Wednesday, June 27, 2007


THE wonderful Withers may only have been to Corsica, but he appears to be suffering from jetlag - or perhaps that should be beerlag.
After an entertaining, and rather extensive, boozeday Tuesday WWW weaved his way home, arriving back at his door at around 6.30pm.
Feeling not so much emotional but exceptionally tired he made straight for his bed, stripped off and snuggled up under the duvet.
After a deep, untroubled sleep he woke to take a squint at the clock - and was shocked to see that it had clicked over to eight. With light streaming through the curtains, panic set in when he realised he had fallen asleep without setting the alarm.
Racing to the bathroom he quickly ran a hot shower, jumped in and vigorously started to scrub away the alcohol fumes of the previous afternoon.
Then he looked at the 24-hour digital clock in the bathroom. It read 20.05. Our wonderful one had been sleeping for the princely sum of one and a half hours.

Meanwhile, I have finely committed the ultimate betrayal. Yesterday I dropped Boo off outside our mechanic's garage, and she no doubt thought she was going to get the car equivalent of a makeover. Far from it.
Inside, her traitorous owner was writing a cheque for £500 and obtaining a new log book and MOT certificate for the little white hatchback Corsa parked just 50 feet down the road from my faithful old Tipo.
I left the garage, having asked Charlie if he could rip out Boo's CD player and install it in my new car which, incidentally, doesn't leak and has electric windows that work. But as I passed Boo to walk the rest of the way home I couldn't resist but kiss my hand and touch her bonnet.

Last night I was in little state to cook, but on Monday I made my own version of Jambalaya, which is, in fact, my paella but with plenty of chorizo sausage, onions and cajun spice (plus a couple of hot chillis)
What you need:
Half a chopped red onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
2 chopped red chillis
A handful of mushrooms
A lump of chorizo, chopped into bite-sized pieces
A sliced red pepper
3/4 pint of veggie stock
Two cups of basmati rice
a handful of capers, black olives.
A seafood medley of cooked prawns, mussels and squid rings (you can obtain from Sainsbury's)
Frozen peas

Fry up the onion, garlic, red pepper in olive oil. Add the chorizo and cook until the paprika starts oozing out.
Add the mushrooms and cook, then add the red pepper and cook for another 5 mins.
Wash the rice then add it to the pan and stir for a minute until it soaks up the juices.
Add enough stock to cover the rice and bring to the boil.
Then stir and add the capers and olives.
When the rice soaks up the stock add some more and turn down to a simmer.
Five minutes before the rice is done, add the cooked seafood and the frozen peas.
Keep cooking for five or more minutes until all the juice is soaked up.
Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gammon joint with celeriac mash

THE Boar's Backside is open again and Bram is quite excited. Mind you, he does get quite excited these days and complains regularly of hot flushes.
Do men go through the menopause? They should do, it sounds like they are named after us.
Anyway Brammy who, at 52, must be the oldest man around to have a students discount card, is busy inviting everyone along to this wonderful occasion which he treats like the state opening of parliament. He's quite excited about the new selling point, too.
Since his favourite boozer got burnt down mysteriously just before the smoking ban came into being, it has undergone a complete facelift.
Well, not really.
Basically, the only change appears to be that the landlord has decided to employ Welsh-speaking bar staff to attract the locals -which doesn't help when the majority of Cardiffians don't understand a word of it. I reckon it's a last roll of the dice because it's always empty, apart from Bram and a couple of mysterious acquaintainces (I once found him being chatted up by a 6ft 4ins 'lady' who had a remarkably large adam's apple).
Even the fervently Welsh Brammy knows about three words of his native language and has twice given up after-work courses. He can mumble the national anthem with the best of them until of course he shouts out "Glwad, glwad!" with firm gusto when the noisy bit comes around.
On Wednesday Brammy was cajoling me to join him up the Boar's. I determinedly resisted but, as the rain pelted down outside the Yard and the air turned decidedly chilly, the Wonderful Withers, back from his Corsican crusade, persuaded me to "go for a quick look".
As far as I was concerned the Boar's hadn't changed a bit. Brammy and four work colleagues hunched around their beers in one corner, no other clientele anywhere to be seen. At least there wasn't a queue at the bar.
Fortunately it was Withers' round and he actually understands some of the mother tongue. He ordered a pint of some mysterious Scotch ale and asked me for my choice of tipple.
"A pint of Carling, please".
The barman switched from Welsh to advise me. "Sorry, the Carling's off."
How on earth could that be? A newly refurbed boozer, trying to attract more customers, and on its first night it has run out of the most commonly supped lager in Britain! I ordered a bottle of something, but by the time I reached the pub's most vigorous PR man I couldn't hide my anger.
"How the hell can a pub with only four people in it run out of lager, Bram?" I demanded.
Even PR man Bram had no answer for that one.
Perhaps it was just a ploy to get rid of the Englishman. They needn't worry, I won't be going back. Well, until next week perhaps.

