Saturday, 30 January 2016

WI oh WI?!

It was a busy time last weekend thanks to the long awaited return of junior football. It was quite memorable too, with Ole scoring his first goal in several years in a 4-1 win, whilst Zac almost kept a clean sheet as his team moved into the cup quarter finals.

Who remembers Quatermass & The Pit? I watched it (again) last Saturday. Wonderfully dated British sci-fi, with a preposterous storyline. There are tons of things that I could pick holes in, but the thing that made me smile the most was the drill. Ordinary drills wouldn't do, so they had to get the hardest drill known to man to try to open up the mysterious object. So where would they get one of these drills? A workman turned up with it, complete with trousers tied up with string. Looked like a tramp. And he kept the drill in an old toolbox. Priceless.

It was also burger time, though a word of advice. I used shin beef and it didn't hold together as well as other cuts. Burgers were still tasty, just messy to eat!

I have started to stretch myself a bit more, and after checking the United Utilities website to confirm that the towpath was still shut at Disley I decided that Disley should be my destination. It wasn't too cold, but it was very muddy, and when I got to Disley, the towpath was open. That gave me a bit of a dilemma. Should I continue? Or should I stick to my original target? I went two bridges further, about half a mile, and then turned around. It was probably a good thing that I did as by the time I got to Whaley my stamina had just about given up. I also did not have the power in my legs to get up out of the saddle, but that is gradually returning. Six weeks of relative inactivity is going to take some building back up again. Incidentally, most people along the canal, walkers, cyclists, joggers, etc, give you a happy greeting, pleased that you tinkled (your bell) as a friendly warning. Others are ignorant gits, and that is probably why I was tempted to nudge an elderly gentleman in the direction of the canal. He wasn't even walking. He saw me coming and stood in the middle of the towpath. Then he turned his back. My bell had no effect so I had to stop and navigate around him. The splash was quite loud as he hit the water (only joking! you wouldn't have heard the splash above the grumbling of the old twat). I so wished he had challenged my right to cycle along there - I had my licence at the ready!

Last Friday saw my first visit to the pub since November, That's a long time! A couple of pints in the Drum & Monkey went down very well, and yes Donna, I will pay your cafe a visit in the very near future.

Here's a funny thing. There is a new WI branch in Whaley Bridge. Nothing funny about that, but what is funny is they started a Facebook group. An open Facebook group. So anyone can join, and anyone can approve anyone else's request. Some of the male folk from our village thought it hilarious to join, and to offer advice on all manner of things, particularly how to care for your rabbit! Sally went to the first meeting last Thursday, and even came back with a magazine. She has been threatening to make home made rice pudding recently, but the WI tradition of jams and chutneys must be avoided. Le Creuset couldn't cope with her every day culinary catastrophies. Molten jam could cause an ecological disaster. My sister Fiona might turn up to a future meeting as an honoured guest, so I suggested that she could pretend to be the Capo Di Tutti Capi of the Bedford branch. Sally was quite taken with that title, even if she didn't quite know what it meant.

Meanwhile, I decided ti make sweet potato and parsnip mash to top part of a cottage pie (Ole insists on traditional mash). I also made humble bangers and mash with onion gravy, and a guilty pleasure of baked beans on the side. Today has been a real experiment, with green bean soup from Transylvania. Sally has already given it the thumbs up, which is fortunate as there seems to be a lot of it.

Finally, looks like there will be a brief change of scenery very soon. I've got a contract that will require a couple of days in Dordrecht in the Netherlands, and maybe a week somewhere in the US, Interesting thing is we don't quite know whether it will be Jacksonville in Florida or Little Rock in Arkansas.

