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Dining disasters are plat du jour

There is no disputing that British restaurant food has lifted its game considerably in recent years. Search diligently, choose wisely and you can end up enjoying a reasonable meal and, if you are really lucky, one that represents value for money.

But, really, it’s not all that good. The choice is limited to “safe” dishes, lacks enticement and rarely extends beyond the basic fare endured for decades.

There are numerous talented chefs working the nation’s stoves. But when viewed as a percentage of the whole eat-out scene they are but a dribble of sauce in a culinary desert – or dessert.

There is nothing wrong with basic fare – fish and chips, roast and two veg, steak and chips, even sausage and mash. But surely, after decades of serving mundane, allegedly home-cooked fare, chefs could at least make it edible and enjoyable.

If they can’t get the basics right, what hope is there? How much longer must diners stomp up their hard-earned for food no better than they get at home?

Dining out is supposed to be an occasion, a moment to savour but not a replication of what could be much cheaper, and better, from their own kitchens.

Worse still, not only is the basic fare on offer so mundane but too often the diner is enticed into ordering a classic only to find it falls way short of the mark.

Three timesi in three days at three different eateries I have been lured into ordering dishes that should be part of any competent chef’s basic classic repertoire.

A seafood linguine was drier than the Sahara after a sandstorm; a Caesar salad would have been instantly disowned by its creator, and a moules mariniere with pommes frites was enough to justify the Norman Conquest all over again.

These are simple dishes, tried and true, and should be part of any professional chef’s repertoire. Anything less than an edible, tasty approximation of the original is simply not good enough.

The salad was a bowl of tired lettuce and croutons that would have withstood a nuclear blast. The linguine offered leathery prawns and a puddle of creamy nothingness in the bottom of the bowl. The moules were lukewarm rubbery bullets and the frites were simply not frites.

These were not exceptions.

Bromo solves murder among the family trees

Good news from Endeavour Press:

Twisted Trees, my latest crime fiction novel, is now online and available to purchase from Amazon as an e-book.

This is the fourth in the ongoing series of crime novels featuring reluctant sleuth Bromo Perkins.

The series began way back at the start of the 2000s with Done Deal, which was followed by Washed Up and Death by Diamonds.

A fifth tale is nearing completion and, if I get my act together, should be ready for fans well before the end of this year.

Watch this space.

A matter of (missing) memory – updated

Since my recent blog bemoaning the loss of memory a bit of work has been taking place on stimulating whatever part of the brain is responsible for storing and recalling past events.

I’ve been doing some ghosting. In other words, visiting old haunts.

No need to wrap the body in white sheets and utter some mournful moans of “whoo hoo” or any other spooky phrases.

Simply check the postcodes of places where I once lived, key them into the sat nav and the journey into the long ago could begin.

Fortunately, recalling these addresses presents no problem. They are the broad brushstrokes I mentioned earlier; it is the detail that

Closing the gap – the full running circle

Seventy years ago I lined up for my first running race, untrained and unaware of what it involved. Tomorrow, almost to the day of that step into the unknown, I will be on the start line yet again.

Significantly – at least to me – this will be an anniversary not only in terms of time, but also of place. By pure coincidence, the venue is almost the exact location of that first run.

Thus the circle will be complete – seventy years of athletic endeavour ending where it all began. And if by chance I happen to win,

Just remember this …

As I was saying before …

Before what? Before when?

Why did I come into the kitchen? What am I doing here?

Well, as I was saying …

What was I saying? Something about … er …

Hell, let’s start again.

There’s this problem I’m having with memory. I hear mention of such terms as

NHS crisis is of the British people’s making, not the government’s

Everyone is jumping on the NHS bandwagon. And they all sing with the same monotonous voice a chorus that says the NHS is in crisis and the government is to blame.

Piffle.

The only crisis is not within the NHS but within the community at large. And the only ones to blame is the seething mass of obese, overweight, semi-alcoholic drongos shuffling along our streets on the rare occasions that they actually indulge in some form of physical activity.

Little wonder that they do their supermarket shopping

Resolutions? Let’s do this together or not at all

Thinking about this resolution thingy.

Reality is it depends on others. No point in giving up the drink unless your booze-buddies do likewise, or you’ll have little support. Same with the fags. And the diet. And the “join a gym” promise to oneself.

Resolutions need to be a mass initiative to be of any use. A community effort, A group determination.