I made a lovely tender gammon joint recently, courtesy of a Nigel Slater recipe in the Observer Food Magazine.
What you need:
A nice juicy gammon joint complete with a layer of fat around the outside
Two small onions
A bulb of fennel
Two small carrots
12 black peppercorns
A handful of parsley stalks

What you do:
Put the gammon in a large saucepan and cover with water. Then bring water to the boil and quickly drain.
Refill with water and submerge gammon again, this time halving the onions and slicing the fennel down the middle from bulb to stalk. Slice the carrots in half and add it all to the water, then put in the black peppercorns and parsley and bring to the boil again, syphoning off the foam that rises to the top.
Turn down to a simmer and leave for 30 to 40 minutes, then turn off and let stand for another 20 minutes.
I had this with celeriac and potato mash, chopping both celeriac and potatoes into cubes then adding them to boiling water in a saucepan and cooking for 10 minutes until easily penetrated with a fork. Drain, add salt, pepper and a couple of knobs of butter and a small amount of milk. Replace lid long enough for butter to melt then mash up.
Cut slices from the gammon and put on a plate then serve up the mash as well and mix up some English mustard from dry so that it has a bit of a kick.
Any gammon left can then be eaten with a fresh French baton, as chunky sandwiches. Gorgeous.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Feeding the Big Boy

MY mechanic Charlie is a resourceful bloke.
I was in big trouble on Monday. The Fat Kid and family were just 45 minutes away from Cardiff and we were due to head off for a holiday park at Porthcawl for a few days break.
Then Boo decided to throw my plans into chaos.
Boo, as readers of this blog are aware, is my black N-reg Fiat Tipo. Reliable engine, but beginning to look a bit old in the tooth.
It didn't help that a short while ago some little oikes decides to bend my driver's door double in a bid to nick the five 2p coins in the little compartment under the handbrake. Since when it has become possible to buy a wrap of crack cocaine for 10 pence I have no idea, but the whole thing caused me hours of inconvenience, not to mention the immediate rise in my blood pressure whenever I saw some little hoody-wearing scroat riding past me on a bike.
David Cameron, the tory leader, suggested at one stage we should hug a hoodie. I agree. By the neck, preferrably.
But enough of the ranting. Having driven into work to find out some details about Trecco Bay, the park we were heading for, I noticed that Charlie's window repair job wasn't quite working as it should. Having got him to do a quick fix on the cheap perhaps I only had myself to blame.
The cause of my consternation was that a gap had appeared in my window and, in the past, I have always been able to solve this problem by brute force, pushing the glass back into position and hoping to God it sticks. It's worked in the past.
On this occasion I opened the door, put my hands on both sides of the glass, and pushed it upwards into position. Then I let go. Mistake.
The next thing I know the glass is shooting down at a rate of knots, disappearing into the door panel. No window, and I'm damned if I'm going to leave it like that. The Welsh summer is temperamental to say the least, particularly on the coast of the Bristol Channel where our holiday home is situated.
What to do? The Fat Kid, Big Boy, the Vin Monster and new boyfriend Mikey have just sent me a text to say they have reached the Severn Bridge. Nothing else for it, I drive around to Charlie's.
Lovely bloke Charlie. Heart of Gold. Talks for Britain. And baffles with science, like most mechanics tend to do. I'd always wondered about the magic method he had used to fix my window, but didn't have the two hours available to listen to the explanation.
I turn up this time, however, and I can see the master at work. Well, not the master exactly, but his teenage apprentice. Far be it from me to suggest that the spotty youth is identical to how I imagined the oikes were who broke into Boo in the first place.
In this case my future is in his hands.
"Remove the door panel and sort this man's car out now," orders Charlie to the trainee whippersnapper.
Meanwhile the boss himself regales me of his recent trials and tribulations while also attempting to sell me an old Corsa for £500. "About time you got yourself a new car," he says.
I'm absurdly loyal to Boo, besides all her quirks, but he may just have a point there. I'm considering the offer as we speak. At least the electric windows work.
As we're looking around the car the whippersnapper interrupts us.
"Er, Charlie, I've taken off the panel and I've found this piece of wood in there. Did you leave it here for a purpose?"
Charlie looks at him as if he has just arrived off the planet Bozo.
"That's the piece of wood that's been holding the bloody window up," he explains, then proceeds to walk around the door and wedge said lump of wood back in place, forcing the window shut once more. Job done.
God, it can be technical this motorcar repair business.

