Friday 30 December 2011

You are invited... a cyber New Year's Eve party. All you have to do is bring yourself, a partner of your choice (living or dead, celebrity or not) and one (genuine) unwanted Christmas gift* to exchange with a fellow guest. Drinks and canapes will be provided. Carriages at 12.30. And this is a party you can attend in addition to any other party you may be planning. So you have nothing to lose.

I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.

RSVP (for catering purposes)

*This can be any year's unwanted Christmas gift, to avoid the embarrassment of its donor finding out. But I shall be bringing my Coronation Street Quiz Book. Oh - and Reginald D. Hunter, because he makes me laugh.

Getting rid of books

One of my many new year's resolutions is to dispose of one book every time I acquire one. Not easy. Even harder, is the Amazon Vine problem.

Like lots of other people, I review books (and other items) for Amazon Vine. Great. Lovely free books every month. But there is a snag. Most of these are unedited proofs, and we are bound under pain of ....not sure what "dispose" of these books. We aren't supposed to give them away because, since they are unedited, the terrible typo on page 96 might get into circulation, and where would it all end?

So what to do? I have lent one or two (ts ts) but some have been so awful that the other day I actually tore one up and recycled it. Now, for anyone who loves books (probably most people reading this), tearing up books is up there with drowning kittens and microwaving live hamsters*; ie something you just don't do. I have never ever destroyed a book. My kids, who were as naughty as most kids, never tore or scribbled on books. Books were/are sacred.

But books are really only things. Well, they are, aren't they? So from now on, I shall try to stop being so sentimental (and, let's be honest, pompous) and recycle bad (Vine) books, difficult as it is.

*I am not a cruel person, and of couse would never try it, but I have often wondered what exactly would happen if you did this. Implosion? Explosion? Any other kind of plosion? Does anyone know?

Monday 26 December 2011

Magpie 97 - a post-Christmas Carol

A secular carol for the end of Christmas

Drink up, you merry gentlemen, and party while you may.
I've wrapped myself in tinsel, lads, and now I'm on my way.
I'll have my wicked way with you, whatever you may say,
Oh-oh tidings of festive fun and joy, fu-un and joy.
Oh-oh tidings of festive fun and and joy.

I've bleached my hair and glossed my lips, and whitened all my teeth.
I've stuck a figleaf on each breast (but nothing underneath).
And round my hips I'm wearing just a ribboned ivy wreath.
Oh-oh come lads and meet me at the door, a-at the door,
Oh-oh come out lads, for fun, and much much more!

(To be sung to the tune of Oh Rest you Merry Gentlemen)

Thanks to Magpie Tales for the photo

Friday 23 December 2011

A very dull post about a wall planner

While waiting for a phone call (about the horse, needless to say), I decided to buy a wall planner for next year. Not to plan my wall, but to plan my year. Because nothing else works. Not diaries, not calendars, not filofaxes. No. I need to see the whole year in one go.

So off to Amazon (where else?). And oh, the choice. There are mounted ones and unmounted ones; laminated ones and plain. There are holiday ones and planners with highlighted week-ends, and there are ones with pens and stickers (stickers?) included. They come in a wide range of prices and colours, and some of them are Amazon Prime (ie I don't have to pay postage) and some not. Are you losing the will to live yet? Because I certainly was.

Anyway, I've ordered one. How exciting is that. And that's its portrait up at the top of this post. (And writing this post was all because of waiting for that phone call, too, because I can't settle to anything sensible when I'm waiting. And yes. I do have better things to do. I just can't get down to them.)

Oh a less mind-numbingly boring note, I do hope you all have a very happy Christmas, with lots of books you haven't already read, as much chocolate as you feel you need, and (if you want one) a spanking new Kindle.

