Frozen in an F1 Barbecue Summer

When I first started this blog a few years back I used to post pretty randomly but after reading up and subscribing to a few blogging experts I felt that I should decide on a regular time to post. I chose 10am on a Saturday morning. The great thing about having that particular slot is that I can focus my writing towards it, it’s almost like being a professional writer and having a deadline for a newspaper or magazine column. The flip side is that when I’m not so well or haven’t any ideas I start worrying. What will I write about? What if I cant think of anything? So far everything has gone pretty well, the deadline actually gets me motivated to write. Maybe I need a deadline to help me with the follow up to Floating in Space!

Just then the phone rang. I checked my mobile and it was my editor, Issy Readiyet.

‘Issy, how are you?’

‘Steve, I’m great, how’s your new post coming? Is it ready yet?’

‘Well, I’m still working on it Issy, it’s still in the err developmental stage. I’ve got a working title though.’

‘What is it?’

‘Frozen in summer.’

‘What? That sounds a little cryptic. Not sure the readers would go for that. What’s it about?’

‘Well, it’s still a work in progress but it’s summer, and it’s really hot and I’ve got this . . .’

‘What?’

‘Well, I’ve still got a sore shoulder. A frozen shoulder . .’

‘Oh Steve, you’re not still on about that trapped nerve and the shoulder pain? Haven’t you written about that already?’

‘Well, yes but I think there’s still a little mileage in there and I could do with a little . .’

‘Sympathy? Come on, snap out of it Steve. Call yourself a writer? I need some copy and don’t forget we’ve got to sort out the graphics and images and maybe search for some video links. It’s not easy being an editor you know! Get on with it and don’t forget to change that title!’

I would have said ‘bye Issy’ but I was already listening to a dial tone.

Up here in the north west of England it’s been a hot week and last weekend it was one of the highlights of the year for me, the British Grand Prix. Here in the UK Formula One racing can only be seen live on Sky TV. I do have Sky, the basic Sky but being a member of that ancient and revered order, the order of tightwads, I really cannot break my solemn oath and just go and randomly pay for an expensive TV F1 package. The only alternative of course is to watch the highlights on Channel 4, the only terrestrial channel that broadcasts F1.

The big bonus for the British Grand Prix though is that it’s live, yes, actually live on Channel 4, and not only that, they are showing the practice sessions, the qualifying, (my favourite part) the sprint race (something new) as well as the actual race live. It’s the only race Channel 4 are allowed to broadcast live so as I have done a great deal of moaning about only getting to see the highlights I should be happy, shouldn’t I? Finally seeing an F1 race live in this new 2021 season which has been a great improvement on previous rather dull seasons. The flip side to this is that just lately a lovely summer has settled down on us here in the north west of England. Do I really want to be sat inside watching F1? Should I just record it and watch it later? That would defeat the object wouldn’t it? After all, as a true F1 fan I should really be watching it live.

Because of Covid and now also because of my sore shoulder (did I mention the trapped nerve and my shoulder pain?) we haven’t used our motorhome much this year. We did have a run out to Yorkshire a while back and a pub stop over before that but otherwise the only trip was a run out to the garage for the MOT. Liz had bought a small portable gas barbecue ready for our travels and it was lying unused in the corner so we thought it was time to give it a trial run.

(Editor’s note: Barbecues? Where are we going with this?) I do like barbecues but the flip side is that they are dirty and smelly and greasy. I always start off with some dry wood, pack in the charcoal and light up with some firelighters. Sometimes we’ll get a slow burner barbecue so we end up supping too much wine while we wait for things to get going. Other times we’ll get the reverse, a barbecue that catches quickly and voom, goes off in a big hot burn. That’s usually when we are expecting a slow burner and are still finishing off the salad and so when we sit down I realise I’m going to have to slap all the meat on quickly before the coals burn themselves out. The really annoying thing is when we are in the motorhome and I realise that after the barby has finished, I am somehow going to have to clean this horrible, greasy mess and get it packed away so we can move on.

