Bloke in the Kitchen. An Italian Job


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Not the Italian Job, you see. Just one of them. You could call it Bolognese if you like. Spaghetti Bolognese is probably still the standard pasta dish, known all over the world and made in private homes because it is so simple.

Now just don’t get it all down your shirt and spoil the impression

Mince, tomatoes and herbs, that’s about it. You can add your individual twist if you like. You know nothing is set in stone around here.

As an observant person, you will notice that this starts off like loads of other recipes: fry some onions and garlic, add some meat.


Q. Why always the onions?
A. Because they produce a ‘savoury’ flavor that gives lots of dishes a head start but doesn’t overpower everything.

So without further ado, let’s make what could be called a ‘generic’ Italian meal – in other words everyone knows it’s Italian, but you can’t pin it down to a town or even a region, let alone a particular woman who looks like Sophia Loren and has been giving this to her family since she was married at the age of 18.

But if that mental image helps, so be it. Signora Bolognese is beautiful, sexy, warm and kind. She cooks this dish and then, when the kids are in bed, she and her husband make love with an intensity and passion undimmed by the passing of the years.

What time’s dinner? Yes, I suppose there’s no rush…


Minced beef



A carrot

A small stick of celery

Dried Oregano

Dried Basil,

Dry wine (white, rosé or red)

Spaghetti (or penne, rigatoni, farfalle, macaroni, etc.)

My late older brother was very conservative with his food, and the only vegetable he would eat was peas. He was suspicious when I made an Italian Job for him and his family because he didn’t know what I was slipping in as I carried out my sorcery, unseen in the kitchen. And he was right to think that, because if there is a green, red or yellow pepper that needs eating, a courgette or some other vegetable asking to be chopped up small and thrown in, or a bottle of beer that just happens to be open and I need some more liquid, any or all of those could find their way into the dish.


In addition to the onions and garlic for the basic ‘savoury’ taste, chop up a small carrot and a little celery. Chop them very small and put them in to soften with the onions.

Put in the mince and fry it fairly quickly until it is just cooked, breaking it up as you go. Sprinkle your herbs (basil and oregano) onto the mince, along with some celery salt and black pepper, so they get into the meat, not just the sauce.

Splosh in some wine. The colour doesn’t matter, as long as it is dry, but white is generally a lighter flavour and some Italian reds can be very thick and bold. If you’re not sure, taste some.


Use decent wine. Not expensive, but tolerable. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. If it’s corked or has been open for days and is sour, that will come through in the dish. As this is Italian, you might go for a Pinot Grigio, Frascati or Soave. We’ll have a good look at wine in a week or two.

While the wine is releasing the tasty stuff from the pan, stir it with a wooden spoon to help it along, then tip in a can of tomatoes.


Nowadays canned tomato producers ‘helpfully’ add herbs and spices before the stuff is packed, so make sure it’s a can of plain, unadulterated tomatoes and you’re not accidentally adding chilli or something to your Italian Job – unless you want to, that is.

Now, TASTE IT. Nice? Need something extra? Stock cube, even? It shouldn’t, but if you’re using cheap ingredients it might need some help. Add, taste, add, taste until you’re happy. Then let it simmer gently with the lid off for as long as you’ve got – 15 minutes if all you’re going to do is cook the pasta and eat, but ideally an hour or more.

bolognese 2
More tomatoey then the one above, and it doesn’t feature actual spaghetti, but it’s the same sort of thing


Use a bigger pan than you might think you need. Loads of water and room to move, so it doesn’t stick (particularly spaghetti). Add a pinch of salt. Cook it according to the instructions on the packet or just check it after five minutes or so.

Unlike rice and potatoes, you need to get the water boiling before you put the stuff in.

The pasta needs to be not hard but not squidgy. Al dente, they call it. So you can bite through it easily but you can feel it happening.

Drain the pasta well in a colander. Shake it. Get the water out. If there’s still water in it when you serve, it will dilute your wonderful sauce.

To serve, most people put the pasta on the plate and a neat dollop of the sauce on top. Very pretty. But if you want to get the basically tasteless pasta coated in delicious sauce, mix it up before you serve it. Then if you like you can tart it up on the plate with a sprig of parsley or a curly ring of sweet pepper (cut the bottom off a pepper and then take a thin  slice across what’s left.)

