooking for endangered baby pandas? 

They talk about cooking as though it is a life-changing event.  They try to sound as though winning the competition will be the best thing ever to happen to them.  Ever.  You get the impression that if they were offered the choice of discovering a cure for cancer or winning Masterchef, they'd take the winning. 

They are terribly earnest.  Sometimes they have tears in their eyes, at which point I make disparaging remarks and mock them from the comfort of my sofa.

It's most refreshing.

*I use the term loosely

Wednesday, 24 February 2010


I know I said I'd shut up about it, but I am pleased to say that I have lost 3.5lbs.  Hurrah.  If I do that again it's half a stone and a treat. 

That is all.


I have bought myself a new bag.  It's very lovely. 

I ordered it yesterday lunchtime, it was delivered by the postman this morning.  That's what I call service.

It came from here.  Take a look, I can recommend them wholeheartedly. 

The new bag is a reward for me.  I have decided to take affirmative action about being a fat porky bastard, and have joined a slimming group.  Mr WithaY and I refer to it as "Fat Club."  And the first rule of Fat Club is that we don't talk about Fat Club.

Even so, I will just tell you about it now and then shut up about it for a while.

I intend to lose about 4 stone, which will take me back out of the "Morbidly Obese, Likely To Need A Fire Crew And Specialist Haulage Equipment To Get You Out Of The Bath Soon" category.  The bag is my reward for having been brave enough to sign up and go along.  It's a big deal for me, and I am feeling really positive about it. 

I want people I know to come up to me and say "Have you decreased in mass?" after a few more weeks.

I have made a list of other things* I plan to use as incentives.  Pedicures, manicures, getting my hair done, going to a nice spa, buying a pretty, proper girlie coat rather than the huge, comfy, warm, practical shooting coat I currently wear everywhere.  I will give myself a reward every time I lose half a stone (7lbs, American readers.)

By the time we go to America in June I intend to be noticably slimmer.  Mind you, the food over there was so superb when we went before that I will probably come waddling back even fatter than I am now.  I shall crash through that bridge when I come to it.

*None of them involve chocolate.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Case in point

In Waterloo concourse this morning, I was party to a conversation between two chaps who were nearby. 

Chap 1 was relating a tale of how crowded his train had been.  All the way from Winchester, apparently. 

"People were stood up in the aisles all the way from Basingstoke.  Basingstoke!  Well, nobody gets off till London, do they?"

"Naaaaa," agreed his companion.

"And there was a bloke sat in front of me with a case.  A big case, mind, on the seat next to him, and another bloke walked up and said "Can you move that so I can sit down, mate?"  A really big case.  A two week case.  Not a weekend bag.

"Right," said the other chap.  He seemed an agreeable sort. 

"Anyway, the bloke with the case said "But then what will I do with this?"  Pointing at  his big case.  A really big case, it was." 

The chap telling the story gesticulated to show how big the case was.  Looked pretty big to me, too.  

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah.  Anyway, the bloke who wanted to sit down said "Well, that's not really my fucking problem, is it mate?"  And the bloke with the big case had to sit with it on his lap all the rest of the way."

They both laughed uproariously.  I love London sometimes. 

Other news:  We are enjoying All The Weathers Known To Man this week.  So far we've had:
  • snow (yesterday morning as I drove to the station at 6.30, ugh)
  • dense fog (tonight, driving home from the station, making it even more like a trip through Middle Earth than normal)
  • torrential rain (most of yesterday)
  • bloody freezing clear cold (tonight)
I eagerly await blazing sunshine and high winds, then we've got the set.  Maybe I should patent a new game - Weather Bingo.  It's like Buzzword Bingo but you get points for witnessing (and producing evidence) of the different weather types. 

For example, you'd come indoors dripping wet and claim a point for Heavy Rain.  Or covered in ice, and claim for Really Cold Out There.  If your hair was wildly dishevelled and full of twigs and leaves you could claim High Wind.  If you came in on a stretcher you could claim Deceptively Icy On The Roads.  If you phoned in your claim from 200 miles away you could claim for Tornado.

I think Tornado would be the trump card, and the player who used it automatically gets extra points.

This could catch on.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Ah, Sundays.  Lazy days for staying in bed till gone 10, drinking tea and reading John Wyndham novels.  Well, that's how my morning went, anyway. 

