Sunday, 26 April 2015

Crash Bang Wallop

Vacuum cleaners are sometimes nicknamed dust busters because they suck up all household fluff and muck.  However, I’ve developed a slightly paranoid sense of reasoning and decided that vacuum cleaners might actually be human being busters.  Six months ago, whilst rushing through the housework, my vacuum cleaner collapsed against my chest (yes, my wobbly bits) and put me in hospital having to have an operation. Then earlier this week, Father Bryant did his own vacuuming and promptly had a nasty accident which saw him end up in hospital too.  His accident was slightly different to mine in that he carried his vacuum cleaner up the stairs in one hand and took lots of paraphernalia in the other. Thus loaded up, he set off up the staircase.  It was a disaster waiting to happen.  And happen it did.  He got all the way to the top when the vacuum cleaner’s weight caused him to stumble. He went to grab the handrail but couldn’t on account of being loaded up and, like a tree being felled, crashed head first down the staircase with everything clattering down on top of him.  Obviously, in hindsight, he realises it was a stupid thing to do…more haste, less speed…and all that jazz.  It’s a horrific thing to happen at any age, never mind when you’re nearly eighty-four. So now he has a fractured clavicle and a mangled arm, but fortunately not a broken back or neck.
          The moral of this tale is…never underestimate your dust buster. Personally I think they are evil contraptions just waiting to catch you out. As I said, I’m now slightly paranoid about vacuum cleaners.  After my accident, I meant to get rid of this particular model as I think it has a design fault.  You only have to knock the back of it and the wretched thing collapses in half, the handle and hose walloping whatever or whoever is unlucky enough to be in its way.  Meanwhile Father Bryant’s vacuum cleaner remains upright and unbroken…unlike him.  Mother Bryant has since had a second safety rail installed, which is all well and good provided you remember to leave your hands free in order to hold on to it.  When I popped round to visit my parents earlier in the week, Mother Bryant proudly showed me the new handrail before going up the staircase herself.  Did she use the handrail?  No.  Instead she went up in her usual way, like a monkey on four limbs.  She insists it’s safer for her to ascend in this way.  So what’s the point of a second handrail?  Which reminds me.
          Recently a man went to a Health and Safety conference where one of the letters from a sign fell and hit him on the head.  Oh, the iron E…

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Glorious Greenwich

I’ve blogged about Greenwich before but, you know what?  It’s such a great place I’m going to write about it again.  Now that the Spring weather has put in a few appearances, Mr V is more receptive for weekend outings.  I love Greenwich for its beautiful expanse of park nestling by the River Thames, whereas my husband loves Greenwich for its numerous coffee shops.  So on the recent Easter Sunday, we took a jaunt to Greenwich to dovetail a brisk walk in the sunshine with a coffee stop or three.
          ‘Don’t be surprised if nothing is open,’ I said to my husband.
          ‘What gives you that idea?
          ‘Well, it’s Easter Sunday.  A holy day.  The supermarket and local shops are closed, so I’m assuming the coffee shops will be shut and the entire place deserted.’
          I couldn’t have been more wrong.  In fact, I’ve never known the park to be heaving with so many people…families out strolling, dogs rushing up to other dogs to engage in ritualistic bottom sniffing, kids on trikes and bikes, teens on scooters and skateboards, couples on rollerblades, granddads and grandmas sitting on benches, picnickers sprawled on blankets, and optimistic sunbathers baring milky limbs to a watery lemon sun.
          Walking through the park took time due to the unbelievable volume of people. As we finally exited through the park’s south gates, we found ourselves caught up in a human tidal wave that swept us down a side street and over a pelican crossing.  We managed to break away by the Cutty Sark.  The historical clipper ship was very much open for business and doing a roaring trade.  Alongside, a bustling market was in full swing.  All manner of nationalities were manning stalls heaving with international cuisine and locally sourced produce.  Ducking down alleyways we checked out numerous antique markets and then, down another narrow cobbled street, the indoor market.  Gaily covered tables loaded with arts and crafts greeted us before merging into yet more food stalls catering for every taste.  The dishes were all sorts – from exotic curries to strange and colourful gluten-free veggie dishes for awkward people like me.
          Walking along scoffing spiced lentils, brown rice, red raw cabbage and a mash of beans was exhilarating…mainly because my husband, a die-hard meat eater, had no inclination to help me out (his words…I prefer to call it swiping).  I can’t tell you how many times, in a restaurant, Mr V polishes his meal off in six seconds flat only to then start on my dinner.  And don’t get me on to the subject of desserts.  When I first met my husband, he categorically told me he wasn’t a pudding person.  For me, pudding is the highlight of a meal.  Bring it on!  Chocolate goo, treacle sponges, anything with custard – oh yeah baby, let me at it!  On our first restaurant date I was slightly taken aback when Mr V’s spoon crossed the gap between us and found its way into my Eton Mess.
          ‘Just having a taste,’ he smiled winningly.
          This was followed by his spoon whizzing backwards and forwards like a speeded-up film.  Back then I was a little more tolerant.  These days I growl like a guard dog.
          ‘BACK OFF, MATEY.  Put your hands IN THE AIR and walk slowly away from the apple crumble.’
          Anyway, I digress.  Greenwich Park, and my vegan dinner, was a sunny
Sunday afternoon delight.  Which reminds me.
A troop of French Foreign Legionaries were marching through the desert. After marching for days, their water supply ran out and they were on the brink of collapse. Then suddenly, as they staggered over the crest of a large sand dune, they came upon a wonderful sight – a market place full of colourful stalls with banners flapping in the breeze.  The legionaries were delighted and ran towards the market. At the first stall, they begged for water. ‘Sorry,’ said the stall-holder, ‘but all I have are my delicious puddings made with jelly, sponge, a cream topping and sprinkled with hundreds and thousands.’ Undeterred, the troops moved on to the next stall, again pleading for water. ‘Sorry, but I only have puddings made with jelly, sponge, a cream topping and sprinkled with hundreds and thousands.’ The legionaries moved on to the next stall, and got the same answer. They soon realised every stall had the same thing.  Finally, one of the stall-holders took pity on them. ‘There is an oasis not far away,’ he said, and pointed them in the right direction. Gasping, the legionaries set off for the oasis. As they were leaving, one of the legionaries turned to the others and said, ‘What a peculiar experience.’ ‘Hmm,’ said another, ‘definitely a trifle bazaar…’


