Well, well, would you believe it? I wrote honestly in my last entry here that I had awoken before 0400 with a will to write after so long an abstinence from it and I did. A piece which would probably have taken an average University undergraduate about two hours to compose has taken me over 14 hours. I have checked everything, linked, resized images etc. etc. and I do not regret a moment of it. I would rather have the thing done right than done badly. Sorry, that is just my mindset and that constitutes my apology which is par for the course on this site.
Actually I make no apology for it, I am firm believer in the principle that if a thing is doing, it is worth doing right. I fully understand that this concept is laughable to the 21st century “snowflakes” with their ignorant, arrogant attitude of “I am the most important thing in the world”, “everything exists to please me”. Forget it,children. Some of us have actually lived (and nearly died several times) so that we can pass this knowledge on to you.
I remember when I joined the Army and my first drill pig (sergeant) was a guy called Pete Roberts who was seconded from the Queen’s who are now sadly subsumed into the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (Queen’s and Royal Hampshires), known not so affectionately in Army terms as the “Squidgees” as that was Diana, Princess of Wales’ favourite nickname for her alleged lover, James Hewitt who was commissioned in the Regiment. Y es, sue me if you like but if you think that the appalling, money-centred (as if he was not rich enough) Prince Harry who should be stripped of all titles and honorary ranks immediately is the brother of Prince William just take a close look at them and look at Prince Charles and Hewitt. QED.
Back to Pete Roberts. I had been hanging around street corners in East Belfast and could easily have slipped into very bad ways. I could have quickly entered a world of paramilitaries who were always on the lookout for impressionable young men and then spent half my adult life in jail from a botched robbery or even killing someone who probably did not deserve to die but I joined The Forces instead and escaped it.
On one of my first days, Pete was parading us on what passed for a parade square in Ladas Drive (it doubled as the helipad) and I must have shot my mouth off, as I was prone to do in those days and probably still am.
The next thing I knew was that I was looking at the sky. I knew I was still conscious but horizontal rather than vertical. Pete had hit me square in the face, not enough to do any lasting damage but enough to floor me and that was probably the first Damascene moment in my life (they are few and far between). In a split second I realised I was not the toughest guy in town nor even close, Pete was. I wanted to be like him, talk about role models (a much overworked term but hugely applicable here). Actually, as my career progressed I learned that there were a lot tougher men than Pete and I had the privilege of working with some of them but, at 18 years old, Pete was more than tough enough for me. A top man who would now be in his 80’s if he is still with us so I can only wish him many more years of peaceful retirement, you earned it mate.
I have lived a charmed life, I have been instructed by some of the very best. Pete Roberts, Jimmy Dunbar, Jock Cooper, Jack McFarlane. Bob Ellison, the list goes on. I could name many others but I won’t as it may endanger them and, no, this is not me trying to make myself look big, it is a statement of fact.
The guys I have named are all either dead or very old (I really have no idea) and present no threat to anyone although if any of them are still with us and standing, I would not stand 300 yards from any of them if they had a decent rifle in their hands! Really, I learned from the best, the very best. To give you a clue, Jimmy was a drill sergeant in the Irish Guards, Jock the same rank in the Scots Guards, Jack, a weapons and close combat instructor in the Royal Marines (you should see the scar on his forearm from a bayonet training accident). Bob was also a Marine (no idea what rank) but he did covert work in my home country in the 70’s and 80’s. A hard station. I should say that there were a lot more, these are just the ones I have chosen to mention, all good guys. These men knew whereof they spoke. I don’t expect that many of you will appreciate the full significance of all this but I know at least one of my readers will get it immediately when his wife reads it to him. Hi mate, time to unload.
So where were we in my catching up exercise here on the blog. Ah yes, I had left you with my rather amateur attempt at a literary device I laughingly referred to as a cliffhanger although it was really no such thing, any novellist worth his salt would have done better. When I got back to the Wrotham one night, the lovely Jackie had left a note on my bedroom door which I have reproduced above, I kept it as a souvenir, I do soppy things like that. Right, this was a problem but it was late and no point in waking him up especially as I could not get a train until the morning so I tucked up in bed although I didn’t sleep much. Because of Jackie’s wording I was not sure of the exact problem. I was sure that it could not just have been a broken window as I hold the only set of keys and surely nobody passing could have detected a small amount of water on the floor despite the best efforts of the British weather. No, there was only one feasible answer which was a burst pipe above (I have three floors above me) and that is indeed what it turned out to be.
I got home next morning and, on the principle that a picture paints a thousand words I’ll let the reader draw their own conclusions about the state of the carnage, it was appalling. Half the tiles were smashed in yhe bath or on the carpet, which was sodden and evidently beyond salvage. Yes, my flat (apartment) was fitted out in the days when people still put carpets in bathrooms!
There was obvious water damage to the walls and ceiling and when I tried to turn on the light in the bedroom (yes, bedroom singular, I told you I live in a tiny bachelor pad) I nearly blew my hand off! It started fizzing and sparking so it was turned off using a convenient non-conductive item (a training shoe as I recall) and left to dry thoroughly. The light in the hallway just did not work, indeed half the lights on that side of the flat just kept tripping every time I reset them on the fusebox. What a bloody disaster, I could have wept but that was not going to solve anything.
First port of call was my mate Bob the Para, so called because he had served in the First Battalion of that elite Regiment and is now my plumber / tiler although due to house arrest etc. I had not seen him for some time. Bob wasn’t answering his ‘phone so whether he has got a new number or just wasn’t answering I don’t know. I then called the estate managers who do just about nothing for their £1200 or so a year. They used to wash the windows outside twice a year but don’t even do that any more, virus was the excuse as it is for just about everything these days. The vacuum clean the communal areas about once a month, occasionally tend to a couple of tiny and scruffy looking patches of plants outside and the rest goes straight into their over-stuffed pockets, it is a disgrace really.
