Cheap delicious dinner for one

All alone? Saturday evening? Nowhere to go? No mates? No money?

Join the club.

The cheapest meat you can buy that doesn’t contain added horse is probably chicken livers, about 50p for a frozen tub containing two servings as below (although fresh is better). They’re delicious! Thaw a tub well in advance, then:

Heat a dessert spoonful of good olive oil in a skillet and add:

1/2 a medium onion, cut in pieces

A handful of sweet red pointy pepper, cut in pieces

A medium mushroom, cut in pieces

A good fat clove of rose garlic, chopped

and sauté gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Add:

Three or four chicken livers, chopped in pieces

1/2 a tin of chopped tomatoes

1/2 a glass of Merlot

Salt to taste

Drink the other half, put a lid on the pan and continue cooking on a low-medium heat for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Finally stir-in a dessert spoonful of cream (if affordable) and liberally add crushed or coarse-ground black pepper and serve on a bed of rice. MEANWHILE…

Rice:

Heat a dessert spoon of good olive oil in a small saucepan until very hot

Add a small cup of long-grain rice (I like the ‘aged’ rice for flavour)

Stir until the oil is absorbed. The rice should be crisp but not browned

Very carefully add boiling water until the rice is covered by about 1cm

Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt

Boil 4 minutes then turn down heat, put on lid and simmer 4 minutes

Test rice for tenderness and leave with heat off a further 4 minutes or until ready.

Strain and serve, holding an intelligent conversation with yourself (or eat in front of grim episode of Wallander). This simple but low-cost recipe with double the ingredients can also be used to impress a date with your sophistication and savoir faire, if you can manage to find one.

AND…

If he or she doesn’t show up, take the leftovers and pulverise them in a blender. scrape into a raised dish, pour a tablespoon of melted butter over and pop in the fridge. Hey presto, Paté!

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Down home blues

It’s nearly the end of June, and still nobody has bought my house. What’s the matter with everyone?

Daily, the news brings word from the financial community that house prices have resumed their inexorable climb. Two percent in the past year alone. The average house price is now £18,000 more than I am asking for my little cottage on the outskirts of a busy seaside town in Wales (if my cottage was in London, in the street where my mother still lives, I would be beating buyers off at £2.5 million!).

misc 028But from here you are only minutes away from a wildly romantic, mile-long curve of shoreline, often almost deserted; and ravishing countryside. You need only to use a little imagination.. And close-by are schools, galleries, villagey pubs, the university campuses…

It makes no sense that no-one has bought my house. Plenty of people have seen it. I have kept it clean and tidy for them, and in a good state of decorative repair. Some have been picky about the living-room wallpaper; some were really looking for a house on a Bovis estate, where they could watch their new car from the window; others have made offers, only to pull out for reasons beyond my control.

And that’s the point. I’m not in control. No-one is.

Given that I am ‘asset-rich, cash-poor’, as they say, only without the cash part, I have formulated two strategies for survival into imminent old age. One involves selling-up and going to live on my pension in Portugal. I’ve never been to Portugal, it’s a country that exists only in my mind.

The other involves finding a familiar role as a gardener and house-sitter somewhere, and living on the income from letting my house until I can sell it and retire.

And Plan B has indeed eventualised – a Bushism meaning it might actually happen – given, of course, the old dictum that you should be careful what you wish for. I’ve been invited to look after a large and mouldering house in France.

The only question is, when? We have been in discussion for five months. Last week I was taken over to see the place. I was due to start work in the next few days. I had begun packing, briefed an agent to let my house, rehomed Cat…. An attempted break-in had invested my immediate installation with a new degree of urgency.

Now there has been another fiddle-faddling delay over something, I don’t know what, miles away, and I am without a job and scrabbling for money to buy food. And today I shall have to admit defeat over the matter of stumping-up £500 for my annual holiday at jazz camp, and forfeit my deposit. I don’t feel like making music anyway.

Asset-rich, cash-free, I am completely stuck and seemingly powerless to influence anything. The usually helpful discarnate entities who run things appear to have gone on holiday themselves. Nothing useful or beautiful is eventuating. My life seems to be crumbling into the sand like a rusting lobster-pot.

nanteos-jan-12-036.jpgPlease, won’t somebody buy my little house?

Postscriptum

A friend calls to warn me she has been diagnosed with cancer. She finally gave miracle birth to a baby boy two months ago, age 40, and now this.