And don’t forget the Parmesan.


Q. Why do we sprinkle parmesan cheese on pasta dishes?
A. Cheese contains protein, so that might be a nutritional bonus, but I don’t think that’s the real reason. Parmesan is salty, so it lifts the flavor without the frowned-upon adding of actual salt.

The wisdom of pop songs – love, pain and lust

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts
single girl
Cheer up, girl. Sexual emancipation and equal wages are coming… err… soonish

Popular music is full of short, impassioned tales of love and loss, joy and woe. People are either irrationally crazy about somebody (who they may not actually have met, but just brushed past them in the butcher’s) or devastated when love’s young dream turns out to be a fragile bubble that bursts before they can wrap it in clingfilm and put it in a shoebox for safety.

It would be an interesting university thesis (and you’d have to do it that way, because it wouldn’t be worth anyone’s time in the real world) to check out how many of the millions of three-minute musical romances have lasted. Did Buddy Holly remain besotted with Peggy Sue until the day of his terribly early death in a plane crash or did he move on? Clue number one: his widow is called Maria Elena, so unless Peggy Sue was an alias, it’s not the same person.

A little quick detective work, though, reveals that there was a Peggy Sue, but she was the girlfriend of Holly’s drummer, Jerry Allison, and although they did get married, they also got divorced. So there you go: was it worth writing a song about? Maybe – after all, you’ve got to write about something – but it just goes to show that girlfriends, even other people’s girlfriends, are not angels after all, but flesh and blood and part of the ephemera of life that we all experience.

a little less conversation
And you: give it a rest, pal. You’re upsetting the girl

People don’t get any wiser as the generations roll out. Not long after Peggy Sue had entered the world’s consciousness, those early-1960s sages The Marvelettes were wisely telling us that it wasn’t worth getting upset about boys because there are Too Many Fish In the Sea, but they clearly didn’t take their own advice, because they spent the rest of their Motown career being alternately adoring and lovelorn, just like everyone else.

In truth, of course, you can’t take any song such as this too seriously when it’s performed by a trio of sweet-looking girls but was written by young men, in this case Norman Whitfield and Eddie Holland.

But why should we let such adult considerations spoil the wonderful illusions that songs usually are? Pop music and it’s hipper sister, Soul, not to mention slightly odd Uncle Country and tearaway big brother, Rock, are all about losing ourselves in the little stories of other people’s lives, most of them fictional.

beautiful body
Yes, very clever. Thinly disguised smut, boys, that’s all

Music is and always has been about escapism. It might get serious just occasionally as some heavy-minded individual uses it to tell you about some real issue that should be troubling you but isn’t, because you’re not left-wing enough.

But mostly, pop music is about spending a few minutes in a little fantasy such as My Cherie Amour, in which Stevie Wonder pines for someone who – yes – he has never spoken to but has seen “in a café or sometimes on a crowded street” .

Another favourite subject for the musical chronicler of youth is the scenario in which contact has been made and the object of affection is being lined up for a good seeing-to. This can take us from Rod Stewart’s Do ya think I’m Sexy (1978) right up to Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams’s 2014 smash, Get Lucky, an ecstasy-driven tale of a courtship that lasted not years but all night.

Get lucky
Get lucky as in winning the lottery? Nope. Unless the girl has a number instead of a name

Rod Stewart’s tight-trousered, smirking bravado wasn’t the birth of the lustful lyric, though. You could take it back to Frank Sinatra’s 1956 version of Makin’ Whoopee, a non-too-subtle euphemism for having sex. But even leery old Frank wasn’t the first cab off the highly suggestive rank with this one, which had actually appeared for the first time in 1928.

Frank Sinatra: put your hat on straight and act your age

And before that and before that and before that. Adam and Eve were probably humming a catchy tune while they explored each other’s physical differences for the first time and found that this game called Hide the Salami that the snake had told them about was pretty good fun.


Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Little Voice

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Please note: this is a spoof. Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

little voice

I don’t know if this was a big hit around the world like it was in the UK but it should of been because it’s a real classy movie get me I’ve come over all American. It’s full of British actors including Michael Caine which is always a good sign and Jane Horrocks whose best known for Absolutely Fabulous on TV she’s got this funny northern accent which is okay in this because it’s set in Yorkshire.

