Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Meal or no meal

I think I've uncovered a terrorist plot. The PPF, or Powys Popular Front, have infiltrated right to the top of the British establishment - in short, Brammy tells me his brother has landed a job as a driver for the Royals. It's all cloaked in secrecy and I don't know which Royals (most probably the King and Queen of Sheppey), but when you consider Brammy's political leanings I would suggest the screening process has gone a bit awry again.
Quite often you will hear "proud Welshman" Brammy blurting on about the injustice of being under the English yoke, of how everyone should be speaking their own language, of how we English should be kicked back over the bridge and of how the likes of Cardiff City, Wrexham and Swansea City should quit the abomination that is English football and join the Welsh Premiership, where they would conquer Europe in about 50 years time.
As he rants about all this he neglects to mention some extremely salient points. 1. He was born in Gloucester. 2. He can't speak Welsh despite numerous efforts to learn, and 3. He supported the English football team until his late teens. So maybe I'm wrong. Maybe, just maybe, Brammy is a double agent, having infiltrated the highest levels of the Owain Glwndwr network. Or perhaps he's just a babbling idiot who puts on this act just to see what reaction he will get. Whatever, if MI5 find out the Brammy connection, there could be a full-scale inquiry.

Brammy, by the way, is walking around with a huge smile on his face at the moment. He's in demand. He has been making thousands of pounds out of the company on a freelance basis, while having paid off his mortgage with a nice big wedge of redundo.
But that isn't what is making him smile. It is the fact that his two favourite boozers, the Old Scroat and the Boar's Backside, are both re-opening for business after refurbishment. And they are both fighting for his custom, though Lord knows why.
The Boar's Backside was Brammy's original favourite. He could sit in the back bar and regale his tales of daring do to a wierd assortment of foreign students, steaming drunks, 6ft 8ins Brazilian transvestites, ageing gay council workers and psycotic glass collectors. They even allowed him to play his guitar, for God's sake. And he used to be allowed to participate in the student offers which, at the age of 50-plus, isn't a bad gig.
Still, the novelty wore off when they tried to make the place more popular. This to Bram is sacrilege. Once, having visited his local in Newport, The Engies, every day for about 10 years, he stormed out when someone who "wasn't local" was given the last order of faggots, peas and chips. He hasn't been back since.
From the Boar's he travelled 50 yards down the road to the Old Scroat where he immediately made good friends with the manager and staff - on the basis that a lot of the time he was the only person there for them to talk to.
But the Scroat was closed down for refurbishment, as mentioned elsewhere on this blog. So Bram, since then, has been a wandering soul.
At the weekend, though, he went up to "do a bit of business" in the Boar's. This usually means collecting a free pint off some poor unfortunate who lost a bet with him on who would win the rugby. Brammy's technique is simple. Welsh team wins, he wins; Welsh team loses, he loses. He has lost a great deal of money over the years.
While supping his pint the landlord materialised to tell him that they are putting the old bar back to what it had previously been and he was welcome to the proud unveiling on Wednesday.
Chipper about this, he strolled down the street only to bump into the Scroat's manager. "Hey, Brammy," said the bar-keep. "We're re-opening on Wednesday. We expect to see you back in situ."
What a dilemma. He will probably get a free pint or two in both.
One thing is for sure - he won't be working Thursday.

I'm feeling very old today. Must be down to Becks' 26th birthday party I attended yesterday. In the good old days, when I was still in my 20's, a birthday used to involve going out, getting horribly drunk, ending up at some grab-a-granny night, grabbing a granny, getting beaten up by the Grandad who was actually going out with her, spending a bit of time down the Infirmary getting stitches, sobering up to a terrible hangover, getting home half an hour before having to set off for work, getting a taxi to work, turning up at work and then trying to somehow sleep throughout the day without the boss realising. Not any more, it appears.
No, folks, now you sit around in someone's house and attempt to play the electronic boardgame version of Deal or No Deal.
I say, attempt to play Deal or No Deal, because the first thing you have to do is fit the batteries into the cheap imitation plastic phone from which a Noel Edmonds sound-a-like tells you what is going on. Removing the battery cover to fit the batteries was attempted, in turn, by Withers, Marc, Becks, Posh Lins, Rosey and Marc again, who finally declared: "Bugger, I think we've mutilated the screw head".
It was then left to Rosey and his super-human, Universal Soldier Army-training strength to break off the cover. Then there was the mad scrabble for batteries. "We need three!" shouted Becks despairingly before raiding all his other electric gadgets to find the necessary. His landlord Kiwi could be in for a shock, or not, when he tries to use his electric toothbrush this week.
After finally getting things together, and dispensing with the difficult task of having to make 22 identical boxes out of small flatpacks (this was more like B&Q the Boardgame, by now), the game eventually started an hour and a half later. And it was pretty crap, to be honest. And the electric voice didn't even sound like Noel Edmonds (although it did sound MORE like Noel Edmonds than John Culshaw, who was actually imitating the great quiz show host on the Anniversary programme of the same name that everyone, bar me, wanted to watch that night).
Truthfully, Becks, I did enjoy it. It was certainly different, and at least I got home without a visit to the Infirmary.

I know I can't cook like Anthony Bourdain, or ever hope to for that matter, but it won't stop me customising and ripping off his recipes. And last night's meal actually turned out to be fantastic...

Tournedos Rossini with cream and red pepper mash and garlic spinach. Mmmm.

Three or four thick slices of beef. I cut them from a nice beef joint
Vegetable oil.
Butter or marge
2 sliced Shallots
1/4 cup red wine
3/4 pint beef stock
Cornflour mixed with water
Potatoes peeled and cut into big chunks.
Red Pepper burnt skinside up and then the burnt skin peeled off and the pepper diced.
1/4 cup of double cream
Two sliced garlic cloves
A good portion of spinach

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan until it is hot. Add the butter or marg and when foam subsides put in the seasoned Beef. Don't overcrowd the pan - if necessary cook in stages.
Make sure the beef is brown on all sides before transferring to a roasting dish and putting into a preheated oven, gas mark 4, for between 5 and 10 mins.
Meanwhile boil the potatoes for 15 minutes until you can push a fork into them, then remove from the heat and add pepper and salt. Mash and put the lid on the pan.

From the pan which had the meat in, put in the shallots and cook for 4 mins before adding the red wine. Bring this to the boil then add most of the stock, keeping a bit back. Boil vigorously, stirring regularly, then as it is reduced put through a sieve and strain. Throw the shallots away and reheat the wine sauce, adding some cornflour to thicken.

Put the pepper under the grill, burn the skin and then scrape off, dice the cooked pepper and add to mash.
Bring some butter and a little cream to the boil and also add to the mash. Mash again.

For the spinach, fry the garlic cloves with some salt for 10 seconds, add the spinach leaves and toss around in the frying pan until they start to reduce in size. Add the remaining stock to this and cook on for 4 mins.

Pile the mash on the centre of the plate, surround it with spinach, put the beef Tournedos on top and then pour over the red wine gravy. Absolutely fabulous.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Toast, marmite and a lovely cup of tea

MY reference to Kempy and Coggsy's forthcoming marriage may have seemed tongue in cheek, but I am speaking from experience. I accidentally got engaged once, you see. Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but sadly it's true.
At the time I was cohabiting with my ex-girlfriend The Tea Lady. The Tea Lady is the only person I have ever known who could turn up at a Welsh pub before a rugby international and inquire if she could have a lovely cup of tea. Imagine, if you can, the reaction of Blodwyn or Iolo, who were serving in the crowded bar. "Cup of teeee? Sure you don't want a vodka in that?"
The Tea Lady also had this little round silver ball she carried with her in which to put her tea leaves - I think it was called an infusion ball or something. Sane girlfriends, you may have gathered, have been thin on the ground in my life.
Anyway, one weekend we were staying at my Dad's. At some point he entered the room. "I've got something for you," he announced. He came over to me and put a little band of gold into my hand. "It's your mother's engaged ring. I'm sure she would want you to have it."
I was delighted that he entrusted me with this valuable family heirloom. But no sooner had he left the room than The Tea Lady came nosing around.
"What was that about?" she asked.
I just opened my hand and showed her the gold engagement ring.
"Oh God, oh lord, I don't know what to say. This is fantastic," she shouted, leaping around the room.
Before long she had been on the phone to anyone and everyone, imparting the news far and wide that we were, in fact, inextricably linked.
I didn't have the heart to tell her it was all a big mistake.

