I feel in the mood for a bit of a giggle. This is Eddie Izzard from his very funny show ‘Definite Article‘ and here he is talking about the famous experiment with Pavlov’s dogs, except this time applying it to cats. Eddie clearly knows a thing or two about our feline friends:
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Back ‘when I were a girl’ (said in a Yorkshire accent) I used to travel a lot with my parents. Commercial air travel was still relatively new and I clearly remember how when we’d see air crew walking through the airport their heads were held high with pride, and everyone looked admiringly at them. Have you seen the film ‘Catch me if you can’? Well, if you weren’t around in the 1960s to see what I’m talking about for yourself, that film shows you pretty much what it was like to be air crew then. It was the coolest job – seriously, those people were mini gods. I remember having ambitions as a little girl to be an air hostess. I have to tell you, however, that every time I said so to my mother that she would quickly retort: ‘You want to be a trolly dolly? Really? Ooh no, I don’t think so!’ (I did secretly keep on dreaming though).
A couple of months back an ad for Virgin Airways was released on TV and it plays on this nostalgia because they are currently celebrating 25 years as an airline. When we fly anywhere long distance nowadays I am of course swayed not only by price but by the convenience of the destination airport for us, plus those all important airmiles. Still, I have to say I have a tremendous soft spot for Virgin and will use them whenever I can. This is partly because I have huge admiration for Richard Branson but mostly because Virgin were once incredibly generous with us. You see we took the girls over to the States one year on an ‘all in’ Virgin holiday and to cut a long story short, our holiday fell short of expectations. Nothing totally horrendous, just really not what we had expected. When we got back I wrote to the company to say how disappointed we’d been, not thinking that I’d ever hear anything back from them. Well, far from it. A short while later I received a letter of apology and – here’s the thing – a full refund for the holiday. I was, and still am, blown away by this generous attitude, so is it any wonder that Richard Branson (already a business hero of mine) rocketed right up in my estimation? It was probably also a clever business move on their part because over the years I’ve missed absolutely no opportunity to extoll the many virtues of Virgin. There is no better advertisement than a totally smitten customer.
Here’s that wonderful ad … and they really couldn’t have picked a better piece of music because it’s one of my all time favourites ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. ‘ Ah them were the days’ (she said, back in her Yorkshire accent).
This has to be a link because understandably embedding has been disabled – it’s a wedding video with a new and wonderful twist. If you haven’t seen this already, I urge you to click on the YouTube link. If you’re anything like me it’ll make your day …Definitely something to smile about.
I hope Jill and Kevin have a very long and happy future together.
Yesterday I was preparing the house for an evening dinner party out on our new terrace (it was my daughter’s 21st, so not something I could postpone). This coincided with the hottest day of the year so far, which would normally be 100% wonderful on such an important date, except that with new kittens in the house the usual rushing around and coming and going became that much harder. We can at least open the living room doors into the newly constructed ‘kitten cage’ but still…it was hot is all I’m saying.
In the post party lull this morning I idly looked up on the web as to current advice on when kittens can be let out of the house. It’s not that I’m going to do it now – they definitely need more time to get used to us and their surroundings (and need further vaccinations) – it’s just that with yesterday’s events, it was clearly on my mind. I was quite surprised at some of the views expressed on a forum after some poor woman had been wondering exactly the same as me. Responses included the suggestions that anyone who lets their cat out is cruel (clearly aimed at the enquirer), that the cat will die within a year (!) but that, conversely, indoor cats could live up to age 20. Curiously enough, so can indoor-outdoor cats because here’s the deal folks: It depends where you live.