So the Fat Kid and crew arrive at my house. The Vin Man has weed on the backseat of the Fat Kid's Clio and is in the doghouse. The Big Boy, meanwhile, is already on the hunt for food. Spying some week old grapes that Wren bought, he immediately lunges for them and precedes to eat as many as he can. There's no stopping him where food is concerned.
The Fat Kid introduces me to Mikey. I hate all her boyfriends, but this one seems alright. He's two years younger than her but seems infinitely more mature than the two sorry losers who managed to somehow father her kids.
After having a lovely cup of tea we set off for Trecco and arrive at around six. The chalet we have been allocated is wonderful and the site manager has provided us with an assortment of welcome gifts including the tea, coffee, sugar, milk and toilet rolls that I had taken the precaution of bringing with us. Oh well, more the merrier.
By 6.30 we are in the bar discussing what to buy the kids for tea. When I look at the menu, though, it doesn't seem great and it's pretty expensive.
Supping on a second pint and giving Mikey the third degree while watching the Vin Man enjoying himself in the nearby playground, we decide they can eat later. Fatal mistake. We end up in the club watching a typical holiday camp show, the Big Boy falls asleep and the Vin Man is happy just to blow into an exceptionally loud, rave-type whistle that the Fat Kid has bought him to "keep him quiet". Duh!
By 11 we are back in the caravan having enjoyed four or five pints and chips, jumbo sausage and curry sauce on the way home. The kids are too tired to move, yippee!

I spoke too soon. While I sleep soundly, the Big Boy decides that this is the night he will complain bitterly about the new teeth pushing their way through in his mouth. The Fat Kid and Mikey take shifts to be up with him all night and look like death warmed up when I finally surface. Poor things.
But it's no sleeping on tour so off we go for a walk around the beach, followed by a nice drive to Mumbles for a walk, dinner and a fabulous Joe's ice cream. While the Vin Man plays with his Jacket potato and tuna, big boy demolishes a plate of fish fingers, chips and beans and then proceeds to finish off Vin's meal too. After that he also has his fair share of ice cream.
Delighted to say he slept well last night, but I wasn't talking the risk. I departed on Tuesday evening in order to be ready for work again on Wednesday.

Before I left I cooked for the Fat Kid and Mikey. Without any of my normal ingredients - garlic etc - I had to be a bit inventive with only the local supermarket to provide for me.
I opted for a basic pasta sauce with spaghetti and this is what I did.

a. Heat olive oil in a frying pan or wok, then gently fry onions, stirring regularly.
b. Add some garlic powder and keep cooking.
c. Add pieces of bacon and sliced mushrooms.
d. Add a good sprinkling of mixed herbs.
e. Meanwhile, Boil water in a big saucepan and add spaghetti.
f. Add a good dollop or two of the tomato puree to the bacon mix and stir in well.
g. Add two tins of tomatoes and a good splash of milk, then bring to the boil.
h. Drain the spaghetti, then add the bacon mix to it, stir it around, dish it out and top with grated cheese. Eat with some nice crusty bread.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ma childreen need Waaan