Jane is a shy, weird girl called Laura whose known as LV short for Little Voice I suppose because she’s little and the most outstanding thing about her is her voice. Honestly she can do impressions of Shirley Bassey and Judy Garland people like that it’s amazing it’s like she comes to life when she’s doing that but she’s so so shy the rest of the time.

Her Dad’s dead and you get the feeling it’s all her Mum’s fault it’s Brenda Blethyn funny name but you’d know her when you see her she got famous quite late in her career. She’s a pushy character what never grew up if you know what I mean and she’s had more boyfriends than Laura’s had hot dinners. I know my Mum’s no angel but at least she always remembers she’s got a daughter even when she’s got the hots for a fella.

Into little Laura’s life comes a telephone engineer Ewan McGregor he’s always good as well and he usually plays a nice guy so you get the feeling LV’s going to be okay in the end. But of course like I’ve said before if you just let that happen your in for a very short film so they’ve got to throw in some problems.

Her Mum’s new boyfriend Ray (Michael Caine) is an appealing chap and you wouldn’t mind him being your step Dad he’s good looking and funny he’s a showbiz manager whose acts are all useless so he’s never made any money he says to Brenda Wotsit “You and me have been shoveling shit all our lives,” which is pretty funny in the film but there’s lots of people like that in real life. Not licorally shoveling poo maybe but that kind of thing.

Anyways Ray thinks he can make LV a star and make him and her Mum rich at the same time so he books her a gig at a nightclub. The problems I was talking about come in and you can imagine it dosen’t go well I could never write this sort of thing because I just want everybody to be happy so I’d have LV coming out of her shell because she loves Ewan and she becomes famous and marries him and her Mum and Ray get a big house by the sea and everybody’s happy. But that’s not what happens.

It’s funny though if you don’t take it too serious and Ray sings this Roy Orbison song It’s Over and he ends up shouting and screaming it while the building burns down. One thing Michael Caine can’t do is sing unless he was just pretending but Jane Horrocks can she’s brilliant.




The English Pedant – who are you calling lubricious?

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day_

One matter every writer should take into account is what level to pitch his vocabulary at. It is no use using words that the reader doesn’t understand. Some may take the trouble to look them up, but most won’t bother and the piece of writing will fall into one of those categories proudly invented by the lazy and ignorant: similar to TLDR (too long, didn’t read). This one might be TCDU (too clever, didn’t understand).

Whether we meant to be like that (unlikely) or we just didn’t notice we were doing it (must be more vigilant), it’s a sure way of alienating readers and is to be avoided.

Of course, this means guessing at the intellectual and educational level of our readers, which is not easy to gauge, and it is equally self-defeating to talk down to people, but such is life. Most of us spend much of our time trying to fit in, rather than being ourselves.

Those writers who don’t care end up catering for a small readership of fellow intellectuals in highbrow magazines and Sunday newspaper supplements.

Is this a hammer

A similar phenomenon at the other end of the scale is using unnecessarily fancy words in an attempt to look more intelligent. Any young journalist taking that sickly path through writing advertorials will be familiar with the scenario of the client deciding to jazz up the professional’s effort by changing ‘while’ to ‘whilst’ and generally trying to make it sound as though the ‘article’ (a thinly-veiled advertisement for their tattoo and piercings shop) was written by Jane Austen.

Appropriateness, then, is what we should be aiming at. Neither pretentious nor condescending. Call a spade a spade unless you’re using it for the second time in a paragraph, when you could take the ‘garden implement’ route simply to void duplication.

What this does, though, is deprive us of some beautiful, evocative words.

Lubricious, for instance. Sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s a word that glistens, shimmers in the light, full of untold delights and refined decadence.

Wouldn’t you love to describe something or someone as lubricious? Just once before the angels carry you off to literary heaven to have dinner with John Keats and Oscar Wilde?

Careful, though. Wilde might have got away with it, but if you describe your neighbour’s wife as lubricious, you could be in trouble once he’s looked it up. Because here is what the Oxford Online Dictionary says:

  1. Offensively displaying or intended to arouse sexual desire.
  2. Smooth and slippery with oil or a similar substance.


There; you thought it was vaguely erotic, didn’t you? But complimentary. Err, I mean she’s a very attractive lady. And I do mean lady. That’s not what I understood it to mean… I didn’t intend to…

Better look it up first in future. Because that is how we improve our language skills – by looking things up.

