Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of getting peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.
Babies: It’s said that every new-born baby looks like Winston Churchill, and recent arrivals tend to prove that this is indeed so. Luckily most of them soon grow out of it.
Banzai! I wrote a light-hearted bit about Japan in an earlier Jottings which set me thinking in a more serious vein. I don’t consider myself to be in any way racist, but in comics and movies when I was a kid the Japs were the enemy. We’d all seen The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), set in a Japanese prison camp in Burma where the prisoners were treated very cruelly, while at school some of my classmates were keen on war comics which bore names like Action! and Commando! and often featured Japanese pilots who yelled “Banzai!” as their Kamikaze planes flew to their doom. Pretty soon these same boys were yelling “Banzai!” as they attacked each other (and me) with pillows after lights out. There were some nasty books circulating too dealing in rather too much detail with Japanese war atrocities, such as The Camp on Blood Island and The Knights of Bushido. These things revolted me but they were inescapable, yet as the years went by and as the dust of Nagasaki and Hiroshima settled our perception of the Japanese slowly changed, and by the 1980s my company was trading with Japanese publishers very happily and for some years now I’ve been driving Japanese cars, but though It’s probably unworthy of me I can’t help wondering where all the cruelty went. In peacetime did it just melt away, never to be seen or mentioned again? Perhaps I’m wrong even to mention it here.
Deafness, partial: “I have one curious trait which I believe to be inherited from my father … Whenever ten or more people are gathered together in one room, chattering away like broiler-fowl at feeding-time, I go deaf. It is as if the input channels of my ears become overloaded and automatically cut out as a precaution against short-circuiting and bursting into flames. For me, social convocations for drinks or meals turn, when warmed up and under way, into surrealistic happenings in which lips move, tongues wag, eyebrows plunge and soar but nothing that could be remotely described as human speech reaches me.” — Humphrey Lyttelton from Last Chorus: an autobiographical medley (2009) I almost cheered when I read this, for I suffer from exactly the same ailment and had always thought it was a weird thing peculiar to me but to find that Humph, a jazz musician and popular radio host, had it too and lived a very happy and successful life despite it was heartening. When I was younger and went out socializing a lot it was a real handicap in the chatting-up stakes — I was the original guy you’d always find in the kitchen at parties — but these days I don’t go to parties and it’s no problem at all.
Diana: the Musical: The recent kerfuffle over Prince Harry’s book Spare reminds me of a couplet from this bizarre musical work when Diana looks at her newborn baby and sings “Harry, my ginger-haired son / You’ll always be second to none.” As a prediction this was way off the mark, of course, and the show contained many other cherishable lines, e.g.
● Some paparazzi chasing Diana: ”Better than a Guinness, better than a wank / Snap a few pics, it’s money in the bank.”
● AIDS patient to Diana: “I may be unwell, but I’m handsome as hell.”
● Charles angry at Diana’s dance routine with Wayne Sleep: “How about for a start / Don’t act like a TART.”
● Diana, bored at a cello recital by Rostropovich: “The Russian plays on and on / Like an endless telethon / How I wish he were Elton John!”
● Diana at a fashionable party: “Nights like this, I envy the poor / Their parties can’t possibly be such a bore.”
The original stage production was much delayed by Covid and was trounced by the critics when it finally did appear (in The New York Times Jesse Green wrote, “If you care about Diana as a human being, or dignity as a concept, you will find this treatment of her life both aesthetically and morally mortifying.”) but it has been filmed for Netflix and many clips from it can be found on YouTube.
There’s a particularly good (i.e. bad) one here, and a chunk of the soundtrack here which amongst other things gives us the word fruffles.
Earworm: I got this one — an earworm, as I’m sure you know, is one of those annoying tunes that gets into your brain and won’t go away — on a visit to New York in 1986 when I was in a taxi taking me from one appointment to the next, and a record came on the radio. I heard only snatch of it, a high-pitched voice singing “ooh-ooh baby blue” or something like that, and I didn’t hear who was singing it or the title of the song. But it stuck in my mind and has remained stuck there ever since, damn it. I tried quite hard to identify it, looking at the US charts for the period to see what records might have been hits there at the time, and even singing the bit I remembered to friends who knew more about music than I did. No luck with any of that. Had I got it wrong? Had the high-pitched voice been singing “ooh-ooh Betty Boo” or “Dicky Doo” or something similar? Eventually I gave up the search, but the earworm remained. Imagine my surprise, then, when idly flicking around YouTube the other day I came across a video called Two-Hit Wonders of the 1970s and there it was! Long story short: it had been a a big hit in the USA and elsewhere in 1975 — the NY radio station must have been playing it as a golden oldie — but was virtually unknown in the UK, and it was ‘Jackie Blue’ by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, a group hitherto unknown to me. The high-pitched voice turned out to belong to the drummer, a hairy fellow who also wrote it. It took me 35 years to identify the thing, and then I did so only by accident. Anyway, I downloaded the track and now play it two or three times day in the hope of getting sick of it and banishing the earworm forever, but at the moment I still like it.
If you want to risk hearing it and getting the earworm yourself it can be found here.
More family stuff: One of my ongoing projects is to find and archive family photographs to get them all into decent-quality digital form, and amongst my late mother’s things I found a folder of very old pictures which I’m scanning and retouching one by one: a voyage of discovery as I’d never seen many of them before. Here’s one of my mother’s family, the Smiths, from the 1920s:
On the left is my Nana who I claim as the original Betty of Bettys Café fame — she was never very keen on smiling for the camera — then my mother, then my grandfather J.J. who ran Bettys for many years but died young, and finally Uncle Ray. It doesn’t do to dwell too much in the past, however, and I’m glad to say that my family in New Zealand are keeping me plentifully supplied with photos of the new generation:
That’s Mia at the back, then (from the left) Isabelle, Finn and Madeleyne: one great-nephew and three great-nieces. Can these beautiful kids really be related to ugly old me?
Language note: In recent months a lot of americanisms have crept into the speech of our politicians and public speakers: drilling down, doubling down, ramping up, etc., but the one that really irks me is the use of likely instead of probably, as in “It will likely rain tomorrow.” This is now becoming widespread: in today’s newspaper former British Army Colonel Philip Ingram is quoted as saying “Western response would likely be the conventional destruction of every Russian piece of kit inside geographic Ukraine.” Col. Ingram really ought to know better.
Lewis, C.S.: My father knew him personally and would send me copies of his books when I was a teenager away at boarding school, including these Pan editions which are still the best cover designs I’ve seen for these titles. (Pan retitled Perelandra as Voyage to Venus.) I have them still. Still good.
Meat, red: “I caused looks of utter horror on Masterchef when I said I didn’t go along with the fashion for serving pink lamb. ‘I like mine well-done and crispy-skinned. Good old falling-apart lamb, like Granny used to cook,’ I said. ‘Why do we have to copy the French?’ Needless to say, I wasn’t invited back.” —June Whitfield, from her autobiography.
I like mine well-done and crispy-skinned too. When I bought my first house in the mid-1970s and started to learn how to cook properly — or as properly as it ever got — this coincided with a sudden vogue amongst my generation for serving meat semi-raw. “It’s much more tasty this way,” said friends serving me slices of nearly raw meat slopping about in tepid blood, and some of them sneered at me for not following this new fashion. Well, over the years I have eaten meat prepared in many different ways and stubbornly I still prefer it well-done, and it was good to find sensible person like Dame June agreeing with me.
Monopoly: Interested to see that there’s now a Harrogate edition which has Bettys Cafe as one of its stops. Regular readers if this blog will know of my family’s early links to Bettys.
New Zealanders eat more ice cream per capita than any other nation. Fact.
Pronunciation: When I was research student long ago my father used to annoy the hell out of me by pronouncing it ree-search (“How’s your ree-search going?”) at a time when everyone else pronounced it with two equal syllables as in reverse or rehearse. Well, times change, and now ree-search seems to have become standard. I don’t like it, but even worse is the now almost universal pronunciation of kilometre with the emphasis on the middle syllable: kill-OM-eter. It makes no sense, as we don’t say kill-OLL-eter for kilolitre or cen-TIM-eter, but I’m afraid it’s here to stay. I blame Top Gear for this. Grrrrr.
Punctuation: “Kipling, of course, found a new use for the colon.” –from Tavern Talk by Collin Brooks (1950). Did he, indeed? Being very interested in such matters — and isn’t that ‘of course’ annoying? — I had a look through Kipling’s works to see if I could spot this so-called new use, but the only unusual use of the colon that I could see occurred at end of the first two stanzas in Kipling’s famous poem ‘If’, though in some editions it’s been replaced by a semicolon, no doubt by editors who thought they knew better than the author. If this is what Brooks means by ‘a new use’ it seems hardly worth mentioning — but perhaps I’ve missed something. Tavern Talk has a bit more to say about punctuation, however: “Bart Kennedy, that almost forgotten man, thought he could make a new use of the full point. For a while his technique was effective, but it grew tedious. Parody eventually killed it.” When I first read this in the 1970s I could find out nothing about Bart Kennedy, but now we can google him and get the basic facts, which are that he was … well, here‘s a link to his Wikepedia entry. Some of his books have been published online too, and we can see his innovative use of the full point in a succession of short often verbless sentences:
Other writers have since employed this sort of staccato style, e,g, Peter Tinniswood in his later works like The Stirk of Stirk, and no doubt many other too.
Finally, there’s a punctuation mark used to signify irony or sarcasm that looks like a backwards question mark [⸮] but since it doesn’t feature in most computer fonts it isn’t widely used,
Rhyming slang: In an earlier Jottings I made the suggestion that scarper, meaning run away, leave, scram, might be rhyming slang from Scapa Flow (=go), but my friend Bob was quick to point out that this was not so, and that it derives from the Italian ‘scappare’ – to escape. This has been in use since the 17th century. Swell’s Night Guide, 1846 includes the quotation: “He must hook it before ‘day-light does appear’, and then scarper by the back door.”
Saddest book title:Leftover Life to Kill by Caitlin Thomas (Dylan’s widow).
Saucy books of the ‘sixties: I belong to various online groups devoted to the celebration of vintage paperbacks, of which I possess hundreds, where members upload pictures of the books in their collections and of their latest finds. Most of these books are from the genres of thrillers and science fiction with splendidly lurid covers, and occasionally one of these brings back sharp memories, e.g. The Passion Flower Hotel which was considered a very naughty book in the early 1960s. It was read avidly by my sister Carol and the other girls at her boarding school where it had to be hidden from the teachers and, at home, from parents too. Tee hee. I wasn’t averse to a bit of sleaze myself and remember a few books that I read at the time in search of cheap thrills. One was The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy, which I enjoyed and actually admired as a novel, but sleazier by far was The Carpetbaggers. Does anyone read Harold Robbins these days? I doubt it.
Wasabi: Most wasabi paste isn’t real wasabi, which is expensive.
X-Ray Specs: I knew that they would be a con, and that they wouldn’t really enable me to see through women’s clothes to their naked bodies — something I was very keen to see when I was 13 or so — and when I finally got hold of a pair (of x-ray specs, not yet naked women) by a most circuitous route of course they didn’t.
Zoom: Over the Christmas/New Year holiday we planned a Zoom session between England and New Zealand but I was in such a dismal state with cold and general low spirits that I knew I wouldn’t be able to give a good account of myself — maybe we’ll try again at Easter — so to end on a more upbeat note here‘s a record that I used to have on a compilation tape and always liked.
A further selection from my forthcoming magnum opus, which is coming along nicely. A few non-famous people (signalled like this ❃] are now getting in on the act, with my blessing and indeed encouragement. Do send me any particularly good vegetable recipes of your own. It’s good to share.
ED BALLS: Broccoli. The former Cabinet Minister has been having a lively time since leaving office. Following his electoral defeat he was appointed chairman of Norwich City FC and in 2020 he became Professor of Political Economy at King’s College London, meanwhile taking part as a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing surviving until week 10, and in 2021 competing in the BBC’s Celebrity Best Home Cook which he won with this dish: chargrilled broccoli salad.
• 1 head broccoli, cut into half florets
• 1 bunch asparagus
• olive oil
• 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
• 1 red chilli, finely sliced (seeds removed if preferred)
• 1 lemon, grated zest, juice of ½, the other ½ finely sliced
• 2 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Blanch the broccoli for 1–2 minutes. Add the asparagus to the pan and blanch for a further 2 minutes. Drain and leave to cool slightly.
2. Heat a large griddle pan over a high heat. Drizzle the broccoli and asparagus with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Place the vegetables in the griddle pan and cook for 1–2 minutes on each side, until lightly charred.
3. Mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the garlic, chilli, lemon zest and juice. Pour into the griddle pan and heat for a minute or two, stirring to coat the vegetables. Add the lemon slices and chargrill for 1–2 minutes on each side, until charred.
4. Transfer the chargrilled broccoli, asparagus and lemon slices to a serving plate and scatter with the flaked almonds.
BRIGITTE BARDOT: Tabbouleh salad. Ah, Brigitte! How you fuelled my teenage fantasies and the dreams of many another young lad in the early 1960s. John Lennon was one. He had a big pin-up picture of Brigitte cut from a magazine taped to his bedroom ceiling so that he could … well, you know. After he’d found fame as a Beatle an assignation was arranged for him to get together with her in a London hotel, but faced with his dream-girl in the flesh he was overawed and failed to rise to the occasion. Mlle Bardot was not pleased.
Perhaps she consoled herself with a nice bowl of tabbouleh salad, the traditional Middle Eastern grain dish known throughout the Mediterranean area. The word is Lebanese. I found this recipe, by Sharon Salyer, here. “The story of the dish — and Bardot — was recounted in the Times Sunday magazine by Frederic Van Coppernolle, the grandson of Bardot’s cook and home helper, who went on to become an executive chef.” she writes; “Bardot, he explained, wasn’t easily pleased with the dishes she was served, including this tabbouleh. She was said to like lots of lemon zest. And if you don’t have a zester and have to extract the small lemons shreds using a boxcutter — as he did — it can be a knuckle-skinning experience.”
To save you copying and printing the recipe, here’s a summary:
Ingredients (serves 4 to 6)
• ½ cup tomato juice
• 1½ cups instant couscous
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 1 cup chickpeas
• 1½ cups diced tomatoes
• 1 cup peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
• 1 teaspoon finely-chopped garlic
• 3 tablespoons shallots finely-chopped
• zest of half a lemon
• 3 tablespoons lemon juice
• 2 cups tightly-packed mint leaves, finely chopped
• 2 teaspoons salt
• black pepper to taste
• dash of Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper
Bring one cup of water and the tomato juice to a simmer in a small saucepan. Put the couscous in a large heatproof bowl and pour the hot liquid over it. Add the oil, stir and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside.
In another bowl, stir the chickpeas, tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, shallots, lemon zest and juice, mint, salt and pepper. Use a fork to mix the vegetables with the couscous and finish with Tabasco or cayenne to taste.
Cover and refrigerate preferably overnight to allow the flavors to blend.
Brigitte is happily still alive aged 86 at the time of writing, long retired from showbiz and devoting herself to the cause of animal rights. In 1986 she established the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals, became a vegetarian, and raised three million francs to fund the Foundation by auctioning off jewellery and personal belongings. Her valuable work continues.
John Lennon’s former home In Liverpool where he lived with his Aunt Mimi has been restored as a tourist attraction with a picture of BB once again on the bedroom ceiling.
CHER: Minestrone. The mega-platinum recording artiste is the same age as me (currently 74) and looking a hell of a lot better than I do, possibly as a result of subsisting on healthy dishes like this (I wouldn’t dream of mentioning plastic surgery). I’m very partial to a good minestrone myself, feeling that in this age of trendy designer soups we shouldn’t neglect the tried-and-tested classics, and Cher’s recipe is a really good one.
• 1 medium carrot
• 2 stalks of celery
• 1 small onion
• 410 ml of chicken stock or 14.5 oz can chicken broth
• 350 ml water [1½ cups]
• 1 teaspoon dried parsley
• 1 teaspoon soy sauce
• 1 teaspoon pepper
• ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
• 28 oz can Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped, or 2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
• 225 ml of a passata type sauce. or 8 oz can low-sodium tomato sauce
• 16 oz can red kidney beans, drained
• ½ cup Ditalini pasta [though I prefer anelli/anelletti for this –RGJ]
• grated parmesan cheese
Place first 11 ingredients in saucepan. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10-15 minutes or until carrots and celery are tender. Add kidney beans and Ditalini pasta, cook for 10-15 minutes more or until pasta is al dente. Serve with a sprinkle (no more than 1 teaspoon) of parmesan cheese on top of the soup.
PRINCESS DIANA: Stuffed peppers.