I’m going to stop moaning, for a while at least.

Seeing eye to eye

As I don’t Tweet, having a morbid dread of social media, this next Post is going to be really boring for you. Never mind, I have a terrible urge to write about something personal. Turn over if not interested.

I went for an eye test this morning. I had been getting blurred vision, but not all the time. Naturally, today of all days I can see clearly for miles; I can even see to type on the keypad. But a few days ago everything was a blur, unless it was exactly twenty feet away.

I first went to the optician in about 2003, when I started to get large, grey, fuzzy patches in my field of vision. My driving is approximate at the best of times, but this was worrying. It turned out that I’m astigmatic, my right eye is short, my left long. With age, my vision in both eyes was getting longer and my brain was confused. Lenses were prescribed, and frames, at incredible expense. I never wore them, and the fuzzy patches went away by themselves.

It seems however that I already had exceptional eyesight, which was compensating for any deterioration. I may be walking into lamp posts, but I can read an eye chart all the way down to guessing what the little letters at the bottom are. The little circles on the red and green bars always look solid, round and black. The little pressure-puffer was reassured. By my standards I am practically blind, but apparently I still see better than most people do.

With the aid of lenses and bright light, I can read print sharply in 5pt, which is about as small as print gets. Except, that is, when I am not at the opticians and struggling instead to make out the ingredients on packaging in the supermarket. I cannot see my own face in the mirror, it is a memory rather than an image. No wonder I think I am so young. I have given up reading books, newspapers. My computer keeps warning me my screen resolution is set too low, but it makes the text bigger.

But the snapshots of the backs of my eyeballs were more worrying, and I have been packed off to the doctor’s. My arteries are too wiggly, like a road map of Wales. I have to get my blood pressure checked. And my terrible secret is the blurring of vision always follows the consumption of sugary foods. I am to be checked also for ‘diab’, which I suspect may stand for diabolical. Nevertheless, it is something I must cure myself. Don’t eat sugar. Simples!

The last time I saw a GP, I was either pissing my pants before I could get to a toilet, or alternatively bursting for a pee and nothing was coming through. A couple of times I had to go in the street, which was embarrassing as I wasn’t even drunk. The doctor sent me off for a scan, and they said I had gravel in one of my kidneys, which explained the pains in my lower back. I didn’t go back again, figuring it would all clear up, everything usually does, and anyway I don’t care for rectal examinations and catheters up my pipi.

So if I go in this time with sugar diabetes, she will look at me askance and probably have me committed, and it won’t be that serious, really. It never is.

The singer not the song

Being an amateur musician of no great gifts, I watched the final rounds of the Cardiff Singer of the World competition over the weekend open-mouthed, and marvelled at the fabulous singing of the contestants; several of whom came from really humble backgrounds in poor countries, but who had somehow won through to this, the most prestigious of vocal tourneys.

How much work must they have put in to perfecting their glorious technique? Far more than I was ever prepared to! A wobbly dissolve takes me back to my childhood:

Fifty-five years ago, at a preparatory boarding school for little gentlemen in the English countryside, miles from home, I was being groomed as a boy soprano, to sing in competition.

The music master was Mr Brown. Young, short, with a shock of frizzy hair and a prominent Adam’s apple, he had taken me under his wing, plucked me out for stardom.

Mr Brown was a gifted musician but a terrible prima donna, with serious anger management issues.

In singing class, if Mr Brown felt he was being disrespected by pupils talking, laughing, not paying attention or singing the wrong words out of tune, he would wade into the midst of us and seize whomever he supposed to be the terrified miscreant by the hair, lifting him bodily out of his chair and dragging him, screaming, to the front, to make an example of him.

Complaints to the headmaster fell on deaf ears. Boys were there to be disciplined. Running the Empire would be far worse. One day, however, Mr Brown repeated the performance once too often, only to find himself holding, not quite a boy, but a bloodied hank of hair torn from a raw scalp.

This was the last straw. A small group of older boys – ten or twelve years old – got together to plot his downfall. One by the name of Barrington persuaded his parents to complain, almost certainly falsely, that Mr Brown had been touching his private parts in piano lessons, and Mr Brown’s teaching career was immediately toast. I have pictured him since, dwindling in obscurity in some seaside boarding house.

