I didn’t much like last week. In fact I’m glad it’s over, and plan on staying indoors for most of this one, Just In Case.
It all got off on the wrong foot on Monday – the day that crime came to our little corner of Clapham. (Anyone who lives in South West London will be guffawing aloud at the notion that crime doesn’t pervade its every nook and cranny; but we were, as yet, oblivious to it - unless of course you count the occasional shoplifting by the Boy). It was my own fault entirely – as every Londoner who owns a bicycle knows, you must keep it superglued to your bottom at all times. I didn’t – in fact I left it out by my side gate ALL ON ITS OWN for about 12 minutes, while I made my way through the house, through the garden, and around to the side door to bring it in. (Yes, that takes 12 minutes. Not, unfortunately, because we have a 15-acre garden, but because there are at least 12 minutes of distractions en route). Anyway, by the time I got there, Mr Bike had been taken (by a gang of marauding 10-year-olds, apparently). Bye bye Mr Bike. And my incredibly expensive (and incredibly unlocked) lock. And the child-seat attachment. Grrr. What a pisser.
So I called Clapham Police to report it – purely to have a reference number for the insurance people - and naturally expected them to snigger and roll their eyes*. This is Clapham for God’s sake - be glad you weren’t murdered and disembowelled and had your innards sold on Venn Street Market for a tenner. But actually, they were fantastic. I was still on the phone, having a nice little chat, when the door rang, and by golly if it wasn’t the patrol car squad come to offer me sweet cups of tea and counselling.
While all this was going on, the Boy was in the garden making a slurry pit, within eyeshot of the living room. So when he looked up and saw not one, but TWO policemen actually in his house, I thought he’d pass out. He stood there with hanging jaw, went a bit pale, and stumbled over himself when I waved him in. Then he stood transfixed at the living room door, his face a mixture of disbelief, terror, and pure awe.
“Hello young man”, kindly PO #1 said. Boy just looked at him, then his bottom lip started to tremble, and suddenly “I’msorryI’msorryI’msorryIwon’tdoitagainIpromise” gushed out. The Policeman looked at each other with some concern – maybe this wasn’t going to be just a routine stolen-bike-ditsy-cow call after all... Transpired that I had managed - both unwittingly and unintentionally, but by gum, happily – to put the fear of God in him about the omnipotent policemen and their all-seeing all-knowing eyes and ears when it comes to Boys Who Don’t Sit In Their Car Seats Without Shrieking. Once we’d cleared up that misunderstanding he had a gay old time. First he ordered Standing PO#1 to sit down beside him on the sofa (“Shoes OFF!” - Yes! It’s sunk in!), then he wrapped himself around him, stroking his head like a cat, and started whispering Godknowswhat in his ear, laughing maniacally. He grabbed the talking walkie talkie, managing to press a few buttons and respond before it was retrieved, all the time stroking stroking with his embarrassingly filthy slurried hand. I left them to it and went back to the pointless task of Answering Questions Imperative For Getting My Bike Back (“The Brand? Well it had a sticker of a tiger on it. Or a lion. Bikes have registration numbers? Really? 27 gears, definitely. Or 18? Maybe 18. 15? Do they come in 15? It was silver. I know that for a fact. The child-seat attachment thingy was black. White? White. Or Black...”)
By the time I’d finished the Boy was being given a tour of the Police car, including flashing the lights on and off, and even doing the nee-naw thingy. How cool was that? The glow of sheer bliss on his face for the rest of the day was almost worth having the bike stolen. (To coin a phrase, every cloud has a copper lining...)
On top of this, there was the weather. Hurrah for June tomorrow! May in England sucks eggs. Thursday, for instance, was a thunderous bitch of a day. Although in its defence, there was contributory negligence on my part – in my haste to GetTheFuckOutOfTheHouse, I forgot to change out of my manky old £2 Primark flip-flops, and was slip-sliding all over Oxford Street before I knew it. But apart from my sartorial crimes (the shame the shame – especially when I found self in a shoe shop contemplating summery sandally things, and looked down at my feet to discover they’d been swopped, changling-like, for the dirty cloven hooves of a troll) the horrors of the day were entirely due to the weather. Why can’t it make its fucking mind up? It’s all: “ooh, I think I’ll lash rain... or perhaps a blast of furnace-like heat? How about some galeforce wind just to mess with their
hairs heads...” There were several low points to that day – all of which involved stepping out of the dry indoors into sheets of wet – but the lowest was being approached by a very very sweet young man, holding aloft an enormous umbrella, who stopped to ask me if I wanted him to hold my bags while I picked myself up out of the puddle I had just slipped into (damn Primark and its lethal lurid-green plastic shoes). The second lowest was squelshing out of the tube station to find it actually not raining for the first time all day – hurrah, nearly there, only about 200m to go – and then the Patron Saint of Pissing Me Off turned the water on FULL BLAST. By the time I got home I was too wet to even walk into the house, and had to stand on the door mat removing my clothes. The Boy, having galloped out to see what was going on, turned on his heels and galloped away again (“Mummy, what are you doo-ning all wet like a dirty crocodile?”) and the Girl took one look at me and promptly burst into tears.
There was only one thing for it. Potatoes and booze. (Separately, as I haven’t set up my potin still in the basement yet.) The following dish, a ridiculously large glass of red wine and this book took the sodden edge off the day.
Potato Gratin (AKA: Yum-Bloody-Yum)
Every time I make this – and it’s not often enough – I ask myself why I don’t make it twice a week, if not every day. Because, it’s a teeny bit of a faff and takes forever to cook, that’s why. Yes, there are only four ingredients, but you have to peel all those potatoes and slice then. (Or feed them through a slicer attachment on your food processor, but then you have to wash it...) Actually, it’s not a faff at all, I just always imagine that it is. But it does take forever to cook – at least an hour, more likely an hour and a half - so I’d suggest making it as early in the evening as you can, which will then allow you to get quietly, happily, sozzled while you wait for the chemistry that is heat+cream+potatoes to do its magical stuff.
You need (for 6 as a side, or 4 as a main [with salad]):
- About 6 large potatoes
- A generous lump of soft butter
- A pint of single cream
- A half pint of milk (full fat or semi-skimmed)
- Some grated nutmeg
- A clove of garlic, finely sliced
- Some hard cheese, grated. (about two handfuls. Any type of cheese is fine)
- Slices of smoked salmon (to make it into a substantial main course. Leave out all the other optionals if using this. )
You also need a large oven-proof dish.
Heat oven to 180 / 160 fan /
Peel the potatoes and slice them as thinly as you can. (Or use a food processor).
Mix the cream and the milk.
Butter the oven-proof dish generously.
Layer the potato slices in the dish, overlapping at the edges. When you’ve used up half the potatoes, add the nutmeg and scatter the slices of garlic and most of the grated cheese, if using, or the smoked salmon (again, if using) and half of the cream mixture. Continue layering the potatoes until all have been used, and add the rest of the liquid. It should just barely cover the potatoes; if it doesn’t, pour over more milk until it does. Scatter the rest of the cheese on top, if using.
Cover with tinfoil (making sure not to touch the cheese) and stick in the oven. Remove the tin foil after 45 mins, and put dish back in the oven. Check the potatoes after an hour (in total) – a fork should slip easily into the middle of the dish. Give it 15 – 30 mins more if not completely tender.
Eat with or without a green salad, and the remains of the bottle of wine you opened two hours ago.
* Unlike the Police, the Insurance Folk did snigger. Apparently when they asked if it was locked, the correct answer was “yes”. Sigh.