Sweater-Gate, the sequel.
Withers has now taken to wearing a tank top in the style of Rigsby, Leonard Rossiter's seedy landlord character in the old sitcom Rising Damp. He insists its trendy. It's not unless you are an old university professor and can wear it with an accompanying corduroy jacket adorned with leather elbow patches.
Meantime, WoS is obviously running its own out-of-hours Ninja classes to rival the army manoeuvres carried out by Rosey, Becks and Co. Marc and The Voice turned up in The Yard dressed head to toe in black. The Voice even had his black top zippered up to the bottom lip so that he can blend into the background on the streets of Newport. Not sure which one was carrying The Milk Tray.

Went to bed with some Toast and marmite at 9.30, set the alarm and woke at 1.30 this morning to watch the St Louis Cardinals secure the Baseball World Series with a 4-2 win over the Detroit Tigers. Hardly a classic but at least I can get some decent sleep now.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A schwun full of sugar

WE journos like to think we have a good vocabulary, but a new word emerged last night that left a table of us totally baffled as to its meaning.
"Has anyone made yer schwun?" asked The Boss in all seriousness. There was a sea of blank faces around the table until one brave minion piped up. "What?"
"Ye know... Schwun!" he said a bit louder, with a longer emphasis on the Schhh.
The same blank sea of faces peered back and you could see it was irritating the wee man, I mean Boss. He decided to give it one last go...
"Schhwuuun, you know like a geerl makes ya schhwuun."
Hmm. At least he sounded a bit more Irish then - geerl came out as Father Jack might pronounce it in that Irish comedy classic "Father Ted". You know Father Jack, the old drunken priest in the corner who wakes up just long enough to say "driiink" and "geerls".
Still, it wasn't registering. I noticed out of the corner of my eye Withers attempting to sneak a look into his bag, just in case he had an Irish/Scots dictionary containing English translations. The Boss was now almost red in the face in his attempts to get through to his seemingly deaf audience. He decided to give it one more go. "Ye nay, when ye see a geerl for the forst time and yer heart thumps and ye are mesmerised."
And the penny suddenly dropped. "Ah," said the bravest of our number, hoping that he had finally got to the bottom of this most pertinent of all questions. "... You mean swoon!"
The boss's face lit up (if it could light up any more), he jumped to his feet and shouted with unbridled glee "Yeeeeeeees, Scccccchhhhwuuuun!"
"No", we all said in unison.
He looked a wee bit crestfallen as he left the pub.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Rigatoni with sweet sausage and tomato sauce

KEMPY and Coggsy have named the day. That is to say Kempy's named the day, Coggsy still seems blissfully ignorant of the whole situation. Then again, he's a miserable sod at the best of times and thinks it might affect his overall doom-laden outlook to be part of a "happy couple".
He rang the desk from Spain, where the lovebirds finally came to their decision, and demanded: "How do you know?" when Shutts took it upon himself to offer hearty congratulations. The fact that Kempy had texted the world and its wife was probably something to do with it. Perhaps she should have sent a text to her future husband, too.
We were trying to work out how the romantic proposal came about. Best theory was that they were on the golf course, Coggsy went down on one knee to repair a divot and Kempy said: "Yes". Not quite registering what he had done, Coggsy preceded to the 19th hole and drank with his normal gusto. Kempy just assumed he was celebrating the impending nuptials.
On the other hand, knowing Coggsy's penchant for gambling, perhaps he just did it for a bet!
I have a sneaky suspicion that Kempy is ashamed of her "mates" at WoS. She is the contents editor of a Sunday newspaper, erego her busiest day is a Saturday - the same goes for her colleagues. So which day does she choose for the marriage? A Saturday, of course, December 1.
I uncovered the true reason behind this choice of day when she sent me a text, telling me that I would have to behave as the wedding was in Tunbridge Wells. Apparently, those little Englanders with their tidy flowerbeds and neatly trimmed lawns aren't ready for an invasion by Rippers, Withers and co. Bastards.

Last night I got home early mainly because Withers, on Pillow duty again, had access to Sky Sports and wanted to watch his beloved Crewe take on Manchester United in the Carling Cup. They did well, taking the game into extra time before losing to virtually the last kick of the game. Poor old Withers must have been distraught.
I, by contrast, chose to watch the new Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood. A very good concept along the lines of Men in Black and based in Cardiff. Trouble was the storylines were crap.
Before I settled down I decided to cook up some Italian sausages I had in the Fridge. Resorting to the Sopranos cookbook I chose Rigatoni with sweet sausage and Tomato sauce.
1lb plain Italian sausages (I normally get them from a specialist delicatessen or Cardiff market)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
Four chopped fresh tomatoes and a tin of peeled plum tomatoessalt and pepper3 or 4 basil leaves, torn up.
1lb rigatoni
1/2 cup grated parmigian or Pecorino cheese

Remove sausage casings and chop sausage fine.
Heat oil in a large saucepan or wok
Add sausage and garlic and cook on medium heat until brown, stirring regularly.
Add wine and simmer until wine evaporates
Stir in tomatoes, salt and pepper (be careful not to add TOO much salt)Simmer for an hour.
Meanwhile, cook the rigatoni in boiling water for 10-15 mins until done, drain, then add to the tomato sauce.
Mix well and add the basil leaves.
Heat through then serve, topping off with cheese and chilli flakes, if liked.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Chinese Lamb and Garlic

I went to my bank of 28 years standing to ask for a credit card yesterday. I was refused. I was told, however, that I could have a £30,000 loan or a £10,000 overdraft. Confused? And me.
And my account manager. And everyone else involved in the silly fiasco.
I am highly respected by my bank, I am told. A top-grade customer. Ok, not in the Donald Trump league, but they are always falling over themselves with attempts to get hold of my money. That's why this little episode kinda p*ssed me off. I felt like a criminal, as if I had stolen someone's identity or built up a massive stockpile of debts and then refused to pay them back.
Anyway, since then I have had to do a credit search to find out exactly what they have against me. I completed it today and could find nothing. Perhaps they don't want to give me a credit card because I DON'T go into debt and therefore rarely have to pay any exorbitant interest rates.
Ringing to tell my account manager of the situation, I was transferred to Delhi where an automatic machine told me to input numbers from a six-digit security code that I have never been given. When that didn't work I was put through to a customer services manager. Then I had to invent a security number. Then I had to go back to an automatic machine. Then I was transferred to another customer services manager. Finally, after about 20 minutes and no doubt a huge phone bill charge on an 0870 number, I was directed through to my branch.
Oh, joy. My credit card application is now being appealed. Don't hold your breath...

Withers has just come back from having dinner at the German Ambassador's residence. He got upset when I made the "Did they give you Ferrero Rocher?" joke. Apparently he'd heard it before.