Darren McGrady spent four years as Diana’s chef at Kensington Palace and 11 years cooking for Queen Elizabeth II. His cookbook Eating Royally is sprinkled with lots of personal tidbits — helping princes Harry and William make their Mummy’s favorite dishes, dancing with Diana at royal balls, and helping the Queen rescue her belongings while Windsor Castle was on fire. According to McGrady, as well as watching her weight carefully Diana never ate red meat or shellfish: “Her favourite dish was bell peppers stuffed with zucchini, mushrooms, rice, garlic topped with Parmesan and mozzarella and finished with a smoked tomato and pepper sauce.”
JOAN DIDION: Artichokes au gratin. I first came across her writing in Tom Wolfe’s groundbreaking 1973 anthology The New Journalism, which led me to her earlier Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), a key book for me amid the nonsense that was being written about the counterculture of the time, then onto The White Album (1979) and later The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) following the death of her husband. She was profiled in the Netflix documentary The Center Will Not Hold, directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne in 2017.
This recipe for artichokes au gratin is based on Joan’s handwritten note-card (reproduced here). “Beloved as she was for her writing [writes Molly Beauchemin here] Joan was also a fabulous cook, effortlessly seasoned in the way that only a shrewd culture observer can be. We chose to play with her artichokes au gratin recipe because you don’t really see this item on menus anymore. But in the 1970s, it was considered the pinnacle of fine dining, de rigueur at holiday gatherings and chic dinner parties. Because of the heaviness of the cream and cheese, we recommend serving this as a winter dish -– it’s perfect for holiday meals.”
Ingredients (serves 8)
• 2 (9 oz.) packs frozen artichoke hearts*
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• ¼ cup butter
• dash white pepper
• 1 teaspoon onion salt
• ½ teaspoon prepared mustard
• ¾ teaspoon salt
• ⅓ cup flour
• 1½ cup reserved artichoke liquid
• 1½ cups hot milk
• 1 egg slightly beaten
• ½ cup grated Swiss cheese
• 2 tablespoon dry bread crumbs
1. Heat oven to 450 °F.
2. Cook artichokes according to pack directions, adding lemon juice to water.
3. Drain, reserving ½ cup liquid.
4. Place artichokes in a single layer in a 9-inch shallow casserole.
For the sauce
5. Melt butter, add spices and flower, stir until smooth.
6. Gradually add artichoke liquid and milk, and cook, stirring, until thick.
7. Remove from heat, add egg and half of cheese.
9. Pour over artichokes.
10. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, bread crumbs and paprika.
11. Bake for 15 minutes.
* These are globe artichokes, of course.
❃ I won’t be including Jerusalem artichokes in any of these posts because I had a very bad experience with a Jerusalem artichoke when I was young and can’t stand the things. Ugh.
FANNIE FLAGG: Fried green tomatoes.
Ms Flagg is apparently a familiar face in the USA as an actor and comedienne, but here in the UK she’s mainly known as the author of the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café which was made into a very successful movie in 1991. I happened to be in New York with my friend Kathy at the time and we caught it there, thinking we’d steal a march on the folks back home by seeing it several weeks before it would be released in Britain, and we enjoyed it — it’s a touching tale of an unlikely female friendship — but I didn’t pay much attention to the titular vegetables at the time, lazily assuming that they were just sliced tomatoes cooked in a frying-pan as usual.
Not so. The dish in question would be more accurately described as tomato fritters, and the tomatoes need to be green because red ones turn the interior of the fritters to mush when they’re cooked. They also need to be as big as you can get them, as slicing up small tomatoes makes for tiny, fiddly fritters that are hardly worth bothering with.
This guy shows step-by=step how the dish is done — and btw the results are absolutely delicious, either as a snack on their own or with a dip, or as a side-dish for non-veggies with bacon and eggs, which is the way I like to eat them myself.
STEPHEN FRY: Tofu (it’s made from soya beans so counts as a vegetable).
I’ve been a fan of Mr Fry since he first appeared on our tv screens in Saturday Live in 1986, and I surely don’t need to summarize his glittering career since then. His Wikipedia entry here does a good job of that. I’d merely add that he’s bidding fair to take over Peter Ustinov‘s mantle as Renaissance Man of Our Times. Like me, Stephen has recently been suffering from prostate cancer — though there the resemblances end.
Not long ago on Twitter Stephen was encouraging people to eat vegan for National Vegetarian Week by wearing an ‘Eat to Beat Climate Change’ t-shirt and showing his followers what meatless recipes he was cooking, including this one for Vegan Tofu Rogan Josh with Chilli Rice.
For the marinade:
• 1 pack Cauldron Organic Tofu
• 1 onion, roughly chopped
• 1 inch of ginger, grated
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 2 red chilli
• 2 tbsp tomato purée
• ½ tbsp ground cumin
• ½ tbsp ground coriander
• ½ tbsp ground turmeric
• 50 ml water
For the curry:
• 2 tbsp oil
• 4 cardamom pods, crushed and ground
• 1 cinnamon stick,
• 2 bay leaves
• ¼ tsp salt
• ¼ tsp black pepper
• 100 ml vegetable stock
• 150 g passata
For the rice:
• 400 g brown basmati rice, cooked
• 20 g coriander
• 1 red chilli
• 1 tbsp lime juice
• ¼ tsp salt
• 2 tbsp vegan yoghurt
• 10 g fresh coriander, chopped
• 1 red chilli, finely sliced
1. Drain the tofu for 20 minutes by placing it in between two chopping boards lined with a clean tea towel or kitchen roll. Put something heavy on top, e.g. food cans, to apply pressure. Once the tofu has been pressed, chop into 2.5cm cubes. Set aside.
2. To make the marinade for the tofu, combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Place the tofu in the marinade and transfer to the fridge for at least two hours before cooking.
3. To make the sauce, place a large saucepan on a high heat and add the oil. Add the tofu with all the remaining marinade and fry for 3-4 minutes.
4. To make the curry, add the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Fry for a further 2 minutes. Add the vegetable stock and passata and continue to cook on a lower heat for 10 minutes.
5. To make the coriander and chilli rice, place the coriander, red chilli, lime juice and salt into a small chopper or food processor. Blitz until smooth and stir into the cooked rice.
6. To serve, plate the rice with the curry and garnish with a drizzle of vegan yoghurt, chopped coriander and sliced red chilli.
❃ Or you could just order a Rogan Josh as a takeaway from your local Indian restaurant.
GHANDI: Purslane (Kulfa). Purslane is reported to have been one of Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite foods and it was also eaten by Thoreau at Walden Pond, where it grew wild. It is pleasant, cool and moist with a sour flavor, and can be used in salads, pickles, stir-fry dishes and soups as a cooling summer food. Purslane is used in Creole cooking and in the mideastern salad, fattoush. The dried seeds can be ground and added to flour.
There are lots of Indian recipes that employ purslane, but in the spirit of Ghandi I’ve opted for this very simple salad:
• purslane (a large bunch, about 4 cups)
• 1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
• 1 tomato, finely diced
• 1 lemon, juice of
• 4-5 tablespoons olive oil
• ½ teaspoon salt
1. Make the dressing by mixing the lemon juice, olive oil and salt together. Adjust seasonings to personal taste.
2. Thoroughly rinse the purslane and remove the small fleshy leaves in clusters (the stems are easily broken with your finger and thumbnail). Rinse the purslane and pat dry. Add the diced onion and tomato and with your hands mix everything together. (Remove any roots that may still be attached.).
3. Add the dressing and again mix well so that all the leaves are coated, as well as the diced onions and tomatoes.
4. Serve as a light salad with cheese and/or rustic bread.
Anyone curious about the many other dishes involving this plant might like to check out 45 Things To Do With Fresh Purslanehere.
JUSTIN HAYWARD: Bubble and squeak. The lead singer with The Moody Blues (‘Nights in White Satin’, ‘Forever Autumn’ and many other classic tracks) contributed this recipe to a celebrity cookbook long ago. It’s a very simple thing to prepare:
• 8 potatoes
• ½ pound brussels sprouts
• ½ pound carrots
1. Boil the vegetables.
2. Mash the potatoes with a little butter and milk.
3. Chop the cooked sprouts and carrots into small chunks.
4. Mix everything together and put the mixture into a large non-stick frying-pan, then pat it into a pancake shape about 1½ inches thick.
5. Heat until it begins to bubble and squeak.
Portions of the mixture can be moulded into little patties and finished off in the oven, or the whole thing can be placed under the grill to brown off the top. Either way, it goes very well with bacon and eggs (for non-veggies like me).
“Brown sauce (H.P.) is a very tasty condiment to enhance the flavour.” adds Justin. Chacun à son goût.
LIZ HURLEY: Watercress soup. “I swear by this and drink at least six cups a day when eager to lose a few pounds” says the glamorous actress/model/whatever.
Ingredients (serves 4)
• 1 small onion, finely chopped
• 2 potatoes, diced
• 2½pints chicken stock (water can be substituted for even fewer calories!)
• 3 large bunches watercress, stems removed
• salt and pepper, to taste
Sweat the onion in a little chicken stock or water until translucent. Add the potatoes and the rest of the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Add salt and pepper and simmer until the potatoes are soft.
Add the watercress and stir for 3 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Blend.
Put the soup in a small metal bowl and place in a sink full of ice to keep the colour green.
❃ As I write this comes the news that Boris Johnson has added British watercress to the Geographical Indications (GI) scheme, which is supposed to protect our products from foreign imitations. Watercress has been added because ‘its production methods, associated with steadily flowing water … deserve special status because it has remained unaltered by selection and breeding – meaning that its unique flavour has remained largely unchanged for generations.’ The protected status means that only specific plants grown in flowing water can bear the name watercress when commercially sold in Great Britain. The EU does not recognize the GI scheme and can do as it pleases.
HUGH JACKMAN: Kale. I’m under doctor’s orders to lose some weight so I’m always interested in recipes that help with this and aren’t too boring, like Liz Hurley’s above and this one from the Australian actor, who patronized Franklin Becker’s Little Beet restaurant in New York when he was trimming down to play Wolverine. Wearing a bike helmet, black T-shirt, sunglasses and a backpack [says my source], Jackman told the staff that he loved the food and happily posed for photos with customers and staff.
So, what favorite foods brought the actor back to the restaurant again and again? One of them was this kale salad, and Becker shared his recipe for it with a magazine. The dish ‘pops with pickled currants, a generous helping of Pecorino cheese and a bright, tart dressing made from vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice and lemon oil.’
Ingredients for kale salad (serves 4)
• 5 tbsp. currants
• 1 tsp. white balsamic vinegar
• 1 tsp. lemon oil
• 2½ cups baby kale
• black pepper, to taste
• salt, to taste
• ½ cup grated Pecorino cheese
• 5 tbsp. pumpkin seeds
• lemon dressing (recipe below)
1. To pickle the currants, place them in a small bowl of vinegar and lemon oil. Let sit for a minimum of 30 minutes. 2. Season kale with salt and pepper. Add half of the currants, Pecorino and pumpkin seeds and toss gently. Add dressing and toss again. Sprinkle remaining Pecorino, currants and pumpkin seeds on top.
Ingredients for the lemon dressing
• 2 tbsp. lemon juice
• 2 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
• 2 tbsp. lemon oil
• ¼ cup olive oil
• black pepper, to taste
• salt, to taste
Instructions Mix the lemon juice and vinegar together with a whisk or stick blender. Add lemon oil and olive oil slowly until fully incorporated and the mixture thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
❃ Long ago I shared an office and became friendly with a woman named Anne who introduced me to her own very simple slimming recipe — I wanted to lose weight even in the 1970s — which I subsequently cooked for myself and became quite partial to. It involved shredding some white cabbage and flash-frying it in a little olive oil, then putting it in a bowl and sprinkling it with soy sauce. It’s cheap and ultra-quick with practically zero calories, and tastier than you might think. Anne is gone now but I still cook this dish occasionally.
JERMAINE JACKSON: Dum Aloo. With his brother Michael he was one of the Jackson Five, of course, and to promote his own career after Michael’s death he appeared on Celebrity Big Brother with Shilpa Shetty (see below). I don’t recall him doing much cooking on the show but more recently he was persuaded to test a recipe by the excellent people at http://www.allrecipes.com who presented this Indian dish as Spicy Vegan Potato Curry (Dum means slow-cooked, and aloo is potato). “I made the recipe exactly as written.” said Jermaine; “Good recipe! It has some kick to it so if you’re ‘spicy sensitive’ adjust as necessary.”
• 4 potatoes, peeled and cubed
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 yellow onion, diced
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
• 4 teaspoons curry powder
• 4 teaspoons garam masala
• 1 (1 inch) piece fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
• 1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans [chickpeas], rinsed and drained
• 1 (15 ounce) can peas, drained
• 1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk
1. Place potatoes into a large pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and allow to steam dry for a minute or two.
2. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, curry powder, garam masala, ginger, and salt; cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, garbanzo beans, peas, and potatoes. Pour in the coconut milk, and bring to a simmer. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
FRANZ KAFKA: Bramboracka (Czech potato and mushroom soup). One of the very few modern writers to become an adjective (Kafkaesque) from his nightmarish stories like Metamorphosis and The Trial, Kafka became a vegetarian initially for his health but soon became disgusted by the very idea of eating meat.
‘Soup, in particular,’ [says paperandsalt.org whence comes most of this information about his eating habits] ‘flows throughout Kafka’s stories and diaries: pea soup, goulash, even “fruit soup.” The most arresting image comes from Kafka’s diaries, where Max Brod [his friend and later biographer] sits on the ground, “eating a thick potato soup out of which potatoes peeped like large balls.”
‘Brod was likely eating bramboracka, a traditional Czech dish loaded with underground treasures: mushrooms, carrots and the omnipresent potatoes. This version has a buttery, rich taste thanks to the roasted garlic—pure satisfaction, no meat required.’ Here’s paperandsalt’s recipe for bramboracka:
• 2 garlic heads, outer layers of skin removed
• 2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil, to make it vegan)
• 1 small yellow onion, diced
• 1 tablespoon flour
• 2 cups mushrooms (I used cremini, but button or shitake would be good too)
• 6 cups vegetable broth
• 3 to 4 carrots, chopped
• 2 leeks (white and light green parts), chopped
• 1½ cups baby potatoes
• 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
• ½ teaspoon dried oregano
• ½ teaspoon salt
• freshly ground pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Slice off the top of each garlic head and drizzle with oil. Wrap both heads in foil and bake for 45 minutes. Let cool, then squeeze or scoop roasted cloves into a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Warm butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 2 minutes, then add flour and stir until lightly browned, another 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until tender.
3. Add broth, carrots, leeks, potatoes, caraway seeds, oregano and salt. Add roasted garlic paste. Stir, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
MARIAN KEYES: One of her recent post-lockdown tweets went “My notion-y tay! An Ottolenghi recipe! An easy one, this one, only 51 hours of prep and a mere 7 of the ingredients had to be ordered from Jupiter… Mind you, Himself will be in for a ‘right land’ if we ever go back to normal and the elaborate dinners come to an abrupt halt.”
Taking a break from writing bestselling novels and baking cakes she’d just cooked Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Sticky sweet-and-sour plums and sausages’ from a recipe torn from The Guardian (available online here), and while it’s not specifically a vegetable dish it does contain onions, garlic and potatoes, and as Yotam points out vegetarian sausages can be substituted for meaty ones — and doesn’t it look good! It is good.
❃ My friend Celia is a fan of Yotam Ottolenghi too and sometimes cooks his wonderful Caponata, with twists of her own: more about this under Martin Scorsese below.
LIBERACE: Gazpacho. The flamboyant entertainer — I can’t quite bring myself to call him a pianist, with Martha Argerich, Oscar Peterson and Jerry Lee Lewis active at the same time (Liberace died in 1987) — liked to entertain as lavishly as his stage costumes might suggest he would, but however tasteless we might have found Liberace personally his recipes were good ones, as tasty as can be. Gazpacho, as Rimmer in Red Dwarf learned too late to avoid embarassment but as I’m sure you know as well as Lisa Simpson, is served cold. It originated in Andalusia as poor man’s food for workers in the vineyards and olive plantations.
Ingredients (for 8)
• 2 gloves garlic, crushed
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 8 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, or one 14-ounce / 1lb can
• few drops Tabasco sauce
• 1 tablespoon vinegar
• 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 small cucumber, peeled and cut up
• 1 medium onion, cut up
• 3 tablespoons bread crumbs
• 2 cups chicken broth or water
• ice cubes
• 2 cups hot croutons
• minced scallions
• grated hard-cooked egg yolk
• chopped pitted green or ripe olives
• chopped green pepper
1. Buzz the garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, Tabasco sauce, vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, cucumber, onion, and crumbs in a blender with the broth. (You may need to divide the ingredients; the blender shouldn’t be more than three-quarters full.)
