Monday, December 31, 2007

Wishing all who visit this blog a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year and may 2008 be a special year for you all.



2007 - My year in books

99 books read
85 fiction

54 female authors

45 male authors
18 crime fiction
14 non-fiction
7 translations
6 biographical
4 from Africa
2 graphic novels
1 short stories
0 classics

Really ghastly books: 2
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Maggie's Tree by Julie Walters

The ten books I read this year that I thought were particularly good:
Arthur & George by Julian Barnes (fict)
Restless by William Boyd (fict)
Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi (fict)
Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones (fict)
Helpless by Barbara Gowdy (fict)
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (fict)
Animal's People by Indra Sinh (fict)
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin (non-fict)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (non-fict)
Stealing the Scream by Edward Dolnick (non-fict)

I have kept a little notebook which lists everything I've read over the past 11 years - more or less!
Just the title and author are listed, plus a rating number and from where the book came. Of course I now include a symbol to indicate whether I've written about the book on my blog. The system is pretty crude but acts as an aide memoire, and from it I gleaned the above figures. On average I read 104-110 books a year, this year is down, and I suspect that is a direct result of packing and moving house.
I also have a notebook in which I list any book I hear of, have recommended to me, or see reviewed, so that when in bookshops and libraries I can seek them out. This little Moleskine notebook is known in the family as "Mum's book of books" and I carry it in my handbag at all times. I have another blogger - Dovegreyreaderscribbles - to thank for the idea, and I can't imagine why I wasn't doing it years ago.
Next year I will make an effort to read some classics - I have four lined up and waiting! I will also try to read more books on science - my DD thinks I am weak in this area, and she is right.

Finally, I have a fellow blogger, Charlotte of Charlotte's Web, to thank for the idea of listing my reading for the year, she did it on her blog and I have shamelessly copied her!


Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, Ian Rankin, Lewis Grassic Gibbon,
Robert Louis Stevenson, John Buchan, Alexander McCall Smith, Sir Compton MacKenzie,
Alasdair Grey, Muriel Spark, Ali Smith, Irvine Welsh, Alistair MacLean, Christopher Brookmyre, Hugh MacDairmid, George MacKay Brown, Iain Banks, J M Barrie, Liz Lochhead, James Boswell, William Boyd, Dorothy Dunnett

What do they have in common? silly question really – they are all famous Scottish writers and poets.

For some mad reason the U.S. Library of Congress which has the distinction of being the biggest library in the world has decided that they are all “English” writers, and is now reclassifying all work by Scots.

700 years of Scottish literature will now be categorised under English literature. As the Library of Congress subject headings are used by libraries all over the world, this decision would be widely copied thus wiping out a distinct literary category.

As a former librarian I think that it is an outrage, and I think all Scots should protest by writing to Dr James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress. Dear reader, if you are an American of Scots ancestry, I urge you to protest to your Congressman/woman. Do not let the literature of a proud and ancient nation be subsumed in an act of ignorant cultural imperialism.


It's New Year's Eve, and I have to take a dessert for the buffet table at the party. I've made an old favourite, which looks great and tastes fabulous and takes no time at all to make. If you've never made a roulade before don't be nervous, as it is easy-peasy when you follow
the instructions.


5ml (1teaspn) each of cornflour, vanilla extract, white wine vinegar
15ml (1tablespn) cocoa powder
20ml (4teaspns) water
4 egg whites (large) at room temp.
225g caster sugar

icing sugar for dusting.

For the filling:

150g luxury dark chocolate spread
300ml whipping/double cream, whipped to give soft peaks
200g frozen raspberries

Preheat oven to 150°C

Line a 33cmx23cm swiss roll tin with baking parchment

In a bowl mix together the cornflour, vanilla and vinegar.
In a separate bowl combine the cocoa powder and water.
Whisk egg whites to soft peaks and then whisk in the caster sugar a tablespoonful at a time together with a small amount of the cornflour mixture. Continue adding sugar and cornflour until the meringue mixture forms stiff peaks. Gently fold in the cocoa and water mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the tin and spread evenly. Place in the preheated oven for 45-50mins until crisp on the outside but still soft inside.

Remove the meringue from the oven and cover loosely with foil for 15mins.

Turn onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper and carefully peel off the lining paper.

Leave until cold.

