Monday, 28 June 2010

A rose by any other name…

It would seem grossly unfair that I should spend a few days up with Ma and Pa and not come back with feverish pictures from the extravaganza that is their garden at the moment. 


23062010069An unknown briar at the bottom of the garden with one resplendent red poppy; The small pond


I should have gotten closer to these hollyhocks and delphiniums






Looking up through the rose aisle to the ‘bandstand’







The ‘bandstand’ with just a hint of the roses surrounding






The vibrant pink on the left is a Rosamundi, the oldest known rose and brought over by the Romans


23062010067 25062010073

Roses from the ‘bandstand’ with the moat in the background






The rosamundi looking wistfully romantic






Looking down the garden towards the house

And you can’t have shots of the garden without the devil-may-care  handsomeness and obliging nature of Sam





The rockery and waterfall outside the conservatory








More roses because who can get enough of them…

The best football summary ever…

Sitting on the bus on the way to Homebase (me – not them) are two gentlemen, both one hundred and eleventy-twelve if they’re a day. They’re discussing yesterday’s debacle. (I didn’t watch it due to a conviction we wouldn’t win and the summer doesn’t last forever and my time would be more profitably spent with a good book in the garden. Reader, I was not wrong).

First man: “I watched it dahn the pub. They’d laid on some food an’ that but ah left at half-time cos it were no good.”

Second man: “No, they were no good.” (Cue random under-the-breath mutterings, no doubt vitriol directed South Africa-wards)

First man: “Ah knew it. We learnt all about this in the war. The Germans don’t like aerial bombardment.” He smacks the cross-bar on the bus out of frustration. “We should have brought on Peter Crouch.”

Friday, 18 June 2010

It’s not what I expected… Part VI

Wednesday afternoon the Bookseller turns to me and intones, in his inimicable  - and sometimes unfathomable – way “Penguin have dropped a bollock.” I, knowing of old that such a statement will be followed by a hellishly good story, wait with bated breath. He hands me two Penguin versions of Lolita, one part of their brand-spanking new Modern Classics Library imprint featuring Nabokov, the other a standard Penguin issue. I scan the covers for typos but none is apparent and hang on for further enlightenment.

“They’ve only missed out the Foreword, written by Nabokov posing as a certain John Ray, in the new library.” This isn’t good; what makes it ever so slightly more unprofessional and bollock-dropping is that they HAVE included the afterword where it says After doing my impersonation of suave John Ray, the character in Lolita who pens the Foreward ... (sic spelling the Bookseller – I was not around to proof this).

The Bookseller went on to blog this on his world-famous outstanding blog, followed by thousands who, unable to make it to the shop for his pearls of wisdom, follow him adoringly in cyber-space. 

This morning I called in only to be greeted by unusual high spirits from the Bookseller, who showed me this quite unbelievable piece in The Bookseller [the online version]. What is striking is the somewhat churlish attitude of Penguin – um, it’s not ‘just a few pages’, it’s an integral part of the novel. It’s like missing out Chapter One. You’d think they’d be grateful that we’d pointed out the error rather than resenting us for having to pulp their entire stock and start over because someone, somewhere was dumb enough to leave it out and then think no-one would notice.

To crown the matter, just as we’re getting over the heady rush of power of the individual (or the ‘small people’ as BP like to put it), the Bookseller then receives an email from the Guardian asking for an interview on his discovery. Has he actually started a publishing shitstorm? Will we ever be able to order from Penguin again?  Truly, his power knows no bounds. I am in awe – although not always of his spelling.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

In which we get a little nostalgic

Royal Ascot always brings out a touch of nostalgia in me. A few days when ladies ‘are painted to the eyes’, men look rakish in top hats and horses gleam and prance and show off just as much as any coverage-currying 21 year-old.

One of the great rakes of the turf – amongst many other things – was Clement Freud, an infamous gourmand, gambler and journalist. I recently picked up his Freud on Food and it is so headily nostalgic and redolent of a bygone age of food that I felt it ought to be acknowledged in the new world of the blogosphere.

To wit: Repeated throughout the book, clearly from a time when 1/4 bottles of champagne were readily available and in every bon viveur’s fridge, his thoughts on ham: “For the first meal from the ham [which you have cooked], cut medium slices and serve with no other garnish than a tablespoon of champagne.” Can you imagine…?

On weekday breakfast: “If you value your gourmet, here is a gently and abundant breakfast that will send him, and his innards, contentedly to work.

Tea or coffee, freshly made and kept decently hot

Fresh croissants with unsalted butter and black cherry jam

Brown toast, hot buttered, with poached eggs (eggs that are broken into a soup ladle, spilt carefully into boiling water to which a drop of vinegar is added and boiled for 1 minute before they are removed with a tea sieve)

Bradenham ham

Fresh peaches

If only a dozen families living within a half-mile radius of a baker ordered fresh croissants every morning, it would be worth his while to deliver them for breakfast, through the letterbox if you are asleep.”

I find myself rather longing for the days when a baker would a) have fresh croissants on the premises and b) cheerily deliver them each and every morning. And there’s more: mention of Precis, a ready-made roux you could just stir right in to soups; tinned asparagus and peaches; Curacao; tins of turtle soup and Chivers’ raspberries; Bath Oliver biscuits… even a mention of an entire impromptu late-night feast entirely made up of tinned food, including tinned ham (reheated of course in champagne) - and this was just in the well-stocked larder.

He covers children’s parties (involving a lot of booze and not just for the adults), wooing (complete with braised lamb’s heart), winter and summer cooking, Christmas – all splashed with a liberal helping of champagne and curacao (why have we stopped drinking this?) – there is barely an occasion that man did not give gastronomic contemplation to.

And to crown it all, yesterday I ate our first strawberry – with cheesecake for breakfast. It may not have been croissants, ham and peaches, but it was a hellish start to the day.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Miscellany to make up for lost time or In which I got fidgety

I've been sadly neglectful of my poor old blog in the last few weeks. At first it was just frenetic everyday busy-ness getting in the way, then as the days passed, I got a little nervous about posting anything because I felt I didn't have anything in the least remarkable to say. I've been mute on the oil disaster, our new Age of Austerity, the Cumbria tragedy and more besides because I've felt - most peculiarly - it wasn't my place to add anything.

So to get back into the swing of things here's a picture of my startlingly lovely clematis last week.

And here are the violas, going like gangbusters and putting up a brave fight against the encroaching nasturtiums.

I also came up with a rather lovely roasted aubergine dip recipe:

Roast a couple of aubergines in a hot oven until blackened all over. Cut them in half and scrape out the insides into a food processor. Add a tbsp of pomegranate molasses, 1-2 tbsp tahini, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper and a little olive oil and blitz until smooth. Be careful how much olive oil you add - it can make the dip a bit runny. Check the flavourings - I particularly like the tanginess of the pomegranate, but you may want more tahini and more salt. Scatter with chopped parsley and pine nuts et voila.

Given the lovely weather, I've also been reading like crazy. To prepare myself for Sylvia Beach's letters, recently published in the States, I've gone back to Noel Riley Fitch's biography of this extraordinary, selfless, generous woman who acted as a personal interchange and bank for many of the foremost writers of the earliest 20th century who found themselves on Paris' Left Bank, in particular James Joyce who, without the personal and financial aid, commitment and sacrifice of Sylvia, wouldn't have been published at all. A re-visit to writers such as Hemingway and F Scott is made all the more satisfying for another piece of the jigsaw pushed into place.