Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Too many cooks...?

My tomato plants have been extremely productive and no way was I going to manage to eat all those tomatoes at the rate of one or two a day, so, never having done it before, I decided to make chutney. I downloaded a recipe and set to work chopping a kilogram of tomatoes, three onions, garlic, grating fresh ginger, adding sultanas, brown sugar and a whole bottle of vinegar, but right in the middle of it one of my partner's friend's arrived and I got very hot and bothered and irritated.

I wanted to yell, "Out of my kitchen!" because I was getting distracted, and Mr Grumpy kept getting in my way making cups of tea. But it's not my kitchen, it's his, so I carried on and managed to get everything in the pan.

The trouble really began when the visitor had gone. Then, he stood over me with a pitying expression, making comments starting with, "If I were you..." and "It would make your life easier if..."

"Just leave me alone to get on with it, will you?" was what I wanted to say, but he would keep interfering. I got so flustered that I burnt my fingers twice, but in the end I managed to get it all in the jars. I had a little taste and it was yummy.

It's going to be very frustrating having to leave it for a month before I can sample any. I suppose everyone reading this has made chutney before, probably many times, but it gave me a thrill to be making it with my own home-grown tomatoes. Thank heavens I'd saved some jars.

Monday, 30 August 2010

The story of Midnight

Yesterday, I visited my friend Linda. She and I met about 13 years ago in Turkey where she had a business giving aromatherapy massages. She and her Turkish boyfriend lived out there but now she is back in the UK and unfortunately in poor health.

She has never had a cat before, only dogs, but for the past two years she has been feeding a stray silver tabby which she has named Midnight. Last winter, when it was 18 degrees below, Midnight gave birth to five kittens up a tree in a neighbouring garden. Somehow, sheltering an an old pigeon's nest in thick ivy, she managed to rear them. Eventually, they were caught and taken by the RSPCA but Midnight herself could not be caught.

Linda persevered, putting out food for the painfully thin mother cat. She went on to have another litter and this time, with the help of the RSPCA, both mother and kits were trapped and taken away. The kittens were about eight weeks old, so Midnight was spayed and returned to Linda, who had built a home for her in the lean-to at the side of the house, with a bed up on a shelf as Midnight likes to be high up off the ground.

But, pining for her kittens, Midnight refused food and lay by the door, nose on paws, for three or four days. Although she was told to try and keep her in for five days to give her a chance to heal, Linda's soft heart couldn't bear to see the cat looking as if she had given up on life, so she opened the door to freedom and the feral cat took off for her favourite tree. Linda was worried about her operation wound getting infected, and started putting out food again, although other cats in the neighbourhood were around and perhaps eating it instead.

Then the local RSPCA branch had an outbreak of cat flu. They rang Linda and asked if she would be prepared to house three kittens, just over the long Bank Holiday weekend. Now, not only is Linda allergic to kittens as their fluffy fur makes her wheeze, but she is hobbling painfully on crutches and has great difficulty bending to clear out the litter tray and pick up the dishes, let alone swab and disinfect the cat enclosure.

Yet she agreed and yesterday I stood in the enclosure with three tiny scraps of fur, playing tag, dribbling tiny balls, rolling and squeaking, hiding and jumping out and patting at my hand with tiny, adorable, soft paws. They were rescued siblings, one black, one tabby and the one I lost my heart to, who was black and white with a magnificent set of curling white whiskers. I could happily have stuffed her in my pocket and taken her home, but didn't want to upset Flad. In any case, Mr Grumpy had said a firm "No" and no amount of wheedling could persuade him to change his mind.

I just hope they all find good homes where they will be cared for, played with and cherished. And truly, the world is a better place for people like Linda, with hearts of gold, who don't let their illnesses and disabilities get in the way of doing good deeds, either for humans or animals. Wish I could have photographed those kittens for you, but maybe it's as well I didn't, as every time I looked at the picture, I'd have a lump in my throat thinking of the kitten I'd have loved to keep.

And yes, I saw Midnight, too. Shortly before we left, the pretty little cat crept nervously up to the dishes of food and the saucer of cat milk that Linda had left out for her under the patio table. Her wound has healed well, soft fur is growing back over it and as we waved goodbye, she still had her nose buried in her bowl.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Chimimi's latest tricks

Yesterday, for the first time ever, next door's cat wandered into the bedroom and in no time at all she was dragging herself around the bottom of the bed by her claws, kicking all the way.