Thursday 22 December 2011

The horse diaries - end in sight

Me (nonchalantly, because a panicking horse is not to be trifled with): I've had an offer for you.
Titch: (speaking with his mouth full): Oh? (no panic, then) How much?
I tell him.
Titch: WHAT!!!??? I was sold for ten times that only a few years ago.
Me: Well, you were probably worth ten times more then.
Titch: I'm much more mature now.
Me: No you're not. You know perfectly well you're not.
Titch: How about stud? I'd enjoy that.
Me: Titch, we've discussed that before. You know you can''ve know... that little operation?
Titch: You can be very cruel sometimes.
Me; You're in good comany. All your neighbours have been...done.
Titch: But I'm well bred!
Me: So are lots of them. You just weren't very successful.
Titch: I bet you haven't had any operations like that. I bet you've had foals. You have, haven't you?
Me: Well, in a manner of speaking, I suppose I have.
Titch: Are you well bred?
Me: Not really.
Titch: Did your grandfather win all his races?
Me: I'm not sure my grandfather did a lot of running.
Titch: Well, then. (Munch.) I'll have another of those carrots, if it's not too much to ask.

Sarcasm doesn't suit him, but I let it pass. The offer stands, and I'm trying to decide whether to accept it. This whole situation is very painful. Titch can be a bugger, but I do love him.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

The tyranny of sell-by dates

My daughter regularly phones me to say that she's had a packet of mince/chicken or whatever in her fridge, and it "expired" yesterday, and is it ok to eat it. And I say, give it a good sniff, but it's probably fine. After all, there was a time when there were no such things as sell-by dates. Or, come to that, fridges. My kids love to go through our larder crying "MUM! Have you seen he sell-by date on this!?" (No, probably not. Nor do I care. I seem to have mislaid a treasured tin of anchovies dated 1987.)

But yesterday, having cheese and chutney for lunch, I decided that the sell-by date people may occasionally have a point. The chutney (2007 - one of those pretty little jars of home-made stuff people give you when they come for a meal - was horrible (it had been open for some time), and I discovered that the cheese, which also tasted odd, was thick with mould on the bottom (the bit I couldn't see). And when we once borrowed some (open) horseradish sauce from a neighbour, and found that that too tasted very odd (it was also a nasty grey clour), we discovered tha that had a sell-by date of 1997. (The neighbour is a woman after my own heart, but we threw the sauce away.)

But I do hate waste.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Of unwanted gifts and Booker prizes

One of my fondest (and earliest) memories of my childhood Christmases was my mother opening presents addressed to herself as soon as they'd arrived, and re-wrapping them as presents for other people. We were very short of money, and so this must have seemed a good solution (although my mum would have given you the coat off her back if you'd admired it).

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago, when I ran out of reading material and the library was closed. We'd been given a book-shaped present, so I thought I'd probably be able to read that.

Except that I couldn't, because it was the Coronation Street Quiz Book. Hmmm. We are Corrie fans, but we are also grown-ups, so some lucky customer of the Oxfam shop will get it instead (I took it straight there). A lot of my Christmas presents end up in the Oxfam shop, so maybe it would be better to open them all so that they can be bought before Christmas while people still have enough money. (I'm not hard to please; I just don't need too many smelly candles, diaries and strange dangly pendants.)

But the second book-shaped parcel I opened was Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending (Booker prize winner) which I'd asked for, so I'm reading that. It's very slim, beautifully written, and quite good, but I never cease to be amazed at the Booker Prize. While lesser mortals like me are told they must write at least 70,000 words, and preferably quite a lot more, literary prize winners get away with far less. Think John Banville's The Sea. And Chesil Beach.

Perhaps I shall write a very short, brilliant book in 2012, and then you'll all be proud to know me (well, a woman can dream...). And - who knows? - I might even get up to 60 followers.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Magpie 96


"The photograph is black and white.
A man? A woman? Hermaphrodite?
The wristwatch small, the coat is pale,
The lock is definitely yale.
The hair is long, the expression grim,
Could be a her. Could be a him.
The shadow on the chest appears
To be a man with flattish ears.
Oh Watson, we are out of luck.
I have to say, for once, I'm stuck."
(The case remains open to this day,
For Holmes pre-dated DNA.)

(Thanks to Mapgie Tales for the photo)

Friday 16 December 2011

My book for Christmas?