They were aware of the problem and said they were sending industrial cleaners round to dry the place out for me, at least that was something. They appeared next day, a guy and a girl lugging two absolutely massive pieces of kit which they set up in the hall and bathroom and turned on. What a racket. Not ear-splitting as such but just a constant low level drone which I had to put up with for over a week. They told me to switch them off at night so as not to annoy the neighbours and that was good advice.
I could not start getting tilers and electricians in until that was all completed so I spent that period stumbling over the driers to the bathroom by torchlight. Nightmare. When the worst of the damp had been dealt with and they had retrieved their kit I set about the task of getting contractors which proved to be not as simple as it might appear.
With my own trusted guy incommunicado I set about finding tradesmen online. I have never had to do this before. My home is fitted out as I bought it 25 years ago, same carpets and paint job. OK, I change the curtains occasionally but that is it. I am not a material man and there is nothing wrong with the way the place looks now, it is homely and comfortable and I do not see the point in changing, if not a winning formula, at least one that isn’t losing. I am happy in my own little space as I have no-one else to please. I am not knocking people in relationships, most people are, it is inherent in the human condition but I spent decades doing it and it never ended well so now I am happy with my own company in my own little private space and who is to say I am wrong.
My biggest problem was that I was dealing with not one but two insurance companies (the primary purpose of both seeming to be attempting to dodge their responsibilities), the estate managers (useless except for sending out huge bills) and not only the tenant of the flat above, who obviously had little English but her landlady, a Frenchwoman who thankfully did. I should explain that most of the units in my block are buy to let which is why I never get to know any of my neighbours, they come and go with such regularity it is difficult to form a relationship but it sort of suits my “lone wolf” lifestyle, I am not complaining.
My problem with the insurance companies was that they wanted more than one quote for every job and they would then tell you to go for the lowest tender. That saves their shareholders a few £££ and sticks more in the pockets of their fat cat bosses but it did not do much for me. I am not going to bore you with the whole sad story but the whole process took literally months and left me with the biggest botch job of a tiled bathroom floor you have ever seen, judge for yourself above. To be honest, I just wanted rid of them at the end as my health was playing up and I could barely get up to even look at it. The electrician spent more time on the ‘phone to his boss saying things like “I have the red wire and the green wire, what do I do with them.
The upshot is that I have a disgrace of a bathroom floor, one less light swith than I had before and over £1500 out of pocket (insurance company still has not paid up), what a bloody performance. Enough of this, there must be something more cheerful I can tell you about and indeed there is. What a bloody mess which is probably going to take me as much money to fix as it did to do.
Fortunately, my kitchen was still in working order, or at least as much working order as it normally is. I still was eating minimal amounts but I have included here a few images of the occasional snack I knocked myself up purely to relieve the monotony of my writing. I was quite pleased with the way the cream of tomato soup worked out. Basically I made up a vaguely Italian tomato soup and just enlivened it with a good dose of cream.
There was a Welsh rarebit which wasn’t just cheese on toast (much as I love that) but a proper mix made and marinaded overnight. I grated some extra mature cheddar which I had in my fridge until it’s sell-by date was long gone, the best way to eat cheese. Supermarkets have sell by dates on everything which is merely their way to encourage food waste which suits them as you throw good food away and buy more from them.
Added to that was Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire sauce, the original, best and only one I will use. Really, the supermarkets all make their own brands but they are just not the same. It is a similar story with the next ingredient, a good couple of teaspoons of Colman’s English mustard. Again the original and best even if their logo of “Colman’s of Norwich” is now a lie. Having been taken over by a foreign conglomerate they left their traditional home in the County city of Norfolk, with a serious loss of jobs but that is globalisation for you. The final ingredient is some form of drink, I had left the remnants of a bottle of bog standard cider to go flat and used that, it is not a tempura batter. I have had very decent rarebits made with ale or stout (something like Guinness for my overseas readers) or cider as it is my preferred tipple.
Some people would add seasoning at this point but I prefer not to, the snack really does not need salt as the cheese will be salty enough and adding pepper ( I always go for freshly ground black) seems to get lost in grilling, I prefer to crack it over just prior to serving. Obviously you can experiment for yourself as you wish, green peppercorns, pink or whatever, it is only a quick snack and not like you are going to ruin a whole dinner party.
Oh ,look at this, what has happened? I was just going to post a quick line or two to try ti help me clear my backlog and I end up giving detailed instructions on how to make possibly the simplest snack meal on the planet.
I also managed a bowl or two of pasta, the dear friend (along with rice) of the single bloke cook which I have been for many years. Don’t ask me what is in it as I have no clue now but I see I had the decency to finish it with shavings of hard Italian cheese (pecorino perhaps?). I even managed a slightly overcooked pizza at one point and of course a very cut down version of an Ulster fry as befits my currently restricted appetite. Why is it that Italian food is so easy and quick to make? Southern Asian grub takes hours!
When I determined myself to catch up on this site on getting home from my last adventure over a week ago, I was facing a very uphill task. I was almost a year behind, I had a shedload of images and I wasn’t sure how I would get through them all but, with my re-kindled writing muse upon me, thanks to whatever forces there may be, I have been hammering on albeit at what some would consider unusual hours of the day and night and I am a fair way through it. I just have my latest trip to go, the one featuring the canal boats, festivals and another hospitalisation which I alluded to a few posts ago.
Believe me, even for one in my utterly crocked state I managed to have one Hell of an adventure which, as so often, started off for four days and ended up at about five weeks. Such is the way I operate so if you want to know all about it then you know what to do by now if you are a regular reader, if not, I’ll give you a heads up and it is simple, follow the channel and stay tuned.