Wednesday, 23 July 2008


It's roasting. I'm back in London and it's a baking heat that blurs up from the street below. Brixton is in full swing - cars drive past with plunging base that sets off all the car alarms. Kids play basketball over the road and the smell of jerk is everywhere. I went to market yesterday and couldn't take my eyes off all the sartorial flair. It's as if I've been in a hayloft for the past three months for how agog I am amidst the yams and trotters.

I am overdue on several blogs...and I still don't feel as though the tour is finished. I'm going to bring the festis into it and see about some future moves. I had hoped to slot in my adventures in Lincs., Leeds and Brighouse once I had the pics restored from my damaged hard drive..but have received the sad news that they are unrecoverable. Gutted. All those wonderful images - of the Lincolnshire coast (gorgeous), the Wolds, the shock of bleak industry in Scunthorpe and Goole, raving in Leeds and serving ice cream to Buddhists - and ice cream wars in Hyde Park. And then the wonderful evening with Jayne and Chris in Brighouse where we drank the house dry and which culminated in the hangover from hell the next morning and the breakage of my laptop.

I shall just have to draw on my powers of description and write the posts sans pics.

More soon...

Thursday, 10 July 2008

On the brink

Tomorrow is my first festival of the summer. I'm up in Norfolk and heading over there tomorrow. I haven't even finished writing my West country blog entries. People keep asking if my tour's over now but I quash this scandalous talk. No, it's just on a pause, I say, while I take care of a few non-tour related concerns. The truth is that, though I've seen the most wonderful chunk of Britain (and eaten a huge great chunk of food) I'm not done. Not by a long shot. Well I haven't even been to Wales for a start and...what about abroad?? I'm going to sit on this for a while; mull it over and cook up some schemes. I want more of what the Choc Star tour gave me - more great languid voyages of wonder and delight, more new people to meet and countryside to explore.

I look back on the tour (so far) and am bristling with excitement at the distance I've travelled and the sequence of places I've dipped into. Often I got frustrated at not being able to stop longer and would yearn to stay, only to swiftly forget once I hit the road once more. It's addictive this nomadic state. It quells my restlessness. Yet within it is suspended an impulse I have to stay still and go nowhere - to embed myself in a whole new place.

London? London. I eye it with uncertainty. I'm interested in trying it back on again and seeing how it fits. But for now I just pray that the rain pisses off and let's the festivals be - the quagmires and deep, squelchy trenches still cry fresh in my mind. Forecast for the next three days: Heavy Showers...

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Supper # 41 - Kingsdown, Bristol

I left Welham and headed north to Bristol for a much anticipated dinner with Elly. Elly owns a great little place called the Pear Cafe which I've been dying to investigate. I curved along the deep Somerset lanes, through Bruton, round the one-way system, through Bruton, round the one-way system...through Bruton. Bollocks - stuck in a kind of warped Chevy Chase renactment. I could not get on the road to Bristol - I tried everything, every possible option but it wouldn't take me where I needed to go. I nearly had a seizure. Until that point I had felt pretty relaxed about the lack of sat-nav and pretty pleased with myself for always managing to find my way - but I thought I might pass out with fury in Bruton.

In the end I found my way to Elly and her friend who hooked me up to his house in the most convoluted example yet of pumping power to Jimmy's interior - it really was beyond the call of duty and I felt honoured. With Jimmy all hoisted up and harnessed in, off to Elly's flat we strolled, stopping on the way to pick up some delicious wine and pudding ingredients. It was kind of the first time on the whole trip where I was just hanging out in a city with a friend in a regular sort of being at home.

Glastonbury was going on just down the road and as I prepped the pud and Elly added final touches to her Lebanese extravaganza I cursed myself for not being by Jigga's side. I love him. I love his rhymes, his flow, his hustle and his swagger - and I knew he'd entertain the acoustic evangelists down in Pilton. My yearning subsided quickly when Elly produced a fabulous bottle of manzanilla she'd been saving for the occasion - she's a huge great shez-head and I am always keen to see what kind of style she'll introduce me to next. We snacked on cobnuts and marinated zucchini, quaffed iced sherry and chatted...and Hov did his thing on the telly. I continued to drink - in a way that spoke of being in the comfort of my own home - while Elly worked magic in the little kitchen.

Elly and I

WHAT WE ATE: Roasted aubergine salad salad with saffron yoghurt, chargrilled asparagus, zucchini and haloumi salad with slow roasted tomatoes, roast beetroot, baby spinach, sunflower seed and chervil salad with maple dressing, flatbread with za'tar (sesame, thyme and sumac), fatoush and brown rice tabouleh. Phew! It really was a tour de force and I loved it. I can't get enough of all this delving in and layering up - it's so much more sensuous than an austere piece of 'art' on a plate. I fancy that a medieval style of eating may suit me rather well and who cares about meat when there's this much to make the table groan?

Well once the sherry had been drunk and then the delicious chardonnay and the amaretto - and a few rollies had passed my lips and given me a light-headed sensation, what we spoke about suddenly seems a little unclear.