I am very, very bad at selling myself (ie my books). I have even been known to give a talk and not be able to bring myself to advertise the fact that I have brought books to sell. this is my blog, and no-one HAS to read it, may I (very politely) suggest that if you really are stuck for a present for someone, The Birds, The Bees and Other Secrets might be an answer?

British people love anmimals. Fact. And there are dogs in my books. So here is a doggy taster from my book:

Thus two days later, Mum set off to the rescue centre, and returned in triumph, a small bouncy black and white hearthrug frolicking at her feet. Its eyes were entirely obscured, and it seemed to be lacking something. It took me a few minutes to realise exactly what.
“Mum, do we really need a dog with three legs?” I asked.
“He doesn't mind,” Mum said gaily. “He’s used to it. Apparent he lost it ages ago. And look at it this way, Cass. He’ll have only three legs whether we have him or not, so he might as well live on three legs here. And he won’t need so much exercise, will he?”
“Won’t he?”
“Of course not. He’s got one less leg to exercise, hasn’t he?”
“Where are his eyes?” I couldn't even tell which end of the hearthrug was which.
“Under here somewhere.” Mum poked about in the matted fur. “There we are! Lovely brown eyes! We’ll give him a nice bath, and he’ll come up as good as new.”
Her new friend did not enjoy his nice bath, and Mum emerged some time later soaked to the skin and sporting several nasty scratches, but with her enthusiasm still intact.
“Here we are,” she said. “Doesn't he look lovely?”
Lovely was hardly the word, but we all agreed. When Mum was in this kind of mood, we would do anything to keep her there. Besides, she now had something to look after, and Mum was never happier than when she felt needed.
We looked at each other and gave a collective sigh. New Dog had joined the family.

Thursday 15 December 2011

I am invisible

This is something I've suspected for some time, but now I'm quite sure. People barge into me, jump in front of me in queues, walk through me (almost). Today, I was waiting at the door of a shop which is exited by a short flight of stairs. I stood to one side, holding the door open, while two elderly women climbed slowly up the stairs and out into the street. No eye contact, no word of thanks. Nothing.

I don't expect bunches of flowers or even flowery language. In fact, I don't expect anything of a floral nature. But a smile? A "thank you"? A recognition that I'm there, perhaps?

No. I'm invisible. I must be. So look out. Soon, I could be somewhere near you, watching your every move, and you'd know nothing about it at all. In fact, I could be standing behind you right now.

So if I am, and if you're offering, mine's white, please, with no sugar (red if it's wine).

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Magpie 95 (again)

"Hey! Man Friday! Come back! Joke's over. Friday? D'you hear me? COME BACK. THIS IS NO LONGER FUNNY!"

(Waiting in for deliveries, time on my hands, and bored with doing Christmas cards)

Bowel surgery in the woods with a stick

This is one of my eldest son's less savoury expressions (as in he'd rather have that than, say, root canal treatment).

And this is how I feel about Masterchef. As I've said before, I have several recurring nightmares, dinner parties (giving them) and deadlines being two of them. They'd only have to had my other nightmare - heights - and conduct Masterchef on top of a skyscraper, and the nightmare would be complete.

Which is why I (continue to) love Masterchef. It's my equivalent of a horror movie. Last night, the three remaining candidates were doing amazing things with tiny little bits of something rare and expensive, with that colourful smear they always have, and garnishes of squirrel livers and pine needles, and reductions (what's the difference between sauce, jus and reduction?).

Clare is doing brilliantly and, extraordinarily, she's ENJOYING it. This I cannot understand. I can understand being good at cooking, and wanting to win. But enjoying cooking an esoteric dish with cameras and sound engineers, and three 3-star Michelin chefs breathing down her neck?


Sunday 11 December 2011

Magpie 95


I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I seek is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by.
But all I have is a rowing boat, moored inches from the land,
And not a hope of reaching her, for I'm up to my chest in sand.

