Wednesday, 26 February 2014


I am huge fan of Russell Brand, I love his humour (maybe not some of the naughty bits, but thats my age) and his passion and willingness to stand up and be counted.  I will be marching behind him come November, corns permitting. [not that close, I am not a stalker :)]

However, it saddens me to see him advocating that we shouldn't vote.  All his arguments for not voting are valid, politicians have indeed become indistinguishable from each other, grey men and women, many of them with sinister agendas.  They no longer 'work' before going into politics, they are groomed from the cradle to be leaders.  Old Labour consisted of men who worked in the pits, men who had come up through the Unions, men who knew all too well, the taste of poverty.  When Tony Blair suggested marching hoodies to the nearest cash point for an on the spot £100 fine, it was obvious he didn't have a clue, we were doomed.

Unfortunately, New Labour is all we've got right now to put a stop to the Tories ongoing cull of the weakest in our society.  If people don't vote it will continue. The Labour Party should be fighting the next election on the grounds of humanity, a promise to put an end to ATOS and the Bedroom Tax and give a guarantee to the people, that the NHS will never be sold off.  

What is happening NOW should be the priority, and a non vote will guarantee another Right wing government who will continue hammering the poor.  That is the reality.

Whilst on my soap box and suggesting policy, New Labour could be the first government to actually acknowledge the internet and the sociological changes it has made to our society.  Traditional working class jobs no longer exist, and no-one should be pandering to the hang and flog 'em brigade who would rather see the poor break stones, than doss on the sofa watching Jeremy Kyle.

Taking all forms of extremism out of the equation, how about accepting that new jobs must be created that take account of our huge increase in leisure time.  There, I said it, pass around the smelling salts.  We no longer get up at 6.00am to scrub our doorstep and get the washing out in order to feel good, and sneering at people with their curtains closed past dawn, is just childish. Ever heard of night work Gideon?

Eventually, a Government, one of them at least, will accept that we have an ageing population, and generations arriving at the age where their parents, grandparents etc went out to work, but for them, there are no jobs.  

When their job train gets there, it has hit the end of the line, and there are more trains coming in behind them, each filled with young and talented people who are about to face the scrapyard.

The nature of work has to change.  The Care Industry must get larger, there is no option, people are living longer. No only do these people have to be cared for, they have to be financed. From an economic perspective, if not from a humanitarian one, why not invest in the children who will be the taxpayers of tomorrow?

Create an industry.  Give ALL children free meals. Invest in science, technology and education.  Clear those dole queues by offering hope and inspiration. People are no longer factory fodder, and besides the factories have long since moved out East. Short of someone starting a war, the only way in which to create new jobs (no, not more call centres) is to change thinking and look at what the 21st century offers.  Heck, I wish someone would be brave enough to try a New New Deal.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

THE ALTERNATE ADVICE COLUMN - or what your Mother and Majory Proops never told you.

Dear Cristobell,

Q.   I think my husband is having an affair, what should I do?

A.   Contrary to popular belief, an extramarital affair on the part of the husband, can be one of the most fulfilling times in a woman's life, a time in which to set future parameters and get the kitchen she always wanted.  She can have wild passionate sex with a partner who is currently basking in the belief that he is God's gift to women, should she choose, or she can send him to the sofa and have the bed all to herself.  I think a mixture of the two carries an extra sting.

It is a time in which to catch up with all her mates, especially the best friend who will drop everything to share an evening of dissing men, getting drunk, and singing I will Survive.  It is also a good time to have a few girls nights out, while the Perp stays home minding the kids.  The guilt that is tearing him apart will spur him into handing over cash, and saying (through gritted teeth) have a great time.  

The amount of punishment is really a question of individual taste. Some may consider it churlish to say I would have preferred Belgian chocolates when handed an elaborate bouquet, but remember we are setting future parameters. An offer to return to the garage should be gratefully accepted as it allows time to grab the remote and the best spot.  I am sure many grown men have cried watching Gone With The Wind as their mates watched the World Cup, but probably not because Rhett left Scarlet.