Ken Hom's Lamb with Garlic recipe was very enjoyable. To go with it I made up an interesting noodle dish.
2 Lamb chump stakes thinly sliced (because they are cheaper)
tbsp chinese rice wine or sherry
tbsp light soy
tsp dark soy
tbsp sesame oil
(mix all this together and marinate for 20 mins)

Boil the egg noodles for three to five minutes, plunge into cold water, add sesame oil and set aside.
Find whatever veg you have (I used half a pepper, some sweetcorn, two small red chillies chopped up, some chopped garlic and chopped onion and some tinned bamboo shoots) to go with the noodles.
Meanwhile, heat a wok till hot and smoking
Add 2 tbsp of groundnut oil. When it is hot and smoking add the marinated meat and stir fry until nicely browned.
Add two cloves of thinly-sliced garlic and a teaspoon of chopped ginger.
Stir fry for six to eight mins until all the garlic and ginger is well mixed with the meat.

At the same time heat a frying pan, add oil and then cook the chopped garlic and onion for five mins. Add all the other ingredients and then the noodles. Stir in a bit of peanut butter just to add a bit of texture, then put the noodles on a plate and heap the lamb on top.

Actually, didn't cook that last night because of the four hour sesh in the Yard. I did it on Monday night. It's only a little cheat!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Chilli and rice


ABSOLUTELY shattered, but at least it's a good day for sport on TV.
First the bad news, though. Rang the Fat Kid this morning - her car is not very well. I bought her a Ford Fiesta a few years ago, a tidy little runner, but we have given it a fair old tonking. Last year I drove the Fat Kid and Vin man to the South of France from Southend, and on the way back we managed to take the Fiesta around the clock. What a trip that was - I did about 5,000 miles in a week, rather than the 5,000 miles in a year we told the insurance company she was likely to do pottering around Essex.
Anyway, it's not been a good week for the Fat Kid's car. She returned from shopping the other day to find someone had nicked the passenger door handles, then driving back from her sister's it finally crashed and burned. On Saturday the mechanic finally got around to having a look at it - and the clutch has gone - £230 smackers, please.
Now I know I shouldn't do it because the Fat Kid always said she wanted to "stand on my own two feet", but I am going to have to dip into my savings for the Ashes to finance the deal. With two young kids and a useless ex-boyfriend or ten, it's the least I can do for her.
Watched Man United beat Liverpool 2-0 with a pretty impressive performance, then stayed in for the last-ever episode of Prime Suspect. It didn't let me down.
What a fantastic drama series it was, even if they only produced one about every three years. Helen Mirren was outstanding once again as Jayne Tennison, now having turned into a hard-bitten alcoholic who cannot remember what she did the night before (oh dear, alarm bells were ringing).
Now this may be a non-sequiter but Tennison reminds me of my mate Janey. No particular reason apart from the fact they look alike (although Jane's much younger and not so haggard, of course) and have both had to battle against male chauvinism at work.
On the other hand, perhaps it's just because they are both called Jane.
Tea, by the way, was paella, but you've already had the recipe for that.

MET Ballsy, Lyds and The Genius for lunch in the City Arms yesterday. It was all free, courtesy of the Echo, so it was gratefully received.
The three girls, mentioned above, are now all former WoS'ers and all greatly missed in their own way. In fact, it hasn't gone unnoticed that it's been turning into a bit of a boys' club lately.
I love Lyds, the party girl from Penarth, who likes nothing more than dressing up and boogying down. She's the classic 3am girl, apart from the fact she normally finishes up later than 3am! That's not fair, really, but she knows all the movers and shakers in the area - Queen of the Freebies.
You know all about The Genius, who related the story of how she lost her mobile phone on Friday night - no big surprise seeing that she, too, partied into the early hours. Never mind, she will probably need a new one for Dubai, anyway.
Finally, there is Ballsy. I have a confession to make, she's a favourite of mine. I think it's because when she joined WoS she was thrust into the deep end with some pretty hard-nosed news stories. And she never floundered. It's fair to say she lives up to her nickname.
She's also from Loughton, just a few miles from my London "townhouse", which gives us plenty of similar reference points in conversation.
Ballsy is now lording it on the Daily Mail, and if they don't give her a full contract at some stage they should be shot. She's doing the graveyard shift at the mo, 7-3, and I don't envy her one bit.
Poor old Ballsy was supposed to join The Genius' leaving party on Friday night - but the good old M4 did for that. She ran into incomprehensible delays at Hungerford and though her ETA was 10pm, she finally arrived at 1am, by which time the Genius had lost her phone and everyone else had gone home.
Ah well, it was good to see her on Monday, smiling through such adversities.

Last night I had little in so made a quick trip to Sainsbury's for some mince and rustled up a quick chilli.

splash of olive oil
1/2lbs mince
half a sliced onion
two crushed garlic cloves
Chopped stick of celery
As much chilli powder as you like
A tbsp cumin powder
two small chopped red chillis
Beef stock cube
Chopped mushrooms
Chopped peppers
small tin of red kidney beans


Soak the washed rice in warm water for 30 mins

Heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic in it, then add the celery and stir fry for 3 or 4 minutes.
Add the beef and brown all over, breaking it up.
Then add the chilli and cumin powder, mix in well and continue cooking
Add stock to cover the meat, leave simmering

Meanwhile, wash the rice again until it runs clear, add to saucepan and cover with about one inch of water, add salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, bring to the boil and let boil until the water has almost boiled away. Keep stirring. Reduce heat to lowest setting and put lid on saucepan.

Add the mushrooms, peppers and kidney beans to the chilli, then leave simmering.

After 10 mins of steaming the rice, turn off the heat and let stand. Then serve up on a plate and spoon the hot chilli on top. If it is too runny towards the end of cooking then mix a heaped spoon of cornflower with a splash of water and add to pan.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A cheesy rice cake


THE Genius has left the building. The Genius is a young lady from Neath who is so desperate to get away from our motley crew that she is heading for Dubai to take up a post on a newspaper there. Best of luck, Genius.
So why is she known as The Genius? It's probably because "Genius" is her favourite adjective, describing anyone who can, well, breathe really. If you can tap out a tune on a pair of old spoons:? "Genius!", If you can talk absolute rubbish on a blog every day: "Genius!" If you can get up in the morning and run gel through your hair: "Genius!" Even if you can make a cup of peppermint tea, for God's sake (well actually, that is one of the skills I've yet to master - do you want milk and sugar with that?)
My best recollections of The Genius will be the strange prepubescent schoolgirl friendship she had with Shutts who, let's face it, at 6ft and a lot more is bigger than your average prepubescent schoolgirl. Walk down any corridor in work, any day of the week, and you were likely to bump into these two playing pat-a-cake, or waltzing together, or maybe just informing each other of the latest goings on in Lazy Town (kids' programme, don't expect you've seen it, but I've no doubt Shutts Sky-pluses it - pretty intelligent for a man with the outlook of a six-year-old girl, don't you think?)
The other endearing quality about The Genius, also one shared by a number of six-year-old schoolgirls I imagine, is that nearly every member of the opposite sex is fanciable. I say nearly because I expect there are a few exceptions - me, withers...
To run through the crushes The Genius has had reads like an A-Z of so-called celebs in a tabloid newspaper: Gavin Henson, David Beckham, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Jens Lehman (yeh, really, the German goalkeeper with the porno perm), Homer Simpson, The hunchback of notre dam, that little North Korean guy who wants to blow up the world (and his puppet from "Team America, World Police") etc, etc.
How do I know this? Because quite often in a studious and quiet newsroom the shout goes up: "He's goooorgeous!"
"That guy on the front of the Sun... oh, and he's a genius - he's making some nuclear weapons!)"