(With apologies to Masefield, and thanks to Magpie Tals for the picture)

Friday 9 December 2011

Masterchef, Michel and me

Well, Claire's through, and she is quite amazing. A meal that looks like an edible flower arrangement, with dessert to match... And she's only 22.

Inspired by this programme, and not having learnt my lesson from previous experience (see Hollondaise sauce disaster), I decided to make a chocolate and raspberry tart, a la Michel Roux. I didn't use his recipe as it had some rather outlandish ingredients, but found another off the internet.

I should have realised as soon as I saw the ingredients: 300g plain (no-nonsense, 70% cocoa solids) chocolate, plus half a pound of butter, plus creme fraiche. And that was just the filling.

Filling being the operative word. it looked pretty enough, but oh dear. We struggled through some of it (poor daughter-in-law had to give up towards the end), but the rest languished in the fridge, with John manfully (I love that word) having some every evening after his meal for nearly a week, until I put it out of its misery and threw the rest away.

There was nothing wrong with it; just nothing much right with it, either. I realised too late that this is the kind of pudding you have after a "fine-dining" meal (these always remind me of the garden-on-a-dinner-plate arrangements we made as children for the village show compeition), and are still very, very hungry. But our main meal had been a hearty stew, and somehow the two didn't go together. Or even one after the other.

Never mind. I'll get back to Claire, with her beautiful blue eyes and her grey hair(yes, grey. She seems to have dyed her hair grey, thus supporting my view that more people would go for grey hair if it were not associated with old age). All the contestants are good, but there's something about Claire. And this kind of thing is no fun at all if you don't have a favourite.

I do hope Monica comes back next week.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Christmas shopping? Help is at hand

I bet you can't guess what this is. Well, I'll tell you. It's a "balance ball chair"; a chair which is supposed to keep you fit while you sit, because if you don't make all your muscles totally rigid, you'll fall off (well, I think that's the idea). And it's one of the magnificent suggestions offered by The Times (yes. The Times again) for those who are stuck for Christmas presents to buy.

And that's not all. There are (among other things) a make-your-own-birdbox kit, complete with old comics to stick all over it (and no doubt frighten the birds away); an inflatable roller ball in which you can "roll around the house" (we have a lot of stairs, so to anyone thinking of buying one for me, no thanks); a Japanese bicycle bell; a snowflake pan which imprints all your pancakes with snowflake designs and a Damien Hirst Spot clock. This last is a round white clock, with what look like children's poster paints all round the edge instead of numbers. Round coloured dots. Clever, eh? And signed by Damien himself. A bargain at £305.

And to think I've already done most of my shopping. Damn.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Horse Diaries - the beginning of the end

Titch is doing that coy thing he does; not quite lookng me in the eye, but hoping for a treat. I give him a carrot.

Me: Titch, it's crunch time.
Titch: Only way to eat a carrot. You should try it.
Me: I'm not talking about carrots. I'm talking about you.
Titch: Oh yes?
Me; I really am going to have to let you go. I've thought and thought, and it's crazy that someone of my age is careering round the countryside on a mad thoroughbred.
Titch (bridling - no pun intended): I'm not mad!
Me: Yes you are. We both know you are.
Titch: I'm just highly-strung.
Me: That too.
Titch: Oh. (Further crunching). What will you do with me?
Me: Well, there's someone interested in you. Nice poeple, and they hunt with the Beaufort.
Titch(brightening): The Beaufort, eh? My grandfather...
Me: Yes, yes. We all know about your grandfather. But this sounds just the place for someone like you.
Titch: Plenty of food? Carrots? That kind of thing?
Me: I'm sure there will be. So when they come to see you, you must behave nicely. None of that ridiculous leaping about, no spooking, and don't push them around asking for treats.
Titch: Moi? Leaping about? Never!
Me: That's the spirit. (I stroke his nose).I'll miss you.
Titch: Of course you will. Got any more carrots?