3. Serve in soup bowls with an ice cube in each, or from a tureen with a number of ice cubes. Pass the croutons piping hot and have any or all of the minced vegetables available in bowls as garnish.
LORDE: Onion rings. Some mystery surrounds the New Zealand songstress’s alleged enthusiasm for these. Could she really have had an Instagram page devoted to the subject? It seems that she did: “I sort of naively didn’t realize it would be a thing,” she’s reported to have said; “I was going to different places and trying the onion rings at each of those places.” She has now taken the page down, however, because “I feel like it kind of reads like the kind of thing a pop star would do to look relatable, which I wasn’t doing. It was like a funny thing with my friends on the tour and I was like, this is a good pastime.”
That was in 2017, but this year Lorde seems to have resumed her online onion ring reviews — I say seems because it’s sometimes difficult to tell the real from the fake — as in these comments on the Pickled Onion Rings at Auckland’s Hotel Ponsonby: “We’re talking PICKLED onion rings which is a first for this reviewer. I totally vibe the concept — used to eat pickled onions out of the jar as a youngster — however I think if you’re gonna go there, go there, and let acidity rather than sweetness dominate. Absolutely sensational batter, perhaps the best I’ve tried. 4/5 overall ringsperience.” The Instagram page, genuine or not, can be found here.
So what makes a really good onion ring? Lorde’s fans have not been slow to come up with ideas, some of which look delicious. See them here. I haven’t tried any of them yet, having already made the batter for the fried green tomatoes [see under Fannie Flagg above] and feeling a bit battered myself at the moment.
DAVID LYNCH: Quinoa. It’s a grain rather than a vegetable, but since the other main ingredient in this dish is broccoli and since it comes with a bizarre instructional video from the great movie director how could I exclude it? [Click on the picture to watch the clip.]
I find it rather hypnotic and indeed hilarious in a strange, Lynchian sort of way but if you don’t have the patience to sit through the whole clip here’s his recipe summarized:
• ½ cup quinoa
• 1½ cups organic broccoli (chilled, from bag)
• 1 cube vegetable bullion
• Braggs Liquid Aminos [available from Amazon in the UK]
• Extra virgin olive oil
• Sea salt
* Fill medium saucepan with about an inch of fresh water.
* Set pan on stove, light a nice hot flame add several dashes of sea salt.
* Look at the quinoa. It’s like sand, this quinoa. It’s real real tight little grains, but it’s going to puff up.
* Unwrap bullion cube, bust it up with a small knife, and let it wait there. It’ll be happy waiting right there.
* When water comes to a boil, add quinoa and cover pan with lid. Reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes.
* Meanwhile, retrieve broccoli from refrigerator and set aside, then fill a fine crystal wine glass — one given to you by Agnes and Maya from Lódz, Poland — with red wine, ‘cause this is what you do when you’re making quinoa. Go outside, sit, take a smoke and think about all the little quinoas bubbling away in the pan.
* Add broccoli, cover and let cook for an additional 7 minutes.
* Meanwhile, go back outside and tell the story about the train with the coal-burning engine that stopped in a barren, dust-filled landscape on a moonless Yugoslavian night in 1965. The story about the frog moths and the small copper coin that became one room-temperature bottle of violet sugar water, six ice-cold Coca-colas, and handfuls and handfuls of silver coins.
* Turn off heat, add bullion to quinoa and stir with the tip of the small knife you used to bust up the bullion.
* Scoop quinoa into bowl using a spoon. Drizzle with liquid amino acids and olive oil. Serve and enjoy.
❃ I see that someone on YouTube has offered this theory about the clip: “The quinoa represents the eternal quest for sustenance of the soul. The broccoli represents the eternal darkness of evil. When combined with some vegetable bouillon, you are left with the convergence of all realities. And dinner.”
MOBY: Improvised Chilli. The popular recording artiste has recently published his own vegan cookbook* in which he tells us that there are no real measurements here: “You just kind of throw a bunch of stuff in a pot and at some point you decide it’s done.”
❃ Moby is evidently a man after my own heart, for this is very much my own approach to cookery too, as you’ll see when I start publishing the somewhat eccentric recipes from my personal repertoire. Maybe next time.
In case you don’t know (I didn’t until I found this recipe): although it’s made from wheat, seitan (pronounced say-tan) has little in common with flour or bread. It rather surprisingly acquires something of the look and texture of meat when it’s cooked, making it a popular meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans.
• onions, maybe 5? (5 onions, diced)
• garlic cloves, I don’t know . . . 10 cloves? (10 cloves garlic, minced)
• 10 or so? tomatoes (10 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped)
• 4 cups water or vegetable stock
• frozen corn, a few bags (6 cups frozen corn)
• 6 cups sliced seitans
• 3 cans black beans (15 ounces each)
• lots of chilli powder (1 cup chilli powder)
• 1 tube polenta (18 ounces polenta, chopped into 1″ cubes)
• 1 tub tofu (16 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1″ cubes)
• fresh salsa
• salt, optional
Add the corn, seitan, black beans, chili powder, polenta, and tofu. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring, so the chilli doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for 3 hours.
Serve with cornbread and fresh salsa. Salt it, if you wish.
Surrinder Syall is another cook who eschews quantities: see the entry for Meera Syall below.
* Moby’s book is The Little Pine Cookbook: Modern Plant-Based Comfort (Avery, 2021). “Whatever you’re making, the spirit of Little Pine, of community, of sharing, and of giving is in all these recipes, and they are here for you to savour every day.”
MUSSOLINI: Garlic. The Italian dictator’s favourite dish was a simple salad of chopped garlic dressed with oil and lemon, which he maintained was good for his heart. “He used to eat a whole bowl of it,” his wife Rachele confided to the family cook after his death; “I couldn’t go anywhere near him after that. At night I’d leave him to sleep alone in our room and take refuge in one of the children’s rooms.”
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE: Artichokes. A friend at school became interested in philosophy and urged me to read Nietzsche [1844-1900] whose ideas he was finding impressive, so on his recommendation I bought the newly-published Penguin translation of Also Spracht Zarathustra (illustrated below right), but didn’t like it: all that stuff about the Superman and the Will to Power etc. didn’t sit well with me, and my parents were appalled to find me reading it, having endured a war in which another German tried to put these ideas into practice. They didn’t like me listening to the music of Wagner and Richard Strauss either, but I find that I can still enjoy it without thinking too much about their politics.On the domestic front, however, ‘Nietzsche absorbed a love of cooking by learning … through those around him. In Sorrento, in a villa surrounded by lemon trees, his housemaid showed him her secret to a perfect risotto, lovingly ladling out the stock as she stirred. Studying the techniques of his Italian housekeepers, Nietzsche was eager to become a teacher himself. He wrote to his mother: “I shall teach you later how to cook risotto — I know now.” In Genoa, his landlady taught him to fry artichokes and whisk eggs for torta di carciofi, the local specialty.’ [–from paperandsalt]
An excellent recipe for artichoke tart (illustrated at left above) can be found here.
TONY ROBINSON: Turnip. I’m not much given to name-dropping (do I hear a chorus of “Oh really?” from the people who know me) but when he was a budding young actor Tony bought the artwork of one of my cartoon strips for £20 which at the time I was very glad to receive, and I’ve followed his career with interest ever since. He seems to have done pretty well for himself. One of his recent tweets says “Try my recipe for turnip surprise” which goes as follows:
1. Dig up a turnip
2. Throw it at someone
I wonder if Sir Tony still has my drawing framed and hanging on his wall. Somehow I doubt it.
COLONEL SANDERS: Squash — and not a chicken in sight. The Colonel, or someone representing him on the website (he died in 1980), says: “This is a vegetable dish that was a great favorite in my restaurants. Take it from me, it is just out of this world.” [–from colonelsanders.com]
• 1 acorn squash (2lb or 900g)
• ¾ teaspoon allspice
• ½ to ¾ cup sugar
• ⅓ to ½ cup melted butter
• ½ teaspoon salt
1. Peel the squash the cut the flesh into cubes about ¾ or 1 inch in size. Put into a medium saucepan.
2. Sprinkle on the mace and salt. Add sugar, butter, and water, which should completely cover the squash.
3. Bring to the boil then simmer slowly until the squash appears transparent and has taken in the butter and the sugar (about 45 minutes).
Did you know btw that Colonel Sanders’s first name was Harland?
❃ Just as I’m writing this the newspapers are reporting that “New Zealand considers jabbing KFC customers under a drastic new Covid-19 vaccination strategy as Jacinda Ardern aims for 90 per vaxx rate.” It seems that KFC is very popular amongst the Kiwis, with reports of “police arresting two men attempting to enter locked-down Auckland with ‘a boot-full of KFC’.” while the NZ Herald reports a man setting up a tent outside his local fried chicken takeaway ahead of the restaurant’s re-opening on Wednesday. They could of course eat vegetables instead.
MARTIN SCORSESE: Aubergine (eggplant). The dish is Caponata, from his mother’s Catherine’s recipe.
Mrs Scorsese appeared as an Italian matriarch in several of her son’s movies, most memorably in Goodfellas (1990) in which she appeared as Joe Pesci’s mother during the gangsters-come-home dinner. Often, she cooked meals for cast and crew members of her son’s films. Her tomato-and-meat sauce was probably the only recipe ever to receive full billing in the credits of a movie when Martin Scorsese starred the sauce and his parents in Italianamerican, his favorite of all his films. In 1996 all the recipes from the family were written and published in Italianamerican: The Scorsese Family Cookbook, with photos and anecdotes that tell the story of three generations of Scorseses.
Ingredients (serves 8-10)
• 2 large eggplants [aubergines]
• 1 jar oil-cured black olives (6½ ounces)
• 1 jar green olives (5¾ ounces)
• 1 jar capers (3 ounces)
• 4 large stalk celery, diced
• ½ to ⅔ cups olive oil
• 2 large onions, sliced
• 2 can tomato sauce (16 ounces)
• ¼ cup sugar
• ½ cup red wine vinegar
• freshly-ground pepper to taste
• salt to taste
1. Trim the eggplants, cut them into 1-inch cubes, and transfer them to a colander. Sprinkle with salt and let them stand for 30 minutes. Rinse, drain well and pat dry.
2. In a bowl, combine the black olives, green olives and capers. Cover with warm water and let them plump for 20 minutes, drain well.
3. In a saucepan of boiling water, blanch the celery for 1 to 2 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and pat dry.
4. In a large skillet set over moderate heat, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil until hot. Add the eggplant in small batches and cook it, stirring occasionally and adding 3 to 4 tablespoons of water to prevent sticking, until just tender and golden brown. Transfer the fried eggplant to a bowl and, adding oil and water as needed, fry the remaining eggplant.
5 Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet and heat it until hot over moderate heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, just until tender. Add the tomato sauce, 2 cups water, the reserved eggplant, olives, capers, celery, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
6. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and vinegar, stirring until dissolved. Add the sugar mixture to the eggplant mixture and stir to combine. Transfer the caponatina to a bowl, let it cool to room temperature, and chill it, covered, for 1 to 2 days to allow the flavors to blend.
❃ On my first selection of Vegetables of the Rich and Famous my friend Celia commented: “… have you tried caponata? If not, you might have to come round to ours, soon, as I feel one coming on!” Celia did indeed make a caponata a few days later, and it was fantastic. I’ll hope to return to Celia’s caponata in a future post, giving it ita own entry as there’s no reason why she and it should be marginalized by the Scorseses.
SHILPA SHETTY: Corn fritters (pakoda). She was well-known as a star in Bollywood movies and as such famous in ethnic communities outside India, but she wasn’t a very familiar face in Britain until she appeared on tv in Celebrity Big Brother in 2007 and suffered some unpleasant racist abuse from three of the other young women in the house. Jermaine Jackson (see above) was there too but managed to steer clear of the racist crap. The viewers sided with Shilpa and voted her the winner of the series.
Ingredients for the fritters
• 1 cup sweetcorn, boiled and coarsely mashed
• 2 small sweet potatoes, boiled and grated
• 2 spring onion greens (scallions), finely chopped
• 2 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
• 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
• 1½ tbsp flax seed powder
• ½ cup breadcrumbs
• 1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
• salt to taste
• vegetable oil for frying
For the dip
• 3 tbsp curd
• 1 tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
• salt to taste
Instructions for the fritters
1. In a bowl, add the mashed corn. Add sweet potatoes, spring onions, chopped coriander leaves, red chilli, flax seed powder, breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Mix all the ingredients well.
2. Add some salt and mix again.
3. Now grease your palms slightly with oil. Take a portion of the fritter mixture and shape them into small triangles.
4. Heat frying oil in a pan. Place the fritters on the pan and cook for about two to four minutes on each side till they turn golden brown. Your fritters are ready.
For the dip
* Take curd in a bowl. Add chopped mint leaves and salt. Mix the ingredients. Your dip is ready.
Shilpa now has her own cookery channel on tv, with many of her cookery demonstrations (in English) on YouTube. She has also published several cookbooks and dvds.
MEERA SYALL: Vegetable biryani. Emma Freud met Meera on one of her tv shows and introduced her like this: “Meera Syal is one of my favourite humans. Not only is she a brilliant actress and stunning novelist, but she makes the best vegetarian biryani I’ve ever eaten. Her culinary skills were taught to her by her mother, Surrinder, who lives with her in north London. We talked about her mum’s rural Indian childhood, and Meera cooked me her signature dish.”
Emma: How did your mum become such a great cook?
Meera: My mum grew up in a small village in the Punjab, and her family were farm owners so they cooked whatever they had picked that day. They didn’t have fridges, ovens or kitchen appliances, and never wasted anything. Mum grew up making her own butter and yogurt, and the whey that was left over was mixed with spices and drunk as a health tonic, or used as a conditioner for hair to keep it shiny. [..] I find it bemusing that most famous chefs are men, whereas I think the really creative cooks are the women who transformed whatever was in the cupboard into three meals a day. That’s proper cheffing, not doing something fancy with a blowtorch.
Emma: Have you got family recipes that have been passed down through your family?
Meera: I wish my mum would write a book. I’ve tried several times to get her to transcribe her recipes, but it’s impossible because of the instinctive way her generation cooked their food. Forget about precise quantities — it comes down to a bit of this, a splash of that, cook until you feel it’s ready.
❃ I love a good biryani myself and have occasionally had a go at cooking one of my own: not recently, however, because the last time i tried it the dish was just about done when I lifted the cheap wok from the hob, and the pan — imperfectly attached to the wooden handle — did a 180° flip and deposited its contents onto the kitchen floor. I’m now saving up for a better wok.
K.T. TUNSTALL: Zucchini (courgette). During the recent lockdown the talented singer/songwriter guested on Quarantine Kitchen to make her Zingy Chili and Lemon Zucchini Noodles, or zoodles.
❃ Her recipe begins “Spiralize your zucchini” which puts me in something of a quandary. I like to test these recipes before posting them but am I really going to buy a spiralizer, which I suspect I might use only once or maybe twice before consigning it to a kitchen cupboard along with the Breville Sandwich Toaster, the George Foreman Grill and various other gadgets purchased over the years, never to be seen again? A bit of online research reveals that there are other ways of preparing these noodles, however — here‘s one — and suddenly I see that I don’t need to buy a spiralizer at all.
• 1 large zucchini/courgette
• large knob of salted butter
• 1 small tin of anchovies
• 3 garlic cloves, chopped
• zest of 1 lemon
• chilli flakes
1. Spiralize your zucchini
2. Melt the salted butter in a pan
3. Sauté the chopped garlic for a minute or two, then add the anchovies. Stir over a gentle heat until the anchovies melt into a paste
4. Add the zucchini noodles to the pan and stir well to coat them with the anchovies, garlic and butter
5. Keep stirring to heat the zoodles
6. Once the zoodles have softened to your desired taste, add the lemon zest and the chilli flakes
7. Drizzle a little extra olive oil over the dish and serve
❃ On my first selection of Vegetables of the Rich and Famous Celia commented: “Hoping to sneak in under your riff-raff radar, I’d like to offer courgette slices lightly floured, then fried in olive oil and good butter, until crisp on the outside but meltingly soft on the inside. Sea salt sprinkled over adds to the deliciousness.” Indeed it does.
PETER USTINOV: Okroshka (cold soup of Russian origin).
Ustinov was one of the 20th century’s leading contenders for the role of Renaissance Man: playwright, author of stories and novels, screenwriter, actor on the stage and in films (two Academy Awards), cultural ambassador, humorist and raconteur … He was proud of his Russian heritage, writing books and hosting tv series on the subject. He died in 2004 and is greatly missed.