A tempting freebie landed on my desk this week. It was a night's stay in a plush hotel just about to open in Cheltenham and it was for any time in August. Perfect.
Perfect why? Because it just so happens that the Gas will be playing their home games in Cheltenham next year and their first home game is in August.
Without further ado I got in touch with the PR company responsible and booked a night at the Hotel du Vin, which I am reliably informed will specialise in good food and wine. Now, those who know me will be quite aware that I'm not a great fan of the fruits of the vine. But it seemed an opportunity not to be missed and will impress my girlfriend Wren without a doubt. The fact that she will have to endure an hour and a half at a footie match with a load of bonkers Bristolians is a small price to pay for staying in the lap of luxury.
My next thought was to obtain tickets for the match. After all, hadn't we filled Wembley for the play-off final just a few weeks ago? There could be a big demand.
Immediately I was on to the Gas website. And immediately I started to have a nasty little feeling nagging at the back of my brain.
For some reason there were few mentions of our opening game against Crewe taking place at Cheltenham. In fact, according to said website, we would be entertaining Crystal Palace in the cup the previous week at our old spiritual home the Memorial Ground. I read on.
Eventually I found a piece about the move. Bristol Rovers, it said, would be playing only their last 10 GAMES in Cheltenham! Basically, I had booked into the hotel for the first Saturday home match of the season, believing we would be taking on the team that Withers fervently supports (in his very understated way of demonstrating fervour - blood pressure never getting over 68) at our temporary home.
Oh well. Now it means I will have to pick Wren up in Bristol, go to see the Gas, then travel the best part of an hour up the motorway for our luxury night in Cheltenham.
The best laid plans...

Here's that recipe from yesterday which I hadn't time to post because I needed to join Roberts in the pub... urgently.
I don't know why it's called Jazz and Spice Shepherd's pie, although Wren is now well aware of the spice connection.
You need:
1lb floury potatoes, diced
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 small chopped onion
1 chopped garlic clove
1 large carrot
10oz minced beef (or Lamb preferrably, as it's Shepherds pie)
2 tablespoons mild curry paste or 1 tablespoon of madras (my choice)
8 oz lamb or beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup/tomato paste
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 tsp cornflour
2 oz thawed frozen peas
2 chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons milk
a knob of butter
grated mature cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Cook the potatoes in boiling water until soft enough to mash
heat the oil in a saucepan or wok
cook the onion, garlic, carrot and mince for 3/4 minutes
Stir in the curry paste, stock, ketchup and soy
Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes
Add the peas and carrots, season and thicken with the cornflour
transfer to an ovenproof dish
Meanwhile Mash the potatoes, then add the milk and butter and a bit of white pepper, mix in
Spread the mash over the meat mixture, make a crisscross pattern on the top with a fork, then sprinkle the grated cheese generously over the top.
Cook under the grill for 10 minutes to gently brown the top.
Serve with garlic bread or a "nice" salad (as Wren would say)
It's quite yummy with a nice little kick.

Apologies, by the way, to Kitchen Hand. She is in fact a he. Doh! Another cock up to add to the growing list.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Jazz and Spice Shepherds Pie

COLEY was 50 yesterday. Now this was somewhat of a momentous occasion. At one stage earlier in his journalism career I didn't think he'd reach 33. In fact, it nearly all ended on his 32nd birthday, such was the tale of drunken debauchery that took place on that famous day - June 14, 1989.
Coley was deputy sports editor when Wales on Sunday first opened its doors back in those dim and distant days 18 years ago. For my sins, I was what was termed the Chief Sports Sub-Editor. It meant I had to take his 3000 words of indecipherable garbage about some obscure athlete never to be seen again and turn it into something readable. A mammoth task, believe me.
Anyway, six months into the job Coley was desperately unhappy. Having been told that if he joined the newspaper he would be sent on the Lions rugby tour to Australia, instead he was sent out to Canada with the Welsh rugby dregs that had been left behind. This made him an angry man, so angry in fact that when our sports editor said he was going to be out of the office for the day, Coley's dedication to duty wore a mite thin.
He was supposed to take charge and his first rallying call to the troops went something like this. "Right you lot, it's my birthday and I'm meeting my bank manager over the pub. Any of you want to come along, you're welcome. Don't know when I'll be back."
It's the kind of invitation that Marlon Brando's Godfather might suggest you can't refuse. In Welsh journalism circles anyway. So off we all trotted to a boozer in the main street called The Cottage, there to spend six hours or more on the razz.
It got to the stage where members of the public began to trickle in for an after-work drink and the barman started getting edgy about the increasingly rowdie crew at the top of the room.
At this stage it was my round. "Pleesh can I have five pints of lager, two ginishes..." He cut me off. "I can't serve you mate."
"Why the hell not?"
"Cos one of your lot fell off his stool."
"Who wossh zat?"
"You mate!"
At this Coley appeared at my shoulder, demanding to see the manager. "D'you know hoo Iyam?" he inquired.
"I don't care who you are mate, you're both barred."
So off we toddled, swearing under our collective breaths.
Some might think that would be the end of the frivolities - not a chance.
Coley then insists on dragging us up the stairs into a casino of which he was a member. But before long that caused a problem, too.
Another of our motley crew, Gibbo, was chatting away to me when the manager appeared decked out in penguin suit and bow tie.
"Excuse me fellas, is that your mate over there?" he asked.
We peered across to see Coley lolling all over the roulette table.
"Yesh itish," we replied.
"Well, I don't want to upset him because he's a very good customer of ours, but is there any way you might be able to edge him out of the exit? He keeps falling over the table and sending the chips flying everywhere."
Ho, hum, easier said than done. But with one on each arm we finally got him out of the door and onto the street.
Where now? We decided on an old haunt, now sadly gone, called the Press Bar. Don't know why it was called the press bar as only two or three journos ever went there. We stumbled across the road, then for some reason began wrestling and falling through some bushes.
Finally we entered the press bar and immediately realised our mistake. The editor "Mad" John Humphreys was drinking there. Time for a sharp exit.
Unfortunately, Coley had other ideas. Charging towards the bar he managed to slip, go flying and landed on a round table, preceding to fly across the bar like a lunatic aboard a mini hovercraft.
Gibbo and I closed our eyes, but somehow Coley survived the wrath of the boss, who wasn't called "Mad" John for nothing.
Finally Gibbo and I decided enough was enough, and schemed on how to get Coley into a taxi and send him home to Penarth. We managed to get him out of the front of the hotel and even pushed him into the back of a cab. But as we gave the driver directions the opposite door open and Coley climbed out of the other side, running back into the safety of the bar.
We both shrugged, gave up and decided to go home.