Spread the chocolate spread evenly over the meringue. Cover with a layer of the whipped cream and sprinkle the raspberries on top leaving a 2.5cm gap at the ends.
Carefully roll up the meringue- lengthwise – using the greaseproof paper to help you shape it as you roll.

Place in fridge to chill before transferring to serving dish and dredging with icing sugar mixed with a little cocoa powder. Decorate appropriately. Keep chilled until ready to serve.
Serves 8 -10

Tuesday, December 18, 2007



A few nights ago it was the December meeting of my Bookgroup, and we did something a little different from our normal custom of all reading a chosen book and then talking about it. The member of the group who was hosting the meeting had asked us all to bring a book that that had the word Christmas in the title or that featured Christmas in some way. Our choices were very varied and as extracts from the various books were read aloud we were either reduced to tearful nostalgia for our childhood Christmases, or weeping with laughter at some of the hilarious writing people had tracked down. and I list some of them here.

It was a very successful formula for the meeting and every one left in extremely up-beat mood.

The Twelve Days of Christmas [Correspondence], by John Julius Norwich.

This little book, beautifully illustrated by Quentin Blake, consists of twelve thank you letters from a young lady called Emily to her adoring swain, Edward, who sends her all the different birds, people, animals etc as featured in the Christmas song. Emily starts off enchanted by his first gift of a Partridge in a Pear Tree, but by the time she has received nine Ladies Dancing (who she describes as “hussies wearing little more than lipstick”) she has had enough, the gifts are wreaking havoc on her garden and her mother has collapsed and had to be carted off in an ambulance. When the final gift arrives, the entire percussion section of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, she resorts to the law and her solicitor writes Edward a very stern letter informing him that Emily has taken out an injunction against him.

The book is an amusing whimsy and would make a great stocking filler for a Mum, Gran, or Auntie.


The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson

Most of us could remember being read this as children, but I for one, had forgotten just how poignant it was. Children's stories today do not tend to end with the death of a child, obviously the Victorians didn't think that reading of such a fate would cause long term distress to the reader.


Christmas at Fontaines by William Kotzwinkle. This book all takes place within a big department store, with all the hustle, bustle and tension of the Christmas period. There the reader meets a variety of characters who are mysteriously transformed in nature by a magical presence. One of them is the young man who is the buyer for the toy department, he has had enough, enough of children, enough of their parents, and enough of toys. He fantasises about massacre and mayhem with exploding toys. The book will remind anyone who has worked in the retail trade about how tough the festive season can be, and remind the rest of us – the shoppers – to be more civil and less aggressive to shop workers when doing the Christmas shopping.


A Wayne in a Manger by Gervaise Phinn, had us all laughing so much we could hardly hear what was being read. Gervais Phinn is a retired Primary Schools Inspector from Yorkshire, and in this book he has collected together anecdotes from some of the many school nativity plays he has sat through over the years.
Did the shepherds pick their noses whilst watching their flocks?
Did the third king cry when he couldn't hold the gold?
Did the innkeeper really tell Joseph to 'push off'?
Did Mary tell Joseph “ I'm having a baby - oh and it's not yours.....”?

If you have children or have ever watched a children's nativity play you will laugh yourself silly; a perfect little book to give grandparents, parents and teachers.


Our parliamentary representatives have just been issued with comprehensive instructions on how to clear up a broken light bulb.

‘The cleaning operative, using protective gloves and wearing a mask, should collect the main fragments of the light bulb and carefully place them in a sturdy box.

All splinters should then be collected using stiff card or paper. The area should then be cleaned using a damp cloth. The splinters and the cloth should then be placed in the box.

Once the area is clear and clean, the box should be sealed and labelled with details of the item.

The box should then be taken to the waste removal area in the loading bay and passed to the waste disposal contractor in an appropriate manner.’

Apparently such guidance from the House of Commons Commission was necessary because in the past someone put their hand into a waste bag and cut their finger….Ah diddums, we can’t have that can we?

No doubt there is another set of comprehensive instructions on how to apply a Band Aid or Elastoplast to digits injured on shards of light bulb glass.

You will either find all this very funny, or bloody irritating (or both) – what kind of nation are we becoming where our MPs require written instructions for such a simple thing, don’t they have common sense in the House of Commons? It is absolutely ludicrous, and producing such instructions no doubt took time and money from some budget or other that we fund through our taxes. Don’t they have better things to do?


