Ropes, hands and potholes

You’re on the ropes. You’re feeling a bit ropy. It’s money for old rope. Give him enough rope and………… well you know. What about the rope you are tied to? We all have invisible ropes. They can tie us down in many ways.

What about hands?

hands-05Lend us a hand. Hand me that pencil. Did you have a hand in building that? Left hands, right hands, all hands on deck and healing hands. I’m not going to go into green fingers.

My hands are tied with the ropes of disability. I often think back to the whole journey of my chronic condition. I was chosen by multiple sclerosis; others fall victim to many other ropes of confinement. Mine was a gradual emerging tangle, growing, strangling and occasionally whipping me in the face with the sharp pains of emerging realities.

It messed with the mind:

“Oh no, I appear to be tripping up a lot. What shall I do? I know I’ll embark on a fitter, healthier lifestyle and train harder.”

I actually did this. On the twenty third of December 1989, after a visit to the doctor, I stopped drinking. I did all that jolly sober friend routine watching everyone around me unwind with the great god alcohol, secretly wishing to join in.maxresdefault

Six weeks later I tested myself with a walk. It was a disaster. With cut knees and ruined trousers, I limped into the local and sank six pints of beer. I played pool, darts and joked with friends. I even made light of my ominous symptoms and grim prognosis. The ropes were building and I was opening up about it. Along with the ropes came the misconceptions.

Yes, twenty nine years on they are still irritating, giving me an urge to poke some people in the eye with a sharp pencil. But I have the capacity to cope. I have the wherewithal to see where the rope is and give myself a hand in dealing with it. I can practise various levels of sarcasm and ridicule in the form of witty ripostes to those who are emboldened to offer me some snippets of their own inexperienced wisdom. They often appear in the strangest forms.

A fellow victim of another chronic condition was telling me about their consultant. There was some difficulty in getting some of her points across. The good doctor appeared to be stuck on one of his own icebergs of misconception.

relationship_communication_breakdownBut, and this is a big but, teaching has blessed me with a host of experience in the analysis of human behaviour. Every working day of my life my eyes were opened to new facets of this.

It’s not exclusive. Everyone can do this. Discussion, interaction and learning to open one’s mind is a useful tool in breaking down these walls of misunderstanding.

I pointed out that some people who have shown both genius and drive to achieve the lofty heights of a consultancy, may not be the best communicators. Years of dedicated lonely study and endless seminars of narrow specialism are admirable but it’s hardly a course in understanding those around us. Again, this is where patience and quiet perseverance is the only feasible way ahead. And when we eventually achieve our goal we are courteous and magnanimous for this is the gift we all possess.

This is how we can deal with the potholes laid out before us.

allendale-pothole1-e1365972686479Potholes in the road are a pain. But the way to tackle them is not to scream along regardless, resulting in an angry tirade when one of our low profile tyres has burst resulting in a spectacular dent on our alloy wheel. Potholes are fairly destructive indiscriminate things but they do need respect. As in life, we are awash with potholes and stumbling blocks.

Now, which is the nastiest rope? I would never dream of one-upmanship in the world of illness and disability but the most pernicious is the most invisible. It is a long wiry twisting rope that attacks from the inside. Then it spreads. It spreads unseen to impair others within its vicious circle. It turns people. It turns against people. It tortures before it eventually breaks years of friendship, love and trust. It’s not even rope any more.


This is the damned rope of dementia. We talk of the invisible illness and the multitude of misconceptions these have generated. No, we don’t look ill, so in many ways we are expected to justify our provision to act as a normally functioning human being. But we have become adept at doing so; we are still in the mix of human reasoning and independent decision making.

Dementia destroys all that. All such reasoning is twisted into a tangled web of an impenetrable illogical cacophony, turning respect into desperation. That parent who bore your very person. That parent who did everything for you; years of selfless sacrifice, believing in your dreams and brining you back to earth when necessary.

The person who dug you out of your holes and never lost faith in you despite the errors of your ways. When that parent or close relative becomes an unrecognisable human mess, you are henceforth gripped by the deadly rope itself. It ties your hands, squeezes your mind and trips you up. Then it strangles your patience. It is the deepest and darkest of

What right has this brutish  ligature to create  such long reaching devastation?

Thank you for reading.

Two sauces

My recent discovery of miso paste has opened up some new culinary doors. Having been a bit ambivalent about sweet and sour sauces, particularly those from take-aways and Chinese restaurants, this delightful paste is a source (sauce) of real depth as opposed to the sticky gloopy MSG infested slush one has come to expect. It’s also inspired me to create a sweet chilli sauce thus extending the McChrystal range further eastwards.