Next day.
11am, no sign of Coley.
11.30, no sign of Coley.
12 noon, no sign of Coley.
Finally at 12.45 after numerous calls to his house and fears that he had met an untimely end, our deputy sports editor turns up, face white as a sheet, looking hopelessly dishevelled and having difficulty with his speech.
The boss asks him about the ordeal of the previous night.
"Funny you should say that," said Coley, "I was lying in the bath this morning, minding my own business, when the wife came in waving my white shirt above her head and ranting about grass stains. 'Where have you been and who've you been with?" she demanded.
"I looked up at her and said 'give me 24 hours and I'll piece it together'."

A few days later, with me having recently split from the psycho, he very kindly invited me to his house for tea. To meet the wife. Like the fool I am, I accepted.
Opening the door this frightening looking woman towered over me. "So you're the one that led him astray on his birthday?" she said.
Caught. Hook, line and sinker.

COLEY is a different animal now. Still enjoys the occasional shandy but has his own agency, a PR company/freelance journalism operation employing a number of people. It's called Westgate and he even employed me for a short time until I managed to escape.
He's also divorced and re-married, with a seventh child on the way (what must he be thinking?) and we had a very enjoyable night celebrating his birthday in Cardiff Athletics Club last night.
Despite the new relaxed Coley, don't be surprised to hear more about him on these pages in future. That's if his solicitor doesn't get to me first.

AT the weekend Wren came down and we had a lovely day enjoying the sun on the cliffs of Southerndown, overlooking the Bristol Channel. It was a real scorcher and later we quenched our thirsts with some lovely Heinekens in the Tut.
I also found time to cook on Monday and did Ainsley Harriot's Shepherd's pie. I'll put the recipe on tomorrow's entry.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A bit of a do