It is unlikely your husband will leave permanently, but sadly, it has little to do with love.  Like any male of the species, they have marked their territory. Roaring lions settle once they have found their slippers, their cardi, and their food providing lioness.  What the lioness does with her straying mate is up to her.  While the old beast might have enjoyed a spot of temporary preening, he will forever wonder why his other half never stops grinning.  

Should you require alternate advice I am happy to assist, just address your queries, Dear Cristobell. :)

Sunday, 16 February 2014


Dear Lord, I'm concerned about this 'No Suspect' Sunday.  Some poor sap may be locked up in a Portuguese prison cell on trumped up charges of child abduction and burglary.  I am guessing it will be someone with a substance abuse problem and a very poor memory, because he can't remember doing it.  Nor can he remember if he told his mates (if he had any).  Nonetheless, he will be charged with The Crime of the Century and burglary and never eat a meal that hasn't been spat on again.  

The McCanns will not only be exonerated, Rome will once more prepare itself, this time for their canonisation and we doubters will be confined to purpose built prison ships while the McCann Fund seizes our assets.  They meanwhile, will probably be knighted for services to Charity Fund Directors, and Kate's next book will be entitled 'The Perfect Parent - How To Be Like Me'.  Gerry will be appointed Witchfinder General Head of UK Press Control, and all future news will come from the McCann Broadcasting Channel.  Only stories that urge donations to The Fund and tales of fluffy wuffy bunny wabbits will be considered.  Madeleine's image (toddler) must serve as a constant reminder to donate.  The best form of justice for the child is to ensure her parents live well. 

Of course, the only place all of this can occur (we hope) is in McCann Cuckoo Land.  Its inhabited by loopy people walking around with candles and the self righteous.  On the plus side, it has a dedicated section for the criminally insane and a hands on Vicar with a special liking for spirits.  All are welcome, the deranged especially, if you can't donate cash, donate hours, use your free time to spit venom and abuse at random strangers on the internet.  You will get your rewards in heaven.  

Don't be put off by the air of lunacy that pervades the atmosphere, in time you too will carry a banner of hope and a suitcase full of Madeleine posters wherever you go.  Happy holiday resorts and private hoteliers particularly welcome pictures of a tragic toddler stolen from her bed while the family were enjoying a carefree sojourn.  We do not however recommend these for UK holiday destinations as we do not wish to damage their tourist industry.  Besides, the idea that Madeleine may be in the UK is as preposterous as it is ludicrous.  She is much more likely to have been taken to a location inhabited by swarthy types where she would stand out like a sore thumb, especially with her unique eye.  Lets keep it real.

The truly deluded are frantically praying (that their identities are never discovered) and may even claim they shared in Gerry's epiphany.  They too, were sent on a mission to raise as much money as they could search for Madeleine, and raise awareness of the vital need to continue searching for attractive missing kids worldwide and the constant need for funds. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

AND I'M STILL BAKING, the ups and downs of an amateur baker

The baking continues and it has given me a new lease of life!

Its very reassuring and quite liberating to have kilo of strong flour, and several sachets of instant yeast in the cupboard, I know that in the event of nuclear war (one of my manic depressive worries), fire, flood or free falling asteroid, I have the ingredients to knock up a sandwich for the kids.  

Not all of my efforts thus far have been successful.  My crusty bread rolls looked like Farleys rusks and had the kind of texture that would be of interest to the concrete industry.  My round loaves thus far, have come out looking like flying saucers, though they are far to heavy to fly.  I don't know if it is my kneading technique (or lack of), but my dough never seems to look like Paul Hollywood's dough - it rises outwards rather than upwards.  Where am I going wrong?