Friday, 22 January 2016

I Had To Laugh

Its been a funny old few days, and sometimes I have to laugh otherwise I would have to take some things far too seriously. For instance, I laughed when Sally came back from the shops with three brand new pans. Followers of this blog will know that our kitchen is a veritable graveyard for anything that is likely to be a vessel for Sally's culinary delights, but in this instance I had to ask, 'What about the old pans?' She had to admit that she did not know what I was talking about, so I lifted out the tub that contains rice, quinoa and pasta, and lo and behold, there were three brand new pans. 'Those are my nice copper pans, they are not for cooking with,' she replied. 'So why are they hidden away?' I asked, at which point I decided that future debate was pointless. I contented myself with an inward smile, knowing that the three newest pans would soon end up in that non-stick graveyard in the sky, whilst the copper ones, that had previously looked on enviously as their distant stainless steel cousins boiled and steamed all manner of comestibles, now realised that they were fortunate to be pretty enough to just sit there on display (albeit at the back of a dark space!) without risking incineration.

I went back to work, getting a lift of Michael Glover, but more of him later. After a few hours in the office I realised the importance of keeping my leg horizontal, and at the end of the day it was sore and stiff as I settled in to an evening at Roomzzz. Of course, a bit of forward planning and a trip to Sainsbury's meant that I was self sufficient, knocking up a very nice curry and rice on the hob. Yoghurt and blueberries with a dash of honey for dessert, and it was almost as good as being at home. Of course, another good thing about being in a hotel room is that even if you wanted to snack, the effort involved in going out and finding something would be too much to contemplate. After another two days at work I got a lift back home again, thankful that I could then rest for a few days.

In another triumph I started cycling again. I've been to Tesco and back several times, and once to Buxworth, but its not really the time of year for this, and I have taken to wearing two pairs of gloves to go with my lycra.

I had to laugh last Friday, when I couldn't find my phone. I rang it, and although I knew it had full charge the answering service told me that I wasn't available. Hmmm, that means that it is somewhere that does not get a signal. Buxton perhaps? Now what would my phone be doing in Buxton when I am clearly in Whaley bridge. This mystery was soon resolved when I rang Sally. 'No, I've not got your phone. Only mine. And my work one. Why have I got a missed call from Sarah...oh, this must be your phone.' She then claimed that I summoned her back from Buxton, but I will let you make your own mind up about that.

It is the cricket club AGM next Tuesday, and that means the Secretary's Report. Our secretary is notorious for the length of his prose, and recently he has taken to including quotations for effect. Now, I have no problem with this, in fact a flowing narrative can be rewarding to both read and write. Unfortunately, Mr Crowley seems to delight in using words that are not, shall we say, every day ones, and when a reasonably intelligent person has to look up the meaning of some of these words, then the average Whaley Bridge Cricket Club Cricketer will either dismiss it along with the rest of the report, or worse misunderstand it, thereby diluting the efficacy of the message (sorry!).

The effectiveness of a man of letters is constrained by his ability to use the correct spelling and grammar, and when using quotations it is simply unforgivable to mix up the surname of the author of the quotation with that of both the second team player of the year and the chairman of the club, which obviously renders that quotation useless, whilst at the same time casting doubt on the credulity of the remainder of the document.

Zac's butterfly knife arrived, and although it is perfectly safe it looks and feels impressive. He was at a sleepover on Friday, and he was desperate to take it with him, and of course it is perfectly safe so we agreed. He came home from school with his mate Alex, and then they they had to head off to the shops for supplies for the party. They returned, and got ready to party, at which point we noticed that Zac's rucksack looked rather heavy. Ignoring this I dropped him off, pointing out to Helen, the hostess of the sleepover, that the knife that Zac had with him looked lethal, but it was perfectly safe. The following morning all was well, but Helen had a couple of things to hand over. Firstly, the knife. Although it was perfectly safe Helen thought it best that it didn't fall into the wrong hands so she confiscated it. She confiscated several other things, including two full cans of Monster Energy drink, which explains why the bag was so heavy. 'We only had a sip at a time,' Zac claimed. More detailed searches will be carried out in the future.

I made chicken fried steak last week - very tasty it is too! I even used my meat tenderiser which makes a huge difference, turning 'casserole steak' into tender strips. The process is fairly simple. Dredge the meat in spiced flour (I added 12 different herbs and spices - more than KFC), dredge it in egg wash, then dredge it in the flour again. Shallow fry for about 3-4 minutes on each side then drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Definitely one for MMM...No2...Cookbook. Heading off to Nottingham I also made chicken and vegetable soup that passed Sally's taste test (it was better than cabbage water), pork in ginger, and meatballs in bolognese. Not much left when I got back last night!