WHENEVER you see a comedian playing a drunk in a TV show they always act the same way, leaning over, eyes blurry, enfolding someone in their inebriated grip and slurring their undying love for the poor recipient. They must have seen Owenov in action.
It was Owenov's leaving do last night and there was a mighty fine turnout at our favourite watering hole The Yard. Not surprising, really, as it was a fantastic evening, the sun shining, the summer dresses flowing by - in fact everything my departing colleague could have dreamed for on the day he chose early retirement. Sorry, that should read a high-flying role on the sports desk of the Western Snail, Wales' own morning newspaper.
It's been a bit of a week trying to master a new computer system that makes the Krypton Factor seem like a game of Snakes and Ladders while also trying to organise the farewell presents, design a front page for the man on the move and try to sort out some kind of holiday accommodation for the fat kid, Vinny and big boy, who are threatening a visit in a week's time.
Thankfully it all got done on time, particularly the front page of which I was particularly proud. According to another former colleague, Mutt, our Owenov has a striking resemblance to the cartoon version of Howard from the Halifax Building Society. With one striking difference, of course. Owenov isn't black.
It was great, therefore, to find a picture of the real Howard with his arm around a waxworks dummy of himself. Then it was simply a question of performing that famous old WoS trick, putting someone's head on someone else's body. Voila... Owenov and Howard arm in arm.
After the boss's speech and Owenov's riposte which turned into a bit of a character assassination of his future employers - unfortunately one of them was there to witness it and Owenov could find himself in Coventry rather than Cardiff soon - it was then time to adjourn for drinks.
Now Owenov has a bit of a fancy for a Jameson's now and then. The boss, never one to encourage such vices, stumped up for one immediately while I bought the now remorseful young man a pint of lager.
As the night continued - a gaggle of marketing girls joining in the frivolities (I think a gaggle is the right term) - Owenov began to realise what he'd be missing. "Lishun mate," he slurred to Roberts. "You're a real prufeshnul, you are... I've never met any prufishnel as profishnal as you mate... no honeshtly... I'm not just shaying this cush I've had a little drink... you are (squeezes his victim like a starving python until he is puse in the face).
At that time I knew it was time to make my excuses and leave, just like a good newspaper man should. Not to say I hadn't supped a few myself and by the time I got home it was a toss up: Pasta which would take 10 minutes or the packet of pork scratchings winking at me from the cupboard. In such circumstances, there can be only one winner.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Advanced Australian Fayre

IT'S about time I said "hello cobbers" to all my Australian readers, and particularly a big thank you to Kitchen Hand, who has her own version of What I Cooked Last Night on the Blogosphere. I feel extremely proud that my drinking, cooking and generally debauched adventures have proved to be entertaining enough to bring me international fame. Most of my Down Under readership (well, there were five or six who took the time to look on these pages, it seems) complained the print was too small. Sorry about that, guys, but being a complete technophobe I will have to ask my resident IT expert (Withers, believe it or not) if he can sort something out.
Other than that, I don't know how far Kitchen Hand and Co have read back into my dim and distant blogging past but they will probably be interested to know about my two months touring Oz with that ragtag bunch of cricket fans known as the Barmy Army. As I understand it I also featured with my mate the Kitchen Designer on some programme called Bondai Rescue. I'm still waiting for it to appear over here. Anyway, thanks again for reading. If anyone wants to check out Kitchen Hand she's on

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Medley of Mushroom risotto

UNADULTERED violence, screaming supporters and not a policeman in sight... something scarey is taking place among the rose gardens, leafy streets and 4 x 4 landcruisers of London's stockbroker belt.
Luckily I survived as a witness to the wonton destruction that went on in front of my eyes on Sunday, though I was left with a sharp knot in my stomach and haven't been able to sleep since "the party".
What party? You may ask. Even though mentioning the words make me, a fearless journalist, decidedly queasy I think the public needs to know... I'm talking about Annabel's party.
Who's Annabel? you may ask. Well she's Wren's four-year-old niece and she was celebrating her birthday at a scout hut in Ewell, a small, picturesque village not far from Epsom and Surbiton.
In a moment of wreckless abandon I had agreed to accompany Wren on the six-hour round trip on Sunday after 17 busy hours and a double-header international weekend on WoS.
We travelled in Millie, Wren's Micra, and were three miles away from our destination when, metaphorically, the wheels came off.
"Where's the e mail with the directions?"
"I haven't seen an e mail."
"Yeh, it's in the map book with your directions."
No it wasn't. Among the hundreds of pages copied off the AA's "find a route" site there was definitely no e mail. Directions to John O'Groats, Land's End, Norwich and Blackpool? Yes. Directions to the Scout Hut in Ewell? No.
Eventually we rang Wren's brother to find out where we should be.
"Look out for balloons," he instructed.
Fine, what kind of balloons? I searched the sky for a goodyear blimp flying over the site with an arrow pointing downwards with the instruction "Annabel's party here"? Umm, no joy.
Actually these balloons were of the common-or-garden variety youcan buy from the local newsagent. I realised that when we finally tracked our destination down about 45 minutes later. I knew they were a last-minute consideration immediately. "50 TODAY" they announced. I had to say Annabel looked very young for her age.
Outside in the field the kids were all dressed in Peter Pan theme clothes, the girls mostly opting for the Tinkerbell option, with the boys choosing to be pirates or crocodiles. The adults were watching the games attentively while sipping on their Pims. What a peaceful sight. Idyllic. Weather wonderful, happy children laughing and playing, adults relaxed and enjoying the scene.

