I'm slowly but steadily reading all the books that were on the Booker Prize shortlist last year, and have just finished Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland.
John Egan is an intense, rather solitary 11 year old boy who firmly believes he is a Human Lie Detector. John is a big lad whose physical development is ahead of his peers, he looks older than he really is which gives him problems; he is on the cusp of adolescence and beginning to have feelings he doesn’t really understand and certainly can’t articulate.
An only child, he lives with his parents in his paternal grandmother’s cottage in the Irish countryside because his father doesn’t have a job, there is some sort of family face-saving belief that his father is studying to get a place at Trinity College in Dublin and the relationship between John’s parents is extremely fragile, his father is prone to bouts of violence and his mother with whom he has a close relationship is sinking into depression. John longs to be special, famous and wealthy and thinks that he will achieve this as a result of his ‘gift’, his goal is to be in The Guinness Book of Records; he spends much of his time analysing what other people say and judges them extremely harshly if he thinks they are lying about something. He has an over developed and simplistic reverence for ‘the truth’ In fact, an insistence on ‘truth’ in all circumstances can be just as corrosive and damaging as lies and John has failed to grasp this. He cannot understand how people, families and societies bend the truth regularly to maintain relationships and social order, partly because he still emotionally very young, and partly because he seems almost Asperger’s-like in his reactions to people and situations. This is particularly evident in the second half of the book when John and his parents return to Dublin and live in a council flat in a high-rise block on a sink estate. Hyland paints a bleak picture of this family, and I felt uneasy about how life would be for someone like John, unwittingly damaged by parents who love him.
Risk assessments are all the rage these days. Everyone who is anyone is expected to carry out a risk assessment before they do anything. Teachers, building contractors, car repair mechanics, Scout/Guide leaders, expectant mothers in the workplace, you name it they all have to do them….and the latest batch of people who have to follow these bureaucratic dictats are Churchwardens.
Ruth Kelly’s Department for Communities and Local Government are very concerned that church congregations might be cremated accidentally if there were a conflagration during Evensong. In a new booklet issued by her department which outlines the recently implemented 2005 Fire Safety Order, churches and cathedrals are ordered to carry out a risk assessment and appoint a responsible figure in charge of fire safety. And what exactly is their advice? - it is that Churchwardens should all carry a large whistle (like a football referee) and conduct fire drills during services to time how long it takes to get the congregation to exit the building. Frankly I think this is the last thing that some churches need, they have enough difficulty getting anyone to enter the building to attend services in the first place.
Churchwardens are sensible folk on the whole, and I don’t think they need whistles or government advice when it comes to the best interests and safety of their fellow worshippers.
Maybe Ruth Kelly should re-acquaint herself with Psalm 91: “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;” which sums it up nicely.
We've all had those moments when we can't think what to serve for supper, nothing has been prepared in advance, time is short, you're feeling tired and yet there is a hungry family to feed. Today was such a moment for me and so I went for one of my old faithful standby dishes which I call Fridge Frittata. Classic frittatas are usually made with a single type of vegetable but for this dish I use whatever is available in the fridge at the time. Today I had one red pepper, half a celery heart, a cup and a half of frozen petit pois, and some rashers of bacon which I cut into small strips; but I could have used just about any combination of vegetables, I could have added some cheese, or herbs. Whatever takes your fancy really, and a great way of using up left-overs.
Speaking of which, doesn't the term "left-overs" sound horribly unappealing? The French term is "Les Restes" which sounds MUCH more appetising!
1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced
2- 3 cups of any vegetable or combination of vegetables- eg: one red pepper, de-seeded and cut into small strips, celery cut into fine slices, cooked broccoli or asparagus cut into pieces, petit pois, a large potato par-boiled and cut into small cubes, finely sliced mushrooms, one or two courgettes, halved and sliced , lardons, left-over ham, chorizo or cooked sausage cut into cubes, Left-over cooked pasta, cubed or coursely grated cheese....what ever you can find in the fridge.
Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sized frying pan and sauté the onion. If you are using lardons or other uncooked meat such as chorizo, add it to the pan now; when the onion is translucent and beginning to colour add any other raw vegetables and continue cooking for a few minutes till they are tender. If using cooked vegetables, ham or frozen peas add them at this stage. You may need to drizzle a little more olive oil over the vegetables before you pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables in the frying pan. Use a wooden spatula to push the sides of the frittata into the middle. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let the frittata cook for a few minutes until you can see that the edges are cooked but the centre is still runny. Whilst that is happening, pre- heat your oven grill.
Place the whole frying pan under the grill for 4-5 minutes so that the centre cooks right through.
Remove pan from grill. Loosen edges of the frittata with a knife or spatula, and then place a large serving plate upside-down over the frying pan. Holding the plate firmly onto the pan carefully invert it so that the frittata turns out onto the plate.
This is good hot, warm or cold with salad. Left-overs (if there are any) are delicious as a sandwich filling for packed lunch.