Thursday, April 27

Don't Tell Steven Spielberg.

Today found me attending a training course on the fifth floor of one of our older buildings. When our college took over we installed lifts to make the building more accessible. I've used the lift probably ten or twelve times in the last couple of years. Never noticed the manufacturer's nameplate before today though.


That's right, its Schindler's Lift!

Tuesday, April 25

Dictionary Corner.

As regular readers will know, I work in a Library. Today I spent some time re-labelling the quick reference section. One of the books I was working on was an English-Albanian Dictionary. Browsing (as one does) idly, my eye fell on the entry for the word "dick". Delightfully, the Albanian word for dick is -

"Detektive" !!!

It gives the phrase "helping the police with their enquiries" a whole new meaning.

Oddly the Dictionary also provides the Albanian for the English phrase "kitchen police". The mind boggles...

Saturday, April 22

Keeping the peace.

As the Phantomette is a dyed-in-the-wool Arsenal supporter and I support Spurs there was only one thing to do this lunchtime. Stay away from the T.V. and the radio and avoid strangling each other.

It has been quite a few years since we went down to Borough Market, so we thought we would give it a try. It was interesting to see how things have changed down there.

Borough Market in 1999 was a foodies dream. Small producers travelling with a few cool boxes full of meat, cheese or sausages. If you got there much after twelve noon all you would get would be crumbs.

Six years on and the Market has turned into another stop on the London Tourist Trail. The place is crowded. Queues for venison burgers or falafel wraps snake round the stalls. I saw one stall where the line went full circle and came round on itself. Some of the stalls which have been there since the beginning have now got walk-in fridges and refrigerated display cabinets. There seem to be fewer of the small individual artisan food producers and more spin-off stalls from commercial businesses in the area surrounding the market.

There is still plenty of great food to be had. We bought some amazingly creamy, sweet Gorgonzola, and rich, nutty Comte cheese. Some smoked Mackerel went into our bag, and plum tomatoes on the vine and smelling heavenly. We added some French new potatoes and chose a couple of fistfuls of salad leaves, rocket, mizuna and oak leaf. Sold loose for us to mix and match, enough for two salads came to .90p. A soggy supermarket pillow pack would have been twice the price and half the quality.

We stopped for a sandwich and a cuppa before getting the bus home. I couldn’t resist checking the score on my phone. Nil –One to Spurs with fifteen minutes to go.

By the time we got to the bus stop the game was over, a one-one draw. But for ten minutes or so it felt like a dream had come true.

And at least we could eat our lunch without strangling each other….

Friday, April 21

How about a Day Orff Ma'am?

Never let it be said that I ignore an obvious subject for a blog post. Yes, today’s subject is the Royal Birthday (Curtsey, Bow, Doff Headgear Walk Out Backwards).

Unlike The Guardian I will not go so far as to demand the abolition of the Monarchy when the current one gives up either the ghost or the crown.

Nor will I Fawn and Simper, as the Daily Mail will no doubt do enough of that for most of the population of Great Britain and the Channel Isles.

But My Fragrant Phantomette made a very good point the other day.

In Canada there is a thriving anti-monarchist movement, but the Canadians get the day off on the Queen’s Birthday.

The Anti-Royal feeling in Australia is probably even greater, yet they get the Queen’s Birthday off too.

They even get the day off in Fiji, where the Queen ceased to be the head of state in 1987, following a coup!

So why don’t we get the day off in England? Even if we have to put up with the National Anthem being played on the radio all day it would be worth it….

…. And that’s another thing, if you are instantly depressed as the opening bars drone out, this site is for you.

Thursday, April 20

Don't Forget To Wear An Apron In The Front Row.

I have commented already on the sad state of British Musicals. (March 14 2006).

However, this week's issue of The Stage has an exclusive on a new production that threatens to lower standards still further.

The Stage reveals that Tony McHale, Executive Producer of medical drama Holby City is working on, yes, you guessed it, a Musical!!

The show is due to hit the West End this year. And the title?...

Bloodbath - The Musical.

Really. This extravaganza of gore...

"will tell the story of a serial killer called the Waterman, who attacks young girls".

Sounds like a laugh-a-minute evening out for all the family.