Later, I was lost in my book editing when I heard a crash from the small cloakroom behind me. I opened the door and found she had jumped in the basin and was standing looking at me. Her telepathic 'I'm thirsty' message must have got through 'cos I turned on the tap and she had a good long drink. Now I'm getting an insight into the things she gets up to at home. I discovered her real human mum has been away for a week. So that's why she has spent every day with me!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A Poem for Slimmers


This ode is for all those who want to lose weight,

Who think once they’re slim they will feel really great,

When they fasten their jeans without even a grunt

And look like a profile when viewed from the front.

Well, life ain’t so easy, just take it from me.

Losing weight isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

And in case you think slimming has made me go funny,

I’ll boil it all down to the single word: money!

That tubular dress that so curvily slunk

Round your body now looks like an elephant’s trunk

As it wrinkles round hips that are no longer there

And reveals a cleavage that’s vanished somewhere,

Those tight, sexy trousers that once fitted snugly

Now hang like a sack and look baggy and ugly

And dear, oh dear, that favourite dress

Makes you look like you’re pregnant, with triplets no less.

You put on your shorts, and down the things drop.

It would take several boob jobs to fill up your top

And the knobbly legs that project from your hem

Look like old-fashioned walking sticks used by old men.

By now, choking sobs, you’re assembling a heap

Of clothes that are headed for Oxfam next week.

Then a small, sneaky voices whispers right in your ear,

“You need to go shopping now, don’t you, my dear?”

Here’s some pants that you like, so you reach for the rack.

From size 18 and 16 you pull your hand back.

“Could I be a 14?” you wonder in joy.

You’ve not been that size since you snogged your first boy.

But glory, oh glory, they fit like a dream.

You admire your taut buns in your new skinny jeans.

From New Look to Top Shop, from Hennes to Fenwick

Your credit card’s flashed and you don’t give a pfennig.

You’re feeling so good on your scrimping new diet

And the exercise routines you do on the quiet

That at first you don’t notice – then suddenly do:

All those new outfits look awful on you!

You must be size 12 now, or even size 10.

But you just can’t afford to go shopping again…

You’re in a dilemma, till that voice in your ear,

Whispers, “Chocolate, Chardonnay, biscuits and beer!”

And this is why slimmers fall right off the wagon

Into chocolate fountains and wine by the flagon.

We know that obesity might make us ill

But we’d rather face that than the credit card bill.

(By Lorna Read, who is currently somewhere between 10 and 16 and

wishes it was her age, not her weight)

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Dark tomatoes

Those Andalucian Black tomatoes are going a very strange colour indeed! Wonder what they'll taste like? I imagine they'll be a bit peppery and spicy.

And here is Chimimi from next door, rolling around contentedly on the futon in my office. She's there most days, but not today. When I came down she was sitting on the patio table instead.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Raspberry Bakewell cake

There was a punnet of raspberries in the fridge that were about to pass their eat-by so I Googled raspberry recipes and decided upon this one. I forgot to line the cake tin but just about managed to get it out without wrecking it. It's slightly overdone round the sides, but I'm looking forward to trying it. I only had half the amount of raspberries that the recipe called for, but in my view that means fewer seeds to lodge in your fillings!

Here is a link to the recipe, if anyone is interested in trying it out..


Saturday, 14 August 2010


The new Benilyn worked a treat. I went to bed and didn't cough once. I'm make it up for it now I'm up and about, though. Think I'd better go out and buy the daytime version. I have a bottle of Echinacea somewhere, so I shall take the drops as recommended by Perovskia, too.

There's a grey blanket of cloud over London and the rain is incessant and - well, you know how some rain seems wetter than other types? This is the kind of rain that gets everywhere. Down your neck, inside your bag, sliding into your shoes and making your socks soggy. It's the kind of rain we would wake up to on childhood holidays in Scotland or Wales, only to hear Dad say, 'It's not so bad. Come on, you lot, get your macs on!"