The Genius had her leaving do on Friday night. The normal card went around and then there was a presentation. Most interesting entry on the card came from the Robot.
"When you are back in the country pop in and see Shrimpy," he implored her.
"Shrimpy?" Now a lot of boys have names for their thinga-me-jigs but that is hardly the most flattering.
Turns out the Robot was actually talking about the baby - his partner is due to give birth at Christmas. Phew!
After that we ended up in the Yard. It was a pretty good turnout and a decent enough session. By the time I got home I was not really in the mood, or the state, to cook. What's in the cupboard that's quick? A packet of cheese rice cakes. One of those will do.


THE day from hell on Saturday night, but I think we got away with it. Sam Hammam, the Lebanese businessman who has owned Cardiff City for six years, has sold the club. Rosey hears the rumour while covering the Bluebirds' game at Carrow Road and from that moment all the pre-made plans on a busy pullout sports section disappeared out of the window.
When Rosey first contacted me at about 4.50 it was just a rumour circulating. From that moment we had to think of how we were going to handle it on the desk (well, how I was going to handle it, because my desk jockey colleague Owenov was off for the week and because of cutbacks we're down to the bare bones - thankfully Bram was on hand to help and put in an extra hour) and how best Rosey could take the story on.
Basically, it all came together throughout the night and neither of us had a chance to breathe. He was making phone calls from buses, trains, London cafes etc and having to write up anything he had on the spot. The story changed about five times throughout the evening, leaving me to rip up headlines and stories, shift things around in the paper to make way for breaking news, and source and send down pictures to match the story. It was hairy stuff. Rosey, you're a genius, as The Genius might say...

By the time I got in it was 2am and I was still buzzing. There was some pasta a la vodka left in the fridge which went straight into the microwave, then I sat down to watch the later stages of the first game in the world series: Detroit v St Louis Cardinals. The Cards triumphed 7-2. I only managed a couple of hours sleep then found I was awake by 8. Bugger.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

barbecued house

IF there is one thing certain in life it is that past mistakes will come back to haunt you. Only yesterday, I was reminded of the day my house in Swansea burned down - 15 years after the great event.
A debt collector's letter dropped through the door, badly disguised as a solicitor's letter and claiming that the bloodsucking company in question were "representing" the Building Society to whom I am supposed to still owe eight and a half grand.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter - and there are more wrongs than rights, believe me - it served to remind me of a dim and distant Boxing Day when I was still married to The Nutter.
I was always against buying the house in the first place. It oozed bad luck. It had been repossessed twice, but The Nutter would have none of it. "It will look great when I've finished doing it up," she said. The Nutter had uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins in the building trade. I was not going to lift a finger.
So we bought the house, and she was as good as her word. It soon looked, if not a palace, then a reasonable home for myself, The Nutter and her two children to live in.
Then, however, I was offered a job in Cardiff that was too good to refuse. And after a while commuting it was eventually decided to move lock, stock and barrel, rent a bungalow nearer to work and let The Nutter's best friend's sister move into our house. Fine, except for her 4-year-old pyromaniac son.
It was on that Boxing Day that we were sat in the front room of the Nutter's Mum's - which just happened to be across the street from our house - chilling out and biding our time before dinner. The house was full. Nutter, me, racist granny, mum and dad in law and assorted others. There was not a spare seat in the house.
The Nutter's brother arrived and declared: "You're house is on fire!"
No one moved believing this a. To be a joke and b. to be a devious plan to relieve us of our seats.
When we finally decided we ought to take a look, there it was... smoke billowing into the sky, people jumping from bedroom windows, fire engines busily trying to contain the flames.
Oh, Bollocks.
Eventually, when we got a look inside the smoke damage was immense. Even worse, the fire had been caused by the young pyromaniac who, having failed to wake his mother in the morning, decided to set his bed sheets on fire with a disposable lighter.
Mother, waking to the smell of smoke, rushed in, removed the burning sheets, plonked them in the downstairs bath and FORGOT TO TURN THE WATER ON.
She then went back to scold the child, not realising that the bath was plastic and liable to melt. Result: The bathroom exploded.
Happy Christmas, folks.
It was the start of the end of a wonderful marriage...

Last night I watched the sixth game in the baseball divisional championship having rustled up a quick paella and grabbed a couple of hours kip. Guess what: The meditation tape worked (or maybe it was the four pints). Still, the Mets won 4-2 and it was on to game seven.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bacon and black pudding on crisp bread

SCOOBY reckons he has a cure for my insomnia. He's lent me a CD entitled "How to help you meditate and sleep". It almost worked.
The meditation bit lasted 10 minutes and got me in the mood, then it was on to the sleep section. It promises you "A full uninterrupted night's sleep".
To say I'm sceptical is an understatement but I lie there and let the calm and sultry voice of the lady narrator wash over me.
"Your body is starting to feel heavy - your arms feel heavy, your legs feel heavy, your body feels heavy, but your mind is still awake". She says this to the background of some gentle harp playing. It's extremely soothing.
It's also working. Before long I feel like a block of cement. The voice continues...
"You are navigating a rowing boat down a river. You are surrounded by greenery. It's a beautiful day and the sun is high in the sky. Ahead of you is a clearing in some trees, this is your sanctuary..."
Mmm, it looks great, so inviting. I feel my body and mind drifting along on the smooth waves of the voice.
"You reach your destination and climb out. You have nothing to worry about, nothing at all. Just find a peaceful spot under a tree and lie down. Let yourself relax. You are now ready to sleep."
Yes, I am. I feel like a block of cement. My mind is tired.
"Ouch!" Suddenly something is biting at my foot but, being a block of cement, I can't move. Something's biting my big toe! "Ow, Ow, Ow!"
In this tranquil little spot, my sanctuary, a mosquito about the size of a large wasp is biting into me, sucking my blood.
My eyes spring open and I can move again. I reach down to squash the creature, then find there is absolutely nothing there. Along with my imagined sanctuary has come an imaginery flesh-eating bug.
Typical, isn't it? Even in my own personal sanctuary there's always something that can louse it up...

Having said that, I didn't have too much trouble sleeping yesterday evening. Perhaps the five pints in The Yard were a bit of a help there. Problem was I just closed my eyes for a second, fully intending to watch a busy night of European Football, Man U v Copenhagen and Celtic v Benfica. When I wake up its 10.30. Bugger.

The new barmaid had an interesting outsiders view on our top-level Tuesday afternoon Yard conferences. She has replaced the red head to which Withers took a shine.
When Withers approaches the bar, she candidly asks: "What do you lot find to talk about all afternoon?"
"I dunno," replied Withers with a shrug.
"Are you like fish?"
Neatly sums it up I think. Once more around the bowl, chaps?

Nearly forgot to eat last night. Finally settled on some thin crispbread, topped with grilled bacon and black pudding and drizzled with Brown sauce. Don't think Anthony Bourdain would be that impressed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Penne with vodka


I hear the sound... of distant drums. Actually, they are not that distant, they're coming from downstairs. Scooby is obviously being given homework by his African drumming class.
He's definitely improving, as I know to my cost - he's foiling my attempts to conquer my insomnia problem. The drums start at around midnight, their rhythmical beat filtering through the ceiling, leaving me feeling like Stanley Baker awaiting the inevitable attack of the Zulus. I half expect to see Scooby walking around in a grass skirt, wearing a headdress and showing off the latest line in warpaint.
Still, I don't care too much about sleep at the moment - at least I've got the countdown to the world series to watch. I really got into baseball a few years ago because, let's face it, what else is there to watch at 1.15 on a Sunday night/Monday morning when you can't sleep. I don't want to learn Khazhakstani with the Open University, for instance.
At the moment the New York Mets are taking on the St Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional final and Sunday's game is thrilling, the Mets finally running out 12-7 winners and squaring the series 2-2. The prize for the winner of the seven-game series is a world series against the Detroit Tigers, perennial whipping boys who have finally got to the top of the tree. The game ends at 4.45 and hopefully I can squeeze in a few hours kip before my visit to the guru.