Then came Pinata. Ever heard of Pinata? It's a game I believe was developed in Spain or some other latin country which positively encourages Bullfighting and the like.
After the kids had enjoyed their tea they were invited to gather around as a colourful donkey was attached to the roof by a string. He swung there for a minute as the innocent eyes of the children fell on him and one of them asked: "What's that for?"
"Right," announced one eager mum. "Form a queue if you want to bash the Donkey."
What? Was I hearing right? Did the animal rights people know about this cruel and barbaric sport?
She then retrieved a large stick from behind her back and proceeded to give a "demonstration". Crack! She whipped the little donkey across it's back. "Now who wants a go?" she asked.
Little hands shot up and as I watched in horror one by one these little mites piled into the donkey, their eyes lighting up as they delivered the telling blows.
I tell you, if Frankie Dettori had whipped his Derby winner that hard the previous day down the road at Epsom he would have had the prize taken off him and been suspended for at least a week by the Jockey Club. There would have at least been a steward's inquiry. Outrageous!
Trouble was the little Pinata was strong. However hard they hit it - and bear in mind none of them wore blindfolds, which I thought was a vital component of the game - it wouldn't split and let them at the goodies inside. It ended up in a free-for-all. The adults were all jumping in like some mad "World's strongest parent" competition, bashing the hell out of the little, colourful thing. I could only stand there, cringe and rub my eyes.
Finally one little girl forced it to the floor and they fell on it, ripping it apart until the little curley wurleys and milky ways were pulled from its desicrated body. I was still shaking by the time we got back to Bristol.

Safe at home on Monday night I opted to make a mushroom risotto.
You need:
2 tsp olive oil
2 ozs butter
1 small onion or shallot (I used shallot as I was out of onions)
2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
8 oz rice (you should use risotto but I didn't have any so used basmati)
1 pint chicken stock
mixed fresh mushrooms (you can buy these from Sainsbury's: Oyster, Chestnut, field, etc)
Flat leaf parsley
grated parmesan
salt and pepper

To do:
Make stock and then keep heated on low flame in small saucepan
Heat half the oil in a large saucepan and soften garlic and onion in it.
Add rice and coat in oil, stirring for a minute.
Add a small amount of stock and then mix until it is soaked up, continue adding at intervals for the rice to soak it up.
Meanwhile heat half the butter and remaining oil in a frying pan and fry mushrooms for three to four minutes.
Stir them into the rice, then grate plenty of parmesan over it and add parsley and remaining butter, then season to taste.
I also made some veg to go on top from a Ken Hom recipe...

Reheat the saucepan with olive oil, fry some sliced garlic and add mange tout and sliced water chestnuts out of the tin. Add soy sauce and any remaining stock, together with salt, pepper and sugar. Remove from heat once cooked and mix in some seasame oil.
Heap the risotto out onto a plate and top with the vegetables, then sprinkle with chilli flakes if desired. Yum.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Roasted new potatoes