Of course, not everyone is a fan of this preparation, in fact Sally frequently complains that there is too much food in the house, and if it wasn't there she wouldn't eat it. Then she bought me a new baking tray. 'You can make biscuits on it,' she explained. I had to laugh.

Last week I had to remind Zac that you are what you eat. If you eat rubbish it will turn you into a couch potato. In a related matter, every morning is an adventure when it comes to Zac's bag. I take out the previous day's lunch box and replace it with today's fresh offering. On Tuesday, just before I set off for Nottingham, I found that Monday's apple was untouched, but a Galaxy bar wrapper was there. I left him a note reiterating that he needed to eat healthily and he would have to forfeit his X-Box for leaving the apple. I spoke to him later that night, at which point he tried to complain. 'You are what you eat you said. If I eat carrots I'll end up like a carrot.' Not quite sure he understood what I meant. The phrase 'couch potato' was also thrown into the conversation, so I just asked him why he didn't eat his apple. 'Did you put apple in there?' he asked. 'I wasn't very hungry at school.' Hardly surprising given the empty Galaxy wrapper!

Going to see The Stranglers in Nottingham in March. Can't remember the last time I saw them, but the first time was almost 40 years ago! I wonder if they will remember the words? Michael Glover is very excited about the prospect. I wonder if Annie's Burger Shack is also on the cards.

Spam seems to have taken an odd direction since Christmas. As well as the Nigerian Generals and well meaning American benefactors, I've now been offered an online degree, miracle slimming pills, and perhaps most bizarrely a field light that is bright enough to blind a bear. I kid you not. Bright enough to blind a bear. What a selling point! Perhaps I will dedicate one of these blog entries entirely to Spam. I certainly get enough of it.

Finally, I had to laugh. You may recall that I had to have stomach injections post op, and now we have a container full of discarded needles. These specially made containers, 'Sharpsafe' or something like that, hold the needles until they can be properly disposed of. 'You can drop them off at the doctor's in Whaley when you go,' Sally said. A couple of hours later the needles were back in their original place, on the side in the kitchen. 'You didn't take the needles,' she complained, but I pointed out that I did indeed take the needles. Unfortunately, the doctor's do not take needles, and if they did it would have to be at Chapel, and even then they would only take needles that they had actually given out. I would have to take them to a hospital, and preferably the one that originally handed them out. 'That's ridiculous,' said the ex nurse. 'I'd have thought that someone who works in a hospital would know the procedure for disposing of needles,' I said, which it could be argued was somewhat inflammatory. 'So, do you know anyone who is heading off to a hospital any time soon?' She ignored me as she put on her coat and went off to work at Wythenshawe Hospital. I had to laugh.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Whoa! I'm Going To Barbados (well actually its Cuba)

Take two bottles into the shower? Why would I do that when there are already twenty seven in there. What are they all for?

I thought that we had a breakthrough this week. After Zac added bacon to his list of acceptable foods I wrapped some chicken breasts in bacon and served them up, Zac was impressed. Actually, 'impressed' is probably too strong a word. He was 'tolerant' of it, and agreed that he could perhaps eat one. Delighted, I gave him a box of microwave chips, and he was munching away. Eventually he admitted that the last few morsels were a bit chewy, but he had eaten most of it. All was going well, until I found the box that the chips had been in. Now all that it contained was chicken and bacon that he had picked apart and then discarded. I estimate that he had eaten perhaps 10%! He is clearly no Abraham Lincoln.

Tonight he has home made turkey goujons (with bacon optional). I will let you know how we get on with those

Something to look forward to - we have booked to go on holiday to Cuba in March. I have to say that this is the first time I have booked a package holiday for many years - and it certainly wasn't as easy as it should have been. The Thomas Cook and Co-Operative travel websites are terrible (they are supposed to be the same company!). And it doesn't stop with the booking. Allocating seats didn't work either. But - its done now, and ominously there will be 13 of us heading for the Caribbean just after Easter.

