Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Old age and incontinence

We went to visit Dave’s granny yesterday, and I know what you’re thinking. You’re putting two and two together aren’t you? Well you’d be wrong, so read on.

It’s never a particularly easy visit. She’s rather ancient at 92 and has been more than a bit deaf of late. She is admirably obstinate (depending on your point of view) and still has about 95% of her marbles. Conversations do have a tendency to be rather one way though as she can’t hear what you’re saying and she hasn’t mastered the skill of lip-reading.

She has two English toy terriers. They’re a bit mad, and a bit old. When we’re just about to arrive the dogs get sent upstairs and locked in the bedroom so that they don’t bite or scare the children.

Yesterday, although we arrived spot on our expected arrival time, the dogs were still downstairs. We did a bit of a manoeuvring in which we stood in the hall and the dogs went out past us through into the front garden. We then went into the living room and the dogs were brought back indoors and went upstairs.

I always sit in the same place when we visit Dave’s Granny. She doesn’t have central heating so, selfishly, I sit right next to the coal fire.

I sat down and thought the chair seemed very cold for one placed right next to the fireplace. I pondered this for a while and then became aware of another sensation. The seat felt cold, and wet.

I stood up rather quickly to discover that the seat I had been sitting on was wet, and that meant my seat was wet. I stood with my rear facing the fire and said to Dave “The seat’s wet….is that your Granny, or the dogs?”

That was unfair. I know Dave’s Granny only ever sits in one seat, and it isn’t the one next to the fire.

The dogs had been over-excited when we arrived and before being sent upstairs had seen fit to lose bladder control on one of the armchairs – the one near the fire.

Yuk, yuk and triple yuk.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Homestyle pork casserole

I tend to judge my culinary exploits by the requests for the recipe or a peek at the recipe book. This recipe prompted one diner to buy the recipe book and consider buying a slow cooker like ours, which I consider to be positive indicators.

I like easy, foolproof recipes and this one fits the bill. It’s also one that can be cooking merrily while you sit getting sloshed with your guests.


  • 150g of mixed dried prunes, apples and apricots
  • 125ml amontillado sherry (or tawny port)
  • 250ml dry red wine, eg. merlot or pinot noir (I used whatever was next off the wine rack)
  • groundnut or vegetable oil
  • 75g seasoned flour (I used gluten free flour and upped the amount of stock added)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander (I had coriander seed and crushed using pestle and mortar)
  • 1/2 tsp ground mace (or nutmeg)
  • about 1.7kg lean pork, eg. pork loin or leg (well-trimmed and cut into large bite-sized cubes)
  • 4 large shallots – finely sliced (I used small onions)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme or oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ltr hot chicken stock (I used stock cube)
  • the zest and juice of 1 lemon

Put dried prunes, apples and apricots in a pan with sherry (or port) and red wine and heat to just below simmering point over a low flame. Remove and leave to marinate for 6-8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 140 degC for a fan oven/gas mark 3, although I used slow cooker for 3 1/2 hours and that worked very well too.

Combine flour and ground spices into a large dish or bowl. Toss in the cubes of pork and coat them. Keep any surplus flour. A large tupperware container works well here – add meat to seasoned flour and shake tupperware with lid on and voila, meat is coated.

Heat a frying pan over a medium flame then pour in enough oil to barely cover the base. When the oil is hot throw in the shallots and fry for about 5 minutes or until they have lightly coloured. Transfer them to casserole using a slotted spoon.

Reheat the pan over a medium flame, adding more oil if necessary. When the oil is hot (but not smoking), toss in some of the pork. Don’t crowd the pan or the meat will stew rather than colour – on the other hand, put in enough cubes to keep the oil “occupied” or it will burn. Once the chunks of pork are coloured on all sides, remove them with a slotted spoon to the casserole, and carry on browning the remainder. Put the pan on one side for a moment.

Scoop out the dried fruits from the marinade (reserving it, and add them to the casserole with the herbs. Tip in any of the remaining deasoned flour and give the pot a good stir.

Return the frying pan to a high flame and pour in the reserved marinade. Bring to the boil and deglaze the pan for 2 minutes. Add the hot stock, bring everything back to the boil, then scrape the contents of the pan into the casserole.

Cover the casserole and put in the oven to cook for 2 hours, stirring it halfway through. When the meat is tender and the sauce is shiny and thick it’s ready. Just before serving, stir in the lemon zest and juice.


Original recipe Ruth Watson "Something for the Weekend"

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Yay. Nay.

Yay.  Those British gas people came and worked on the boiler. 

I know they were supposed to turn up on Sunday, and didn’t.  And I know they were supposed to turn up yesterday, and didn’t.  But they turned up today and we made them coffee and we all celebrated with champagne and chocolates.  (I made that last bit up but after such a long drawn out disaster it might have been nice to celebrate.)

