Genes Will Out

My cold lingers on, so I didn’t venture out much today, except to accompany Jackie to Ringwood where we delivered a cheque to Ellis Jones Solicitors on account of their fees for the house purchase, and did a little shopping in Sainsbury’s.

During the last couple of days when I haven’t paid much interest, the season has reached out and begun to make its mark on the garden and the forest. Mushrooms The temperature has dropped a few degrees.  Petal-like mushrooms have sprouted on our lawn, and the leaves on the trees have begun to turn various shades of red and gold.


Returning from Ringwood via the Cadnam roundabout we drove up Seamans lane through the site of the blockage of 28th October. Tree trunk sawn The sawn remains of the fallen tree supplement the colours of the forest verge with their own autumnal blend.  Jackie tells me that the obstruction had been cleared by the time she returned from delivering me to the airport.

Again, a piece of time-travelling occupied me for a good part of the day.  Picture number 33 of the ‘through the ages’ series takes us back to Durham on a later holiday.  The little baby I had held in my arms in number 31 is my sister Jacqueline, perhaps two years old by this time. Chris, a friend, Jacqueline & Derrick This dates the shot at summer 1949.  She is the only child in the picture not looking up at something in the foreground.  Chris appears to have a problem with his knee.  I don’t know who the other girl is.  Mum suggests she was a friend who used to come and play with us.  Apparently we always sat on this wall of our grandparents’ tied accommodation attached to Durham prison where Grandpa was an engineer.  It is possible he is the figure on the right obscured by the open window.  Mum says the walls of the prison cells can be seen in the background. I am so fortunate that she is still able to fill in the crucial details of these historic images.

James 4.69 copyJacquelineWhat fascinates me most about this photograph is our sister’s face.  Two days ago I wrote about the likeness of my great nephew James Arrondelle to his grandfather Chris.  Today it was the turn of my nephew James (Jimmy) Clancy and his mother, Jacqueline.  Their features are similar and they each have the same gaze fixed on the lens.  I do not know who took the 1949 photograph if Grandpa Hunter does appear in the picture, but twenty years later, in April 1969, I photographed his great grandson.

Our evening was completed by Jackie’s lamb jalfrezi with savoury rice and mini paratas.  And jolly good it was too.  Sticky toffee pudding and custard was to follow.  This put me in mind of Newark’s Shaan, the only Indian restaurant I know that served English puddings.  I could never manage to eat one.  My drink tonight was Cobra, whilst Jackie chose Hoegaarden.

Happy New Year

New Year Fireworks 1.13 (2)

Jackie and I have reached the stage where, not only do we prefer to avoid the crowds and watch New Year celebrations on television, but we can’t even stay up to do that, so we watched them this morning on BBC iPlayer.  I had a bit of a hangover.

From 2006 to 2009 I lived close enough, in Central London, to have walked to the Embankment for the event.  I didn’t fancy fighting my way through boisterous crowds of people a fraction of my age, to stand in the cold for a glimpse of a display I could otherwise enjoy in the comfort of an armchair.  So, when I didn’t fall asleep, I became a couch potato for the evening.  For New Year 2008 Anne and Burhan al-Jaf, perhaps correctly surmising I would be alone, invited me to join their party at home in South East London.  We had an exciting time viewing my neighbourhood fireworks on screen at our ease, vainly peering into the melee for a sight of my hosts’ teenage daughter Yerevan and her friends, who were young enough to want to be there.  Thank you, Anne and Burhan, for a night to remember.

Today was bright and sunny, if frosty early on, thus offering the respite another Anne had hoped for yesterday.  My walk was to the church and back.  This morning, after patronising the village shop, Jackie visited All Saints church.  She accurately described the church as ‘cosy’, and reported the placement of a pipe and floral tribute on the tombstone of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife. All Saints Minstead churchyard 1.13 Naturally I had to go and look at it.  Conan Doyle tombstone 1.13The pipe may have been there for some time, but the roses, in a plastic container bearing a £3 M & S label, were fresh.

This is not the first Conan Doyle burial site.  A devoted Spiritualist, Sir Arthur was first buried in an upright position in the garden of his home at Crowborough in East Sussex in 1930.  His second wife was interred alongside him ten years later.  It was not until 1955 that the couple were moved to Minstead, as had been Lady Jean’s wish. Face on Bannister gravestone 1.13 Given the beliefs of the creator of Sherlock Holmes, I wonder what he would have made of the face emerging from the blend of salt and lichen adorning the tombstone of Edmund and Mary Bannister who died some thirty years apart in the nineteenth century.