One of my favourite novels is Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence. Not because of the sexual content, although that is handled with brilliant forthrightness and you can see why it caused such a furore 50 or 60 years ago.

But what is beautiful about the book is the language Lawrence uses to describe his surroundings: the countryside around the stately home, pockmarked with mines and mining villages. That and his frank understanding of human beings.

The first time I read it I spent half the time with my nose in a dictionary. The writing is not flowery, it’s evocative, and it’s not just a matter of looking up words you don’t know, but of finding out why a word you do know is used in a different context. When you have looked them up, you’re grateful to have learnt something.

But that’s a great novel, not your double glazing company report or university thesis on landfill sites.

However, if you do find a way of slipping lubricious into one of those documents, please let me know.


Confessions of an expat – The Road to Guyana part 2

Friends in unexpected places

It’s a long life if you’re lucky and nothing can be taken for granted. That is particularly true if you leave the comfort and safety of your homeland and go to live somewhere else. That’s called being an expat and it means you’re among people you didn’t grow up with. You don’t know their culture, their traditions and their standard practices. You don’t know where the shops and restaurants are, or which taxi drivers you can trust not to rip you off.

As an expat you are therefore at the mercy of the population wherever you find yourself.

My return trip from Guyana is by plane, from a small airport just outside Georgetown. It’s called Ogle, this airport, and it’s also called International, because you can fly to other countries from it. The very word international makes it sound sophisticated, if you’ve forgotten what other ‘international’ airports can be like.

Georgetown, Guyana, has the largest wooden cathedral in the world.

The previous night I milked the ATM at the hotel for $6,000 and it’s all gone –the taxi was $1500 and the bill for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant (Japanese food) was mind-boggling. I’m not worried. There’s always an ATM at an international airport. It might even offer USD, and if the machine doesn’t, the cambio will.

But there is no ATM at Ogle International (there might be now, because it had been delivered, they told me, but it wasn’t operational yet) and there is certainly no cambio. Check my wallet and I find a $500 bill. In most countries this would be cause for celebration, but when it’s Guyanese dollars you can’t afford to go mad.

A young man in a white shirt with dark blue epaulettes appears to be in charge of the whole shebang. He’s very friendly, very polite and duly shows me where I can collect my ticket, which is reserved but not paid for. I’m so tired from the previous day’s cross-country taxi challenge that I walk out of the ticket office without my passport and the girls are highly amused when I return to claim it.

Outside, a middle aged man asks me where I’m going, because apparently I look like I don’t know.

“Suriname,” I say, and he too laughs. He meant which part of the airport, and he shows me a café that looks as though it has nothing but in fact sells everything. I am served by a very friendly, mumsy, 40-something black woman in a navy and white hooped jersey dress that makes the long, bumpy journey all the way down to her ankles.


The ethnic mix in Guyana is largely African and Indian, and being white is not a comfortable thing here. This morning’s taxi driver has already explained that he was hampered on our trip by other drivers who may have noticed I was in the car.

However, he, the hotel staff and this substantial woman couldn’t be nicer. She roots through a chaotic medicine cabinet and finds me some Ibuprofen.

Having knocked these back with some water and a cheese sandwich, I would like to stay and take on still more fluids, because check-in is not for another two hours, but all I’ve got left is $100.

I slope across to the departure shed – I mean lounge – and tell my tale of woe to a girl from another airline. She smiles and wordlessly goes into the back office. Returning with a fistful of Guyanese banknotes, she gives me $500, and even though it’s not as much as it automatically seems, it’s a kind gesture to a tired traveller.

The Immigration people let the side down, but that’s Immigration people for you. First the woman in the kiosk checking the paperwork literally throws mine back at me and barks “You haven’t signed it.” Then the man running the x-ray machine flicks his fingers to hurry me up. Where I come from this is not just the height of bad manners, but a request for a knuckle sandwich. Whether it’s how he was brought up or how he was trained, it’s just how he is.

The flight back to Suriname is Sparguyana postertan but painless.


Two weeks later I’m back in Guyana and back at the same office. Again I’m early and again the sweet, quiet security girl with the gold tooth is there. They let me in because it’s starting to rain and she walks with me up to a door with a canopy where I can shelter.