I fear that the rot may not stop there. Look out for Moors Murderers The Musical, or "If I Had A Hammer", the Yorkshire Ripper Story.

Does no one have any taste left?

Wednesday, April 19

A Tale of Two Kitties

We are in a quandary. Our visiting cat (as mentioned in my post of March 20) is becoming a regular guest in our garden. He is even wangling his way into our kitchen, which leads on to the garden.

We still can’t work out if he owns anyone in particular. Sometimes we don’t see him all day, then he turns up in the evening and looks cheesed off that we haven’t been playing with him.

We thought at first that he had a home – he looks fit and healthy – but now we aren’t so sure. It could be that he is just very good at scrounging food from humans. He has got his paws in under the table of our next door neighbours as well.

Our confidence in his wellbeing was given a serious dent a couple of nights ago, around midnight. We had just put out the lights and were drifting off to sleep when we heard him. A sad, lonely “I’m here” mewing downstairs, outside the patio doors.

As much out of guilt as anything we have started to give him some food last thing at night, plus a bowl of water. We leave it near the box we have lined for him and left outside under shelter.

Last night we heard him outside the patio doors. We opened them and he came in. Then he came in again. Or rather a slightly older looking version. His mother? Before we knew it “our” cat was investigating behind the fridge and his feline friend was heading into the dishwasher! (they both have the investigating prowess of H.M. Customs and Excise.) Unusually he didn’t miaow for food, so we just ushered them both out into the night.

Which may explain why we were woken by the sound of “our” cat mewing plaintively outside at six-fifteen this morning.

I think it is trying to train us.

Do we adopt him? Is he adopting us?

Any advice would be gratefully received!

Friday, April 14

A Flash in the Pan?

O.K. O.K. I may not be the most with-it of people. I have never set a trend. I leave fashion to find its own destiny. (I am safe in my conviction that the current Hip-Hop fashion for jeans and tracksuit bottoms with the crotch at knee height or below will die a natural death. Have you ever watched a group of these fashion victims? They look like unwilling participants in a sack race. I have seen dozens of them dragged to their deaths by bendy-buses. They try to board but can’t raise their legs high enough and stumble to their doom).

However, even I have realised that poker has become trendy. Victoria Coren writes a column about it in the Guardian. It’s on Television. That national thermometer of the nation’s health The Archers has a character addicted to it and slowly going under, playing live and online, and losing at both.

Until I heard the adverts on the radio this morning though, I was unaware that an entire magazine had been published about the game. I did a Google search and discovered that the publication launched back in November of last year.

Now I am sure magazine titles don’t just get thought up in lunch breaks. They do research on these things don’t they? Think Tanks and Focus Groups. So what did they call this hard-hitting publication? Something redolent of whiskey and Cigars, stubble and steel-hard eyes?

No. They called it

Flush Magazine.

Yup. Flush.

I hope the magazine gets a right panning. It sounds like it certainly plumbs the depths. And you will not believe that it covers Craps as well. I love the quote from Barry Hearn on the website:

“The feeling when you sit down to play poker is like that when you climb off your stool”

Er. Yes. Still, mustn’t pooh-pooh it when I haven’t read it yet...

Thursday, April 13

Trains, Planes and a Cattle-Truck...

...Were the modes of transport most in our minds today. (O.K. the cattle-Truck was a bendy-bus but you get my drift).

One of the delights of living in the Finsbury Park area is how easy it is to get out of it. Travelcards in hand, a quick bus ride from the end of our road to Camden Road British Rail (Silverlink Metro) and we were on our way to Kew for the Royal Botanic Gardens. The train ride is only half an hour, with services every 20 minutes or so.

(The planes are one of the less attractive features of the day out. The proximity to Heathrow airport means that any day in the Richmond or Kew area vibrates to the rhythmn of heavy jets coming in to land every 30 seconds.)

The day was blustery, but sunshine broke through enough to re-assure that spring really is underway. At this time of year the bulbs are the most notable of the plants, with crocus, tulips, daffodils and fritillaries all showing well.

One other bulb that featured in our afternoon was the wild garlic. A couple of stems made a delicious savoury relish to the cheese and ham sandwiches we had brought along.

