The Monster Macs

Where do you start? We were a family of five squeezed into a three bedroom terrace in Seacombe. My nan lived with us. (That’s six! ) We managed. The street was part of our playground.

We had the usual disagreements and infantile indiscretions but like the other families around us, we had close bonds and we were far from the normal idea of three boys; close in age and growing up together.

There was a popular western TV series in the sixties called Bonanza. It featured three grown-up sons; Adam, Hoss and Little Joe (Michael Landon-Little House on the Prarie.) Now that was an image of three closely bonded brothers striving to follow the same path.Image result for bonanza

We weren’t like that. We had different aims. We had different hobbies and activities. Naturally, I’d have liked to have been better at football and cricket but I wasn’t.

Fast-forward to 1978. The first monster left home. Phil moved to The Pit. By this time, our directions seemed clear. Tom was established with BT: up poles, down holes and paying homage to the great green boxes of spaghetti, placed strategically on street corners.

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Phil was in retail; always working on a Saturday and doing something at the Chelsea Reach. I was a student about to enter the disastrous final strait (it was dire) of my failed degree. But I was music through and through. I had the piano to prove it.

We were now full red-blooded “men”, set to shake the world. It didn’t just start then. We’d had lots of practice before. And we had common venues.

The Nelson, Grove Road:

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We’ve all worked there at one time. It was a bunch of gangstas. On Saturdays, I’d get in there about eight and our Phil was always there; pissed but not swaying. I don’t know how he did it. Slowly, the crew would arrive; including Tom, the Hayes family (John Mick Twee Sue), Eddie Kelly, Mark Ward, Sammy the leper, Derek Ward, Lee Maguire, Tony Norman, Steve Murphy, Mick Fagan, Jerry Bowman, Sandy, Nick, cousin Joan and a whole posse of other greats and not so greats.

The pub heaved. I could mention the relentless sniffing around we did. It was like the hounds of love following the bitches in season. But that might become tedious. We don’t want any references to anvils or gravestones.

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Cousins Joan and Irene also worked there. The manager was a lovely man called Eric Cadwallader. He was the daddy. He ran a damn good pub and was generous to all three of us.

The Pit:

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Phil and Lee ran the pit. Many others stayed there. Situated on the first floor, (Those poor residents below.) the pit parties were legendary. Sometime around four in the morning, those of us still alive would listen to Crime of the Century. Perfect hangover music.

It was a shorter walk to there than Seacombe when returning from New Brighton so I stayed there a lot, usually in front of a blazing gas fire in the kitchen on some cushions. They had a cat called Willie who used to lie like a human. I’d wake up on the sofa with him next to me, stretched out.

Like the Hayes family, we were seen as a definitive group. We’d gone past the bickering stage. We liked to drink and party. Any drunken deviances would be broadcast around the pub the next day. Tom was always good at that. (The bastard.)

The Golden Guinea:

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This is NOT The Guinea but this is what it felt like!

It was a hole of a nightclub on the seafront. It was our Thursday venue. Around half-twelve, Phil would buy a pizza thus attracting the hungry wolves. Samways always got there before me. By this time, Phil was a rounded sort of chap and Tom was catching up. It was odd that we did reverse size. Phil was the tallest and Tom was the smallest. Did Tom have a chip on his shoulder?  Too bloody right he did. Tom was the most openly competitive whilst Phil and I, still as avidly competitive, were more discreet. The Guinea was damp, cold and loud. It was on three floors but every room felt like a cellar. It didn’t matter. We still got on like a house on fire becoming some a sort of brotherly institution.

The Chelsea Reach:

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Who doesn’t remember the Chelsea?

This was our real playground. For a period of time, Phil and I were its best customers. Phil worked and played in there. All I can say is “Saturday nights and Sunday mornings in the cocktail bar.”

On some occasions, it would continue elsewhere. Often, there would be a short pilgrimage to The Rani. I don’t recall our Tom ever going. (Fussy eater.) It was dark and tacky. Upstairs, the toilet windows were barred. Can you imagine past escapades when some Jack the Lad would escape, catlike across the rooftops to avoid paying?