It's been a very pleasant week, one way and another.  Wednesday was an especially grand day.  To celebrate my lovely Mum's birthday, we had a huge family get-together* where went out at lunchtime for a Chinese meal.    There were ten of us, almost the only customers in the restaurant, and certainly the noisiest.  The food was superb. 

Several of us ordered the special toffee banana for pudding, and the nice lady brought out a platter heaped with large sticky balls of toffee-covered goodness for us.  We watched as she dropped each one into a dish of cold water, making the sticky toffee harden instantly. 

There was a lot of oooh-ing and aaah-ing as the hardened toffee banana balls were piled onto plates, then delighted shrieks** as a second heaped platter appeared and was also given the iced water treatment.  My word they were tasty.  Despite the enormous meal we'd crammed down, we managed to get through pretty nearly all the toffee banana balls. What heroes we are.

Everyone kept saying "It's a bit different from last year," which it was, thankfully.

I was especially amused by my youngest nephew, aged 5, gleefully telling his 12-year-old cousin "Ha, you got pwned by an old Chinese lady!"

He pronounced it "owned" but I knew what he meant.

A slow stroll in the glorious afternoon sunshine back to the car, past an unexpected little grassy area covered in purple crocuses*** and then home for tea and medals.

Mum came back with me to stay for a few days, and we did a lot of not much at all, which was lovely.  The weather was nice, despite many parts of the country getting hammered with more snow.  Mr WithaY came home from work one afternoon and told us there had been blizzards.  We'd had clear skies and bright sun all day, about 5 miles away.  Very odd.  It's cold though.  I expect tomorrow it will snow, in time to make my trip to work even slower and more tiresome than usual.  Bah.

Other news:  The cleaners came on Friday, and did their thing, leaving the house tidier and smelling fainly of Mr Sheen.  One of them asked: "Where did you get that from?" pointing at the bulb of garlic hanging up in the kitchen. 

"Just from Morrison's I think," I said, bemused.  "Why?"

"Oooh, I've been looking for one of those!  It looks so smart with just one garlic there, not lots of them.  I wonder if there are any more in the shop?"

"Um.  When we bought it there were lots of garlic bulbs on it.  We've just used them all up except that one."

She was most disappointed. 

Also, we have booked our holiday.  We're off the US of A in June, and will be progressing through Boston, Cape Cod, New Hampshire and Maine for the best part of a month.  Hurrah.  We didn't really have a holiday last year, other than a few days over in the South of France to see mother-in-law WithaY, and as it was a few days after the SSFH**** broke over our heads, showering us with unmitigated shit for the next 6 months, we weren't really in a holiday mood. 

So, we've booked the flights, the airport parking and the hotel in Boston  for a few days when we arrive.  We need to sort out a hire car and possibly a hotel room for the night before we fly home, and the rest of it we will wing. 

I am so excited.  We will go to the New England Aquarium, which is excellent, we will eat clam chowder, and I want to do a Duck Tour. 

Anyone with suggestions for nice places to go in that area, please stick a comment in and let me know.  Unless you're a mad optician, of course.  Then you can fuck right off. 

*A large number of people, as opposed to a group of enormous giants.  Although, we are pretty huge as well, to be fair. 
**Mostly from me, I seem to recall.
****Shit storm from Hades

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Today, as many of you know, is Mardi Gras.  Fat Tuesday.  Shrove Tuesday.  Pancake Day.

To celebrate, Mr WithaY decided to make pancakes.  He's very good at pancakes.  I had already made a mighty fine chicken curry for supper, so as that was finishing off, he whisked up a batch of batter.  You have to give it time, to allow it to rest, before making the pancakes after we'd eaten the curry.

I hope you're following this.

As I was faffing about with rice, Mr WithaY sniffed suspiciously at the milk he'd used for the pancake mix.

"Hm.  I think this might be a bit off," he said, as it sloshed around lumpily in the carton.  He sniffed it, made a face, sniffed it again, then took a swig.  There was some Language. 

He poured it down the sink, and then poked dubiously at the pancake batter.

"Are you going to throw that away as well?" I enquired.

"Nah, it'll be ok."

