Friday, April 29, 2005

Super Bean Soup

[edit: there seems to be a stage missing! I think I know's now in red below]

Bit later than promised but here is the recipe for my version of phasoulada. Following the principles of my Big Fat Greek Cookbook the weights, measures and times are somewhat vague but we are not trying to land on the moon so it should be ok.


A pack of those big white beans – a pound??

2 cups or so of olive oil

A small mound (say a handful) of fresh chopped parsley

3 onions finely chopped

1 or 2 tins of tomatoes

Tomato purée

1 grated carrot

Some grated celery (optional)

Salt, pepper

Wash the beans and put them in a pot of water to soak overnight.
The next day wash the beans (washing the beans is very important to avoid the “wayward winds” effect), put them in a pot with water and bring to a boil. (It is a matter of debate in our household whether to put a tiny pinch of salt in at this point or not. There is a theory that adding salt here means the beans won’t go soft – but I am not sure! Try it one time with and one time without.)

As soon as they come to a boil pour out the water [here I think you have to boil the beans for a good hour before the next bit comes!], wash the beans in cold water again, put them into a pot or a deepish frying pan with the oil, onions, parsley.

Season with pepper and a tiny pinch of salt.

Fry gently and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the onions go a bit transparent and the beans get a little colour to them.

Add two cups of hot water, cover the pot and leave on a low heat to simmer for about an hour.

Then stir in the tomatoes, a hefty squeeze of tomato purée, the grated carrot and celery, cover again and leave it to simmer again.

Here my book says, “simmer until it is done”… but I must beg to differ. I would say leave it to simmer for an hour or so. Towards the end check the seasoning….maybe put more salt in and then take the pot off the heat and leave it to stand for a while. That’s when the beans go soft – if ever!!

Then serve with bread to dunk, a slab of feta cheese, any kind of green salad and a bottle of retsina – if you can stand it (I love it!)

All that should serve about 6 people…perhaps more!

I cannot guarantee that you will avoid gassy stomachs etc. But it IS worth it!

Please let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


I am approaching 50 and I think I can safely say that I have seen some really bad films in that time…some stand out, some don’t…but I must confess that the film we saw on a rented DVD on Sunday after the bean soup was the absolute WORST film I have EVER seen…I would go so far as to say this film can never be beaten for total abject was so bad it was almost good.

It is about a busy couple who go on holiday to relax and get left behind in the sea on a diving trip.

Their names are Susan and Daniel and just like everything else in the film this is hammered home to us in a scene when they are in the water and are calling to each other. This, by the way, is the part of the screenplay I would really like to have written:







JENNIFER!! Sorry, just joking…SUS-SAN!!!!!!!!

When I watch adverts on TV I often think to myself “who are they aiming for with this ad…what target group..?” For example there are the ads for dinky little cars in fashion colours aimed at the yuppie business girl or the serious aftershave ads with deep gravelly voiceovers aimed at the rugged, grey-stubbly, more mature man.

Using that logic I would say this film was targeted at Martians doing an introductory course on humanology. Only aliens could be unaware of the fact that when we are stressed we need a break and when we are alone in the sea we are worried – the film labours these points as if they were amazing insights.

A blogger I was reading said that some famous producer said a good film is just 60 brilliant 2 minute scenes…well, here we had the reverse. 2 totally crap 60 minute scenes…hang on it wasn’t even that symmetrical - it was more like one crap 20 minute scene and one really mind-bogglingly really crap 100 minute scene.

Here’s my version of the book this film was adapted from.


Chapter One

There is this couple in their late 20s…they are very busy with work, they have a lot of stress, they answer their mobile phones in the middle of conversations with each other because their jobs are so important – that is how busy they are, they are very busy and have a lot of stress, they get irritated because they are so busy and they have a lot of stress. They need a holiday to relax, they need a holiday to relax, they go on a holiday, they go on a holiday to relax from their very busy lives. They are busy, they need a holiday, they go on a holiday….to relax. They want to go on a diving trip, they go on a diving trip…the guide makes a mistake with the list of passengers…he makes a mistake….with the list…of passengers…a mistake…with the list…the couple get left behind….the boat goes back to the harbour without them….they get left behind…because the guide made a mistake.

