Tuesday, 25 October 2016


Earlier this evening, I mistakenly described making risotto as boring, which it isn’t. *  Z put me right by pointing out that, in the right circumstances, making risotto can be quite comforting.  So boring it isn’t.

It is a routine, though.  At least the early stages (the fun comes at the end, when you transform this soggy mess into something uniquely exquisite, or thereabouts): soften the onion, add the rice, then half an hour of ladle of stock, stir, ladle of stock, stir, ladle of stock – with exact timing and quantities, so you’re not even allowed to wander off and do something else.  But you are allowed to think, so naturally my thoughts turned to breakfast.

Now that’s a routine!  Everybody must have one.  (Or at least everybody who actually eats breakfast.**) How else would we get to coffee time?  I’m not suggesting it has to be the same every day, of course; but the breakfast routine is the default when any or all of imagination, energy and willpower fail.  I won’t bore (ha!) you with the details of mine, except to say that feeding the cat figures in there, somewhere between the tea and the toast phases, and that timing (which I find is a key attribute of a good routine) has to be flexible: which keeps the routine from becoming a habit.

Which brings me to what I really wanted to say.  Routines are good, because they can be pulled in to take care of unimportant but necessary business.  Habits are bad, because they can’t be pushed out to make way for anything.  The trick is not to let the former turn into the latter.  Thinking helps.



* I will never tire of repeating my definition of boredom, which is wanting to do something but not having anything you want to do, even though I know I delighted (not to say bored) you enough with it years ago.

**Marco Pierre White once claimed he always had a three-course breakfast: a coffee, a cigarette, and a cough.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Leeds (4)

I half-promised the other day to write about a certain breed of small vehicle (now thankfully extinct), and as I’ve resolved to blog more often, in the hope of doing my bit towards revitalising this dying art, here goes.

The car in question was an anagram of Brian Retail – although I’m sure they’re no longer made, I’m also sure there are still owners, whom I wouldn’t want to upset should they goggle their enthusiasm and light upon this post.  You know what I mean.

Anyway, this particular one was owned by one of my first digsmates in Brookfield Avenue, Leeds, whose name, as it happens, was Brian.  Brian (who was a dental student and as far as I know never went into the retail trade, but never mind) was quite challengingly mischievous, in a good if dangerous way.  Having ferried me around for a while in this contraption, one day he asked me if I’d like to have a drive.  I’d recently passed my test, and any such opportunity wasn’t to be passed by, so I naturally accepted.

The driving position, as I recall, meant that a tallish person like me had to scrunch himself up like a used tissue just to fit in there, never mind drive the thing.  Having been instructed in the peculiarities of the pedals and the column shift, we set off. 

Brian gave me directions – “left here, straight on a bit, right” – and I was getting quite into it, feeling my way into the car’s unusual responsiveness to instructions, until he said “OK, go left here.  Best you change down to first.”

I did say he was mischievous.  He’d taken me to the top of the steepest hill in, if not all Leeds, then certainly the Harehills district.  It was about one in eight, a good hundred yards down. There was a set of traffic lights at the bottom.  Giggling, Brian told me how to proceed.

“What you do now, you put both your feet on the footbrake, you pull the handbrake up as hard as you can with both hands, and you stand up.  Oh, and pray for green.”

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Follow the Van (Caravan diaries)

We’ve been from Norfolk to Pembrokeshire and back in the past week.  As a result, the caravan is now asleep until the spring.

I learnt two interesting things whilst we were there.  (Pembrokeshire, that is, not Norfolk.)  The first was one of those circular routes that start from somewhere completely irrelevant, accidentally take you through several relevant places and drop you off at another completely irrelevant spot just next door.

For some completely irrelevant reason, we started singing that song about my old man said follow the van, you know the one.  Turns out they were evicted, had to load everything onto this van, there wasn’t room for her so she had to walk, toting a completely irrelevant bird, got lost and pissed, etc etc.  The interesting bit was, of course, the van, which started its life as a queue of transport camels crossing the Sahara, turned into a single horse- (not camel-) drawn vehicle which later acquired an internal combustion engine, before performing a career swerve, regaining its full name and becoming a mobile home (a term now exclusively reserved for static ones, the mobile ones being termed tourers) commonly known as a caravan, or string of load-bearing camels but, to us insiders, knowingly referred to as ‘the van’.

The other thing was to do with Julius Caesar, who apparently didn’t say (in Latin) ‘the die is cast’ but (in Greek) ‘the dice must be thrown’, or some such thing that means more or less the opposite.  What I learnt was that I’d been wrongly taught, about sixty-five years ago, that the ‘die’ in question was one of those metal stamps for making coins and ‘cast’ meant ‘forged’, as in cast iron.  Ah well.  I have little of either language, and less of the other.

In other news, there was only one rabbit.