And out we would slosh in our wellies, up the hills where the view was blotted out by cloud, and down the valleys where the air was thick and sensual with the smells of soaked undergrowth and flowers and bushes gave off the reek of wet dog fur, offensive yet comforting at the same time. Up where my sister lives in Cumbria, they've actually got a hosepipe ban. Imagine that. Cumbria, land of floods and they can't water their gardens. Yet usually Ullswater is gently sloshing against my sister's back door. This cloudy, wet weather means I have missed out on the meteor shower. I really wanted to see it. Has anyone else managed to catch a glimpse of it?

Friday, 13 August 2010

Tickly cough

It's still waking me several times a night. So far I have tried:

Homoeopathy - Gelsium, Nat Mur
Cough medicines - Benilyn for Chesty Coughs; Veno's Glycerin, Lemon and Honey; Covonia;
Night Nurse
Other things - echinacia tea: Yogi throat ease tea: Vitamin C

Now I have bought the latest form of Benilyn, which is Benilyn Mucus (sounds vile, probably tasts vile too). I shall let you know how I get on with that. I would really like to get more than one hour of unbroken sleep per night!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

That tomato

Last night I ate the tomato. I don't know why I felt so guilty. It was only a vegetable (fruit?) after all. But I had grown it and was very proud of it. I have had to remind myself that it was grown for a specific purpose, to supply me with nice, fresh, organic tomatoes for my salads. And after all, you can' have your tomatoes and eat them.

Well, I suppose I could have sprayed it with some kind of resin and preserved it in a clear box like Damien Hirst's cow, but it was much more pleasant to carve it up and eat it with rocket salad and Cornish plaice fillet. For the record, it was delicious. Sweet, but not too much, very juicy and now that its neighbours on the vine are ripening up nicely, I hope to enjoy some more. There are some interesting varieties growing on the other plants, including plum tomatoes that look like little light bulbs and some mysterious ones called Black Andalucian that I bought just for the name. Wonder if they'll look anything like these? Sorry, I couldn't get the photo to come up any bigger.

Achin' all over

Remember the old song? In my case it's 'shivers down my backbone, aches in my thigh bone'. I've had this on and off since the sore throat and cough started a week ago, and since then I've scarcely slept for an hour without waking up to a coughing fit. This morning, I cracked my eyes open at just short of ten a.m. (amazing, the day before I was up at 6) and all I wanted to do was go back to sleep. Aching head, vague nausea, throat full of catarrh (what a horrible word to spell! It's as bad as diarrhoea - talking of which, I once bought my dad a wonderful get well card which read: 'Sorry to hear you've got dire (crossed out), diareo (also crossed out); inside it read, 'Oh shit. Get well anyway!), and aches from head to foot, plus a feeling of utter exhaustion.

I had a full body massage yesterday and sometimes that makes me feel very relaxed, or even a bit achy, but never anything like this. I suppose it must be a virus. My methods to combat it today have included coffee, echinacia tea, shovelling up four plastic bagfuls of mouldering birdseed from beneath the feeders in the hope that physical activity might make me feel brighter and better, hauling the heavy sacks of new birdfood that have just been delivered into the spare room, cutting them open and replenishing the feeders, reading a copy of Writing Magazine from cover to cover, and forcing my brain to fill in some crossword clues. Nothing has worked, I feel too muzzy to work, there's some ghastly building work going on over the road which sounds like a dentist's drill (my bete noir) and finally I have decided that I should GO BACK TO BED!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Flat fiasco

I have now given up the idea of buying a house, which is what I really want, because if I want to be within easy public transport reach of my friends, a house would cost me at least £400,000. And that's a tiny two-up, two-down terraced cottage we're talking about here, not a lovely, peaceful detached house set in the glorious garden of my dreams.

I have recently extended my search area to include Finchley, London N3, and on Monday I trekked out to see two likely-sounding properties. The first was a two-floor maisonette with a garden and the moment the agent opened the door, the smell hit me, redolent of old cat-food tins in an unemptied bin. The second thing I noticed was the filthy stair carpet, edged with black grime. By now, I was feeling queasy. When I saw the encrusted cooker and greasy sink, I felt even worse. The rooms were tiny and the so-called second bedroom was in the loft, but there was no mansard (the bit that sticks out to give you extra headroom when you do a proper attic conversion), so you could only stand up in about three feet of it and it was like being in an old-fashioned tent. The garden was detached - you had to walk down the street and go through a gate to get to the rear half of what was once a lovely garden in the days when it was all one house. The price? £245,000. I wouldn't have given £45,000 for it, especially as it was over a mile walk from the tube station.