The Vinman is going to a new nursery school today. I fear for the poor kids and teachers.
To be fair, he's a chirpy little kid, but I find it amusing when he asks: "Can I go and play with my friends".
He tends to say this after meeting up with children about two minutes earlier. Ah, the naivety. He doesn't realise they will end up being just distant acquaintances.
Vin's idea of friendship is to jump off a slide onto his newly acquired "friend", or to borrow their favourite toy by grabbing it out of their hands and running off.
No wonder then that when you agree to his going off to play with them, you then see him running full pelt towards them... and them running in the opposite direction.
Still, he's very excited and now on the phone, thanks to the wizardry of the Grommit, he can actually HEAR me.
"Hello, Grandad," he shouts.
"Hi Vin, make any friends at school?"
"Yesssss!" he shouts. I have visions of some poor three-year-old tied up in the corner of a field somewhere.
Not that I'm saying he's going to be trouble when he's older. Mind you, his cousins are called Charlie, Frankie and Alfie. I think this could be the start of a dinasty to rival the Krays...

Talking of gangsters, I went to see the new Scorsese film "The Departed" last night. I enjoyed it thoroughly, particularly the brilliant Jack Nicholson's performance as an Irish gangster called Frank Costello, but once again I got a might confused at the end. I'm starting to think it's just me...


I started seeing The Guru about two years ago. I was walking past this shop front in Roath and a sign in the window caught my eye. It suggested the owner could help sort out migraines and insomnia.
At the time I was suffering from both, and was really fed up with waking every morning with a dull pain in my forehead. It was a permanent fixture during those days - so much so that I didn't know what life was like without a headache.
Now don't get me wrong... I am a firm sceptic when it comes to spiritual healing and all that malarky but, having stepped through the door, I met The Guru for the first time and he told me he could do something to help me out.
The Guru originated in Liberia but made his home in Cardiff some time ago and has been here ever since. He eventually had to close the shop down (the rental being too high), and now treats a selected handful of clients from his second-floor flat in Cathays.
He calls himself a hollistic therapist and his technique involves Aromatherapy massage and advice on which vitamins to take. So far it has certainly helped. He's taught me a bit about how to relax and the headaches have become much less frequent.
He thinks my recent dizzy spells are down to tiredness and stress. He may be right (take note, Boss).
Lovely bloke though The Guru is, and the hour session with him is well worth the money, I haven't lost all my sceptism, however. For a man who seems so well centred and at peace with life, I wonder why I have to drop him off at Cash Converters so he can buy himself a new mobile phone. Surely Phones-4-u or the Carphone warehouse would be a better bet.
Ah well, each to their own, as The Guru might say.

Here's a quick and easy dish for you, Penne a la vodka (courtesy of the Sopranos, of course)
You need:
Penne pasta
2 ozs of Proscuitto Italian ham, in strips
2 crushed cloves of garlic
2 tins of tomatoes
cayenne pepper
1/2 cup double cream
Good splash of vodka
parmigian cheese

To do:
Cook the Penne Pasta as normal. Then rinse through.
Heat olive oil in a pan/wok
cook garlic until golden, then add the ham and cook for another 5 mins on medium heat, stirring regularly.
Add the tins of tomatoes and a good amount of cayenne pepper, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 mins.
Add cream and mix in as you return to the boil.
Add a good splash of vodka.
Cook for further 5 mins then add the penne and parmigian. Mix thoroughly, add salt and pepper to taste and serve up.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Hello, Ducky


This is my first entry for a while. That's because I am too much of a cheapskate to have a phone line installed at home and I'm on a week off. And I'm also too lazy.
Even though I have all this time to myself, though, I'm not too lazy to visit the Yard and to share a pint in the company of my fellow scribes. On Tuesday, Withers was in full flow practising his new act as an impersonator. He has an impersonation for most of the staff.
The only problem with these impersonations is that they have absolutely NO relevance to the people he is supposed to be imitating. In fact, its all a bit of a cheap trick at our expense - particularly mine.
What he actually does is come up with a bogus catchphrase - never once uttered by the person in question - and build a whole comedy act around this. I, for instance, sound like the bastard offspring of Animal from the Muppets and Zippy from Rainbow in his full on "Mr Jeeffrey" mode. And I only ever say: "Grrrrr!"
He has added another string to my bow, though. I now also say: "I don't speak like that!" in the Animal/Zippy voice. A true comedian.
Other people are just confined to ridiculous catchphrases. The Boss, in some really strange mixture between Scottish and that big chicken (can't remember his name) out of the old Loony Toons cartoons, apparently always says: "Aaa, can make thaa' appen".
Probably best demonstrated in a phrase:
"Want to work for the nationals, Withers? Aaa, can make thaa' appen."
Then there is Agata, the lovely Polish barmaid. I've had the pleasure of speaking to Agata and she doesn't sound like some naughty fun girl from a Bangkok whorehouse. And she has certainly never said, with her eyelashes fluttering in full Withers mode: "Meeeester Reeepers, is inappropriate!"
Brammy doesn't escape this drole charade, either. He once said, according to Withers: "Never had a problem with the laydeez."
Another is Marc. Now Marc may enjoy the strange and wonderful world of the Golden Cross and mix with its rich and hedonistic crowd, but I have NEVER heard him say, in a high and rather irritating squeal: "I'm off to see Men dressed as Laydeeeez."
Actually, I've always assumed that was an impression of Marc, but perhaps its really the true Withers coming out.

Visited the 'Port, or Newport as its known to us non-Gwenties. My mate Pete's brought a rundown ruin (sorry, house) and is doing it up.
To be fair, Pete likes this sort of thing - it's like a big jigsaw puzzle that he has set his mind on completing. At the moment the pieces are scattered all over the place, there are iron-sheets across the windows and it sits in a dark and uninviting corner of a school playground, behind a wire fence which separates it from the actual school. Crack den, I thought at first sight.
But Pete is already busy inside, stripping walls and doors, re-wiring and installing a shower. He is living there at the moment, something I would find VERY difficult to do.
Still, he's put a deadline of Christmas on the job. If he manages that, I will be truly stunned.
He can't get the TV aerial to work properly either. Every time he wants to watch something he has to climb up a ladder onto the roof, wiggle it about, climb down, look at the picture, realise it hasn't worked, climb back up and wiggle it again.
This is why he was extremely grateful when I lent him the video of the first Sopranos series. Now he can sit in his crack den and watch how the real gangsters do it.

Didn't feel too well again. I've got moments of dizziness and decided the best thing to do was actually get the prescription for high blood pressure the doc has given me. High blood-pressure? Everyone who knows me will be surprised at that.
Decided to have a quiet day in and watch Extras and the Sopranos. Also customised a brilliant duck recipe I discovered in an old Observer magazine, given to them by top chef Giorgio Locatelli. When I say customised I didn't have all the ingredients he suggested, but I did have duck breast. For example, the recipe is called Duck Breast with Broccoli, but I didn't have Broccoli...

What you need for my version of Duck Breast with Savoy Cabbage

2 potatoes peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 butternut squash chopped into smallish squares.
Half an onion, chopped
A shallot, chopped
A carrot, chopped
A celery stick, chopped
Four whole garlic cloves
Mix them all up in a big oven tray, drizzle with olive oil and put this in the oven on gas mark 5 or equivalent.

Prepare the duck by cutting slashes in the skin and rubbing with salt. Roast some peppercorns in a dry saucepan for a short while, put in a napkin and hammer/crush with a rolling pin or anything hard you happen to have at hand.
rub the peppercorns into duck as well.
Heat a non-stick frying pan WITHOUT any oil.
When it's hot put the duck skinside down in the pan

Meanwhile boil salted water in a saucepan, cut some strips from the savoy cabbage (maybe a third of the cabbage) and blanch in the boiling water. Remove from heat.

