Sunday, 30 September 2012

so, coeliac, you're breaking my heart

I'm certainly no fan of Simon and Garfunkel, but I couldn't resist the pun.

Mrs Dave invited some long-standing friends around for a meal on Saturday evening. All very well, it's been a while since we had guests but the husband is a coeliac (sufferer?) and that can cause a few problems over what food is served.  Mrs Dave often takes me to task for what I serve up - actually the WAY I serve it up. Evidently not everyone is impressed with fish with their heads still on or meat on the bone.  For instance, I was in rapture on Friday night with the Himalayan Lamb and Yogurt Curry we cooked, saying how I'd love to serve it up to guests.  However, I'm reliably informed by my more attractive and intelligent half, that not everyone will be impressed with neck end of lamb served on the bone even if served up in a surprisingly delicate and subtle sauce.  And a few friends have been taken aback by being served up fish et al served au naturel -that is, head on, un-filleted and scaly ( as nature intended). Now I know, I'm less likely to screw up (evidently). Perhaps some people are just fussy? Actually, I cooked some sardines today for lunch.  I really don't think she was that impressed - too many bones.

Anyway, some friends came round and we served them a meal fit for a king (okay one with coeliac): scallops wrapped in bacon, roast chicken with fruit and quinoa* (instead of vegetables) and a polenta cake (drizzled with orange etc). Excellent stuff. I even had to source some Gluten-free beer. Thank you, St Peter's. It all went very well - all except the fact that I seemed to be the only one drinking the wine. Lots of it. . .

It all went very well and I think Victor (the coeliac) and I have agreed to go to the cinema together to see the sort of films our spouses don't want to see but that's good (nothing sordid, you understand, but films like The Sweeney).  However, I must admit food like that seems to have a rather drastic impact on my stomach but I guess nobody needs to be concerned with my stomach's capriciousness.

After waking up just slightly left of a hangover, I managed to spend Sunday avoiding any form of work - much as I'm doing now, in fact. A bath, some washing up from the previous night's entertainment, a quick bit of toast and I was ready to find something far more entertaining to do.  So, we went off to one of my favourite shops, the Adnam's Shop at Woodbridge.  I felt that it was beholden upon me to investigate Adnam's new ranges of beer. Martyn Cornell may have a vague interest at this point.  Sole Star appears to be a "pale amber ale with a light floral citrus aroma and gentle caramel notes". At 2.7% abv, it's very welcome.  Mrs Dave assures me that the new Ginger Beer that they've produced is much more "beery" than the recent ones from Crabbies et al. I'll take her word for it, but at 2.5% it does seem to fit in with the current zeitgeist . Actually, ginger is very good for an upset stomach.  So, the next time I get one, I'll drink ginger beer as a panacea for my ills. They also seem to have started to produce Ghost Ship in cans so Adnams seem to be on the up. As long as they don't overeach themselves the way Greene King have then things will be okay. Low level alcohol beers are currently in vogue, and as long as they taste good and are not just a sop to Government rules, then all's well.  The jury's still out, of course.

Talking of ills - one of the work avoidance tactics I took was to drive off and find a wood somewhere to wander around. Although Mrs Dave wasn't feeling totally chipper today (?!) she agreed to join me in my current obsession to get my hands stung and ripped by thorns. We did get a few more blackberries at Melton (near Woodbridge for you map-crazed geeks) but I finally availed myself of the plethora of rosehips available. I will put my hand on my heart here and say that I have NEVER picked these wonderfully ubiquitous fruits before.  Obviously, you all have and think that I'm such a pleb©  for not having ever done it before. Anyway, I have now. I have actually made Rosehip Syrup - that's right, with its 20% higher amount of Vitamin C than oranges, I have access to natural health oozing from a bottle in our fridge. And I cut my own hands up in the making of it. I guess I won't get a cold this year, then.  Watch this space . . .

The other thing I wanted to mention was our "I want it and I want it NOW" culture.  I don't know where you sit on that but I'd welcome some comment on it. On Friday evening, I decided that I desperately wanted to hear a new album by a favourite artist of mine.  I had only just found out that day that Declan Sinnott (Moving Hearts, Christy Moore et al) has finally released a solo album after some 40 years of being involved in the Irish music scene; so, after a beer or two I decided that whilst the lamb was stewing (currying?) that I needed to listen to it NOW.