I have become really fed up with Christmas shopping, the crowds, muzak being played at top volume in the stores, the tat on offer. Some years ago I decided that unless I knew exactly what to get as a gift for a particular individual I would only give books or something homemade. This
year, having moved house a couple of months ago, I didn't think I'd be able to manage homemade Christmas cakes or Stollen, but then I came across a magazine article about flavoured alcohols and hey presto this year's production was solved. It is absolutely terrific (and I say that as a confirmed G&T drinker) so next year, get out some bottles and give it a go, your friends will not be sorry!


1 litre vodka
4 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
Peel of one lemon and one orange
25g each of currants, raisins, dried figs(cut the figs into quarters)

Extra lemon and orange peel and cinnamon sticks for the final bottling.

Sterilize a large glass container by washing well and then drying in a hot oven.

Combine all ingredients and put into the container. Seal and leave in a dark cool place for 2 weeks, turning the container occasionally.

Filter the liquid* and decant it into sterilized gift bottles.

Add a fresh piece of orange or lemon peel and a cinnamon stick to each bottle. Cap the bottles.

3 month drink by date.

Serve very cold.
Delicious over ice, or with tonic water and a slice of orange.

* Don't waste what you've filtered out. Remove the peel, cloves and cinnamon stick from the filtered residue and stir the boozy fruit through some vanilla ice cream - yum!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007



Minette Walters is one of Britain’s best-selling crime/thriller writers, and I have enjoyed several of her books. They all fall into the psychological thriller genre, and The Chameleon’s Shadow is her most recent book, having been published in October this year, so it is not yet available in paperback.

It was rather coincidental that I picked this up at the library, just after having ranted in my last blog post about injured servicemen being abused at a local leisure centre. The main character in the book is a young army officer who has just been serving in Iraq. Lieutenant Charles Acland has survived a bomb on the road between Baghdad and Basra, the two soldiers under his command who were with him were not so fortunate; however Acland has been horribly injured, and therein lies the plot. From the moment he comes to consciousness in a British Military hospital it seems as if what has happened to him has changed his personality dramatically, and his behaviour becomes increasingly violent, anti-social and unpredictable particularly towards women.

Meanwhile, in London there have been a series of brutal murders. Several men have been violently battered to death, and the police are baffled. When Acland is eventually released from hospital, and is discharged from the army on the grounds of his disabilities, he gravitates to London where he eventually comes to the notice of the police and is linked with the latest in this series of killings following a violent altercation with a man in a pub. Could he have committed the murders ? can he control the rage boiling up inside him? I don’t want to give any spoilers here, suffice to say that the plot becomes increasingly complex and twisted, and the reader is never quite sure where it will go next.

What I found particularly interesting about this book was the first part when Acland is still in the hospital and having many sessions with the resident psychiatrist. Walters really makes the reader think about what can happen to young men (and women) who go to war, and how, if a career in the army (or any other of the forces) has been your life plan it is totally devastating when, in addition to disfiguring and handicapping injuries, that is taken away from you. Reading this I could see how it happens that many of the homeless people on the streets of Britain are ex-military.

Rated: 3.5*


Bear with me whilst I have a little rant about rape. Rape is a nasty word, a nasty word for a nasty deed. I can remember, as a girl, hearing it referred to as “a fate worse than death”, and maybe for some women that seems to be true. In real life, death is the only final fate, and therefore there can never be a fate that is ‘worse’ than death. But I digress….

The reason I want to rant about rape is because the government, in the person of the Solicitor General, Vera Baird, announced a week ago that they were not satisfied with the rate of convictions for rape in the UK and therefore they planned to implement certain measures to increase the conviction rate.

When first I read this proposal I thought ‘fine, ok, that seems sensible’; but then I started thinking about what was really being said.

In this country a person is innocent of a charge brought against him/her until they are PROVED guilty beyond doubt. So in the case of rape and the conviction rates, is the Government saying that they KNOW that all persons accused of this heinous crime are actually guilty but are not being convicted by the courts? Because that is the implication of their recent statements –which goes against everything that the law in this country has stood for – namely, presumption of innocence.

Of course I realise that to prove a case of rape is never easy. Usually it is the word of one person against another with no witnesses. So it is likely that there are cases where rapists manage to get themselves acquitted, and that is horrible. Horrible for the person who was raped, and potentially horrible for others who may then suffer the same fate if the rapist strikes again.

Never-the-less, we change the law at our peril.

