Wednesday, September 15, 2010

End of the line

Just over four years ago I was sitting in a pub called the Goat Major in Cardiff with my pal Matt Withers and we started our usual debate about the Internet. I was coming out with my usual mantra that it would be "Just a passing phase" while he was insisting the World Wide Web was here to stay and I had better get used to it.
Over the next few pints we hatched a plot that I would start writing a blog, focusing on my culinary talents, and inform whoever could be bothered to read it of the recipes that I had come up with the previous night. With startling originality we decided it would be called "What I Cooked Last Night". I expected it to last about two days.
But it didn't really turn out the way. It became a record of our times on the Wales on Sunday or, more to the point, what the staff of that esteemed chronicle got up to in the pubs and clubs around Cardiff. Later it spread its wings and encapsulated the whole Meeja Wales experiment.
It was visionary (and double visionary on occasions), marking an era and coining some memorable phrases which are still used with fondness to this day - like Boozeday Tuesday, The Wednesday Club and Thirsty Thursday.
There was creative thinking, like how to make an entire Sunday Lunch out of different flavoured crisps, homespun philosophy from Withers ("All women who wear red shoes are prostitutes") and problem solving (how to get your girlfriend's front door keys back to her when you have driven home 45 miles to find them in your pocket).
And the nicknames became so legendary that many of the characters still go by them to this day. People were introduced to the Prince of Darkness, The Fabulous Baker Boy, Smashy and Nicey, the Fugitive, Wathanovski, Owenov, the Boss and Posh and Becks.
Well, it was fun while it lasted, an epic diversion, but it's time to wrap it all up.
Four years on and my life has changed remarkably. During the years of the blog I have been on a Barmy Army sabbatical to Australia, met a wonderful woman, got married, had a child, moved to Bristol and started working for the biggest Sunday newspaper in the UK - the Screws, as it is known here.
My tales have taken me to Boston to see my beloved Red Sox, and Cuba for an immense honeymoon experience.
But along the way the original idea has drifted as well. I don't spend nearly enough time in the pub to come up with such bizarre and cautionary tales, I no longer can regale the latest adventures of the Prince of Darkness or the Wonderful Withers of WoS, because as married life settles down I don't find the time to catch up on all the meaningless gossip in a way to do the blog justice.
Anyway, if I get any good little tales I think the world should know, I am now on Twitter @NickRipp so I will make every effort to spread the word in this other form of the "passing phase".
It's been a pleasure sitting down and trying to remember or, as some people might suggest, making up stories about my erstwhile friends. Unfortunately, this blog was starting to turn into an online diary of my life, and only those closest to me could possibly feel motivated to trawl through that.
I am glad, though, that my beautiful little baby Olivia got a mention and one day she may well sit down and read about what an angry, boozy, all-round mentallist I was. It's true, Liv, well some of it.
I'm also thankful to my grown-up daughter the Fat Kid, my wife Mrs Rippers (who began long ago as Celtic Liz), and my grandkids the Vin Monster and the Big Boy for giving me some interesting stories to narate without disowning me for giving away their secrets.
For anyone who wants to know, I am cooking beefburgers tonight.
What I cook tomorrow will be purely for my own amusement.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Tiffin for two

My love affair with clotted cream has been re-ignited over the last few weeks, what with our visit to Wiltshire and then a little trip down to Cornwall.
But it is interesting to see the difference between the value and price of cream teas in parts of the West Country.
In Lacock, no doubt because of the Cranford connection, the price of a couple of home made scones and a cuppa was absurdly expensive (at least, it was in the tea room we visited, the King John Hunting Lodge), obviously taking advantage of the American tourists in search of the ultimate quaint English atmosphere. They probably think this is where we all spend our afternoons when, in fact, most of the people I know would rather toddle along to their neighbourhood Starbucks.
After that we found a nice little bistro in Fowey, where lashings of cream and jam were plastered onto hot scones fresh from the oven. The scones were cheaper, tastier and altogether nicer at the Brown Sugar cafe.
Yesterday, though, Mrs Rippers and I found the ultimate cream tea experience much closer to home, in the Tiffin restaurant on Clevedon sea front. Fantastic. A pot of Assam tea which hot scones, oodles of jam and clotted cream, and all for the unbeatable price of £4.50. Well done, Clevedon.
Back in the smoke deputy boss Bob, who spent some of his formative journalistic years on the St Blazey beat, brought up the subject of which goes on first: Jam or cream. It's a question likely to cause more outrage and debate than the merits of the current coalition government
The much-travelled Critch got in on the act and it was established that Devon puts the cream on first, then the jam. Cornwall does it the other way around.
I don't really think there is a hard and fast rule.
I tried it both ways over the previous weeks and though I find putting the cream on first is easier as it acts like butter, putting jam on first enables you to pile the cream as high as you like.
Admittedly, it is a messy job, but someone has to do it.