Saturday, 11 April 2015

Manic Organic

First off, I have to warn that for some reason, when typing the word organic… well, it keeps proving tricky.  Bizarrely, my brain and fingers keep producing an entirely different word.  So if I start to enthuse about the taste of my pesticide-free fruit and vegetables as orgasmic oranges and mushrooms, please forgive me.
          As a very reluctant cook who recently made the switch from supermarket shopping to on-line farm shopping (no, just food, no tractors or bales of hay), I’ve discovered all sorts of vegetables we’ve never eaten before.  Suddenly cooking is a bit of an exciting adventure.  I’ve said that before, I know.  Last time it was because I’d bought a slow cooker. For four weeks I was enthralled.  And then the novelty wore off.  But right now, I’m in the grip of a fresh foodie romance, and like all new romances, it’s exciting!  So now I know why Nigella Lawson gets carried away by cucumbers and constantly touches her melons.
          My search for organic food began in the local supermarket. There I found some tiny bunches of broccoli and…that was it.  My sister suggested another supermarket (who shall remain nameless).  Here I fared slightly better – four apples, a small bag of potatoes and carrots, and a box of granola, all at astronomical prices.  Frustrated, I turned to Google.  There had to be an organic farm shop somewhere that delivered to towns like mine.  And there was!
          I discovered Abel & Cole where you can buy not just everything organic but also ‘welfare’ meat which assures the animals have led a good life and are pretty much sung to when their time is up.  I’m not a meat eater, but my family are.  Nor am I tempted to try meat again, especially after seeing a viral video on Facebook where a factory worker was injecting heaven-only-knows-what into tiny chicken carcasses to make them look bigger and more succulent.  That video was the turning point in overhauling what ended up on the family dinner table.
          Discovering Abel & Cole was a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand there was an abundance of meat, fruit, veg, salads and basics for the larder, but on the other it all required cooking from scratch.  When the delivery man arrived, I was overwhelmed with two emotions.  The first was joy at lifting lids on beautifully packed produce.  The second was fear.  Yes, fear.  As I peered into a paper bag containing what I thought to be giant pieces of ginger stumps, I wondered if – excuse the play on words – I’d bitten off more than I could chew.  Especially when I found a little label informing me that the giant ginger stumps were, in fact, Jerusalem artichokes.  I’d never eaten them in my life, never mind cooked them!  But a family needs feeding, so I set about cooking.  Day One resulted in a simple beef casserole (hello hotpot!).  Day Two, a sweet and sour chicken.  Day Three, lamb infused with fresh rosemary with a side accompaniment of Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes and asparagus roasted in herby olive oil.  Yes, simple stuff, but BIG stuff for me.  I’m used to peeling the lid off a ready-made meal, not peeling a mountain of veg.  But so far it’s actually been enjoyable!  Even more amazing, the weekly food bill was about one-third cheaper than the supermarket.  So I will be returning to Abel & Cole’s website and ordering again.  But don’t worry, Nigella, your job is safe.  Which reminds me.  My husband usually tells me I feed him like a God.  Every meal is a burnt offering…