Nay.  Those British Gas people came and worked on the boiler and the bloody thing still doesn’t work properly.

My husband tells me I should only worry about the things I can influence and he believes I shouldn’t worry about this because I can’t influence the outcome.  Those British Gas people have promised to come back tomorrow and I can’t control how successful they’ll be.

I can’t help myself.  I do get wound up by these things.  I also develop a systematic pessimistic view of such situations.  I knew they’d screw up at the weekend which is why I insisted on a fix for the weekend, it would give me a bit of a buffer before Christmas in which to have the rework, or in this case initial work, booked.

The depressing thing is that I know tomorrow’s visit will just be an attempt at diagnosis.  Parts will need ordering and a seventh visit will need to be booked.  That will fail leading to another diagnostic visit and so we go on ad infinitum.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Money down the drain

Relatively recently we decided our washing machine had died.  Our washing was emerging ripped and marked.

We had attempted to get the darned thing fixed.  The nice people at Mackfields in Brentwood tried to fix our Bosch.  The replaced the rubber seal which had been sadly neglected and had gone a bit skanky. 

The clothes and linen abuse continued and we decided it was time to get rid, and buy a new one.

I wanted a decent quality machine that would last forever so we ended up buying Miele with 10 year guarantee.  It cost an arm and a leg but the laundry that was being chewed was becoming costly too.

Today I was having a look at some clean laundry that was showing the same kind of marks that the laundry was displaying before we switched machines.  These were duvet covers that were new and hadn’t been washed before so I knew the damage was fresh.

I couldn’t believe it.  The new machine was causing the same problems that were being caused by the old ones.  Nightmare.  Loads of money down the drain.

A few minutes later Dave came into the room and said (rather over-dramatically) “I’ve caught it in the act!”

It transpires that Dave had caught the tumble dryer in the act of trashing the laundry.  Great!  I ditched a perfectly good washing machine and kept a crappy tumble dryer.

So I’m now looking at Miele tumble dryers, three days before Christmas.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

British Gas

Are crap.  And so are Sky.  And you know what, I think things can only get worse.

Which is why I shall be waiting until the promised final, final, final boiler fix which has been rescheduled a million times, and is booked in for tomorrow afternoon.

The good news is that a very nice man called Michael did turn up yesterday and fit a 7 day thermostat.

The bad news is that it’s a bit complicated.  I did start to work through the programming whilst following the instructions but I was saved from this tedium by my patronising husband who said “Just write down when you want the boiler on and off, every day, and I’ll programme it.”

I could be generous and assume this was a genuine offer of help or I could assume that he wanted me to steer well clear because he thought I’d screw it up.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Blog blog blog

Blah, blah, blah.

I could do a bit more ranting about British Gas. I get the feeling that this thread has legs, or maybe it would if the right engineer ever turned up at the right time with the right bits. (Because engineers have legs...Oh, never mind!)

I could rant about TV reality shows but my angle is a little unorthodox and might need a bit more thought.

I could rant about the fact that it's coming up to Christmas and I have a cold and all I seem to be doing is drinking and eating and feeling ill.

Haven't you had enough of me ranting?

Friday, 19 December 2008

Acceleration works

The e-mail to Sam Laidlaw at British Gas seems to have had an impact.

Darren (who loves his job and works in Customer Services) now phones me regularly to make sure I'm happy.

I'm not happy because they still haven't fixed the boiler and fitted the thermostat, but the thinking is that if I can vent my anger at Darren it means Mr Laidlaw doesn't get anymore annoying e-mails.

The idiot that couldn't install a new thermostat yesterday, and who had the wrong parts to fix the boiler, will return tomorrow morning. I've told Darren that I don't hold out too much hope.

A senior engineer will also turn up at some point tomorrow to fit the thermostat.

It is a measure of my lack of faith that I requested a weekend appointment so there may still be an opportunity to rectify any screw ups on Monday or Tuesday.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Old boiler

I might have mentioned a certain irritation with British Gas before, maybe here, here, here and here.

Well the boiler is up to it's old tricks.  It usually decides to let us down about seven times a day.  This is an inconvenience but I know how to fix it.  Next week when the house has guests, they might be less understanding if, mid shower, the hot water suddenly turns cold.

I've been through the usual two appointments before we get to the one where they promise to fix things and they sent an idiot.  Granted it wasn't his fault the previous guy had ordered the wrong parts but, you know what, I don't think he had the wrong parts.  I think he decided he couldn't be bothered.  Lazy git.  And I made him a decent coffee.

I'd arranged to have a different thermostat fitted today too.  Killing two birds with one stone was the plan but it's sort of turned into the Hitchcock film Birds, which is rather scary.

How can a qualified British gas technician (sorry I am beginning to resent using the word engineer) say that the wiring looked a bit confusing and he wasn't sure what to connect to what?