Livvy update. Our darling daughter has now managed to roll over from her back to her front, much to the amusement of myself and Mrs Rippers. It means we have to keep a close eye on her these days, in case she sees the chance of a quick getaway.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Real Cornish pasties

THEY say it is bad luck to put an umbrella up in the house. It certainly is if you happen to be sharing that dwelling with Mrs Rippers.
We have just spent a lovely few days in a mobile home at a campsite in Hayle, Cornwall. We were joined there by the fat kid, vin monster, big boy and the fat kid's sister Lottie. Little Livvy certainly loved all the attention.
During our visit we had a one day trip to the surfer town of Newquay which, despite the fight for a car parking space, was well worth the journey - particularly to sample the delicacies of Cornish pasties and traditional, creamy Kelly's ice cream, while Mrs R enjoyed a small shopping spree in the tourist-magnet outlets around the town.
On the following day back at Hayle, the weather was perfect, and the boys had a good time building sand castles on the beach, though their mother took it a bit too far by burying the Vin Monster up to his neck in sand then turning him into an exceptionally crude, giant phallic symbol. God knows what our neighbours on the beach must have thought.
I used to spend a lot of time in Cornwall. It was where my parents met, coming from the adjoining towns of St Austell and St Blazey, so on Tuesday I took Mrs Rippers and Livvy on a tour of the old haunts.
We visited St Austell shopping centre, then went on to the isolated and charming Par beach before travelling to Fowey, a quaint little fishing harbour. Mind you, the town was built long before people considered the problems associated with wheeling a child in one of today's heavy-duty childrens buggies and, having parked at the car park on the top of the hill, it was like a mission even Edmond Hillary might have turned down to get Livvy down into the centre of the town. As for coming back up, I can safely say my heavy breathing at the top could have been recorded as a soundtrack for Darth Vader's next appearance in a Star Wars movie (note to self: MUST cut out the ciggies).
While the whole experience was good fun, there were a few little dramas along the way. For example, it wasn't until we attempted to put up our newly purchased travel cot from Mothercare that we realised you needed the strength of Geoff Capes and the patience of Gandhi to tackle such a momentous task.
The Fat Kid, having spent four days a week at the gym over the last few months in a bid to develop the body beautiful, used all her new-found strength to finally conquer a task more suited to the most adept contestants in the Krypton Factor. Taking it down, too, was hardly a piece of cake.
Once pieces of metal started falling from it and a large chunk of plastic broke off in my hand there was no choice... and back to the shop it went the minute we returned to Bristol.
Cot erected, Mrs Rippers decided our bedroom was a bit too bright and might disturb Olivia, so that is where the brolly came in.
She tucked a red parasol over one of the lights, plunging the room into a deep Scarlet hue which had me fearing we might be inundated with "gentlemen callers" in the middle of the night.
But the real shock came in the early hours of one morning when Mrs Rippers suddenly leapt from the bed, grabbed the umbrella and hurled it across the room, knocking over glasses of water and all manner of other things in its way.
I sat there stunned for a good few seconds, before asking the question that had been nagging me since the ill-thought-out event. "What did you do that for?"
"I just needed a bit more light," came the rather bemusing reply.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Gastro delight