THE PUD: So I threw together a chilled chocolate, amaretto, orange and almond terrine. After the Bruton debacle it seemed the best option and besides, I knew Elly would be able to slither cheeky little slices off that old rascal for many days to come afterwards. It's one pud that I never get bored of - how could you? It's not leaden and encumbering, nor overly rich. It's just a cool slice of brown gold dust that fills your heart with niceness and winks at you from the freezer whenever you happen to be passing by.

MY BED FOR THE NIGHT: I forgot to get a pic. Like I said, it was a heavy night.

Supper # 40 - Shepton Montague, Somerset

The rain won't stop. It throws down all it has with a kind of glib defiance. I drop my mum at Tiverton Parkway station after a huge lunch and a long, atmospheric walk round her boss' garden. We both agree that it's the most incredible private garden we've ever roamed - even the woodland is landscaped. I'm sad to say goodbye to my mum, I wanted it to be gorgeous weather while she toured with me. I wanted to louche about for longer with her - it's all gone so quickly. Off she goes and on I go - a quick stop-off at Willie's for some more chocolate and a bit of banter and then over to Somerset.

The rain makes me want to curl up and get my cosy on. I don't want to be with strangers tonight so I call and invite myself to uncle Jules' and aunt Di's. A more welcoming response would be hard - the warm wishes of encouragement floweth right through my Sony Ericsson and I attack the journey with gusto. I feel reassured that I'll be amongst family. I wonder if I didn't have the option - which I seem to have had a lot of in the West country - I'd miss it? Perhaps we lean into that which we know will catch us. Yet free-falling is one of my favourite things to do. Maybe I'm just not much of a wet weather free-faller....

So anyway, I arrive back at J&D's in the mid-afternoon. Diana is at work and Jules is running a multi-faceted operation in the kitchen. He's just got hold of the Ottolenghi cookbook and is devouring it in a most hands-on manner. We hang out a while and I offer to decorate the salmon. I realise that I've cooked nothing but chocolate on this entire safari - not a morsel of savoury fare has been fashioned by me so I take to the salmon with vigor, creating for him a translucent ruby coat of sliced tomatoes. I even make eyebrows. It's all very Robert Carrier.

Jules hands the kitchen over to me and I get to work on a sunken chocolate souffle. As it cooks the guests arrive; endless horsey couples from this village or that. Champagne is served in the drawing room, Kettle Chips passed around, the air is awash with the smell of perfume. I'm a recoiler of small talk and am starting to feel a bit like a stuck record:

"I'm having a big, chocolatey adventure in my choc-mobile". / "I look for people to give me supper and then make them a chocolate pudding in return". / "No I don't sleep in the van". / "No I don't have SatNav". / "Yes, I have piled on the pounds and am starting to feel pretty uncomfortable - maybe a more expansive seatbelt is in order"..... I talk to the kids about school and years out and...the tour. On the sofa my grandmother holds court. Dressed in one of her Chinese silk kaftans, her silver hair chignoned expertly, she holds her glass as if she might look somehow incomplete without it. The guests sit reverentially, listening in as she talks of days gone by - of business trips to Egypt, Colombia, Manila, New Orleans. Dinner is ready and we all file through to the dining room, the table laid beautifully, fresh flowers everywhere.

WHO CAME: Jules, Di, one of their kids (Emily), Grandjane, three couples.

WHAT WE ATE: For starters a salad of samphire, green beans, sesame and tarragon - vivid green, glossy and summery. Next the aforementioned enrobed salmon, bright yellow Bearnaise sauce, baked endive stuffed with gruyere and prosciutto and royal potato salad, studded with quails egg and smothered in salsa verde - my favourite thing in the whole world. The fish is pale and super fresh. I can taste its insistent upriver journey working onto my tongue. We drink Puligny-Montrachet and '97 Pauillac.

DINNER TABLE TOPICS: I sit opposite a caddish looking guy - very Jilly Cooper and, to complete the picture, am intrigued to discover that he is 'Master of the Hunt'. We dance along the delicate rope of convincing one another that we're not out to get the other. I wouldn't dream of criticising the Master's antics, besides, I'm distracted at the thought of the sunken souffle. Sunk? To go down it must go up and this poor mite simply rigamortosed in overbearing heat. Clamped tight and unyielding it sits next door awaiting an ordinary reception.

THE PUD: Luckily there are strawberries and raspberries and great, voluptuous folds of whipped cream to disguise my lacklustre offering. It passes without remark. Any positive on the S.S. I silently dismiss. I tell myself it was the oven's fault.

MY BED FOR THE NIGHT: I help Emily wash up while the rest of the party carries on drinking. Cigarette smoke wafts through, intermingling with the perfume, the wine and the smell of delicious food. It smells like a good time and yet it seems surprising to have the fag smell in there. How quickly we adjust - and how few homes I've been in on this trip where any smoking has occurred.

Bed is cool and reassuring and I sleep as heavily as usual.

Supper # 39 - Wellington, Devon

Sorry - this post is no longer for public consumption.