Even if he had touched me up, which I don’t think he ever did – he was very supportive of me and even wrote an operetta for me to star in – I imagine I would nonetheless still be alive now. I have a rather unfashionable view that paedophiles (of the self-disciplined, non-predatory kind) make the best teachers, mainly because – unlike the others – they actually like being around children.

Sadly, the demise of Mr Brown was the early hiatus in my singing career that effectively ended it. Continuity in education is extremely important, and to lose an inspirational teacher is to lose interest in the subject.

I went on to become leading Treble in my public-school choir, but disliked the music master, Mr Lester. Soon afterwards my voice descended into an uncertain register and I was cast aside like an old shoe, and did not dare sing again until my late 40s. A lot of touching of private parts went on at that expensive school in the early 1960s, that nowadays would result in excoriating headlines, multiple enquiries, savagely deterrent gaol sentences and lifelong registrations on barring lists for sexual deviants. I expect not a few High Court judges remember those days well.

The finalists in Cardiff were all clearly trained to within a millimetre of their lives and performed, to my ear, faultlessly in several languages. I have trouble just remembering English song lyrics. Probably from their early teens they would have been spotted at school, maybe in competitions; moved on to a conservatoire and worked with experts every day for years, developing their concert repertoires, until they had put in the ‘ten thousand hours’ of practice that Malcolm Gladwell writes are what it takes to make a consummate professional in any field.

The technicalities of singing go far beyond mere voice production. To enjoy a professional career, proper singers have to be completely musical, multi-instrumental;  have a deep knowledge of the composers and scores; be able to ‘tell a story’, create characters on stage and engage with their audiences. And much, much more.

But they also need to be marketable, which means nowadays they have to be telegenic, and conform to a certain physical standard of acceptability.

I have debated fiercely with myself as to whether I should mention this, because it is not a nice thing to say, but the ultimate winner of both the Song prize and the main competition, a superbly musical and vocally gifted American mezzo-soprano, was desperately unfortunate-looking: not just ‘big’, as opera singers, particularly mezzos can be, but – dare I say it –  tending to the morbidly obese: an attractive young woman, seemingly, and a winning personality, trapped within a gross carapace of flesh, sweating profusely under the lights in a bulging pink taffeta gown.

I could only picture her, quite unfairly I know, as she was far, far better than this, in a helmet with cow horns, belting out Brunnhilde from the back of a vast, brooding Beyreuth stage; and try not to think of her warbling ecstatically in some perfervid Puccini love-duet with the late, great, gargantuan figure of Luciano Pavarotti….

It’s often said that singers don’t produce their voices; rather, it is the voice that produces the singer. Sometimes voices can be unkind.

The monkey off our backs

The pundits are out in force, scratching their coiffed heads over the new phenomenon of mass public demonstrations breaking out all around the globe.

The demonstrators seem to be an odd, headless mix of largely middle-class, educated young people united by many different causes and grievances. Everything from austerity, unemployment and police overreaction, increasing authoritarianism and religious governance, to complaining about the banks, public transport and healthcare services, political corruption, rising food prices, economic incompetence and the sheer waste of staging prestigious global sporting events, or ‘circuses’ as the Romans used to call them.

Last winter Greece, last month Turkey, now Brazil. It has been noticed that there are shifting connections, vague similarities, but what exactly? And could it happen here in Britain?*

Well, if you manage to link Turkey and Brazil, why not add-in the Tottenham riots last year, the Occupy movement that spang up briefly in London’s Square Mile, as well as in New York and other countries, involving a lot of articulate young people? The causes of which are still being scratched-over, but which seem equally unfocussed. Elsewhere, you had the anti-Putin demonstrations in Russia, now quenched by insidious State brutality and the artifice of national revival; the Tea Party movement in the USA, and the Arab Spring now coming inexorably to grief; the Pink and Orange revolutions, and more.

You might come to the conclusion that all these manifestations of public discontent are evidence of a paradigm shift in human society. But if they have one thing in common, it is only that people want the monkey off our backs.

We are fed-up with paternalistic and authoritarian models of governance, inappropriate to a better-educated world of seven billion. Linked as one by the new personal communications media and enjoying rising prosperity, people are angered by the growing disparity between rich and poor, the failure of governments to tackle international disputes, religious intolerance and environmental threats.

They perceive, correctly, that in an increasingly complex, information-driven, borderless world, the old institutions have become unreliable and out of touch; incapable of acting for the general good and corrupted by the old corporatist model of global governance sustained largely by the USA; while, at the same time, seeing US hegemony weakening across the world.