It really all started with an objection to the sweet brown relish HP had morphed into. The bite had gone so it was time to make a sauce with a bit of a kick. Pesto followed soon after and then I started on middle-eastern spices. Sumac is the biz. Obviously Indian sauces have been big in my life.

The quest for delicious condiments continues:

Sweet and sour sauce.

tbs miso paste (salted caramel on steroids)

half a red pepper-diced

small onion-chopped

garlic paste

ginger paste

3tbs sugar

100ml red wine vinegar

Squirt of tomato puree.

Gently fry the onions and peppers until soft, adding water if the heat is too fierce. Mix all the other ingredients and put them in. Try not to keep pinching the odd spoonful. Cook it all through for another fifteen minutes then blend with a hand blender. Add some water until you get the consistency of a runny ketchup. I used pastes for the convenience. Raw materials are equally acceptable. If you want to add more tang throw in some tamarind paste or some “tea” made from soaking kokum berries in boiling water.

Sweet chilli sauce.

bird’s eye chilli (or two)

4 tbs sugar


red pepper

120 ml cider or white wine vinegar 

thumb of ginger

2 cloves garlic

tbs balsamic vinegar

squirt of tomato puree

Finely chop the raw ingredients and gently fry. When the onions and peppers are soft add everything else and reduce until it becomes that nice sticky consistency you see in jars. You can make larger amounts and store them in sterilised jars. I would add more sugar for reasons of storage. As I do my cooking one-handed I’ve invested in this fine piece of kitchen brutality:

You don’t have to be delicate with this hunk

Last night I had the sauces with home made beef patties. I’d have used minced pork but the beef was the first thing I found in the freezer. They would go equally well with king prawns fried in lime juice, ginger and garlic or firm tofu, cubed and coated in breadcrumbs. Of course you can refine them by varying the amount of ingredients.

Thank-you for reading.

TV chefs. The verdict

How many of us have tried mixing ingredients by tossing the pan like that cheeky chipper chappie Jamie? I must admit to trying it. It works quite well, showcasing your prowess as a young vibrant kitchen artisan. But if you’re in a wheelchair it’s quite hard to pick up bits of squelchy food. I tend to grind it into the floor with my wheels thus leaving a delightful trail all over the flat. So I can happily declare that I am most definitely not a tosser. tossing-a-stir-fry-over-a-gas-burner

Now it seems we can’t move for food related TV. I actually love it. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (or slice of cake) but if you have discovered a passion for the creative culinary arts, there’s a lot to learn. I don’t like all the chefs. Ramsey and Rhodes in particular offer little, other than countless pots of turgid monotony as they cream their own egos with their same old tricks.

The bellicose brace of Torode and Wallace can be extremely grating as they scream their sham platitudes at each other. gregg_wallace_john_torode_masterchef_week_three-373788

They’re like those two boys in the class; no teacher would ever allow them to sit together. When dear old Greg is on his own, he continues to grab as much of the limelight as he can with his baying foghorn of a voice. He’s all over the place at the moment; seriously in danger of over exposure and the inevitable ensuing burnout.

John Torode on the other hand, if you can look beyond the bulbous hamster cheeks, comes across as a genuine, almost modest purveyor of gastronomy. His tutelage is simple without being condescending. There’s also a sense of realism concerning techniques and ingredients.

How many  clearly middle class and upwards cooks claim that anyone can do it without realising that local delis, artisan bakers, specialist butchers, independent fishmongers and branches of Harrods or Waitrose do not exist on the streets of Motherwell?

_87620104_gettyimages-159122664In fact they don’t really exist at all to low income (even average income) households struggling to keep up an acceptable standard of living.

“Just get your butcher to do it,” purrs Nigella with a sexy little flick of her hair. nigella-lawson1-1386239944-view-1

I remember Clarissa Dickson-Wright referring to supermarkets as palaces of hell. Whilst the late great two fat ladies are great entertainment value, they existed in some form of iced tower befitting of their gloriously rich plummy accents. I can forgive them for that however. They were outrageous and marvellous fun with their little eccentricities. I’d have loved to have cooked dinner for them.

I can say the same thing about Nigella Lawson. It’s genuine entertainment and she is excellent at simplifying the complex. But the music? It’s one hundred percent gorgonzola. It’s just too much. One can only take so much of that lounge lizard jazz loved by oily musicians, nodding to each other as the pour out their cheesy lubrication. It’s just too rude to blank out.

Similarly, dear old Nigel Slater imposes a series of instrumental snippets of  music he probably thinks is cool.

p02s75dqWell I’m sorry Nige mate but you’re old enough to know better. Besides, do you not realise in your cosy little vegetable patches that “not following recipes to the letter, bucking the trend and being creative by pleasing yourself” only applies to cooks with some level of expertise and experience. What you should say is:

“For those who’ve slavishly followed the hallowed path of Saint Delia, it’s time to throw off the shackles of regimented cooking and try some new ingredients in your stock recipes.”

