When I awoke early on Thursday the 28th of June I did not even have to pull the curtains back to know it was going to be another beautiful day as the sunlight was brightening the room even with them drawn and I could feel the temperature was warm already. As the day wore on I heard on the news that all four countries of the United Kingdom registered temperatures in excess of 30 degrees which is a rare enough event at any time never mind June.
I have mentioned that my appetite regularly goes AWOL but it appears to have returned with something of a vengeance now I am back here and so the daily fry-up was called for. I am getting quite good at knocking up this particular dish now and, dare I suggest, this one looks nearly good enough to eat.
Another day of much of the same with preparing lunch for my Father and then a sit out in the back garden reading which proved that it was indeed an unbelievably hot day. I very nearly roasted myself and I am still finding it hard to comprehend that I have achieved more of a tan in a few weeks in Northern Ireland than I did in three months in Sri Lanka earlier in the year. If this keeps up there are sure to be records broken.
The afternoon football was Japan vs. Poland and Senegal vs. Colombia. I wasn’t too bothered about either of these games and so remained lightly grilling myself in the garden. The only real interest for those in the UK was that the results of these matches and the England match later would determine who England would face in the next round. In the event Japan were beaten by what had been a very poor Polish side 1 – 0 and Colombia overcame Senegal by the same score. The Senegalese might consider themselves a touch unlucky as they only exited the competition by virtue of the “fair play rule” which means that if two teams are equal on points, goal difference and goals scored then the number of red and yellow cards comes into play. I suppose it is better than tossing a coin but it is a hard way to go out.
In the evening games England took on a decent looking unbeaten Belgian side although it was effectively a dead rubber as both had qualified and it was just a matter of what opposition was to be faced in the next round.
The first half was not particularly exciting but Belgium broke the deadlock with a superb goal five minutes after the break. For the rest of the second half Belgium again looked the better side although it is difficult to gauge anything as England had made eight changes in the starting line-up from the previous game and Belgium nine so it was basically two 2nd XIs playing. It should be a wakeup call though. There were a few chances in the second half but it finished 1- 0 to Belgium.
Inevitably the “we could win this” nonsense is being trotted out by people who should know better, mostly on the basis that Germany have been eliminated. Somehow I don’t think so but we shall see.
The other match was Panama vs. Tunisia which ended with the North Africans coming out on the right side of a 2 – 1 scoreline but it meant little as both were going home irrespective of the outcome. Like the Icelandic fans, the surprisingly numerous Panamanian supporters brought a lot of colour and passion to the competition and surely this is a lot of what the World Cup is all about.
As this is such a short entry I shall pass straight on to the next one.
Another early rise on Friday 29th and another scorcher. Later on I was to find out that it was the fifth consecutive day that a temperature of over 30 degrees was recorded somewhere in the UK. Porthmadog in Wales seems to be regularly topping the charts and in Northern Ireland either Castlederg or nearby Killeter seem to be the places to be.
At 1800 in the evening a hosepipe ban was introduced here, the first region in the UK to do so although I doubt it will be long until it is in place elsewhere. It really is shaping up to be a great summer and comparisons are already being made with 1976, a summer I remember with great affection.
On the downside the news is constantly reporting on a massive moorland fire on Saddleworth Moor near Stalybridge in the Northwest of England and now on Winter Hill near Bolton in the same region. The problem is that Saddleworth is a peat moor and even if you extinguish the fire on the surface it is still burning well underground. Remember that peat was the primary source of fuel for many years in Ireland and other parts of the UK for centuries. It burns really well! As so often happens when there is an unusually labour intensive problem the authorities have called out the armed forces in the form of 100 soldiers of the Highland Division to assist the hard-pressed firefighters.
Now onto the World Cup, or should I say lack of it. After the fairly uninspiring game between the English and Belgian second teams the previous evening today was a rest day so, horror of horrors, no football today.
The day started with the usual fry-up but with a bit of a difference. A look at the daily image above will show that the square sausage has magically metamorphosed to become round. Not esactly the case. In my local supermarket I had spotted another childhood favourite that I have never seen outside Northern Ireland and is one of two such items I shall tell you about in this entry. I realise that these daily journals may be a little boring but at least you are getting a “basics of Ulster cooking” lesson free, gratis and for nothing.
The round slices in question are a delicacy called veg roll. but before the veggies amongst you think that the problem of the pork based square sausage is solved for making an Ulster Fry, please think again. This is Northern Ireland and things are very often not as they seem.
Look closer at the packaging and you will find that the predominant ingredient in the “veg roll” is beef at 50% and as far as I can see the only vegetable in evidence is onion, both dehydrated and in extract form. The texture certainly does not hint at pieces of vegetable and, whilst I can normally provide an explanation for some of the oddities I encounter, this one has me stumped.