The Government is concerned about the number of reported rapes which fail to lead to a conviction. This means that a low number of allegations of rape made to and recorded by the police actually end up with the rapist being found guilty in a court of law. This is not because the courts are any softer on alleged rapists than they ever were, but because many of the reported rapes never make it to court at all. Of those that do, the conviction rate is nothing like as low.

I suspect that these proposed changes are due to three things: (1) Emotion – rape is a very emotive issue; (2) Government obsession with ‘targets’ in all aspects of national life, and 3. a huge widening of the definition of rape in Britain.

It is true that most women who are raped (and it is usually women) are raped by someone they know, a friend, a family member, a work colleague, a neighbour. Or a woman may well be raped by her own husband.
But I have grave concerns about the new view that someone who goes out and gets themselves totally legless, so that they cannot recall whether or not they consented to sexual intercourse, should be able to then cry ‘rape’. They must carry some responsibility for what occurred, even if in retrospect they are shocked, appalled, ashamed or concerned.


My DD is the muffin maker in our family, and has a huge repertoire of delicious muffin recipes; but from time to time I do venture into her territory, and last week when I had to take a contribution to a morning get-together I decided to try something new so made a batch of these. All I can say is that they vanished off the plate so fast I had hardly sipped my cappuccino before they were gone!


Makes 12

350g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground mixed spice (or cinnamon)
240g golden caster sugar
3 dessert apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
3 large eggs, beaten
120ml vegetable oil
100ml milk
150g SOFT toffees, chopped into small pieces - it is essential to use soft toffees as hard ones take forever to chop up.

1 Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases. Sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a large bowl and stir in the sugar. Make a well in the dry ingredients.

2 Add the chopped apples,toffee pieces, eggs, oil and milk in the middle of the well, and fold the mixture together with a large metal spoon, using as few strokes as possible. Don’t worry if the mixture is lumpy, the trick behind the lightest muffins is not to overwork the batter.

3 Fill the paper cases with the mixture, then bake for 25-30 minutes or until the muffins are well risen and golden.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Could you all check your desks, and look down the back of the sofa, because the Government desperately needs the second disc which has also been mislaid.


I’ve just finished reading the first novel written by Truman Capote which was only published a couple of years ago. He wrote Summer Crossing when he was just 19 years old, and for whatever reason set it aside and forgot about it and the manuscript was only discovered in 2005, two decades after Capote had died.

It is very short, really little more than a novella, and is fascinating to read, as the main character Grady McNeill is very much the precursor to Holly Golightly of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Grady is the spirited, beautiful 17 year old daughter of a rich and important man. In the late summer of 1945 her parents are travelling to Europe on the Queen Mary to see how their villa in Cannes has fared during the war, and for her mother to visit the great Parisian couture houses to get gowns for herself and her daughter to wear at Grady’s social debut later in the year.

Grady refuses to go with them, and her parents are persuaded that she can remain in the family’s New York apartment on her own.

As any parent of a teenage daughter will know, this is a recipe for disaster and what follows is every parent’s nightmare.

In seeking life beyond the limited social confines of her own class, and revelling in the freedom of her parent’s absence, Grady meets and falls for Clyde Manzer, a hunky young ex-service man working as a parking attendant at a car park on Broadway. He is a few years older than her, far more experienced, and – horror of horrors – Jewish and from Brooklyn. She has a close male friend from her own milieu, but Paul, who dresses unconventionally and is portrayed as sexually ambivalent is no match for Clyde. Grady is convinced she is in love with him and embarks on a passionate affair. As the hot summer progresses Grady, who has now been introduced to the charms and dangers of booze and marijuana, sows the seeds of her own destruction.

The character of Paul seems a rather crude depiction of Capote himself, but in many ways Grady, the ingĂ©nue, is the real Capote – trying to break away from their home background, making mistakes and uncertain of the future.

Although the plot is very simple, in many ways this little book is a gem. Capote shows how even at such a young age he was a brilliant observer of the social scene. Some of the passages describing the heat of a New York summer could not be bettered – even if the author had years of experience.

Well worth reading if you love New York, or if you know Capote’s later writing.

Rated 4.5


Can you believe this? I am spitting with rage and disgust at the behaviour of two extremely stupid, crass and selfish women. The British Army’s main rehabilitation centre for amputees is at Headley Court in Surrey, but it only has a small hydro-therapy pool. The Leatherhead Leisure Centre is nearby, and one lane of the main swimming pool was roped off for a weekly swimming session of some of the soldiers who had been injured on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan

Two women at the pool demanded that the wounded veterans be removed because “they haven’t paid to use the pool and we have” and because “their appearance might upset our children”.

