Simple pleasures of a plate of sprats

It is sprats for dinner tonight.

How many years has it been since I heard those words? Far too many, sad to say.

Such a simple pleasure, and so damned tasty too.

sprats 3And healthy as well, for we are now frequently told that oily fish should be a regular part of our diet – information we neither knew nor cared about in those far off days.

Sprats were sprats, there to be savoured and enjoyed. End of story. Part of the weekaday home-cooked fare.

But how often are they seen in the homes of today or on the menus of the country’s restaurants and cafes?

Their fellow Omega-3 bearers –  herrings, sardines and whitebait chief among them – make regular appearances on the carte. Yet rarely does the sprat emerge from apparent obscurity.

Such a pity for a delight so delectable and which has so much going for it, especially for those struggling to foot the weekly family food bill. Consider this:

  • They require no culinary expertise. Give them a light dusting of floor and let them brown briefly in a smattering of butter (or whatever cooking oil floats your boat) and they are cooked in next to no time.
  • They are the original finger food – the kids will love them.  No poncy knoves and forks needed; simply hold by head and tail and teeth them off the bone. Scrumptious.  (Paper towels and/or napkins are advisable).
  • They are tasty. Their a flavour is neither too “fishy” (an inexplicable description frequently used by some to describe edible marine life) nor too delicate.
  • They are nutritious and good for you.
  • They are inexpensive, cost next to nothing. An ample serve comes in at well under a pound.

Add a squeeze of lemon, a crispy green salad and a chunk of farmhouse bread and you have a meal made in heaven.

Plus maybe a glass of fizz or a cool crisp reisling,

No doubt even the word sprat itself will cause bewilderment to the modern food-to-go generation and  the method of eating will provoke emotions ranging from horror to disgust – even from those whose daily diet mostly entails chowing down while grasping either side of a far more greasy bun.






Listening to the body

THE human body is a wonderful thing, but it does have a mind of its own.

A mind that overrides opposition, one that will rarely accept deviation from the course it has set itself upon.

And thus it was at precisely 2.53 pm today that it made an unheralded announcement: a truce would be called forthwith and all hostilities waged for the past several days would cease.

There would be an immediate end to the seemingly endless sweating/shivering, coughing, spluttering, hacking, headache, chest pains, inertia and  unsteadyness that had assailed my meagre frame since going to bed fit, healthy and happy three nights ago.

What followed was a massive loss of energy, no interest in food or drink and a sapping not only of physical energy but also of mental activity so that even the daily tussle with the cryptic lost its appeal.20191127_155854

Listen to your body, they say.

I did, and the words it spoke were not good. Gloom-laden, in fact. Thou shalt do nothing, think nothing and neither digest nor imbibe anything they said.

It might as well have been speaking in tongues, a language I did not understand. Such a sustained all round assault on my health and wellbeing was almost unknown. A totally new experience.

Maybe a day was tolerable, to be fought with warmth, sleep, a couple of Ibuprofen  and a couple of throat lozenges.

But the body was not to be assuaged. That one-track mind ploughed on, wreaking revenge and ignoring all efforts at acceptance and appeasement.

Okay, maybe I had been a bit too demanding of late but surely nothing all that excessive. What’s a half-marathon or two among friends?

And on the third day (as the saying goes), I gave in. I had no more weapons (a double scotch and camomile consumed before getting under a double duvet was the limit) and had come to accept there would be more of the same to come.

Such contrition appeared to do the trick. It was the apology the body was seeking and which, after due considereation and another half-day of sweats and wheezes, it begrudgingly decided to accept.

The dark cloud of sickness suddenly lifted, the appetite returned, a double espresso tasted like nectar.

Body and I are friends once more and seemingly will remain so provided I listen more diligently to what it has to say.  And obey.






Bromo bashed – an excerpt from Book 6

A few paces on and he stopped at the entrance where he had seen the skinny youth enter and emerge. The sign was in full view, Skippers Ope. One skipper or many, he mused; something only a relentless pedant would worry about.

Daylight was fading. The ope was an unlit passage between Dark Alleyneighbouring terraced houses, roofed by where the upper level walls met.  Bromo looked around. No one to be seen. Curiosity got the better of him and he stepped gingerly into the ope, towards a faint glow several yards further on. The ground was gravel, the walls scuffed and cracked, paintwork old and peeling. Where the houses ended, chicken wire fencing on either side defined the boundaries of scruffy back gardens before the path bent to the left where it skirted a massive spread of blackberry bushes surrounding about a dozen spindly trees that had long given up the fight for survival.

A large stone building loomed in the misty background. A house, a mini mansion even, perhaps a factory of some sort? Bromo considered all possibilities. It mostly rose three floors above ground but attic rooms added to its height. And he imagined there were cellars below. A hefty and high solid wooden door provided the only obvious entrance; barred windows on either side suggesting several rooms occupied the ground floor. Or maybe it was one large open space. A matching pattern of windows filled the first and second floors. Not strictly windows, though, as where there should have been glass there were now wooden panels. Or gaping holes.

