Week 477

Sunday, 11th February

Lovely blue sky with strong sunshine that made the house feel hot but belied the cold outside. As usual, it has been a day of newspapers and football although we did go for a full workout and swim at the Health Club. As I watched a match at our old home of Huddersfield, I shaded my eyes against the sun flooding in through the window while snow blasted across the Huddersfield ground.

Found time to read the Greek newspapers this morning and was interested to read that, following the conclusion of the bailout program in August, the Greek Finance Ministry officials expect a period of monitoring by Greece’s creditors, probably lasting four years to the end of 2022, during which the country will be asked to implement the reforms it has committed itself to. Despite public statements about a ‘clean exit’, the supervision is expected to be strict.

It is unlikely that the Syriza Government will still be there by the time the country is set free of supervision. They are unpopular and beset by problems relating to a scandal of corruption in the State Medical supplies industry, continued wrangling over the name of former Yugoslavia and continued downward pressure on social support and pensioners across the nation. I would expect Νέα Δημοκρατία to take over when that is put to the electoral test.

Monday, 12th February

A cold start to the day – -2C/28F at 7.00 am – but we eventually experienced a high of 10C/50F as we swam at around 3.00 pm. Because the morning was so bright and sunny, I used it to valet the car inside and out. We are going on a shopping trip to France soon so I wanted to prepare by filling the washer bottle, checking the oil and tyre pressures.

After a hot bowl of homemade soup which my wife seems able to rustle up in minutes with minimal ingredients, we wondered what on earth to do for an hour when the Daily Politics is on recession. We even set off for the Health Club earlier than usual. Mondays are always rather busy in the gym and even more so as temporary members who joined for a cheap, 3-month trial on a wave of New Year Resolutions are flooding through the facilities. Actually, we are not even half way through February and this initial enthusiasm is beginning to die down but it is also Half Term which increases visits of parents and children. That is the worst. Children!

When we got home around 4.00 pm, our back garden was still flooded in sunlight, sheltered and warm. We griddled, mushrooms, onions and chicken breasts outside in the garden. Pauline had made chicken stock out there this morning. We joked that we hardly needed an oven nowadays because we cook so much outside.

Everything we griddle is marinated in Greek olive oil and there was a interesting article on television this evening about the insect which is currently blighting and destroying olive trees in southern Italy – in Puglia particularly. Huge olive groves have been laid to waste by an insect ravaging the age old trees. It will only be a matter of time before it spreads north through Italy and south through Greece. In addition, successive droughts of the past five years have seriously reduced crop sizes and, for the British buyer, the collapse of the euro has increased the price. For us, it is the perfect storm.

Tuesday, 13th February

Happy Pancake Day

As my ‘Times’ newsletter informed me this morning, the problem with Shrove Tuesday is the risk of a load of terrible pancake jokes which fall flat.

You shouldn’t have to put up with that crêpe.

The morning didn’t start well. The night had been one of strong winds and driving rain. So it was this morning as we ventured next door to feed our neighbour’s cat. It (He)wasn’t there. We put out the food and called our best cat calls but no sign of Como. He has a cat flap in the patio door and is microchipped to open it. With visions of cats squashed on nearby roads running through our imaginations, we left.

Within an hour, we couldn’t get cats out of our heads so we walked back through the wind and rain to be greeted by  ….. Como the cat. He’d eaten all his food and was begging for more. Of course, he got it!

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh

The weather was so awful by lunchtime that we decided to stay at home. I took advantage of our enforced leisure to reappraise our Edinburgh trip. We’ve discarded driving, and taking the train and now favour flying from Gatwick. It only takes just over an hour and costs just £22.00/€24.70 per person each way. We will have to leave our car at Gatwick and travel by tram from Glasgow Airport to our hotel on the Royal Mile but all of this is preferable to other transport. We will only go for 3 or 4 days but, in our experience of cities, that is enough. It will give us plenty of time to meet up with our friend and see the major sights. We are not tourists by any stretch.

Wednesday, 14th February

What a horrible day – certainly not one for lovers. It started off cold and sunny but soon delivered, cold and dark with heavy rain and that is persisting well in to the evening. It’s definitely affected next door’s cat. He doesn’t want to go out, keeps crying and is absolutely starving. I know the feeling. Actually, we did go out to the gym but couldn’t face swimming. I know I will already be wet but driving, cold rain on your back is not a pleasant prospect.

Received our tax code notice from the Revenue & Customs and it was accompanied by the now customary illustration of where tax take is spent. I am always amazed by how small a proportion of the pot is spent on the UK Contribution to the EU budget. If only those complaining about the money flooding away in to Europe would recognise his point. Membership of the biggest single market in the world for such a small price. I have deliberately tried not to proselytise  on this topic in my Blog but this personal event today allows me to step over that line for once.