Ingredients (serves 4)
• 1 tbsp. each minced green and white parts of scallions
• ½ tsp. dried tarragon
• 10 radishes, minced
• ½ tsp. dried tarragon
• 1 tbsp. minced fresh dill (or 1 tsp. dried)
• 1 tbsp. each vinegar and lemon juice
• 1½ tsps. of salt
• 1 tsp. of freshly ground pepper
• ½ cup sour cream
• 2 hard-cooked egg yolks, mashed
• 1 tsp. prepared mustard (or horseradish
• ½ cup cooked mashed potatoes
• 1 No. 10½ can undiluted chicken broth (or beef consommé)
• 1½ cups dry white wine (or beer)
• 2 small cucumbers, peeled and very finely minced
• 2 hard-cooked egg whites, mashed
• ½ cup crushed ice
1. Combine scallions and radishes with herbs, vinegar, lemon juice and seasonings.
2. In a separate bowl blend sour cream, egg yolks, mustard, potatoes, chicken broth and wine. (If beer is used add just before serving.) Stir in scallion mixture, blend well. Cover tightly, refrigerate at least 3 hrs. Spoon into flat soup plates. Divide cucumbers, egg whites and crushed ice evenly in each plate. Serve with slices of sour rye bread or dark pumpernickel lightly spread with sweet butter.
Thoughts: Russian cooks traditionally chop the vegetables very finely but American cooks can accomplish the same with a blender. [The rest of us can do it with a blender too –RGJ]
VICTORIA WOOD: Cauliflower. In her own words, this recipe makes The Best Cauliflower Soup Ever Made.
The death of Victoria Wood in 2016 deprived us of a huge talent much too soon. Pace the recipe reproduced below she may not have been well-known outside the UK but she was hugely admired — loved — here. I personally liked her rv sketch-shows best, especially the ones featuring the spot-on parody of bad soap operas Acorn Antiques, but I never missed her musical performances and her appearances as a stand-up comedienne. Later in her life she concentrated more on tv drama, variously as writer, producer and actor, always good in every capacity and the recipient of several awards for this work. An amazing woman.
I’ve seen this recipe in a couple of places online but haven’t been able to trace its original source. Did Victoria contribute it to some celebrity cookbook or tv show? The screenshot below is as close as I can get to an explanation. I’d guess that the recipe is genuine — it seems characteristically Victorian, so to speak — and anyway it’s a good one.
PHILIP WORKMAN: Vegetarian pizza. Far from rich but briefly famous in 2007, Workman made headlines worldwide when he was sentenced to death by lethal injection for killing a policeman while robbing a Wendys hamburger joint in Nashville, but when offered the usual last meal of his own choosing said that he didn’t want one and instead would like the prison to give a large vegetarian pizza to a homeless person.
The prison officials denied his request but on May 9, 2007 as Workman was being executed, homeless shelters across Tennessee received massive numbers of vegetarian pizzas from people all over the country honoring Workman’s last meal request. “Philip Workman was trying to do a good deed and no one would help him,” said one woman who, together with friends, donated $1200 worth of pizzas to Nashville’s Rescue Mission.
❃ Back home, and less dramatically, the Papa John pizza chain do a pretty good veggie pizza which they call ‘Garden Party’, but when there’s time I like to buy a good-quality vegetable pizza from a posh supermarket and augment it with a selection of sliced Mediterranean vegetables, fresh home-grown basil and oregano, and lots more cheese before heating it up in the oven. Yum yum. I don’t drink much these days but this practically begs to be washed down with a glass or two of red wine.
I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve never made a pizza from scratch.
If you’d like to send me a recipe of your own please email me via the Contact panel at the top [or here]. Your Comments are also welcome, of course.
As an inveterate reader with very eclectic tastes I often come across odd scraps of information and things that simply please me or interest me in one way or another, and sometimes I remember to note them down as well as odd things I’ve noticed in real life. Here’s a fairly random selection.
Advice: Never stick your hand in a pike’s mouth [–Daily Mail last weekend]
Antisimile: Raymond Chandler once described Los Angeles as “a city with all the personality of a paper cup.” If a simile is an explicit likening of one thing to another, an antisimile — my own proposed term — tells us that something does not possess a particular attribute by likening it to something else that lacks it, usually in a sarcastic, wisecracking way, as when Dorothy Parker wrote that a book by Margot Asquith had “all the depth and glitter of a worn dime.”
“Welcome as a snowflake in hell.” [–anon, 1920s]
“Denis Quilley played the role with all the charm and animation of the leg of a billiard table.” [–Bernard Levin]
“She informs us that she moved to Italy in order to escape an incestuous passion for her brother –- but relates it with all the excitement of someone describing a head cold.” [–from a review in The Guardian]
“… about as useful as an ashtray on a motor-bike” [–Spike Mullins]
and a late entry heard on tv the other day:
“Gordon Brown: a man with all the carefree joie de vivre of a haunted cave in Poland.” [–Cunk on Britain]
‘Build back better’: A slogan much used by politicians in recent months to indicate a determination to reform after things have gone wrong in one way or another, even when they’ve caused the damage themselves. Joe Biden is using it to describe his proposed stimulus package. A variation on it, #rebuildbetter, has been used by the US solar industry in a joint letter to congress asking for an extension of the Solar Tax Credit. And it’s being used by governments elsewhere too. The UK, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, and the OECD have all used the phrase in reference to green recovery plans. I wonder if the Taliban are now saying that they’re going to build Afghanistan back better. [Thanks to Paul Petzold for drawing my attention to this phrase].
Censorship: It was still rife in the late 1960s particularly where sexual matters were concerned when I started to get my stuff published, but I suffered from it only once when a speech-bubble in a comic strip I’d drawn was altered by a cowardly printer:
I’ve always wanted to change this back when the strip has been reprinted but never had the opportunity to do so. I think the customers should get the fucks they’ve paid for.
Churchgoing: “Went to church by myself. The clergyman preached an odd sermon. Said the devil laid eggs in us. An unpleasant idea.” —Mary Gladstone, from her diary (31st March, 1872)
Diastema: “Diastema refers to a gap or space between the teeth. These spaces can form anywhere in the mouth, but are sometimes noticeable between the two upper front teeth.” (–Healthline.com). Elvis Presley had this condition as an adolescent and had his teeth capped as soon as he started making serious money. Marilyn Monroe sufered from diastema too and had a tiny bridge made which she inserted when she was being filmed or professionally photographed. The candid photo on the right below, taken during the filming of River of No Return (1954), shows the gap and also that she was a secret smoker.
From some website: “If you have a gap between your front teeth, you’re in luck – at least according to the French. They call the teeth on either side of a gap dents du bonheur or dents de la chance. While many cultures consider the gap unattractive and something to be fixed, chez les Françaises it’s fashionable and alluring.”
Dieting: Philip Larkin pointed out that we put on weight by eating food that we like, but he didn’t make the corollary suggestion that if we ate only food we don’t like we’d soon get slimmer. If I had to live exclusively on beetroot and sardines I’d be as thin as a whip, and very miserable.
Double-entendre: Curiously, the French don’t use this term. There are a few other French-sounding terms in English that are scarcely known to the French, e.g. cul de sac, cause célèbre, encore, fait accompli, negligée … and their expressions for what we call a double-entendre — mot/expression à) double entente and (mot/expression à) double sens — don’t have the same suggestiveness.
We Brits seem to like our innuendo more than most other nations. There was recently an entertaining article on the subject in The Guardian [read it here], and I personally don’t think the #MeToo movement will make any difference. We’ll carry on sniggering at soggy bottoms and tenderized rumps regardless as we sink slowly into the sea.
Elephants, dead: Reading Steve Aylett’s Lint — wildly funny and highly recommended — I came across this affecting little poem:
an elephant mended
is a tusker befriended
an elephant dead
is as big as a shed
which reminded me of the elephant-funeral sequence in the movie Santa Sangre when the circus folk have an elaborate ceremony for their beloved elephant carrying their late chum to his rest in an enormous coffin, which is indeed as big as a shed, and quite a large shed at that. It’s a sequence that’s both hilarious and quite moving, though the rest of the movie wasn’t so good.
Entropy: This concept was central to New Worlds magazine during the time that I was involved with it (I wrote about it here), and I was interested to come across this ancient text showing that such concerns go back a long way:
“… the world has now grown old, and does not abide in that strength in which it formerly stood. This we would know, even if the sacred Scriptures had not told us of it, because the world itself announces its approaching end by its failing powers. In the winter there is not so much rain for nourishing the seeds, and in the summer the sun gives not so much heat for ripening the harvest. In springtime the young corn is not so joyful, and the autumn fruit is sparser. Less and less marble is quarried out of the mountains, which are exhausted by their disembowelments, and the veins of gold and silver are dwindling day by day. The husbandman is failing in the fields, the sailor at sea, the soldier in the camp. Honesty is no longer to be found in the market-place, nor justice in the law-courts, nor good craftsmanship in art, nor discipline in morals. Think you that anything which is old can preserve the same powers that it possessed in the prime vigour of its youth? Whatever is tending towards its decay and going to meet its end must needs weaken. Hence the setting sun sends out rays that hardly warm or cheer, the waning moon is a pale crescent, the old tree that once was green and hung with fruit grows gnarled and barren, and every spring in time runs dry. This is the sentence that has been passed on the earth, this is God’s decree: that everything which has flourished shall fail, that strong things shall become weak, and great things shall become small, and that when they have weakened and dwindled they shall be no more. So no one should wonder nowadays that everything begins to fail, since the whole world is failing, and is about to die.” [—St Cyprian (circa 250 AD) translated by Rebecca West, from St Augustine (1933)]
Epenthesis: During the recent spell of football mania here in the UK I’ve repeatedly heard Wembley spoken as Wemberly, and in recent months have heard athaletics, arthuritis and even emberlem (for ’emblem’) too. The rhetorical term for the insertion of an extra sound into a word is epenthesis, from the Greek ‘putting in’. According to some linguists, “vowel epenthesis is often motivated by the need to make consonant contrasts more distinct” (–The Handbook of Speech Perception). I think it was Tony Gubba back in the 1970s who abandoned any notion of pronouncing ‘hat-trick’ as two separate words, opting instead for hatrick, rhyming it with Patrick, and most other sports commentators have since followed his lazy example, though I suppose hatrick is better than hattertrick.
Fan mail: Here’s a letter received by John Lennon at the height of his fame with The Beatles, though whether the writer was really a fan is debatable:
I should have written to you years ago. I might have avoided a great deal of suffering and unhappiness if I had. As you know very well a brain operation was carried out on me by the Queen in 1959 whereby a person was enabled to pick up my thoughts in his head. From the very start I was writing songs and he put them on tape and sold them to singers, songwriters, and recording companies who copy-writed them and recorded them. As you probably know it was my idea to form the Beatles; I chose the name and specified that the group should come from Liverpool (as close as I dare come to Belfast). Needless to say when I suggested letting Lennon & McCartney claim to have written the songs, I really didn’t want to be famous — I did want the money. Over the years I have probably written songs worth hundreds of millions pounds but have received not a penny for them. I am at present living on £11.35 per week invalidity benefit. Do you not consider that this is grossly unjust? I don’t need to write a list of the songs, — you will know very well which were written by me. I presume that all the songs which he sold to you were mine although he might have written a few himself. When I wrote “Give me money” I meant it. I intended to get a fair share of the massive profits which were being made and expected to be offered a just cut of the takings. I thought I would complete my education first and worked hard to get to Cambridge where my ambition was to become a History don. As you know the results of the man in my mind were that I got very depressed and lost my concentration and was lucky to get a degree. I stopped writing songs — “Vincent” was my last. He proceeded to operate again on me — this time in an attempt to kill me’
I am trying not to blackmail you although I gather that blackmail has been very very rampant and understandably. I don’t want to recover that money — I am prepared to write it off, as long as I get 50% of the money still around. I write to you because you are the most intelligent of the four and I hope you I will not have to write to them or even to you again.
Do reply and I will burn your letter. As I say only want ½ million from you. The rest should come from him. If you cooperate the whole agreement should be sewn up in a few weeks and I will never bring it up again.
Looking forward to hearing from you,
Ferrets: I recently posted this on my Facebook page: “In the newsagents the other day there was a young woman with a small furry creature scurrying about on the end of a lead. It didn’t seem to be a dog or a cat so I asked what it was. It’s a ferret, she said. I’d never seen a ferret before and asked if it was friendly. Oh yes, she said, and picked it up and let me stroke it: such a beautiful creature, much like the one in the photo, and indeed very friendly and very happy to be lead along the pavement as she continued her shopping. And now I’m seriously thinking of getting a ferret of my own.”
This produced an astonishing set of responses offering advice about ferrets as pets, some against the idea (“they stink”) and some encouraging me to go ahead (“They’re lovely friendly creatures,” “Get two,” etc.). When I post about serious social or political issues the reaction is usually tepid at best, but when it’s about cute furry creatures …
Heliotrope: “… the only flower whose name sounds like a Victorian flying machine” [–from Lint by Steve Aylett]
Japan: has a Penis Festival. It’s called Kanamara Matsuri, which means “the festival for the phallus of steel”. It’s celebrated every year on the first Sunday of April. The phallus, as the central theme of the event, is reflected in illustrations, confectionary, carved vegetables, decorations, and a parade with a mikoshi (portable shrine). I’ve never been to Japan and it’s unlikely that I ever will, but if I did go it would be to see original prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige, to see Mount Fuji itself and perhaps some exquisite gardens, and by way of diversion maybe take a ride on the bullet train — but I certainly wouldn’t want to get caught up in any penis festival. Nothing against such things, of course, but definitely not for me.
Kudos: Recently I’ve come across several websites which invite me to click on a button which grants them one kudo by way of approbation. I don’t, because I know that kudos is a singular noun from the Greek, like chaos and pathos, and it’s pronounced koo-doss, not koo-doze. Just as there is no such thing as a chao or a patho there’s no such thing as a kudo.
Spaghetti, on the other hand, isn’t a singular noun: a single strand of spaghetti is a spaghetto.
Lucy Mangan: I’ve been a fan since first reading her in The Guardian some years ago, and she continues to hit the nail on the head, as in her column last Saturday:
Somehow, as one looks at the empty supermarket shelves as food rots in our fields, the growing shortage of medical equipment, the increasing entrenchment of mask and vaccine refuseniks, news of Christmas supplies being threatened by the 90,000 lorry driver vacancies, McDonald’s running out of milkshake, companies asking to use prisoners to make up for the lack of labour, it becomes harder and harder to keep the faith about anything at all.
–Exactly how I feel myself. I greatly enjoyed her reminiscences of childhood reading in Bookworm too — and on her Guardian recommendation I’ve just started watching Kevin Can F**k Himself on Amazon Prime. Seems promising, though so far it hasn’t actually made me laugh much.
Marilyn Monroe: For my previous post [here] I found a picture of Marilyn eating a carrot but I’ve now found the better one above, showing her not only wielding a carrot but also reading a book. She was a keen reader and in a future post I hope to show that she was by no means the dumb blonde she was often made out to be.
Neighbours: I’m fortunate to have two places where I can stay. At one of them the neighbours are friendly and when we get together we’re relaxed and have a nice time, but at the other my neighbours treat me as a pariah and make things unpleasant for me in various ways — yet I’m the same mild, inoffensive person in both places. This puzzles me and weighs rather heavily on me, and I don’t know what to do about it.
New Zealand’s finest export: undoubtedly Eric Partridge, the lexicographer, who compiled dictionaries all by himself long before the age of computers, the internet and whole departments busily monitoring the English language. His Slang Today and Yesterday is one of the most diverting books I possess, with expressions like these (from the Yesterday section) which I reproduce verbatim:
Admiral of the Narrow Seas — a man spewing into another’s lap
Bag of Mystery — a cheap sausage
Dine Out with Duke Humphrey — to go dinnerless
Eel-Skins — very tight trousers
Ferricadouzer — a knock-out blow, a thrashing
Little Grey Home in the West — vest
No Milk in One’s Coconut — brainless
Rhinocerical — rich
Think Tank, Have Bubbles in One’s — be crazy (motorists)
Tulip-Sauce — a kiss
Umble-Cum-Stumble — to “rumble”; understand, suspect, detect
‘Oblivious’: Oblivion ought to be about forgetting, from the Latin obliviosus “forgetful, that easily forgets; producing forgetfulness” via the French oublier, to forget, but to forget something one has to have known it in the first place so it really makes no sense to use the adjective oblivious to mean ‘unaware’, as here:
You know the person who’s walking down the street, totally oblivious to the fact they have bird muck on their shoulder?
Until a serious event occurs, such as a heart attack, many people live life oblivious to the fact that they even had high cholesterol as it does not present warning symptoms.