Why vow to spend less time on the internet/phone if

Michael grief mania is me-too madness

From today’s Daily Telegraph comes this pertinent (and spot on) comment from Angela Epstein. It applies not only to the latest outpourings for a dead star, but to all the others.

One that stands out for me, was the instant reaction from one FB poster: “My God, I never saw that coming.” Well, why should they when they were neither an intimate of the man nor possessing any inside knowledge of his lifestyle or his health?

Angela Epstein writes:

“I’m writing this in the sun-blushed courtyard of the Casa Delfino hotel in Crete a 17th Century Venetian mansion nestling in the old harbour town of Chania. It’s a soothing place to remember the amazing talent of George Michael and to recall how his songs bookmarked so many key moments in my own life.

In 1985, wilting like a wall flower from the margins of a student disco, I watched a boyish Oxford undergraduate boogie with another woman as I’m Your Man throbbed from the speakers. (Don’t fret, reader, I married him).

With such a vast and varied songbook, millions around the world will also remember their own special moments of George Michael’s music.

A dazzling talent with a keen ear for melody, his music spanned generations. It was also original, the sort of originality that should make Coldplay and the like hang their heads in shame for their banality.

Yet, tune into social media – the post-millennial default reaction for everyone from bored pre-pubescents to curious silver surfers – and you’ll discover a different way of marking Michael’s death.

A few people writing on Facebook and Twitter about it had a personal connection to him. His partner in Wham!, Andrew Ridgeley, used Twitter to offer a lovely eulogy to his “beloved friend.” But alongside the genuine tributes of those few who knew him well, most of followed news of his death was a lot of people taking his death as just another part of the annus horribilis narrative, the story told online of 2016 as a uniquely miserable 12 months.

Among those who died this year were David Bowie, Prince, Rick Parfitt, and Terry Wogan – men who, each in his own way, brought an infusion of joy, colour and imagination to the mundanity of ordinary life.

Sad losses all, but there’s something a little unsavoury about bundling them all up together into the “worst-year-ever” narrative, a sort of collective hysteria that undermines and somehow renders ignoble the process of mourning.

The shared nature of the internet virtually encourages us to indulge in public grieving: you must keep up, must show how bad you feel about the news, whether it’s slaughter in Syria or a singer gone too soon.

The online echo-chamber has the power to exaggerate sadness for dead celebrities. Such stars may well have offered salvation or succour during dark moments – there was nothing like Wogan’s gentle nattering to ease the work-weary into a bleak Monday morning. But we didn’t know these people beyond their voice, their music or their two-dimensional flicker on a screen. We may feel a pulse of sadness at their loss, but unlike their family and friends, we’ll carry on with our own lives without any real personal loss at their passing.

Meanwhile everywhere there are ordinary people who – there but for the grace – have endured their own bereavements in 2016. Those losses are no less painful or worthy of remembrance. We don’t seize on such losses as reason for public displays of grief or to promote conspiratorial notions that there’s something unusual or cursed about the current year. We treat each death as an individual loss, not seize it as part of some story we like to tell ourselves and each other.

There’s also a political tinge to some versions of that story: many of those who so loudly mourn 2016’s toll of famous names also cite Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in their tale of a year when world went wrong. Bracketing celebrity death with democratic votes strikes me as being in questionable taste at best.

Like many people, I feel deeply sad for the passing of George Michael. But that’s not because “we’ll never see a talent like his again” – another Twitter favourite. It’s because he was only 53 – too young for a man to die. Any man. Each human life is precious, whether it’s spent toiling in a factory or storming up the charts.

The internet allows us all to make our voices heard as never before, but instead of using the deaths of the famous to support our arguments about the wider world, better to remember that people are people. And that the talented, compassionate, complex singer, writer and star who born Georgics Kyriacos Panayiotou was a man too. Just like the Cretans walking in the harbour today.”

Amen to that. 2016 was probably no worse than any other of recent memory. People live, people die. It is the treadmill we all inhabit, celebrity and nonentity alike.

Two ways to novel success

As anyone who has ever tried well knows, the first rule for writing a successful novel is that there are no rules.

Or, if you like, there are dozens of rules and innumerable variations upon them.

In recent days there has been further proof of this in newspaper interview revelations about their writing days with two highly successful authors.

Susan Hill (best known for The Woman in Black) says