Fat should now be oozing from the duck so it will cook in its own fat. Make sure the skin is nice and golden brown, then turn the duck over and cook for another minute or so on the other side.

While all this is going on regular check and turn the vegetables in the oven.

Turn the oven down to about gas mark 2 and add the duck to the baking tray.

Meanwhile drain some of the fat from the pan, but not all of it, add two tablespoons of worcestershire sauce and three tablespoons olive oil. Bring to the boil and stir. Then turn it off.

Heat another saucepan, add olive oil, get it hot and add 2 sliced garlic cloves and a deseeded and sliced red chilli, cook gently without allowing to colour until the garlic softens then add the savoy cabbage and cook until just soft, mixing it with the garlic and chilli. Turn off the heat.

The duck and veggies should now be ready. Remove the duck and cut into slices.
Pile the veggies on a place and put the savoy cabbage around it (don't forget to remove the whole garlic cloves).
put the duck on top then cover with the Worcestershire sauce mixture.
Absolutely outstandingly tasty.

Feeling a bit better, but had to put off a visit from the Fat Kid, Vinman (who has just had a grommit fitted in his ear - wonder where Wallis is?) and the Big Boy. I don't think I could handle a full on weekend with the Vinman chasing me around and hanging off me like a big lead weight that bites and scratches. Sorry, that's not fair on my wonderful Grandson. True, though.
Went into town to buy niece Sophie's Christmas present and some books. I have just read Anthony Boudain's Kitchen Confidential, a fantastic book about the life of a Chef and the terrible things that go on behind the restaurant's swing doors. It took me two days so I needed more reading material.
After that popped into my favourite deli for some zitoni pasta (used in ziti) and some Italian sausages. Oh look, its 5pm and the time all the WoS crew wind up in The Yard.
Though I'm feeling a little tired and dizzy, I want to feel I'm still part of the real world so I take my seat and soon am joined by Withers, Rosey, the Prince of Darkness, The Voice and Marc.
Withers now looks like Rosey's evil twin and is even dressing like him. I don't know what happened when they went to the World Cup in Germany together, but it really is quite scary.
They have both decided the V neck sweater is in. Withers bought one with his birthday money and Rosey followed suit a day later. They look like two schoolboys fresh out of Eton. Tarts.
I must be careful though. Withers has been advising Rosey to sue me, insisting that my portrayal of him in the blog is totally fabricated. So I would like to say now: Rosey is not a womanising, money-grabbing rogue. He's a nice boy. So there.
Mind you, as he tells me about the case of an American chap who sued another over his portrayal in a blog, his eyes are turning around like fruit-machine reels. I'm half expecting him to say ching, ching and coins to come pouring out of his mouth. No I'm not. Honestly.
Anyway, sweaters. The conversation gets around to how many times you wash a sweater. The Thompson Twins (my new name for the Rosey-Withers partnership) laugh haughtily when Marc suggests you can wear a jumper 12 times before washing it. I'm with Marc, though. If I had a V-neck sweater, and unless they come back into fashion that's highly unlikely, I think wash after 12 wears because once you start washing it pulls, fades, bobbles and never looks the same. Mind you, if you wear one 12 times I reckon its about time to throw it away and get another.
Wonder what the Thompson Twins will turn up in next: Open-toed sandals and Headbands?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

chairman mao's braised pork with water chestnuts

I fear The Boss is having an identity crisis.
Here's what I mean: The Boss spent his formative years in Glasgow, went to school in Glasgow, supports Glasgow Celtic, speaks in a Glasgow accent, sends texts in Glaswegian (ie "The wee man's a genius), spends lots of his spare time in Glasgow. The only thing that would make him more Glaswegian is if he wore a ginger wig to conference and a tartan tam o'shanter.
It's obvious then, isn't it: The Boss is Irish.
Yeh, that's right: he loikes the craic, knows the words to Fairytale of New York backwards, kisses the blarney stone and appreciates the odd drop of the black stuff. Apparently there is some strong parental link to Donegal. And, to be fair, he tells everyone this in his broad Glaswegian accent. In fact, if you are out with him and you meet anyone with vague Irish connections, The Boss is likely to turn around and say: "He's my second cousin, twice removed on my great Grandfather's side".
Sean Bean? Second cousin. The Dubliners? Second cousins. Obiwanken O'bi? second cousin, likes the craic. And we accept this Irishness, even if he does come up with "Hoots, mon, it's St Patrick's Day, anyone fancy a wee dram?" now and again.
On Saturday, though, I got worried. It was international football day. Wales were humiliated 5-1 at home to Slovakia (they can't even beat HALF a country at home these days), England were held 0-0 by Macedonia (they can't even beat a sixth of a country these days) while the Republic of Ireland were beaten 5-2 by Cyprus (they can't even beat a country that spends most of its time in civil war).
But the one ray of light, the one shining example of British and Irish football, came from the Scots: those perennial underachievers who now have about three actual Scotsman playing in the entire Sunday pub League they call the Premiership north of the Border.
I arrive at The Boss's office to discuss the day's goings on and am confronted with a man in ecstasy, punching the air in delight because those hordes from north of the Border have beaten THE WHOLE OF FRANCE 1-0. "Brilliant, brilliant," he's shouting.
And this is where I think the identity crisis may come in.
"But you're Irish, aren't you, Jock?" I say (without the Jock bit, that would be going too far).
"Ok aye, I grant ye that, Laddie," he says. "But the wee genius who scored the goal plays for Celtic."

Very quiet day, still trying to recover from another busy Saturday. Withers and co are going to the Claro, but I don't go there - it's the wrong side of the tracks, plus the fact I upset a Cardiff City soul crew member (not a good idea) last New Year's Eve by trying to give him some advice on parenting. I didn't believe his idea that his 10-year-old boy would carry on his hooligan mantle as being the height of ambition for his offspring. I know, none of my business.
So settle down to cook some belly pork I've got.
One thing I like to do is cut the recipes out of the sunday papers and magazines now and again. This one I found in The Observer a few months ago with the extravagant claim it was chairman Mao's favourite meal and he instructed his chef's to cook it whenever he was in Beijing. I must admit, it tastes gorgeous.
What you need:
Four or five pieces of belly pork
half tin of water chestnuts
2 tablespoons groudnut oil
2 tablespoons white sugar
some thinly sliced ginger, complete with skin
1 star anise
2 dried red chillies
1 small piece of cassia or cinamon bark
A few lengths of spring onions.

What you do:
Plunge the belly pork into boiling water and simmer for four minutes. Cool off then cut into chunks.
Gently heat oil and white sugar in wok until the sugar melts. Then raise temperature until it turns caramel brown.
Add the water chestnuts and stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes until they're a nice colour.
Add the chunks of meat and do likewise until they start to turn brown.
Add water to cover the pork, then put in the ginger, star anise, chilli, cinamon and salt. Bring to boil and simmer for 40 minutes.
Towards the end of cooking turn the heat up to thicken the sauce and add a good splash of light soy and another shake of sugar. Right at the end at the spring onions.
I served this on a bed of rainbow rice which is equally easy. Just rinse the rice then put it in a pan with some water. Not too much, just about an inch covering the rice. Add some salt.
Bring to boil and then boil until most of the water is absorbed by the rice.
Turn heat right down and put a lid on saucepan.
heat for 10 mins without removing lid then turn off but leave lid on.
Heat up oil in a frying pan.
Add about 3 tablespoons of chopped spring onions and cook for 30 seconds.
Then add chopped carrots, chopped ham, defrosted frozen peas, chopped red pepper and chopped mushroom.
Stir fry until colouring and the veg is cooking, then add 1 tablespoon soy sauce and some white pepper.
Give a few stirs then add 2 teaspoons sesame oil.
Remove from the heat and add to the rice, then return the mixture to the heat and heat through.

