Monday, 18 June 2018

Fish Supper

Z was going to be out for the earlier part of the evening, so it fell to me to cook.  Paul the Fish calls on Monday mornings; we usually have a debate about what’s best today, what do we fancy and so forth.  This often becomes the ‘you choose’ ‘no, you choose’ dialogue, where Paul ends up as the adjudicator; but in this case it was obviously entirely down to me, so I just went random and said ‘hake’.

We had a batch of leftover cherry tomatoes, so I invented a recipe that Z told me I should write down, as I could be the next Nigel Slater (who specialises in making a lot* out of whatever’s available).  So here it is.
All the chopping is best done in an electric grinder/chopper.
Finely chop a fat clove of garlic and put it in a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Let it just turn light brown over a medium heat.
Meanwhile, smash up about 20 cherry tomatoes (no need to skin them; if using bigger ones, you might choose to) and add them to the pan.  Add a small glass of dry vermouth (or whatever white wine you have to hand; vermouth is best though).  Season with salt and plenty of pepper.
Cook for about 20 minutes until fairly concentrated but still liquid.  Halfway through, finely chop a small bunch of basil leaves and add them to the sauce.
Cut the hake fillets (any firm fish will do; monkfish or turbot would be great) into large chunks and add them to the pan.  Stir gently to coat the fish, cover and simmer until the fish is just cooked through.  It was about 5 minutes for the hake.
If the sauce seems a bit wet (the fish will have added some liquid), remove the fish and boil hard for a minute or two.
We served it with the season’s first marsh samphire (not local yet, from France, but tres bon).

 *Including money

Friday, 8 June 2018

Learning Norfolk

I am, slowly but surely.

We had to go to something called Reedham Ferry for lunch.  For reasons too devious to mention here, Z drove.  The satnav said it’d take 45 minutes, which seemed s bit much until we worked out that that included the ferry crossing time (see below). Anyway, after a couple of U turns we got there.  That is, we got to the south (I think – the only compass points that seem to matter in Norfolk are east and, if you insist, west) side of the Yare.  But the pub is on the north side.

So what you do is cross the river on the eponymous ferry.  We’d done a bit of research and established that the thing to do is park on the south side and cross as pedestrians, which would cost us much less than taking the car over and then bringing it back again, which would anyway have been pretty pointless.  (My brother and sister were both already on the right – I mean north – side of the Yare.)

So we parked up and got onto the ferry.  It’s a very small chain ferry, crossing about 250 yards of river.  A chain ferry drags itself across its stretch of water by winching a pair of fixed chains through cogwheels on the ferry and so dragging its cargo across and safely discharging it on the other side.  There are ramps that enable roro.  R opined that the chains were a bit shorter than they used to be and so higher in the water, which would make it a bit riskier to drive a boat over until the ferry had fully completed its voyage.  But the boat drivers seemed to manage. 
Z and I stepped aboard.  The price list said ‘PEDESTRIANS 50p’ and ‘MINIMUM CHARGE £1.50’, which was a bit confusing until the young man manning the ferry asked us if we were going to the pub, in which case it was free – at which point I remembered that I was in Norfolk.

Afterwards, I remembered the previous time I’d been on a chain ferry.  Sandbanks to Shell Bay.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The caravan evolves

We’d taken a circuitous route rather than the usual boring bomb down the M4, because Z had arranged to visit someone in mid-Wales for business reasons, which seemed, from my perspective at least, to offer the possibility of revisiting the scenic route my father liked to take on family holiday journeys back in the fifties.  It didn’t quite turn out that way, mainly because the satnav refused to take us up the A417, over Birdlip Hill, and through the Forest of Dean; nor did I get to see that Black Mountain view down from a dizzy height to a reservoir with a toy train running alongside it.  But the company and the lunch were compensation enough.

Very few of the people I think of as my ‘old caravan mates’ attend frequently nowadays; indeed, some have given up their vans completely, and others I know have health issues.  I can’t expect to relive heady occasions like my 60th birthday, when I happened to mention it to a neighbour in the gents (no in-van plumbing in those days) and an hour later was joined on the newly-laid patio by a tipsy horde of about sixteen glass- and bottle-clutching Welsh party-makers.  Nor can I expect again to stagger glass- and bottle-clutching up the hill towards Dave and Marilyn’s and fall over halfway under the influence of an unaccustomed cigarette.  Just as well really.
Of course, the next generation has mostly inherited, as well as the property, at least some of the behaviours (though I don’t think they’re as good at them as we were).  I can’t expect or want to be drawn into that.  Watching the little ones will do now.
And the rabbits, which are back in force and still burrowing under the front of my caravan.  Joseph assured me they can’t excavate a big enough sinkhole, but I noticed that a bag of cement had been left behind the van, and was tempted to tip it down there just in case.  Probably just as well I didn’t.  I’m not sure that the insurance covers failed attempts to fill in undermining rabbit warrens.