These men were injured in the service of our country, (whether or not you agree with us sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan is a separate issue) it is appalling that anyone could treat them like this. Who do these women (I was going to write bi*ches but restrained myself) think they are? We owe all our injured service personnel a duty of care and compassion, they should not be expected to hide away in case their scars frighten or upset folk.


Even in winter I like to eat salad, and I don't mean the boring old lettuce/tomato/cucumber combo. Some of the vegetables available at this time of year make the most delicious salads and I'm always up for trying a new recipe. Recently I tried this one, which is really a variation on the famous Waldorf Salad, in fact I think it is superior. Whatever; I am practically addicted to it at the moment. It is divine with home-made hamburgers, with cold roast beef, and with grilled lamb chops. So far I haven't tried pairing it with fish, but I plan to do so very soon.


Serves 4

½ a large celeriac root, peeled
2 crisp, fairly tart eating apples (I use Braeburn or Cox’s)
2 handfuls broken walnut pieces, lightly toasted in the oven for 4-5 minutes
4 heaped tablespoons good quality mayonnaise
1 tablespoon hot horseradish sauce
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Shred the celeriac into matchstick sized pieces on a mandoline, or grate it very coarsely.

Quarter and core the apples but do not peel them, then shred them in the same way as the celeriac. Mix the celeriac and apple together and add the toasted walnut pieces.

Mix the mayonnaise and horseradish together and stir it into the celeriac apple mixture making sure that everything is well coated. Taste to check that you have enough horseradish in the dressing, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with the chopped parsley.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


The Sorrow of Socks
by Wendy Cope

Some socks are loners -

They can't live in pairs.

On washdays they've shown us
They want to be loners.
They puzzle their owners,
They hide in dark lairs.
Some socks are loners -
They won't live in pairs.


I love Ed McBain. To be precise I LOVE Ed McBain’s books, particularly his 87th Precinct novels. For those of you who have the misfortune not to have heard of Ed McBain, (who died in 2005 to the great sadness of his legions of readers/fans) he was an American crime novelist. His official name was Evan Hunter, he wrote The Blackboard Jungle, and the screenplay for Hitchcock’s film The Birds, and the TV series 'Hill Street Blues' and 'NYPD' are very much based on his books. Ed McBain was a pen name which he used for two series of crime novels and it is the 87th Precinct novels – and there are more than fifty of them - which are my favourites. The whole series is set in the fictitious city of Isola, which is loosely based on New York.

I read my first 87th Precinct book way back in the 1960s, I can remember it now, it was a book one of my parents had bought, a Penguin paperback with the green cover that all Penguin crime novels were given, and it’s title was Cop Hater. Within 10 pages I was completely hooked. I read it during a long, dusty, tedious car journey from Lusaka to Cape Town (a journey of 2000 miles) and finished it before we had even reached the South African border. I was desperate to arrive somewhere where there would be a bookshop so that I could find some other books by the same author.

This week I stumbled on his very last book, Fiddlers, which I had not read. Oh joy, oh rapture. I was once again in the company of people I had grown up with, in a city that I know in my mind like the back of my hand.

Fiddlers is a story of a serial killer, and the media dub the deaths ‘The Glock Killings’ as all the victims are shot at point blank range and the gun used is a Glock pistol. The first victim is a blind violin player who works nights at an up-market jazz club. The killing occurs in the 87th Precinct and so all further killings, wherever in the city they may occur, are also investigated by the detectives of the 87th; and a varied bunch of victims they are too – a Catholic priest in the grounds of his church, the sixty year old female Professor of Romantic Literature at one of the city universities, a middle-aged sales rep. for manicure products, who is gunned down whilst making a mushroom omelette…! As ever the plot twists and turns and moves on at a cracking pace, the boys in blue try to catch the killer whilst sorting out their own personal lives, the dialogue is lively, funny, tough and accurate, in fact this is a thoroughly good read.

Each book stands alone, but if you read through several you will get to know the detectives personally, and that makes it much more interesting. I feel quite bereft at the thought there will be no more – I think I will have to start at the beginning and read them all again!