Pete's fitted the radiator on my bathroom wall at last. It looks good. Doesn't work, though. Roll on winter.
We went round The Tut for a couple of drinks to celebrate this piece of handyman excellence, then I returned to watch Spooks. It's suddenly dawned on me - this is just a complete British rip-off of 24 even down to some of the camera work. I still find I'm quite engrossed in it, though. Had some marmite on some lovely french bread I bought during my ridiculously expernsive trip to Sainsbury's on Sunday. I always say I'll take it easy and then go totally mad.
Also went back to the doctor's today. She asked if I exercise. About a hundred lengths of the swimming pool on two days early in the week, I tell her. You should exercise every day, she replies. "Well, I do walk to work," I say.
"Do you walk fast?"

That night I dream I'm in a 50km walk for charity. Spooky.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A tin of Irish stew and spaghetti

My ex brother-in-law once said that when you begin working life the people you meet are not friends but merely acquaintances. I haven't see him since which I guess makes him an acquaintance. Then again, my ex-wife falls into the same category.
This all came flooding back to me when we went out for birthday drinks with Withers and Marc on Friday. We were joined by Rosey, Becks and the Voice of God.
Now I class these people as friends but perhaps I should reassess the situation after the dastardly deed done to me in the City Arms.
I should put this into context by confessing that I made the supreme sacrifice on Withers' behalf by going up to my own personal DJ and, with great trepidation, requesting our political writer's favourite tune.
Withers sees himself as a bit of a musical guru - a mould-breaking expert when it comes to new talent on the scene.
So let's explode that myth. His favourite song is ELO's "Mr Blue Sky".
The agonies of requesting this song were all worthwhile when I saw the happy little cherub dancing around, flapping his arms around like he was at a Crewe Alexandra promotion party. The only thing I would have been able to do to brighten up his doom-filled existence even more would have been to pay the ginger (sorry red-headed) barmaid in the Yard to peck him on the cheek.
Feeling that I had performed an act of great humanity, I met a couple of female acquaintances from work and preceded to engage them in conversation, only to be interrupted by the call of nature.
On my return I carried on chatting for a while before I became aware that the bar of the City Arms was a lot emptier than it had previously been. What's more there was no Withers flapping his arms about, beaming happily. Nor was there a Marc, a Becks or a Rosey. And even more noticeable by its absence was a booming Santa-style "Ho, Ho, Ho" which regularly emits from the Voice.
There was, however, my coat, left neatly folded on a table some way away from me. The pile of coats "my friends" had discarded was also missing. They'd gone and left me.
When I later inquired as to their whereabouts, with an alcohol-fuelled text message containing various swearwords, I was told they had left me for my own good.
Apparently, I looked like I was getting on famously with said female acquaintances and they didn't want to cramp my style.
Not that anyone had asked me, or even left a message to say where they had gone. They had just departed, like ships in the night.
Bloody acquaintances.

When I got home I wasn't really fit to cook so this is a recipe I made earlier. Boil some spaghetti, or any dried pasta, then two minutes before the end open a tin of Irish stew, put it in a microwaveable dish, add a good sloshing of chilli powder, and heat up in the microwave.
Add it to the pasta.
Brief and simple. Like my Friday night acquaintances.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Hot dogs of war

WALES on Sunday is on a war footing - and Rosey is our own Lord Kitchener, rallying the troops to go on army manoeuvres at the local playing fields.
So far he has recruited Kempy and Becks to his platoon, and on week nights they head off to push their bodies to the limit so that they are mentally and physically prepared to bring out the best Sunday newspaper the West has ever produced.
But like all war-time politicians, there is an ulterior motive behind Rosey's recruiting policy. In fact, the more I learn about this little escapade the more I think his motives are more aligned to Bilko than Blair.
It turns out that Rosey gets a £30 "introduction fee" for enlisting other people to the cause. With Kempy and Becks that makes £60. And it was almost civil war this week when Kempy twigged to Rosey's mercenary activities. Now she has demanded a slice of the pie and is threatening to go AWOL if Rosey doesn't cough up.
All this left poor old Becks in the role of Bilko's naive sidekick Doberman, blissfully unaware that people were making capital out of his pain. Unaware until I told him, that is.
Now it looks like a peace accord has been reached and Becks, too, will share in the spoils of war.

My mate Gareth's birthday last night so I needed something quick. Invented a new recipe which I will call Pasta FAITH. Faith, by the way, stands for F*** All In The House". Fortunately I had a couple of tomatoes, some cream, mushrooms and one of those big Matteson's smoked pork sausages.
Here's what I did:
Bring two pans of hot water to the boil,
Submerge Penne Pasta in one and reduce to simmer, place the sausage in the other.
Heat up olive oil and fry chopped onion and two cloves of chopped garlic.
Add mushrooms and stir fry for two minutes.
Then add tomato paste, stir for half a minute and add chopped tomatoes and a good splash of cream.
If you like it with a bit of bite add a good spoon of chilli powder, plus salt and black pepper.
Rinse pasta and remove sausage from hot water.
Chop up sausage and add to the sauce, coating well
Add pasta
Serve, topped with grated Parmigian.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A cup of water

IF ever this mundane and painfully turgid existence got too much for me and I had one phone call to make to pull me out of the dark, gloomy depths of depression there would be no contest as to who I would ring. Not the Samaritans, not my parents, not my guru, not the police, the ambulance service or the local shrink. No, I would have to ring Withers.
This might surprise people who know Withers and consider him the last person to lighten spirits in times of crisis. His self-depracating demeanor, his glass is always half-empty approach and his decision to model his life on Seinfeld's George Costanza all suggest that he wouldn't have a clue how to talk around someone set on taking their own life. Don't believe it.
Last night in the Yard (yes, I have returned, sans trainers) for some reason we got onto the dark and gloomy subject of suicide. It was brought on by the weekend's News of the World revelations of how Lesley Grantham, Dirty Den from Eastenders, had failed in a number of suicide attempts.
Because we are journalists and have a distinctly warped view of life we found some of the revelations... whisper it... amusing. Like when he threw himself in a river carrying a rucksack full of bricks and then failed to sink (don't know if anyone told him styrofoam bricks didn't count). He then tried to get hypothermia, failed at that and eventually trudged home dripping wet for a change of clothes and a cup of tea.
Sometime after reaching alcohol saturation point I left the pub, half a pint still on the table as God is my witness, on the basis of not feeling entirely well.
When I got home there was some sozzled corner of my brain which instructed me to text Withers and send a spoof "cry for help". Of course, when a person receives a text they don't realise the state of mind you are in when you send it.
It read something like "Sorry mate I just can't go on, ug, oh, ooo ug..." and Withers immediately sprang into "Save Rippers" mode.
His advice is the only reason I am here today.
"Whoa, calm down and have a cup of water," he said.
By text.
So that he could carry on watching Jack Dee's latest show.
Sound advice to a man on the brink, I think you'll agree.
I can see it being used in the rescue text books from now on...

"Sarge, we've got a jumper."
"Middle of the Severn Bridge. Threatening to end it all. Styrofoam bricks in his rucksack.."
"Ok, Constable, take it easy. You better get up there. Talk him down. No sudden moves, ok?"
"Right, Sarge..."
"Oh, and Constable... you may need this bottle of Volvic."

