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

1 comment:

GoodbyeBlighty said...

You might like to look at this article in today's Telegraph - which is all about the 3 Rs!!!;jsessionid=WDSLZD21TRDJVQFIQMGCFF4AVCBQUIV0?xml=/news/2008/01/18/nthreers118.xml