Wednesday, September 15, 2010

End of the line

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


Friday, September 10, 2010

Tiffin for two

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

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

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Real Cornish pasties

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