We ate our curry, which was jolly fine, and after we'd finished, Mr WithaY went out to the kitchen to make the pancakes.  I heard more whisking and stirring noises, then the sad sound of batter being poured down the sink.

"I'll make a fresh batch," he announced.  Well, I stayed where I was, watching House, while the swearing and thumping in the kitchen increased.  It seemed safer.  After a particularly fluent burst of Language, and then some vigorous scraping noises I ventured to ask if things were going well.

It seemed they were not.

Like fruit trees, pancakes can have Good Years and they can have Bad Years.  Reader, I am sorry to say, that 2010 was a Bad Year for pancakes.  They tasted fine, but Mr Withay's fine artistic eye was offended by their lack of symmetry.

It's not like this in Rio, I bet.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

The Muffin Man

In the supermarket this afternoon I was diverted by a man who strode powerfully through the crowds of shoppers, his mobile phone clamped to his ear, his empty basket swinging freely, endangering anyone who happened to be in the way of his hugely important path. 

Everything about his demeanour said:  "Don't get in my way, I am far too busy and important to look where I am going." 

As he walked past me, a trail of dazed and impressed shoppers in his wake, I overheard him speaking to someone.

"Yeah.  I'm in the supermarket.  The bread aisle."

All my illusions that he was negotiating with kidnappers, or orchestrating a huge corporate buy-out were dashed.  He was probably just checking in with his wife to make sure he didn't come home without the correct brand of muffin.  Gah.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Eye, eye, eye

I think my blog is being stalked by a semi-literate optician.  First they posted a comment, calling themselves "Opticians Eye Test":
Eye exams are not designed to supersede contact lenses or eyeglasses. This exam is designed to monitor on your vision. It's something that people normally overlook but it should be considered seriously by every individual who care about their vision.

Thanks for sharing..

I particularly like the "thanks for sharing" at the end there.  I use that expression a lot when I am being sarcastic. I wonder if they are too. 

I am certainly an individual who care about my vision.  Even more so, now I have a weird optician telling me off about it.  I am also an individual who care about grammar. 

Anyhoo, a few weeks later they added another comment on the same post, this time calling themselves simply "Optician".  Very mysterious.  Sounds like a villain in a Marvel comic.  One who forcibly corrects your vision then charges you £300 for new glasses.  The evil bastard. 

Nowadays contact lenses are comfortable for longer periods and can be worn all day. Some contact lens can even be slept in, that mean we don't have to worry about taking them out before we go to bed. I think it is important to visit genuine optician regularly.

Clearly they haven't grasped the concept of a blog being updated now and again.  I wonder if they will be commenting on the same post forever. 

I might investigate getting a contact lens that can be slept in.  I bet it would be really comfy, plus I could do the Dita Von Tees champagne glass routine in it. 

I've not encountered the idea that there are "genuine" opticians and "fake" opticians before.  Interesting.  I have never seen a dodgy back-street optician with a card table covered in eye examination cards, his mate keeping a lookout out for the law while he tests your eyes shoddily. 

"Yeah mate, look at this card.  See it?  Yeah?  Ok.  That'll be £300.  Cheers."

If you buy glasses from them, do they fall apart after an hour, the lenses fogging over, the screws pinging into remote corners, the arms tangling in your hair forever? 

Are the contact lenses he supplies really milk bottle tops with a hole poked through the middle? 

I think the BBC should do one of their hard-hitting investigative documentaries on this.   We need to know.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Fish and chips

Today I have been hauling logs about like some sort of serf. A serf with a wheelbarrow and a bad attitude. If I had had a mud-brown sackcloth tunic on, I would have looked like a woodcut from the Fourteenth Century.  Terry Jones would have used my picture in one of his historical programmes, with some hilarious animations to make my head fall off.

Why?  Well, I'll tell you.

A few weeks ago we had the apple tree in the back garden pruned.  It has been reduced by about a third, maybe more, to try and encourage it to grow more healthily.  I hope it works.  The pruning meant that a huge heap of branches were left on the lawn, much to the interest of the birds.  Today was the day we dealt with them.  I loaded up the wheelbarrow and dragged the larger logs to the woodshed*, grumbling fluently the whole time. 