Mrs Rippers and I found Gastro Heaven nestled in the middle of the Cotswolds last weekend.
As part of the extended Mrs R 40th birthday celebrations I planned a little trip 30 miles up the road to Tetbury.
First of all we visited Lacock, the olde worlde Wiltshire village where Cranford is filmed, and managed to avoid being stung by the hundreds of wasps who had also decided it would be a good place to spend the day.
During the trip we also popped into the Hunters Lodge for Jam, cream and scones and a pot of tea which cost the quite unreasonable amount of £12 (great trap for those rich Yankee tourists, though).
Having spent an enjoyable afternoon it was off to Tetbury where we booked into the Priory. Readers of this blog will no doubt think it's about time that I went to dry out at the clinic where Paul Gascoigne spends a lot of his time, but this was the Priory Inn, and what a find it was.
I found it simply by googling Children friendly hotels and this was listed as one of the top 10 in Britain. When we got to our room we found a very nice cot and plenty of toys to keep Livvy happy while we unpacked and got ready for the evening's entertainment.
This involved going down to the bar and eating in the Gastro restaurant where all food has been sourced from within a 30-mile radius.
Their specialty is pizza, and I tucked into a bacon, chorizo, free range egg and potato concoction which left me completely bloated and begging for a doggie bag. Mrs R enjoyed a meat feast combo and we had also opened the evening with some delicious starters - all including in the reasonable price of our overnight stay.
While there we were entertained by a solo musician of pretty decent quality who also managed to sing our daughter to sleep for the whole evening - a rare treat for us.
After that we slept soundly in a luxury king-sized bed before enjoying a hearty breakfast and popping out for a good walk around the town centre and a visit to some of the shops.
In short, a very pleasant trip was had by all.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Spicy dutch cheese (uh oh!)

HAVE you ever desperately tried to avoid a football score because you wanted to see the highlights of the game later? It very rarely works, you'll find.
It happened to me during my dim and distant days working for a news agency in Stoke on Trent. All day long I had been trying to avoid the result of the England match that night. And with 30 minutes to go before Match of the Day, I realised I had run out of cigarettes.
I figured a trip to the local boozer wasn't ideal, but I could be in and out of the off licence next door before anyone registered my presence. But despite putting fingers to my ears to block out the noise, some loudmouth still managed to tell his mate within my earshot: "Good win for England wasn't it? Who got the two goals?"

The relevance of this story? Well, it was my lovely wife's 40th birthday yesterday and she decided she would like a trip to our old stomping ground of Cardiff. When she told me of her wish on Monday it got the cogs in my mind whirring.
Why not arrange a surprise dinner and invite some of her friends to turn up, giving her a pleasant surprise and providing me with brownie points until Christmas?
These days with all these passing fads - twitter, facebook, e-mail and text message - the job isn't as onerous as it might have been previously and I was able to secure a decent turnout. Then, it was just a case of making any last-minute alterations, getting someone to source the cake and getting her to the venue on time.
Simple. Or maybe not.
First I picked the wrong day. Somehow, in my enthusiasm, I organised it for Wednesday at 2.30 in a little restaurant in Cardiff Bay called Mimosa.
"Why are we going to Cardiff on Wednesday?" she inquired. "It's my birthday on Thursday and I have a doctor's appointment with the baby on the previous day."
So back onto twitter, facebook, e-mail and mobile phone to inform people of the change of plan.
Then the Wonderful Withers sends me a message. "I'm news editing the Daily Snail, could we make it earlier in the day?"
No problem.
Back on to twitter, facebook, e-mail and mobile phone to tell everyone the new arrangement.
And trying to keep my activities quiet from Mrs Rippers at the same time.
She thinks I've left her holding the crying baby while I fritter away my time on the Bristol Rovers website and my blogs.
Not quite. Though I did do a bit of that, too, I must admit.
Anyway new time accepted and it is all go. I've still got a decent response.

Thursday morning and Olivia has got us up by 7.10am. She is in a particularly contrary mood. First she wants food, then she doesn't, then she does, then she doesn't. She cries when I put her in the car seat. She cries when I put the car seat in the car. She cries when I take them both out again. She finally settles for a seat in mummy's car instead.
Then comes one of the text messages I feared. It's Wales on Sunday former news editor Kempy who has unfortunately contracted an ear problem and won't be able to make the surprise do. Neither will husband Coggsy and baby Paddy.
Poor old Kempy. Never mind, we will catch up another time.
Finally, we get the car loaded. We are already running late, but Mrs Rippers doesn't even know we are working to a deadline.
I've arranged to pop into Meeja Wales to show off the new addition to the family to former colleagues, including the Boss, so it's going to be tight to make it down to the Bay in time for lunch.
Then comes the moment when the whole plan nearly blows up in my face.
I've told her about Kempy's illness but NOT informed her that she was one of the surprise guests at my lunch.
Half way across the bridge into Wales, Mrs R looks up from her I-phone and tells me: "What a pity Kempy can't make it."
What? What does she know? How has she found out? Is the surprise blown?
"What do you mean?" I ask, with heart in mouth.
"Oh, she has just texted me telling me to have a nice time and it is a shame that she can't be there..."
"I was quite looking forward to seeing her in the office."
Phew. What an escape!
And what a howler from the Kempster.
I look clandestinely at the text I originally sent her.
What part of "surprise lunch" didn't she understand?