My catering plans went quite smoothly, apart from discovering that I had neglected to pack the plastic bottle of milk to put in our flask of tea. The mishap necessitated a tactical visit to one of the cafes to stock up on little cartons of milk. As my wife ordered a Latte and I ordered a black coffee any observant member of the waiting staff would have rumbled us immediately when we headed for the milk. Luckily our little act of larceny went unnoticed, and we departed with our pockets full of semi-skimmed.

Following on from my last post I am pleased (and somewhat surprised ) to be able to say that whilst in the café we shared what has to be the best commercially produced scone we have ever tasted. The size of Frank Bruno’s fist, and pleasantly rough-hewn, the scone was simply first class. (And relatively good value at £1.40). Sad foodie that I am, after I had cut it into quarters I instantly regretted not taking a photograph of its majestic presence. My English reserve prevented me from going back to the counter and photographing the others. This blog is not likely to turn into Egg Bacon Chips and Beans.

In the words of Wallace we had “A Grand Day Out”. A day of filling our lungs with fresh air and our eyes with nature’s glories. We headed back to the station with the coarse cackling of Ring-Necked Parakeets and the laughter of Green Woodpeckers in our ears.

Monday, April 10

Give us this day...

Yesterday was a satisfying day. Normally The Phantomette and myself run the tea bar at our local church on the first Sunday of each month. As regular readers will know I wasn’t well enough to do it last week. However there was nobody to do the honours this Sunday so my wife and I stepped in.

When we started our monthly stint many moons ago I baked fruit loaf, a fresh cream sponge and scones. I must admit to being slightly surprised by the fact that I had loaf and sponge left over, but the scones vanished like the proverbial hot cakes. I figured the scones would sell the slowest, as they were the least “fancy” of any of the things on offer, and the easiest for anyone to make. Practically everyone said the same thing. They were “so much better than the ones you can buy”.

Now I just make the scones, and somehow never seem to have enough.

It isn’t just nostalgia. The scones taste home-made. They taste real. Shop bought ones are flabby and chewy, closer in texture to a bun than a scone. A home-made one has a crusty, crisp top, a soft crumb inside, and practically splits itself. It deserves nothing less than real butter.

Selling those scones yesterday was deeply rewarding. Not for the thanks or the praise we received. What was so satisfying was knowing that in our own little way we were fighting a corner for real food. Making sure that some people at least will know the difference and reject the doughy monstrosities the supermarkets sell. And if as a result anyone is tempted to make their own, the world will be a little bit better as a result.

(By the way, I sell “Sconns”. But if anyone asks for a “Scoan” I forgive them quietly and serve them anyway).

Saturday, April 8

Professional Fowl.

According to a article in today’s football GuardianChelsea Manager Jose Mourinho is un-phased by Manchester United’s slow but sure game of catch up. He is more concerned with the fate of british birdlife now that the bird flu virus has been found in this country.

“A swan with bird flu, for me, that is the drama of the last two days.”

The Phantom shares his concern. Despite Tottenham beating Manchester City 2-1 at White Hart Lane this afternoon (and going five points clear of Arsenal yet again) we are still vulnerable. Arsenal now have two games in hand.

Worse still, Spurs may be subject to a movement ban by DEFRA if the bird flu spreads. As the only premiership team symbolised by a chicken we are in grave danger. If the worst comes to the worst the Spurs Cockerel will have to be culled. To be replaced by what? A deep frozen Turkey Twizzler from the Brazilian rainforests probably.

Mind you, this West Brom mascot doesn't look too chirpy...

(Images courtesy of

Thursday, April 6

A hot crisp soup for a cold crisp day

Mrs P. was on annual leave today. When, like today, it is dry, sunny and crisply cold, she hears the call of the garden. Today was the first real day of spring pottering for her. A chance to start tidying, cutting, nurturing and generally getting back on speaking terms with the garden and its contents.

A lazy bedroom morning gave way to the donning of sweatshirts and sensible shoes, secateurs were brandished, and the day’s work began.

I kept busy in the kitchen, doing small, comforting things like taking the leftover meat off a chicken carcase and making chicken stock. I thought about making a thick, rustic orangey-coloured soup (Parsnip? Red lentil? Carrot? Butternut Squash?).

