I am not a bad cook. I shan’t be immodest and claim to be a good cook, but I shall claim to be able to produce tasty meals if and when I have to. And I am a better cook than some, perhaps even many. But I have had my fair share of - I won’t call them disasters, but failures, most recently when I tried to prepare a Spanish prawn and chilli dish which is served as tapas in Spain. It is essentially a simple dish which it is virtually impossible to cock up, but, friends, that did not deter me and what I served up to my stepmother and, crucially, my sister, was ‘a failure’. It didn’t taste awful or anything like that, it just wasn’t immediately identifiable as anything much.
There are many ‘recipes’ for this particular prawn dish - that is there are many ways of preparing it - and I followed one which I had seen on BBC TV which involved tomato puree. Not many of the others do, actually. In fact hardly any others do, but this one did, and sadly what I ended up with was more or less a rather thick and spicy tomato soup with prawns. That is, what I ended up with was nothing special at all. Please believe me that it did not taste bad at all (I mention that because some disasters can taste bloody awful), but after the build-up of ‘preparing a meal for you two’ - my stepmother and sister - I did feel very foolish.
But even though I say so myself, as a general rule, I have far more successes than failures. I mention this because although I enjoy cooking and I enjoy eating, I have not been allowed to cook since I was married 15 years ago, and furthermore I haven’t yet enjoyed any of the home-cooked food my wife has produced. Were you to ask her why she doesn’t allow me to cook her at home, she would give you any number of reasons - ‘he makes a mess’, ‘he cooks things the children don’t like’, ‘he takes too long’ - all of which are, I have to say, nonsense. The simple fact is that she want to be in charge most of the time, and especially in charge in the kitchen. Fair enough, and anything for a quite life, but the price I pay is being served up food which is about bad canteen standard in a good day. And having been brought up by a mother who could cook and cook rather well, that is something of a sore point. When I retire, there will be wholesale changes in the household and budgeting for food and cooking will be one of them.
That was all a rather long preamble to the announcement that I am cooking tonight and, for obvious reasons, I hope to bloody God it isn’t ‘a disaster’ of any kind. I happened like this: there are many parts of pigs, lambs and cattle which are just as tasty as the bits we usually eat, but, for one reason of another, are ignored. I like liver and kidney, I like belly pork and I like breast of lamb. Recently I spotted a tray of ready-prepared breast of lamb in the supermarket and bought four. Not only is it tasty, it is also cheap. But my wife didn’t roast them, she braised them and they were pretty much pretty awful, and, as usual, in that obscure way these things happen, I took the blame for a meal no one enjoyed. I didn’t tell her that what she had cooked was awful - I can be tactful sometimes - but I did tell her that she should not have braised the lamb but roasted it. She insisted that ‘roasting’ and ‘braising’ are the same and it is her habit - her extremely annoying habit - to argue her case until she is blue in the face whether or not she knows she is talking complete bollocks, which in this case she was. I was determined to show her that ‘roasting’ is not the same as ‘braising’ and that breast of lamb can be very tasty indeed. So the lamb is roasting away nicely sprinkled with rosemary, pepper and olive oil, and will be served with roasted onions, new potatoes
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UPDATE: Well, we finished supper about an hour ago (taking just over 15 minutes to do so, another of my gripes - I rather like spending quite some time over a meal, talking, eating, talking, eating, in any order. This mad dash to eat up ‘because Corrie/EastEnders/Britain’s Got Talent/Celebrity Shagging is on in a minute’ pisses me off more than I can say) and the response was as I feared.
I am not talking here about my children’s response as I feel they are still developing (by which I mean they can still be salvaged), but my wife’s. But first things first, and you must accept that I am being entirely truthful. Given that all I had prepared was breast of lamb (ready-rolled and stuffed), new potatoes and leeks braised in butter and given that it isn’t actually haut cuisine, it was 100 per cent successful. No ‘failure’ this time. I had roasted onions with the lamb and they were just right: sweetly carmelised without being at all burnt. The leeks, too, were just right (they have to be done at the last moment as everyone is sitting down - leave it too long and they are just floppy bits of vegetable, nice enough, but not as nice as they can be). The potatoes, well, they were just new boiled new potatoes. I did nothing special with them at all except to wish them God speed and to promise to remember them in my will (one of the easiest compliments to pay anyone. Once you have died, the will is published and you are shown to have lied through your teeth, well, you’re dead. What can they do?) I might also have made a simply gravy, but my wife is a coeliac (‘gluten-intolerant’ for those who aren’t addicted to the newspapers health pages), and apart from possibly using creme fraiche, which I had forgotten to buy today, I was stuck.