Oh the waking: The head (obvs), the trail, the counting of the money and that emerging feeling of dread as the memory slowly returns.

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“I said what?” to that girl I fancied.

“I said what?” to her mate. “Who did I say was beautiful?”

“Where did I fall asleep?”

Beer talk was a deadly affliction. Instructions would be left to poor Mum:

“If so and so rings, I’m not in.”

“So we’re doing your dirty work?” Dad would comment in his unmistakeable admonishing way.

Tom was more of a weekday visitor with the legend that is Kelly. They’d plant themselves by the bar in the main room and pipe to their hearts’ content whilst commenting acerbically at the usual posers. You know the type; a lukewarm half tucked into their chest and carrying the wiggle of smugness.

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But not all good things are permanent. There comes a time when one steps up to the plate and takes on the burdens of adult responsibility-you know-marriage, mortgage, children and the switching of allegiances and priorities.

It didn’t happen to me though. I was unsalaried and freelance. Marriage etc did not come my way until the next century. This was not the end of the brotherhood however. On the times we were together, the goodwill and wicked persiflage would be fired relentlessly from one to the other. Occasionally, Dad was around to fire his hilarious broadsides.

It’s not been some utopian blissful co-existence. There have been hard, brutal times when it was difficult to understand how our lives had turned and the resounding consequences on those around us. Phil and I parted from Wallasey’s fair (Fair? Open to discussion with the state of the place.) shores but Tom has been Wallasey through and through.

In 2005, the lovely Babs parted our world.

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It brought us right back together. Differences were brushed aside as our bonds tightened. Distance was no excuse. We were there to support our dad. I was not as frequent as I’d have liked to be but I still did it, right up to the end.

On Dad’s passing, we had to work together. We agreed on the criteria for our sad business. Once again, we will avoid any sharp edges between us. We have far too many other knives to dodge to be firing any arrows of blame across the bows at each other. We are what we are but we’re still brothers. From the early days as a cute little trio, waddling about in the bar of the Sun Inn and the beaches of Merseyside to the people we are today, our attachments are unequivocal. We stood united with the rest of our family on that cold, blustery January day. Family is a ring of steel; it bends and twists but never breaks.

We are lucky to have had our times together.

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I still get stick for my intellectual proclamations whilst we still share anecdotes and desires.

And Walllasey is still our base.

Thank you for reading. 

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Another week, more hassle.

In the mirky morning glow, the chorus began. The inevitable dominance of squawks and hoots drowned the mellifluous melodies of the solo blackbird. The intermittent Tommy-gun rattle of the insolent magpies echoed between dormant buildings.

While the world slept, I stumbled into a new diurnal existence. Before long the sultry heat crept through the open windows. It was another day of blood, sweat and fears. Unlike the previous Monday, I was not to be tempted to the ground, rendered useless by Uhtoff. One fear eliminated. But there were two others sniffing on the horizon.

The management was proving to be uniquely unavailable. What sort of property management company neglect to answer their phone, have no voicemail and don’t return emails? Let me guess…Image result for ridiculous cowboy outfitThen I had to inform that great laudable institution The Department for Work and Pensions, about the change of address. I’d stalled long enough. I was to reserve Thursday for that delight.

Now aside from that, the most remarkable thing about the week was its lack of incident until Friday. The wonderful sensation of waking early was countered by the numb stupor of fighting off sleep. I missed the end of at least two football matches and some of the athletics.

Monday was dominated by trips to the charity shops and the fly-ridden bin department of the Bastille.

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I managed to buy a little rattan drawer set to replace the plastic monstrosity in the airing cupboard. These massive drawers were filled with every conceivable bite-size cosmetic, moisturiser or shampoo lifted from hotels.

Related imageNot my doing. It gave me great pleasure to dump this squeezy tubular frippery into the big bins.

Tuesday was the usual physio and a quick trip to the supermarket. Soon Morrison’s cafe will become my dining out venue when the kitchen crashers invade. I don’t have a microwave. I don’t do ping cuisine but I have ordered lots of crisps for the rainy days. Man cannot live by crisp butties alone. (Oh yes he can.)