But the brightness of the day demanded something clearer, something with some green and crunch. I already had some bean sprouts in the fridge, so Chinese soup it was…

Mr King’s Chinese Supermarket in Hornsey Road closed a couple of months ago, so I had to go further afield for my ingredients. All the way to Michael’s Greengrocers just before the Nag’s Head. Michael is happy to sell Chinese veg loose so I could pick just a couple of small crispy bok choi and a sprig of Chinese mustard greens. A bunch of spring onions went into my basket, and a handful of both sugar snap peas and tiny button chestnut mushrooms completed the foray. Fresh garden peas would have been lovely, but as it’s still a little early frozen ones will have to suffice.

The soup barely has a recipe. Like most oriental dishes the preparation is all. Take off the green leaves of the Bok Choi, roll them up and shred them to the width of tagliatelle. Cut the rest of the bok choi, the sugar snaps and mustard greens across on the bias in generous pieces. Top and tail the spring onions and slice them likewise. Halve the button mushrooms. Take a handful of peas from the freezer. Find some choice morsels of leftover chicken that your wife has not already snaffled for a sandwich. Open the bag of bean sprouts. Warm a couple of soup bowls. Bring the chicken stock to the boil.

To Cook: Throw the frozen peas and chicken bits into the boiling stock, and wait till it comes back to the boil. When it does, add the spring onions and the mushrooms. Give them a minute then lob in the sugar snaps. Another minute and the bok choi leaves and stems can go in, along with the mustard greens. After a couple of minutes switch off the pot! Put a handful of bean sprouts into each warm bowl, and ladle out the soup, making sure you get all the chickeny bits. A generous splash of Thai fish sauce really makes this dish.

And that was it. Our first lunch in the garden this year.

But me no Butts

One of the events I missed out on commenting upon earlier on this week was the introduction of a hosepipe and sprinkler ban in the Thames Water area.

Anyone with a garden would have to agree that this has been a drier than average winter. The real question is will a hosepipe ban have any significant effect on water levels in the reservoirs?

The company has been criticised by Ofwat for losing 3.6 billion litres of water per day in leakages and is in danger of being accused of throwing stones in a glasshouse.

However, I can’t help feeling that the ban is actually designed as a consciousness-raising exercise. If that is the reason I guess I actually support the ban.

We do take water for granted. Just think of the inconvenience when we go abroad and have to brush our teeth with bottled stuff. Imagine what it would be like to have to walk a couple of miles just to get enough to cook dinner with. We are relatively lucky in our corner of Europe.

Mind you, we will still be using our hose. We connect ours up to the outside tap and use it to fill up our water butt in the middle of the garden. Then we water using watering cans, but without all the walking back and forth to the tap. We may not be following the letter of the ban, but we are certainly honouring its spirit.

Wednesday, April 5

Current Affairs

Many apologies for the break in transmission….
Hopefully normal services will now resume….

I suppose I should explain...

I woke up last Friday morning feeling a little dizzy and lightheaded. By eight a.m. I had called in sick to work.

By about one in the afternoon I was in the back of an ambulance heading towards Accident and Emergency.

By half-four I was on a trolley heading towards the operating theatre. One general anaesthetic and a short, sharp shock from the defibrillator later, I woke up in the Recovery Room.

I had not had a heart attack, but one of the muscles was fibrillating. Like a wayward dancer in a chorus line the timing of my heartbeat was all confused. It got up to about 180 beats per minute at one point…

When I was lying on the trolley in A & E I really thought I might die. Strange, but I wasn’t really afraid. My wife was with me, and at least I could hold her hand and tell her how much I loved her. I just felt sorry for what I was putting her through.

Five days later and I am writing this in our garden, sitting in the sun and playing with our visiting cat. My wife will be home soon. I’m taking things easy, just glad to be alive. I’m on a couple of tablets, at least until they do a follow-up check. At the moment I’m noticing every twinge and rumble but I guess that will pass with time.

I never did get to work out what I was going to write on April Fools Day. Never mind, it will have to wait until next year. I aim to be around!