Instant prawn heaven

It’s not often I delve into the freezer for the frozen raw king prawns. I have no idea why but they always receive special treatment from me. This took longer to prepare than cook.

Ingredients:

1 tbs chopped ginger

a fat clove of crushed garlic

juice and zest of a lime

a dash of sesame oil

a big squirt of basil puree

birds eye chilli chopped

half tsp shrimp paste

2 tsp red wine vinegar

dash of light soy sauce

a big fat handful of frozen prawns

2 tbs white wine

Gently fry all but the prawns, wine and soya in a little oil. When soft, turn up the heat and sizzle the prawns until they turn pink. Add the wine and soy and reduce. Try not to eat them straight out of the pan and transfer to a bowl with the usual scattering of coriander or mint or both. It will go well with a gentle vegetable curry with creamed coconut. You could add honey for extra sweetness and glaze towards the end or even throw on some chopped spring onion, showcasing your chopstick expertise. It can also be done with scallops and strips of smoked bacon.

Thank-you for reading.

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Up and down

The title should really be down and up. Moving house has been like tumbling down a mountain, getting bumped and bruised by the cold unforgiving rocks and outcrops.

When I finally come to rest at the bottom, flapping like a loose dishevelled mess, I inspect my new surroundings. There is no sense of relief or achievement.  Ahead of me is another mountain. It’s for me to climb alone with my bare hands. No ropes, pulleys or crampons.

To suddenly start living in a place unoccupied for over two years is impossible. To successfully negotiate the space left between the mocking boxes of my previous life in a wheelchair is also impossible.

roomful-of-boxesHow can you keep a cool head when every manoeuvre of the wheels creates a crunch of destruction?

I’m sick of running over my shoes. My shoes are sneaky little buggers. In the usual fog of my excuse of a memory, I miss the moment when they begin to put themselves directly in front of me.

Related image“What’s that sound?”

Naturally, it’s the scraping of the left shoe being dragged under part of the chair. Are they indestructible? The Captain Scarlet of footwear? They are made of some sort of fabric and rubber.

As I write, they are plotting. They are tracking my chair, ready to leap out and throw themselves kamikaze-like under my blazing wheels. That’s just the icing on the cake however.

The biggest aides de camp of a bachelor pad are the washing machine, tumble dryer and dishwasher. For the last two years, they have been my rock. My key for remaining in the civilised world.

I had ten days without them. I had ten days without a working shower. My only remaining wheelchair broke down. It worked when it felt like. The cupboards are out of reach, the hot water system is awful and the windows, like the shoes, are already in enemy territory.

I’m surrounded by the signs of a once convenient existence being caught up in the vortex of a tornado and left strewn over some strange alien land.  

I’m just past base camp. There is broadband, a new shower unit, a working dishwasher and my old friend the washing machine sits willingly in the corner ready to go.

There is a whole new city of pipes under the sink.

Somehow, it makes me strangely happy. My drawers are nearly complete and I have a date for the construction of the wardrobe.

For the next six months, there will be a continuous drip feed to the dump and the charity shops. I’m purging the flat of all CDs. My vast collection has been whittled down. Their days are numbered.

Spotify has won.

Am I winning?

Thank-you for reading.   

New curry

I’ve gone well off-piste with my curry recipes lately. Or maybe not? Curry was a term created by English people based on the Tamil word Kari, meaning vegetables of meat cooked in spices, with or without a sauce. I like to think of recipes created from whatever was around. As I have very little cumin and coriander powder around at the moment so I improvised:

Ingredients for two medium servings.

3 black cardamoms,

1 bird’s eye chilli, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

tsp turmeric,

tsp mango powder,

1/2 tsp asafoetida,

1/2 tsp fenugreek powder,

large pinch of salt,

thumb’s worth of ginger, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

big squeeze of tomato puree,

juice of 1 lime,

tbs red wine vinegar,

2 chicken thighs or chickpeas or sweet potatoes etc You may wish to add some form of sweetener such as jaggery or even a small amount of golden caster sugar.

On a hot heat, let the cardamoms sizzle in a little oil. Then gently fry the onions until soft, gradually adding water to avoid singeing. Meanwhile, mix everything but the meat/protein in a bowl and create an unctuous sauce. Add to the pan. Let everything mix together before adding the rest. You might want to add more water as you let it bubble away for 25-40 minutes.