With 20 minutes to wait, I expect her to disappear, but she doesn’t. It’s a nice, shady courtyard and I ask her about the other buildings. She tells me the complex is owned by Eddy Grant, the Guyanese-born musician who moved to the UK and had hits like Baby Come Back (with The Equals), Electric Avenue and Give me Hope, Jo’anna.

The girl (let’s call her Celine) is interested in who I am and what I’m doing here, because as usual I am clearly not from around these parts. In exchange she tells me that Eddy Grant is a nice guy, not at all affected by his fame and fortune, and he still has the dreadlocks.

Celine is not married, and I can’t help asking why. Not that getting married is the holy grail for women, but she is good-looking, pleasant, kind and helpful: how can she have avoided it? She seems to realize I’m not passing judgment or even being nosy. I’m interested because she is instantly my friend.

Celine leans against the wall, trim and smart in her sandy-coloured uniform with a matching tie. These Guyanese men have missed out here. My unspoken thoughts boom, as through Eddy Grant’s PA system.

A man did propose to her once, a long time ago, but she was young and irresponsible and she didn’t think it was a good idea, so she said no. She has two children, both around 20, and it sounds like she’s happy enough.

Celine has never left Guyana but would like to try somewhere else one day. “I’m still young,” she says. When I ask her direct later on, she says she is 40.

guyana note
Visitors to Guyana are going to need plenty of these

In a country where the economy is weak and wages are low, getting away and starting afresh is not easy. Guyana is not a place to run away from, anyway. There is no internal strife, and although it doesn’t feel safe for someone like me – white, middle-aged and presumed to have money – for this girl it is probably secure enough.

There is a new government and optimism is in the air. Several people tell me how the cricket World Cup in 2007  – hosted by the West Indies, of which Guyana is a part (as regards cricket) – brought money and visitors and how they’re trying to build on that. That was eight years ago, and the fact that it still means so much here is perhaps indicative of a lack of other landmarks.

The Caribbean region in general relies heavily on tourism, but Guyana, like Suriname, is not an island and doesn’t have the beach-centred vacation to offer. Both countries have lots of countryside, jungle and water, but mangrove swamps instead of miles of golden sand, so without a major industry to generate revenue, optimism seems to be the order of the day. Goodbye then, Celine. And good luck.

The road to Guyana, part one – endurance test

guyana map
It’s definitely in South America, but considers itself Caribbean

There are two ways to get from Suriname to its neighbor Guyana: by road and by air. If you fly, it’s a 90-minute trip on a garden shed with wings, and it costs US$300 return.

If you take the road option you have to get up country by mid morning to catch the ferry across the river where the borders are, and it’s a three or four hour drive along roads with very few signs, so it’s best to take a taxi. To keep the cost down to an absurdly low $30, the drivers operate minibuses, so you share the trip with up to a dozen others.

Count back three or four hours from mid morning and you get to early morning (we’re working in Caribbean-style approximations because both countries consider themselves part of the Caribbean rather than South America, where they actually are – they just have a coastline lapped by that famous and well-loved sea).

So, the minibus picks you up at anything from 3.30 to 4.30am. If you’re one of the early ones, you then go on a tour of Paramaribo, collecting passengers and sometimes packages. This can take an hour or more, before you find you’re heading out of town. The minibuses I’ve used are not in bad condition, but they are cramped and the roads, even when they’re not potholed, are littered with speed bumps (drempels, the Surinamese call them). So if you’re sitting in the back, you’re getting bounced up and down like on a fairground ride, which isn’t great for those afflicted by motion sickness.

Airconditioning? They use a system called ‘opening the windows’. There are a couple of pitstops for toilet breaks and to grab a snack and a can, but it’s really like being on some kind of competitive rally. These guys overtake anything going at less than the speed of sound and the feeling is not one of being chauffeured, but hijacked.

So eventually you get to the ferry terminal, where you hand over some money and your passport and walk round the corner into the waiting area. Your passport comes back along with the ticket and you’ve just got the hot, sticky wait for the ferry.

Across you go, and into another taxi run by a guy who has an arrangement with your guy in Suriname. Then it’s another two hours or so through hot, dusty Guyana, where horse-drawn carts share the roads with rally/taxi drivers. Over a couple of bridges apparently made from self-assembly kits and down an interminable road and eventually you’re in Georgetown. Again, you do the city tour to drop everyone off.

