Friday, 13 May 2016

Do You Eat a Lot of Fish, Jeeves?

That's P.G.Wodehouse on brains. I began eating fish when I was in Majorca. It was warm of course but everything at the wonderful hotel was freshly cooked so I had fish for lunch and fish for dinner and veg and salad practically coming out of my ears. When I came home I mostly went back to my normal diet which included a lot of meat but I've lost the taste for it. I'm sixty five and things are changing. I started drinking coffee this week. I haven't drunk much coffee since I went on to tea when my daughter was born thirty five years ago. Isn't it odd?
I think also you become more discerning, I taste things differently now and wouldn't be seen dead eating a sausage. The only processed food I eat is Marks and Spencer's Hollandaise sauce which comes out of a bottle and is irresistible. I told the lady on the check out I was addicted and she said it was cheaper than cannabis. I panic if I don't have Hollandaise sauce in the larder.
Getting older does make you odd. Or me, anyway.
Less is of course more. I had steak this week, perfectly cooked. I haven't had steak in months and it tasted divine.
I rarely eat pudding but also this week I had elderflower pannacotta with raspberries. Wow, it was good.
I've started going to a little diner in Durham called The Kitchen. Last time I was there the lady who runs it offered me a taste of the quiche she had just baked. I never eat pastry, it gives me terrible indigestion but I didn't want to upset her. It was possibly the best quiche in the history of the world, the pastry ( which my father always referred to as timber. Too thick ) was thin and light. It was wonderful and my stomach was perfectly happy with it.
Also sometimes I can't eat eggs but last week at a lovely pub, The White Horse and Griffin in Whitby, I had a pheasant egg on asparagus and then a full English breakfast at the B&B and I was fine! So you obviously had to keep giving things a go.
Cheese is my downfall. If I gave up cheese and wine I'd be nine stone. Less in not more with these things. I can't do without lots of both.
Also I love rye bread. I used to make it. I still make bread sometimes but I've become slightly idle about these things. What smells better than  baking bread. Last time I made it I went outside a couple of times just to come back in again.
On my kitchen windowsill I have various pots of rocket and other salads that I am growing and it's just great to chop at them for lunch. I'm growing mint - yes, I've got lots of it in the garden now but in the winter it was just lovely to have for fresh mint tea. And, very proudly, I'm growing my own basil, it's shooting away in my little garden room. Also oregano. I love the smell. Delia Smith used to say it made your kitchen smell like Greece.
My parsley will go into the garden when the frosts are over which is any time now, followed by the mint, repotted since it's going mad and the basil will be left on the kitchen window ledge unless we have a hot summer.The first year I lived in Durham I grew African Grey Basil outside. It must have been a hell of a summer. It was two foot high by July that year.
Apparently keeping a pot of rosemary on your desk makes you think better so I must try it. Rosemary is my middle name and I have lots of it in the garden. Goes well with lamb. I'm not eating lamb any more, having had a bad experience. It was me, not the lamb, panicking but the association is too Best of all perhaps I had gin this week.  I never drink gin but it was a special evening. It was Durham gin and the gin and tonic was mixed by an expert hand and he put into it mint, coriander, cucumber and three juniper berries. I could have died quite happily after that. And juniper berries are great crushed with pork chops, which I don't have any more but just in case you like pork chops ...
I am now going to have rye bread, lovely butter and Cheshire honey for brekkie. Eat well.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Failing to Buy a Washer and another Hundred Practical Things I can't do