I'm glad I did because other than the song Corrine Corrine, it's  a great album -  I agree with the reviewer that it has a bit of a melodic J. J. Cale feel to it. But the point is that when I were a nipper (okay, a teen) if I wanted something I'd have to wait - or go to London to hunt it down.  Now, we can have anything we want immediately.  Amazon and iTunes have a lot to answer for. Personally, I think that this is a dangerous thing but revel in it any way, after all what's wrong with waiting for a few days? I will admit that I feel I am usually less excited by new discoveries nowadays than I was as a kid.  There are still things that excite me now, but more of that next time.

What do we get excited about now?

* pronounced "keen-wa"

Sunday, 23 September 2012

look at the country, man, it's looking so nice

O who can pass such lovely spots
Without a wish to stray
And leave life's cares a while forgot
To muse an hour away?

Last weekend and we awoke to a beautiful mid-September day and decided to just get the van and go away for the rest of the weekend. To hell with work and other (possibly) pressing matters, we thought.  Or, as the late, great Jimmy Alan Hull said, "Had more than my share of people giving advice, on the way that my life should be/But look at the country man it's looking so nice/it's feeling so good to be free./No time, no time to lose/No time, no time to lose". So, Mrs Dave and I quickly got down to the place where we keep Harvey and loaded him up with a few necessities* and off we went.  

I'd had a hankering to visit the island of Mersea for a long time now. Much like Lindisfarne (ooh, did you notice the a connection there?) it's an island that can be cut off by the tide. We got there early afternoon last Saturday and soon managed to find the campsite. I was immediately taken by the amount of bramble bushes behind us and was soon out with a plastic bag to fill up with blackberries:   Our hands were peppered with thorn pricks, our palms as sticky as  Bluebeard's**     I had been reliably informed that our local wild blackberries were fairly meagre - not so at Mersea.  Only thirty five or so miles away from home but absolutely heaving with goodly sized berries. There were a lot of huge red seed pod-things which, at the time, we weren't sure of.  Still, we were here for the weekend - time to worry about them later. After a quick lunch we went off to discover the village and shoreline of West Mersea.

sad deserted shore
 I don't think I've been to anywhere that has been so abundant with wild blackberries in all my life other than the occasional wild wood, mostly last Century. The island is quite well inhabited - it's only a few miles out of Colchester, so therefore close to London. There were blackberries growing everywhere - and those large red seed pods.  I didn't think they were rosehips as most of the rosehips I was aware of were quite small - these were huge. I've since discovered that they are Japanese Rose plants and are much more potent than our indiginous wild roses. I'm a bit annoyed as I could have picked thousands of them easily, but at least I'm aware of them so can keep an eye out for them in the future. They are gigantic - absolutely packed with Vitamin C.  Actually, tonight we had a wonderful pie Mrs D made using the residue of blackberries after Second Born (a brief visit) had finished making jam from the hoard. Meanwhile . . . after wandering around the island and witnessing a genuine Essex Big Fat Gypsy Wedding reception*** and buying a few dressed crabs for tea, we found ourselves on a salt marsh. As we sauntered across the wooden boards I spied from my little eye . . . samphire! I'd finally found some wild growing samphire.  Okay, so a bit out of season, but there it was.  I picked some much to the chagrin of Mrs Dave. A passer-by or two questioned her about me jumping off the causeway with a pair of scissors stripping the little elegant Triffid-like plants of their succulent "branches".  But, what the hey? We wandered home across the sadly deserted shore and I cooked them briefly in some water (no steamer in the van) and they were great. They tasted superb - the genuine haunt of the sea in each mouthful. The English Countryside is so diverse and life-restoring.
By 9:30, after finishing the i crossword and a glass or two of wine, we were ready to turn in.  It's the sea air, it really does relax you. We'd looked out at the evening sky and saw a beautiful end to the day but its promise didn't hold out.  Although Sunday morning was okay, it was a little disappointing, weather-wise. Still, we found an English vineyard which provided a rather excellent dry white wine that we supped this evening with our gammon and some interesting beers from the Mersea Brewery (yet to try).   Still, what a weekend. We realised that it's worth going away for a few days just to get away from the hubbub of everyday to revitalise the old batteries.  And it really did make a difference to how we felt during the early part of the week. Okay, it will never last but at least we felt good for a day or two . . . how will we feel tomorrow after being cooped up at home with poor weather?  Answers on a postcard . . .   Back to reality and this weekend we had work to do - painting bits of wall, shopping to do, school work (although no one believes that as we're all lazy and out of school by three o'clock) and our own homes to deal with:

49 reasons all in a line.
All of them good ones, all of them lies.
Driftin' with my lady we're oldest of friends.
Need a little work, and there's fences to mend.