Its been a busy time in the kitchen. roast lamb and chocolate chickpea muffins were followed by tomato soup, then more tomato soup as the first lot had all gone. Today I have made the aforementioned turkey goujons (stop press - Zac says they taste funny and won't touch them), chilli chicken and Italian chicken. I'm staying over in Nottingham for two nights - got to ensure that Ole doesn't starve and Sally doesn't live off chocolate! Zac will please himself.

My latest visit to the physio was informative. She told me I should walk more slowly to avoid limping, then she said I should treat the wound with E45 cream. It was all very positive, so much so that I made my first cycling trip on Sunday, all the way to Tesco and back. Not pleasant on the back road - very muddy! Anyway, I did the same trip today, this time on the road, and the knee is showing no ill effects. The consultant is also pleased with it - but he wants to keep the heat in the wound as apparently it helps the healing process. Won't be too long before I reach out towards Marple again, weather and canal closures permitting.

Its been a hectic weekend with the NFL playoffs. Cincinnati threw away a game in a way that just doesn't happen in other sports, which is what makes American Football so fantastic. Ok. it might take three hours to get to that dramatic moment, but the wait makes it all the better!

David Bowie died this week, and its interesting how celebrity deaths have changed due to social media. I remember when Elvis died, I tweeted my sadness, posted a grainy Youtube clip and that was it. Today, Facebook was full of it. Interesting that no one posted these clips of Bowie before his death. I know a lot of these are genuine, but a lot are clearly jumping on the social media celebrity death match bandwagon. I admired a lot of his music, but Let's Dance? China Girl? No thanks. Eddie Izzard tweeted his opinion. Thanks for that Eddie. I feel so much better knowing that you are hurting! I remember when grief used to be a private affair. I only ever had one Bowie song, and I am pretty sure I didn't buy it. It was Laughing Gnome. One of the few tracks I've not seen on FB today! I was always much more into Marc Bolan. When he died school was a real struggle. I wouldn't have dared to read what people were posting on Facebook!

So, if you are saddened by the death of Bowie or any other celebrity i hope that your grief does not run too deep. If you feel the need to splash your grief all over social media in an attempt to top (not in the biblical sense) Eddie Izzard, my sympathy is greatly diminished. Unless you are Bernie. I remember him being a massive fan!

Zac wants a butterfly knife. Any idea what a Butterfly Knife is? Well I didn't until I Googled it. Then I found out that they are illegal. Hardly surprising really. Anyway, he kept on about it so I've bought him a training version. I am assured that they cannot harm anyone, including the owner!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Three Steps To Heaven - But 400 Steps to Horwich End

This week has been a pivotal one in terms of my recuperation. My first few steps were painful, but I quickly got used to it. There's still a lot of wobble, and swaying from side to side, but I've not used crutches for 5 days and counting. I am still using elevation and ice which presents two problems, Firstly, I'm not sure what is swelling and what is supposed to be there as a result of the operation. Secondly, after elevation, even for just a few minutes, the pain on standing is still quite significant.

I had also not walked very far at all before today. Up and down the stairs was about the extent of it, so this morning I decided to test myself a bit further. I headed to the Post Office at Horwich End, around 400 yards away, and after passing the Drum & Monkey the pain and uncertainty started to kick in. I got there in the end, and fortunately the chap behind the counter likes to pass the time of day, keeping me stationary for several minutes before I had to set off back again. Anyway, I learned that he and his wife are selling up (well actually I knew this due to the sign outside), as they have decided to retire. I certainly hope that a similarly minded couple take it over, as I would hate to have to endure the ridiculous public face of the Post Office on Canal Street.

Eventually I set off home. I was going to call in at the 110 cafe, but the journey took a bit longer than expected. Maybe tomorrow! I arrived home, travelling increasingly slowly as I descended the hill on Walters Wood, and I have been restricted to the settee ever since. Perhaps 800 yards was a bit too much, perhaps it was just what I needed. I guess I will know in the morning.