Chapter Two

They bob up and down in the water.

Chapter Three

They die.


Ok, I will try and be a bit more fair about the middle bit…

Let’s ask Jacque Cousteau what are the most dangerous creatures these people could be confronted by in the sea… Jacque..?

“Erh, well, ah suppurse zee most donjsherurse creachures are zee steengeeng zjellee feesh and zer sharcque…”

So what happens to Susan and Daniel..?

“Oh my god something has just stung me..”

It was a stinging jelly fish…

“Arrgh…something just touched my leg…”

It was a leg-touching shark.

“Ugh…I just got really stings!”

Jelly fish.

“Heeargh…my leg.. something touched my leg..!”


“Ow, I have been bitten...on my leg!”


“Ouch, my leg…it’s been bitten…!”

Kangaroo? No…shark.

The trouble is that you find yourself on the side of the sharks….you WANT them to eat these two…just so the film will come to an end and you can get it back to the DVD rental shop early and save a bit of money.
We were tempted to wind it forward but didn’t…we just wanted to see if anything, anything at all, was going to happen and we didn’t want to miss whatever non-existent excitement it might have been.

But the best thing in the film was a line from Daniel just after they realise that the boat has left them behind. He is talking about their situation but I find it really summed up our feelings about the film brilliantly:

“It sucks…but we will get through it.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

My Big Fat Greek Cookbook

My Big Fat Greek Cookbook Posted by Hello

My mention of bean soup (see previous bloggy bit) seems to have caused a lot of mouth-watering out there –- eat your heart out Pavlov - troughs full of salival fluids are now sloshing around the globe.

Well, firstly the soup turned out great - the beans were not quite as mushy as I like them (more later) - but the kids wolfed it down except for my youngest who refuses anything if there are “green bits” present - in this case, parsley. The methane levels rose substantially in our area yesterday but that might just be a lot of hot air.

I have also been asked for the "recipe". Hmm...l o n g t h i n k...ok then.

But first I have to explain where the "recipe" comes from. This is on the one hand to entertain and inform and on the other to avoid litigation and liability if any of you try it out and subsequently die of excessive gaseous emissions.

The “recipe” is from my Big Fat Greek Cookbook which I bought in Preveza in 1984 but which harks back to an earlier more relaxed age. First of all it doesn’t LOOK like a cookbook (see doesn't does it?) - it reminds me of something you would keep a collection of stamps in. Secondly it is very much a Greek cookbook not so much because it contains recipes for Greek food but because the style is so Greek - these are shoulder-shrugging, head-waggling, maybe-maybe not recipes.

I was on holiday once on the west coast of the Peloponnese and on the horizon you could see the beautiful blue outline of an island which I assumed was Zakynthos. There was a Greek fisherman on the beach mending his nets who looked about 100 years old and had obviously lived there all his life so I decided to ask him, “is that Zakynthos?”

He squinted out to where I was pointing, shrugged his shoulders, waggled his head and said, “"maybe”".

That is the kind of person who wrote this cookbook.

There are no weights and measures in it; no grammes or kilos, ounces or pints. And there are no oven temperatures or cooking times in hours or minutes. The closest it comes to that is the equivalent of, “"cook until ready"”. Sometimes ingredients are mentioned in the list at the start and never referred to again; sometimes the description calls for ingredients which are not in the list.

It is basically a cookbook for people who can already cook! That'’s why I put "“recipe"” in quotation marks.

