Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The South Downs Way.

I've slept with my friend Kay before in Accra in Ghana. I say 'slept with' but what with the heat and the constant noise from the street below, combined with the unfamiliar sounds from my new bedfellow (gentle sighing with occasional delicate farting) I got not one wink of sleep that night. On that occasion we were in a double bed in a flat above an undertaker's in the midst of a West African city. On this occasion we're in a twin room in a 4 star hotel with a spa in West Sussex on a last minute deal from 

It's Saturday, and we've come away walking because we both love to walk and the weekend promises great weather. Kay suggests we do eight and a half miles near the hotel over the South Downs, from Cocking Hill passing through the village of Singleton near the racecourse at Goodwood.

"Eight and a half?" I say, pulling on my wellies (I always walk in wellies unless it's really hot, just like that lovely Hunter Davies). "That's quite a lot. I'm more used to five, which turns into six because we got lost."

"I think we can do it," she says. "You're only as old as you feel."

I feel old, I think, and she probably feels about five years younger than me because she is. Then I think about the feel of my dodgy right hip which has been giving me a lot of gip lately and my legs that feel a bit achy.

"No worries," I say, "I feel fit as a fiddle. Age is just a number."


As we climb the first gentle rise up to woodland, I tell her I need something to happen. "You know," I explain, "on the walk, or back at the hotel, so I have a something to write about this week in my blog." Then I step on a branch strewn across the rutted path, causing its end to rise up just as she's taking another step forward so her foot catches it and she's flung to the ground, face first.

"Will that do?" she asks, wiping the mud from her cheeks.

"Sorry," I say. "But not really."

The remaining eight miles pass without incident as we walk in brilliant sunshine, traversing beautiful countryside, while not getting lost even once. I just ignore the pain in my hip which is becoming ever so slightly worse each time we strike up a hill. Back at the hotel we head for the spa, which is deserted, save for one chatty man.

"I warn you," he says, as Kay and I enter the sauna together, "it's hot in here."

"Okay," we say, settling back on the bench below.

"Mind you," he adds, "I was just in Budapest where the thermal pools are 38 degrees."

"Nice," we say.

"And I went to the House of Terror museum there," he goes on, "expecting it to be, you know, like Hammer House of Horror, all spooky with ghosts and that, jumping out at you."

There's a brief silence.

"But it wasn't," he continues, "it was about what the fascists and communists did to the Hungarians during and after the war, torture and shooting and stuff."

"Awful," says Kay.

"Oh dear," I say.

There's another brief silence.

"Right," says Kay. "Too hot, I'm off for a swim."

After she's gone the chatty man asks where we're from. "South London," I reply, suddenly feeling spectacularly tired and achy, all over, "sort of Tooting/Balham." 

"My son lives in Balham," he tells me. "Bedford Hill."

"Everyone lives in Balham now," I yawn, "it's cool." And it occurs to me he might think Kay and I are a couple and live there together.

"Funny thing is," he continues, "thirty years ago you wouldn't stop at the traffic lights in Balham for fear of being stabbed."

"Shanked," I say.

After about ten minutes sweating it out I leave the sauna and head for the hot tub. As I'm climbing in I feel things beginning to seize up - a lot - my hips and legs mostly, but also other bits of me I wasn't aware I had. Oh dear, I think, maybe I should try a gentle swim to keep things moving, so I do, and it helps, then I go in search of the steam room.

"Is that you?" asks Kay's voice as I open the door to the steam room. "I'm in here and I can't see a thing."

It is indeed incredibly steamy in the steam room. I can barely see the paint on my own toenails.

"Yes," I say, "it's me, and I don't know what you've done to me but I'm a wreck, I can hardly walk. God knows how I'll feel after tonight."

"I'll show you some stretches," she says, "when we get back to our room."

"Just to warn you," says a third disembodied voice from somewhere at the back of the steam room, "it's very hot in here."

Love E x

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Big up the pub.

According to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) twenty-nine pubs close down every week in Britain because pints are too pricey for the punters and they've stopped coming*, but you wouldn't know it if you lived in Tooting. In the twenty-odd years we've lived here the area has gentrified its socks off with newly-renovated pubs and wine bars springing up all over the place. Now even our local has joined ranks and come over all craft beer, retro lighting, and full to the brim with people. Consequently I was in there on Wednesday night last. And on Friday night last. And on Saturday night last... 

"WHERE WERE ALL THESE PEOPLE BEFORE?" shouts a friend, over the roar of the rugby-watching crowd as we stand at the new bar, perusing a new set of pumps sporting a brand new assortment of beers.


"WHAT?" he shouts back.

"I SAID..."

"OH, RIGHT," he shouts. "ME TOO."

I look around. It's changed beyond recognition. The fruit machines have gone and so has 'Polish Elvis,' as my boys called him, who played here every Thursday, apparently. I never actually saw him myself, I only saw his advertisement on the window. I've no idea where he's gone to, hopefully not all the way back to Poland. Perhaps he's found a pub only slightly further down the Northern line where the demographic is only slightly less millennial. Morden maybe. 