If you want, throw in some cashews with an air of nonchalance before serving and sprinkling chopped coriander or mint leaves before announcing the dish as a recipe you took from a tiffin boy in Calcutta during that time you’d gone to find yourself with poverty and drugs.

Thank-you for reading

How was the weekend?

I don’t really want another week like that. Two paramedic visits, two broken wheelchairs and a flat in total chaos. There’s a room full of boxes, blood stains all over the place and ripped trousers; worse than that, my camera keeps telling me the memory card is locked.

When does the weekend start? 5 o’clock on a Friday? I’ll take that. At 5 pm yesterday, things began to improve. If you say it enough times it will come true.

Friday morning started with a scoot up the road to the supermarket.

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People are great. We joke about my colossal scooterasuarus and going around the aisles in circles. Nice people offer to pass things from higher shelves and we lampoon the ludicrous ceremonies of the weekly shop.

But there are others. They lower their eyes.

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They hurry on feigning oblivion. They fear me. Yet, as usual, I wear the demeanour of the helpless little boy. With my uncombed hair and scruffy little shoes, I become every mummy’s little soldier. Who wouldn’t want to help me?

It’s their loss. They will never realise that I’m just a jolly little shopper prepared to laugh about the way life craps on us. Just because my legs don’t work well does not mean I’m all bitter and twisted with chips on both shoulders; although I can do a good impersonation.

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On my way back, I offer every pedestrian a cheery “good morning”. Seven out of ten will respond. What is wrong with the thirty per cent?

A lot of the rest of the day was spent trying to fix my wheelchair. I was quoted a £95 call out fee plus parts by some distant northern bloke on the phone. Instead, I bought gorilla tape and cable ties. It’ll do until August when I’m due to get a new one from the NHS. It’s only taken fourteen months and I’ve still got to test drive it.

Friday is now croissant day. The gentle encouragement of bread dough and butter to form those exquisite layers is not an instant skill. The fridge must be your friend. Roll, chill, roll, chill, roll, chill. But roll gently. Don’t annoy the butter. And plenty of flour for dusting. I don’t eat them myself. It’s a labour of love for Rose.

For supper, I had two pork chilli sausages on one of my sesame baps. There was also some home-made sauce. Don’t I just sound like one of those organic home-grown chefs bathing in a halo of self-satisfied, oleaginous smug glory?

Image result for smug chefIf I can just explain:

I’m retired. I have time. I am disabled so I need to feel useful. Being creative in food is something that gives me a reason to carry on. It’s like the diet thing. For someone who can’t exercise, it may well be acceptable to pack a little extra. If I let myself go, I’d pile on those pounds.

Three years ago I was 16 stone eight pounds. That’s just too fat. It wasn’t comfortable. Now I’m at least two stone lighter. I watch other men with their bulbous wobbly stomachs. Their choice but not for me. So that’s another little incentive to help me along.

The arm of the chair was fixed on Saturday. I used cable ties and the principles of the suspension bridge.

After the adventures of Betty the great white shark, Pike (the pike) and Baines the basking shark with Rose, I had a delightful two hours with new friends from Physio.

Later, I cooked an unusual chicken curry using less of the traditional spices and other more tangy stuff.

Sunday promised to be a cool day doing very little apart from watching football. My chair was doing well and I was preparing dinner. Just after a little snackette of cashew nuts roasted in salt and paprika, I fancied a sit down with a glass of wine.

The chair bit me. Is it cursed? Does it hate me for farting on it? Did the bloke who sold it to me have a long-standing grudge? Had the fairies of irony sneaked in and set a bomb?

Well, trying to transfer to my armchair, the back collapsed and I did a slow-motion flip onto the floor behind me.

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Me plus floor equals para-medics plus at least a three-hour wait during which time  I’ll need a pee. Oh, how I hate this bastard of an illness. I keep fighting but it just keeps on giving.

A fall is a major incident. I know where I need to be but it takes ages to get up and bottom shuffle because the shitty little petulant beast has my legs. I was flat on the floor and disorientated.

A very sweet friend came round to chat to me for the eternal wait. I’ll say that was very helpful because I’m actually still feeling the effects of concussion. It will pass.