And now I am out of the recipe will have to wait till tomorrow! You can put your beans in water to soak overnight though...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

It's Bean Soup

I am cooking today....for the family...and I decided to do a thick Greek bean soup - phasoulada - those big white beans in an olive-oil tomato sauce...mmmmmmmm. One of my absolute favourites. I don't actually know if my kids like it - you know what kids are like, they say they like something, you cook it and then they don't want it....aaaarrrgggghhhhhh! So today I am pleasing myself.
I love beans. I fell in love with them via Mr Heinz and his 57 varieties as a kid. Heinz Baked Beans...mmmmm. I also learned the word "impair" from reading the tin..."do not boil as this impairs the flavour". Yes, sir!!
My mother always used to tell everyone how I went through a phase as a kid when I would ONLY eat baked beans. I remember having beans on bread and butter - a kind of baked bean sandwich - for breakfast and beans on toast for lunch...and for dinner beans on beans.
Six weeks that lasted.
No wonder I had a desk to myself at school, because there is one inescapable thing about eating thing your love affair with them has to put up with...they don't half make you fart.
And phasoulada is the same. It starts maybe 3 or 4 hours after you have eaten...that kind of bubbly feeling in your stomach and once it starts....well, it's windows open and put on reinforced underwear.
I learned a way to avoid this from a Greek girl I knew when I lived in Ioannina...she said if you put carrots into the soup it reduces the gas production....well, I have put a few carrots into this soup so we will see...

There is also the bean joke...what my kids not unreasonably would call, "oh-god,-one-of-daddy's-awful jokes"...
Man to waiter: Waiter, what is this!!!
Waiter to man: Why, it's bean soup, sir!
Man to waiter: I don't care what is has been, what is it now!

I'll get my coat...

Friday, April 22, 2005

Social Services NewSpeak – Double-Plus Ungood

She was very nice and affable the girl – ok, woman (that’s an SMA – “showing my age” - all these kinds of people, social services workers, bank assistants, nurses and of course policemen seem ludicrously young) from the medical social services who checked my mother’s swallow reflex but just like her colleagues she was full of crappy English. The type of mindless, teeth-on-edge setting Orwellian NewSpeak where words are divorced from thought.

So, since when has “suffice” been a noun????

“We have to be sure mum has a suffice of fluid intake….and a suffice of nutrients…”

And while we are at it, what’s all this “mum” malarkey? “Your mother” would be ok or “Mrs Newton”..I could even put up with “Evelyn” but “mum”?? Is she now telling me about her mum by mistake or is she suffering under the delusion that she is my younger sister – my double-plus younger sister?

And I really blinked twice when she said “effecticity”. Ok, if we are going down that road then how about “effecticitiveness” or “effecticitivitiosity” – hmm…that has a certain gravitarse.

Then there are the abbreviations which get bandied about. Now, if you are with your workmates you can do this…every job or trade has its own “language” but you CAN’T use these expressions with people outside that circle…unless, of course, you are too stupid to realise!

“We could do a sub-cut perhaps…”

The unconscious intent is that you should be overwhelmed into silence by this erudition –“oooh, these guys are real experts!!” or too ashamed to admit that you don’t know what a sub-cut is –“don’t want to make a fool of myself”.

Well, sod it…this girl thinks she is my sister so…

“What the **** is a sub-cut??”

“Ah, it’s a subcutaneous drip…”

“Oh, you mean a drip that goes under the skin..?”

God, I LOVE knowing things like that!! It is one of the double-plus few benefits of a classical education that you know what all this terminology means without studying the particular subjects! Yummy!!

And the “experts” are always so pissed off when you know too…even yummier!

Anyway I definitely do NOT have a suffice of patience with this way of speaking…it really gets subcutaneous on me.

She saved the best for the end, “…well, for the time being we will just continue with TLC.”

I had to ask, didn’t I?

“Go on then, I give up…what is TLC?”



“Why TLC stands for Tender Loving Care.”

Pity she doesn’t have a suffice of TLC left over for the English language.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Sainsbury's Service

Just before I flew over to England I was talking to a Geordie who had been living in Germany for six years, “…see, the big difference over ‘ere, mon is that it’s serf …SERF, like…if my missus is comin’ home lert, lert at night, like…I don’t have to worry. And things don’ get stolen, mon, like they do at ‘ome…”

Now, I’m normally a bit careful with generalisations like that but I think in this case he had a point. And it could be that this was running around my brain when I went shopping in Sainsbury’s. I was only shopping for me, so I wasn’t really getting much but I still fell into my usual supermarket trance…where you suddenly don’t seem able to recollect what in the name of goodness you really need to buy.
Anyway, the girl on the till asked me about a club card, as they always do…and I said no I didn’t have a card, as I always do…and then I turned and saw a young bloke quickly putting MY shopping into a plastic bag!
I was so shocked that I couldn’t say anything at first…which is just as well because when I looked again I realised he was wearing a Sainsbury’s uniform and was, quite simply the “packer”…he was packing my shopping in bags for me…all part of the service!