On this occasion I have a brief piece of business to do. But first a quick stop at a bank to get some local currency. The ATM offers me anything from 1,000 to 10,000 Guyanese dollars. It’s worth nothing, apparently.

guyana coins
You don’t see many coins in Guyana because even a snack and a drink will cost you $400 Guyanese

After the journey I am feeling windblown, sunburnt and generally thrown around. I knock on the big wooden gate and a woman sticks her cornrowed head over the wall to look at me through the bars. They don’t open till two. According to my watch that was 20 minutes ago, but they’re an hour behind here. She directs me to a café around the corner, where a small bottle of water and a sandwich costs $400 Guyanese.

Back at the office, the cornrowed security girl lets me in and escorts me to the appropriate door. While we wait for the clerk to return from lunch, the girl and I make polite conversation and when she smiles she exposes a gold front tooth with some sort of design on it. Maybe a letter – it’s rude to stare and she tries to keep her mouth closed when she smiles, so it’s probably not her favourite feature.


Ref! On the value of Europe

The candid thoughts of Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.


That’s right, Dave, I think we should make tonight a European night. Well, to acknowledge that these islands are part of a larger entity, namely a continent, and that we have many things in common. Show a bit of solidarity with the French.

Remember when the idea of a European league was being discussed back in the 90s? Yes, a lot of people thought that would spell the end of the English league. But the Champions League came along and it hasn’t done us much harm, has it? Yes, Baz, very perceptive – it’s not actually a week-in week-out league, but it’s brought us all closer together in terms of keeping an eye on other countries.

Personally I am not interested in watching one Turkish club whose name ends in spor playing another, but there you go. It’s just not the same when you don’t know the players. True, Dave, the Turkish league is full of Premier League rejects at the moment. Perhaps that’s a bad example.

Anyway, what I was going to get on to was the so-called El Clasico in Spain, where Barcelona hammered Real Madrid and suddenly Rafa Benitez is useless and has to go. It’s unfair isn’t it? What if Baz had a bad day on the building site and a wall fell down because he hadn’t built it right? Would the papers be screaming for him to be sacked? I know, Baz, nobody knows who you are, but I’m just using it as an example.

All right, me, then. I’m fairly well known, I’m on the telly a fair bit, football people know my name. They don’t scream for my head when I have the occasional bad game.

Yes, Dave, people call me all sorts of names, but they don’t want me removed from the roster. No, that was an internal matter and I was out for six weeks. I know I’ve never fully explained it and I’m not going into details now. Personal, mate, personal, and I’m not even going to respond to that – twat, he is, doesn’t belong in a professional body.

Bottle of something European, Gary, thanks, Lowenbrau or something – okay, something you can pronounce. A bottle of Pils will be fine, but no, not aspirin. He’s a card, isn’t he?

So, Benitez. One bad result and it’s Armageddon. So what if it’s their biggest rivals? It happens. Mourinho’s been in the slough of despond all season but nobody’s rushing him out the door.

In Spain it’s that Latin hysteria. They can’t take things calmly like your Brit can. Bloody Europeans is what I’m saying, Dave. Who needs them except for holidays on their beaches?

Yes, I do think we should stick together, because where would our out-of-favour players and managers go otherwise? The lower leagues in England? I don’t think so. Scotland? That’s even worse. No, if you’re in trouble you get on a plane to Alicante or Istanbul, mate. Lick your wounds there for a while. They don’t know who you are and they don’t care. You must be okay because of where you come from.

Ahem, where was I? Cheers Gary. Holsten, eh? Good old north London lager.



Dear Whoever – please stop the terror

I’m praying to you but I don’t know who you are. My grandparents used to pray to God, but now lots of people say there is no such person and anyone who’s religious is just imagining it. And other people say there is, but not the one that Christians call God, the one who had a son called Jesus. They have other names for their god. Whatever, this is what’s on my mind this week.

girl bomb

Dear Whoever,

Another week, another atrocity. The Mali hotel hostage thing was very different from the Paris attacks, but still another example of the fact that the human race has split into groups which don’t like each other.

african kids

What worries me, though, is that there is friction among people within the groups. Like many people, I adapted my Facebook pic with the French flag as a gesture of solidarity, but then immediately you had people saying we cared about Paris but not about things that happened in the rest of the world.