Sunday, 5 April 2015

Beautiful Broadstairs

Last weekend my husband suggested we ‘blow away the cobwebs’ – an apt expression given that, outside, the wind was blowing everything sideways.
          ‘What do you have in mind?’ I asked cautiously.
          ‘A drive to the coast.’
          ‘Ooh, Brighton?’  I love Brighton.  It’s the town where I was born and which, later, became home-from-home for the first twelve years of my life.  I immediately had visions of fish and chips on the pebble beach, getting blown to pieces on the pier and, later, taking refuge within The Lanes amongst wonderful arty-farty shops.
          ‘Ah,’ Mr V pulled a face, ‘I was thinking more...Broadstairs actually.’
          Broadstairs!’ I said in horror.  The last time we ventured there was surely twelve years ago, if not longer.  It was definitely a pre-pooch era because we used to drive there virtually every weekend in summer with three over-excited children.  After a full-on week working in London, packing up the car and piling down to Broadstairs with buckets, spades, water-wings, sun cream, picnics, towels, changes of clothes, flip-flops, sunhats, but also raincoats, umbrellas, woollies and wellies in case the weather changed without a moment’s notice, is something I tend to look back on with…well, exhaustion.  The photograph albums show three happy children beaming into the camera.  They don’t show the haggard woman who was behind the lens with arms like stretched spaghetti while the husband drove round and round the seaside town vainly looking for a parking space.  In fact, my only other memory of Broadstairs is when my step-daughter and son wanted donkey rides, and then proceeded to have a nervous breakdown once the poor animals set off along the sandy beach.
          ‘It will be different now,’ my husband looked at me with beseeching spaniel-eyes.  ‘It’s pretty much just the two of us these days.’
          ‘You’re right!’  I stood up, fire suddenly in my belly.  ‘Hang on.  I don’t have to pack a picnic, do I?’
          ‘Nooooo!  We’ll go somewhere nice for lunch.’
          ‘What are we waiting for?’ I cried, grabbing my coat.  ‘Lead me to Broadstairs.’
          Fifty minutes later we were there (it would have been double if I’d been driving).  We found a parking space with ease and walked along the empty promenade, before walking down steps to the almost deserted beach. Despite the strong winds, the sea remained virtually flat.  Pale grey waters lapped sand so yellow it looked like God had sprinkled it with turmeric.  The only thing that disturbed the uninterrupted expanse of beach was a trail of paw prints belonging to a couple of dogs off their leads.  They barked joyfully, paddling in the shallows as the wind whipped their long ears up above their heads.  And talking of dogs, we passed three beagles.  I mean, what was that all about?  Some sort of sign that it was time to get another?  And suddenly a man appeared from nowhere with…yes…a beagle, and got chatting to us.  I stooped to make a fuss of his pooch who, the owner informed, was a stud dog and went to Crufts every year.
          ‘One of the bitches is in pup now, if you’re interested.’  He pressed a business card into my palm.  My fingers curled around the stiff rectangle of paper.  I would love a puppy, but when there are so many unwanted beagles out there needing a forever home, a pup makes me hesitate.  I gave his hound one last cuddle, before we carried on strolling along the winding promenade.
          Funny how memories of the kids here suddenly became rose-tinted, rather than hard slog.  In front of us was the bit where they made umpteen sandcastles with massive moats. To the right was the area a small funfair used to be.  The kids would beg for just one more 50p to have just one more ride.  And to the far left the donkeys would be tethered, patient and resigned to lumbering up and down the beach with child after child on their backs.
          I sighed and inhaled the sea air deeply, just as my stomach growled with hunger.
          ‘Lunch?’ asked Mr V.
          I nodded.  How very nice not to be battling to eat a sandwich while seagulls swooped and tried to mug you of your cheese and tomato on brown.
          We went to Prezzo and sat in their beautiful sea-facing conservatory, warm and cosy, while outside the stiff breeze rattled signposts and shook hanging baskets full of spring flowers.  And there, at the very next table to us, sat the actress Gwyneth Strong, better known as Cassandra from Only Fools and Horses, having lunch with friends.
          ‘Don’t stare,’ said Mr V.
          ‘I’m not,’ I said indignantly, while doing exactly that.  I can tell you now it’s the hardest thing in the world not to look at somebody when you know you shouldn’t.  ‘And now you’re staring!’
          ‘I know. I can’t help it!’
          It took all my willpower not to say, ‘All right, Cass?  Where’s Rodders?’  Although I suspect she’s heard that one a million times.
          So we did our best to pretend we hadn’t noticed this celebrity and concentrated on staring at the sea instead.  Which reminds me.  What did the seaweed say when it got stuck to the bottom of the sea bed?  ‘Kelp!  Kelp…!’