Tuesday, June 21, 2011

'ello 'ello 'ello

If you've been in trouble with the police recently, then I suggest you move along quietly, there's nothing more to be seen here. But if you're an innocent, and want a little rubber necking, then please slow down (if you're doing something else like driving while reading this) and I'll tell you a story, a real life crime story.

Now don't be misled, this is not a major heist or bloodthirsty murder, quite the opposite in fact, a misdemeanour so slight as to be barely worth mentioning. Which is why I'm mentioning it.

In a deserted London suburban street I committed a traffic offence. I ignored a 'no entry' sign and drove down the 10 yards of one way that has been created to stop people like me taking a short cut. No excuses (like my partner telling me to do it because we were in a hurry and me saying "no, because one day there will be a cop assigned here to catch people like you" ) I did it and saved myself a few seconds on the journey. Hands up. Guilty.

There wasn't A cop, there were four, who came after me in an unmarked car with lights blazing and sirens going, thus disturbing a few sleepy cats on the windowsills.

I stopped as they piled out their car and came towards me. The sergeant, the lead officer, barked at me to switch off the engine and get out the vehicle. I complied and came to face him on the pavement.
He was big, and wearing wraparound sunglasses.
He stared at me. His arms were folded across a chest that is best described as 'mighty'.
"How's you're day been?" he asked, not actually caring how my day had been, but said in a manner that suggested a downhill trajectory.
I tried a smile, "Up until a few moments ago it was fine", thinking that a little humour might be in order.
He continued to stare at me.
"What do you mean by that?" he said, louder, leaning towards me, not quite towering over me, but certainly invading my space, as they say.
I thought that humour might be off the agenda.
"Well, you've just stopped me," I offered, meekly.
"I don't like your attitude," he continued, getting louder still, "I don't like it at all. I expect lip from the kids, but not from grown adults"
He moved in close, and pointed at his chest badge with his name on it.
"See that?" he asked, inches from my face, "That's me, that's my name and rank"
I tried to look innocent (go on, you try it). It clearly didn't work because he started to bellow at me, in my face.
This was less than amusing. His threatening manner was working, he was intimidating in the extreme. I thought amelioration might be better.
"I apologise if there's anything in my demeanour that's wrong, sorry" I couldn't have been more apologetic, polite, nice. I laid it on thick. "I don't mean to be rude. Sorry"
This didn't work either.
"You know you could have KILLED SOMEONE there, someone could be DEAD now because of YOU" He wasn't foaming at the mouth, but he was certainly increasing his heart rate underneath all the weaponry he appeared to be carrying.
He continued in this vein and it was clear that (a) he utterly despised me and people like me and (b) I was going to get really done and regret it.

The Good Lady looked out the car as they began to interrogate her too. The four of them went at it. I expected yellow tape at any second and helicopter overhead. "Overkill" is fascinating to watch as it unfolds before you. There should be a cop series called that.

My body language suggested defeat. I apologised, offered my license, explained that I'd had it a very long time and no, there were no points on it at all. I was barked at for not having the paper section. I was asked, several times, if I was insured to drive the car. The Good Lady was being interrogated as well now, there were two of them shouting into their radios, checking our ID's, checking the licence plate, checking road tax, ownership, addresses, and one on the phone because they'd run out of radios. The noise level in what had been a completely silent street was now quite amazing. Nets were twitching in windows. There was an "incident" unfolding.
I was reminded that I could have KILLED someone by my actions (that's strictly true, had there been anyone in the street at the time) and then I was told that I was GOING TO BE FINED £60, get three POINTS, and had to GO TO A POLICE STATION of my choice with my documentation.
I was asked if I was proud of myself, if I realised that my actions COULD HAVE KILLED SOMEONE and did I NORMALLY DO THIS??

"WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING??" he barked at me, some ten minutes into this activity. "YOU COULD HAVE KILLED SOMEONE!!"

I think I had the message now, but I complied, smiled, did what they asked.

Then it began to go pear shaped. The tax disc was out of date. Back home, on the stairs, was the new one (genuinely) but in these circumstances we may as well have suggested that it wasn't our DNA found at the scene of the murder. I thought I was going to be cuffed and taken down the station but fortunately one of the other four, a minor one, offered that he had already checked with DVLA and everything was in order.

The sergeant looked at me with eyes that whispered of their own accord "oh, you are so fucking lucky this time" and then proceeded to explain to me, three times, about the fine, the points, the fact that I could have killed someone and that if I didn't appear in the police station they'd be coming after me, there'd be a warrant out for my arrest. I'd be in REAL TROUBLE.

Fifteen minutes later, it was over. Four of London's finest marched back to their car and roared off. I drove off too, thanking God that I was in a two way street and therefore not going to KILL SOMEONE!!!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


It is a rare thing indeed that I get all effervescent and radiant about something as simple as lunch. I am in the very fortunate position that I dine out excessively, something I enjoy, but it takes a lot to get the wibbles wobbling, to coin a phrase.