Onwards to the second. This was in an interesting little cul-de-sac tucked behind the main road and screened from it by trees. So farm, so good - until I heard a rattle and a roar and saw the tube train hurtle past, just four houses away. Hmm...

My friend and I walked in. What should have been a living room at the front had been turned into the main bedroom. There was no double glazing to shield you from road and tube noise. The second bedroom was small but perfectly formed. Room for a double bed and a wardrobe. The bathroom was lovely, light, bright and modern. The kitchen-diner was also new and sleek, everything white and chrome and at the end were doors leading onto a glorious, sun-drenched garden. Very nice, but... where was the living room? The answer was, there wasn't one. A sofa and TV had been placed in the open plan kitchen-diner and this was the lounge referred to in the details. Nowhere to put stereo, CD's, bookshelves, all the things you want in a lounge. Did I feel cheated! The price of this wrongly-labelled '2 bed apartment' was a whisker short of £300,000. Then the agent hit me with the bombshell; you also had to pay £8000 to extend the lease.

Bidding the agent a disappointed farewell, we went off to meet another friend for lunch and walked to a cafe in Highgate Woods. By the time I got home, my sandals had rubbed - I must have walked four miles - and all the skin had come off the underside of one of my toes. It's red raw and I'm still hobbling.

Next morning, my friend and I exchanged various scathing emails about the flats. I then had one from the agent asking if I was intending to make an offer. I hit the Reply button and told him no, then later in the day was mystified when I had a curt email back from him thanking me for my 'full correspondence'. That's when I discovered that the new and ghastly Hotmail program had somehow added the emails I had exchanged with my friend to the foot of my email to the agent, probably because it had the same subject heading, and he had read all our nasty remarks about stinky, overpriced flats. After my initial sense of horror, I thought, 'serve him jolly well right!'

(Note to other Hotmail users: if you don't want to get into hot water through accidentally sending insulting emails to people, or, even worse, exposing the fact that you indulging in a red-hot extra-marital affair, make sure you haven't got it in 'series' mode. I think - hope - I have managed to sort that out now. Only time and lawyers will tell!!!)

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

First ripe tomato!

Here it is! I'm so proud. I picked it today. It's rained all day and what I wanted was some sunshine to finish it off, but I decided not to wait. I'll let you know what it tasted like.

If you want to know why I have repeated the photo upside-down, read Jacula's comment!

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Danger in paradise

Imagine this. I'm sitting in the garden, coffee in hand, eyes drowsy, face raised to the sun, absorbed in the unaccustomed warmth and the soothing chirps of the sparrows, when suddenly a sound impinges on my consciousness. Buzzzzz. I look down to see a large wasp about to settle on my arm.

Now, remember the second phrase of the second sentence of the last paragraph? You know the expression, 'knee-jerk reaction'? Well, I had an arm-jerk reaction. Coffee arced up in a fountain and came down on my hair, my glasses, my face, my t-shirt, my trousers, the table and chair... I gave myself everything short of a coffee enema and I'd probably have had that, too, if I hadn't been wearing trousers. My clothes are in the washing machine, I've swabbed the table and chair and the sun has gone back behind the clouds. I'm very glad Mr G was out at the time or I would never hear the end of it!

Think I'll just go back to bed

Do you ever have one of those days when you wake up feeling even more tired than you did before you went to sleep? Add aching limbs, a stuffy nose, earache and a tickly cough to the mix and I think it amounts to some kind of virus. Probably caught from the man I sat next to on the tube on the way back from the dentist's, who was coughing and sneezing and spraying his germs liberally all over the carriage. I suppose, when you have a traumatic time like I did at the dentist's, your immune system gets a momentary knock, giving those germs a perfect window of opportunity. Good job I have nothing planned this weekend, apart from finishing off an editing job.

