Tuesday, May 12, 2009




TROUBLE. HE DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH are the first words, written on a card, which introduce the reader to Inspector Jian in the novel Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis.

Jian is a
hard-bitten Chinese cop whose arrival in Britain to search for his missing daughter Wei Wei throws him into a totally foreign environment - the English countryside. Unable to speak the language he finds himself rapidly becoming embroiled in a dangerous situation when he falls foul of the Snakeheads who traffic peasants from China into the UK where they are forced to work as virtual slaves. These peasants have often paid huge sums to the Snakeheads in China because they believe they are being brought to "Gold Mountain", a country where they will earn a fortune which can then support their impoverished families back home. Ding Ming, one such illegal migrant arrived a few days earlier together with his wife. He has fallen out with his gangmaster as the couple have been split up, and Ding Ming does not know where his wife has been taken. He and Jian find themselves thrown together in a deadly battle against violent criminals. After various twists and turns, and with an ever mounting body count, Jian and Ding Ming

Simon Lewis
knows the Chinese well, and speaks Mandarin, having helped write The Rough Guide to China and his descriptions of modern Britain as seen through Chinese eyes is enthralling.
Set against the background of human traffiking Bad Traffic is a roller-coaster read, and Inspector Jian is a character I hope we will meet again in further books.


I realise this may seem very petty and trivial (and a little vulgar), given that the media seem to think many of us are in danger of immenent death from Swine Flu, and the House of Commons is drowning in a sea of corruption, but I am going to have a mini rantette about something that really, really irritates me.

It is an absolute rule in this household that when the loo roll runs out, the person there at the time MUST replace it at once so nobody gets caught short, rushes to the loo and then finds there is no paper. That rule seems to work pretty well, but some members of the family put the paper on the holder The Wrong Way Round, so that the loose end dangles down the back of the roll, when as everyone with any modicum of sense and intelligence knows it should dangle down the front of the roll.

When it comes to loo paper (or 'toilet paper' in non-U speak) I am not a particularly fussy person, the plain bog-standard - hah hah! - white is fine by me; the stuff with puppy-dogs and flowers printed on it is a ludicrous waste of money and resources, and no, I don't need my paper quilted or enhanced with moisturising aloe vera. However I am not such a throw-back as to yearn for the horrible hard Bronco sheets that I had at boarding school, nor do I want to cut up squares of newspaper and hang them on a hook , but neither am I ready to go totally green and save the planet by buying into this method of bum cleansing

Yet again this morning I have had to wast precious nano-seconds changing the loo paper in the bathroom so that it unrolls the right way.

Why should this be? the DH and I have been married for over 30 years, you would think by now I would have cured him of this irritating habit - he says that my way is not necessarily the right way and that lots of people don't give a monkey's which way the loo paper is presented.
This cannot be true, can it? I appeal to you dear reader to give me your views on the correct method of alignment.


As if I didn't have enough to do organising the DD's wedding, which is now a mere 11 weeks away, last week I was persuaded to hold a Saturday lunch party for 26 Chinese visitors, most of whom had not been to the UK before. The suggestion was that a buffet of "typically" British food should be served. So I racked my brains and my cook books to find dishes that I thought would appeal to Chinese tastes and yet represent British cooking. One of the first dishes I decided on was a pressed Ham Hock Terrine. This had several points in its favour. It is inexpensive to make, it is a meat the Chinese love, it is set in a jellied stock and the Chinese love the texture of jelly, and last but by no means least, it is very pretty to look at.

It takes some time to make but can be done in stages, and once made it will happily sit in the fridge for 4-5 days until you want to serve it. You will probably have to order your ham hocks from the butcher a few days in advance, as they seldom have them to hand.


Makes a 1kg terrine which will serve 10-12 portions.

2 ham hocks (each approx 1.25kg)

1 large onion, peeled and chopped in quarters
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
2 sticks celery, cut into large pieces
2 bay leaves
2 star anise
Large sprig of fresh rosemary
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
Handful of flat leafed parsley, stalks and all
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons medium dry sherry

½ a sachet of gelatine crystals (or 2 sheets of gelatine)

3 tablespoons capers,
4 heaped tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley.

Firstly, to ensure the meat is not too salty, put the hocks in a large bowl or pan and soak them in cold water for several hours or overnight. Do this once more.
Drain the hocks and put in a large pot, cover with cold water, add the vegetables, the peppercorns, star anise and the herbs, bring to the boil and then simmer for 2
½-3 hours until the meat is tender and you can wiggle the bone. Remove from the liquor.

Skin the hocks and pull the meat into long thin shreds, stripping away as much fat and sinew as possible. Press the pieces of ham flat between your thumb and fingers as you do this.
You should end up with approx 750g of meat.

Strain off 600mls of the liquor (any remaining liquor can be used in soups) and chill it so that the fat congeals on the top and can be removed easily . Return this stock to the boil, remove from the heat then add the sherry.

Place two tablespoons of cold water in a cup and sprinkle on the gelatine, allow it to become spongy, then stir it into the hot stock until it has dissolved. Allow the stock to cool until it is starting to set.
Line a 1kg loaf tin with a double layer of cling film, allowing enough to fold back over the top of the tin.
Mix the shredded ham, chopped parsley and capers in a bowl, then pour in about half the cool stock and mix well. Layer the mixture into the lined tin, making sure the meat fibres run lengthways. With the flat of your hand press the mixture down firmly so it is level, then pour in more stock, tapping the tin to remove an
y air pockets. You may not need much more of the stock. Fold the clingfilm back over the top of the terrine, and cover with another piece of film and top with a piece of card cut to fit the tin. Weight it down (I use cans of beans) and place in the fridge for 8 hours, after which you can remove the weights.

Unmold it onto a serving dish and peel away the cling film. Serve in thick slices with some home-made Piccalilli.