Thursday, 15th February

Up early this morning and out on the road to the Channel Tunnel. We were booked on a 9.20 am crossing for a shopping trip. After two days of rain, we had fortuitously chosen a sunny day to cross the channel. We waited for half an hour at the Folkeston side and drank coffee while reading our iPad newspapers. Quickly loaded aboard the train, we relaxed with our reading for the quiet, 30 mins journey. Rolling off into Calais by 11.00 am (ET), we drove straight to the wine store.

I have lots of red wine and I am trying to reduce my consumption. At the same time, I am aware that this source may be about to dry up altogether so it is important to maintain stocks against future deficits. This is the first time for many years that I’ve majored on white wine. It is particularly appropriate because we are eating so much fish nowadays. Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc were well represented today. Of course, I couldn’t resist a few cases of Red Bordeaux and some Spanish Tempranillo which I’ve recently begun to enjoy. I spent about £535.00/€600.00 and then we drove on to Auchan in Coquelles where we bought lots of duck, fish and vegetables.

We had set ourselves quite a tight timetable and were soon off back to the Tunnel where we got on the 2.15 pm train home. As we drove on our way back through Kent and into Surrey on the M23 near Gatwick, we came upon the most horrendous crash involving 5 or 6 vehicles which had completely closed the entire North-bound motorway for about 5 hours. The tailbacks went for miles. Really felt for anyone driving to the airport for a flight. They had no chance of making it. Fortunately, we were travelling South and soon arrived in sunny Sussex. We do this sort of trip a lot but it still strikes us as we relax at home how strange we had been in another country only hours ago.

Friday, 16th February

I have loved bacon since I can remember. Mum served it for breakfast most mornings in my first 18 years of life. When I left home, it was a weekend breakfast treat – especially smoked. However, Pauline and I have tried through almost 40 years of marriage to eat mainly home made food. Pauline has made all the bread we ate. We began to make our own pasta and tried to make our own sausages. Biscuits, cakes, etc. have all been home made. Nowadays, you could count on the fingers of your hands the things that we purchase that have been pre-processed. We don’t yet smoke our own salmon. We don’t roast our own coffee beans. We don’t make our own cheeses. We don’t press our own olive oil. Short of that, there is very little we buy that could be considered as commercially processed.

We have tried to turn our diet to mainly fresh produce. Every week, we consume

  • 5 packs of cherry tomatoes,
  • 3 cucumbers,
  • 2 packs of rocket leaves,
  • a head of broccoli,
  • a head of cauliflower,
  • 4 peppers
  • 3 packs of mushrooms,
  • 10 onions
  • 2 garlic bulbs
  • 14 large oranges,
  • 7 mangoes,
  • 21 bananas
  • 2 packs of blueberries

These are combined with one major protein each day:

  • swordfish or tuna steaks,
  • cod loins,
  • salmon fillets,
  • sea bass,
  • whitebait,
  • calamari,
  • chicken fillets

The protein element is cleanly cooked with olive oil – usually griddled but also roasted. We try to use little salt and to flavour with herbs – dill, tarragon, oregano, thyme, bay, sage, parsley mainly.

The reason that I raise this at all is not out of self congratulation but because the British media has majored this week on the cancer risks of highly processed foods. Who knows how reliable the recent research is. After all, for years we didn’t eat eggs or butter based on that sort of research. However, it does feel reasonable (if that isn’t an oxymoron) to follow a largely natural and ‘clean’ diet where possible and that is what we do and have done for years. Just occasionally, if we eat somewhere unusual and are forced to compromise our diet or if we have a brainstorm and think wouldn’t it be enjoyable to break all the rules, we always end up regretting it and wondering how we ever craved those commercial foods at all.

Saturday, 17th February

What a wonderful, wonderful day. It has been blue sky and strong sunshine from dawn to dusk. From getting up at 7.00 am until sitting down at 6.00 pm, I have been on the go. I’ve hardly read the newspapers or blogs.

Vacuumed the house, valeted the car, home made soup for lunch, off to the Health Club for a full, 3 hr session. Swimming under azure blue sky in warm sunshine is the perfect way to finish a hard exercise session. My phone has registered 15,000 paces so far today.

Back home, we griddled fresh tuna steaks in the garden and ate them with the new (Sanders) craze of rocket and remoulade plus tomato and cucumber salad. I really do prefer chilled red wine but, on this Spring-like day, a bottle of sauvignon blanc really raised the spirits to sky high. It is hard, sometimes, to believe life can get much better than this.

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