So how have things gone with the gas barby? Pretty smoothly actually. None of that messing about with the coals and lighter fluid. The portable job snaps quickly together, slap in the calor gas cylinder, press the starter and hey presto, we are ready to barbecue. The other great thing about this one is that there is a water reservoir that catches all the grease and fat. Just swill that away somewhere in a corner of the garden, a quick wipe with a paper towel and we are all ready for next time. Barbecuing with gas, I love it!

(Editor’s note: you’re not giving me much here that can be linked to a film clip or video. We need some visual content to liven up this post!) Ok Issy, calm down, how about this: Author Ian Fleming had some trouble with his back and actually incorporated the experience into one of the James Bond books, Thunderball. Bond gets sent to a health farm called Shrublands. There, the inquisitive 007 notices a fellow guest has an interesting tattoo on his hand and decides to contact headquarters to see if they recognise it. The guest overhears this and decides Bond needs to be taught a lesson. The opportunity arises when Bond is placed on a traction machine that is supposed to stretch Bond’s back, just the sort of treatment I need! Anyway while Bond is on the machine it is suddenly ramped up to high speed and nearly breaks Bond’s back. Luckily Bond is rescued in time but later gets his revenge. That traction machine clearly made an impression on Ian Fleming.

I was so engrossed in the easy preparation for our upcoming barbecue I forgot about the Grand Prix. At about 4pm, a full hour after it started I went inside to see what was happening. One of the great inventions in the world of TV has to be hard drive recording. Don’t you just love it? You can actually start watching the race or indeed any programme while it is still recording. I started with the race build up and fast forwarded through all the team baloney about how the mechanics and engineers and everyone back at the factory had done a great job, blah blah blah. Paused for a moment when I thought will anyone actually say anything controversial? No was the answer.

I did stop for a moment with Daniel Riccardo, the Australian driver. Looking at his race team fireproof top and all the advertising on there I started to wonder whether it actually does those advertisers any good, sponsoring an F1 team? I mean who or what is Splunk? What do they do? What product do they make or what service do they provide? I’ve no idea, so do all the millions they pump into McLaren ever get a return? Does anyone think: Daniel had their logo on his shirt, I’ll buy their product? Nah, doubt it.

Ok, they have got their name in front of the public but they need to do a little more to start making use of that.

(Editor’s note: So how was the Grand Prix by the way?) Sorry Issy. After fast forwarding through the usual baloney which I must admit I quite used to like, we finally got to the nitty gritty. The green flag was waved, the red lights went out and Hamilton and Verstappen dived straight away into a great wheel to wheel battle. When they reached Copse corner, the two went for the same piece of tarmac and Verstappen was off into the barrier and Lewis lost his nose wing but managed to continue. That left Leclerc in the Ferrari out in front. Fast forward through all the accusations and counter accusations -Max was too aggressive, Lewis was too aggressive- blah blah blah. Lewis was able to take the restart but Max sadly wasn’t, his car being a total wreck. The race restarted and Lewis chased Leclerc all the way to the end of the race, took a ten second penalty and still won. An OK race and despite fast forwarding through most of it, it was quite exciting although as soon as Lewis took the chequered flag I was off out back to the sun.

Yes, Grand Prix out of the way and it was time to relax. A bottle of merlot had been warming gently in the sun and now it was time to test the wine. Liz poured our drinks and we took a sip, yes it was a cheeky little Spanish number, easy on the palate and just right to serve with steak, sausages, burgers and small kebabs all of which were on the menu that day. The great thing about the small gas barbecue was that instead of having to get up and keeping checking and turning the meat, out new gas barby perched happily on the table top just by Liz so she could easily reach out and turn the kebabs.

Obviously, I would have liked to have done the barbecuing myself rather than be waited on by the lovely Liz, but sadly, being partly crippled by neck and shoulder pain I wasn’t able to assist in the way I normally would. (Editor’s note: Baloney!)


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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Whichever way you look at it, the Coronavirus pandemic has been a real pain in the neck. I’m pretty lucky I suppose as I’ve not been furloughed because I work for a government agency. I’ve not lost any loved ones to the virus either but like I say, generally speaking, the whole experience is one I’d rather forget.