I say millennial but in truth there's every age-group in here, including families. I can see frazzled-looking parents with toddlers playing chaotic games of Connect 4, bright-eyed hipsters with gleaming beards, middle-aged soaks with too many drinks in front of them and too many years behind them and even elderly people, in the form of a couple who have been coming here for years, according to the bar staff, still resolutely clinging on in the midst of this new swell of people. I've seen them here every time I've been in, tiny and frail and looking more than a little surprised by the changes wrought around them. They sit side by side near the back, marooned in the middle of a huge leather sofa, their matching pints on a low table in front, unable to hear themselves think - or each other speak - over the boom of the slightly-too-loud music, and on this occasion the rugby. Not that they ever seem to say anything anyway. On Saturday evening I noticed he was holding her hand, quite tightly, perhaps for anchorage. 

"Have you seen those two over there?" I say to a different friend, having battled my way back from the bar with her glass of sauvignon blanc.

"I know!" she exclaims, nudging her husband. "Look, so sweet, that'll be us when we're old."

"If I'm still with you," he replies.

I look at her crestfallen face. "Tell you what," I say, "when we're old and our husbands have left us, or died, let's sit in here together and hold hands."

"Thanks, mate," she says.

On Monday I'm in the kitchen working on my laptop when Eldest comes in to make his morning coffee. He has a train to catch back to university later that afternoon. 

"So," I say, "and your plans for today are?"

"Well," he says. "I thought I'd hang out with you and we could go back to the pub and have a pint and some pizza."

Love E x



Here are ten more great pubs and restaurants in Tooting.

The Little Bar -

In memory of Martin Pannett whose bar this last one was.  

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Hello Mr Chips.

Women are less likely to eat chips around handsome men, according to a recent study.* This might go a long way to explain why I eat so many chips, I tell the men in my life (just kidding). Personally I don’t know any women who forego chips, no matter who they’re dining with, although I do have a friend who won’t touch croissant. She says "pas dpâte feuilletée" because she can, and because she says that's what skinny French ladies say and is the reason they are skinny. Croissant is made with feuilletée pastry, she says, and feuilletée pastry makes you fat, but "ça va sans dire," she says. I have another friend who says she won’t touch cheese. She says it makes her elbows squeak. In English. What can I say? I have weird friends.
I liked that programme Further Back in Time for Dinner because it's a bit like an old schools programme back from when I was a kid, called How We Used to Live, mixed together with a cookery programme, topped off with a sprinkling of likeable family (the Robshaws).

The last series of FBITFD used a terraced house just up the road from us near Wandsworth Common. Did you see how much meat they ate in the Edwardian era? It was meat, with meat, with meat on the side. Strange how food goes out of fashion. Who decides? Remember luncheon meat? Spam? Vesta curries? No, me neither, but lots of my friends do because they're older than me (ha ha) and they talk about them with great affection. You don’t see people eating luncheon meat nowadays although I do know plenty who eat ‘rillettes’ which I reckon is the modern-day equivalent, just a load of bits off the slaughterhouse floor, shoved in a jar.

It’s incredible what we used to feed children in the old days. In Britain in the 70s we all lived on rosehip syrup and Alphabetti Spaghetti, fresh fruit and veg was an alien concept. Someone I know says he’ll never forget being served marmite fritters on his first night at boarding school: white bread, smothered in margarine, with marmite on top, deep-fried. Try explaining that to a skinny French lady. No wonder British children can be so self-restricting. When he was little my little brother ate nothing but breakfast cereal, Frosties mostly, and we had a neighbour, a scrawny Artful Dodger sort of a kid, who ate nothing but prawns for six weeks. And that was before prawns were invented round our way. 


I love descriptions of food in books. I recently read Heartburn by Nora Ephron and she intersperses her bitter-sweet account of marital breakdown with sweet and savoury recipes, Key lime pie is one of them. And I’ll always remember Ratty's picnic on the river bank in Wind in the Willows. “There’scoldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscressandwidgespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater…" said Ratty. And that wonderful image of little Laurie Lee in Cider With Rosie, tripping off to school with a warm potato in his pocket to keep his hand warm and eat later for lunch. And then there’s food in movies. Putting aside 9 1/2 Weeks, because I think we should, who can forget Juliette Binoche and her sexy chocolate truffles, Helen Mirren in the kitchen with her lover, and Babette with her feast, plus, of course, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which I watched on repeat in an Italian hospital once when Youngest and I got holed up there on account of his appendicitis during a skiing holiday. Incidentally, the food we ate in that hospital was the best hospital food I've ever eaten and will probably ever eat. We got a pasta starter every day. We got confit of duck with Puy lentils.

Fifty shades of pasta.

It's a cliché to say that cooking for people is an act of love, but it’s true. I certainly love to cook for my family. One son told me in the heat of an argument once that my cooking isn't as good as I think it is, because he knew it would wound, which it did. Mind you, another son recently said the opposite. "Every night's like a dinner party round here," he pronounced. But perhaps those two comments tell you more about the sons than about my cooking.

The other son only wants nuggets and chips, so currently I'm doing a popular line in a homemade version using free range turkey because now we're told turkey is good for us, it's a 'superfood' apparently. So here's the recipe, Nora Ephron-style. Cut up and bash the meat flat with a rolling pin, dip it in egg, roll it in natural bread crumbs mixed with Cajun spices, lightly fry in oil. I use rape seed oil, which is also having a bit of a moment in the sun. Serve with purple sprouting broccoli or kalettes (that's baby kale to you plebs). And chips.

Love E x


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Designer birthday.

A visit to

for my father's birthday, in pictures.



Love E x