I have had more success using a loaf tin, though getting the tin size and shape right is a skill all by itself.  It really is trial and error.  It took a long time to master placing an oiled piece of clingfilm over rising dough, not as easy as it sounds, especially if you are using one of those rolls where a little bit tears off and you end up with a mile of plastic string and a fat wad of clingfilm that is unusable. Remedy. Remind yourself, ten mile of clingfilm for 50p is not a bargain if you cannot use it.

The most reliable loaf I have found so far, is this simple wholemeal recipe. It only needs to be proved once, for an hour, and it is ready to bake and the kneading time is 5 mins rather than 10, so handy if you are feeling less energetic!

I had intended to put up a picture of yesterday's loaf.  My best friend (and guinea pig, lol) thought it was a 'real' loaf from the shops!  A compliment indeed.  I substitute the olive oil, for walnut oil, when I use wholemeal flour, but I use olive oil, when I make the white version.  I will see if I can get a picture of the remains if it survives the day!

My resolution to give up processed food is not confined to bread.  On Thursday evening following a trip to the market, my kitchen was filled with copious amounts of fruit that was hovering dangerously close to its use by date.  I had a good go at the grapes, but I am only one person.  Plan A was to make a strawberry roulade, but due to the hour, I abandoned the idea in favour of strawberries dipped in chocolate ganache. However, once dipped, the strawberries didn't make it to the display plate, as I got rather carried away with the tasting.  Heck, who am I kidding, I abandoned the strawberries and dived into the saucepan of ganache head first accompanied by some crushed nuts.  Now thats the picture I should have gone with.  Perhaps with a health warning such as: 'This is what happens when a woman is deprived of chocolate'.

Strangely, I continue to lose weight, my crazy diet is working!  As I mentioned before, nothing is forbidden, as long as I make it from scratch.  It is indeed also possible to make your own sweets.  If one leaves the ganache in the fridge for at least 10 hours, it can be rolled into delightful little truffles and placed in cutesy gift boxes.  Suffice to say, I have yet to achieve the waiting time required.  

I put some of the plums on top of shop bought puff pastry (yes I know, but in the case of puff pastry, shop bought is allowed), together with some crushed almonds and a little sugar.  I kid you not, a wonderful (and imo healthy) pudding in minutes.     

In retrospect buying all that fruit was not one of my better ideas, as I hadn't put much thought into how I was going use/preserve it, and its quite depressing watching your beautiful grapes turn into raisins.  I daren't look at the remains of the strawberries that are probably now stuck to the back wall of the fridge. Oh well, its been a good week, I have had over and above my '5 a day' and some of the strawberries did end up in sugar free jelly for which I will give myself a 1000 weightwatcher points.  

Thursday, 6 February 2014


I think the public are now groaning when they see a McCann story.  Seven years of spin - quite literally, the same old stories are going around and around, and all are intended to take suspicion away from the McCanns.  From the responses in the comments of the National papers, it seems as though the public have had enough.  The McCanns have received the kind of help other devastated families can only dream of, a massive Fund to support the family and an entire department of Scotland Yard detectives investigating their daughter's disappearance as if the 'abduction' had occurred in the UK.

Its not going well for the McCanns.  In my opinion the publicity machine has gone into meltdown.  The stories are becoming ever more ridiculous and those of us who have watched this case in amazement this past 7 years have heard them many times before. They are repeating the same tactics they used in 2007, media saturation.  In 2007 it worked, as Clarence bragged at that spin doctor conference, they successfully turned public opinion  on the McCanns from hostility to sympathy and support.  Further they were able to stir up anger against anyone who doubted the McCanns, by accusing them (us) of being internet voyeurs of tragedy who attack victims of crime.  We had the strange phenomenon where normally rational people would become incensed at any criticism of the parents, and the subject became as taboo at the dinner table as politics and religion.

However, the abduction story has not stood the test of time.  It becomes more and more outlandish as the years go by.  In the grief of the moment we are prepared to believe exactly what we are told, seven years on, it is a big ask.  Those who took an interest in the case of missing Madeleine McCann have, since she disappeared, seen too many tragic abducted child cases where the parents have been responsible - right before their eyes the facts have confirmed the statistics.