Once again, I declined the offer of being taken to hospital. What would they do? Make me wait. Give me a scan? Make me wait even longer. They’ll ignore my polite request to go home until there is no way of getting me home. I’ve heard stories about late night A and E.

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No, I stayed at home and broke my non-dairy rule by eating a Whitehill pasty I’d made for my little army of helpers on Friday. It’s not a Cornish pasty because I put carrots in it.

At least my other chair is now fixed.

Thank-you for reading. 

I love trains

I’ve always loved trains. Oddly enough, my first experience is with electric trains. I thought the steam things were a bit scary. I’ve only been on a steam train twice. Once was the Snowdon Mountain Railway. It chuff chuffed its way up through the levels of beauty I used to see from walking.

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I miss the walking. The staff were snotty and arrogant but I won’t start harping on about the Welsh speaking Welsh when they hear an English voice. The second one was the Welsh Highland Railway. They were nice people.

Image result for welsh highland railwayIt was awesome. 

In the early days, the Liverpool to London train was a real occasion. To get to the capital in two and a half hours in quiet and comfort was amazing. For economy reasons, I usually endured the endless drone of the National Express coach. Sometimes I actually planned things and took something to drink.

Less attractive were the football specials. A delightful ritual: Shoved on some cattle truck by surly faced guards and policemen. Treated like some wanton delinquent.

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Dirty filthy toilets which had lost the will to flush. Herded like sheep as you were frogmarched to the ground. Corralled into some shitty away end only to face a repeat performance on the way back. Dumped back in Liverpool to wait for the tunnel bus, stone cold sober, hoping your dad had left a can of beer out for you. All because some bell ends couldn’t be trusted. At least on a coach, it was easier to bung a bottle of vodka into a litre bottle of lemonade.

It’s a far cry from the Victoria boat train to Lyon. We took the edge off the gruelling overnight trek to Paris with a few pints at the station and a skinful on the boat. Standing on the top deck at first light, I looked over the sands of Dunkirque.

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It was a big history moment. But there was no time to dwell. Trying to sleep on a train seemed impossible. This old dog rattled its way through Northern France packed with over-excited inter-railers completely clueless about their up-coming adventures; to be treated like savages and ripped off like suckers. Just like the hapless fans on the footy specials really.

For the last half hour of the journey, we sauntered through suburban Paris. It was grey. Even in the fresh sunlight of a new day, it was grey.

I rehearsed my lines: “Deux billets pour la metro s’il vous plait.” 

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At the ticket office in the Gare du Nord, I took out my 50 centimes. I’d never spoken French to a Frenchman before. My French was mumbled. But he gave me my tickets. We were off for the big one.

The TGV to Lyon.

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Oh, that bit about not sleeping on a train paled into oblivion. I slept.

The journey back involved a day in Paris. We had a few trips on the Paris Metro. It was like the tube but without the class. I could have sworn the Paris’ ne’er do wells treated it as a mobile drinking den. On the boat, I stood outside watching the morning sun shed its glorious new light over the white cliffs.

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I thought of second world war pilots returning from overnight raids.

After that crazy week in Lyon, the train was often used to shift me from Liverpool to London. One late Saturday afternoon, my mate Pete and I took that train for a Sunday FA cup tie. We placed our cans of beer on the table and the group opposite changed seats in a huff.

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Coming back from an away match, having consumed a good amount of Youngs Special Bitter, I was on my way to the buffet car when the consequences exploded from my bottom. I looked back into the coach to see genuine trauma. There were multiple accusatory looks flying about the carriage.

How about Liverpool to Exmouth and back in one day? I had an interview which I didn’t get. I was on the 7.30 AM to Birmingham New Street. By the time I was on the local diesel between Exeter and Exmouth the sun was out and the scenery spectacular as I chugged along the Exe estuary towards the mouth.

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At 10 PM, I was a lonely figure at Crewe. I love the whole drama of that final wait on a deserted station. I was glad a nice old man woke me up just before. Lime Street at 11.30 was equally desolate.

The best memory of that day was hearing a West Country man saying “Oohh arrr” to his grandchildren. He wasn’t in a smock, sitting on a rustic gate and chewing a piece of grass but you can’t have everything. 

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One bleak Sunday in July I was emerging drenched from a tent in Anglesey. I was helping out on a school trip but none of the teachers spoke to me. At first light, I packed up and started walking. Modern technology shows me that it was just under ten miles from Holyhead Station. All I know is that it was a long walk with a suitcase and a wet tent on my back. The causeway to Holyhead was like walking over thunder, The train back along the Welsh coast was marvellous.