It looked empty, unloved and unused; a once stately home long neglected. An ideal set for making an eighteenth-century Gothic horror movie. Yet this was where the skinny youth had presumably come. The only path, where Bromo still stood, led to that massive front door. He could see no other track ahead of him.

He felt rain trickling on to his forehead from his coat’s protective hood. Shook it away and decided to turn back, the warmth of the pub a far better option.

‘Seen enough?’

The voice came at him from a mere few feet away, the same source as the beam of a high-powered light striking his face full on. Glaring, blinding. Bromo blinked, turned his head, focussing down to ground level. All he could see were two thick-soled work boots. Large size. Above them the lower levels of a pair of oilskin trousers, gathered in at the ankles. He shifted his gaze to one side. The same view, big boots, oilskins. Prepared for outdoors and all weathers.

Bromo decided to say nothing. Wait. This was not a welcoming committee and it stood firm between him and his only way back to the main drag. Only two words had been spoken yet they were rife with aggression. He had no idea who was behind them. Friend or foe? All his money was on the latter. To make a dash for it was out of the question. The only option was to wait for the torchbearer to break the silence. He shuffled his feet, cold and starting to cramp.

‘Don’t move.’

‘Wouldn’t dream of it.’

‘Ha-ha,’ a brief chuckle, ‘a funny man eh? What you think, Charlie?’

‘We’ve got ourselves a comedian.’

A new voice, not so deep but with the same accent as the first. Eastern European, decided Bromo. A spasm of fear hit him, thoughts of past brutal encounters with the Bulgarian underworld shot through him. He breathed deep, forcing calm.

‘But we’re not laughing, are we?’ said the first voice.

‘I’m new in town, a tourist, I got lost,’ said Bromo, letting words tumble out, quietly pleading, a lame excuse, meek and trying to explain.

The response was sudden and vicious. A shout, ‘You lie.’

Bromo saw the harsh beam of light shift down and forward. The flat round head of the torch was plunged hard into his gut. And again. And again. He doubled over, clutching at his midriff. Winded and pained, the ground coming up to meet him as the side of a gloved hand chopped into the back of his neck. Only once, but it was enough to send him sprawling, pushing one hand out to break his fall as he tried to roll sideways to prevent his face smashing full on into the gravel.

He heard footsteps close by. He sensed his assailants were standing over him, checking the results of their work. A boot prodded his ribs, almost gently compared with the recent blows.

‘I don’t know who you are, my friend, or if someone sent you,’ said the one who seemed to be the leader. ‘But no tourists welcome here.’ His boot dug harder into Bromo’s ribs. ‘Private property,’ he announced. Another dig for emphasis. ‘You can find your own way out.’ One more kick, the hardest of them all.

Bromo choked back a groan, wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of knowing the pain he felt. He heard their boots scrape the gravel path, footsteps moving in the direction of the grim-looking building. The sound fading. He allowed himself a couple of minutes to draw breath and ease aching muscles, flexing, rolling neck and shoulders, before slowly unwinding to an upright position and stumbling towards the darkness of Skippers Ope and the warmth of the Oak and Apple.

Facebook fotos: follow-ups fail for feelings

PhotoScan (2)

Sorting through my recently discovered pack of old postcards has provoked not only memories but also an unexpected feeling of sadness for the Facebook generation.

This intrusive all-seeing all-knowing app (what a ghastly truncated word) has enabled them to bombard their army of “friends” about every aspect of their lives.  The postcards of the 21st century.

They are collected into albums and stored in Facebook, Instagram and similar programs. Presumably destined to be out there in the ether for eternity.

Which, in some ways, is excellent. A lifetime of friendships, dalliances, break-ups, affairs, births and deaths, weddings and divorces, kittens and puppies, even culinary delights and disasters. They are all there as aide-memoires for when dementia assails us in our closing years.

But will we have time or patience to wade through the vast pictorial morass we will have created?

Decades of wholesale uploads will have replaced single carefully chosen snaps of memorable gatherings.

Instead of a couple of photos of a cluster of friends frozen in time we will be confronted by ten, twenty, thirty shots or even shots of the same occasion uploaded en masse with no attempt to weed out those that are blurred, out of focus, repetitions or simply something the subject would not wish to display to the world at large.

Pictorial overload. Visual excess.

And the comments that are inevitably attached to them: awesome, amazing, wow, stunning to quote only a few – elevate what is frequently mundane or best left to private viewing to a level that is rarely justified.

Although it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, the law of diminishing returns surely dictates that we are rapidly approaching the point of nil profit on our photographic investment.

Some, like the fellow writer who documents  all the minutiae of her life and bombards us with innumerable pictures in multiple daily uploads, are already well overdrawn and bankrupt of interest.

The boredom level created has soared into the stratosphere.

The pictorial deluge that infests our lives provides none of the tactile pleasure I experience thumbing through my pile of postcards; none of the simple joys of shuffling them around the table as I try to create a sequence of milestones from the scant evidence they provide.

Study the scene on the front, turn it over, read the message, seek a date in the blurred postmark, turn back to the front and seek to marry the scene with my presence there.

The when, the why and the who with?

It is a mundane pleasure and one the Facebook generation would probably fail to understand, or even appreciate.