Now …I had typed up a whole blurb below about all the unwritten rules there are to pet ownership where I live but it’s frankly too ferkin boring to relay here. The bottom line is – we’re an overwhelmingly responsible lot in this island and we in this house are minor experts on our feline friends because we’re cat fans and have shared our lives with a fair few over many years. I can tell you that if keeping cats inside is necessary where you live because of traffic, dangerous predators or any other safety considerations, then of course you must. However if you have the ability to safely let your cat come and go as it pleases then I personally have no doubt at all that they will have a better quality of life. They are, after all, little predators, and it is in their nature to be curious, rummage, hunt and explore. They do need to be neutered and vaccinated up to the nines of course (ask your vet for advice) but then for the sake of safety so should indoor cats. They also need a cat flap that allows them to come and go as they please – I’ve never permanently locked our cats outside at night. (You’ll have gathered from today’s entry that I’m quite miffed at the suggestion that I am a bad cat owner – trust me, ask our vets and they will tell you that we are anything but).
Our new kitties have been going bonkers, in and on everything, exploring and endlessly running at high speed like a couple of furry, spotty little tornadoes . They’re intelligent cats and clearly already bored with the mere 2,000 square feet that is our humble (currently virtually sealed) home ….compared to the one room they were in before. Seeing them at the weekend, when they finally had access to a little bit of outside, with all those exciting sights and smells was just wonderful and it dramatically altered their behaviour. Yes they still career around, yes they’re still kitten playful/naughty but they’re calmer, more confident and more content.
Here’s a glass and a half of full cream Cadbury’s wackiness. I particularly love the little girl’s face. 🙂
I think I may be actually addicted to tea. How do I know this? Every time I go on holiday outside the UK I get ratty and distracted by the damned awful versions of my national drink that are marketed and sold as ‘tea’. In France, which as one of our closest neighbours tends to be a regular haunt of mine… oh have mercy….in France they are more used to delicate ’tisanes’ – herbal teas that are merely politely introduced to very hot water for a nano-second and the anaemic result is what you are supposed to drink, and presumably enjoy. France, and I can say this as basically a half-French woman, is a lost cause. In the world of general cuisine I will concede that they are amongst the front runners. For making a good cuppa? Forget it. Order tea at your peril. What you will get will be gnats’ pee.
I’ve singled out France but really the story will be the same for most of Europe. There is one exception – Ireland. You want tea? You’ll get a proper brew, one that you could stand your spoon in. I once stayed in a hotel in central London and was served what I can only describe as dishwater, cheekily passing itself off as tea. As I’d noticed a good southern Irish lilt in my waitresses’ voice, I asked if it was possible to have a stronger pot of tea, to which she replied ‘yes, of course, we only give out this rubbish because the tourists like it’. Do they? Do they really? Nations who are coffee addicts make properly brewed versions of the stuff for visitors because that’s what they themselves drink. They wouldn’t dream of handing out the weaker instant coffee version because they assume that ‘the tourists like it’.
I have to say that one of my biggest frustrations is when I travel to the U.S. because this nation understands their own addiction to the coffee bean only too well. In fact, Americans are so rabid about their own national drink that it features in popular culture, it is the birthplace of the ubiquitous Starbucks, Americans are seen everywhere clutching ‘half-gallon’ canisters like bottles of formula, and coffee percolators (not instant coffee sachets) are available in fairly mundande hotel rooms to allow for that early morning fix. The national addiction to coffee is so recognised, and so ingrained, that if you visit any restaurant or diner before lunch time the waitress will come to the table already armed with a steaming hot pot of the drink and be pouring it out before you have even glanced at the menu – before you have had time to say whether you even want it. And herein lies my frustration. The Americans fully understand this addiction to the bean. They know that consumers get ratty without their caffeine fix and so they anticipate and pre-empt any troubles by offering it up before any conversation takes place. However, woe betide you if you don’t drink the stuff, if in fact your morning fix is from the rather more gentle, but still caffeine laden tea leaf.
In even expensive hotels I have been advised to use the coffee pot/percolator to heat water for my morning cuppa. Have you any idea how much coffee taints the flavour of the water in those coffee makers? No? Well try to imagine if I told you to make your morning coffee in the pot normally reserved for onion soup. Yes. It’s about as pleasant as that. Even after flushing it through several times with plain water, you can still taste the coffee so that what you are left with is weird ‘co~tea’ in the a.m. and, trust me, it’s naaasty. When I’ve asked for boiling water to make my tea it comes in a coffee pot which, in case you hadn’t twigged yet STILL TASTES OF COFFEE!