Either on Monday or Tuesday (vague heat-affected brain-fog in action) A man posted on Crowborough Life looking for a wheelchair. I gave him my rollator/wheelchair on condition that he took other things to the tip. On Wednesday the weather went cool. Did it rain? I have no idea as I frantically shifted stuff and threw stuff out.

Thursday came. I finally had an email from the property management cowboys. The call to the Department for W&P was looming. I rang. I had to bark answers and tap in numbers to this flat anonymous voice. Then came the twenty-minute wait. That’s twenty minutes of Vivaldi’s Spring-just the first twenty-four bars, constantly interrupted by “Thank you for holding, you call is important to us, our operators a very busy eating banana toasties and strawberry kippers.”

Then it was a sudden “hello Kirsty here can I take your full name please?” Beep, brrrrrrrrr.

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Someone or something cut me off. I’d only just got to the h in my surname. Repeat. Twenty-five minutes of Spring followed by twenty minutes of conversation. Done.

Friday came. The kitchen came. It went dark. After the satisfaction of creating new spaces, I was locked in again. It’s only temporary.38802604_10155699893158133_4871120197932548096_n

During today’s usual Monday morning hi-de-hi call, Madame moaned about not informing her about the skip that was left in the car park.

Well, I didn’t know it was coming then. Next thing you know I’ll need written permission to fart. Good job she hasn’t seen the worktops in the hallway.

Thank you for reading.

Low carb knock’em dead

Firstly, may I apologise for the Americanisation of the title. By Americanisation, I’m not referring to the total linguistic influence of two massive continents. This solely comes from one of their single nations. This is the USA who, despite being only part of two attached continents, are arrogant enough to assume the mantle of the collective name “America.”

Thankfully, this recipe is far from USAish. It uses natural, non-processed ingredients. No ketchup, no cream cheese and no other over-sweet sloppy shite from a tube. (They would pronounce that toob so that just about says it all.)

This is in three parts and should be enough for 3 people.

Part 1:

Meatballs in a paprika sauce.

Ingredients for the sauce.

1 chopped onion

2 chopped cloves of garlic

2 tbsp tomato puree (yes I know it comes from a toob but it’s hardly processed.)

1 tin of tomatoes or passata. 

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp dried sage

1 tsp dried marjoram

1/2 tsp sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Fry the onions until soft, add everything else, top up with water and simmer for at least one hour. Try not to keep tasting it.

Meatballs

300g minced beef

Seasoning.

Any dried herbs you fancy.

Chopped fresh parsley or oregano or coriander or all of them.

Roll into 9 meatballs and refrigerate.

I did all this the day before.

Brown the meatballs and place on a roasting pan with the sauce and finish off in the oven. Before serving, sprinkle with grated parmesan, manchego, pecorino or ant impressive sounding regional cheese. You can use ordinary cheddar and just sat it’s one of the above.

Part 2:

Mediterranean salad.

Chop tomatoes, cucumbers and griddled strips of courgette and throw them in a bowl. Make a simple dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar and a small amount of dijon with salt and pepper. Crumble a crumbly cheese all over it. I used Cheshire. It’s chalkier and sweeter than feta but keep it in large chunks or it will break into granules. Bearing that in mind, mix it all with soft hands. Throw torn basil or mint over the top.

Part 3:

Cannelini and chorizo salad.

Soak dried beans overnight or use a tin. Mix with chopped chorizo and dress with an emulsion of lemon juice, olive oil and runny honey. Add pepper but be sparing with the salt. Top with chopped coriander.

I suppose the chorizo is a processed food so tell everyone you picked up from a rural Spanish farmer during your barefoot pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.

Serve to impressed guests with some rustic bread (a small carb allowance) and a green salad.

You may feel that part 2 is in need of some olives but I prefer to serve them in pretentious little dishes as a tasty little appetiser with slices of Serrano ham. 

Thank you for reading.

A week in the life

Last Sunday, I started late. I love a good sleep in and was glad of the cooler weather. I can’t find my bedroom clock at the moment and I’ve rejected the idea of a radio alarm; I’m retired. This means that any idea of the time is down to guesswork.

