Sunday, June 27, 2010


I'm a bit over-run with marjoram and lemon balm at the moment, which is no bad thing. I literally can't sit in the garden without having to sit on a bunch of one or the other, which is rather lovely.

A friend asked what I'd use lemon balm for in the kitchen. Most lemon balm recipes involve fish but my friend is a vegetarian and I'm no fish cook. I use it a lot in tisanes (a load of crushed leaves and a teaspoon of honey) but usually I just snap a few leaves off to chew absent-mindedly. I thought I'd have a go at putting together a sauce for pasta using it.

It works well with a white sauce with a little (very little) bit of wild mushroom, the flavour infuses the sauce but you have to look for it to realise that it's there. Not a hard sell, I know! All you have to do is make a simple white sauce (or cheat and use a half-tin of Campbell's condensed cream of mushroom), warm it through until it's more-or-less ready then add a handful of finely-shredded lemon balm. Stir it through, give it half a minute on a very low, or even no, light and then stir in the pasta.

I didn't manage to come up with a sauce that didn't involve cream, which is a bit of a shame I feel. The truth of the matter is that even if you leave it to the very last minute to add it to an oil-based sauce some of the flavour's still cooked out. Which still left me with a pleasant little herb sauce:
  • Some extra-virgin olive oil
  • Some garlic (probably a couple of cloves) not especially finely-chopped, it'll be flavouring the sauce but also providing the texture
  • A couple of button mushrooms if you really must
  • Two large handfuls of marjoram, tear off the leaves and chop the stems up finely
  • A large handful of mint (a small handful if you're like me and have been lucky enough to have some black mint growing in the garden), tear the leaves up and chop the stems very finely
  • A handful of shelled walnuts
  • Pasta of your choice
Warm the olive oil (be careful not to heat it too fast or it might burn). Chuck in the garlic and cook it gently. Cook the pasta, throwing a handful of walnuts into the water a couple of minutes before the end (to blanch them). When the pasta's nearly cooked it's time to put the herbs in with the garlic. Fold the herbs into the oil until it's wilted. Then fold in the pasta and walnuts. Stir it all together to make sure that everything's had a touch of everything else then serve and eat.

It's a bit nice, honest.

Still not got a lemon balm recipe sorted, though.


I should have mentioned that you can, if you want, spice this up a bit by adding a bit of pickled Jalapeno pepper. It has to be pickled because if you're adding chili to this you also need the bite of the vinegar. Or you can change the vibe, in a nice way, by adding some finely-chopped dill pickle. Some salted capers doesn't hurt, either.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Probably being too honest for my own good

The youngest relative has returned to the topic of my marital status. I think we've agreed that she's not setting me up on a blind date with either the Year Three teacher or the mother of one of the girls in her class. I don't entirely trust her not to try and get around the agreement though.

"So why aren't you married?" she asked.

"I like being miserable on my own and I haven't found anybody who would want to be miserable with me."

"Oh well. If you just want miserable you may as well get yourself a baby. They're dead miserable, honest. All they do is cry and scream and eat and cry and poo and cry a bit more. And they wake you up in the middle of the night so that they can cry and scream and poo."

"I've known women like that," I admitted.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


a camera manBack in the old days, cameras were mechanical devices. You pressed the button and a mechanical iris engaged to set the width of the lens diaphragm and a shutter opened and closed at the required speed for the exposure. A Leica made a lovely, gentle hiss (I borrowed one once) and my industrial-strength Zenit made a loud clunk. Possibly because it was made out of the combine harvesters that were remaindered during the Kazakh famines of the 1930s. The Zenit was the entry-level SLR; it was about a quarter of the price of the next cheapest model on the market.

It's all digital now. Which is good in lots of ways: I get to see the pictures there and then and I can tidy up the exposure without the use of chemicals and red light bulbs. No moving parts, unless you count my finger.

So why does everyone's digital camera go clunk?

Monday, June 21, 2010


In an interview in London I was once asked what was the best cultural event I'd ever been to. I answered that I'd seen Shakespeare in Stratford; von Stroheim in Edinburgh; opera, dance and all sorts of theatre but the single best cultural event I'd ever been to was a Frank Sidebottom gig in a working men's club in Timperley. The audience were all grown-ups with all the cares of the world about their shoulders but for a couple of glorious hours they were allowed out on licence and were eight years old again, laughing and singing and joyful in their tomfoolery.

This is by way of an entirely inadequate thank-you.

Godspeed, Chris.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

From the observatory

My small niece has an unerring sense of logic. She is also cursed with her uncle's gift of commentary.

She had popped in at my parents' house, as is her wont, to cadge rather a lot of toast off my dad. And a bit of cheese please. And some more toast.

"You know how my dad supports Man City..." she said, "well, I support them, too. But I shouldn't really, should I? When I came out of my mummy's tummy I was in Middlesborough, so I should support Middlesborough, shouldn't I?"