When I’ve ordered tea in a restaurant, I have to wait for tea-like paraphernalia to appear, as though I wish to perform my own version of the Japanese tea ceremony. Do I want lemon? Do I want silk tea bags? Do I want to rifle through and pick from this entire 50-strong tray of tea bags, including mint, chamomile, lemon verbena….? No, fer cryin’ out loud! I want tea! The brown stuff that comes out of generic bags from makers like Typhoo, Tetley and PG Tips! I don’t want silk, I don’t want herbs, I don’t want lemon and trays and pots and pans and, by the way, I don’t even want ferkin’ Twinings which, in case you didn’t know, is barely drunk in Britain because it’s strictly for Wishy Washy Wimps! I want TEA!!! The caramel golden nectar which keeps the fabled British Army marching ever onwards! That glorious brew that stains your teeth brown, you can stand your spoon up in it and it makes you feel like you’ve had a great big enveloping hug from your ever-loving Mummy who adores you like no other. T. E. A. I want tea. Please.
You can read a few interesting facts about my favourite drink over at my other site here.
There are plenty of fine teas out there but what I’m referring to above is the bog standard ‘cuppa’ as consumed by millions of Brits every day. Snobs will tell you that these blends are the ‘sweepings off the floor’ but that’s them just trying to prove that they’re a cut above the rest of us and, frankly, they’re talking rubbish. Millions of us can’t be wrong and, in fact, I read recently that the Chinese are now starting to import English bog standard blends, of the type mentioned below, because they too have realised what a little gem we have.
Therefore…To make a delicious, bog standard cuppa, as drunk by all good Brits:
Look in the ‘English’ section of your supermarket if there is one. (I know, for instance, that such things exist in Florida). The tea brands to look for are Tetley, PG Tips, Yorkshire Blend and, our favourite, Typhoo.
Put one tea bag in a [preferably] china cup or mug. It is true that tea tastes better in china rather than plain pottery because china holds the water at a better temperature … and by the way, there’s no need to be snobby with this tea, serving it in mimsy little cups, unless you want to impress your guests. I’m a ‘mug’ person myself.
Pour on a little cold milk (about a tablespoon, no more). Boil a kettle and pour freshly boiled water over the milk and tea bag. Colour will immediately start to flood out. Use a teaspoon to ‘mash’ the bag until you have the desired colour. ‘Serious’ tea drinkers will want their tea a golden caramel colour.
Beginners might want to add sugar, although ‘serious students’ (myself included) know that totally swamps the flavour of the tea.
Sit down and enjoy.
Good in the afternoon with plain biscuits dunked in it (another joyous English custom designed to pile on the pounds because once you develop the technique of a perfectly dunked biscuit, you cannot stop).
By the way, there’s a quirky little site about tea, biscuits and our national drink called a Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down that you might like to visit.
At the risk of sounding like a complete know-it-all, for me there are certain albums that you just have to have listened to if you truly want to call yourself a modern music fan. Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ is probably top of the list. I can listen to it right now and it still gives me the shivers. Her writing is beautiful and her voice crystal clear. I found this live performance of one of my favourite songs on You Tube today and as I’ve been mulling over holidays this morning, it seemed entirely appropriate to post it. (Sorry, there will be no prizes for guessing where I want to holiday again)!
My daughter made these for us last night and I have to say, I didn’t think anything could top the Nigella version but I really do prefer these. They seemed pretty easy to make too and despite the apparent richness of the recipe, with 4 eggs plus 4 egg yolks, they were light and fluffy, filled with that deliciouis velvet chocolate fudge filling. This is pure chocolate lovers’ nirvana.
This recipe makes 8 individual little puddings.