If you don’t know about basic methods and standards of food hygiene, you “experimental” take on beef carpaccio using chicken will give you a rather unpleasant twenty four hours in A and E, throwing up into those egg box buckets they have in hospitals. Mr Slater also carries a rather aggressive twist to his meanderings inferring that people who do follow recipes are somehow inferior. Oh and the floppy hands don’t help either. Nor does his obsession with trifles. On the other hand he does offer some interesting food combinations so it may be worth watching a few of his programmes just for ideas in creative vegetarian cuisine.

Now to Jamie. If you can get past that laddish bonne homie and slamming of chopping boards, you can find some brilliant tasty simple food. But like his mentors Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, he’s a bit indulgent with the richest of olive oils.

jamie_1642561c I couldn’t possibly justify spending a fortune on a bottle of first press extra virgin deep peppery stuff. Malt whisky yes but not olive oil.

This bonne homie comes in spades with the heavenly bromance of the hairy bikers. It can be a little nauseating but again, the food is manageable and easy to follow.

Just trying to cover a few TV chefs is a daunting task. How do I include a good cross section? I won’t. I’m just thinking about the ones I’ve seen the most.

Here are some brief summations of a selection of the rest.

Michelle Roux; skilful.

Matthew Tebbet; fat turd.

James Martin; okayish.

Ainsley Harriet; Lenny Henry in disguise.

Delia Smith; Let’s be ‘avin’ you.

Mary Berry; I don’t like the way she says layers.

Paul Hollywood; Pilsbury dough man.

Rick Stein; King of Cornwall.

American TV food shows; the path to obesity, strokes, type two diabetes and cardiac arrest.

Of course, those of us of a certain age have only one food hero and I’m not talking about Fanny with her Johnny; it’s that great mess the Swedish Chef. He spoke more sense than some. hqdefault

I’ll finish this semi rant with last night’s curry recipe:

750g diced lamb

2 tsp of coriander seeds

2 tsp cumin seeds tsp black and yellow mustard seeds

tsp fenugreek seeds

seeds from 4 green cardamom pods 

2 black cardamoms

tsp ground turmeric 

half tsp asafoetida

tin of tomatoes

3 tbs tomato puree


chopped large onion

3 cloves garlic 

thumb’s worth of ginger

2 bird’s eye chillies

Dry fry the seeds and grind with a pestle and mortar. 

Heat the oil and add the black cardamoms until they start sizzling.

Turn the heat down and gently fry onions in oil for 20 minutes. Add a drop of water if they show any signs of burning.

Add the powders and the lamb and colour the meat.

Put in the tomatoes, garlic, ginger and chilli.

Season to taste.

Add more water, stick the lid on and gently braise for 50-60 minutes.

The liquid should have reduced to a luscious masala.


Thank you for reading.

The grind

Road chronicles

Every so often, I have flashbacks to long journeys. They were mostly adventures, finding new places in the spirit of the old explorers. It was a happy car with music and badinage flying between its expectant occupants. But there is one journey I only ever did alone; it was the daily commute. Big deal, you may say but two and a half years of happy motoring between Tunbridge Wells and Walworth became an epic in its own right.

Before I moved I had assumed leaving at seven o’clock would suffice; giving me enough time to prepare for the school day. Well I left at seven and arrived at eight fifty. All was going well until the Blackheath turn off from the A2.

Don’t be fooled by the open common. This road stinks.

I’d been in traffic snarl-ups before but there was something different about this. It was ominous. It was sending countless doom-laden messages. The sense of permanence was all-pervading. It was permanent because the sad endless queue of smoking vehicles had no discernible sense of motion. It was permanent because I had chosen to flee the great city and was now strapped to my steering wheel for a considerable part of every working day. And it was permanent because of my commitment.

I was working at a fantastic multi-ethnic school on a huge estate. It was feeding so many of my working class principles. I wanted to make my mark on the place. I needed to be there a while.That morning, I walked into school with the air of a zombie.

zombieSome thinking was needed. Firstly my departure time was to be five thirty. Doable? Only time would tell.

As far as the logistics of the inbound journey were concerned it worked. I was knocking up the caretaker at six twenty. I had two and a half hours before the school day started. At that time of the morning Tunbridge Wells was a ghost town. I looked at the other motorists; shift workers. There were nurses in Fiats, men in old Fords and Nissans and a small army of pick-ups. In each pick-up would be three or four smoking men crammed into the cab. In the back was a confusion of mixers and spades plus the inevitable broom, slotted upside down in the frame. It was the flag of the tar men.