ANYONE remember that fantastic band that rode the crest of the New Wave back in the 70s? The Struts they were called. No? Well, shame on you.
The Struts, you see, contained a brilliant songwriter-guitarist called... oh, alright, it was me. Anyway, though I sold my guitar long ago for the price of a couple of tinnies and some rolling tobacco for some reason my punk days continue to pogo back into my life at the oddest times. Like today, for instance.
There I was, sat at my desk minding my own business, when there on my e-mail appeared a message from an old school pal Derek. "Have you seen this? I seem to remember being there," he inquired, sending me the link to a website called There, lo and behold, was a little biography of the band, which lasted about six months, played four gigs and practised every Thursday upstairs in Chipping Sodbury Town Hall.
One day we recorded a couple of tracks on an old reel-to-reel tape recorder and it is these you can now hear and, worse, actually purchase on the web! Now I don't know how long these "CDs" have been for sale, containing two songs of mine called The Jester and Waiting in the Dole Queue, but I believe I must be owed quite a few loyalties by now. So, Geoff Fulton, former Struts bassist and now unashamed entrepeneur, I expect a cheque to be winging its way through the post before long. But I won't hold my breath.
It did help me to recall some great days, though. Playing a gig at Sodbury rugby club which a Yate band - The Numbers - tried to hijack, then driving back to Winterbourne in singer Adi Hulbert's car when he suddenly became paralysed on one side and I had to operate the gears. Christ, wouldn't fancy doing that now. There was also a talent contest in which we lost out to a band who continually played Wild Thing by the Troggs, and a gig at Filton High School which was a real blast.
Like all bands, however, we split up because of musical differences. Geoff, Kev the drummer and Adi the singer all fancied themselves as heavy metal maestros. I said they were making a mistake as they were only good enough to perform in punk bands. So they split and formed a heavy group that lasted about one gig.
Meanwhile my amplifier caught fire during practice due to a can of beer falling off the top of it and getting the wires and valves all wet and while it went to the repair shop I went to journalism college, hoping one day to be able to afford to retrieve it. I didn't, but my brother sneaked it out ahead of me. He went on to play in a number of bands and make quite a music career for himself with such wonderfully named outfits like the Beatnik Filmstars and the Forest Giants (his current mob). I sit here writing and thinking: It could have all been so different. Strummer and I, we would have had the meanest of bands.

I'VE been full of Man Cold this week. Now, this is a terrible disease which prevents you thinking, sleeping, talking and... nah, I was going to say drinking, but that would be a lie. Went out with our new recruit Wathan on Wednesday. He's replacing Rosey, though Rosey seems to turn up regular as clockwork. He thinks he still works here, I reckon. Either that or he's got the hots for one of the blond in the magazine production department.
Rosey's doing great actually. Had a few shifts on the Star already and even got his byline in the paper for a re-write job on David Beckham's comeback.
He was down again on Friday, though, covering the Wales v Czech Republic match at the Millennium Stadium which doubled up as Ryan Giggs' farewell to international football. To celebrate the return of the Prodigal we went to that little known establishment called The Yard. Glad to say Wren joined me, finally braving the chance to meet up with the likes of Rosey, Coggsy and, dare I say it, the Prince of Darkness.
The Prince, by the way, is not like the rest of us. He went out a got completely bladdered at a Celtic Manor golf dinner on Tuesday and felt the only way to cure his terrible, shambling demeanor was to head for the pub again the next day. Now, most of us call this Hair of the Dog... in the Prince's case it has become Hair of the Labradoodle.

Withers is acting very strangely ever since he purchased a new pair of running shoes. On two occasions this week he has feigned ignorance when we have been off to the Yard. The first time he claimed he thought it was a "top management discussion" and wasn't invited. On the second occasion he ignored all Rosey's texts then insisted he "didn't know" people were going to the pub. Didn't know? For God's sake it's a Friday, we ALWAYS go to the pub (well, ditto Boozeday Tuesday, Wednesday club, Thirsty Thursday).
The truth is something different, and really quite alarming. Apparently Withers is dragging his Size 11 Sideshow Bob feet around the local park at a rapid trot, covering seven miles a day (or 14 footsteps in his crazy, big-footed world) all in an effort to lose some weight before his holiday to Corsica in two week's time.
You wouldn't normally see Withers like this a. because he never takes holidays and b. Because he has never really been that fussy about his figure. Just so happens, though, that said holiday involves meeting up with friend Kirsty and around nine of her female acquaintances. Wonder if they are ready for our marathon man just yet?

Can't believe Coggsy and Wren know each other. Not only did they used to work for the same newspaper, but Wren used to live next door to an ex-girlfriend of Coggsy's dad. Would you Adam and Eve it? Went for a quick smoke the other day and they were rabbiting away like good old mates.
Later in the evening we bumped into Tucker - Wren knows him, too - and we watched Beckham's return for England in the City Arms, getting quietly sozzled in the process. Smashy and Tucks were quite keen for us to stay on, but having seen Tucks this morning I'm rather glad we made our excuses and left when we did.

Not done a lot of cooking but thought I would mention one of the new veggies I did with the Sunday roast the other day. Went out and bought some lovely new potatoes, then roasted them together with the Sunday lunch. They were yum.
What you do: Wash the potatoes, cut them into two then boil them for about 6-8 minutes. Heat an even mixture of butter and cooking oil in a frying pan, then fry the potatoes until they start to crisp up. Then put them in the oven with the roast, and sprinkle over some Thyme. Gorgeous.