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All those places I’d seen on day trips and holidays. I’d looked longingly at that train track and now I was on it.

What can top those two epics? In 1996, I went to Inverness on the overnight sleeper from Euston. Unlike other years our traditional summer half-term trip to Scotland was not going to involve driving until the next day, waking up refreshed in a jaded hangover sort of way in Inverness. This meant meeting in Euston bar getting our taste buds going with a few drams. On the train, we ensconced ourselves in the bar and hit the cans. There was a stag party on the train going for a weekend of golf at Aviemore.

We picked up our hire car and did that fantastic route up to John O Groats. All the time, we had the sparkling sea to our right as we dipped between the cliff side drives.

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John O Groats was worth a pint before the ferry to Orkney. The journey back took us over the Forth rail bridge. History and spectacle in one hit. From Edinburgh to London I saw the causeway to Lindisfarne.

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And that’s what I love about the train. Every journey oozes with memories. You get another view of places visited and loved.

Long may it continue.

Thank you for reading.       

Aitch eh peepee why?

Yesterday the solicitor rang to say that contracts have been exchanged and the moving date is June the 29th. Am I happy? Well, the irrepressible outpouring of visceral relief has been somewhat tempered by a number of other factors.

Firstly, the estate agents have told me I can’t have the key until the completion day. And I don’t much like being spoken to as if I know nothing. When I bought my house in T.Wells, I took the keys on exchange. Is this small town mentality? 

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Secondly, the sellers still haven’t cleared the flat of the old junk they just left there. Fortunately, the agent is obstreperous enough to nag them to their bones. As for the buyers; I have never known such a niggling, small-minded petty attitude.

Image result for spoilt bratsThe youth of today buffeted by the nank (I use that word deliberately) of an overly important mum and dad perhaps?

To round things off nicely, I have two, yes two broken wheelchairs. One is off to a local garage today but the other has a broken arm. When transferring yesterday, I sat on the edge of the arm and became caught on it. Then it snapped and I tumbled earthwards like Eric Pickles hang-gliding.

A three-hour wait for the paras certainly gives time for reflection. It took a good deal of determination to bottom shuffle into the living room, open a bottle of wine and watch some episodes of Masterchef.

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It was the third fall in twelve days. I’ll put it down to bad luck and wonder how I’m going to fix my poor broken arm. In this relatively short article, I feel that I must end on a positive. I’m thinking………..erm…………..

Oh yes, I’m getting a new chair soon.

The family home is on the market which could fund a new Segway wheelchair and I can still cook.

England is still in the world cup and the cricket team hammered Oz in an ODI.

The pie-man has left the blues and Rose has lost a herfirst tooth.

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Thank-you for reading.

Walking Wallasey

I’ve waxed lyrical about some of these locations before but I have such vivid memories.

I used to walk.

I used to walk a lot.

Living in Seacombe there were loads of great places to walk to. In the early days, we walked up to New Brighton with my mum. We went to see our Auntie Edie in Egerton Road before going to the outdoor fair. That was always the first great day of the summer holidays. From the town hall steps, the pier looked close enough to touch. It seemed a very long way then. We also followed the police swimming race from the two ferry terminals; Seacombe to New Brighton. How on earth did they do it? For me, it was walking up the prom sucking on pineapple chunks my dad had treated me to at Connor’s shop on the corner of Brougham Road.

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It’s still a very useful shop

From then on, the prom was the best place to walk along. There was always something going on. On windy days, the waves were huge. When we moved to Seacombe, my mum and dad couldn’t really afford a holiday. Instead, we were kept off for the last week of the summer term and had days out. It was brilliant. We walked everywhere.

The first one was Bidston Hill. We went to the bottom of Mossdene Road and followed the footpath to Bidston station.

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It was a real adventure following a brambly narrow walk meandering amongst railway lines and landfill sites until we reached the greenery of Bidston Hill. I’d never been to a windmill before. We’d seen it many times from Beck Road.