I have made good progress on The History Of Zombies, reaching almost 9,000 words and mentally confirming that the finished book will be around 30,000. I just need to crack on now to ensure that it is finished before Zac outgrows the subject matter! Looking for volunteers to sketch the cover image. Anyone any good at drawing zombies?

There has been a hive of activity as Sally and my sister Fiona plan their trip to San Antonio where trail riding will be followed by the rodeo where Pitbull will provide the entertainment. Tickets for the rodeo are interesting. Readily available in the outer seats, if you want to get a seat within touching distance of a bull's arse you have to keep checking the rodeo website to see if any season ticket holders want to sell their tickets. Incidentally, Sally goes horse riding approximately once a week, for about half an hour at a time. The trail riding could well involve three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon, for two consecutive days. She will probably be sore. On the other hand, Fiona has not ridden for 35 years. I hope they are taking a wheelchair!

There was a strange scratching noise yesterday morning, and it appears that Sapphire is taking on the mantel of his owner (Zac) as the biscuit thief (actually Zac is more likely to steal chocolate - for which he has been caught red handed several times). It seems that Whiskas biscuits are just not good enough for Little Sapph. Instead he used his claws to rip a hole in a bag of Kit-E-Kat biscuits, and feasted on them until he was caught in the act.

Sapphire and Bobby fighting for the biscuits

Phoenix paid us a visit yesterday, accompanied by mum of course. Anyway, she looked really cool! (Pixie, not mum)

We may well be heading to Cuba in March / April, and it may be that some friends will come with us. Coincidentally, those friends happen to be the parents of Ole's friends, to which Zac objected. It was clear that he had done quite a significant piece of analysis!

'You've bonded with the parents of Ole's friends for several years, but you've not bonded with the parents of my friends. Except maybe for Kerry and Phil. Kerry can be a bit strict but Phil is so cool, He asks you to do stuff, then he does it himself. And he's always so jolly'.

Zac wasn't so jolly on Tuesday when it was his first day back at school after two weeks of going to bed late and missing whole mornings. He got a dry run on Monday as he had an inset day whilst Ole had to go to Aquinas, and that went ok. On Monday night he got everything ready, laying out his clothes separately all over his bedroom floor. This wasn't a random, lazy act, he had actually thought about it and placed his clothes in the order in which he would put them on! I wasn't optimistic about Tuesday, but he actually got up early and had a good twenty minutes spare to eat his breakfast and pack his lunch. His brand new rucksack was bulging, with different compartments for pens and pencils, books, clothes and medical stuff. Not sure which compartment the lunch went into, but I am sure it won't be long before one or more of them are contaminated with rotting food.

Ole got a YNot ticket for Christmas, and now he wants a Leeds Festival ticket. He can't afford it so he wants the bank of mum and dad to extend him some credit to ensure he gets one before they sell out. This is a fantastic situation to be in as when I ask him to do stuff, such as tidy his room, do his homework, fill in a job application, I have the incentive of the Leeds ticket to use as a carrot. This won't last long, as pretty soon I will actually have to buy the ticket, so I had better make the most of it.

Sally was at her culinary best yesterday when she made cabbage and cauliflower soup. After about half an hour she stirred the pot. Should I put bacon in it? No - its a bit late now. Gabi suggested that she should have put paprika in with the oil or butter at the start of the process. Oil or butter? Sally looked puzzled. I suggested that she should put some seasoning in. At least salt and pepper. She was about to slice a yellow pepper when I pointed out that ground pepper would be better. Did you put those leeks in? I asked. Nope! Did you put any stock in? Gabi asked. Nope! At this point the cabbage and cauliflower soup was cabbage, cauliflower and water, cabbage water as Gabi pointed out. Mmm....! Reminded me of the time she made Bread & Butter pudding with neither bread nor butter.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Playing The Spoons