Rated: 5*


I am not a member of the huggy-bunny brigade, I am not a vegetarian, I am not against limited and controlled vivisection for the purposes of medical research and to cap it all I would personally repeal the prohibition on fox-hunting. Indeed, I would love to have a couple of hunts tally-ho-ing their way through the urban wastes of north London to help reduce the ever increasing numbers of feral urban foxes with which we are plagued.

So it may come as some surprise that I feel so strongly about Japan’s bloody minded insistence on whaling. Today the Japanese whaling fleet has set out intent on “culling” 1000 whales, including for the first time in many years, 50 of the endangered hump-backed whale. Why are they doing this?

Yes, we know that many years ago the Japanese ate whale meat on a regular basis (as did several other nations), but since the IWC began trying to regulate the hunting of these magnificent mammals , the demand for whale meat has dropped dramatically, so Geishoku Labo, a private firm allied to the Japanese Whaling Association, is deliberately trying to revive it in Japan by supplying cheap whale meat to schools and hospitals. In fact the demand is still so low that there are tonnes of unwanted whale meat stored in warehouses and it is now being supplied to pet food factories. These magnificent, mysterious creatures are being used for pet food – it’s obscene.

The media coverage of the Japanese whaling fleet setting sail kept using the word “cull” but this is no cull, it is slaughter pure and simple. A cull is when there is an unsustainable population of a particular animal, and the numbers must be selectively reduced in order to benefit the whole species. I think that the media should remove the word cull from their coverage immediately – I suspect that the word is the one used by the Japanese whaling industry PR people as a euphemism for what is actually being done.

They say these whales are being killed for “scientific” reasons; they always say that, year after year, what are these so-called “scientific” reasons? Show us the “scientific” results from previous years. Scientific? – bullsh*t; this is a commercial exercise, and yet there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming demand for the resulting product.

If you are Japanese and are reading this, please think about the subject, and approach your parliamentary representative to get it stopped.


Every so often I make a curry for supper, vegetable or chicken usually, and quite often this is the rice I serve with it . Incredibly simple to make, it tastes authentically Indian, and so it should as the recipe came from Madhur Jaffrey's first ever recipe book published
way back in 1982. It makes a bog-standard curry seem very much more special!


Serves 6-8

350g basmati rice
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1½ teaspoons cumin seeds
100g onion, peeled and finely chopped
200g frozen peas
1 teaspoon salt
700ml water

Heat the oil in a heavy pan over medium heat, and when hot put in the cumin seed, stirring them around for about 5 seconds. Now add the chopped onion and stir fry them until they are flecked with brown spots. Add the rice, peas and salt and continue stirring for 3-4 minutes until they are coated with oil. Pour in the water and bring to the boil. Cover very tightly and turn the heat to very very low. Let it cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the pan to sit, covered and undisturbed for another 8-10 minutes. Do not be tempted to take the lid off to ‘check’ the rice at this stage.

Stir gently before serving

Friday, November 09, 2007


Pls stop sendg msgs 2ths

no, i am not linda,
I hv not slept w/yr sis,
+i wd nvr call any 1's ma a slag.
Gd luk w/viag.
Luv, yr wrong no. xx

by Charlotte Fortune


Some book bloggers only ever review books they have liked and which they can recommend, and I did consider doing the same; but in the end I have decided that as my blog is about anything I have been reading, I should write about any book I have read recently, whether or not I enjoyed it.

Deciding what to read is always a dilemma, there are so many books on my “must read” list, or on my “that sounds interesting” list, and like all good biblioholics I also have a huge pile of books on my TBR pile. However, there are times when I just don’t feel in the mood for any of them and end up reading something completely different. Needless to say, this can be rather hit and miss when it comes to reading satisfaction.

The Shoe Queen by Anna Davis is just such a book; I picked it up off the new acquisitions shelf in the library when I didn’t fancy reading any of the other books I had waiting for me at home. The blurb on the jacket sounded promising. Set in bohemian Paris in the 1920s, Genevieve Shelby King is young, pretty and married to a rich American. Mixing in the society of the artists and writers who inhabited Montparnasse, she longs to be accepted by them as a poet. She lives in a fashionable apartment, where her enormous shoe collection is housed, and she flutters from one party to another, bored with her husband, and lacking any focus in her life. At a dance one evening she meets the most exclusive shoe designer in Paris, Paulo Zachari, who hand-picks his clients. Immediately she becomes determined to have him make shoes for her, and her determination turns into obsession, an obsession which pulls her whole life apart.