Public opinion matters.  If you are popular you can get away with murder - look at Hitler.  There is no point our moaning about it, it just is - though on the plus side our leaders are becoming more attractive as beauty wins the battle over brains.  But I digress, to this day, I believe the initial hours after Madeleine disappeared are crucial to the way in which this case was handled, and I believe there was a huge Oops moment in the corridors of Westminster when it became obvious all was not quite as it seemed.

Herein lies the shame of the politicians, it was more advantageous to them to defend this hard working, clean living, British family, than it was to look too closely at their very odd behaviour.  It became almost jingoistic  as mainstream journalists joined in the attacks on the Portuguese investigation, spurred on by the lack of results that could not be obtained because the main protagonists refused to co-operate.  The blame was placed firmly in the lap of Goncalo Amaral and the McCanns's popularity soared.  That people who should have known better were blinded by their innate class prejudice and xenophobia will be a further stain on the reputation of the British abroad, alongside the myth that we all leave our kids alone in hotel rooms.

But lets stay logical.  Just as we who follow this case watch the comments columns of national newspapers to gauge public opinion, so too do Government departments.  In 2007 Kate may well have been right, there could have been riots in the streets, the McCann media machine had literally stirred the public up into a frenzy.  What with Gerry's epiphany and Kate's suffering, we were observing 21st century internet martyrs.  Wracking up the Catholic support was a stroke of genius.

I don't think the McCanns can make a successful comeback now, people are no longer coming together to raise funds for them or pray en masse.  There certainly won't be any more audiences with the Pope.  David Cameron granted the McCanns the Review they wanted but he didn't meet them and he wasn't photographed shaking their hands.  Everyone knows that when this story breaks (which it will), it will be even more sensational than it was the first time around.  The Press keep the McCanns in the headlines because they shift newspapers, probably no more no less, and they have the convenience of readily prepared press releases to fill those column inches.

I believe we will see justice for Madeleine this year because DCI Redwood is focused on the child, not the parents, and if that determined look on his face is fake, then he deserves a table at the Oscars.

Saturday, 1 February 2014


I've not bought bread since early December and I seem to be losing weight!

I've not been well.  Not quite Jeffrey Bernard unwell, but all my sins have caught up with me, and I have Type 2 Diabetes, Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure.  I'm sure there is a name for this common mid life condition, but I haven't got the heart to look it up. Chuck in the depression, the arthritis and the inability to drink alcohol (more of which later), and I was close to heading off to the knackers yard.  

Was discussing treatment of my poor old arthritic joints with a nice female friend of my Smart Ass Son (hereinafter known as SAS) - his friend, a graduate in something equine, recommended keeping my joints warm and avoiding damp weather when SAS piped up and asked said horse expert if the advice came with a tent and a shotgun? He had a point, my days of jumping high fences are well and truly over, but are they? Before my sons get me incarcerated for my own good (they only need one more signature) or call in an armed vet, I have decided to re-enter the arena with Chumba Wumba singing 'I get knocked down, but I get up again' as my theme tune. 

Plan A is stop eating processed food and Plan B is go running.  As my fear of Plan B is so great, Plan A is thus far staying on track.  

I know that being overweight is probably one of the worst things for arthritic joints, BP and cholesterol and I have a fairly in depth knowledge of nutrition and healthy eating, so I've no excuse. Like most of the women I worked with in years gone by, I could name the calorie count and fat content of a strawberry at the drop of a hat (4 and 0) and I carried pocket book guides to calories and fibre content in my handbag.  Unfortunately, the knowledge I had, never prevented me from having undignified skuffles with the lettuce eating tupperware queens, when birthday cakes were brought into the office. On those occasions it was every man/woman for themselves.