We see the rich, protected by an increasingly unaccountable security establishment, their money salted away in liberal tax regimes, ordering their superyachts – literally taking to the lifeboats. We see those who, merely because they move other people’s money around while betting riskily on its exchange value, helping themselves to incomprehensible salaries and bonuses. We perceive with unease, the fundamentally exploitative relationship between capitalism and consumerism, with its hollow promise: ‘you keep buying my stuff and I’ll go on lending you the money’. We see resource depletion, weather-pattern disruption and environmental degradation taking place on an alarming scale, while those we empower to order things turn away.

Yet, at the same time, we enjoy the shameful distractions of a largely Western model of junk culture and grow fat and lazy in our addictive dependance on its throwaway products, and feel vaguely guilty.

With these mass protests enrolling millions in small acts of trespass, we can contrast the actions of one man: Edward Snowden, a ‘whistleblower’ of epic proportions, who is, ironically, charged with espionage against the highly secretive US security establishment he once worked for, in a case of ‘Spies vs Spy’.

The charge against Snowden begs the questions: except in a genuinely corrupt and authoritarian state, how can obtaining and releasing evidence of possible illegality by the state be itself illegal?

Should his actions not be protected by the US Constitution?

Is it not the security state itself that is creating the very insecurity it is so generously budgeted to combat? Should someone not point this out, if there is evidence?

Mr Snowden’s actions in revealing the hitherto unknown extent and probable illegality of interactive US and allied surveillance, very possibly not recognised even by governments themselves**; the revelations about GCHQ and its interceptions of literally billions of international communications (all perfectly above-board, old boy), the spying by Britain on its own partners in the G8, the illegal planting of spyware in pre-assembly chipsets and the surfacing just today of the probability that the intercept activity has extended to state-licensed commercial espionage and covert cyber-warfare, have been done, he says, for the very same reasons all those millions of people are taking to the streets and squares of Cairo, Istanbul and Sao Paolo.

It’s the same phenomenon that in the late ’80s brought down the Soviet empire and the Berlin Wall. People everywhere are demanding: release from patriarchal control and supervision, and accountable, smaller governments. As the institutions of state have lost control of the information nexus, so the people feel empowered, but in a nice way! No Winter Palaces or Bastilles are being stormed.

It’s all quite encouraging, really. But it won’t change anything in the long run. Government is the ultimate expression of human fallibility.

NOTE: This was written prior to the Maidan massacre in Kiev which led to the Russian incursions into Crimea and SE Ukraine.

** Unknown, that is, to anyone who has not yet seen the Jason Bourne movie franchise…

Young love

Poor Jeremy Forrest. The 30-year-old teacher-booby who ran away to France with pupil, 15-year-old Ms S (name redacted by order of the weird British legal system, given that it was all over the papers for a week) has been found guilty of child abduction.

To the entire country, apart seemingly from a jury of Bradford mill-owners,  it was obvious who was the child and who the adult in this case. Such is now the hysteria of the British public over so-called ‘paedophilia’ that a minor case of intergenerational infatuation and a silly escapade with no harm done can be turned into a heinous sexual  crime of national significance.

For God’s sake snap out of it and grow up, pathetic and terrified Britons. You do not have to take seriously, the sonorous headline-chasing pronouncements of the Crown Prosecution Service and inarticulate police spokespersons crowing over a perverse verdict. (The French police were so unimpressed, they nearly couldn’t be bothered to drag the star-crossed lovers back.)

Mr Forrest was an idiot, Ms S an infatuated junior temptress, but it is not as if Mr Forrest had been caught molesting an entire class of nine-year-olds or collecting horrendous porn images involving baby-rape. Wherever the hard-edge of the law on Consent may have been drawn, Ms S was visibly not a child, and Mr Forrest was clearly no ‘paedophile’ (I do wish people would use the correct word, the word is ‘pederast’. A ‘paedophile’ is someone who genuinely loves children. I suppose that is also a crime in sex-embarrassed, child-hating Britain.)

Of course, teachers have a special responsibility. Of course he broke the professional code of conduct and the ethical basis of his contract and, in view of the technicality of Ms S being underage, deserves some punishment on top of the loss of his family and career. But the criminal law is surely much too blunt an object to bring to bear in cases where harsh terms such as ‘abduction’ and ‘paedophilia’ are clearly overstated and fly in the face of the known facts.