It was the Fat Kid's birthday yesterday. She's 24. She wasn't too pleased when I said: "Congratulations, you're nearly half way to 50."
Still, she has come a long way. Two happy, healthy kids, a comfortable home and a reasonable looking car.
I told her as much.
It doesn't seem long ago that she and her little pal were walking along behind me, spitting on the pavement like proper Chavs, dressed in identical puffa jackets and looking longingly in C&A's window while plotting their next act of Grand Larceny.
Now she shouts at her sisters if they even dream of spitting on the floor. How things change.
Age counts for something, I guess.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chinese beef curry

WELL I refuse to lie around like an invalid.
Yesterday, to show how big and hard I am and in order to conquer this malady, I struggle into work (well walk anyway), grab the bull by the horns and get to the pub by 2.
That's right, no dodgy doctor is going to keep me from living my life naturally. And I bought some fags, too.
Caught up with Withers, mooning over the ginger (sorry, redhead, for political correctness) barmaid.
"Ooh, she spoke to me," he cooed.
Yeh, her opening gambit was something like: "What can I get you to drink, sir?"
We were joined by Roberts, who now has an insatiable interest in podcasting, and Becks.
As the afternoon wore on, and after Becks departed because he has a life, Roberts suddenly announced: "I think us three and Rosey should go speed dating".
Uhh! I can't believe Roberts just said that. Withers isn't keen either, he knows Rosey will be like a giant hoover, sweeping for phone numbers.
Actually, when Rosey gets there it will probably have to change its name to slow dating. A minute a date? Rosey has three in that time. Only joking. Not.
Anyway, Withers finally kicks the idea into touch after giving it serious consideration for about a second. And all for the right reasons. "We'd have to pay, wouldn't we?"
Good point, but aren't all dates like that?

Got home after far too many beers. Feeling dizzy again, but pretty sure it's just the effect the alcohol has had on me after a "dry" weekend. Time to cook up a storm with a recipe I picked up from Ken Hom on the TV. I think he was cooking for a fire crew. Me? I'm just cooking for me, but with roughly the same amount of ingredients. It means I can use up the rest of the roasting joint, which this time I cut into thin beef slices.

Beef slices marinated for 20 mins in a teaspoon dark soy sauce, 2 tsps sesame oil, a splash of rice wine and two tsp of cornflower.
2 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
1/2 - 1 coarsely chopped onion
two extra tablespoons rice wine
2 tsp light soy sauce
A large tablespoon worth of madras curry paste
A small amount of water or chicken stock.

Get the wok really hot
Add splash of peanut oil and heat until smoking
Add marinated beef and stir quickly to brown outside without overcooking
Remove meat from wok and turn down to medium
Fry the garlic and onion.
Add rice wine, soy, water and madras paste.
Bring to boil and return meat to pan.
Cook for further 10 mins, stirring regularly.

The great thing about this is it does have that authentic chinese curry taste that you get in the chippy or chinese takeaway. It's not too Indian, despite the Madras paste.
Settle down to eat and watch The Godfather II. Bit more confusing than it was on the previous 20 times I've seen it - but I'll put that down to the excess alcohol in my system.
Decided finally to have an early night. It works wonders, but I won't be making a habit of it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Boeuf Bourguignon


I HAD another Hannibal Lecter moment yesterday. By that I don't mean I dined out on Flautist's gonads like Hannibal the Cannibal did in Red Dragon. We cordon blue cooks call them sweatbreads, actually.
Anyway, let me explain...
About four years ago I was riding on a tube train, taking a lady friend to see the sights in London, when suddenly the world started spinning around. The floor became the ceiling and the ceiling became the floor and a 100 people crowded in on me, their bizarrely shaped faces peering at me from all angles. Apparently, though I don't recall it because I was actually delirious, I swore at a number of strangers who were only trying to help. Oh well, you know me.
I wish I could say it was the after-effects of some pretty hot drugs, but unfortunately not a dodgy tablet had passed my lips.
To be honest, at the time it wasn't a laughing matter. My friend Laney persuaded a fellow traveller to pull the emergency cord and the train screeched to a halt at St Paul's underground station. From there fellow passengers grabbed me by the arms and took me out onto the platform. As I sat on a bench feeling dizzy and nauseous the driver got out of the train and informed me the emergency services had been called. It was all pretty scary.
Eventually the paramedics turned up. To get me from the platform to above ground they had to strap me into a chair, a bit like one of those things porters use to carry papers around on, and then wheel me to the escalators.
One of them said: "Tell us if you feel sick and we'll stop."
One move of the wheel and that was it: "Sick" I blurted, then decorated the platform with a multi-coloured yawn.
I felt even more humiliated though as I was being taken up the escalator in my strap-on chair, people looking at me from the descending stairs opposite and whispering behind gloved hands. All I needed then was some fava beans and a nice chianti, chchchch...

Anyway, Saturday and I had a brief relapse, coming over all giddy, losing my balance and having to lie down. I couldn't drive my car home, so Owenov gave me a lift and I waited to see the doc on Monday.

DID very little all day. Managed to walk into town and pick the car up but I was nervously awaiting the next attack. The thing is that this strange feeling comes on suddenly, without any kind of warning. Since that first attack I have heard of loads of people with similar symptoms but when it comes to a diagnosis we are all left in the dark. Anyway, went home and chilled, watching a bit of football, the return of Robbie Coltraine as Cracker (not as good as the original yet, but let's see where it leads) and the final game of the baseball regular season.

What is it with doctors? As far as I can tell there is only one true remedy for anything these days: Give up smoking.
"Doc, I've broken my leg being knocked down by a car."
"Do you smoke?"
"Well, yes, but..."
"There you are then... it's bad for you."

"Doc, I've got radiation poisoning from working at Sellafield."
"Only yourself to blame then."

I don't know why it takes doctors five or six years to qualify when the only textbook they need is "How to diagnose an illness and relate it to smoking".
I lost my rag a bit with the registrar. "Ah, so you had a dizzy spell?"
"Well, it was more than a 'dizzy' spell, world turned upside down, I couldn't stand up and went very grey, there was a cold sweat on my brow..."
"Oh, don't bloody start..."
Anyway, my blood pressure turned out to be a bit high. Not surprising. I'd just blown a gasket with the doctor. In the end I was told to return next week so they can check it again.
What the doctor didn't do: Examine me in any way, ask me to remove any item of clothing, check out the neck and shoulder pains I've had over the last week, give me any advice on whether I should be resting, working, sitting up, lying down, show any kind of concern or consider at any stage referring me to a hospital/specialist/anything. So reassuring.
The rest of the day I stayed in, but needed some comfort food so I went for the Boeuf Bourguignon in a new cookbook given me by the very generous Mr Withers (who got it for free, but I shouldn't grumble). The cookbook featured a poncy French chef who takes 12 hours to make stock, but I took some short cuts and added some veg.

I used:
Half a beef roasting joint, cut into 4 cms pieces.
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
a sliced onion
2 tbsp plain flour
1 cup red burgundy wine (or red wine in general)
2 carrots and a stick of celery, chopped into big chunks
1/2 butternut squash cut into big chunks.
1 garlic clove
1 bouquet garni
chopped parsley.

To do:
Dry off the meat and add salt and black pepper. Lave to stand.
Put the oil into a big non-stick cooking pot with a thick base. Heat until nearly smoking then cook the meat so that it browns, not just goes grey.
Remove the meat and then add the onions, cooking until brown and soft
Add the flour and mix around, then cook for further five minutes.
Add the cup of red wine, scrape all the bits up and stir, bringing to the boil.
Return the meat to pan, add the veg and enough water to cover half the meat.
Put on a slow simmer for two hours.
Add parsley and serve with a nice, fluffy mashed potato.
I boiled potatoes for 15-20 minutes, drained them, returned to the pan and added a small amount of single cream, marj or butter and some white pepper. Left them under the lid to melt then mashed them.

Then I had a cigarette and broke eight ribs falling down the stairs because I had smoke in my eyes.
Uh... that last bit... not true. Sorry, Doc.