I don’t think that’s true. It’s just that you can’t worry about everything – there just isn’t time. And if I prayed to you about all the bad things that have happened and asked you to look after all the people who need it, but named them (as groups, not individually, obviously) I would be talking to you all day and all night.

I have faith in most of the world leaders and think they’re trying to do a good job, but there is always somebody criticizing them, and the people who do that are not the ones who have to make the decisions.

So what right do I, for instance, have to say that Barack Obama or David Cameron are wrong in what they choose to do? I don’t even know what I would do in their situation.

The French Prime Minister, Monsieur Hollande, says he’s going to get IS for this, but I don’t think he really knows how that would work. He’s just standing up to the people who have harmed his people and his country, so he has to say that, doesn’t he? Otherwise his own people will think he’s not capable of defending them.

girl for whoever

It’s like our dog, Zebra. Even when he was a puppy he would be barking like crazy any time someone or another dog went past our house. I don’t know what he thought he was going to do about it if anybody took him up on it, but he was doing his job. And funnily enough, even though he’s as gentle as can be, people who come into the garden – the plumber, the electrician and other visitors – are a bit scared of him because they don’t know him and he could be the kind of dog that bites.

So that’s what Mr. Hollande is doing: he’s barking at the terrorists and because they’re capable of doing terrible things themselves, they probably think he is too.

I just hope it all quietens down and we can go back to being worried about the weather instead. High winds and rain, that’s what I want to be concerned about. Actually I quite like it when there’s a storm going on and the rain is lashing my bedroom window, because I’m safe and sound inside. My dad is the Prime Minister around here and he barks a bit from time to time. Or maybe it’s a coalition with my Mum – she certainly behaves like the boss in certain situations.

Whatever, it’s not me who’s in charge, and most of the time I can carry on quite calmly, as if all is well in the world. Because that’s all I want, really, doesn’t everyone?



Bloke in the Kitchen. Moussaka


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

What is moussaka doing in the ultra-basic world of Bloke in the Kitchen? Aren’t the recipes here supposed to be easy?

See? It even looks like shepherd’s pie

Well, yes. But if you think moussaka is difficult just because it comes from Greece and it sounds exotic, that’s like believing the Greeks are better at football and cricket than the English are, just because they’re foreign.

Put it this way: are you proud of your ability to make mashed potatoes or do you think anyone can do it? I assure you there are millions of people outside the UK who have never done it and would think you were very clever if you did it for them.

So, what is moussaka and why is it here?

It’s quick (30 minutes to one hour), easy and tasty.

It’s a way of using minced lamb or beef, just like Shepherds pie is (and you will need the same sort of baking dish), but instead of the mashed potato, it features aubergines. Again, the modest British cook goes “Ooooh!” in a mocking way, because aubergine isn’t one of our common vegetables and we don’t know what to do with it. In this case it is in the dish to provide some built-in vegetable, that’s all.

The aubergine (also called eggplant) is an unusual one to look at, being smooth and shiny, and when you pick one up it’s light and spongy.

Fear not, gentlemen: just as some dark-eyed local maiden in Corfu can be bowled over by your natural charm and masculinity, so this slinky foreign food will co-operate if you do it right. And unlike your new female friend, you don’t even need to peel it.

Aubergines. What’s an exotic girl like you doing in a place like this?

And then there’s Bechamel sauce, which sounds fancy but is no more difficult than gravy. Butter, flour and milk plus maybe some extra flavor – that’s all there is to it.

So, are you ready to tackle this strange new task? Do you believe you can master it?

Have a large swig of that Chilean Merlot and let’s go.

INGREDIENTS (for two people)

Minced lamb

A can of tomatoes



One or two aubergines (depending on size)

Cinnamon powder


Parmesan cheese



Chop and fry the onion and garlic, just until the onion is translucent.

Add the mince and cook until it changes colour

Stir in a little cinnamon, rosemary, salt and pepper

Add the tomatoes. Half a six-inch can should be enough. You don’t want it too wet.

Add a splash of red wine, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, some celery salt or whatever your trademark is and simmer for a minute or two.

That’s your meat done. Take it off the stove and put it to one side.