To his credit, my father reassured her that it wasn't compulsory. The child is of mixed parentage - Lancashire and Yorkshire. It's quite funny listening to her talk as she's got her mother's Middlesborough quirks like "cayek" for "cake," but all with our southern Mancunian accent.

A little later, her mother wanted to know why she hadn't eaten her dinner. My dad owned up and got a rollicking for it. As the fur subsided my niece turned to him and said:

"Don't take any notice. Parents get like that when they're old. They go all yaddadadayaddayadda. They can't help it."

Giving the anti-histamines a workout

I'm taking a breather from the garden, give my eyes the opportunity to stop itching. (Shameless attempt to coax sympathy from his audience).

I'll say this much: it's a productive garden. I've filled a wheelie bin full of weeds and the garden still looks like The Land That Time Forgot. I've had to trim some of the hazel bush so that I can get into the back garden without stooping. Hazel is worth growing for the smell of the leaves alone. The various geraniums, lemon balm and marjoram are as boisterous as ever.

Getting down to do some weeding I'm assailed by a combination of scents and the buzzing of bees and hoverflies. The roses are a treat; at one point the path is fringed by 'Zephrin Drouaine,' with its slightly lemony fragrance, one the one side and dog roses and 'Ballerina' on the other with purer but no less delicate scents. It's a pure accident but one I enjoy.

Talking of accidents, I discover seedlings of California poppy under the gooseberry and Echium pinnatum at the side of the path near the roses. It's seven or eight years since I last grew either. And wild arum, which I've ever grown and haven't seen locally, has popped up underneath the Buddleia at the bottom of the garden.

Part of me tells myself that the garden's an undisciplined mess. And it is. But I do enjoy it immensely.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


We need to celebrate friendship more often. This is for everybody who needs a cup of tea and a hug.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


It's pouring down outside so the planned foray into the teeming mass that passes for my garden has been postponed awhile. Instead I decide to have a go at making a bid for domestic godhood.

  • I shall tell people that the living room window is in that state so that the baby goldfinches don't injure themselves by flying into it.
  • I have glared at that spider's web. Twice.
  • I have applied Febreeze to the dust on the living room floor. According to the advert on the telly my living room shall now become awash with teenage girls, all giggly and excited. It has to be admitted: the only way I could even manage the energy for so much as a conversation with a roomful of teenage girls would be for me and they both to be under the influence of chloroform.
  • Some damned fool thought it would be a good idea to wash the quilt in the bath. Seeing as how this is a single male household there's not a lot of point in having a row about it. It's a hike and a half to the nearest laundrette and there's no buses that way on a Sunday so it's arguably the only way to get it done. Most of the procedure involves beating the quilt with a stick until it stops moving. I did consider steam-cleaning it but then I remember that last time I ended up having to get a new shower curtain rail.
  • I may do the washing up.
Did somebody say ironing? It is to laugh!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Don't mention the Armada...

My small niece is looking forward to her holidays.

"You can come with us," she tells my mum.

"No, I can't," explains my mum, "I don't have a passport any more."

"You don't need a passport. We're going to English Spain, not Spanish Spain."

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Intimations of mortality

Advert on the telly:

"The definitive punk anthems collection. Buy it for your dad for Father's Day."

I'll be the one in the corner sticking safety pins in me zimmer frame.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Hello hello

For some time now my local railway station has been kitted out not just with new tannoys but also induction loops for hearing-impaired people. Presumably this latter is to fulfil obligations under the disability acts. Neither seems knowingly attached to anything and we certainly don't get any announcements but it's good to know that we have an equality of access to no information about our train services.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Probably nothing that couldn't be cured by a kind word from a beautiful woman

The train into work got stuck at signals awhile. I'd been staring at something on the embankment for a good five minutes before I realised what it was. It was an elm sapling. I can't remember when I last saw an English elm. When I was a kid the main road was an avenue of old elms, green and sticky with sap in the July sunlight.

I do miss elms.

On the way back home I got the bus to Manchester. I was followed onto the bus by an epicene figure in a white safari jacket. I wondered if he was Death. I chose not to ask.

A few stops down, a pink Mazda cut up the bus. It was the shade of pink I've only ever seen in NHS children's spectacles.

The chip shop further down the street turns out not to have a window blind as I'd imagined. It's a sheet of brushed vinyl pop art wallpaper in faded bullseye pattern.

A gaggle of young girls get on, gaudy in thickly-applied make-up, each with a mobile 'phone clamped to one ear. In my day young ladies were quieter and more demure weren't they? No, of course not. I remember a Sicilian hillside raucous in bawdy song. One of the girls bawled down the 'phone that they were "going lindyhopping." I expect it means something different these days, like dance music.

Next come four mockney diamond geezers. "Just three stops to the Chinese, mate. How much? Is that for all of us?" Welcome to the unsubsidised provinces, mate.

No one was sick and nobody died and the driver got out of his cab to help a lady carry her pushchair off the bus.