 

Saturday, 21 April 2018

St Edmundsbury Cathedral

On a whim over breakfast, I suggested that we go for an outing.  The choices were the coast or Bury St Edmunds, and I was pleased that Z opted for the latter.  I used to collect cathedrals.  Failing memory and neglect mean that I can’t name them all, but I can recall a few favourites – Winchester, Salisbury, especially Chichester – and now I can add this one.

It’s quite austere as cathedrals go.  Its main nave dates from 1503, so probably the cathedral as we see it was born too late to be too much of a victim of the Reformation depravation.  The relatively low-key flashy bits are mostly later add-ons; though my sole source of historical information, a little brochure handed to me by a charming greeter, of whom later, is confusing to say the least.  The showpiece stained glass Susanna window, for example, is dated around 1480, so must have been recycled from somewhere.  And it’s called St Edmundsbury, which makes one wonder which came first, the saint or the town?  I’ll have to look it up.*
The man who welcomed us proved to have Yagnub origins, to have been slightly acquainted with the Sage, and to have a few bits of Lowestoft china which he might want to sell at some time.  Z was quite moved by this reminder of the power of coincidence, I think.
Next time we go there, we will take a picture of a commemorative wall plaque that manages to write the history, from tragic to happy, of several generations of a local eighteenth century family; find out more about the project (comparable in scale to the Fishguard Last Invasion tapestry) that resulted in hundreds of uniquely embroidered kneelers on the pews, one for each and every parish in the diocese and well beyond, as far as we could make out; and walk in the cloisters.

Afterwards, we wandered out and around the town, admiring how graciously ancient buildings have mostly managed to absorb modern commercial functions, and unsuccessfully looking for non-chain-outlet food, before we took off and found a well-concealed but deservedly popular lunch venue at a vineyard just off the A143.

*Or await a clarifying comment from one of my many readers…

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Caravan Diaries – Rules?

There are rules.  I’d always known this, of course, just never knew what they were.  Joseph has remedied this by publishing a long list of them, mostly aimed at preventing and penalising sub-letting.  He assures me that they don’t really apply to the likes of me.

If I didn’t know as much as I do about how Pembrokeshire works, I’d find that slightly patronising.  As it is, I decide to find it amusing.  He’s a nice man whose spirit and skills are in practicality – mechanical problem-solving, farming – not in commercial rental management, and some people have undoubtedly been taking advantage.  But he really should have had someone check it out before publishing.  Some of these so-called ‘rules’ are absurd, not to say self-contradictory, and a lawyer would have a field day if it ever came to it – not that it will, Pembrokeshire law is mostly about how to avoid itself.

Some things called O-rings in the shower mixer unit have been damaged, probably by my insufficient unscrewing of the tiny grub screws when removing it for over-wintering, resulting in a slight, steady drip.  Joseph might have some spare ones, or can get some, and will fit them.  A list of the rescues he’s performed for me over the years would bore you to snores and probably overflow the internet.  I have to allow him a few stupid rules, don’t I?
 
The sea never changes, and is never the same.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Rules Are Made To Be Broken

We were discussing Picasso the other evening, and how he needed to learn the fundamental skills of his craft, and the understood rules of his medium, before he could afford to ignore both of those imposters and become a true artist.

I’m now listening to Cecil Taylor doing something comparable to improvised jazz.  The first track on ‘The World of Cecil Taylor’ (Candid 9006, 1960) is called ‘Air’, and could easily be discounted as just a bunch of, let’s say, well-enhanced would-be’s plonking around on their piano, drums and bass to demonstrate their undoubted mastery of the skills without ending up making anything approaching real music – until you get halfway through, and the age-old jazz trick of ‘fours with the drummer’ kicks in.  At which point you realise that Cecil on piano and Dennis Charles on drums are actually playing the same phrases, competitively bouncing them off each other and winding each other’s last shot up to the next level, and that they know the rules too.  At which point you – or at any rate I – burst out laughing.
But it’s track two that really proves my point (if I have one).  It’s a corny ballad from South Pacific called ‘This Nearly Was Mine’.  Taylor mischievously tears it apart and stitches it back together like a child playing with a dressing-up box – but the song never gets lost; and I imagined that he was feeling, and expressing, a variant of what Rodgers was after when he tried to catch Emile’s emotions when he thought he’d lost Nellie.
But I’ve stretched this far enough, so I’m off to antidote with a chunk of The Clash. Who also knew how to break the rules they knew.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Climate and Weather

Everyone except Donald Trump knows the difference between these, right?  So how to explain it to him?  I thought about it until I felt I understood it myself a bit, then came up with this analogy.  Don’t drill any deeper into it than I have, because it will crumble.

Imagine a broad highway.  It has edges and fairly predictable curves, but not much else in the way of controls.  That’s the climate.
Now imagine you’re driving along this highway.  The lack of controls means you can take any number of paths within the existing edges and curves.  You’re the weather.
Now someone comes along and, unpredictably, moves the edges and reroutes the curves.  That’s climate change.
Most of the time you (the weather) will carry on as you always have. But the more the climate highway gets wider or narrower, bendier or straighter, the more likely you are to crash.