According to an afterword, the author has based the character of Zachari on a real life shoemaker called Pietro Yanturni who worked in Paris in the early 1900s whose designs have remained a major influence on shoe designers to this day.

I think I would have preferred Anna Davis to write a biography of Yanturni, because this book is really chick-lit with long descriptions of clothes and shoes, padding out what is a very meagre story. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good chick-lit book as much as anyone else, but even if one was mad about shoes – and many women are – the book hasn’t really got what it takes to keep a reader’s attention.

Rating: 2*


I am totally and utterly against Gordon Brown’s stated plan to extend detention without charge to 56 days. All South Africans of a certain age will recall how 90 day detention was used by the apartheid regime, and it chills my blood to think that a British Government could even be considering going along this extremely slippery slope.

When I first arrived in the UK many years ago, if you were arrested by the police for a “normal” criminal offence you had to be charged or released within 24 hours; this was then extended to 48 hours if you were being arrested and it was thought to be a “serious” offence, and a high ranking police officer could apply to a judge to have this extended to 7 days detention if he could provide good reason for so doing. Eventually this power of pre-charge detention was changed to 14 days, but in 2006 Tony Blair tried, at the behest of the police, to have it changed again and for 90 days detention become the potential time frame. This was resisted by MPs of all parties, and by the House of Lords, and a compromise of 28 days detention was set in place. Now the Labour Government wants to try on again and extend it to 56 days. This would become perilously close to internment without trial, a tactic frequently used by unscrupulous dictators and corrupt, undemocratic regimes, it was tried and failed in Northern Ireland.

We are told that this 56 day time span is necessary for the protection of us all in these troubled times, so that the police can investigate possible complex cases. I think that is a load of hogwash.

Within 28 days it should be possible for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to have figured out whether or not the individual should be publicly charged with an offence. That is all they have to do up to that stage, once charged, the police could and would continue investigating right up to the time of trial. The police admit that 28 days has been quite sufficient so far, but say they can “envisage” a scenario where it might not be long enough. We shouldn’t base draconian legislation on imagined or envisioned situations.

As a people the best defence of our liberties and way of life, is to continue to behave in a civilized, temperate manner that sets an example to other nations; and to reject the temptation to do as the terrorists themselves would do, but at the same time strongly resist any attempts by such individuals or groups to subvert our society by foul means.

The great aphorist, Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the USA, summed it up brilliantly when he said:

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

God knows what he would think of George Bush and co, and of Gordon Brown and his henchmen.


My DH and I absolutely love mushrooms and I am always buying them as we never seem to have enough, my default mushroom is what is called the Chestnut mushroom here in the UK, it is a brown version of the usual white mushroom that all the supermarkets supply, and has much more flavour than the white variety. Recently Waitrose have been stocking a type of mushroom I'd not come across before, the Buna Shimeji. Given their name, I suppose they originated in Japan, they do look a bit like Enoki mushrooms but not so thin and pale. They come in a cluster joined at the base which is about the size of two fists together with quite long, thin stalks and small fleshy caps. To prepare them all you have to do is cut off the rough base and then separate them out ready to cook. They have a wonderful nutty flavour and go brilliantly in a simple stir-fry.


Serves 2

1 tablespoon sunflower oil
300g fresh broccoli, cut into florets

500g. Buna Shimeji mushrooms
2 spring onions, chopped

60g dry-roasted cashews

1 tablespoon water
¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

Heat wok and add 1 tablespoon oil, then add the broccoli and salt. Stir fry for 1 min. Add water and cook, stirring, until broccoli is tender-crisp. Remove broccoli and set aside. Add the mushrooms, spring onions, and nutmeg. Stir-fry until juices evaporate (about 3 mins.). Return broccoli to the wok and stir to mix. Top with roasted cashew nuts.

Serve with oriental noodles.

Thursday, November 01, 2007



More and more modern fiction by Chinese authors is being translated into English and published in the West, and I have pounced on every book I come across. Geling Yan is an author whose first novel, The Lost Daughter of Happiness I had enjoyed so when I saw her new book, The Uninvited, I just had to read it.