Rolling into the living room, I glanced through to the kitchen clock. It said seven forty-five PM.

What on earth do you do?

Have a cup of tea of course then pretend it’s the middle of the morning. Out came the crosswords and the laptop. But breakfast, dinner or tea? Scan the freezer! Fish finger sandwiches, obviously with a cold beer.

I caught up on recordings of bake-off and master chef before retiring in the early hours.

Make no mistake, I needed the sleep. Weeks of oppressive energy-sapping heat and humidity had left me lolloping about too scared to move for fear of cascading onto the floor like a bag of buttons; chocolate buttons.

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In the cooler moments, they would reform into a random blob rendering me prone to imbalance and aleatoric function.

The spasms were rife; I resembled a conductor of that blippy modern classical music with no sense of rhythm or harmonic pattern.

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Senza tempo, senza melodia, senza senso. The experts called it serialism and pretended to like it.

My morning sleep was jarred by the sound of the door. This is no pleasant ding-dong or cute cat-like electronic breeeeeep. No, when someone at the portcullis presses your number, you are jabbed by a coarse, constant pulsating vulgar beep.

Guess what? In my hurry to answer, I missed the wheelchair. There was a knock on the door and whatever it was, was delivered to a man (me) lying half under the bed.

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The kind man lifted me to a sitting position against the bed, the warden made me a cup of tea and the paras were soon there. One benefit-my BP is still normal; teenage normal.

Tuesday was physio. I couldn’t do the parallels and I couldn’t do the standing frame. But I did 4k on the bike and went shopping.

Goodnight Vienna; that was it for the day. The crossword potato lurched back into inert action. (I love an oxymoron.) And what of Wednesday?

It was planned. It had been planned for weeks. The 9.30 bus to the station, a train to Warrior Square and that delightful trip along the coast to Eastbourne.

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Surprise surprise, I was buzzing.

Those few days of sleep and rest had given me some impetus.

What a lovely space Eastbourne station is with its little independent shops.

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I had time for a double espresso whilst watching teams of phone-laden tourists gathering to venture into the wilderness of the wonderful pier and stony beach.

Not for me, however. I was to take a cab to the industrial estate to get measured up for a new HNS wheelchair.

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Oh joy! I returned with a spring in my step to the Bastille excited by the prospect of a proper purpose-built chair. Spring in my step? Maybe that should be a booster in my motors?

At the Bastille, I was met by Yorkshire Mike who was sizing up my kitchen. Positive outcomes were being envisaged. By the time Rose came to visit on Thursday, my happiness had risen to bunny standards. The estimate for the kitchen came in lower than expected. GET IN!

By the time the warden had called via the intercom to check on my position and status on Friday morning, I had already been shopping.

“The week is ending better than it started,” I announced.

There was football that evening after the cricket. On Saturday there were visitors and dinner:

Meatballs in a paprika sauce, cannellini and chorizo with a honey and lemon dressing and a Greek salad with Cheshire Cheese as opposed to Feta. The choice of cheese took it to a whole new level. There, I’ve managed to include a mastercheffy platitude.

Thank you for reading. 

Deep red tart

I’ve avoided pastry lately because I’ve only ever used butter. But I woke up craving it. I’ve been doing so well by avoiding dairy; fatigue recovery has been significantly better. I scoured the fridge for alternatives. The only thing was Vitalite so I had to go for it. Some sites suggested other substitutes and I will try the olive oil and egg recipe but tonight was a Vitalite night. Here goes. Ingredients for a biggish tart: 200g plain flour

100g chilled Vitalite

2 thinly sliced small pre-cooked beetroots

3 thinly sliced tomatoes

1 small onion, chopped

small dollop of garlic puree

pinch of chilli flakes

1/2 diced courgette

1tsp cumin powder (if you want a crunch, toast some seeds)

1 tbs balsamic 2 eggs

seasoning

Water for the pastry

Make the pastry and chill (I play Schubert)

Gently fry onions with the chilli flakes and garlic until soft and gooey

Roll out the pastry and line a greased tarty tinny

Dress the beetroot with the cumin and balsamic

Fill with layers of the chopped vegetables

I went onions, courgettes and tomatoes

Beat the two eggs and pour over the filling.