At lunch today, my utterly charming Good Lady had taken the unusual step of booking somewhere we hadn't been. I'm not a creature of habit because I travel like a maniac but I do tend towards the same places around town of an evening or quiet day. Lunch is usually something simple at home anyway.

The joint in question is expensive, overly so, has been patronised by Michael Winner (in both senses of the word) and other famous luminaries. You sit in a greenhouse, on furniture straight out the jumble sale, on an earthen floor, surrounded by plants and yummy mummies. It is not the kind of place where I'm usually to be found. Any time I am, there's a mental note being made, to sit it out, enjoy the bits I can, and get out, never to return.

As I read the menu, a familiar voice was making such mental notes.

The prices are a shock. A starter of a couple of tomatoes was over twelve quid. A main of salmon was 35! Thirty Five quid for a piece of fish!!

The little voice was now talking out loud. I could hear my own voice saying across the table "Jesus H Christ, have you seen these prices!!" in a tone not normally used outside a loud pub. The Good Lady smiled beatifically.

I ordered the tomatoes, then I ordered another starter, peas and cheese lets call it - that was fifteen quid! TGL ordered more conventionally , a starter and a main.

The wine was only ever going to be house but to be honest the wine list was very inviting. We had a sauvignon blanc, from the Languedoc, La Croix, which was sharp and summery, dry but floral, with a zing and a blast on the tongue. It stood out from the normal stuff consumed chez nationwide. It was under £20 and worth it.

My starter of two tomatoes arrived. They were, I was told, Camone and Cuore de Bue, two types of which I've never heard. This is mainly because I've never paid the slightest attention to anything beyond "cherry" and "plum" although I did find myself baulking in sainsburys one day when I saw a sign saying "grown for flavour". What are the others grown for? Fun?

The tomatoes were good. Very good. But they were tomatoes. There was a little light white cheese, or more accurately, goat's curd, which was light and almost fluffy without a trace of acidity, but with a very piquant flavour which lingered long after it should. I silently scoffed.
But it was the oil that did it. Now here's something that I know a teeny bit about. We choose our oils with care and, when we can afford, splurge. I bring back various olive oils from abroad and mix and match in dressings with a variety of ingredients.

This was a smooth, green Italian oil which just rolled around the mouth with an elegance that is rare. An oil slick which I began to savour more than the tomatoes, more than the goat's curd.
My God, I was enjoying it! Twelve quid for two tomatoes and I'm enjoying it?

More than that, I was loving it. I didn't want it to end. I nearly licked my plate. I certainly ran my finger round it just before the charming waitress took it away. "That was something else, " I muttered, "That oil was incredible"
"Good, isn't it?" she smiled back, "It's a tuscan, Fontodi, it's right in season right now"

I stared at TGL. "In season?" And the waitress knew? What is this place, foodie heaven?

My second starer arrived. Peas and cheese. To be fair, it was fresh peas, picked just an hour or so ago, with fresh beans, fresh asparagus and decorated with pea shoots, the spindly wee growths that children chuck away and adults now prize (they taste good)

All dressed in more Fontodi oil, a slick way too small for me, sprinkled (sorry drizzled) over and lying in a puddle underneath. It was very welcome.

But this time it was the cheese. It was fresh buffalo mozzarella. Now you know what mozzarella is, they sell it in the supermarket, put it on pizzas, and if you're lucky it won't be rubbery.
This was different.
I've given up on mozarella in this country. Like ricotta, it can't be transported. I had a conversation in Puglia last year, about this very thing, with a small cheese producer. I asked if he exported (he laughed) and then I asked if you could even get it in Rome. He looked at me and said it didn't go beyond twenty miles of the farm. "It would taste different" he said.
And he's right, it does.
There's a very special mozarella in Puglia - Matera produces the best - which is actually cheese and cream. It's called Burrata, and although a few places in the UK have an imported version, there is nothing like the real thing. Nothing, I tell you.

But this mozarella was so soft and creamy, stringy and mellow, it was like being in Italy. In the south, where under some vegetation, I'd be in the sun, on a terrace, eating the food of the Gods, using a spoon the mozzarella would be so soft, so light and delicious......
Hang on, I am on a sun kissed terrace, I am surrounded by fresh air and creeper plants, this is the food of the Gods.

I stole a taste of TGL's scall0ps with borlotti beans, my gawd it was good - run through with garlicky pesto and fresh tasting herbs (which were fresh because they grow here, in the greenhouse next door) .

A finale of gorgonzola was soft, tangy, unctious, saddled with figs preserved in red wine. I could barely bring myself to share it.

It is summertime. It's a sunny day. this place has been open a few years and apparently slebs go to slum it with the yummy mummies and drop a ton at lunch.

By God it's worth it. Every penny.