I’m back! What do you mean, you didn’t notice I’d gone? I’ve been putting off writing as we keep being offered freedom, but as it seems to recede ever further into the distance, I’ve decided I can wait no longer. I last posted on May 4th (Star Wars Day: May the fourth / Force be with you) which feels like years ago. The first week in May was a busy one. After the Bank Holiday Monday was Cinco de Mayo then JD’s birthday. We couldn’t go out (ok, we could, but sitting outside in our Arctic walking trousers and jackets didn’t appeal). We had World Cocktail Day on 13th May and I didn’t even post then. I really have been neglecting you.
This latter site tells us that, in 1806, The Balance and Columbian Repository (whoever they were) coined the term “cocktail” as a stimulating liquor with a wide variety of sweets, waters, and bitters. During Prohibition in the USA, rum and whiskey were not well distilled, so that other ingredients were added to make them more palatable.
Monday May 17th was (part) Freedom Day. June 21st should have been total Freedom Day but we were always told it was “data not dates” so as cases were increasing in England, June 21st was put back to July 19th. Very clever that, altering the calendar by a month. No riots this time from people wanting their missing days back, as in 1752. And that was only eleven days! Or maybe we’ve now got an extra month, not a missing one? Too confusing to think about. From announcements this week, it looks as though “data not dates” is now being ignored as cases are still going up.
I’ve been reading a book first published in 1939, The Hopkins Manuscript by RC Sherriff, now republished as a Penguin Modern Classic. It is a gently humorous story set in a post-apocalyptic Britain (after the moon falls into the Atlantic Ocean). Even if you don’t like science fiction (which I guess it is), it has some great parts. “In the opinion of the country gentlemen, ‘the moon business’ was all a scare. Nothing would happen, but if it did, it would happen in China where that sort of thing always happened. In their opinion, it would not affect England. Things like that did not happen in England. We should ‘muddle through’ as we always had done in other troubles.”
We had drinks with friends the other week (month) and they had a lovely collection of tulips around the garden. I planted up my pots personally for the first time this year. I’m not sure what went wrong. All new bulbs, kept in their own bags until actually put into the compost. Now I think about it, I do know: go back to blog post 112 on 30th November 2020 and you’ll see me complaining about the rubbish compost I was supplied with by JD. The two pots either side of the steps worked brilliantly. You saw them bent by the wind last time. The pots either side of these were in an A-B-A-B pattern with orange or pink and white. Well, that was the plan. This was the only B pot with the white ones.
One other night we went to The Archangel, a local restaurant that’s often written up as it’s in Frome (used to be more ‘in’ than Bruton, now playing second fiddle). We were allocated a 90-minute slot. This would have been OK except that the drinks took 30 minutes to arrive and our food order was not taken for 45 minutes. The table next to us had arrived 15 minutes earlier than us: both tables ordered at the same time but our food arrived first (about the time we should have given our table up). We were then informed that desserts were off as the chef was being temperamental, but we could have espresso martinis (but not coffee as the machine was broken??). The waiter came back a couple of minutes later, sorry no martinis but the chef was now willing to do puddings! The release of going to restaurants and knowing how they are struggling to find staff meant there’s an ‘all in this together’ mood with the waiter (many used to be from the EU or Australia, in the last year Brexit and Covid have both had a negative effect) so it was a fun evening.
Last April (2020), in Post 90, I showed you our wisteria and said how much better it’s going to look this year. And it would have, too, if someone hadn’t taken an intense dislike to it obscuring the window and cutting it rather harshly. Not me, for once. It is coming back (see final photo today).
Part of the reason I’ve been so neglectful of you is my need to prepare numbers for my tax return. I’ve not actually started the tax stuff, other than gathering into a heap, so other things on the to-do list also slipped. To make things worse, I received an automated phone call from HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) telling me there were faults in my return (what, the one I’ve yet to complete?) and could I call them, then another from the National Crime Agency, planning to suspend my national insurance number. Not quite sure what that means: I’ll be deported? Not allowed to work? They’ll take my pension away? These scams are getting more threatening. Initially it was you had inherited millions, now it’s ‘go to jail and do not pass Go’. More cheerfully (or not), someone has recorded ‘50 ways to lose your pension’ which is worth a short diversion.
As we were allowed some freedom, we had a week in London in early June. On the Saturday we had managed to get tickets for Glyndebourne and decided it would be fun to catch the train, something we’ve always thought about. We arrived at Victoria Station in good time and saw a few other people dressed up to the nines before lunch. Somehow that always makes me feel very special and festive. I’ve researched the phrase ‘being dressed up to the nines’ for you and there seems to be no convincing explanation. Here’s a link in case you want more (non) information. It is interesting even if inconclusive.
