Thursday, 5 March 2009


I think turtle soup is a really bad idea.

Oh for the utter joy of gardening! And oh! - Oh! - OH! - how I long, crave and yearn to get back into my own, neglected and mistake-ridden patch. I've never felt such need for some therapeutic weeding and digging! Meanwhile, though, if you don't mind, I think it's time for a little mild colborning. By the way, don't bother to read on, if this post bores you! There'll be more horticophany soon enough.

Staying down in Kent with my mother, for reasons made clear in my last post, I've been obliged to break with my usual habits and watch more network television with her than has been good for either of us. She spared me the banalities of East Benders and Coronation Street but we have managed to burn away hours watching all sorts of crap.

Beyond Channel 4 News, and the occasional wildlife or science programme, I seldom watch the broadcast telly, preferring DVD films. Don't assume any virtue here - I'm as addicted to screen gawping as my mother is to soaps and cook programmes. And don't assume that my film selection is limited to introverted Swedish explorations of despair or Fellini's cinematic tiramisu. I get just as much fun out of a roister-doistering Western or a soppy Hollywood romantic comedy and my wife and co-film buff adores a taught thriller, as long as it's peppered with plenty of violence and shocks.

But back to my telly nightmare with the Mater. We
watched a quiz called The Weakest Link, chaired by an acerbic and rather spiteful red-headed woman. The standard of questioning is illustrated by this example: 'If you add 9 and 8 what it the total?' The quiz contestant, a trolly dolly from BA, dithered for some seconds before doubtfully proffering the answer.

Later, with a plate of smoked mackera
l and a lettuce leaf on my knee, we both enjoyed an episode of Coast which visited parts of the Northern Isles. This was well researched, jauntily presented by a bloke with very long, lank hair, and was absolutely riveting. Gloriously lovely filming of the natural beauty; an item on new technology for depth sounding and historical footage of the herring industry – all super stuff. I'll be watching at future programmes, if they sustain the standard. At the climax, a couple of rock climbers scaled the Old Man of Hoy! I mean is that dangerous or what??!!

And then, I was instructed to switch to Channel 4 to see the most extrao
rdinarily pointless, profligate and yet spookily fascinating show on food ever to be screened. Channel Four, judging by the trailers, loves a freak show. The world's fattest/thinnest child, pregnant men, persons who wish to marry animals etc. etc. But this particular 'cookery' programme was curiouser than anything I've seen!

A friendly-looking, stubble-headed and manically enthusiastic chef who, my mother tells me, is immensely famous - securing a table at his restaurant is less easy than getting to meet the Pope - told us he was going to create a Victorian Meal.

Spiders can be surprisingly nutritious, I'm told.

I had in mind a Dickensian feast, with roast beef, oysters, plum duff - that sort of thing, but oh no! This gastronomic event began with a piece of laboratory glass, rather like a bent pipette, which contained a pink gunk resembling Symington's Strawberry Blancmange. It turned out to be a viscous liquid tasting, at different stages of consumption, of turkey, butterscotch, toast or some such. The panel of media wannabee dinner guests went into raptures while the chef spied on them through CCTV.

Mock Turtle Soup followed, but not in a plain old soup bowl. Oh dear me no! This had to be a consomme of cow's head, boiled down until it could be set in a pocket watch-shaped mould which was then gold plated and . . . . oh, I can't go on with this.

The main course was a miniature version of a garden, but with edible soil, edible gravel, deep fried insects - oh yes! - and not only deep fried, but stuffed with some kind of tomato paste to resemble insect guts. The Z list celebs went into a symphony of sycophantic rapture over this but it all looked a bit daft, to me. And we weren't shown them eating much, other than just the tiniest taste of crisp cricket - or was it a maggot? From the culinary point of view, I can't judge, but as a garden, it would have struggled to pick up a Bronze Medal.

The pud was the last straw! A huge, pointy jelly - sort of phallic and breastlike all in one go - which glowed in the dark, and into which the chef had plunged a number of vibrating dildoes so that the whole thing lurched and wobbled in the most giggle-inducing way.

Victorian? No!! An enjoyable meal for six? Not on your life! But for sheer, fascinating horror, delight, revulsion and wonderment - top marks.

Anyone fancy a deep fried brittle star?

I'm listening to nothing - but I'm about to watch Francois Truffaut's film Jules et Jim.

I'm still reading Martin Chuzzlewit.

This day in 2007 I heard that the book I was developing for Mitchell Beasley on naturalistic gardening had been turned down on the grounds that it was 'too British.' Americans, I was told, weren't into that kind of thing.


  1. That account of insane cookery did make me laugh. I've read a couple of articles about such stuff recently, and find it about as thoroughly decadent and pointless as anything I've ever heard of. Good thing you had Jules et Jim to get the taste out of your mouth. Can't you interest the Mater in a good newfangled western like Mavrick, or heavens, how about Local Hero, where the brash American businessman finds his humanity in a Scottish village? No? Dear, dear. I do hope you can hang onto your sanity--and your civility. It's more than I could manage.

    The word I have to verify is "schamble."

  2. I have found Coast really interesting. There have been two series and now they seem to be cutting the last series up into 10 minute slots.

  3. 'Coast' truly is excellent, produced at least in part by the Open University and you can further information from them on the areas discussed.

    As for that cookery programme, I too watched it, with the Hubby, but off our own bat. I wouldn't have touched any of the food but I found the whole thing rather interesting, like a child playing with a chemistry set and then making his friends eat the results and pretend it was the most fabulous thing ever!

    By the way 'too British' - no such thing, surely...

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  5. Isn't Coast great? As for Heston Blumenthal, after the recent news stories about food poisoning at his restaurant, I don't think I'd be in a rush to book. BTW, I've posted a little homage to you on my blog. If you've ever wondered, when you file your copy, how it's going to affect the readers, here's a chance to find out!