Friday, 4 March 2011


- I said I wouldn't be writing a post this week, because of an impending hip replacement, but that was before BLACK MONDAY.

This Monday -  BLACK MONDAY - the seven of us who turned up, starved and apprehensive, at 6.45am at the Orthopaedic Ward of Peterborough City Hospital - shiny, new and extremely friendly - were invited to sit and wait while the staff clacked about on the new, immaculately clean floors trying to look efficient and cheerful, rather than the usual disillusioned and mildly confused NHS manner.

The day wore on a little.  More staff came in and greeted each other, and us, smiled sweetly and went about their business.  Then, a more authoritative staff member turned up and regretfully informed us that due to an excess of week-end admissions, they had no beds for any of us.  Our operations were therefore cancelled and they'd contact us within 28 days.  I guessed that we'd be dumped back at the bottom of the waiting list.

Narcissus bulbocodium: nothing to do with the text - just a spring piccy to cheer you up.

That was a kick in the goolies all right.  If you've ever had surgery and if, like me, you're of a timorous disposition, the prospect of being hacked about and your bones sawn up by muttering, masked medics in strange green clothes, is just a little daunting.

In fact it's ever so slightly bloody terrifying. And if you've seen many episodes of ER or worse, House, you can't help but imagine the aforementioned medics chatting about their sex lives, or slagging off absent colleagues in a distracted way, seeming to have forgotten they're delving into someone's living brain or kidneys while they natter.

So it had been a somewhat sleepless, edgy night.  Plus, I'd been forbidden ibuprofen for a week before, so it was also pretty dam' painful.

But enough moaning already!  I was pleasantly surprised on BRIGHT WEDNESDAY by a courteous call from the Orthopaedic Big Cheese's secretary who mentioned a cancellation. I now have a date for surgery on 25th March.  It's a Friday afternoon.  I'm trying not to think about 'Friday Afternoon Cars!'

'Marconi' peppers.  Sweet, aromatic, delicious but rather un-British. My Grandmother would not have approved.

NOW THEN!  Ahem ahem!
I glanced at a page in Saturday's The Times Magazine which quoted Michelin star chef Daniel Clifford as having said:

'The days of crunchy vegetables are over. You want them cooked through so they can be cut with a fork.'

'Well EXCUSE ME!' I yelled, hurling down the magazine and profoundly startling both cats and the PG, 'but I'll cook my vegetables any way I damn well want.  I do NOT need some lah-di-dah Cheffy-pants telling me how to live! SO THERE!

Overcooked vegetables are criminal, abominable, obscene, disgusting and dangerous.  HOME GROWN vegetables overcooked are like murdered children. 

This chef, I decided, must be too young to remember the terrible old British method with vegetables which went like this:
- Harvest when really old.
- Peel - regardless of whether peel tastes OK or is nutritious.
- Put in  saucepan half full of salty water.
- Boil for two days before serving from a cold tureen to ensure that they are luke-warm as well as mushed.

My prep school Brussels sprouts, done like this, had the consistency of used tea bags and smelt like farts, as well as being flatulence-inducing.  School cabbage was worse, and whiffs of mustard gas pervaded the chilly corridors for days on end after a cabbagey lunch.  Turnips, which Mr Clifford appears to champion, were worst of the lot.  They had the consistency of cricket balls as well as that repellent brassica pong.

And on top of all that culinary stench, there was what we nutritionists call the Gaseous Product of Digestion (GPD.) This issued loudly from the pupils and more discreetly, but just as devastatingly from the teachers.

In fact, if Kaiser Wilhelm had thought of deploying ranks of small prep school boys on all-brassica diets, instead of heavy artillery, the Great War might really have been over by Christmas 1914.

Truly British vegetables!  But I wish my onions turned out like these beauties!

But I do Mr Clifford an injustice, and must ask his pardon.

I took his comment out of context.  I assumed he was trying to suggest that the fashion for crunchy vegetables was over.  But what he actually said, when I bothered to read the whole article, was that late winter vegetables need thorough cooking, when compared to baby spring and early summer ones.  And anyone but a mug would agree with that.  He cooks his in chicken stock and other goodies including butter. Mmmmm!