The phrase ‘Dressed to the nines’ – meaning and origin. (phrases.org.uk)
We were picked up at the local station by special buses: a slight frisson of excitement when one person had to stand in the shade for five minutes as they’d a slightly high temperature. Due to social distancing, the gardens were very quiet and it was easy to find a place to have our pre-opera champagne in the blazing sun. The opera itself was a little gloomy, Kat’a Kabanova by Janacek, but that was fine. We had a lovely meal in the restaurant in the interval and were on the station waiting for our train back to London in plenty of time. Back home by 11 pm, perfect.
About a minute before the train is due in, they announce it will be leaving from Platform 4, not Platform 1. We run up and down stairs and pile onto the train as it pulls in then get out our champagne and have a final glass to celebrate a successful day. Odd, someone says, we seem to be heading south. When we arrive, in Brighton, we all wonder if we’d got on the wrong train. They throw us all off and explain that the line is closed at Haywards Heath (the main way back to London). We loiter in all our finery with the hoi-polloi who’ve had a great day on the beach and are now looking sunburnt and flustered. They’ve already been there an hour or more with small children, buckets and spades, beach towels, dogs etc. At 23.25 a train pulls in (the first since 20.00 we hear), we all pile on (social distancing? Forget it) and leave Brighton. Big cheer! At 23.50 we stop at Haywards Heath, there’s no power on the line ahead. Eventually we arrived at Victoria after 1 am. Later that day, once recovered, we go over to see our pal Rene in Battersea then walk to Battersea Park with her and Clint, who was unwilling to turn round earlier! JD and I had a pizza at Pear Tree Café and then caught ferry back to Millbank. Almost real freedom.
Another innovation, thanks to lock-down, that has come into its own is up-market takeaways, where you get the raw (or part-prepared) ingredients and finish them off for a restaurant-quality meal at home. We’ve done a few of these over the months, as detailed in other blog posts. Another one I’ve recently discovered is Pasta Evangelists. I somehow seem to have signed up for a regular Tuesday delivery of fresh pasta. It is great but either I’m over ordering or they think we have very large appetites, as one meal lasts a few days (good value). No wonder we’re putting weight on again!
Those of you who have visited us will remember that we have an Excel list for the freezer contents. It all works well unless something is taken out and not crossed off the list. As labels never stick, the items themselves are not usually identifiable so the list is pretty important. JD was planning to cook pork fillet that he found on the list, in drawer 4. He took it out of the freezer the day before and left it in the fridge to thaw out thoroughly. All was well until I looked at the ingredients he was cooking and asked why we were having beetroot gnocchi (drawer 4, in a long cylinder waiting to be cut and shaped). We decided that it would be rather a carb-heavy meal with roast spuds on the side. The pork was long gone.
I would like to say this brings me to today’s cocktail but as I’ve almost come to the end of the bar I’m keeping W until I decide where to go after that. Back to A? Go out and buy a load of bottles of (even more) obscure liqueurs? I’m working on it. In the meantime I made Bergamot fizz with my own recipe (there’s bold): Italicus (as in Post 122), English spiced vermouth (as in Post 123) and champagne (as in almost any Post you care to look at!). Often the different cocktails differ only in the relative quantities and for my home-created ones I don’t write down what I put in (it might be tweaked as we drink it). For example contrast Old Pal (15 ml each Campari, dry vermouth and rye) with Opening Cocktail (15 ml each Grenadine and vermouth, but 45 ml Scotch). I’ve not made either but it would be interesting to make both and see which we prefer. I think I’d like the second one, a bit sweeter.
I could mention football but I tolerate it rather than enjoy it (I’ll stay in the same room as the TV but catch up on reading the newspapers, or a jigsaw, or knitting, or ANYTHING!). JD refers to it as the beautiful game. Well, yes, if you like to watch grown men rolling around on the floor moaning and clutching various bits of their anatomy or hugging each other then I guess it is beautiful. When I put it like that it does sound quite appealing (or do I mean appalling? I’d forgotten the spitting, ugh). When England played Germany, we went out for a meal and were the only ones in the pub until the end of the game. Lovely and peaceful!
There’s a fair bit of sailing news I’ve not updated you on, but I’ll keep that for next time, not too long to wait this time (I hope, tax still beckons).