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.