Slice them lengthways, about a quarter of an inch thick. They don’t have much flavor but are very absorbent, so be careful with the oil. And don’t worry about the purple satin finish – it’s thin and edible – you won’t even notice it’s there.

Lightly oil a griddle pan or frying pan and get it hot. Quickly cook the aubergine slices on both sides until they have that chargrilled, slightly burnt look. Set them aside while you get on with the sauce.


Melt some butter in a saucepan and stir in a couple of tablespoons of plain flour. Stir it well until it’s smooth, then add a splash of milk. Keep it on a low heat and stir with a wooden spoon, adding more milk if it’s too thick, until you have enough creamy sauce to coat the size of your baking dish.


Put the oven on a high heat. Place the aubergines in the baking dish and cover them with the mince and tomato mixture. Sprinkle on some Parmesan to give it a bit of bite.

Top it with the béchamel sauce and put it into the oven. It’s already pretty much cooked, so you can give it half an hour and get the top looking singed and inviting or just get it hot and then serve.


If you like, knock up a quick salad of fresh tomatoes and cucumber, both cut into chunks, and drizzle on some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

That’s it. You’re a cook who can do fancy foreign stuff.


TEFL Tales – tips for teaching English

English ad

The importance of warming up

Stick your head round the door of an English-as-a-foreign-language class that has been going for half an hour and you’re likely to hear voices, see interaction. The teacher is doing his or her stuff in his or her own way and the students are answering questions or reading aloud.

It should be a normal classroom environment, with people doing their best, having a go, making mistakes but making progress too.

Wind the recording back 29 minutes to the very start of the class and you could well be listening to the sound of silence.

Students of a foreign language spend almost all their time not only speaking their own language but listening to it and thinking in it. As keen as they may be to master this collection of err sounds that disregard the vowels in English words, they are Spanish, Chinese, German or whatever and they’re proud of it.

On top of that, they instinctively feel that their language is the real one and all others have to be compared with it and understood from its point of view.

We’re all patriotic in that respect. We have grown up with our own language as the key to communication with the rest of the world, and to step outside it and speak something else involves letting go of the rope and trying to swim when we can barely float.

Those first few minutes are crucial because that is when the teacher has to get the student paddling happily with his head above water. The first few minutes are when students remember that a capital i is pronounced like the eyes in their head, rather than the i in sit. They remember, perhaps reluctantly, that regardless of how they say who, what, when, where or why in their own language, for the next 90 minutes or so, the old rules do not apply.

swimmer 3

It’s called warming up, because language learners have to get into a state of readiness, just as an athlete needs to get the blood flowing and the muscles prepared, and the musician gets the fingers ready to bring sounds out of an instrument and control what those sounds are.

How the teacher achieves this is up to him. You can get them singing a song or reciting a poem in English. I sometimes play hangman, with the student and I taking turns at the whiteboard (or blackboard or flipchart or whatever). It’s fun, it’s a game and it doesn’t feel like a lesson, but in order to play it they have to say the letters properly, particularly the vowels. And they’re thinking rather than daydreaming – a big difference. And thinking about the English spellings of whatever category you choose.

It’s a country with nine letters. The student says a, as in rabbit. You mean a as in day? Yes.

Okay, it’s a country with nine letters and the first and last are a. The student gets a flash of inspiration. If, according to your rules, early guesses are allowed but subject to a penalty if wrong, they are unwittingly out on a limb when the blindingly obvious Australia is rejected. It can’t be that – Australia has an a in the middle, doesn’t it? Press them for some more vowels, plus some of the more common consonants, and Argentina slowly reveals itself. In the meantime they’re thinking a e i o u, they’re thinking about what a consonant is and how it’s pronounced. They are also working on their spelling.

swimmer 2

They’re floating, kicking their feet, moving their arms, becoming safe in the water.

It’s all about confidence. Obviously the teacher has to be aware of the student’s ability. You wouldn’t give Argentina to a five-year-old who has never heard of it. But you might give her the subject of fruit and the easily-discovered banana.

What other methods can you use? You can play simple card games with them. You might have your own brilliant idea that gets them in the groove. Whatever you do, you have to do something to ease them in. If you don’t put petrol in the car, the car’s not going to start.


Want me to teach English to you or someone you know?
Want me to teach you how to teach English?
Email me,, and let’s talk about it.

WP ad