This usage is now very widespread so should I stop bitching about forgetfulness when I come across it? With a sad little sigh, yes.
Rhyming slang: I recently came across the suggestion that scarper, meaning run away, leave, scram, might be rhyming slang from Scapa Flow (=go). Could be.
Satanists, unexpected: Sammy Davis Jr. was one: “… for a time, I became a Satanist. I was introduced to some very interesting people, including the head of the Satanist Church in the States, and became fascinated by their philosophy. I actually joined the church to find out what I could about their beliefs. As it turned out, it was a short-lived interest, but I still have many friends in the Church of Satan. In Amsterdam, for instance, the Satanists are very strong and they never fail to send a deputation to see me as soon as I get into town.” —from his autobiography Hollywood in a Suitcase (1980)
Serial killers: Almost twice as many are born in November than in any other month. (I was born in May.)
“So”: Why do young people begin nearly every utterance with this word? I’m tempted to reply “So what?” but of course am much too polite to do that.
“So fun”: an Americanism that seems to have spread to these shores, replacing our own more grammatical ejaculation “Such fun!” — or so I thought until I happened to look at the text of The Tempest for a piece that I was writing about Shakespeare and found this:
Ferdinand: … for several virtues
Have I liked several women; never any
With so fun soul, but some defect in her
Did quarrel with the noblest grace she owed
And put it to the foil: but you, O you,
So perfect and so peerless, are created,
Of every creature’s best!
Sootikins: A sootikin is a “small, mouse-shaped deposit formed in the vaginal cleft, usually of poorer women who did not wear undergarments — common until the nineteenth century. A sootikin built up over several weeks, even months, of not washing. It was composed of particles of soot, dirt, sweat, smegma and vaginal and menstrual discharge. When it reached a certain size and weight it tended to work loose and drop from under the woman’s skirt.” [– from The Dictionary of Disgusting Facts by Alan Williams and Maggie Noach] I’m glad to say that I’ve never come across a sootikin — my intimate friends have always been very clean, though not everyone is so fastidious: remember Napoleon’s letter to Josephine (“I’m on my way home. Don’t wash.”).
Symphorophilia: Sexual arousal from causing or witnessing disasters such as car crashes. J.G. Ballard explored this phenomenon in his 1973 novel Crash long before the term was coined.
Tabasco: A word of Mexican Indian origin meaning “damp earth” or “place where the soil is humid”. Such earth is favourable for the cultivation of the peppers that are made into the famous sauce.
“Tuh”: Current pronunciation of “to” by posh people, tending to linger on the vowel-sound as in the first bit of turd. Boris Johnson is a major tuh-er, as we’ve found during his many tv appearances during the recent pandemic. You’d have thought they’d teach them better pronunciation at Eton and Oxford.
Vegetables: I spent more time than I care to admit researching my previous blog piece Vegetables of the Rich and Famous and its successors (there are going to be successors). Why? I’m not a vegetarian, though I might be heading that way, and not especially star-struck. I suppose it’s because I’m eating less meat these days and looking for new ideas and getting a bit obsessed with it. Luckily these obsessions don’t tend to last very long though this one is proving more resilient than most, and other people are now sending me recipes and suggestions, which is nice. I plan to include some contributions from non-famous chums in the next piece, so if you, dear reader, have a particularly good vegetable recipe do send it along,
Worst line in a movie?: “Fish, I love you and I respect you very much.” spoken by Spencer Tracy in The Old Man and the Sea (1958), script by Peter Viertel from the story by Ernest Hemingway. I think that auditioning actors should be asked to say this line with as much conviction as they can muster.
Yorkshire pudding: “My mother would make a Yorkshire pudding the size of a football field, and my father and I would tuck into this Sunday feast: Yorkshire pudding with gravy, Yorkshire pudding with roast beef, Yorkshire pudding with treacle.” [— Michael Parkinson in last Sunday’s Observer]. That’s how it was in my Yorkshire childhood too, though my sister and I were sometimes allowed to have jam instead of treacle on the last course.
Zoophobia: a fear of animals. Most of the time, this fear is directed at a specific type of animal. [–Healthline]
Being extracts from my forthcoming masterwork in 12 de luxe volumes coming next year from Stroud & Greene, publishers of fine works for the gentry.
BEN AFFLECK: Carrots. This recipe for pan-seared carrots with maple and thyme comes from Makini Howell of Plum Bistro in Seattle who says that it’s a great favorite of Ben Affleck‘s, which seems plausible as Howell has served dinner for Affleck and his wife Jennifer Garner in their home, and he also cooks for Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix and a host of other celebs.
“We can see [says the website] why either Affleck brother would gobble these carrots down. Thanks to maple syrup, chopped garlic and smoked tofu, each bite is sweet, savory and smoky all at once, not to mention vegan (the younger Affleck has been vegan for more than 15 years). Howell says Phoenix is also a fan of the dish.” I am too.
Howell specializes in vegetarian and vegan food, and is happy to share his recipe here.
Marilyn Monroe was another carrot fan, but she preferred them raw: see below.
LINDSAY ANDERSON: Brussels sprouts. Not the most popular vegetable but I quite like them myself and have even been known to cook and eat them at times other than Christmas, but Lindsay Anderson the theatre and film director really liked them. He ate them several times a week himself and bullied his friends and the actors in his productions into eating them too, giving detailed instructions on the (in his view) correct method of cooking them, insisting amongst other things that the stem of each sprout should be scored with a cross before cooking. Delia, however, says that doing this makes no difference at all to the cooking time or the flavour and I tend to agree with her, though I still do it.
BEYONCÉ: Avocado. This recipe for guacamole is the only recipe that the popular songstress has ever published, and it’s good and very easy to make. Peel two ripe avocados and remove the stones, then break them to fragments with a spoon in a bowl. Chop up one small onion, one small tomato and one clove of garlic and add them to the bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Put the bowl in the fridge for about 20 minutes before serving with corn chips.
BRIAN BEHAN: Lettuce. The Irish writer and raconteur, brother of Brendan and Dominic once said “I had cancer of the arse and I cured it by drinking Brighton sea-water and eating lettuce.” Make what you will of that remarkable assertion. See also Philip Larkin.
CAPTAIN BLIGH: Breadfruit. (Let’s not ignore it.)
The captain of HMS Bounty — then a mere Lieutenant — whose imperious manner provoked the famous mutiny of 1787 was actually on a mission to collect breadfruit plants from Tahiti and transport them to the West Indies to feed the slaves there. Cast adrift by the mutineers in a small boat Bligh and few other officers eventually made landfall in what is now Indonesia, and he eventually got back to England to explain why he’d lost the Bounty. The wikipedia entry here gives a reasonably fair account of all this and of what became of the mutineers on Tahiti and Pitcairn Island. Not a pleasant story.
Bligh was exonerated of all blame and promoted to Captain — it seems that he was by no means the tyrant depicted in the movies of the mutiny, memorably so by Charles Laughton — and in 1791 was given another chance to obtain breadfruit for the Caribbean islands from Tahiti, and this time he was successful in transplanting a large number of trees, though the slaves didn’t much like breadfruit, preferring bananas.
Breadfruit — the taste is supposed to resemble freshly-baked bread, hence the name — is actually a versatile and very nourishing foodstuff which can be baked, steamed, boiled, fried, microwaved, grilled, barbecued … It really ought to be more popular than it is. This recipe for breadfruit curry is a good one, the video showing how to cut up the raw article (which I’d argue is much more of a vegetable than a fruit) before making it into a delicious meal.
JOAN COLLINS: Red beans. “This recipe is for people who give parties but don’t like to cook” says the glamorous actress. It’s called Red Bean Salad and it couldn’t be simpler: fry up some red onions in butter and when they are cool, mix them with cooked beans and sour cream. Sounds weird, tastes good.
The great jazz musician Louis Armstrong loved red beans and rice prepared in the New Orleans manner — he often nostalgically signed his letters “red beans and ricely yours” — but as his recipe contains ham hock it’s disqualified from this blog. Instead, here’s another another recipe for red food:
SALVADOR DALI: Red salad. The famous surrealist published various cookbooks which contain some outrageous — and completely impractical — dishes, included more for their shock value than usefulness, but while the recipe here goes for a visual effect — red, red and more red — it does actually work as a palatable dish, especially if you like red cabbage (which I do). This serves 4 for lunch or 8 as a first course
• 8 ounces red beets, diced
• 12 ounces red cabbage. finely grated
• 5 tablespoons heavy cream, chilled
• 3 tablespoons lemon juice
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 1 shallot, sliced
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Combine the cream, tomato paste, sugar, shallot and pepper. Beat with a whisk until mixture is light and foamy, about 3 minutes. Slowly beat in lemon juice. Place beets and cabbage in a bowl. Add dressing and mix well. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a bed of lettuce [says Dali, but I think radicchio would be more in keeping with the red theme) with hot French bread and a light red wine on the day it is made.
MARLENE DIETRICH: Potatoes. Seeing a revival of The Blue Angel at the local art cinema when I was a teenager made a great impression on me. (Seeing Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot at about the same time knocked me sideways, but anyway…) Marlene was an enthusiastic and expert cook, and if she’d lived longer she’d no doubt have published a celebrity cookbook in the USA where she lived and worked after fleeing the Nazis, but the only one that saw print was in her native Germany: Ick will wat Feinet (Berlin slang for “I want something good.”) by Georg A. Werth (2001), which contains her recipe for ‘potato salad Potsdam style’. Poking about online I found an earlier version of this in an old movie magazine — it was evidently a favourite of Marlene’s — and here I’ve blended the two, omitting the warm meat broth from the Werth version as we’re being veggies today. Vegetable stock should perhaps be used instead, as Marlene insisted that “the salad must be nice and moist!”
Wash six medium-sized potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until soft. Cool, remove the skins and cut into very thin slices. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with the potatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with finely-chopped celery and finely-chopped parsley [and slices of cucumber and green pepper, and finely-chopped onions too in the Werth version], and work into the potatoes. Mix two tablespoons each of tarragon and cider vinegar and four tablespoons of olive oil, and add one slice of lemon cut one-third thick. Bring to the boiling point, pour over the potatoes [with the veg stock], cover, and let stand in the oven until thoroughly warmed.
GRETA GARBO: Okra, also known as lady’s fingers. The silent movie star Dagmar Godowsky knew the reclusive actress and said: “Isn’t it funny, you remember certain habits of people. What they liked to eat; She liked — what is it, that Southern vegetable? … Stravinsky loved pistachio ice cream. I can’t see pistachio ice cream without thinking of Stravinsky, and … Garbo loved okra! She could eat that every day. She loved it.”
I once cooked some okra to make a Creole Gumbo and found it revolting: slimy, horrible-looking and foul-tasting but above all slimy. I’m told that there’s a way of cooking okra that renders it crisp and delicious, but I can’t believe that this appalling plant could ever taste good so haven’t tried that.
ALLEN GINSBERG: Beetroot. The famous beat poet made a lot of soup, often a vegatarian version of borcht, which of course consists mostly of beets. His recipe goes like this: boil two big bunches of chopped beets and beet greens for one hour in two quarts of water with a little salt and a bay leaf, and one cup of sugar. When it’s cooled serve it with a bowl of sour cream, accompanied on the side (if you like) by hot or cold boiled potatoes and/or salad.
Ginsberg became fond of Indian cooking as he travelled around the world in the 1960s and on the way he learned how to cook aloo gobi, the classic cauliflower and potato dish, but since Gwyneth Paltrow seems to have bagged cauliflower as her celebrity vegetable on this blog may I direct you to the version by the excellent Felicity Cloake, whose recipes I follow avidly in The Guardian every Saturday. Here she is, and also from the wonderful world of Indian vegetable cookery here’s a recipe from
GEORGE HARRISON: Lentils. When the Beatles first became famous and were interviewed for the teen magazines they all said that their favourite meal was steak and chips, but when they moved down from Liverpool to London their tastes became more sophisticated. John Lennon was dubious when offered mangetout for the first time (“OK but put it on the side of the plate away from the food”), and George Harrison spoke of branching out into “the avocado scene”.
As the 1960s progressed the Beatles’ tastes developed still further. John met Yoko Ono and they adopted a macrobiotic diet, though they both gorged on caviar. Paul McCartney and his wife Linda became very high-profile vegetarians, while George became interested in Indian music and religion — and food. Ringo seemed happy with his baked beans.
Unlike the McCartneys, George wasn’t one for publishing vegetarian recipes all over the place but he did share one for what he called ‘Dark Horse Lentil Soup’ with Mary Frampton for her book Rock and Roll Recipes (1979), and here it is:
• 1 red chilli
• 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 2 large onions, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic
• 1 cup lentils
• 2 large tomatoes, chopped
• 2 green peppers, chopped
• 1 bay leaf
• Salt and pepper to taste
Directions. Heat a small amount of oil in frying pan. When oil is hot, add chili and cumin seeds. When seeds stop sputtering, brown onions and garlic in heated oil. Wash lentils well and cover with water. Add browned onions to pan of lentils. Add tomatoes, peppers, bay leaf, plus salt and pepper. Bring to boil, cover, then turn down to a very low heat. The soup is ready to serve in an hour and tastes even better the next day.
THOMAS JEFFERSON: Peas. When he wasn’t busy drafting and signing the Declaration of Independence, buying Louisiana for the nation, founding the University of Virginia or having affairs and spawning children with some of his 6oo black slaves, the 3rd President of the USA liked to grow peas. He was no dilettante pea-grower, however, cultivating as many as fifteen types of English pea on his estate at Monticello, and his frequent jottings on these vegetables in his Garden Book indicate that he paid particular attention to this pursuit, happily noting when “peas come to table.” By staggering the planting of different varieties Jefferson was able to eat them fresh from the garden from the middle of May to the middle of July.
This wasn’t just because Jefferson liked peas. He also entered an annual local contest to see which farmer could bring to table the first peas of spring. The winner had to invite the other contestants to a lavish dinner that included the peas. Though Jefferson’s mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage for the contest, the contest was almost always won by a neighbour named George Divers.
I hope that some of the slaves who actually grew the peas managed to sneak a few for themselves when Jefferson wasn’t looking.
I’m tempted to include the late Linda McCartney’s recipe for pea soup here which I think was her first published recipe long before she turned herself into a brand, but it’s much the same as George Harrison’s lentil soup (and comes from the same source), so if you want a good thick pea soup just follow George’s instructions substituting split peas for lentils.
JOAN JETT: Tomatoes. “A lot of vegetarian food is repulsive. Take quiche and soufflé -– why would you eat that?” says the feisty rock star. ” I like pasta with good olive oil and garlic. I also love tomatoes and make a great passata to go on top.” See also Elvis Presley.
PHILIP LARKIN: Lettuce. The poet/librarian liked to read while he was dining alone in his flat, as he generally did, and found that the ideal meal for this purpose was macaroni cheese, because it took about 20 minutes to prepare (this was before the advent of microwave ovens), which was just enough time to sink a couple of stiff gin and tonics and play a few of his favourite jazz records, and when it was cooked he didn’t have to pay attention to what he was spearing on his fork because with macaroni cheese “it’s all the same.” On the rare occasion when he entertained guests, however, he made no attempt to cook for them and fed them with lettuce sandwiches. The reaction of his guests to such fare is not recorded. See also Brian Behan.
MARINETTI: Fennel. The Italian Futurist published a cookbook in 1932 which contains the following recipe for ‘Aerofood’: “The diner is served from the right with a plate containing some black olives, fennel hearts and kumquats. From the left he is served with a rectangle made of sandpaper, silk and velvet. The foods must be carried directly to the mouth with the right hand while the left hand lightly and repeatedly strokes the tactile rectangle. In the meantime the waiters spray the nape of the diner’s neck with a conprofumo [perfume] of carnations while from the kitchen comes contemporaneously a violent conrumore [music] of an aeroplane motor and some dismusica [music] by Bach.” [–translated into English by Suzanne Brill]
MEGHAN MARKLE: Zucchini — baby marrow, better known in the UK as courgette. Lately there’s been a bit of a fad for zoodles, noodles made from zucchini which have the advantage of being gluten-free [see here if you’re interested], but the Duchess of Suffolk has her own way with this vegetable, which is to slow-cook it for several hours with a little bouillon until it turns to a “filthy, sexy mush” and then use this as a pasta sauce with nothing else added: no oil or butter, but you can add a sprinkling of parmesan cheese on the top if you like.
It sounds and looks disgusting but it’s actually very tasty. Do try it. Go on.
You know you want to.