The response: well, it seems my children and my wife are far, far too grand for a cut as modest as breast of lamb. My daughter made great play of ‘cutting off the fat’ and apparently discovering that once she had done so, there was no meat. That was odd, because rather than let it be thrown away, I took what she had discarded and found some rather nicely roasted pieces of lamb. My son, on the other hand, finished all his meat (and had commented earlier while the lamb was still roasting that it ‘smelled nice’) but left his potatoes and most of his leeks.
It pains me to say so, but at 11 going on 12 (on May 25) and 14 going on 15 (on August 7), my two glorious children have been rather badly brought up, in this case by my wife. I accept none of the blame. Indulgence is not necessarily a bad thing, but the child being indulged must be made fully aware that he or she is being indulged and must not be allowed to forget the fact or else they are simply spoilt beyond reason. But I suspect as far as that is concerned those who know what I am talking about agree with me completely and those who haven’t a clue are asking themselves ‘who is this ante-deluvian moron?’ So I’ll leave it there. But as I say, I am an optimist and believe that despite, in this respect, an unfortunate start in life, my children, who are both essentially good-hearted and - I’ll put it this way - not completely stupid, can I believe still be salvaged. It might take some hard knocks later on in life, but that, too, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As for my wife, well what didn’t she criticise? I should count myself lucky that she had nothing to say about a possible inadequate percentage of carbon in the stainless steel cutlery, but apart from that it was a massacre. It is remarkable how much can be conveyed silently, but with the faintest of gestures and facial ticks. You’d think she suspected I was trying to poison her. Still, believe me or don’t, it was a very tasty meal, far, far tastier than anything I have eaten in this household since last I cooked. The secret, I think, is to develop an even thicker skin. That Bin Laden, he doesn’t know how lucky he was. But I am not going to be put off. You bet I’m not. When it comes to eating, I prefer food, not swill. My one mistake tonight, perhaps, was telling my wife as much.
. . .
The most exciting news from yesterday (I am writing this the day after my gala meal featuring breast of lamb, new potatoes and leeks) is that I ran into the back of some idiot on Wentford Bridge while I was on my way to pick up my children from the school bus. The stupid woman suddenly braked to avoid running over a stoat or a weasel (which safely made it to the other side of the road, you’ll be pleased to hear - I saw it scamper away yelling ‘nothing to do with me, nothing to do with me’), I immediately braked, too, but still went into the back of her mini Chelsea tractor. She had the spare tyre stuck to the back of her car, which is the practice with these bloody vehicles and strikes me as nothing more than unashamed showing off, lending the car a spurious ruggedness which screams ‘I’m tough!’ (The Worshipful Company of Car Dealers And Other Assorted Crooks commissioned a survey last year to find out how many of these very popular - very, very popular with people who live in nice, well-ordered, middle-class suburbs - off-road 4x4s were actually driven off-road. The answer was: none at all. Not one. The closest they come to being driven off-road is when they move to the verge to make way for the Queen.) I will grant that her bloody vehicle was tough enough to escape any damage whatsoever, whereas my effete Rover received a right battering.
The police refused point blank to get involved, which was a blow, because I’m sure they could have testified that the whole incident was her bloody fault. Apparently, it is now ‘policy’ not to ‘attend’ ‘road traffic accidents’ unless the road is blocked, there is an injury, or Lord Lucan was spotted on the scene riding Shergar. Bastards.
What is most irritating about it all is that in this instance I was wholly blameless in that I wasn’t speeding, I wasn’t drunk and I wasn’t in a rush and none of this would have happened unless this bloody woman had not braked suddenly. But I am bound to admit that I have something of a reputation in my family for crashing cars, and this episode will do nothing to persuade anyone that that reputation is unwarranted.
The only slight silver lining to all this is that I am taking a week off work next week and so will have enough time to get myself a new set off wheels.