Can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the fridge, or freezer, until ready for baking.
7 oz (200g) dark chocolate – at least 75% cocoa solids – broken into pieces
7 oz (200g) butter, diced
2 tablespoons of brandy (this can be omitted if, like us, you’re not so keen on alcohol in puddings)
4 oz (110g) golden caster sugar
4 large eggs, plus 4 large egg yolks
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-1/2 oz (60g) plain flour
A little pouring or whipped cream
You will also need
8 mini pudding basins, each with a capacity of 6 fl. oz. (175 ml), generously brushed with melted butter
Place the broken up chocolate, along with the butter and brandy in a heat proof bowl, which should be sitting over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure that the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Keep the heat at its lowest and allow the chocolate to melt slowly, it should take 6-7 minutes. Then remove it from the heat and give it a good stir until its smooth and glossy.
While the chocolate is melting, place the sugar, whole eggs, egg yolks and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl. Put the bowl on a tea towel to steady it then whisk the ingredients on a high speed with an electric hand whisk until the mixture has doubled in volume – this will take 5 – 10 minutes, depending on the power of your whisk. What you need to end up with is a thick mousse like mixture that when you stop the motor and lift the whisk leaves a trail like a piece of ribbon.
Now pour the melted chocolate mixture around the edge of the bowl (it’s easier to fold in from the edges) and then sift the flour over the mixture. Using a large metal spoon, carefully but thoroughly fold everything together. Patience is needed here. Don’t be tempted to hurry as careful folding and cutting movements are needed – this will take 3-4 minutes.
Now divide the mixture between the pudding basins (it should come to just below the top of each one) and line them up on a baking tray. If you like, the puddings can now be covered with cling film and kept in the fridge or freezer until you need them.
When you’re ready to bake the puddings, preheat the oven to 200C / 400F / gas mark 6. Remove the clingfilm and bake on the centre shelf of the oven for 14 minutes if they have chilled first, but only 12 if not. After that time the puddings should have risen and feel fairly firm to the touch, although the insides will still be melting. Leave to stand for 1 minute before sliding a palette knife around each pudding and turning out onto individual plates. If you’re cooking these puddings from frozen, give them about 15 minutes cooking time and allow them to stand for 2 minutes before turning out.
Serve absolutely immediately with some chilled cream to pour over.
As the puddings cool the melted chocolate inside continues to set so they can, if you like, be served cold instead as a fudgey-centred chocolate cake with whipped cream.
This recipe appears in ‘How to Cook Book Two’, and ‘The Delia Collection: Chocolate’, both by Delia Smith. Delia, in turn, was given this recipe by Chef and hotel owner Galton Blackiston of the Morston Hall Hotel in Norfolk, England.
Have you ever thought about the eventuality of being elderly and in an old people’s home? I can’t say I find there is anything to smile about in that except for the thought of music night, when a helpful volunteer comes in to tickle the ivories whilst we all sing along. For other generations the songs are well known old ballads like ‘Underneath the Arches’. What on earth will my generation and beyond be requesting? There are several extremely vulgur ditties that I can think of, the lyrics of which I just cannot imagine old folks singing along to. However, one that ‘slips under the wire’ but only just, is the song below. It’s one of my all time favourites for its fantastic bass, the rhythm of which (I’m told) happens to cleverly mimic an excited heartbeat. Whenever I hear it I have to turn the volume up high and then it’s impossible to act like the prune and sit still. (For those with finer sensibilities you just have to gloss over those lyrics which are, of course, all about sex).
Yes, I wonder how the volunteer sitting at the old ‘Joanna’ will cope when asked to start pumping out ‘Relax’ by Frankie goes to Hollywood. …And there I’ll be, over in the corner, shouting with delight and punching the air with my arthritic arm when we reach the line:
‘Hit me with those laser beams!’
Over two weeks of constant lower back pain and I need a shot of comedy to cheer me up. From the brilliant series ‘Only Fools & Horses’ – does it come any better than this?