Now, that IS a difference between Germany and England...

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Hell in Helplessness

My mum is dying…I suppose…little-by-little. No-one in the home is prepared to tell me what they really think. But she isn’t eating, she isn’t drinking, she’s not getting out of bed any more, she has lost lots of weight, has a terrible Woodbine cough, looks frail and is drifting away into sleep all the time.
Her long twilight, which started three years ago after her stroke, is drawing to a close, the sun has dropped beneath the horizon and the night is approaching.

And I CAN’T do anything, I can’t DO anything, I can’t do ANYTHING.

I just sit next to her bed uselessly; holding her hand, watching her come and go…sometimes she looks vacantly round the room, sometimes she fixes me with a terrifying penetrating stare, sometimes she squeezes or pats my hand, sometimes she fiddles absent-mindedly with the sheets; different moods reflected in different facial expressions…resignation, sadness, fear, bewilderment and the occasional smile.

In the five or ten minute periods when her eyes droop and close I have a tumble drier of thoughts, emotions and memories whirring around my head; the one getting caught up with the next and sparking off new associations – backwards and forwards in time. It’s like a random mental slideshow of old images and scenes...things we did together, laughed at together…the first time I was mature enough to comfort her…the songs she used to sing, the things she used to say.
By definition I have known her all my life…but now we can’t communicate and never will again. You can see, my brain has already switched over to thinking “…used to..”.
If I am not careful here I will flood the room with tears. I have to close off these thought pathways, like the M6, before I follow them too far.

Just now she is in this bed, in this phase and I am only a visitor, still able to flit in and out as I wish…but one day it will be me who stares out from this bed, one day my kids will gaze in at me in my private demise…one day it will also be their turns…no, STOP…turn off here…dangerous road ahead…please follow diversion…

On the one hand I want her to go peacefully and painlessly, gently releasing her grip on life, on the other hand I don’t want her to die.

But I can't actively do anything...only experience passively the hell in helplessness.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Motorway? No Way!

The "M6 CLOSED" - 15 miles in 3 hours! Posted by Hello

Just as, according to Billy Connolly, many Englishmen labour under the misapprehension that the Scottish football team Partick Thistle’s real name is Partick Thistle Nil, you could also easily imagine that the foreign visitor to England would wonder why our main arterial motorway to the North-West is called M6 CLOSED…

I arrived at Stansted yesterday a little early – I think it was downhill. Things had gone ok on the plane. I had avoided that fat sweaty American with the heavy breathing and the tired screamy kids…and even managed to keep the sardine seat next to me free for my left elbow.

Ok, on the radio I learned that the Pound was stronger today than it had been for weeks against the Euro…but that is normal – my trips into and out of England are inextricably and inexplicably linked to the Sterling exchange rate…investors take note…just before I arrive the pound goes up against whatever currency I am carrying and just after I have left it goes down again.

Add to this the fact that the Sixt people took the trouble to warn me that the M11 southbound was blocked and so made my decision for me about whether to go north on the M11 or south and then round the M25…

So off I bombed in a very nice Ford Focus (thanks Barry) cruise, cruise… The first 150 miles took 2 hours, very relaxing. Unfortunately the next 15 miles took three hours. When there is an accident over here they don’t mess about…they close the bloody motorway, mate! One lorry and a couple of cars crash and that’s your lot!

Then after standing still or crawling along in first gear and neutral inch by inch up hill and down dale we finally arrived at Junction 15 where the accident had happened, to find the good old English Motorway Maintenace Chaps standing in that way they have of standing, looking at a huge heap of sand around an overturned truck…these days they don’t lean on their shovels…but only because they don’t have shovels.

Monday, April 11, 2005

LOST (Load Of Soddin' Tripe?)