I’m assuming that repairing what has been done - the radiator is also badly damaged - will top the £55 the car cost me in the first place, so strictly speaking she is a right-off. The second silver lining is that I because of the puzzles work I do on the side for the Mail, I have a couple of pounds put by and so won’t have to go into debt getting another car. And the third silver lining is that hereabouts in rural Nowheresville, any middle-class sort of chap with the right accent and who knows how to hold a gin and tonic correctly is invited for drinks with the Lord Lieutenant of the county if he is involved in more than three crashes (‘RTAs’ in police speak) in two years. I’m pleased to say I qualify on all counts and look forward to receiving my invitation.
. . .
The usual refrain of Old Farts here in Britain, but, I should imagine, also the world over – why should black, brown, red or yellow Old Farts be any different to the white variety? – is that ‘ah, they good days are over, they – comedians,/divas/clever politicians/sportsmen and women/actors – just aren’t what they used to be. Well, might this Old Fart (62 in November, can’t get a hard on, and would prefer to go to bed at 8pm than 12pm) register a note of dissent. And if your answer is ‘no, you can’t’, all I can say is ‘fuck you, I’m going to anyway.
I can confidently predict that there is any number of comedians/divas/clever politicians/fabulour sportsmen and women/actors who might well be, at this point in time (that was once a cliché, but in this instance I rather think it isn’t) unborn. They don’t yet exist. The twinkle in their dad’s eye which signals that he might well like to shag their mother and conceive the chap/chappess is not yet apparent.
I write all this as a Manchester United supporter, a club which is managed by a great, great manager called Alex Ferguson. But I also write after having watched just a few hours ago the English FA Cup final between Manchester City and Stoke. From the off, City were the better side, classier, more elegant, more tighter, but as can often be the case their sophisticated game was up to a point neutralised by Stoke’s rough and ready, muscular approach. At half-time the score was 0-0, and it wasn’t until well into the second half that Yaya Toure scored what was to prove the winning goal. But, I hear the clamour around the world, what has this to do with Old Farts and their penchant for dissing everything not at least 30 years old. Well, friends, I shall tell you.
City are and have been for many, many years one of United’s arch-rivals. As a rule United were invariably way in front with City being one of those Premier Leagues/First Division teams which tagged along. Chelsea were once also such a team, as are – are, I’m afraid – Aston Villa, and West Ham.
But given that City beat United in the FA Cup semi-final this year and did United out of a possible second treble United won the League, the Cup and the Champions League all in the same year 12 years ago) and given that City have qualified of the Champions League next year and given that the riches of whoever owns them – some bloody sultan or other with more money than sense and most definitely more money than any love or knowledge of football – football in England is shaping up rather well.
After he game and before setting fingers to keyboard to write this particular instalment of waffle, I googled City’s manager Roberto Mancini to find out more about the chap. And he has some history. After a rather glorious playing career when he also played for Italy, he went into management and did very well, particularly with Inter Milan, but the buggers sacked him after four years, reputedly for not winning the Champions League.
We are now at the end of the season. United, under Sir Alex Ferguson, have won the League (for a record 19th time), and in two weeks take on Barcelona in the Champion’s League final. City, under Roberto Mancini, have now won the silverware they have craved since 1976 (statistic courtesy of whoever was commentating in ITV – don’t ever think I know what I am talking about), have, it would seem, finally escaped their also-ran status and are contenders in a way which is not brave, alcohol-fuelled braggadocio. Spurs didn’t get to the Champion’s League next season, but by no means disgraced themselves this season and are back where they belong. Liverpool also seem to finally have shrugged off all the bad times, will be competing in the Champion’s League next season and are once again realistic contenders for the League title. And Kenny Dalglish is now managing them. Chelsea? Well, Chelsea were always rather fragranted wide-boys – would that be ‘narrow boys with rather nice hips – but have achieve prominence because their owner had the billions necessary to buy good players. Yet despite that they are well managed, and they, too, despite the dubious provenance of their reputation, are contenders. And all that means that next year should be one hell of a season, though given the nature of money, power and ego, perhaps Carlo Ancelloti will not be leading them next year. Shame, and I’m sure he will be crying all the way to the bank to deposit his £6 million pay-off (as in the rest of his contract, though, as of today he hasn’t yet been sacked).
So what has this to do with Old Farts (of whatever colour, creed, race, sexual orientation or, I suppose, gender)? Simpy this: fuck off and go bore someone else. The future is where it will always be.