Animals can be very unfeeling sometimes.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Christmas calories

Yep. That's right. All those extra calories we're supposed to consume over the festive season. And to help us control our urges, The Times today gives lots of helpful hints. For example, dark chocolate isn't so bad, so if you're soooo tempted by the office chocolates, keep a bar of it handy in your desk drawer "to nibble on" instead. And eschew the office mince pie, because it's got shedloads of calories; just don't even glance in its direction. Move your desk and face the wall if necessary. Helpful, eh? And if you're at a party where there are canapes, heaven help you, for those are FULL of calories. The Times helpfully tells us just how full, and how to avoid them. And if you're tempted by one of those tiny little Yorkshre puddings with beef in them, well, just peel off the pudding and eat the beef. Voila! Who would have thought of that? As for drink, well, we won't even touch on the calorific evils of alcohol.

Feeling festive now, are you? I've never really got this don't-eat-too-much-at-Christmas thing, because while personally I don't, I really can't see any reason why those who want to shouldn't. After all, while it may feel as though Christmas lasts for ever, we all know that it doesn't, and no-one is going to grow obese in a week. And if by any chance they do, there will be an equally helpful article in the new year on how to get slim again.

You read it first here.

Monday 5 December 2011

The Scrooge guide to Christmas dinner

Listening to Mary Berry telling people how to cook Christmas dinner, it occurs to me that this is a vastly over-rated meal.

1. Turkey. Do we really, really love turkey? Is it a treat? Not really. And then when you're dealing with the carcass the next day, there are all those stringy sinewy bits which never occur in the humble chicken.
2. Giblets. These look and are disgusting. Take no notice of the people who say you must make them into gravy. Just throw them away. (If you have a cat, and you can stand the sight of it dragging them off the plate onto the floor and doing that sideways chewing thing cats do, then this could be another solution.)
3. Many adults and all children hate sprouts.
4. If Christmas pudding is that good, why don't we eat it all year round?
5. Ditto mince pies.
6. Christmas cake. No-one has room for this after eating the above. I used to make one every Christmas, and throw it away at Easter, because no-one liked it.
7. Paper hats fall off.

But we shall do/have all the above, because that's what you do. And Christmas morning has to smell of roasting turkey (by far the best thing about roast turkey is its smell). Best of all, it's no longer my job. My domestic goddess daughter does it all.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Magpie 94


The public workers go on strike
Unhappy with their lot;
With working hours, and frozen pay,
And dwindling pension pot.
But unions, like other folk,
Enjoy a bite of lunch.
In Unison, they take a sip,
In Unison, they munch.

(With thanks to Magpie Tales for the photo)

Friday 2 December 2011

Post traumatic stress?

I'm sure that post traumatic stress is real, and terrifying for some of its sufferers. But sometimes I have my doubts.

On Monday, George (my shop-lifting grandson), aged four, was leaving a soft play area with his (other) grandmother. On the way out, his little finger became trapped in the steel door. Poor Grandma had to run up hill and down dale to find anyone to help, leaving a screaming child, still trapped, in order to find someone to open the security (ha) door. George had an operation the next day, and is doing ok, though they won't be for sure for two weeks. Grandma is recovering, but understandably, she doesn't enjoy revisiting the experience. And the man who unlocked the door?

When my son phoned to, er, discuss the matter, he was told (in a blaming kind of way) that the man who had eventually opened the door had had to take the next day off because of the stress he'd incurred.

Aaaaaaah. Bless.

Thursday 1 December 2011

My recipe for swede

1. Fall over and injure left hand (this is important for the rest of this recipe).
2. Buy swede from Tesco's, which will let you have a bit of swede. Sainsbury's only stock them in one size; approximately the diameter of a human head.
3. Attemt to cut swede with small knife, then big knife, then that very sharp knife which as been known to sever a finger at a touch. No good because of injured hand and very hard swede.
4. Fetch husband. Explain about sore hand. He has a go.
5. Husband gives up.
6. Fetch hammer. Get husband to apply small hatchet to swede. Bang hatchet hard with hammer. Now we're getting somewhere.
7. Dice and cook swede.
8. Discover husband doesn't like swede anyway.

It's been that kind of day.