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To just touch its ancient wall and look up at the wooden sails was awesome. I don’t use that word lightly. When we were there it was deserted. It was there for us alone.bidstonmill1 

There was also the Breck and New Brighton prom. My dad sprayed cars at Standard triumph in Speke. Walking along the sea wall between New Brighton and Moreton, he would glorify in the sea spray and fresh air, cleansing his lungs of the toxic cellulose paint which paid his wages.

When I was old enough, I walked alone. Central Park was close. The weekends were for football and cricket on the main field but in weekdays on school holidays, it was a solo sojourn. I’d head for the gardens in spring. Nobody else seemed to be there. All that gardening, just for me. I’d sit at the side of the art school wishing that I could go there.58b6f3122b4c9465415d35f508119011--central-park-liverpool

Then I’d cover every inch of the park. The central lake shimmered in the early sunshine. On grey days it provided a dark bottomless hole. Every so often there were huddled groups of children with nets and buckets, trying to catch the lake’s little tiddlers. Occasionally, I’d catch sight of a big fellow. I don’t know what they were called. 

The lonely island fluttered with the sporadic breaths of a chilly breeze reminding us of winter’s diminishing dominance. The bright little snaps of the ducks’ ludicrous quacks added a touch of farce.

Ducks are funny.

Then a couple of swans would glide elegantly past. They were haughty and arrogant.

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Years before, one of them wrecked my uncle’s model boat. I wondered which one it was. It was always a delicious moment of silent confrontation. We laughed at each other but I would always yield to the purity of their beauty before strolling down to the other lake.

The path from the tennis courts was a place of legend. There were stories of ghosts and strange goings-on. They were schoolboy’s tales but they always fired my imagination. I often went that way in the dark. I never saw anything.

Adjacent to Liscard Road was a darker wooded area. Over the wall, the busy cars were in another world. Skirting the embankment behind St John’s was the final route. I’d leave the park at peace with the world.

My brothers called me weird. I think my parents thought it too.

The prom was always the first place to head for. Windy days gave rise to great waves and tousled hair. Then it was a noisy angry place with a foaming torrid river waging war against the thickly crusted railings.

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Egremont housed the infamous Davy Jones’ Locker. It had a reputation which I never had the pleasure of sampling. I don’t think I missed out. The Tavern made up for it.

Up by New Brighton pier, its dark bulbous legs stood beneath the cracked shrunken boards. I screamed with pathos as the once busy jolly resort was turning into an ageing rock chick, their black manes revealing a grey line along their crowns. The make-up was liberally applied but the lines, the crows feet and the bulging body squeezed into their size ten jeans show their real age. That was New Brighton. It was crying for a lick of paint and a revival.

One sad summer, I saw the remains of the pier. It lay fragmented, devoid of all life as if it had been abandoned to the river.

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Looming above was the space where the tower and ballroom once stood. The icons had turned into memories. Only a walk along the sea wall would give me the reassurance of this wonderful old place.

I’d studied the history of Wallasey. It was diverse and romantic. I wanted to be there, climbing up Egremont pier or taking the lift up New Brighton Tower.

Some days I would do a mega walk. That would be the whole day dedicated to walking. Moreton Cross would be common. But there were days when I had to walk. I remember waking up in Hoylake on a Monday morning. I needed to be at work by eight. I had to charge to the cross with that air of determination only a Monday could give. It confused my mum. At the time she expected me drooping down the stairs, I was knocking at the front door.

Sometime in June 1980, I embarked upon by biggest walk. It was a tour of North Wirral. I skipped the docks by taking the bus to Charing Cross. Then I walked to Storeton Road and down Levers Causeway. I followed a tiny lane to Brimstage before emerging at the Devon Doorway.

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Then it was down to Wirral Way through West Kirby to Hoylake. Just before Moreton Cross, I gave up and waited for a bus. Was I tired? No. I just didn’t want to be late for Sunday night at the King’s Arms.

Another great fascination was the docks between Seacombe and Woodside. They were mostly deserted but offered that fantastic sense of local history. I’d follow railway lines until they were lost in the road. I used to gaze at the crumbling structure of the railway terminal.

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I watched visiting ships gliding cautiously through the bridges. Crew members from far off places would be dangling buffers over the side in case they hit the dock wall.

It’s ironic that now I struggle to take a couple of steps. MS has robbed me of my walks.

All those paths and roads.

All those mountains in Wales. (There’s another blog in the making.)

All that shoe leather.

Thank-you for reading.