On my way down into Minstead I had been greeted by Anne and Audrey who wished me a Happy New Year from the garden of Orchard Gate.  On my return I spoke with two young Dutchmen and a little boy who were admiring Champion and Primrose.  One of the men held up the boy so he could commune with the horses whilst his companion photographed the scene.  They had just moved to Southampton where they would be living for eight months, and were exploring the countryside.  They were smitten with the beauty of the forest.  They had climbed the stile and tried the footpath leading from the gate.  As one of them said, they realised ‘it was a bad idea’, especially when the little lad lost a wellie to the suction of the mudbath.  The men, of course, were both well over six feet and spoke perfect English.  Whenever I speak to modern Europeans I feel pleasantly humbled by the fact that they are all likely to speak English.  Anne al-Jaf is Belgian, and Burhan Kurdish.  When I attended their wedding in Anne’s home town more than twenty years ago now, hosts and guests were from various parts of Europe and Kurdistan.  Much of the proceedings were conducted in English, as the most likely common language.  I am not certain now, but I may have been the only person of my nationality present.

Kalu (see 28th December 2012) now answers when called by name, and bows on command.  More and more he makes me think of Tom Paxton’s song ‘The Marvelous Toy’, which can be heard on youtube.

The freezer was raided for our evening meal, which offered a choice from, in descending order of chilli strength, chilli con carne by Jackie; lamb curry by Jackie; and turkey jalfrezi by Derrick, with Jackie’s pilau rice.  This was followed by Jackie’s bread and butter pudding.  The only Indian restaurant I’ve ever experienced serving – no doubt catering for the indigenous population – traditional English puddings, is Newark’s Shaan.  I had to starve myself all day to stand the slightest chance of eating their steamed sponge puddings after a delicious curry meal.  Tiger beer accompanied my meal; Hoegaarden Jackie’s; and Orange juice Flo’s.

Our meal was taken against the backdrop of Kalu’s wandering around the room making interesting sounds each time he came to an obstacle.  Should he find himself stuck he would up the tempo and Flo would have to go and rescue him.

Curry, A Biography

This morning, contemplating my lifelong relationship with curry, I took my usual route to Colliers Wood, turned right into Merton High Street, and continued to Tooting Bec Station where I boarded a tube train back to Morden.

Passing a hoarding on the road which forms a bridge dividing two sections of the Wandle Trail, I reflected that, as you know, Bacardi is not the nourishment with which I would choose to spice up my night.

Since my previous posts are peppered with curry references, I will not point these out.  There will be some repetition as I put it all together.  I have written of the numerous closures of English pubs, which are often transformed into Asian restaurants.  Delhi Heights in Colliers Wood manages to flourish with its fusion approach.

The Sree Krishna restaurant, which I passed on the approach to Tooting Broadway, was discovered by Jessica and me during our time in Furzedown in the 1980s.  We were encouraged by the fact that this South Indian establishment was frequented by indigenous doctors from the nearby St. George’s hospital.  Its food remains excellent, but, good as it is, for family atmosphere and friendliness of service, it cannot match the marvellous Sri Lankan Watch Me on Morden Road.  Sri Lankans were not here in the 1980s.

The crush of crowds in Tooting Broadway rivalled Oxford Street at sales time.  A young boy, bending to pick up a coin, caused a log-jam.  ‘Walk properly’, cautioned his mother.  ‘Nah, it’s my pound’, replied the boy, trying to avoid passers-by as he straightened up.  Further on, a short man, speaking to a much taller one, was heard to utter: ‘I’ve often wished I was three inches taller, or it was three inches longer.  Everyone’s got something like that’.  An interesting philosophy, I thought.

I had run past Tooting Bec station on countless occasions on my regular journey to Harrow Road in those Furzedown years.

Today’s title is that of Lizzie Collingham’s book which Louisa had given me and which contains the recipe for Susan’s chicken.

As with so many of my life-changing directions (see post of 18th July), I have Jackie to thank for my love affair with this princess of preparations.  In 1965 she introduced me to dining out, especially on her favourite food.  Having married early, bought a house, and started a family, my sole experience of meals which were not home-cooked was cafe lunches funded by luncheon vouchers provided by my pre-social-work employers.  When we were wed Jackie would save up the cost of a restaurant meal  from her housekeeping money and we would walk up from Raynes Park to the Wimbledon Tandoori in Ridgway.  During our stay in Wimbledon Village in 2011 we returned to that venue to which we introduced Becky.  None of the current staff had been born in our Amity Grove years.  It is now a firm favourite with Becky, and where, to the delight of those who served them, she became engaged to Ian.