The day was spent in an entirely predictable round of reading in the back garden whilst toasting myself on each side. I don’t intend to offend those of you of a delicate disposition by posting an image of me with the short off so you will have to take my word that I am getting seriously brown. During these potentially melanoma-inducing sessions (cheerful, aren’t I?) I had started yet another book which is proving to be excellent. I have mentioned that my Father was a very good rugby player in his day and he has a great selection of books about the sport which I love getting into.
My current read is a biography of Tony Ward written by John Scally and entitled “The good, the bad and the rugby”. “Wardy” is one of the most controversial players in the history of the Irish game. He has been described as being akin to George Best in football (soccer) and indeed he had played that game in semi-professional capacity with some success in the 1970’s. He started playing rugby almost by accident whilst at teacher training college studying PE and had a very rapid rise to playing for the Irish national side. He turned out alongside such greats as Fergus Slattery, Phil Orr, Mike Gibson (actually there were tow Mike Gibsons in the team then), Colin Patterson, Ollie Campbell and Moss Keane.
The analogy with Best goes further as he was very good-looking and was described somewhat disparagingly as the “film star”. He did a “beefcake” photo shoot which he now deeply regrets and which would cause no comment at all now but which was seen as scandalous at the time. Well, scandalous except for the legions of young (and not so young) ladies who used to write to him in the days long before social media. Like Best, he was by his own admission a naive young man and he was thrust into a world of TV chat shows, newspaper interviews and the whole media circus and was not entirely sure how to handle it. All he wanted to do was play rugby.
Indeed, it is off the field that most of the controversy surrounding him occurs. At the time, Ireland were blessed with two superb out halves in Ward and Ollie Campbell. As was Campbell, Ward was a superb kicker and set all sorts of points records in his relatively short career. Apart from his work with the boot he was a completely gifted all round player and adjectives like mercurial seemed to follow him around. As a late teenager and rugby obsessed myself, I remember watching him and being mesmerised by what he could do which appeared to me to be just about anything.
For some reason, probably because of the off the field persona which he never sought to cultivate, he seemed to irritate the rather staid administrators, selectors and assorted has been hangers-on who ran the game then and still do to a certain extent. They were known to have “favourites”, often depending on Provincial loyalty, and a few years later a friend of mine who was in contention for the Irish hooker shirt suffered similarly as he was from the “wrong” club and Province (Dungannon and Ulster respectively).
When Ward was sensationally dropped on the 1979 tour of Australia it made headlines on the front pages never mind the back pages. It really was that big a deal and completely divided the rugby aficionados both within and beyond the island of Ireland.
I am not sure if it is still in print as it was published in 1983 but if you want to look for it it was published by Blackwater Press and is ISBN 0-86121-463-3.
When the UV drove me back indoors briefly I prepared lunch for my Father and did a bit of offline writing here. Due to the amount of free time I have I am getting plenty written and may pass a little milestone soon which I will tell you about in due course.
Come early evening and it was time to eat again which brings me onto the second of the two indigenous Northern Irish delicacies I mentioned above and that is the pastie. Again, I have never seen these outside Northern Ireland and it is only recently that I have seen them in the shops as they used to be solely the preserve of chip shops where a pasty supper was always my childhood favourite. I never knew where the chippies got them from. The link shows who supplies my local supermarket and they make a damned tasty version of this wonderful product.
I find it slightly odd that in London, that most cosmopolitan of cities, with food shops and markets from every corner of the globe I can easily buy nam pla (Thai fish sauce) even in a supermarket, kithul treacle from Sri Lanka, Polish flaki (tripe soup) and yet I cannot source veg roll or these kind of pasties anywhere.
I say “these kind of pasties” for a reason. Forget the concept of the Cornish pasty or similar with the pastry crust and meat and veg filling as these are a different beast altogether. I remember as a child asking my Aunt what was in them and she relied, “Rubbish” which slightly baffled me but a look at the ingredients listed on the packaging may have proved her right.
It is based on pork although I dread to think what cuts and there are probably snouts, trotters and who knows what else in there. There is a lot of rusk and bulkers and in this day and age a laboratory full of chemicals with unpronounceable names. The mix is then made into a pattie shape and battered and was traditionally deep-fried but I do not have a frier here so oven cooking was the order of the day and works well in addition to probably being a marginally healthier.
The pack of four pasties and a portion of oven chips all went on to one baking tray whilst the beans were duly irradiated in the microwave so washing up of one tray, one bowl, one plate, knife and fork. Single man kitchen thinking and damned tasty. The other two are packed up, cooled and in the freezer now so another meal already half-prepped.
The evening consisted of some more reading writing (I skipped the ‘rithmetic) and watching yet more fascinating documentaries on TV before off to bed for a further few chapters of my book and sleep around 0300 which is pretty normal for me these days.
Stay tuned for a possible milestone in the next entry and spread the word.