I tell you what though - watching a repeat of the first episode of LOST is NOT a good preparation for flying to an island - even if it is only England...

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Adding Ads

Well, I used to work in advertising didn't I?? All those years ago back in London, scheduling the day's advertising for Scottish Television. It was a little world of its own, with its own language and secrets...avoiding three-in-a-rows, clashes, products in unsuitable slots, giving advertisers extra value for money - the guys who ran the Locktite campaign always tried to sneak the spots into the middle of the wrestling - it was a right royal pain in the arse... but it made watching the adverts on TV fascinating - we in the know would ooh and ahh as we saw what our colleagues at ATV or Granada had cocked up!!
Singapore Airlines always advertised in the centre break in "News At Ten" - and there was a total panic the night ITN had a story on the news at about 10.10, just before that very break, about a Singapore Airlines plane crashing!!
We got a frantic call from the department manager, "GET THAT SPOT OUT OF THE BREAK!!"

I loved the adverts as a kid on our tiny prehistoric steam-powered tele; if my memory serves me correctly - which it quite possibly doesn't - the ITV used to show a half hour of adverts in the morning...and then . . nothing! Tele used to start at..erm, four in the afternoon and before that there was . . nothing! Not a sausage...just a test card, if you were lucky or normally . . nothing. Come to think of it the test card was pretty exciting. Tele programmes also used to stop at night too! There really used to be a voice that said..."well, that's all for this evening - all of us here at Television Centre wish you a very pleasant night". And then...clunk - zap!! OFF . . nothing - again.
But those adverts in the!! Persil washing whiter, Double Diamond working wonders, Bovril doing something unspeakable to your intestines and Andrews Liver Salts fizzing away, bringing relief from the hangovers everyone must have suffered from in those days of chemical beer.

And so being a lover of adverts I couldn't resist letting Google put some on this page...they are supposed to be relevant to whatever I am blogging see, they have something called a crawler - which fits in pretty well with my memories of the advertising industry in London - and it checks out the articles and chooses suitable products! Well...all I can say is, "good luck, mate!"

Feel free to click on the little buggers - apparently I will receive some princely sum every time one of you goes and looks at one of the incredibly relevant products which the crawler picks out!

I can't bloody wait!!

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Home from Home

I'm flying back home next week to visit my mother who is not at home but in a home. She suffered a severe stroke nearly three years ago and spent six months hospitalised including three months in the most depressing, nightmare-inducing geriatric ward I have ever experienced. The stroke damaged the left hemisphere of her brain and has left her paralysed down the right side of her body. This causes far greater disability than you might at first actually makes you totally dependent on others, all the time - 24/7 as an American might put it - and having damage in the left hemisphere also means her power of speech is severely diminished. She can now only mumble at best.
The hospital told me bluntly there was no hope of recovery and they needed the bed so I had to find a place for her in a nursing home.
In the past, whenever the subject of nursing homes came up she would always say, "don't be putting me in one of those places..." and "if I end up like that I'll put a plastic bag over my head!" Ironically she couldn't do that now if she wanted to.

So I went to see some nursing homes and made a list of the top three for my mum to choose from. I did all that quite efficiently - asking questions, looking around...detached and objective - but then taking her to see the prospective homes without saying the word "home", without telling her this was permanent and without letting her see how unbelievably guilty I felt about it was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. I was pushing her in her wheelchair through the doors of one place and I just wanted her to shout "NO!! Stop...I'm not going in THERE!" But she was very quiet, subdued...
The place we/she decided on is very "nice"...airy, light, modern - not like the dark Gothic stereotypes in films or on TV.
It is still "a home" though and not "home". She has been there for just over two years now. The last couple of weeks though she has lost her appetite and refuses to drink. I also no longer have the feeling that I am getting through to her on the phone. Yesterday I tried to speak to her again on the phone but she didn't respond. I phoned the matron straight after and asked her what I'd been thinking for over a week but hadn't dared to express, "do you think she has given up?" She said, "well, I didn't want to say anything but...actually..."

So maybe she has found a way to use that plastic bag.