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Wednesday, 29 June 2016

105. Back to reality

When I was much, much younger I worked for a big company and had two line managers. One I admired very much from a work perspective but, at times, she could be really difficult to get along with; the other seemed a nice person but she just wasn’t doing a great job. To make matters worse, they despised each other. Strangely, none of it bothered me. I found it easy to separate the personal from the professional. I realised I could like someone but hate working with them, and that I could work brilliantly with someone even if they threw massive wobblers.

The Brexit fallout kind of reminds me of that. I’m glad I can disagree with someone and still like them as a person. If you liked someone two weeks ago, it’s alright to still like them now, no matter how they voted. Of course, some Leavers are just nasty pricks – they were before, they still are, they always will be – but we never liked them anyway, did we? 

For anyone who’s interested, this is my favourite discussion of Brexit, told through the medium of owl photos. Yes, you read that correctly, owl photos.

Courgettes, anyone?
It’s been hot, hot, hot for a couple of weeks now and the garden has come on leaps and bounds. We ate our first Latah tomatoes this week (delicious, definitely worth growing), and we’ve been living off spinach salad for what seems like forever (really just a couple of weeks but, damn, spinach salad gets old fast).

I think these are the Black Krim tomatoes, but, honestly, it's hard
to keep track of our seven million varieties.

They get more attention than me.

Latah bush tomatoes ripening.

In other salad news, we’ve starting harvesting from the new kale plants already. (Woo yeah, KALE!) We’ve also been zhuzhing up salads with nasturtiums and chive flowers. For ages I was a bit weird about eating flowers. I was a fussy eater as a child and, 30 years later, I still find myself reverting to ew, no, I won’t like it when faced with something I’ve never eaten before. Blame my parents – they raised me to believe tinned kidney beans were deadly. I’ve come a long way. Anyway, these flowers are awesome in salads – the nasturtiums taste really rockety (and look gorgeous), and chive petals give a strong oniony hit. As I am, apparently, incapable of growing rocket and lettuce, the nasturtiums make a useful substitute.

I took a picture of my food. Like a wanker.

Our courgette plants are hitting their stride. All three plants look like they’re going to be really productive this year, so we may start getting overwhelmed pretty soon. To be honest, I feel a little courgetted out already this summer, thanks to 10 days in Greece eating fried courgettes and tzatziki every day. Give it another week or two and I’ll be desperately Googling courgette recipes as the pile sulks on the kitchen worktop. For now, our favourite recipe is the courgette balls from the Vefa’s Kitchen cookbook.

I also made an Iranian golden beetroot dip this week using our home-grown beets – so Guardian, but so delicious. Otherwise, we’ve just been eating beetroot in, you guessed it, salad. Have I mentioned how much salad we’ve been eating? It helps offset all the post-holiday/football/Brexit alcohol we’ve consumed lately.

The strawberries are over and done with already, and I still didn’t have enough to make a batch of jam, despite having a gazillion plants. At least we managed to enjoy plenty fresh with Greek yoghurt and in smoothies. Also, the blackberry plants that Svilen gave us last year have quite a few berries on them, after looking so sickly just a few months ago. Gone are the days of paying £2.50 for a tiny punnet of Waitrose blackberries – you know, because the Waitrose is 2,000 miles away, but also because I now have them in the garden. I win, Waitrose, I win.

The most important harvest: booze
I don’t care about being self-sufficient in food, but the ultimate aim is to be self-sufficient in booze. Instead of a smallholding, I want a boozeholding.

Lucky, then, that the main apple tree is loaded with fruit this year. It’s so loaded, we’ve had to prop up the branches with sticks. We have a couple of other apple trees but the big, old one closest to the house is the bellwether for the year ahead. Rob made some incredible cider last autumn – really crisp and dry, with a bit of fizz and a serious kick. We didn’t have the kit to test the alcohol level but, based on our cider-drinking experience (not such a wasted youth, after all), we reckon it was easily 6%, maybe 7%. After one glass my eyes would glaze over. Another glass and I’d be pretty squiffy. Three glasses and the whole night’s sleep was a right-off. You know when it’s the middle of the night and you’re so jittery and hot and thirsty from too much booze, and you can feel the hangover kicking in already? Yep, we were like that after three small glasses of Rob’s cider. Anyway, bring on this year’s batch and some (moderate) cider drinking.

So many apples. So many future hangovers.