Anyway, all goes well, apart from the fact I get lost on the way to the Bay.
Even so, that works in my favour because the other guests have arrived and are sitting around the table when Mrs Rippers and I walk through the door. There is my pal Jane, Liz's close friend Claire and daughter Amelia. Paps, Smashy and the wonderful Withers have joined us, too.
We enjoy a very leisurely lunch and Claire has done the biz and managed to get me a cake, which is Mrs R's highlight of the day. She and Amelia take turns blowing the candles out.
"How did you arrange all this?" she asks.
"It's a long story," I reply.
Involving twitter, facebook, e-mail and text.

Getting home I just needed a snack, having feasted on beautiful Roast Lamb at Mimosa.
So I dive into the fridge for some new Hot Dutch cheese I've bought, which I have on crackers.
And very wicked this morning as my stomach turns somersaults as I make the long drive to the Smoke for work.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sold a pup

DING, dong the dog has gone. After nine days of mayhem in the Fat Kid's household she has decided that her pet pooch Pebbles was a bit too much to handle. When I heard the news I cracked open a beer to celebrate.
The little Staffordshire Bull terrier, which she envisaged turning into one of those "handbag" pups, outstayed her welcome quicker than I thought she would.
Having insisted on numerous occasions that my eldest daughter might find looking after a pet, on top of Vin Monster and the Big Boy, all too much it appears that I have been proved right.
As usual, the Fat Kid decided she needed to find out for herself and shun my advice. It meant putting up with just over a week of peeing, pooing, biting and generally causing chaos before she faced up to the fact it wasn't the brightest idea.
That's the pup, not the Fat Kid.
In that time I had to endure a sleepless night while the little terrier screeched and howled and ran amok in the kitchen, overturning bins and eating up their contents before ripping a black bin liner to pieces then peeing on the floor.
Two days later the text came through. "I'm getting rid of this dog, it keeps chewing everything!"
Still, dog lovers, never fear. The pup from purgatory has gone to a careful owner, one who appreciates the finer qualities of canine care and doesn't just think that "looking cute" is their sole purpose in life.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chip off the old block

I can barely believe my darling daughter Olivia is now over seven weeks old. Every time I return home after a few days earning a crust up in the smoke she seems to have grown, not only in size but in facial expressions.
She has now developed a clicking sound with her tongue, a very clever piece of linguistic skill which I often try to copy, and is working on a good right uppercut for anyone who catches her in the wrong mood.
She's smiling, too, which is fab. These smiles, though, tend to come at a time when she has managed to inflict some piece of ill-fortune on either myself or Mrs Rippers, or embarrassed us in public.
The other day she was full of giggles after reaching back and throwing her nappy at me, while peeing the moment said nappy is removed seems to be another of her favourite tricks.
In fairness, though, we do get the chance to laugh at her, too, which isn't really fair on one so young. When she clambered up my stomach the other day and started sucking my nose, mistaking it for a nipple, I must admit I was in fits of laughter.
Today, though, it was Mrs Rippers who was on the wrong end of Livvy's attempt at humour.
Trying to find interesting things for her and Livvy to do, Mrs R decided to attend a coffee morning at the local library.
My regular reader will know that my darling wife has a love affair with libraries that cannot be shaken. It used to be a source of amusement for me when she would describe the highlight of her day as "taking out some new books", though I must admit her continued fixation with these book-lending facilities have even persuaded me to "join up" of late.
Still, I digress. When Mrs Rippers turned up she found the average age (not including my baby) was about 62 and they were all sitting around the hobnobs and Ovaltine having a good natter about knitting, flower arranging and the best treatment for varicose veins.
My wife sat there quietly, nodding in her polite manner, until the whispering was interrupted by a loud, long, ripping sound.
All the old ladies looked at each other accusingly, then shook their ear pieces to make sure their hearing aids weren't playing up.
And, in her pram, Livvy smiled contentedly to herself, her wind no longer a problem.
Mrs Rippers found it was as good a time as any to make her excuses and leave.
But when she told me the story later, I'm sure I detected an underlying inference that this kind of rebellious behaviour could only come from MY side of the family.