Things are looking up a little bit here in the UK. We can now go out and visit the pub, table service only though mind, no standing at the bar chatting. What really gets on my nerves about table service is that when the pubs opened up last time before the second wave there always seemed to be plenty of staff about to take your order and bring over your beer which was actually pretty nice. In one particular pub where the service has always been dreadful, the service actually improved. Now, every pub I go into they seem to just want you to order via the app.

Now not long ago I deleted a lot of apps from my phone. I just had too many of them. Now, pubs don’t want to serve you in the traditional way, they just want you to use the app and order online. How hard can it be to sort out proper table service? Let’s say two staff members behind the bar and one touring the pub taking orders. Sounds easy to me.

The person who takes your order goes to the bar and hands in the order, two pints of bitter please or whatever, the barman pulls the drinks while the waiter is at another table. He comes back for order #1, hands in order #2 for table B and takes the drinks to table A while the bar guy is pulling table B’s pints. The second bar guy can either take orders or collect glasses or just help out with serving or pulling pints whenever necessary. Sounds simple enough to me. What actually happens is a bunch of people are pouring drinks and after fumbling about with the app someone will turn up with the beers. ‘Carlsberg and an Ice Breaker’ announced our server the other evening. ‘A What? I didn’t ask for an Ice Breaker!’ ‘Yes you did’ said the server confidently. ‘Look, I didn’t order an Ice Breaker whatever that is’ I say but the guy only believes me when I show him my app which clearly states Carlsberg and IPA. So off the guy goes to fetch a pint of IPA which comes back a few minutes later. That’s technology for you, it’s only as good as the people who use it.

Anyway, enough moaning for now. The pandemic has actually forced us to turn inwards. Less going out, more staying in and when we get tired of the TV what else can we do? Well, we can go into the garden for a start.

Big or small, the garden can be a little pool of tranquillity and even if it is just a small balcony and a window box, plants and flowers can bring a little extra something into your life.

What I’d thought I’d do for this post is to take a few pictures of the garden and write a little about each one. I should say that’s its not really my garden, it’s actually Liz’s garden. My only contribution is to cut the grass and to light the barbecue but anyway, here we go.

This first picture is of Mr Blackbird. That’s him up there in the eucalyptus, shot with my Nikon D100 and zoom lens. He and Mrs Blackbird have started a nest in a clump of bushes not far from our breakfast table just by the back door. The eggs have been hatched and he goes out many times each day returning with some juicy worms for his chicks. He’s a wily fellow. First he lands on the big tree and does a quick survey. If the coast is clear he will fly into the small patio and land on the fence before hopping down to the breakfast table or one of the chairs. Then if all is still clear, he’ll hop down and fly up to his nest in the bushes.

There’s a distinct hum in the background. Yes, it’s the local bees. This garden seems to attract them and here at the beginning of summer there are plenty of bees about landing on flowers and looking for nectar and just doing what bees generally do.

As we’re not far from Blackpool airport there are other objects flying around like light aircraft and helicopters, I love both, especially the sound of small aircraft, that lovely lazy drone that you can hear from many small airfields. Up above there is a yellow helicopter that I see regularly and one afternoon I managed to put down my book and snap a few frames off with my camera. I have the feeling that the pilot actually knows I want to photograph his aircraft because when I leave my camera inside, that’s when he comes by flying low right above our house and when I have the camera just by, he always does a wide berth.

Back to the garden and out by the breakfast table Liz has planted tomatoes, peas, mange tout, broad beans and potatoes. There are also some cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli down there and a couple of herb pots with sage, thyme, chives and rosemary to name but a few. Next door is some garlic. Over by the table the large pot of strawberries are doing pretty well with some berries just about to change from green to red. Also over there is a chilli plant grown from the seeds of a chilli. In other parts of the garden are raspberries, runner beans, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, aubergine, green peppers, sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes, butternut squash, padron peppers, globe artichokes and asparagus.