The dishes of the Indian sub-continent are colourful, flavoursome, and emit a wonderful aroma.  Jackie loves walking home from the Civic Centre inhaling the splendid variety of smells emanating from Morden homes.  Not everyone likes the heat of chillies, but to me it is manna.  It was therefore natural for me, when I began to stay overnight in my counselling room in Harrow Road, where I had my own kitchen, to learn to cook my own.  This area was full of Halal shops where I could buy all the ingredients, even late at night.  If the recipe called for something I didn’t have, I simply popped across the road and bought it.  The Morden Food Store has replaced those Harrow Road emporiums, and Tooting

Broadway now has such suppliers in abundance.  Balti cook book 10.12It was Jessica who bought the Balti cook book which is my curry bible, well spattered with various spices.

Once I grasped the basics I was able to experiment and produce my own variations.  The preparation of Curried Boxing Day turkey is now a tradition in which my grandson Oliver loves to join me.  Asian spices can also enhance the flavours of some traditional English dishes.  Green cardomoms I find particularly beneficial in adding aromatic flavouring to stews; and garlic, not always included in our recipes, is often helpful.  It was green cardomoms which upset five-year-old Oliver when I forgot to mention I had included them and he bit on one.  The Italian arrabbiata makes plentiful use of chillies.

Only once have I prepared a complete meal, including the breads and complicated rice accompanying meat and vegetable dishes.  I did this in Newark for our friends Jill Tattersall and Tim Cordy.  I began early in the morning and it must have been 9 p.m. by the time we sat down to eat with me all in a fluster.  I even made my own garlic and ginger pastes, clogging up the blender.  Now I take Jackie’s advice and buy the pastes, the breads, and the samosas.  ‘Why make work for yourself?’, she asks.  ‘The Indian housewives don’t’.  I cannot bring myself yet to use the popular sauces produced by Patak or Lloyd Grossman.

Most of what we think of as Indian restaurants are in fact Bangladeshi, almost all the staff of which originate in the Sylhet city district.  I am told the influx began with sailors jumping ship in the UK.  My all-time favourite is the Akash in Edgware Road, at which I have been a regular, often attending weekly, since the early 1980s.  Majid outside akashMajid, the manager, and Shafiq, the chef have been there since its opening some forty years ago.  Shafiq came third in a Westminster-wide competition, beating such famous opposition as Veereswami’s in Regent Street.  It must be fifteen years since I actually placed an order, for, as soon as he sees me, Shafiq begins cooking a meal they have tailor-made for me.  This is a spiced-up naga strength Haldi.  A Bangladeshi restaurant in Westbourne Grove, whose full title, which I cannot remember, contains Bombay, did not change it when that Indian city reverted to its name Mumbai.  When I asked the proprietor why, he replied that he was not interested in an alteration.  His customers would not understand.

Veereswami’s was the first Indian restaurant in London, having been established for the benefit of officers of the Raj on leave in their home country, yet missing the culinary delights of their adopted one.  It now has a modern ambience and decor, with trendy design and staffed by waiters and managers in fashionable dress.  Others who have rejected the traditional famous flock wallpaper are the Tandoori in Woolston in Hampshire, and the Shaan in Churchgate, Newark.  These latter two are notable for their modern artwork and the Shaan, in particular, for the vibrant washes on its walls.  The Shaan is unique in my experience in that white English waiting staff outnumber those from Bangladesh.  The owner was born and brought up in Newark although he still employs native immigrants.  His family run another, long established, restaurant, which survives, in my view, on reputation alone.

With certain exceptions, such as some, but by no means all, in the West End of London, these Asian restaurants present excellent value for money.  Service is usually attentive, professional, and comfortable, offering napkins and finger wipes, with mints accompanying the bill.  This does not apply to Mitcham’s Raj, although if you can wait several hours; bring your own napkins; ask for a drink for which the waiter can dash out to the next-door shop; try not to tear the soiled paper tablecloths; and help yourself to cutlery; you will find the food exemplary.  Like Eastern Nights in Thornhill, they are dependent on takeaway meals for survival.  The Akash, also has a steady takeaway trade which keeps one dedicated member of staff rushing in and out all night.  This method of obtaining an evening meal has its place, for example if you have young children in bed asleep, or, as once in my case, you are suffering from a fever which only an Akash special can assuage.  I prefer to sit down and be served dishes which have come straight from the kitchen.

And let us not forget that Chicken Tikka Masala has now overtaken fish and chips or roast beef as the English national dish.  This has been specially adapted for us because we like our gravy.

This evening we collected our friend Sheila from her home in Tooting to eat in the Sree Krishna.  It being Hallowe’en they had candlelit pumpkins on the bar, which reminded me that Majeed at the Akash always erects a Christmas Tree.  Sheila drank sparkling water whilst Jackie and I had Kingfisher.  The meal was first rate and the coffee was particularly good.