MARILYN MONROE: Carrots again. Marilyn told a journalist that her evening meal was almost always the same — some sort of meat with raw carrots. “My dinners at home are startlingly simple. Every night I stop at the market and pick up a steak, lamb chops or some liver, which I broil in the oven. I usually eat four or five raw carrots with my meat, and that’s all,” she said. “I must be part rabbit, I never get bored with raw carrots,” adding that she always saved room for dessert.
Re carrots: Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and CEO, avoided meat and had many strange dietary fads, at one time eating so many carrots that he started to turn orange. Marilyn, clever girl, seems to have avoided this.
See Ben Affleck’s entry above for another way of enjoying carrots.
GWYNETH PALTROW: Cauliflower. One of the best summer recipes from Gwyneth’s recent cookbook It’s All Easy is for Cauliflower Tabbouleh. Goes very well with her Falafel. This recipe serves 4-6 as a side dish.
• ½ medium head of cauliflower
• 1 small garlic clove, very finely grated or minced
• Juice of 1 small lemon, plus more to taste
• ¼ cup olive oil, plus more to taste
• A pinch of Aleppo pepper
• A pinch of salt, plus more to taste
• About half an English cucumber, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces (1 cup)
• ⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley
• ⅓ cup chopped fresh mint
• ⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro
• 2 scallions, thinly sliced
To make the cauliflower “couscous,” break the cauliflower into florets, then pulse in a food processor 10 to 15 times for 1 to 2 seconds each time. Stop when the cauliflower has been broken down into pieces the size of quinoa or couscous. In the bottom of your serving bowl, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, Aleppo pepper, and a pinch of salt. Add the cauliflower, cucumber, herbs, and scallions and toss to combine. Season with salt, more lemon juice, and olive oil to taste.
Allen Ginsberg (see above) liked cauliflower too.
ELVIS PRESLEY: Tomatoes. It may come as something of a surprise that Elvis ate any vegetables at all given the appalling state of his health and his huge appetite for hamburgers, ice cream and his favourite fried sandwiches of which he could stuff down a dozen or more at a sitting, but his regular breakfast consisted of burnt bacon, Spanish omelette, biscuits — the American kind resembling bread rolls — and tomatoes: “A sure way to the King’s heart was with a big plate of sliced beefsteak tomatoes.” [–Brenda Arlene Butler in Are You Hungry Tonight? Elvis’s Favorite Recipes] Although he sang about polk salad I don’t think Elvis ever actually ate the ghastly stuff. See also Joan Jett.
VINCENT PRICE: Corn (off the cob). When we were old enough to pass for 18 some of us used to bunk off school in the afternoons to go and watch horror films in the local fleapit which often featured Vincent Price in some adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe, and we loved his over-the-top acting in roles like Prince Prospero in The Masque of the Red Death and many another. It wasn’t until some years later that I discovered that he was actually a very cultivated fellow, a connoisseur of art and music, a decent actor when given a good part, and a real gourmet with several excellent cookbooks to his credit. This recipe for Elote con Crema a la Mexicana (Mexican creamed corn) comes from A Treasury of Great Recipes which he compiled with his wife Mary in 1965, and which has proved to be the most popular item on this blog which collects movie-stars’ recipes: dozens of them. Here’s this one:
1. In a skillet melt 4 tablespoons butter.
2. Add 1 medium onion, chopped (4 tablespoons), and 1 clove garlic, minced. Sauté until onion is lightly browned.
3. Add the kernels cut from 8 ears of fresh corn, 4 chilies poblanos, thinly sliced [green peppers will do at a pinch], ½ teaspoon salt, and ¾ cup diced Swiss or Muenster cheese.
4. Cover with a towel and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
Serve the corn with a bowl of sour cream on the side. A generous spoonful on top of each portion is delicious.
MARY SHELLEY: Kale. When she wasn’t thinking about graveyards, body parts and horrid electrical experiments the author of Frankenstein quite often thought about kale. Her husband Percy (the poet) was careless of his health. “He could have lived on bread alone without repining,” his biographer Richard Henry Stoddard wrote. “Vegetables, and especially salads … were acceptable,” and the vegetable was often kale, which like most other people at the time she saw not as a health-giving comestible but as a comfort food. When her aunt Everina fell ill, Mary, far away in Rome, persuaded a friend to put together a care package for her: “jelly, oranges, sponge-cakes and her favourite kale.” Kale became a frequent gift.
The excellent Paper and Salt blog (from which most of this information comes) says that ‘Kale had a vogue for some time as a “miracle food” – which it is not –- but it was around long before the fad. In fact, it was commoner than cabbage in Britain for centuries as a basic green vegetable. Young kale used to be chopped up into what we called “spring greens” (along with colewort), when I was a boy. There is the secret for kale and for colewort (called collards in the US). If you let the leaves grow big, they also get tough and hard to cook. But if you cut them young in the spring, they are tender and easy to cook. That means you have to grow them yourself of course. Commercial greens are always going to be old and tough(er).
‘The simplest way to prepare kale is to strip the leaves from their stalks by hand and to rip them up into small pieces. Wash the pieces thoroughly and then put them into a pot with the water still clinging to them. Cover tightly and steam until tender. With young leaves, this is not a long process, but will take trial and error. Drain and mix into the greens some olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and minced garlic. Reheat for a few minutes, and serve. Even Shelley would like that dish. If you want to get fancier, serve the kale with poached egg on top – or add some chopped ham in with the kale.’
NED SHERRIN: Artichokes. The innovative producer and broadcaster was fond of artichoke and parsley soup, which he made himself every December (“I like to have a good thick soup on the go at this time of year.”) I like to do that too, and I often make a wonderful thick vegetable soup in the winter months from a recipe I clipped from a newspaper years ago, but as I’m personally neither rich nor famous I’ll have to find an excuse to share that with you another time.
LEO TOLSTOY: Cucumber. In Blessings in Disguise, one of his volumes of autobiography, Alec Guinness tells a story that he heard from Sydney Cockerell: “In 1903, when Tolstoy was living at Yasnaya Polyana, Sydney had an opportunity of visiting him there […] When he arrived at the Tolstoy home he was shown down to the apple orchard, where the entire family was taking tea. He said they were all sitting or lying in long grass under the trees, drinking tumblers of black tea and eating cucumbers spread with honey. The samovar was crooked, the conversation nil, the only sounds were of hissing steam, bees and the crunching of cucumbers.” I haven’t tried this as I dislike honey and think it would just spoil the cucumber, which I do like especially with a good vinaigrette, but for literary honey-lovers a plate of these offered to guests might make an interesting and unusual hors d’oeuvre.
MARK WAHLBERG: Macaroni salad. The actor, producer, and as Marky Mark a former rapper once said “Nobody makes pasta salad like my mama,” but thanks to his brother Paul, a chef, we can have a shot at their late mother Alma’s speciality, though note that the quantities given here make enough for a dozen people.
• 1 pound elbow macaroni
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 teaspoon celery salt
• ¾ cup mayonnaise
• ½ cup finely-diced green bell pepper
• ½ cup finely-diced celery
• 3 tablespoons diced red onion (optional)
• 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
Step 1 In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni until al dente. Drain, then rinse the macaroni until cool. Drain very well. Step 2 In a large bowl, toss the macaroni with the oil. Add the garlic powder, celery salt and mayonnaise and toss to coat. Stir in the green pepper, celery, onion and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill before serving.
FOREST WHITAKER: Asparagus, green beans, and hearts of palm. I’ll close this selection with a triple whammy of vegetables from this fine actor, aided and abetted by Martha Stewart. I was delighted to find this recipe as green beans are my own favourite vegetable and this is a really excellent way of serving them.
• ¼ cup white-wine vinegar
• ¼ cup vegetable oil
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill leaves
• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 3 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and sliced crosswise
• 1 small onion, thinly sliced
• 1½ pounds asparagus, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
• ½ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
• 1 (7- or 8-ounce) can hearts of palm, rinsed, drained, and cut into ½-inch pieces
• 2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, seeded and cut into ½-inch pieces
• ½ small head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced
Step 1 In a large bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, sugar, and dill. Add cucumbers and onion, season with salt and pepper, and toss until well combined; set aside.
Step 2 Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt and return water to a boil. Prepare an ice-water bath; set aside. Place asparagus in boiling water; cook until just tender, 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer asparagus to ice-water bath for 1 minute, remove and pat dry; transfer to cucumber mixture. Add beans to the boiling water, and cook until just tender, 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beans to the ice-water bath for 1 minute, remove and pat dry. Transfer beans to cucumber mixture along with hearts of palm, tomatoes, and lettuce. Season with salt and pepper; toss until well combined.
My previous post was uncharacteristically upbeat and even jolly, but now it’s time to get back to normal with a quick look back at some of the year’s nasties together with a few perennial grouches.
ALCOHOL: I enjoy an occasional drink myself and don’t want to be hypocritical about this, but having had to watch two of my closest friends succumb to alcoholism and eventually die of it and quite a number of promising young writers ruin their talent and their lives because of booze I’m very wary of it. I’m not being preachy here, but I’ve seen some dreadful things and been unable to help.
‘ALBATROSS’: We booed Fleetwood Mac for selling out (as we thought) when they played this at a free concert on Parliament Hill Fields one Sunday evening long ago, and since then I’ve become really sick of hearing it played as a party winds down. Try this instead.
BEETROOT: Nature’s most unappealing vegetable. Dear friends, If you’re kind enough to invite me round for a meal please don’t let it be beetroot-based and especially not borcht. It has happened.
DIGITAL ADVERTISING: Does anyone actually like all the pop-ups, cookies and trackers that dog our every movement to try and get at our money by selling us things we don’t want or need? Mac-users might like to install Little Snitch and run it for half an hour, and if you don’t already know you’ll be appalled to see the dozens of unidentifiable creeps that are accessing your computer whenever you go online. It’s especially nauseating when this insidious business is targetted specifically at children, as it increasingly is. I could name names …
DRAG ACTS: I’ve never liked them, and the current popularity of Mrs Brown’s Boys depresses me beyond belief. I find the whole thing demeaning for men and insulting to women. Dame Edna might be an exception.
FISH: Can’t eat it. I say that I’m allergic, which isn’t quite true as fish doesn’t put me into hospital with anaphylactic shock, but if I eat it — and I do try from time to time — it disagrees with me so strongly that I’m confined to the bathroom for hours or even days afterwards, which is a real nuisance as it reduces my personal menu by about a third. And it looks so good!
THE HONOURS SYSTEM: As I write this the New Year’s Honours List is just being announced, with its usual slew of cronies, Civil Service time-servers, sportsmen and sportswomen, and showbiz veterans, most of whom have already been amply rewarded with fame and money. The politicians keep saying that the whole thing needs reforming but they never do it. A quick doff of the hat, though, to the splendid people who have turned honours down, especially Alan Bennett who has refused the offer of a knighthood on three separate occasions, and our friend Herbert who turned down an MBE because being from Nigeria he wanted nothing to do with the British Empire.
‘IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE’: I never saw this movie when I was young and only caught up with it at a time when my business was in trouble thanks to the bank panicking unnecessarily during John Major’s recession — and did my authors, clients and suppliers rally round to support me like the townsfolk do in the film? With a couple of exceptions they did not. The movie lies, people, and I hate it.
LONDON: It used to be a magical city but for me it has shrunk to a few dismal streets and a couple of hospitals. Now unable to enjoy its pleasures I long to get away but — for the time being anyway — I can’t, damn it.
MEN’S PONYTAILS: Don’t have one, guys, unless you’re actually aiming to look like an arsehole.
MY BODY: A wreck. ‘Nuff said about that horror, and definitely no …
SELFIES: A psychologist studying the phenomenon of social media generally and Instagram in particular called the phenomenal number of people continually posting photos of themselves ‘vanity validation’, which seems spot-on. Have we really become so narcissistic? From what I’ve seen, yes. But I hadn’t realized that the selfie could be used as a cruel taunt until I received one from someone who had avoided a get-together and sent me a photo which seemed to be saying “Here I am having fun scoffing fish and chips at the sunny seaside while you’re stuck in London trying to cope with gruelling cancer treatment on your own, ha ha. And by the way, aren’t I cute?” If there’s a good-natured way of responding to something like that I’m afraid couldn’t find it.
TIME: It goes by too quickly, and this sure as hell isn’t how I wanted to spend what I have left of it.
TRAVEL: I’ve never been a keen traveller and wouldn’t want to make a virtue out of not travelling since I can’t anyway, but I’ve been a bit miffed by people lecturing me about not recycling a few garden clippings when these same people jump on a plane at every opportunity, which is about the worst thing anyone can do to our poor suffering planet. The photo on the right shows me on a camping holiday in Spain in a rare moment when it wasn’t raining — but we drove there. Did I just get a bit preachy? Oh well.
WEEDS: Hey Science, when you’ve got rid of the coronavirus could you please turn your attention to producing a really effective weedkiller? The bottom of my Dorset garden is infested with deadnettles which have resisted my efforts to dig them up and burn them and this year they’ve come back stronger than ever while the London garden is overrun with brambles, to the annoyance of the neighbours on both sides. Sorry, neighbours. I’ll have another go when I’m able.
I sympathize with you, Science, when the politicians disregard your warnings and blithely lead us into a second wave of a pandemic that’s even worse than the first one, and I do realize that eliminating the virus is a priority — I’m not completely selfish — but let’s not forget that the world also needs a chemical that will get rid of weeds completely and permanently.
YODELLING: You know those people who can turn their eyelids inside out or bend their fingers right back and insist on doing so just to revolt you? Yodelling is like that to me. Some so-called singers evidently have some throat malformation that enables them to yodel, and by god they do. A bootleg of Bob Dylan when he was young revealed that can yodel but he doesn’t. He deseves the Nobel Prize for that alone.
ZOOM: During 2020 I got sick of being told to clear off because an important Zoom meeting was scheduled. So rude! So humiliating! I’ve never Zoomed myself, and I hope I never will.
Sorry about all that folks, but it’s been good to get a few things off my chest and where else could I have done it? I’m afraid that many of these things will still be around to annoy us in the New Year, but perhaps I can be less of a curmudgeon. Resolutions don’t usually last very long, but mine is a big one: to try and find a role for myself in the post-lockdown world when it comes. I’ve gone on far too much about illness and have been feeling like a burden on the state and to my friends, and urgently need to find a way of making myself useful somehow. What will it be? Charity work as a volunteer. raising money for good causes, being more generous with my limited resources, writing the novel that’s been buzzing around in my brain for ages? We’ll see.
Do you feel as if you’re hanging by your fingernails to the crumbling edge of a cliff?
Have you been worn to a frazzle?
If the answer is yes, congratulations are in order, says my horoscope in The Daily Mail — I hate their politics but buy it on Saturdays for the weekly TV Guide — and it’s as if the paper’s resident astrologer Oscar Cainer knows me personally. It certainly has been a tough year, for you as well as me I’m sure, but I’ve done enough moaning in this blog so let me take stock and look at the good things of 2020. There have been a few.
FAVOURITE ANIMATED CHARACTER: Brian from Family Guy, for about the seventh year running.
FAVOURITE BLOG: M. John Harrison’s ambiente hotel here. Mike and I collaborated on various things back in the day when he was a struggling writer and I was a very amateurish artist, and it’s been a real pleasure to see Mike’s career blossoming since then. His novel The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again won the prestigious Goldsmiths Prize this year. His blog is elegant, always interesting and of course beautifully written.
FAVOURITE BOOKS: I read a lot and it would be tedious to list all the books I’ve enjoyed, but I was pleased to discover the short stories of Miranda July and am currently reading her novel The First Bad Man. I was also delighted by David Nobbs’s autobiography I Didn’t Get Where I am Today, full of hilarious anecdotes about his career in comedy writing, and while sorting through old books with a view to getting rid of some I found myself re-reading Viz annuals, following the surreal footballing saga of Billy the Fish from beginning to end.
FAVOURITE CANCER NURSE: Jingle: lovely, friendly, funny and super-efficient. When we were out on our doorsteps applauding the NHS I was clapping louder than anyone — and why did we stop doing it? These wonderful people are still working their asses off and taking great personal risks to keep the rest of us safe and cared-for.
FAVOURITE CAR: I hate my own current car and hope to replace it with a better one next year, so my choice of car is my long-term favourite, the Duesenberg Model J Phaeton. This was Jerry Cornelius’s car in Mike Moorcock’s novel The Condition of Muzak (1977) which I illustrated, and not having access to the real thing and with no internet in those days I bought a plastic construction kit which I carefully assembled and painted in Jerry’s colours (cream and chocolate brown), and drew the car from the model. The book won the Guardian Fiction Prize that year, but I doubt whether my illustrations had anything to do with that.
FAVOURITE CHAIR: My Lazyboy, like me very scruffy and fraying at the edges but still more comfortable than any other.