The problem that I have, and I believe this may be universal, is that I don't actually want to give anything up.  This is a conundrum that has troubled me often over the years.  I'm always looking for a short cut, or an easy option so I've only myself to blame.  However, after much navel gazing and contemplation, I've finally found a way to eat whatever I want, and hopefully lose weight, the only proviso being that whatever I have, I must make myself. Doing it this way, I have been able to eat my favourite things - profiteroles, bear claws and chocolate cake.  At first reading this sounds like a completely insane idea, but bizarrely it seems to be working. There is something frankly ludicrous about making whipped cream and ganache in the wee small hours (yes I have done it, and no I don't advise it). In my case its mostly because my OCD dictates that I must wash up and put away everything before I go to bed. The thought of washing up all those bowls, spoons and saucepans is often enough to put off those little bites of choux deliciousness until the next day.

The biggest change I have made is the abandonment of shop bought bread. I have not yet achieved what I would call a perfect loaf, but my failures are enjoyed as much as my successes, and the next day they are toast.  Its been many years since I last attempted bread making, and I had forgotten how easy it is.  There is no mystery at all, quite literally anyone can do it.  I don't have a bread machine as kneading is good exercise for my my misshappen 'Shrek hands' (again, SmartAssSon) - 10 minutes bashing the daylights out of a ball of dough is a great stress reliever and saves clipping SAS around the ear.  In my experimenting, I have a cupboard of assorted flours and yeasts and in the event of a nuclear war (one of my OCD fears), I have enough ingredients to carry on making fresh bread daily for the foreseeable future.  

Giving up processed food has not been difficult, I was never fond of it anyway and I hated myself for buying transfat laden cheap treats from our fastest 
growing chain stores.  I ate them because they looked so appealing on the shelves, and they were a quick sugar fix but they are nowhere near as satisfying as the fresh fruit based deserts I am making now.  My theory is that anything fruit based must be good, but thats just pure optimism, the scales and the blood sugar levels will tell. Thus far, my sugar test strips, remain glucose free and I have lost one and half stone since I last weighed myself.  However I am not claiming this is down to my recent lifestyle change just yet, as I have avoided weighing scales for quite some time!

As for ready meals, take aways and the like, I'm a bit of a food snob, to be honest.  I won't eat factory raised chicken, or buy mass produced eggs, on humane grounds. Ditto, intensively reared beef and other meat products, which keeps my meat consumption low. Fresh vegetables are something I have always enjoyed, so increasing them is no hardship and I have been able to use them up in interesting and creative ways.  

Cakes and sweets however are usually my downfall, but strangely I am not missing them either.  I am finding homemade treats far superior and I am convinced the work involved in creating such delights and the washing up that goes with it, cancels out the calories involved in eating them. Pathetic I know, but I am not above lying to myself if it gets at least one of my feet back onto the healthy eating straight and narrow.   

I am toying with the idea of putting up pictures of my cooking triumphs and disasters - partly for their comic value, and to give a true idea of what these masterpiece recipes look like when made by an inept amateur.  One particular cake had the consistency of a breeze block and SMS had several suggestions for its use in the building industry, though I am delighted to say that my sponges are now divine.

I have also now successfully managed to make a crusty white loaf using a combination of advice from Delia and Paul Hollywood.  Putting a splash of water in a tin tray at the bottom, does indeed make for a hard crust, and Delia's wonderful tip about warming the flour first, gave me my 'first', truly warm pliable dough that actually looked like the one she had on the video and took less than half the kneading time of the previous recipes!  Top tip: warm flour before you begin. The result unfortunately would not have won any Bake Off contests, it was a beast that outgrew its tin with a crust was that was virtually impenetrable.  However, once in, it was delicious.

My next challenge will be crusty white rolls, but I may postpone them to make a wholemeal walnut loaf to have with the fresh lemon curd I made last night. I am not entirely certain this new lifestyle will result in health benefits and weight loss, but it will certainly be interesting and not entirely unpleasant finding out.