Ah well, the summer holidays are long forgotten and life is back to normal. I do hope we've all had a good summer. Let's get back to normal and start blogging again, chaps, I feel that I need the intellectual stimulation.

* beer, bacon and a raincoat
** Seamus Heaney
*** you really should have seen the bridesmaid . . . as she turned round at different times we realised why 3D is fast becoming such a popular format: oh she's got a tatoo on her arm, oh and that one, jesus! - look at her back, it's Ray Bradbury in real life! 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

wondering where the lions are

Sun's up, uh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren't half as frightening as they were before

A sort of Greek "Narnia"
 (lion, witch, wardrobe, whatever
As Bruce Cockburn finished the song and as the applause started, Mrs Dave leant over and said, "I think they're in Essex". Evidently not but the story lingers.

We travelled to Cambridge yesterday to see Cockburn with great excitement as I'd never seen him live before. I had bought lps of his back in the mid 1980s before we even came up to Suffolk. He's been around since the 1970s but still not that well known over here. I know he plays the Greenbelt festival quite often but that's often the only time he's over here. Only Christians are allowed to go there and I'm not sure I could stomach a whole festival full of them. He started the evening with If This Was the Last Night of the World which is my favourite song of his so I knew we were in for a treat.  We weren't disappointed. It's a lovely little theatre for about 200 - very intimate. Perfect for such a night.

Anyway, back to those lions.  It seems that although nobody can actually verify their existence (its?) the story wants to hang around. It was still being discussed on Radio 4 this morning. A panel of reviewers of the newspapers all came out in denying the existence of the "Essex Lion" although one of them claimed to have seen a dead leopard by the side of a road in England (I'm not sure whereabouts). Obviously that doesn't mean there's a lion roaming about in Essex! But it's interesting that people seem to want to believe in such stories. An article in Friday's independent says that although there's no lion in Essex, there is a poisonous snake. We seem desperate to believe that there are all sorts of wild animals roaming the British Countryside - pumas, lions and leopards, lynxes, dinosaurs (well, the Loch Ness Monster).

There are some unusual ones out there, of course. Recently in Yorkshire I spied some wild Macaws and we know of parakeets (I've seen one in Ipswich but that may have been an escapee), wallabies, wild boar and now beavers in Scotland and in the future, we are promised, wolves. I was reminded of that last weekend as I drove past Wolves Wood in Suffolk on my way down to a beer festival in Edwardstone. It's name, I presume, is a reminder of the fact that they used to roam wild in this country. If they are reintroduced, they won't be wild (livid, maybe) but under controlled circumstances.  Is there really any point? They're busy spending a fortune on reintroducing long-since gone creatures while modern practices are causing the obliteration of current species at a ridiculous rate.  Insects and invertebrates are being lost at an alarming rate yet we seem determined on introducing species that have died out (not extinct) and can't survive on these - overcrowded - islands. Don't get me wrong, I would love to say I've seen some of these things in the wild, but truth to tell - as the sea eagles have proved, they'll be hunted to extinction. Nobody really wants them. For sure, it's a shame but we have to live in the moment.

I don't know if there are really exotic creatures waiting in the darkness of the woods but I'm still excited by simple pleasures - I was quite upset not to see the red squirrel behind our tent in Yorkshire last month. I was, however, very excited to see swallowtails, pelicans and egrets in Greece. They're able to coexist there, nobody minds them. Here, we seem to not care about everyday exotics we see - jays and goldfinches for example (and soon sparrows will be a rare exotic); and swallows are less likely to be turning up over here over the next few years.

I'd like to keep the mystery of the rare creatures - like unicorns, lions and their ilk should be hidden and rumoured. We don't actually need to see them to believe in them do we? Do we really need a corpse to accept that there are strange things out there?  I love the idea that there may be unusual, exotic and rare creatures out there.  I'd love to see something but I don't need to actually see them to continue to hope that they're out there in the woods, fields and hills.

Cut and move on
Cut and move on
Take out trees
Take out wildlife at a rate of species every single day