Mr WithaY, meanwhile, was manning the chipper.  This is not, as the name suggests, a machine for turning potatoes into delicious hot chips, to be sprinkled with salt and vinegar.  No.  It is a frankly terrifying machine that you feed with sticks and it spits the resultant woodchips into a suitable container.  It's more of a monster that needs appeasement than a garden tool. 

You feed it with sticks which the machine grabs, sucking them into the whirling Blade of Doom.  It spits chunks back out of the top at high speed, aiming for your eyes.  If it decides to keep all of the stick in the grinding, roaring innards, it jams bits of them in the workings, forcing the user to poke at them with other sticks until they too are minced up.

It's all very unsatisfactory and alarming.  If the whirling, chopping blade grabs the branch while you're still holding onto it, it whips it about in your hand, which is painful and scary. I was harbouring fears of being sucked in and shredded.  Not that I'd fit, of course, but it wasn't an entirely rational fear.  It was like feeding the maelstrom.  With sticks. 

Also, given Mr WithaY's track record, I was yipping with alarm every time he poked the machinery with the Poking Stick.  No wonder I was relegated to the lowly Serf With Wheelbarrow position.

Other news:  Friday night we were in the pub, chatting to some mates about films we've watched recently.  Mr WithaY and I were talking about "In Bruges", which we watched before Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed.

"Oh, I saw that!" said a friend.  She went on to tell us that when she watched it she was struck by the incredible versatility of the lead actor, especially his convincing Irish accent.  She said it was some considerable time before she realised that Colin Farrell was the man in question, not, as she had at first thought, Will Ferrell.

"I saw him in "Elf" the night before, and was amazed how different he looked!" she told us.  Bless.

Also, we have bought some more fish.  Ten little neon tetra, which just light up the tank beautifully.  No more fatalities since the hideous outbreak of shrimp-eating, which is encouraging.  The fish shop we go to also has a garden centre with lots of statuary on sale.  I was most taken by a giant Chinese stylee stone lion.  I have no idea how much it is** but I already know where I will put it if I do ever buy it.

Maybe later in the year, when things are more organised out there.

*Where I didn't see Something Nasty, thankfully
**I'm guessing A Lot

Thursday, 4 February 2010

There kitty, kitty

If this cat came and sat on my bed, I think I'd encourage it to move, possibly by using strategically-placed tuna on other people's beds.  And then lock my door behind it. 

I was chatting to a mate today about the right-to-die debate that is going on.  We agreed that there needs to be some sort of government quango set up to manage it, headed by a Death Czar.  And he should orbit the Earth.

One of the unpublished letters to the Telegraph in my birthday book made me laugh out loud:

"Try not to get stuck behind Satan in the Post Office queue.  The Devil takes many forms."

I wish, I wish I'd thought of that.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Big Brother

Well, this is interesting.

A million or so people on the DNA database who have not committed any offence.  Only 377 deletions in 2009.  Bloody shameful. 

The police can arrest you, take you to the station, fingerprint you, photograph you, take a sample of your DNA, decide they didn't need to arrest you after all, release you, send you on your merry way, and then retain all the photos, fingerprints and DNA samples for 12 years if they arrested you for a serious enough offence. 

Then, unless you can make a compelling case to the relevant Chief Constable that the records ought to be deleted, you remain on the database.  If you ever encounter another police officer, and they check up on you, there you are. 

According to a police officer of my acquaintance, they won't look at your record and assume you were wrongly arrested, and that's how you ended up on the database.  No.  They will look at your record and assume that you got away with it last time, and then arrest you again. 

Because, clearly, you are a criminal.  Well, you must be, you're on the database. 

Innocent until proven guilty?  Hardly.

I know the police have a bloody awful job.  That it's dangerous, frightening, tiresome, stressful, complicated, depressing, soul-destroying.  I know all that.  I wouldn't do their job for ten times what I am currently paid.  And I know that the law, and the officers of the law are probably all that stands between civilised society and terrifying violent anarchy.  More so in some places than others.  I know that. 

I just think they need to be a bit more careful about who they arrest, and why.  And that they should offer to delete the records immediately and with a good grace when they release people without charge. 

It might save a few lawsuits.  It might have saved that poor bastard in the news report's life. 

Welcome to the future.  Every bit as scary and dystopian as I thought it might be.