He also included a delicious-looking recipe for Root Vegetables en Papillote.  But I noticed they were all baby ones - hard to come by in March, especially if you rely on home grown - and involved 300 grammes (about 11 ounces) of diced, smoked belly bacon.  Is that supposed to be a healthy option?

We had something even healthier last night: fish and chips, or, as they might say over the Channel, Poisson et frites en papillote.  Well, chips are vegetables, aren't they?  And there can't be that much difference between cooking lah-di-dah root veg in a paper thingy and wrapping up a chippy supper in EU & 'Elf and Safety-approved non-newspaper paper.

Luckily, our local chippy is quite the best I've ever frequented.  Their fish is the freshest, their chips are lovely and the staff are utterly charming as well.  Plus Thursday nights have a 'Pensioners' Special' price. I think a little Chablis was justified, to help the banquet down, don't you?

I'm listening to Schubert's Quartet Number 14  'Death and the Maiden.'

This day in 2008 I was in Malaysia, in the Taman Negara, nature-watching.

This week's film was Shutter Island directed by Scorsese and starring Leonardo di Caprio.  Not a great film, and with a predictable outcome, though a nice little denouement.  Di Caprio can certainly act, as can co-star Ben Kingsley.  Though the latter has been more glitterily scary in other things. Sexy Beast, for example.

Bye  bye, and don't forget to eat more home grown vegetables!


  1. The only film 'with a plot twist' that I didn't guess was 'Sixth Sense'. Maybe it wasn't advertised as having a twist so I didn't look for it. I read a lot of crime fiction and invariably guess whodunnit in those - there is always one line that appears a little too superfluous in the text which is actually a signpost to the culprit.

    I just can't understand why the hospital suddenly found out there were no beds for seven of you. Surely the surgeons etc. were already all scheduled - do they get told to go home too? Do they get paid for not doing the ops? Bah!

    Your description of overcooked gaseous veg put me off my porridge. I think my mum cooked veg OK but never got out of the habit of sprinkling sugar over homegrown fruit like strawberries and raspberries which were already bursting with sweet flavour.

  2. I hate anathestics and I get more fearful everytime I have an op (not that I have had many)so much so that I woke up from the last op sobbing so I can understand your apprehension and fustration.

    My mother is in her 70s and I have only just convinced her that cabbage is Ok and that it doesnt have to be boiled for ever and stink the house out. She is now eating it for the first time since she was a child in the war

    As for chippies we have a fab one near us. You can tell the quality of the chippie by the length of the queue on a Friday evening

  3. Arabella - you were lucky, re fruit. My Ma got a Kirsch fetish so even the freshest, ripest and tastiest treasures from the garden got doused in the stuff. Not that I dislike Kirsch - it's essential in a fondue and not bad to quaff as schnapps - but not with fresh, ripe delicious fruit.

    She also got a fix on rum or brandy for cake, but I think we went on strike over that and refused to eat anything sogged up with spirit.

    PatientG - spot on with the Friday queues at the chippy.

  4. You forgot the bicarb to go in with the cabbage!

    NAH had similar vegetable experiences at school to you - hence he would only eat peas when I first met him. It was a tad inconvenient as I was vegetarian at the time. We've both learned to compromise since then :)

    So sorry to hear your op didn't go ahead - it's so frustrating to get all worked up and ready for it, only to find you've got to go through it all again.

    WV says chest!

  5. My understanding of the cooking of cabbage is that you either cook it very quickly or for a long time; it is the in-betweeny cooking that produces the pong. Unfortunately school cabbage was always the latter. Your school sounds as though it had a gaseous cloud permanently hovering overhead. Gross!

  6. Good news and bad news, then. Those onions with the ponyjiggers look too good to eat. And those peppers are going on the seed order, pronto. May your next date with the surgeon go smoothly.

  7. I would look upon it as a favor if you would deliver your overcooked vegetable treatise to my husband. When he cooks on Sunday, I gulp down mushy lima beans with a weak smile and suppressed whimper.

    Long live the crunch!

    Christine in Alaska