Rob also made some excellent white and red wine last autumn, and it looks like we’re in for another good grape crop – that’s if Barney the Terrible can stop shimmying up the grape vines and clawing his way along them. (This morning, I heard Rob shout in anger for the first time in years, as Barney clung onto the vine above the kitchen window, gradually wrenching it away from the wall. Rob was so mad he dropped a c-bomb. Earth’s axis shifted. The entire village fell silent. Somewhere, a butterfly cried. I thought it was fucking brilliant.)

'Get down you little c**t.'

Project ‘Grow More Pretty Shit’
Hmmm, the flower garden. Some bits look alright, others totally chaotic, but at least there’s plenty to look at. We’ve had sweet peas, roses, nigella and cosmos in flower for a couple of weeks. And this week the dahlias and cupid’s dart started to flower. Even our coriander, which has bolted in the heat, looks gorgeous with its little white flowers.

Dahlias (and bee)


It’s so nice to have fresh cut flowers for the house every week. It makes me feel like a proper grown up. Which, of course, I am, biologically speaking. Sometimes it takes a vase of home-grown flowers to remind me I’m not 17 anymore.

I can guarantee Barney will destroy these within five minutes.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

7 ways Europe rocks

No searching of souls or pointing of fingers here. Just seven ways Europe rocks my tiny world.

1. Speedy passport lanes
I bet even the most hardened Brexiter will miss their lovely EU passport and the civility of the ‘EU passport’ lane. I’m buggered if I’m going to queue up behind the Chinese tourists, like a fucking chump. Have you seen the hard time they get from customs officials? Arrive at a European airport behind a flight from Beijing and half your holiday will be over before you make it out of the airport. No thank you. I’ll be getting a Bulgarian passport as soon as possible. You know, once I’ve become fluent in Bulgarian and maybe married a Bulgarian...

2. Food
I love cheddar and cider and sausages as much as the next Brit. But you have to admit Europe is home to the best food and booze in the world. Greek olives and feta. French brie. French bread. French cakes. Belgian beer. Bulgarian tomatoes. Italian anything. German … dumplings? German … butter? Ham! German ham. Anyway, rioja, salami, camembert, gelato, you get the idea. I love it all.

The small wedge is for you. The rest is for me.

3. ‘Do. You. Speak. English?’
Ah, Europe, we’re sorry we never bother to speak your languages. Sure, we buy a Greek phrasebook and proudly carry it everywhere like a Blue Peter badge. But, when it comes down to it, the first words out of our mouths are usually, ‘Do you speak English?’ Or often just, ‘Two beers, please.’ And, because you rock, the answer is usually, ‘Yes, sure.’

At least we speak really slowly, though, like you’re all idiots. That’s nice of us, isn’t it? Yeah, you’re welcome.

4. Man bags
There’s a reason Joey couldn’t pull off the man bag: he was American. European chaps wear their man bags with pride, from the conspicuously big to the impractically small (our neighbour has one that’s just big enough for a mobile phone. He wears it while he’s gardening). Ladies, imagine a world where you never have to hear the other half ask, ‘Can I put this in your bag?’ That wonderful utopia exists. It’s called Europe.

Stylish AND practical.

5. Sunshine
Because sunshine and blue skies make everything better. Even Friday’s result was easier to bear under the Bulgarian sun (with a LARGE glass of wine, mind).

6. Eurovision
Nothing sums up the sheer barminess of Europe like Eurovision. Flares. Sequins. Fancy dress. Crap dance routines. Backslapping. Squabbling. Grindingly boring bureaucracy. Much as we love it, if we’re honest, us Brits have never really got it. The UK entry is like the embarrassing dad at a teenager’s house party. We don’t understand what we’re supposed to do, and everyone wishes we would just stay in the bathroom. Shall we do a serious song this year, guys? Oh, you don’t like that? Okay, how about we dress up as flight attendants or do a rap, that be cool? No? Hello?

I mean, seriously, what the hell is going on here?

7. Forgiveness
70-odd years ago Europe’s biggest nations were at war. Even in my lifetime, a ruddy great wall divided Berlin. The fact that we even have a European Union demonstrates Europeans’ enormous capacity to forgive, move on and change.

Europe also forgave us all those times we got a bit carried away on holiday or at a European football match, unable to cope with all the cheap beer and vitamin D: vomiting on the pavements, getting naked in public, throwing chairs. (Why does some dick always throw a chair? What’s that about?) Thanks, sorry, thanks.