Saturday, September 16, 2006

URBAN JUNGLE, not quite, but Urban Woodland for sure, that's our garden at the moment. Although we live in central London, and have a garden that is only marginally bigger than a postage stamp, we seem to have quite a lot of wild life; lots of birds of course - including jays, coal tits, a robin and two wrens, a fox which likes to drink from the pond and used to raid the outside dustbin until I fox-proofed it. Frogs, slugs, snails,spiders, bees, wasps, mozzies, a rat or two (uggh) and some mice (not in the house I hasten to add) we have them all. Now we have a resident hedgehog, he appears at night and makes a bee-line for the dog bowls if they have left any scraps in them. I want him/her to take up a permenant home under the shed and eat all the slugs which destroy my hostas.


From the quotes on the backcover of 'Some Hope' by Edward St Aubyn I thought I was on to a really amazing writer - silly me. To compare St Aubyn's writing to Waugh or Graham Greene is to do them no favours.
The book is subtitled "A trilogy" but if it were published as three novels each would be a very incomplete novella.
This is the story of a young Englishman called Patrick Melrose from the age of five up to his early thirties. Part 1 deals with his early childhood in Provence where he is raped by his father. Part 2 deals with his twenties, where having inherited money, he is a confirmed heroin and crack addict, with the odd dose of speed thrown in for good measure, all washed down with vast quantities of alcohol. The 3rd part deals with his slow recovery from addiction and his opening up about the childhood abuse he suffered. Frankly I thought all the characters were loathsome. There is nothing entertaining about reading about the gory details of having a heroin fix in a lavatory, and when the author goes on and on describing it over and over again I got irritated, then bored, and almost wanted him to OD so the book could end. I really can't imagine recommending this to anyone. It left me with a feeling of absolute pointlessness. I should follow Dorothy Parker's advice "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

St Aubyn has written a follow-on book, "Mother's Milk" which continues Patrick Melrose's life, and this has been short-listed for this year's Booker Prize - I can't imagine what the judges were thinking. After reading 'Some Hope', I would rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick than read the sequel.


Health and Safety? Health and stupidity is more like it. Yet again a city council has issued an extraordinary edict in the name of Health & Safety – Doormats are Dangerous, yes, you heard it right the first time, doormats are dangerous. Bristol Council has contacted all their council tenants to say that doormats are a danger because someone might trip on one (how many cases of tripping on doormats do you think they have had to deal with?) and also they are a potential fire hazard. Well of course, we all know how easily doormats spontaneously combust. Tenants have been told that their doormats must be removed by 18th September, or they will be “disposed of” by the council.

Whew, that’s a really dangerous situation narrowly averted.

I know that being sarky is just plain silly, but what else can one to do – this is Britain in the 21st Century for god’s sake, and one of our big cities, with many problems to deal with - under-resourced schools, deteriorating hospital buildings, poor public transport, lack of childcare facilities to mention but a few – is busy banning doormats. What is it with this epidemic of Health & Safety nonsense, I can see there is going to be an endless stream of stupidity to rant about, so you can look forward to this kind of nonsense being a regular feature on my blog. I feel so annoyed and depressed I will have to go and have a large G&T.


The season has changed, and I am back in the mood for the sort of food I would not make during the summer. I love a good casserole, and this recipe is great, it is comforting and homely yet smart enough to serve to guests at a dinner party. The cook/housemaid of a school friend in the Cape used to make this and I thought it delicious and eventually got the recipe from her and have made it regularly ever since - for 35 years !


700g stewing or braising steak cut into cubes

2 Tablespoons olive oil

3 onions, roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

200g smoked bacon lardons, or streaky bacon cut into small pieces

300g carrots, scraped and sliced thickly

Long sliver of orange rind (use a potato peeler to remove the rind from the orange in one piece)

2 teaspoons thyme

2 teaspoons oregano

2 bay leaves

200ml red wine

100g stoned black olives

150ml carton sour cream (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 150°C.

Sauté the beef in the olive oil in a large pan and transfer to a large casserole dish.

Fry the onions in remaining oil until golden but not brown, then add them to the beef together with the lardons, garlic, carrots, herbs and orange rind.

Bring the wine to the boil in a small saucepan and when boiling set alight to it. Let flames subside and then pour over the meat.

Cover the casserole tightly and place on a low shelf in the pre-heated oven for 3-3½ hours. Add the olive and cook for a further half hour

You can add a 150ml carton of sour cream just before serving if you wish. Just put it on top of the daube as it will mingle with the juices as you serve out the meat.

Rice, noodles or plain boiled potatoes go well with this dish.

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