He started to suggest he'd leave that for the guy who would arrive with the right parts but then it transpired that they're "a bit busy 'cos it's Christmas".  (No shit Sherlock!)  That means I'll need a further two visits which of course assumes no further screw ups, which we know is ridiculous optimism.

Sam Laidlaw's minions were quick to respond to my first e-mail, but the promised speedy contact from Customer Services is still pending.  Maybe they're hoping I'll cool down.  Well without a fully functioning boiler I might do more than cool down; I might freeze!!!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

This one's for Victoria

Went on Christmas lunch duty today.

Lost my scarf. Yes the one I bloody well knitted and I liked. I am gutted, but not gutted enough to about turn when I got to Moorgate and realised.

Nearly snogged a girl. Lucinda nearly got snogged. Nobody dared me to do it which is why it probably didn't happen and, to be fair to Lucinda, she might have told me to get lost.

I found out a few things about colleagues that I didn't know before, and honestly Vish and Rana I never had a clue.

Talked about sex toys for a while.

And Michelle, you have a lovely bum which should be shown off more often, and if you ever want to go bra shopping together, it's a date.

I lusted over Apple product. I want an iSomething. Phone or Touch, not sure I'm fussy but probably Phone.

I discovered that someone has a plan that involves me and that's all the detail I have.

Anyway I sit here wrapped in a towel sipping Alka Seltzer doing this for the lovely Victoria who I have always appreciated but now so even more so.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

And the answer is....

Conversation between Dave and Ethan:

Ethan: Daddy, what's the third biggest country in the world?
Dave: I'm not too sure, maybe India.
Ethan: No, silly. India is the seventh biggest country.

For those who are wondering, the third biggest country is either the United States of America or the People's Republic of China. This is disputed and depends on whether territories claimed by India are included in the China figure.

Monday, 8 December 2008

No No No

Every Monday I catch the tube between Liverpool Street and Euston Square. Well not every Monday, but enough Mondays to have an opinion.

As we pull into Kings Cross there is an announcement advising us of the fact and suggesting that should be need the Royal Institute of blind people, we should alight when we reach the station.

No, no and thrice no!

It's the Royal National Institute for the Blind. The omission of the word National isn't the thing that irks me, it's the use of the words "of blind people." The Institute, I'm sure, does not comprise entirely of blind people. I understood it existed to make life better for the blind and partially sighted, i.e. it was for the benefit of those who were blind.

Anyway it winds me up every Monday, so I thought I'd share it with you to see whether anyone else might find it irksome.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Tim is my idol, sort of

We were having a chat in the office about entertaining the other day.

Whenever I know people are coming over to the house (e.g. this weekend) I start to worry.

I just try to plan and re-plan and think through when the preparation will happen, when any cooking will happen, what to cook, where to serve it, when to serve it. You know what I mean. You might think I'm mad and you'd be agreeing with Tim who didn't understand this at all.

Tim's view was that one doesn't need to worry about any of this until the day and even then a couple of hours prior to guests arriving.

Tim obviously has an immaculate and very well organised house. He obviously has a kitchen of unlimited possibilities and a chef-like ability akin to Gordon Ramsey.

My ambitions run more along the lines of sausage rolls or chicken goujons (which are just posh long nuggets), Pringles or tortillas, pizza slices or vol-au-vent. OK, I'm exaggerating for effect (the goujons are way beyond me) but there are things to consider: the fussiness of children, the ease of eating without having to sit at a table, food that can be eaten by children without it ending up all over the walls, how much to cook, how to accommodate everyone's likes and dislikes, and this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of considerations.

I'd love to be like Tim and not worry about everything until the day, but my house is a picture of disorganisation which matches my mind. Stress and worry are my bedfellows.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

How blonde?

I checked in for a flight at Stansted with Tracey, a seasoned traveller.

We checked our bags and headed over to the security section. Just before we went through I had a horrible realisation. In my handbag I had two penknives.

I know, one penknife is a mistake and two is criminal. Well actually, if David Cameron had his way I'd be arrested.

I realised it was too late to put the knives in the checked luggage because it had been checked and had disappeared into baggage handling hell. So we approached a gang of three men wearing fluorescent jackets with the word security emblazoned. This was a risky strategy, as we realised when they threatened to lock me up.

We explained my problem and the lovely men had a solution. They explained that I could leave them in lost property but I'd be charged £5 per day and a better solution was to buy a jiffy bag and stamps and post the knives to myself.

We started to edge away from the lovely fluorescent men towards WH Smiths when they caught us to ask a question. "Have you got a car?"

Of course. The car. How blonde were we? It never occurred to either of us that we could nip out to the car parked in the short term car park right next to the terminal and drop them back in the car.

Very blonde.