My lemon plants are doing pretty well. (Top right of the montage picture further up)They were grown from lemon pips a few years back but sadly have not yet borne any fruit. This year I’m feeding them with bone meal fertilizer and I’m firmly hoping that one day I might just grow a lemon. It does take at least three years for a lemon plant to fruit but I’m hoping this might be the year.

Years ago Liz and I stayed at a rented villa in Spain. The owner was an elderly chap named André, he was a Frenchman of Russian heritage and in his garden were many lemons and oranges. Spain of course is the perfect climate for citrus trees; perhaps I need to get myself a green house or perhaps even move to Spain!

I do have two olive trees, both of which were gifts and they are both looking good and I do love olives, not that either tree has provided me with any yet.

In the picture above we’ve got cabbage, potatoes and butternut squash.

Further down the garden we have a barbecue and it is so wonderful to light it up and cook outside on summer afternoons. It’s almost like being in France. Well, almost, but not quite. We have a big outdoor table down at that end of the garden and usually I’ll light the barbecue and we’ll start off with salad while the coals heat up. Tomato and onion salad with olive oil is my favourite and recently we have also had home made coleslaw and a rice, chive and cherry tomato salad. A typical meal might be homemade chicken kebabs (chicken marinated in lemon juice, chilli and garlic with a touch of tamarind sauce and cooked on skewers with peppers and onions), sausages, steak and of course burgers. Liz makes her own burgers from minced steak mixed with chopped onion and seasoned well. I like to serve mine on a lightly toasted bread bun with tomatoes, onions and mustard or tomato sauce.

A frequent visitor when we barbecue is this fella above. He or she always appears just at eating time. He makes his presence known by giving us a regular squawk and if nothing happens he will just carry on making a racket until Liz leaves some bit of meat on the garden fence for him. He’ll do a cocky sort of strut along the fence, pretty much like you’d expect a seabird version of Mussolini to do and then he’ll gobble up whatever we have left for him or if he doesn’t like the big guy getting too close and snapping away with his Nikon he’ll take it across to the adjacent roof and sort it out at his leisure. What he does for food when we are not barbecuing, I really don’t know.

When the food has been eaten it’s time to settle back with a glass of red and take a last peek at my book before packing up and going inside. As usual I’ve got a few books on the go. I’m reading the second volume of Sarah Miles’ autobiography, Serves Me Right. Sarah is an actress you might remember from Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or Ryan’s Daughter. At the same time I’ve started the first volume in the Hamish Macbeth series, Death of a Gossip which I turn to when I fancy something a little lighter.

As usual I’ve tried to think of a link to books and films, bit of a tough task with the subject of gardens but here we go. Being There was a short book I read years ago by Jerzy Kosinski. It’s about a gardener, a pretty simple guy called Chance who has spent his life working for the owner of a large house and when the owner dies, Chance is left homeless. He knows nothing about the world except for the garden but he becomes popular as his simple observations about gardens are mistaken for great wisdom. After a random series of events, he even gets to tell the President of the United States his solutions for world problems, based on his understanding of gardens. You may not have read the book but it was made into a film starring Peter Sellers. Sellers based his own performance on a combination of his own gardener and Stan Laurel, a comedian that Sellers admired greatly.

So, how does your garden grow?

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.


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https://youtu.be/lIsuIovCzxA

When Blogging has to go on the back burner!

IMG_00000349Yes, those are my feet in the picture, and my pool too. Well, my pool for this week:  I’m spending a very lazy week in Portugal with Liz and I was hoping to be knocking out some top notch blogs but, well it hasn’t really happened. The thing is there’s the pool just lying there empty, and someone has to swim in it, so well, I’ve just got to do it. Liz was doing a bit of swimming but I can hardly leave her to do all the work, can I? Of course, there’s also the barbecue ; well, I just can’t leave it sitting there can I? So,  I have to slap a few steaks on it, and then, I can’t have a steak without a glass of wine -obviously not!  So I have to have some wine, of course! Then again, I can hardly have a good glass of wine without any cheese can I? Of course not, I mean, do I look like a Philistine? So there you have it!  Blogging is on the back burner at the moment. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!