Someone once asked me whether losing forks and other cutlery was an everyday occurrence as they certainly did. They frequently tipped their cutlery into the bin with leftovers, and inevitably their supply dwindled. I had to admit that this had never happened to me, as far as I know, but I have to confess that n the last few weeks we have been losing teaspoons regularly. I found a couple in Zac's room, but where previously we had a draw full of the little tea stirrers, even with the addition from Zac we could only muster four. So where were they all? Well, just after Christmas we decided to tidy Zac's room. Out with the old and in with the new and all that. Sally really went to town on it, pulling out cupboards, clearing shelves even reaching into that scariest pf places, under the bed. Not only did we manage to pair up a number of previously orphaned socks, we also found three of the missing teaspoons. The tidying continued, with Sally throwing out a couple of bags of unwanted items, making way for Christmas! The Minecraft books were in mint condition and will probably end up on a For Sale Or Swap website, but they hid more of a secret. By the time the job was finished, 3 dessert spoons, two knives and no less than 6 teaspoons to go with the 3 found earlier in the day were lined up ready for the dishwasher. It soon became apparent that the spoons were used for Aero chocolate mousses, and once consumed the pot was sometimes thrown in the general direction of the bin, whilst the spoon, a more permanent item, was secreted away so that Zac wouldn't have to do anything else with it.

Tomorrow sees the first day of full weight bearing. In theory that means the end of the crutches, and Sally for one will be mightily relieved. Its not that she hates to see me struggling along on one leg and a crutch. Her issue is the sound. Like some faulty Long John Silver as the crutch thuds alternately with the silent footstep. Its her Steven Spielberg moment, like the music in Jaws or the ripples in the water in Jurassic Park. Its been quite difficult re-educating my leg after so much inactivity. There's an awkwardness of movement, and a lack of confidence not only in the effectiveness of the operation but also in the muscle memory. Tomorrow is the biggest test - and I'm not expecting a trouble free ride.

Its been a busy time in the kitchen, and after much perseverance I managed the infamous Christmas Biscuits. Not as good as Nana's, but not bad for a first attempt.

Ive also made cranberry, orange and almond sponge, brownies, digestives, chilli and vegetarian chilli, but my personal favourite is the festive apple puff, or 'Taste Of Christmas' as it has become known. Its really easy to make too.

First lay out a puff pastry sheet flat. Make some almond paste with the white of an egg, 50g ground almonds, 50g icing sugar and a few drops of almond essence. Stir all of the ingredients together to make the paste then spread it all over the pastry sheet. Peel and thinly slice 3 or four apples (I used Braeburn), then arrange them in three columns, overlapping them and leaving about 1cm around each edge of the pastry. Fold the 1cm edge over the apples. Most of the apples will still be visible but the pastry should now form a parcel around the outside. Meanwhile, warm 50g butter, 25g demerara sugar a handful of sultanas and cranberries with a generous measure of rum or brandy (whichever you prefer). Add 1/2 teaspoon of allspice, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Continue to simmer for ten minutes. Pour over the apples, ensuring an even spread of the fruit. Apply an egg wash to the pastry (I use the yolk saved from the egg used for the almond paste). Bake for 25-30 minutes at about 170 degrees C. Serve hot or cold.

A big bonus before Christmas saw my Credit Card subject to fraud. Sounds awful? Not at all. Tesco rang me within 9 minutes of someone having a £459 transaction declined at Argos. Whilst I was on the phone someone tried a larger transaction in the US. Tesco cancelled my card with no harm done, and so throughout Christmas I was unable to run up a large and inevitable bill!

It was a relatively quiet New Year's Eve, but Zac and his mate stayed up late and got up early This morning had all the signs of the start of a lazy X-Box day, but we persuaded his pal that football would be a good option. We rounded up a few more, and arranged for a meeting at 2pm. Zac got ready, and at 1.50 said 'Right, come on dad, you can give me a lift.' I pointed out that I was still unable to drive, so he looked at mum who was not yet dressed. After a lengthy debate he announced that if he couldn't have a lift he wasn't going, but we put a stop to that by threatening the removal of the X-Box. After some stomping about he was ready to set off on his own, but he did have one parting shot. Clearly put out by having a day of exercise organised, he had to make his point. 'In future do not make any arrangements for me. I will make my own arrangements'. We didn't see him again for several hours, at which point he had gone to his pal Alex's house and told Alex's mum to instruct Sally to get him a chippy tea!