FAVOURITE CHEESE: Wensleydale, but it has to be the real thing made and perfectly matured in Yorkshire. The plastic-wrapped stuff in the supermarket’s chill cabinet isn’t the same.
FAVOURITE DEATHS: A tie between those of the Moors Murderer Ian Brady and of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. The world is better off without those two, and now we no longer have to pay for their decades-long upkeep in jail. Also, I wasn’t too distressed by the death of Des O’Connor, who told me to fuck off when I asked for his autograph as a shy and acutely self-conscious 13-year-old.
FAVOURITE DOG: Lady, next door’s elderly Red Setter, now deaf and arthritic but still a sweetheart.
FAVOURITE DOWNFALL: Harvey Weinstein’s. We had some very unsatisfactory dealings with him when I was running my publishing company and we knew he was a wrong ‘un long before news of his sexual shenanigans emerged. He’s currently serving a 23-year jail sentence, his company has gone bust and he’s tested positive for the coronavirus. There is a god.
FAVOURITE DRINK: Heaven’s Door [see my earlier post ‘Heaven and Hell’]. Runner-up: Marston’s Owd Rodger which my friend Bob and I discovered in a country pub we used to frequent, and being less mobile these days I was pleased to find the bottled version for sale in my local Kwik-e-Mart. Not quite as good as the keg but still a wonderful relaxative when needed.
FAVOURITE DRUG: Levothyroxine. A daily dose keeps me alive.
FAVOURITE FILMS: It’s years since I visited a cinema so I have to make do with what gets shown on the multifarious tv channels that I get.
This year I particularly enjoyed How to Build a Girl starring Beanie Feldstein, having read the novel by local author Caitlin Moran. Also good was The Constant Gardener, viewed on DVD as I’d missed it first time around and was reminded of it by the recent death of John Le Carré.
FAVOURITE FOOTBALL TEAM: Leeds United, always and for ever. 2020 was their first year back in the Premiership after a very long and dreary absence, and it’s been a huge pleasure to see them holding their own in the upper tier and playing some superbly entertaining football.
FAVOURITE FRUIT: Pineapple. A surprising late entry this, as for my previous 73 years on this planet I’ve had a sort of ‘I can take it or leave it’ attitude to pineapple, but in recent weeks I’ve found I can’t get enough of the wonderful yellow stuff, and when I haven’t got any I’m thinking about how to get some. The recent hormone treatment I’ve been undergoing has done peculiar things to my body and my metabolism, but I wasn’t anticipating such a strange craving. I think I might be pregnant.
FAVOURITE GARDENING IMPLEMENT: Draper’s telescopic soft-grip bypass ratchet-action loppers with aluminium handles, bought just before the radiotherapy put me out of action for a while. Next year I hope to be able to use them a lot more. Lopping is fun!
FAVOURITE GARMENT: Not much clothes shopping this year because of the pandemic and various misguided online purchases, but a baggy pale grey top by Tu bought on a grocery-shopping trip to Sainsbury’s is very comfortable. I no longer care what I look like.
FAVOURITE HEADLINES OF THE YEAR: “FA confirm Wembley is NOT being turned into a giant lasagne”; “Monday Night Toilet Roll Fights: sport in the age of coronavirus”; “A Man Whose Parents Threw Out His Porn Collection Wins Lawsuit Against Them”; “Bad Sex In Fiction award cancelled – as people have suffered enough in 2020”; “Adolf Hitler elected in Namibia’s local council elections – but has ‘no plans for world domination'”.
FAVOURITE HERB: Oregano, now that I grow my own.
FAVOURITE HOLIDAY: No holidays this year. No big deal as I hate travelling anyway.
FAVOURITE INTERNET MEME: Wojak.
FAVOURITE JOKE: Q. What’s the difference between COVID-19 and Romeo and Juliet? A. One’s a coronavirus and the other’s a Verona crisis.
FAVOURITE KITCHEN THINGIES: A pair of little rubber grippers, Poundland’s re-invention of the oven glove. They do the job and are much smaller and easier to wash than the quilted cloth things I’ve been using up to now.
FAVOURITE LOCOMOTIVE: Union Pacific 4014, reputedly the world’s biggest working engine. All of the other surviving Big Boy class are in museums but over the course of the year I’ve been avidly following the restoration and testing of this one on YouTube, and the sight of it now running under its own steam is a wonderfully stirring thing.
FAVOURITE MEAL: A pasta dish — don’t know its name — made by Celia-next-door. Her mushroom risotto was really good too. Much appreciated.
FAVOURITE MUSIC: I love music and in recent years I’ve been listening mostly to classical stuff, but I’ve always been a bit deaf to the charms of opera. Finding this on Youtube started to change my mind and I developed a bit of a thing for Elīna Garanča, so when I learned that she’d starred in Carmen I bought the DVD and am entranced by it.
FAVOURITE PIZZA: ‘Garden Party’ with extra cheese, from Papa John’s.
FAVOURITE POEM: If I was trying to impress I’d choose something by Donne or Eliot or Larkin, or something really obscure, but ’Jenny Kissed Me’ by Leigh Hunt (1838) has been popping into my head lately. I’ve always found it rather charming, and with advancing age it has taken on extra overtones. Here is someone reading it quite nicely. I’ve had only one kiss this year and was as delighted by it as the guy in the poem.
FAVOURITE POTATO CRISPS: Vicente Vidal plain crisps. Quite hard to find and rather expensive when you do find them, but as something of a crisp connoisseur I’ve found these light and fresh and much tastier than other brands.
FAVOURITE PUNCTUATION MARK: The colon: I know that I over-use it.
FAVOURITE RADIOLOGIST: Bridgid. It’s been quite a while since an attractive young woman fiddled about with my dangly bits but she did it chatting merrily the while, then retired to a safe room to watch x-rays of my guts while the raygun did its work, so it’s very encouraging to find that knowing me literally inside-out she still wants to see me.
FAVOURITE RELATIVES: The Tauranga mob, and not only because they’re now my only living relatives. It’s rather touching to know that a new generation on the other side of the world knows me by the nickname that my nephew and niece called me when they were children. Yay, I’m still Uncle Whiskers.
FAVOURITE RESTAURANT: I’ve been to only one in 2020 and that was the one at the Whittington Hospital, where the food is rather good with (currently) plenty of social distance between the tables. Their chicken kebabs served with rice and salad are very tasty. No booze at a hospital, obviously.
FAVOURITE SERIAL KILLER: I don’t actually like them of course, but having written and edited and published several books about them I try to keep up with the latest developments in Serial Killer World, and this year I was pleased to learn that they might have finally caught the so-called Golden State Killer, a particularly nasty specimen. He’s currently in jail awaiting trial so I’d better say no more except nail the bastard.
FAVOURITE SLANG WORD: Flart, an old fart who is something of a flirt. Have I been a bit of a flart this year, particularly in the Radiology Dept? Possibly.
FAVOURITE SOAP OPERA: Coronation Street, which I’ve been watching on and off ever since it started and the only soap I’ve ever watched. It’s pretty dire these days, relying far too much on overheard conversations which were a cliché in Shakespeare’s day, but a large part of the pleasure is discussing the preposterous plotlines as they unfold with fellow cynics on the Digital Spy forum.
FAVOURITE SOFTWARE: Photoshop. Yet again.
FAVOURITE TRANSSEXUAL: Darcie Silver.
FAVOURITE TREE: The aspen at the bottom of my garden. It was growing rather lop-sided as a sycamore — in my view the weed of the tree world — grew up alongside it, but men with a chainsaw and a digger got rid of the intruder, and over the course of the year the aspen has balanced itself. I love to see its leaves shimmering in a light breeze.
FAVOURITE STEELY DAN TRACK: We lost Walter Becker this year but much of the Dan’s music is on my perennial playlist, and I’ve been listening to ‘Deacon Blues‘ a lot recently. It seems to speak to me personally, as a good song should.
FAVOURITE TV SERIES: Killing Eve, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, I May Kill You … If pressed I might admit that I’ve also watched a couple of episodes of Naked Attraction — purely for its sociological interest of course. I had no idea that so many young people have so many tattoos.
FAVOURITE US PRESIDENT: No contenders this year.
FAVOURITE WEAPON: My antique swordstick, probably illegal to own these days but I sleep more soundly knowing it’s by the bed in case another burglar appears in the bedroom in the middle of the night.
FAVOURITE WEBSITE: Facebook, which I joined a few months ago and which has put me back in touch with lots of old friends and colleagues, and brought some new friends too.
FAVOURITE WORD: Adomania: the fear that the future is coming too quickly.
Let’s hope that next year will bring more of the good stuff and much less of the bad. Oscar Cainer thinks that for me it will: “The Solar Eclipse heralds a welcome (and positive) change. There’s no need to try to hold on to anything or fight against an invisible force. You’ve done enough. You can let go and flow with the tide. You’re being taken on a course that’s heading towards a safe and welcoming destination. Wonderful opportunities arise that are going to energise your life.”
That’s good to know, and I hope that 2021 will be wonderful for you too. In the meantime may I wish all my readers a very
‘”Seigneur, I have invented forty new dishes for to-night’s banquet,” François said pathetically, his eyes creeping out until they hung on the rims of their sockets like desperate people wavering on the edges of precipices.’ (George Viereck and Paul Eldridge, Salome The Wandering Jewess, 1930)
Connoisseurs of strained similes, mangled metaphors, grisly grammar, excessively purple prose and all writing that is differently good will love Thog’s Masterclass, a regular feature in David Langford’s monthly newsletter Ansible®, essential reading for anyone who wants to know what’s going on in the binary worlds of science fiction and fantasy.
Thog the Mighty is a not terribly bright barbarian hero, the creation of John Grant (Paul Barnett) in his “Lone Wolf” fantasy novels loosely based on Joe Dever’s gamebooks. He first appeared in The Claws of Helgedad (1991) and was soon identified as the presiding genius behind much bad genre writing, with many fans avidly collecting examples of his influence, as they continue to do.
Mr Langford has very kindly allowed me to include a selection of some vintage Thogs here. They’re mostly from SF stories, but not all. My own passing thoughts are in green.
‘Long-since dusty hopes are about to float away on the invisible ink of time, he thought.’ (Robert Newcomb, The Fifth Sorceress, 2002)
‘A minute later, he was vomiting up the breakfast he had not eaten.’ (Peter Straub, Lost Boy Lost Girl, 2003)
‘A thick branch crashed through the tunnel, just missing Filidor’s nose, and he carefully sliced it away before resuming his slow upward progress.’ (Matthew Hughes, Fools Errant, 1994)
‘… a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.’ (Morrissey, List of the Lost, 2015)
‘… the pain marched across my shoulder like a shark army might have.’ (L.E. Modesitt Jr, The Fires of Paratime, 1980)
‘Somehow, the mackerel paté of memory had escaped its wrapper, skipped its kitchen dish, and turned into a flickering silver shoal, darting and twisting in terror against an empty darkness.’ (‘Gabriel King’, The Wild Road, 1997) My memory quite often does that too.
‘She had an annoying habit of running her tongue over his teeth, and as she did that, he realised there was absolutely nothing between them.’ (Jackie Collins, Hollywood Wives: The New Generation, 2001)
‘The wagon lurched forward like an armadillo trying to mate with a very fast duck.’ (James P. Silke, Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer, Vol II Lords of Destruction, 1989)
‘She shrugged, quivers manifest beneath the thin material of her blouse, the breasts, unbound, moving like oiled balloons.’ (E.C. Tubb, Eye of the Zodiac, 1975)
‘She knew how to embroider and milk a cow.’ (Connie Willis, Doomsday Book, 1992)
‘The underwriter seemed equally amused, frisking up the ends of his moustache, eager for them to join in the fun.’ (J.G. Ballard, Cocaine Nights,1996)
‘A pair of bushy eyebrows jutted out above his orbits like two hands cupped over the brow of a man peering into an unfathomable distance. At the same time, his dense windswept sideburns swerved back dramatically behind his earlobes, as though his mind was speeding faster than the rest of his head.’ (Edwin Black, War Against the Weak, 2003)
‘He was handsome and blond, with the same height and almost the same muscular build as Chastity, except her chest-circumference measurement involved different lumps from his.’ (Robert L. Forward, Saturn Rukh,1997)
‘O’Malley had a face like an inflated punctuation mark.’ (Joel Goldman, Motion to Kill, 2002) Yes, but which punctuation mark – a semicolon? The mind boggles.
‘”Are either of you aware of the fact that there’s nothing between us and the pole to break the wind but an occasional stray reindeer?”‘ (David Eddings, Castle of Wizardry, 1984)
‘She sat down in that earthy way that said she was all there.’ (L.E. Modesitt Jr, The Fires of Paratime, 1980) I know women like that
‘It was dark. No darker than it had been while she fell through her dialectical hole, but no lighter, either. It was the kind of disorienting dark that, had she been a feather in a large, unopened can, she wouldn’t have the faintest idea which way was up.’ (Jenny Diski, Monkey’s Uncle, 1994)
‘I felt my molars reach for each other.’ (Kathy Reichs, Death du Jour, 1999)
‘Jocelyn came through the fog wall, muttering, her breasts swaying like two angry red eyes looking for a fight.’ (Gregory Benford, Furious Gulf) Thog seems to have a bit of a thing about breasts doesn’t he.
‘The horse’s fall had the sound of a bag filled with rocks and lamp oil, landing beside him and rolling over his legs.’ (Steven Erikson, Gardens of the Moon, 1999)
‘She looked up, and the silence stopped. The carbonized sky howled as the Milky Way cracked its sternum, exposing its galactic heart.’ (Bryn Chancellor, Sycamore, 2017) The mind boggles even more.
‘Other-ness plays the same part in urinating as in producing poetry.’ (Colin Wilson, The Philosopher’s Stone, 1969)
‘… there is always something magical about the moment when your eyes touch nipples running free; nipples are a door from one world to another, from the grey of the everyday to a place of enchantment.’ (Francesco Dimitri, The Book of Hidden Things, 2018) … and there he goes again with the breasts.
‘Vienna, in that perfunctory way of hers, has sighed and spread her legs to be shagged by the winter solstice.’ (Adrian Matthews, Vienna Blood, 2001)
‘Somewhere in Snowfield, were there living human beings who had been reduced to the awful equivalent of foil-wrapped Pop Tarts, waiting only to provide nourishment for some brutal, unimaginably evil, darkly intelligent, other-dimensional horror?’ (Dean R.Koontz, Phantoms, 1983)
‘”Pleased to meet you,” Arnstein said, and took the offered hand. It felt like a wooden glove inside a casing of cured ham …’ (S.M. Stirling, On the Oceans of Eternity, 2000)
‘Some women, Commander Norton had decided long ago, should not be allowed aboard ship; weightlessness did things to their breasts that were too damn distracting. It was bad enough when they were motionless; but when they started to move, and sympathetic vibrations set in, it was more than any warm-blooded male should be asked to take.’ (Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama, 1973) No comment, absolutely no comment.
‘Hope was a classic, a classic barmaid, one whose broad behind leaves an imprint on the pages of history.’ (Robert Leckie, Helmet for My Pillow, 1957)
I’ll leave Thog there contemplating Hope’s historic behind, and knowing his predilections I’m sure she had epoch-making breasts too. My own hope is that these quotations will serve as a caution to all practicing writers as well as providing fine entertainment for the rest of us — and budding science fiction writers should bear in mind that Thog is watching.
There are hundreds more examples of Thog’s influence lurking on the Ansible website and here http://thog.org/ Do visit and have a click around (free but donations are welcome) and if you find any particularly good (bad) specimens please email them to me at email@example.com then maybe we’ll be able to publish another selection here.
Huge thanks to David Langford for allowing me to do this.
My sister Carol, then aged 13, had got a holiday job as a waitress in one of Southport’s big department stores, the sort of place where ladies of a certain age would go for afternoon tea. One particular old biddy was there every afternoon for a toasted teacake and a pot of tea for one (she appeared to have no friends) and she was proving to be distinctly unpleasant, constantly finding fault with the food and the service and never leaving a tip.
Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant — I never have but I’ve known several ex-waitresses over the years and they all have shocking tales to tell — will know that upsetting the serving staff is not a sensible idea. Revenge may be taken, sometimes in terrible ways: the ‘sneezer’ in Friends was a mild one. My sister was not a vindictive person but the kitchen staff didn’t like to see her treated this way, so before toasting the teacake they would play football with it behind the scenes, then slice it in half and toast it before having another kickabout on the kitchen floor, then Carol would take it to Miss Miserable and serve it with a flourish and a little curtsy (¨Your teacake, ma’am¨) trying to keep a straight face, which was difficult as she had a keen sense of humour and a broad grin.