Dan Dong is an unemployed factory worker. Like millions of other Chinese peasants he had come to the city – in his case Beijing – to have a better economic future, and with him came his feisty wife Little Plum. They are living a hand-to-mouth existence when completely by chance Dan discovers a new way of making money and getting fed. He becomes a “Banquet Bug”.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with China, banquets and banqueting are a routine part of business life. I have been to China many times over the past 15 years, and lost count of the number of banquets I’ve had to attend. The Chinese take food, eating and drinking with a seriousness equivalent to the French. Any visitor from abroad, special occasion, new business venture, anniversary or whatever is celebrated with a banquet which is a formal meal at a restaurant – usually in an hotel, where the host plies his guests with the best food and drink he can afford. Banquets often have dozens of guests, and if they are being held to launch a new product the press are invited too in the hope that some favourable publicity will follow. To sweeten the journalists, they are frequently given a little “gift” (the equivalent of a goodie-bag that is handed out in the UK), but in China the decorative envelope will contain cash.

Dan enters a banquet by mistake one day, and quickly realises how easy it is to gatecrash such events. He has some business cards printed with his his name and the title of a fictitious news journal and he soon becomes a regular on the PR banqueting circuit. However, at these banquets he becomes aware of various corrupt schemes and he is not sure whether he should try to expose them before his fake identity is rumbled. Whilst he is deciding what to do he gets himself into various tricky situations, all of which serve up a slice of modern Chinese life for the reader.

Geling Yan has pointed up the vast inequalities in today’s China, and the tensions that have emerged as a result. The book is an entertaining read and at the same time shows the reader the contradictions at the heart of an ancient society struggling to come to terms with western-style consumerism. I found it very evocative of the aspects of China I have experienced.

Rated: 4*


If I go into one of our large supermarkets and buy 6 bottles of vodka no-one will query my actions, and I’d probably get a whole lot of loyalty points to boot – even though I might take the bottles home and consume them one after another and die of alcoholic poisoning.

I thought of this yesterday when I read the letter printed in a broadsheet newspaper from a reader who had a bad cold, as did his wife and grown-up daughter. He had been sent out to the nearest supermarket for supplies including over the counter cold remedies for them all. He swore by one particular preparation, his wife by a different one, and his daughter had her own preference. When he arrived at the checkout, the young woman who was scanning his goods through the till sternly asked why he had three different medications in his trolley. She then informed him that he would only be permitted to purchase two of them “for his own protection”.

What a bloody cheek.

These are drugs which are licensed for sale without prescription in this country, each bottle, box or packet has (as it must by law) clear instructions as to dosage printed on them. We are not fools, we can look after ourselves, it is patronisingly offensive to have someone working the tills telling us what we may or may not buy for our own safety.

If supermarket chains are so concerned that we might accidentally overdose, or become addicted, or attempt suicide (by mixing Night Nurse with Beechams Hot Lemon – I don’t think so) then they should stop selling the stuff altogether.

I have hunted high and low on the internet to see if our beloved Nanny state has passed some law forbidding the sale of more than two items of cold remedies, but have not come up with anything. If you know otherwise please send me chapter and verse so I can rant at the Health Secretary and the Chairman of Tescos, Sainsburys et al.


I've been up in Scotland this week, and managed to snaffle a jar of my mum's homemade
Rowan Jelly. Rowan Jelly is a tart, clear red jelly which is traditionally served with game birds or venison in Scotland, or it can be served with lamb in place of red currant jelly. A spoonful or two added to gravy makes a fabulous sauce.
I thought it was particularly apposite to post the recipe now as it was Halloween last night, and the Rowan tree (Scorbus aucuparia) has always been considered protection against witches and the devil, and features prominently in north European mythology.


1.5 kg Rowan berries
500g cooking apples (or crab apples)
1.25 litres water
Granulated sugar - amount will depend on volume of juice, but have a couple of kilos to hand.

Trim all the stalks from berries and rinse them if they are dusty. Coarsely chop the apples, discarding any bruised or damaged parts, but don't discard the cores.
Put fruit into a preserving pan with the water. Simmer gently for about one hour until the fruit is soft; as it softens stir occasionally and mash everything down with a wooden spoon to release the pectin.
Ladle softened fruit and juices into a jelly bag and leave to drip for several hours or overnight.
Resist the temptation to press the pulp through the bag, as the resulting juice will give a cloudy jelly.
Measure strained juice back into a clean jam pan and for every 600ml of juice add 450g granulated sugar.
Stir over low heat until all the sugar has dissolved then turn up the heat.
Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for approximately 10 mins. Test for set, and then skim any foam off the surface before potting in small sterilised jars.