Somewhere on the main road out I would espy a little group of street cleaners. The same mad haired brush laden skivvy would be standing, leaning on his broom, teetering on the edge of the kerbside altar. With fag hanging he’d be perusing the contents of said altar before diving in with his grabber to relieve the bin of its stinking contents. I had a secret admiration for this invisible force. Nobody saw them turn up in all weathers to ply their filthy trade. And people would still complain about the mess on the road.

Now we all know the M25 is never not busy. But at this time, my little section between junctions five and three was less busy. So was the A20. On my right, the speed merchants and the pick-ups would go flying by whilst I chugged away in my little diesel, ears pinned to the traffic news, thinking of the day ahead.

Off the A20 I’d go through Leigh Green followed by that great manor of twentieth century architectural majesty we know as Lewisham.

1496714177lewihaamThen finally, the final hurdle was Peckham. Is there life in Peckham? Well yes, if you consider life to be living in one of the countless blocks and sleepily driving like a complete arsehole to your job as a manual worker in a nearby borough.

peckSo much for the journey in. It was so much better in the summer when it would be endless daylight. Mind you, in any light, New Cross is not pretty.

new cross
Well the facades may be nice but I got to know them too well.

The return journey was more complicated. Having consulted with colleagues, I decided on a comprehensive use of the “back doubles”. This would be a more involved route avoiding the main clogged up arteries. Due to bridges under and over railways the was always the possibility of bottle-necks but that was the gamble.

I developed a genuine hatred for Brockley Cross and Ladywell with their nasty pernicious mini roundabouts.

Beautiful Brockley

There were also railway crossings. It was like sailing upstream into a delta; sooner or later many waters converged into one. The best way I could describe Brockley is Peckham without the class.

After these two potential black spots the route was almost interesting. After crossing the glorious high street of Lewisham, I would climb up through Hither Green before finally bursting onto the real road to hell. I don’t regard the M25 as the road to hell. The perpetrator of that song had obviously never driven on the South Circular.

The South Circular was a confusion of lanes and motorists turning right to utilise their own private back double. The big roundabout and the world of leather meant it was back to the A20, M25 and A21. Plain sailing? Well there was a sting in the tail; Tunbridge Wells.

Away from the loneliness of the early morning commuter, the grand entrance via Southborough was a nightmare in its own right. It still is today. One cold December night, after a huge delay in Lewisham; I was going that way to avoid road works, I was coming to the Tunbridge Wells turn off to find the traffic stacked right up.

It had taken me just under three hours to meet this wall of angry cars. During that day, not one but two sets of traffic control had been installed on the A26. It was another forty five minutes before I opened my front door. The writing was on the wall. I had to make a big step towards sanity.

Later on in the summer term, I’d woken at a frighteningly early time on a Sunday morning. No problem; I’ll go and get some newspapers. But the lovely Mr Patel on St Johns Road informed me that “the van” hadn’t arrived. Undeterred I remounted my steed and headed north. I found the van on the northern edge of Tonbridge and duly purchased my Sundays.

I commuted for one more year. My final journey home  felt like a victory parade. It was a long parade but the sense of permanence was finally broken. Every morning at my new local school, I would start the day with tea and toast. I felt like royalty.


Thank-you for reading.


Last week I developed a craving for chips. I was dreaming of crispy skins and soft fluffy insides packed into freshly baked bread. On Wednesday, a bag of the devil’s food came with the Tesco order. But no! I didn’t order any sunflower oil. All I had was fancy olive oil.

Then on Friday, I flew to the supermarket clutching my shopping list. The list is always in a certain order. I can’t do a trolley so there’s a basket perched on the front of the scooter. Heavy items come first so they don’t crush the fresh fruit etc etc. Sunflower oil was there, in glorious black and white.

The plan was to have pasty chips and beans today but last night I began to brood over the thought of chips. I put the oil into the multi cooker, cut the shapes, prepared a home made wholemeal and spelt roll (barm cake, batch or bap) and plunged into those tantalising little soldiers at the initial 130 degrees for the first phase. HP is too sweet these days.

But the chip basket slipped and tumbled to the floor. Oh the mess! Oh the pain of splashed oil bespattering my feet. I had one potato left. I grasped the evil tubby rascal and sliced it mercilessly. The chips were cooked, the mess was cleared and I devoured my prize with joy and avarice.

20638317_10154823491433133_6612387056943718526_nYes, I could have bought oven chips but I wanted the real thing. I wanted the grease, I wanted the calories, I wanted the glint of upset oil shimmering across the wood of the kitchen floor. Most of all, I wanted the textures and tastes of bread and chip heaven. It’s just pasty and beans tonight.

Thank you for reading.