In more mature and balanced societies, some financial compensation to the family would be appropriate, followed in due course by a ceremony of marriage.

Postscriptum:

Mr Forrest has been sentenced to a savage five and a half YEARS in gaol for his idiocy. This Victorian reprisal is seemingly the cumulative result of additional charges relating to the individual occasions on which Mr Forrest agrees he had sex with Ms S., who now says she intends to marry him when he comes out.

It’s all a bit sad, really.

No sex please, we’re Liberal Democrats

The Liberal peer, Lord Rennard has reportedly been questioned by Police over allegations that he made ‘unwanted sexual advances’ to sophomores at conferences when he was party chairman.

There surely cannot be a politician standing who has never made an ‘unwanted sexual advance’ to someone at a party conference. Bonding and the release of sexual tensions are what party conferences are for. It’s a party, geddit? Did the police question John or Teddy Kennedy over their notorious behaviour at Democratic conventions? Ah no, ’twas different in those days.

The press has of course seized on the complaints as an excuse to berate poor Nick Clegg, who was probably not even party leader at the time, if he was even out of short trousers; why did he do nothing about it? What, and when, did he know? A shocked nation must be told!

The reason Rennard’s alleged ‘advances’ have caused such a furore, it seems to me, may be because he is visibly overweight and a bit creepy looking; he is said to have been overly persistent in his unwanted attentions, although there is no suggestion whatever that he actually got it out and put it in anyone’s drink for a laugh, or Tweeted ‘sexts’ of himself to total strangers he fancied.

I fear this is another one-up (perhaps not? Ed.) for the militant tendency of the feminist wing, the girlies who regard any kind of sexual interest from men as theoretical rape. Far be it from me to speculate on their motives or the root causes of paranoia, but isn’t lust normal human behaviour? Do we not all suffer from it occasionally? Can we not say we are grown-up enough to cope with it?

Had he been perhaps more slim, dashing and a war hero, like ‘Captain’ Paddy Ashdown,  I’m sure Rennard wouldn’t have had to waste his conference evenings lurking outside the elevators, popping-up everywhere hopefully, like a character in a Brian Rix farce, while giggling women fled from his sweaty clutches. It must have been humiliating for the poor chap. (This is all only in my imagination, you understand. Source: various press reports).

A final thought. I had no idea even that ‘making unwanted sexual advances’ was a criminal offence? I mean, how would anyone know their advances were unwanted, until they actually made one? And if no-one was able to make sexual advances ever, in case they turned out to be unwanted, if ‘no man e’er wooed fair maid’, the human race would have come to a juddering halt years ago. Maternity wards would have closed down everywhere, and the publishing business would be looking pretty salutary.

This litigious hoo-hah over any kind of complaint involving natural sexual behaviour between adults, however annoying it must be to be casually fancied for one’s tits and not for one’s first-class brain, out of which one is unsteadily climbing on a wonky ladder of Jaegerbombs, is becoming offensively ludicrous.* No-one is even remotely talking about rape or pederasty in this case.

A nation glued behind its twitching net curtains to forty-two channels of pornography on Sky and half a million internet videos of college girls being humped by Ukrainian truck drivers has somehow got itself into a dreadful pother over anyone who actually has or tries to have physical relations with anyone else.

It’s a peculiarly British hypocrisy.

The police must have far better things to do, than to investigate some long-dead complaint that a politician may have tentatively groped a junior colleague’s thigh in the lounge bar of some grim Midlands hotel, where everyone was semi-comatose after a day of bellicose but futile speeches, and was slapped down, merely because of a few too many grouse and Stilton suppers under his belt. It’s too absurd.

For, let’s face it, men do occasionally manage to score on these corporate occasions. Even your Uncle Bogler was not without the odd triumph. Okay, one. (We’re still in touch). And those hyperintelligent party chicks straight from university with their stockings and Blackberries must be a real turn-on.

Can you honestly blame ‘Fatty’ Rennard for trying? If, that is, he did try, which he says he didn’t?

What is the world coming to?

* I can reassure the ladies from bitter personal experience that it is equally distressing to be fancied for one’s large bank balance, country estate and Aston Martin Volante…
Postscriptum – January 2014
Seventeen-and-a-half judicial inquiries have finally concluded that while Lord Rennard’s behaviour was indeed reprehensible, and he should apologise to the women concerned, there was insufficient proof of their complaints to justify a criminal prosecution. Ah, the British genius for compromise!