My own involvement in the food-serving business was brief and dramatic, and not in a restaurant. I had got a few days’ work at the Southport Flower Show as a bar porter. It wasn’t exacting. I had to take the full crates from the car park over to the beer tent in the morning then bring back the empties during the course of the day. There was a lot of hanging-about time, and on the final day the Catering Manager summoned me. “You’re a public-school boy aren’t you?” I admitted that I was. “I thought so,” he said; “You see, you were lounging about with your hands in your pockets, and an ordinary chap wouldn’t dare to do that here. Come with me, I have a special job for you.” It was a curious method of selection but I said “OK, sir” and tried to look pleased and a bit honoured.
My special job was to carry a dish bearing a whole poached salmon over to the trestle tables on the far side of the field where the Lord Mayor was holding a celebratory lunch for the high-ups of the Flower Show plus various wives and assorted dignitaries, all dressed up to the nines. The dish was quite heavy but off I went, and I’d got about half-way across the field when I tripped and fell, sending the salmon spilling in fragments onto the grass. I looked around to see if anyone had witnessed this unfortunate mishap and expected cries of outrage from the Manager and anyone else who might have seen, but in the afternoon heat everything seemed to have gone strangely quiet, the Mayor and his party appeared to be miles away on some far-off horizon, the beer tent was merely a distant buzzing and time seemed to stand still, so I did what any decent, honest, godfearing public-school boy would have done: I bent down and scooped up the chunks of salmon with my bare hands, plonked the fragments back onto the platter and then patted and moulded them into the approximate shape of a fish, looking nervously about to see if I was being observed. I hoped that any odd bits of grass or other greenery clinging to the reconstituted salmon would pass for garnish.
I wiped my hands on my pants and made it to the high table without further incident, where I placed the dish gently in front of the Lord Mayor praying that he wouldn’t notice anything amiss, but he just said “Ah, the piéce de resistance” and started serving it. I muttered “Bon appétit” and went over to the beer tent as quickly as I could without actually sprinting, and there I lurked for the rest of the afternoon doing my best to turn invisible. It seemed only a matter of time before one of the diners would discover a fag-end, or worse, in their salmon, and it would be all too obvious who had been responsible. But there was no immediate outcry, and it soon transpired there were other things to experience behind the beer tent: I was a fairly naïve youth and rather shocked to find that the bar staff, who to my young eyes seemed at best middle-aged and some of them actually old and distinctly ugly, were having sex back there, usually opting for what was then and maybe still is known as a knee-trembler, doing it standing up against one of the tent-posts, and if there was a height difference there were plenty of boxes and beer crates around for the smaller partner to stand on. And I’d thought that sex petered out at the age of about 25.
Back home with my guilty pay packet, I kept quiet. I watched the local tv news expecting to see reports of an outbreak of botulism or salmonella poisoning at the Flower Show, and scanned the local paper the next day expecting headlines like
FLOWER SHOW FATALITIES
POLICE SEEK BAR PORTER
I didn’t tell my parents what had happened because I knew that if I had done my father, with whom I wasn’t getting on too well, would make a big deal out of it, making me write a letter of apology to the Lord Mayor or something like that and blowing the whole thing wide open. I didn’t even tell my sister Carol because I knew that she would find it hilarious and tease me about it, probably concocting a little performance of me effing and blinding while desperately scooping up the salmon. I wouldn’t have minded this because we got on very well and Carol could be extremely funny, but I knew that my mother would soon be in on the joke, and then my dad … I said nothing, but the headlines in my mind grew worse:
SOUTHPORT SENSATION – MISHAP OR MURDER?
After a couple of days with still no hue and cry I began to venture cautiously out into the town with my shades on and my collar turned up, looking nervously about for passing policemen and steering well clear of hospitals and flower shows. I started growing a beard.
My family knew nothing of my fish fiasco but when the parents weren’t around I told Carol about the goings-on behind the beer tent expecting her to be a bit shocked perhaps but also amused — big bro being a bit sophisticated y’know — but she had a better story. She said that she had gone to the basement toilet in the department store and pushing open the unlocked door had found one of the kitchen hands “having a bit of fun with himself”, as she put it. (The expression “having a wank” was not yet current in 1963, at least not in respectable Southport.) Other young girls might have found this traumatic and needed councelling in later life but Carol just found it wildly funny, and suggested that perhaps he might have been making a special ingredient for the Cream of Mushroom soup ordered by the snooty couple at Table 12, and there were more variations on this theme (“Was our home-made mayonnaise to your taste, sir?”), and I realized that li’l sis was rather more wordly-wise than I’d suspected.
I never did tell the family about the salmon — indeed, I’ve never old anyone about it until now, even as a joke. I’d like to say that confessing it has been a relief, an unburdoning of a guilty secret carried for far too many years, and beg the forgiveness of those ancient diners, but after all this time who gives a toss.
For anyone who likes to waste their time on pointless puzzles here’s one, and it’s even more pointless than most because I can’t supply the solution. If you can you’ll be saving me from even more grief.
In my sorting through old papers I came across a single typed sheet headed NON ALIAS PLOT with a list of various names which I soon realized were all anagrams of each other. The typing was done on what looks like my old Olivetti portable and the paper size is quarto, not A4, which would seem to date it back to the early 1970s. But what does it mean, what on earth was I thinking? Above all, what are all these names anagrams of?
At that time I was doing illustrations and writing various things for some of the more adventurous (meaning small-time and unsuccessful) periodicals of the day, and it looks as though this might have been an attempt at some sort of avante-garde piece. Perhaps these characters were to feature in a story or playlet; I can imagine Pat Lion Sloan as the very posh p.a. to a top executive and maybe Alan Tinspool as a rather self-important manager in the grocery business, but after them things take a more bizarre turn. Lon (‘Piano’) Salt is obviously an itinerant boogie-woogie piano player, perhaps in a vague partnership with Pliant Alonso the eccentric dancer, while Spain O’Tallon, Nina Last Loop and Lopo Slantani seem to be denizens of the US underworld, but I can offer no clues about Polliana Sot or Alan T. Loopins. Maybe the denouement of my little tale was to have been that all these characters were actually the same person. I was always trying to be clever in those days, with little success then and not much more now. J.G. Ballard I was not.
I’ve spent more time puzzling over this than I want to admit. The letters in these names obviously came from something, some key name or title or phrase — I wouldn’t have just chosen them randomly — but searching what’s left of my brain produces absolutely no memory of it. I’ve also tried feeding the letters into various online Anagram Solvers but the solution remains a mystery, although they did come up with a few amusing variations: the onanist Pallo making a mess on the post-anal lino and getting a notional slap from his indulgent mum. I feel that the answer is staring me in the face, that with a bit more effort it will reveal itself, and when it does I’ll cry out “Of course! Why didn’t I see it?”
But so far it hasn’t. If one of my devoted readers can figure it out please post the answer in the Comments and put me out of my anguish.
Neologisms for coronavirus communication, by Jay Martel, from The New Yorker (print edition), July 20, 2020.
Maskhole An individual who wears a mask in a way that makes it completely ineffective — e.g., below the nose, under the chin, on the back of the head.
Face naked The state of facial exposure that occurs when an individual declines to wear a mask in public. For example, “Pence went all face naked to the Mayo Clinic.”
Body mullet What most people wear on Zoom calls: a nice top and, below the waist, underwear or less. (“Business up top, party down below.”)
The NOVID-19 The nineteen minutes after a too-close interaction with a maskless stranger during which you experience a thickness in your throat and a certainty that you’re dying. This sometimes lasts longer if frantic hand washing, antiseptic gargling, and estate planning are not readily available.
Overdistancing When the guy in front of you in line has a metric understanding of the six in six feet, allowing twenty feet to open up between him and the next person in line, which then allows others to interpret that next person as the end of the line and to cut in front of you.
Domino distancing When the person behind you in line stands too close, causing you to crowd the person in front of you, and on and on until everyone dies.
Emotional distancing Deciding that now really isn’t the time to make big decisions about a relationship or, for that matter, to have a conversation about it.
Covideo A short video featuring a quarantined individual’s child doing something adorable and/or profane, the public sharing of which falls somewhere between cute and a cry for help.
Stockholm syndrome The assumption that everyone would be just fine without any government restrictions.
Someday, Noneday, Whoseday?, Whensday?, Blursday, Whyday?, Doesn’tmatterday Days of the week.
Parenting The ability to figure out why the PlayStation isn’t working with the Wi-Fi.
Body Zoom-morphia Finding your own image on a group video call so unappealing that you are unable to focus on anything else.
Quorumtine The minimum number of family members necessary to decide what to watch on TV.
Pan-demic A potentially dangerous increase in the baking of bread in a quarantined home.
COVID-30 Formerly COVID-15; the amount of weight gained by an average adult during quarantine. Sometimes related to a pan-demic.
Helter shelter That moment in the quarantine day when everything seems dirty and chaotic and you feel like saying, “Fuck it, let’s go outside. I don’t care if we die and a bunch of other people do, too.”
Flattening the curve Trying to fit into your jeans after three months of sweatpants. (See COVID-30.)
Germophobe Formerly, crazy people (e.g., Howard Hughes); now everyone except crazy people.
In 1996 she was in Budapest filming some scenes for the movie Evita and she granted an interview to the local newspaper Blikk. Since the interviewer spoke little English and Madonna no Hungarian, an interpreter translated the questions from Hungarian into English, then translated Madonna’s replies from English into Hungarian. The result was published in Blikk, in Hungarian of course.
Then USA Today wanted to publish the interview and needed a copy of it, urgently. There was no time to go back to the original tape, so Blikk’s version was translated from Hungarian back into English — and not too well, happily for us. USA Today published only a part of it. This is the whole version from the re-translation.
————————————————————— BLIKK: Madonna, Budapest says hello with arms that are spread-eagled. Did you have a visit here that was agreeable? Are you in good odor? You are the biggest fan of our young people who hear your musical productions and like to move their bodies in response. MADONNA: Thank you for saying these compliments (holds up hands). Please stop with taking sensationalist photographs until I have removed my garments for all to see. This is a joke I have made. BLIKK: Madonna, let’s cut toward the hunt: are you a bold hussy-woman that feasts on men who are tops? MADONNA: Yes, yes, this is certainly something that brings to the surface my longings. In America it is not considered to be mentally ill when a woman advances on her prey in a discothèque setting with hardy cocktails present. And there is a more normal attitude toward leather play-toys that also makes my day. BLIKK: Is this how you met Carlos, your love-servant who is reputed? Did you know he was heaven-sent right off the stick? Or were you dating many other people in your bed at the same time? MADONNA: No, he was the only one I was dating in my bed then, so it is a scientific fact that the baby was made in my womb using him. But as regards those questions, enough! I am a woman and not a test-mouse! Carlos is an everyday person who is in the orbit of a star who is being muscled-trained by him, not a sex machine.
BLIKK: May we talk about your other “baby”, your movie then? Please do not be denying that the similarities between you and the real Evita are grounded in basis. Power, money, tasty food, Grammys — all these elements are afoot. MADONNA: What is up in the air with you? Evita never was winning a Grammy! BLIKK: Perhaps not. But as to your film, in trying to bring your reputation along a rocky road, can you make people forget the bad explosions of Who’s That Girl? and Shanghai Surprise? MADONNA: I am a tip-top starlet. That is my job that I am paid to do. BLIKK: OK, here’s a question from left space. What was your book Slut about? MADONNA: It was called Sex, my book. BLIKK: Not in Hungary. Here it was called Slut. How did it come to publish? Were you lovemaking with a man-about-town printer? Do you prefer making suggestive literature to fast-selling CDs? MADONNA: There are different facets to my career highway. I am preferring only to become respected all over the map as a 100% artist. BLIKK: There is much interest in you from this geographic region, so I must ask this final questions: How many Hungarian men have you dated in bed? Are they No. 1? How are they comparing to Argentine men, who are famous being tip-top as well? MADONNA: Well, to avoid aggravating global tension, I would say it’s a tie (laugh). No, no. I am serious now. See here, I am working like a canine all the way around the clock! I have been too busy to try the goulash that makes your country one for the record books. BLIKK: Thank you for the candid chitchat. MADONNA: No problem, friend who is a girl.
Heard a good one on TV the other day. It was in one of those true-crime things with a retired detective talking about some of the murder cases he had solved, and he amuses me because in his pieces-to-camera he occasionally goes into a sort of tough-guy lingo like a private eye in a 1940s movie:
Whenever someone would ask me if I felt any sympathy for the people I was arresting I used to say “The only place you’ll find sympathy round here is in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.”
Rather surprising to hear this on afternoon telly and probably the invention of a scriptwriter, but it’s one I’m storing up for possible future use myself, so if someone should come running to me saying “Wah, I’ve lost my wallet and I don’t know what to do!” I’ll have my response right there ready.
I once thought of compiling a book of put-downs, those crushing remarks also known as squelchers that put the other person firmly in their place, and started collecting examples — like this early one attributed to King George V who apparently said it to a guest who had arrived at a grand function wearing the newly-fashionable turned-up trousers:
We were unaware, sir, that the corridors of our palace were damp.
Rather unfair as the poor guest couldn’t answer back (“Oh, go fuck yourself, your majesty” would have been nice).
More modern instances can be more directly abusive, like this one from Kurt Vonnegut Jr:
If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.
and these unattributed ones:
Here’s a nickel. Go call up all your friends. People clap when they see you. They clap their hands over their eyes. If I throw a stick, will you leave?
and my little anthology would have included a few classics: certainly a few by the wonderful Dorothy Parker, e.g.
This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.
Tell him I was too fucking busy — or vice versa.
Don’t look now, but there’s one man too many in this room and I think it’s you.
A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.
I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.
But my collection foundered because to make it a decent length I would have had to pad it out with more over-familiar quotations from the likes of Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, Thomas Beecham and other historical wits so I reluctantly put it aside. That was a few years ago, though, and the put-downs go on.
Hecklers sometimes come up with good ones as when U2 were playing a gig in Glasgow and Bono decided to give the audience a little lecture.
A pause between songs, the lights go down. Bono begins clapping his hands together slowly . . . once . . . twice . . . three times . . . four times . . . Bono says: “Every time I clap my hands, a child dies in Africa.” Voice from crowd: “Stop fucking clapping then!”
But It can be dangerous to mix it with a sharp comedian like Paul Merton who once responded to a heckler with
Excuse me, I’m trying to work here. How would you like it if I stood yelling down the alley while you’re giving blowjobs to transsexuals?
But pride of place here goes to what Gershon Legman described as “the worst insult a woman can offer a man”:
The French windows in the study were open and a sparrow flew in. It perched on a standard lamp, and when I tried to shoo it out again it flew across to the bookshelves and found a hiding place high among the books where I couldn’t get at it.
We don’t see many sparrows these days. Loss of habitat, pesticides, cats? Who knows, but they have certainly become scarce round here, and this one didn’t look too well. Had it flown indoors to have a rest, or even to die? Dunno, but there’s something rather alarming about having a wild creature in your room, even a tiny and possibly sick one, and I needed to do something about it.
I had a long-handled brush thing for sweeping cobwebs away from corners and ceilings, and started poking about among the shelved books to try and shift the little visitor. It was a soft brush which I thought wouldn’t do any harm if it touched the creature, but when it did the sparrow simply flew across the room and took up a new position on top of the clock on the wall, looking at me with its mad bird’s eyes. I tried cajoling it, shouting at it and flapping my arms up and down to demonstrate what it ought to be doing, but it just sat there.
I wielded the brush again, trying to manoeuvre the sparrow towards the French windows, but it just flew back across the room and found another hiding place in the bookshelves. I had work to do and tried to get on with it, hoping that the bird would fly out of its own accord, but it didn’t, and I found that I couldn’t settle to my writing knowing that I had an avian observer only a couple of feet away. This went on for quite some time.
At one stage I went out into the back garden and tried to lure the bird out by making what I hoped might be seductive sparrow-like noises. God knows what the neighbours must have thought if they’d witnessed such a strange performance, but this didn’t work either. I went back inside and just sort of paced about, wondering what else I could do.
Soon I needed to pee, and this was tricky because if the bird flew away while I was out of the room how could I be sure that it had gone? It was adept at concealing itself. So I went upstairs to the loo, closing the study door behind me reckoning that at least it couldn’t get into any other part of the house, and when I returned all seemed calm. Perhaps the bird had gone, but I eventually spotted the little bastard still there amongst the books. Another long stand-off ensued.
By now it was starting to get dark and a good deal cooler, and I wanted to close the French windows and lock up but didn’t like to shut the bird in overnight, so out came the brush again, now applied much more vigorously, and with a good deal more poking and shouting the bird did eventually go. It didn’t seem to be flying very convincingly as it disappeared into the sunset, but what can you do?
And that, dear Editor, is why my manuscript is late.