My washing machine who shall remain nameless has been on the blink ever since its guarantee ran out two years ago. Basil Fawlty like I threatened it until it managed the washing more or less but it kept flashing up various 'codes' at me and in the end I was taking sopping wet knickers and vests, squeezing them dry and hanging them up outside in the maiden.
I searched in vain for a guy to mend the damned thing and the company wanted £159 to send out an engineer.
'Buy a new one,' my daughter said, 'it's easy.'
So I did. How simple, I thought, you choose the model ( not as easy as I had imagined ), you ring up ( since I had tried to buy it online and my bank refused to let me have the money. I had the fraud squad on the phone ) so spent ages on the phone buying it, assuring the guy I had measured the space. They would install it, take away the old one, bingo.
But it would take a fortnight to arrive. In the meanwhile I had taken to wearing old ball gowns because they were all I had left with tiny knickers I had long since grown out of and attempting to match socks which were so far down the sock drawer that they had not been worn since Victoria was on the throne.
I spent a fortnight sweating in case I had chosen the wrong machine, that it wouldn't go in, that it would spend the next six months sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor with the old one still inside its cream cupboard.  Finally the great day arrived. I got a four hour slot and sweated even more and then the machine came and with it the kind of engineer who shakes his head.
He looked at the space, he shook his head.
'Is it too big to go in?' I ventured. This would be another of the hundred and one practical things I couldn't do, FAILING TO BUY WASHER.
He got down, he looked at the cupboard door.
'It's been put in really badly,' he said.
He got right down on the floor.
'Where does the pipe go?'
'What pipe?'
'Where the water comes in and out.'
'Under the sink.'
I duly emptied the cupboard under the sink.
He shook his head.
'No, that's the tap that turns the water off.'
I carried all the stuff ( where was it all coming from, I hadn't seen most of these cleaning products since mangling was in fashion ) into the little back room where I write.
'It won't come out.'  This is the old model. I stand looking at him while he tugs and pulls.
I offer him tea thinking it might help. He shakes his head. His mate, his driver, says he will have tea. I woo him with KitKats and wonder afterwards why he left his tea when I had to step back and forth over the engineer to get the tea, the sugar, the milk, the chocolate biscuits, the kettle and a cup.
I had given him Roosbos by mistake. I wouldn't care, I didn't realise I had any left. Damn. Last teabag and my daughter doesn't drink any other.
They tug and pull at my nasty defunct washer and I worry for  my lovely grey floor. They land it on the floor in front of the hole. He gets back down on the floor.
'I can't see the pipe anywhere. Can't fit the new one if the pipe isn't long enough.'  He sighs over kitchen installers while I malign the lovely kitchen men who fitted my glorious Mary Berry happy kitchen, complete with bottle washer and fish slice.
I retreat into the little back room, with a pen and a notebook, hoping I look efficient and unconcerned. I pick up a fascinating volume called  Mines of the Lake District which I have been going to read for almost three weeks, it's due back at the library any minute. Yep, there's a book which will set the visitors on fire.
'I'll have to take the dishwasher out.'
By this time I am almost past caring and tell him tersely that I don't mind as long as it puts it back in again before he leaves and I retreat to the little back room and learn that quartz, silver, copper and lead, have all been mined in my beloved Lake District, some of them since Elizabethan times, that's the last one so that's sixteenth century. Hm.
Various noises from next door. I try not to think they are demolishing the kitchen.  A whole set of tools crashes to the floor. I spend the next twenty minutes dreading the words 'you've chosen the wrong machine. It won't go in.'
I am asked for kitchen roll, I have to get the hoover. I wish I was somewhere else.
Half on hour later there it is installed and he proudly tells me that the door is a  much better fit that it was and I agree.
They leave. All is peaceful and then I open the cupboard door and before me stands a gleaming monster which has so many instructions on it that Dr Who would run away so I make some tea and sit and watch and I think tomorrow I will read the instructions. Tomorrow is, as Scarlett said, memorably, 'Another Day.'  And no workmen.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Third Wave of My Backlist!! Out on May 5th

I've already written in the previous blogpost about this book. I don't think I should add anything other than I say this is my favourite book but it's a case of wind me up and let me go. I can talk forever about all of them but try not to bore anybody rigid. Anyway, you're here because you want to be and not because I've asked you. You can always think what a clot this woman is and go and make a cup of tea.

I get very enthusiastic about John Wesley who is one of my heroes. What the hell he would have made of me, atheist and wine swilling, is another matter but since we haven't met and aren't likely to it's okay. I also adore his brother's hymns. I love chant and hymns and psalms and everything associated with decent Christianity, especially Bach ( they do organ recitals in the cathedral during the summer months) and wouldn't have missed it but I love that you can hate it too and that the cathedral is always there for me and for you. When I go up the dale to my caravan there are chapels all over the place and I especially love the chapel next to the Weardale museum. Near it Wesley preached under a tree. It's one of my favourite places so I wanted to have a man in one of my books who was a Methodist minister. It's also my grandparents' story because my grandfather was the son of a Methodist preacher and my grandmother was the daughter of a publican. Can you imagine coming home to your dad and saying, "by the way, I've agreed to marry Elizabeth Ellison/ Anthony Gill?  Must have been a corker of a day.

In my story the lad goes away to train and the girl stays behind and guess what?  He falls in love with a Methodist minister's daughter. And guess what?  She is difficult, spoiled and rich. And he has to come back to Durham. Whoa!!

This is a difficult one because I wrote the books the wrong way round so they don't actually go in sequence. I know it's stupid but there you are. This is the book which follows Shelter from the Storm. the other book in the threesome is  When Day is Done which was written last and goes in the  middle. This about Joe's son who has a horrible beginning. The man he thinks of as his dad shoots himself and he is put into the kind of orphanage which has always existed, I fear where the children are abused and starved. There he meets Bridget and although the other girl in this is also important I love Bridget, she's a fighter. She opens a whorehouse in Newcastle and Niall goes with her.

Okay so this is my favourite of my books!!  It took me months to research rallying, cars I mean and I wrote this really big book about them and then my agent didn't like it but in the end the original publisher, Severn House, wanted another book quickly. I was in the middle of moving but my agent rang me and she said,
'You must have something.'
'Everything's packed.'
'What about the car book.'

So this is the car book cut in half and rewritten. Perhaps I like best the books that cause me the most problems but they're all hell so what am I saying? It is a better book for having been cut in half and I love the characters. The main guy, Jack is me, he's impossible, selfish, creative, imaginative, he's also brilliant, so excuse me for making him more intelligent than I am. I had to, he invents a car. It's actually the mini which to me was the best car ever invented. It's set in London mostly but when grief comes to the three main characters the story comes back to the Durham fells. Run for Home.  Lindisfarne.