Friday, August 10, 2007



Recently I had the good fortune to receive a copy of The Lying Tongue by Andrew Wilson from Susan Hill the acclaimed author and playwrite. She had mentioned on her blog (of which I am a regular reader) that she had six copies to give away and I was one of the lucky recipients.

Set in Venice and Dorset, this is a tale told by a young man who has recently left university with a degree in Art History called Adam Woods. He arrives in Venice and finds himself working as private assistant to a famous but reclusive English writer, Gordon Crace. Crace lives in a crumbling old palazzo, thick with dirt and neglect, surrounded by his superb art collection. He has not written anything for many years following his bestselling novel and Woods, who has ambitions to be a writer himself, eventually determines to write Crace’s biography but without telling his employer what he intends. Early on the reader becomes aware that dark secrets lurk in Crace’s past, and as Adam is a young man completely lacking in moral probity, things get very unpleasant indeed. Adam goes back and forth between Venice and Dorset whilst trying to gather background material on Crace and at the same time trying to get rid of a well established writer who also wishes to write the official biography of Gordon Crace. The reader is never sure quite what is happening as the shifting sands of corruption on which the protagonists are standing make this psychological thriller – which has homoerotic overtones – continuously murky. At the end of the book there is a brilliant, horrific and completely unexpected twist.

This is Andrew Wilson’s debut novel, although he has previously written the biography of one of the greatest crime writers, Patricia Highsmith. I feel sure that the film rights to The Lying Tongue will be snapped up, if they haven’t been already, and I can’t wait to read his next book.


In some totalitarian states the power-that-be have locked dissidents and other so-called trouble makers in mental institutions, claiming that they are mad. Now it seems that some of our own citizens are in danger of having the same thing done to them.

When Mark Davies, who is a keen and experienced swimmer, went for a swim down the River Severn, someone summoned the police and his little dip turned into a major event whereby three fire engines 25 firefighters and two rescue boats were called to try to “save” him; it culminated when he got out of the water and was promptly detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. Fortunately for him, the police doctor who examined him declared that he was perfectly sane and they had to release him after 2 hours.

Why was the Mental Health Act used against him in the first place one asks? There is no law prohibiting swimming in the Severn. There is no local bye-law prohibiting swimming in the river – hence the police had no grounds for arresting him for law breaking. He was not creating a Breach of the Peace, he wasn’t offending anyone, he was not naked, he was not creating a public disturbance…..all he was doing was quietly enjoying a swim.

The police should not be allowed to use the Mental Health Act against citizens who are doing something lawful that they disapprove of, unless there is real concern for the safety of the public.

Personally I think what he was doing was daft. I wouldn’t swim down any river if you paid me, nor would I climb Ben Nevis, or go whitewater rafting, but people do, and as far as I know they are not considered mentally ill. Things have reached a pretty pass when the Boys in Blue misuse the Mental Health Act to detain a citizen who is engaged in a peaceable and lawful activity.

What on earth would the late great John Betjeman make of it I wonder, in his famous poem ‘A Shropshire Lad’ he wrote about Captain Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel:

‘Swimming along -
Swimming along -
Swimming along from Severn,
And paying a call at Dawley Bank while swimming along to Heaven.’


Another recipe that is as good in summer as it is in winter, and it combines two of my favourite things, cumin and chickpeas. I usually make it with Haddock, and last night when suddenly faced with another couple here for supper I used the frozen fillets which are sold in packs of 5/6 by M&S, Tesco, Waitrose and probably every other supermarket - a really useful standby to keep in the freezer.


4 firm white fish fillets (skinless/boneless)
2 heaped teaspoons ground cumin

2 heaped teaspoons ground turmeric

2 heaped teaspoons ground cardamom
2 red peppers (capsicums) deseeded and sliced into strips
2 tins (410g each) chick peas, drained
Juice of ½ lemon

½ cup finely chopped fresh coriander
450ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

300g couscous
1 tablespoon olive oil
5-6 spring onions, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped fresh coriander
450ml boiling water

Mix together the cumin, turmeric and cardamom and put on a flat plate.

Pat the fish fillets dry with kitchen paper and then turn them in the spice mix so they are completely coated. Put enough olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, and cook the fish gently on both sides until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside but keep warm.

Add a little more olive oil to the pan, and when hot, add the pepper strips and the chickpeas, fry gently for a few minutes then add the hot stock, chopped coriander and lemon juice. Cover the pan and simmer gently for about ten minutes until the peppers are soft and the liquid has reduced and thickened.

Put the couscous in a large heat-proof bowl, stir in the olive oil, chopped coriander and spring onions and pour on the boiling water, stir again and then leave for 10 minutes for the couscous to absorb the water and fluff up. When all the water has been absorbed, stir again, season to taste, then tip the couscous onto a large shallow serving dish.

Carefully place the fish fillets over the couscous and pour the chickpea and pepper mix over the fish. Garnish with some chopped coriander before serving.

A crisp green salad on the side is probably not traditional but goes very well with this dish.

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