Talking of which, although the grammar and punctuation are dodgy, the book I'm working on would deserve the title of the first ever Mills and Boon for the gay market. The main character is a 29-year-old man who has been reluctant to come out, and is even more reluctant to admit that, despite all his experimental fumbles and tentative relationships, the one person he is truly in love with is his flatmate, with whom he can't possible start anything up for fear of destroying the equilibrium. I'm three-quarters of the way through the book, the flatmate has done a disappearing act and my heart is in my mouth, hoping for the happy ending but fearing it will never come! And that's the stuff all the best M and B's are made of.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Blushing tomato

I've been giving my tomatoes a daily talking-to, telling them to hurry up and get red (but not telling them that this is so I can eat them as that would be scary enough to make stay green forever!). Today, I noticed that the first one to emerge on the plants a few weeks ago is now turning a delicate shade of pink. I'm so proud!

Wonder how my friend Jacula's tomato plants are doing? Not that we're in a competition or anything. Well, maybe...

Monday, 2 August 2010


On a lighter note, as I was on the bus on my way to my friend's son's 21st birthday party on Saturday (where I got blotto on Pimms and champagne cocktails and spent all yesterday being very sick indeed), I felt a tickle on my wrist and looking down, saw there was a flea on it. I grabbed it and tried to squash the life out of it, then texted Mr G, who replied, 'Are you on a hopper bus?' Honestly! (For non-British readers, hopper buses are single deckers that service local routes.) Well, it certainly was hopping, that's for sure!

Sleepless in Hillingdon

I went to bed 2 hours ago but I'm up again now, because every time I close my eyes, I relive today's torture session in the dentist's chair and within moments I'm wide awake and worrying myself sick about what happens if the tooth (or any other of the faithless fangs) flares up and I have to go back there.

The crown feels all wrong. It sticks up and I can't close my teeth properly and my jaw feels misaligned. There's a rough patch at the back which my tongue catches on and I just know those painful ulcers on my tongue will start up again. Despite my decision to give my liver a rest, I am sipping a very small brandy through a straw and hoping it will help dull both the nagging pain in my tooth and my torturous thoughts.

I have started Googling painless dentists... but when you look at their prices, you realise that only celebs can afford them. My dad, who suffered greatly from toothache when he was young, had all his teeth taken out when he was 25. I'm starting to think 'sensible man'!


The dentist told me to avoid chewing on that side for a week and not to get any hot or cold liquids on the tooth. Drinking isn't a problem as I have let my tea cool down and am drinking it through a straw, as I would a G&T if I wasn't giving my liver a rest following Saturday night's overindulgence. It's food that's causing me grief because, following the injections and the tense state I was in, I can now only open my mouth about half an inch. I tried to eat a chip and it wouldn't go in so I had to shave bits off and poke them between my teeth. At this rate, I'll soon be under 9 st, which would be absolutely brilliant but tooth trauma is not the way to go, diet-wise, believe me.

Arrrgh, sob!

Today, the dentist narrowly avoided getting kicked in the cavity. Following decades of brutal treatment at the hands of old-style fangmen with old-style drills, in 1978 I joined the practice I am with now (having left briefly last year only to have the nerve jabbed and my tooth root pierced by a different dentist, so I went back).

For about 20 years I had a wonderful gentle, musical, philosophical Pole who never once caused me any pain. He retired and I was passed on to the head of the practice, a bluff, red-haired Scot who was a genius with the needle and drill and again, didn't ever hurt me. Tragically, he died aged only about 59.

Now I am with someone else and every time I go, I get hurt. Today was terrible. Three injections numbed my eye and my cheek, but not the tooth, so drilling out the old filling and cementing in the crown hurt so much that twice I cried out and once, my foot shot out and I nearly hit the ceiling. I was quivering in pain, tears in my eyes. And he had the cheek to tell me that there was nothing in my tooth that could have caused such pain. I'm sure he must have been close to the nerve.

Anyway, he wants to operate on the tooth he did the (very painful) root canal work on, and chop off the root that is still giving trouble. No way am I going to let him. Just imagine if the injection didn't work for that! Or if he decided to yank it out! I am now so phobic about him that I don't ever want to go back. But, as we all know, finding a new dentist is extremely difficult. And expensive. At present, my Denplan insurance costs £32 per month and my crown has just cost £125 on top of that. Going to a private dentist could cost hundreds every time - yet my Denplan costs nearly £400 a year. Don't know what to do. Pity about my current dentist. He's a very nice person, but hasn't got the magic touch!