If you want to stay vegan, soften some more courgette and mash it before gently spooning it into the spaces; extra pepper required

Bake in a pre-heated oven until the pastry is coloured and the eggs are set

I did half an hour at 200 in an antiquated non-fan jobby.

What else could you add?

Goats’ cheese?

A carapace of grated cheddar?

Oh, bolleaux, I’m off dairy!

Serve with a salad with produce from your own allotment making sure you tell everyone involved. Ok, the courgette was from my mate’s allotment and it was so fresh, I ate a load of it raw; oh that soft, earthy sweet flesh. No picture for the obvious reason. It was tastier cold.

Thank you for reading.

The jolly carpenters

Not a walrus in sight. The flat is taking some sort of shape but other things keep disintegrating before me. The bathroom light, one of my grabbers and various bits of small but useful items. A third fan is essential.

We are now in that terrible void when all we have is cricket. It’s a good job I love cricket. On Agust the 4th the championship begins. That’s eleven days. And eighteen days for the premiership.

old-football-goalposts-on-wasteland-D8R071In between, I’m seeing some jolly men. Not just carpenters but kitchen fitters and electricians. This morning the most charming vivacious young woman came to see me about kitchen designs. She was sassy, brassy and hilarious. She also knew her job. By four in the afternoon, I had a design on the laptop. I like people who are perceptive. As soon as she had clocked on to my demeanour; common as muck, practical yet artistic and scornful of pretence, she was with me.

She was knocking on the flat door when I was still a sweating prostrate mess in the pit.

Image result for sloth in bedNo problem. She waited in the living room whilst I lurched my day into action. Gina then gave me snippets about the way she’s perceived by others. Supermarket queues, customers and the old guard of the Bastille. They eye her with suspicion and disdain. Well, I suppose if one goes round in a short skirt, strappy top, over-extended eyelashes etc, one makes an impact.

I didn’t care. She knew I was after a kitchen and that was the job she did.

And now, I’m delighted to announce the filling, nay, the over-filling of my new wardrobe and drawers.

yresThe next few days will be spent in the sweatbox of the bedroom deciding which delightful pieces of attire can be passed on. Crowborough is not short of charity shops.

My friend Colin, a man with crucifying sneaky humour came to construct my gentleman’s wardrobe last Monday. In the stifling heat, he toiled away with screwdriver, hammer and patience.

gtjkkYou never know when Colin is taking the piss until it’s too late to elicit an appropriate acerbic response. I provided a lunch of bolognese sauce with home-made bread and salad but I’m still unsure about his wise-crack concerning the wonders of soya mince. I did use beef mince!

oiuytfdPreviously, another jolly friend, Graham had put a chest of drawers together over a series of three social visits.

vcThere was football to watch and cold beer to consume. He came round last night with more courgette and lettuce dug up that afternoon. The courgette went straight into a veggy tart; beetroot, tomatoes, onions and slices of that great allotment staple went into a pastry base I’d made with a non-dairy spread. (Needs work.)

Now I’m waiting for the kitchen estimate. Someone suggested that I was in a whirl of uselessness, expecting everything to happen around me.

Am I?

Has it? 

Thank you for reading.

I have no idea what to call it

I made a chicken creation. It’s definitely of European origin but I’m not sure what area. Whatever, it was tasty so I’m going to write it down before I forget. Ingredients:

2 chicken thighs, diced.

small onion, sliced

2 cloves of chopped garlic

2 tbs pomegranate molasses

1 tsp caraway seeds

1 tbs white wine vinegar

a big squirt of tomato puree 

6-10 cherry tomatoes, halved

1tsp smoked paprika

a big squirt of basil puree or a handful of basil leaves

toasted pine nuts (loads)

Fry the onions until soft.

Add the chicken to colour.

Throw everything else in.

If it starts to get dry, add water.

Cook gently for 20/5 minutes.

Serve with a good yeasted flatbread like focaccia or Maneesh.

Tell everyone you stole the recipe from a Moroccan street seller.

Thank you for reading.