Thursday, 16 December 2010

Heston Blumenthal and Me

Me and Heston have many things in common - we're both great cooks, both a bit geeky, and both suffering from a shortage of candied orange.

In Heston's case, you might have read the story in the news. He occasionally creates dishes for the upmarket UK supermarket chain Waitrose. For this Christmas season, he invented a large (12-14 people) Christmas pudding with a whole candied Seville orange in the middle. The company contracted to make these babies - Northern Foods - bought the entire year's supply of whole candied Seville oranges. About a week ago, it was announced that they were only days away from selling the entire production. And it takes seven weeks to candy a whole orange. These puddings are now selling on eBay for upwards of a thousand quid.

In my case, I thought it would be prudent to make mince pies for the Christmas season. I reckoned I'd planned ahead for this by making 5 litres of mincemeat - you can buy it in Madrid, but it's full of bad stuff and it's very expensive. If you're unfamiliar with mincemeat, it contains sultanas, raisins, apple, cider, chopped nuts, spices, and, in my recipe, about a half litre of brandy. Traditionally, mincemeat also contains suet, but to make ours vegetarian friendly, we use shredded butter instead. Oh, I nearly forgot, it also has candied orange peel in it. Now, I've searched high and low for candied peel, without success, so I decided to make my own. It takes four days, but it was pretty fab.

So, off we go making mince pies at the beginning of December, and before I know it, we're down to the last jar of mincemeat. Fortunately, I still have enough candied peel, and I make twice the quantity of the first batch. But in the last week, we've sold hundreds of mince pies, with more orders to fulfil in the next few days. I realised this situation was looming, so a few days ago I made some more candied peel. Except - and my marketing buddies will say I shouldn't tell you this, but hey, I'm an honest kinda dude with a full selection of funny hats - I screwed up. Didn't put enough sugar into the mix, so instead of drying out into the preserved fruit wossname we wanted, it all started to go black. Blueghhh.

I made another batch of mincemeat tonight, but instead of candied peel I used caramelised orange peel (which takes about an hour to make rather than four days), and I don't think I'll be getting any complaints.

And while I'm in boasting mode, let me just share this comment from one of my customers: "Those pies are amazing! I have only recently developed a taste for mince pies but those are the best I have ever had, and I have tried a lot."

So nerr.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Cooking 2.0

In recent weeks I've become quite interested in what I think of as Cooking 2.0, but which the rest of the planet calls Molecular Gastronomy. In case you haven't stumbled across this, it's a method for high-profile chefs to make vast sums of money by serving miniscule portions of chemically-engineered food at staggeringly high prices.

The preparation of food, of course, has always been about chemistry, but most chefs are happy to just follow recipes without really knowing what processes are going on. The new generation of Cooking 2.0 chefs (Ferran Adriá at El Bulli near Barcelona, Grant Achatz at Alinea in Chicago, Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck in the UK and many others), use many techniques that are more at home in a laboratory setting to create astonishing gastronomic experiences. I haven't actually sampled any of these delights, I'm not made of money, and El Bulli only opens for six months of the year and reservations sell out on the first day of each season. So I guess I'll have to try making these things myself.

This all started, by the way, when I was trying to solve a couple of problems with my pies. One problem was how to stop pastry sticking to aluminium foil trays - butter works well, but has to be applied very carefully; oil is more hit and miss. I wanted something I could spray into the trays (you can get something called PAM in the States, but I've never seen it here), and the answer was this amazing substance called lecithin, about which, more later.

The other problem was to do with the jelly in my pork pies. Previously, I've made up small batches of the jelly by boiling pig or sheep feet in a savoury stock. The feet contain lots of gelatin, which sets the jelly at room temperature. But I decided it was too much hassle to make up fresh jelly for each batch of pies, so I made a bucketful and froze it in small containers. Somewhere between freezing and thawing, the jelly lost its set-ability, so I had a few customers whose pork pies dribbled on them when they bit into them. Not good. I did some online research, and found that yes, gelatin is broken down at a particular temperature, and loses the ability to set. This led me to explore the use of gelatin sheets combined with a super-intense stock, and the results are pretty marvellous. I also came across lots of Cooking 2.0 applications for gelatin, which I'll tell you about when I've had a chance to mess about with them.

Back to lecithin. This remarkable substance has the ability to make things like oil and water stick together when their natural inclination is to be apart. In other words, it's an emulsifier. It occurs naturally in eggs, which is why mayonaisse works. If you look at food labels, you'll find it in everything from chocolate to bread, and I've no doubt that brewers of horrible beer in the UK use it to make the foamy head last longer. In facts foams and 'airs' form a large part of the Cooking 2.0 repertoire: you can whizz any liquid (sweet, savoury, whatever) into foam, and if there's a bit of lecithin dissolved in it, the foam bubbles last for a very long time, rather than bursting after a few seconds.

I bought half a kilo of Soya Lecithin - it's also sold as a food supplement that is supposed to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and have been having quite a lot of fun with it.

Next on my culinary adventure, I want to get hold of some Sodium Alginate, Calcium Chloride and Xanthan Gum. I tried the local pharmacy this morning and they've given me the address of a company in central Madrid who supply all kinds of exotic chemicals for all kinds of industries - I'm going there this evening, so I'll let you know how I get on. The first two of those chemicals, by the way, are used in 'sphericisation' - this is a method of encasing an intensely flavoured liquid into a neutral-tasting gel shell. When you bite into the shell, the taste explodes in your mouth. Depending on the size of your droplets, the spheres can resemble caviare or olives.

And finally, another technique I stumbled across: sous vide cooking (French for 'under vacuum'). I've tried many techniques for getting really tender meat and fish, none of them entirely successful, but this one looks promising. Basically what you do is you stick your seasoned meat or fish (or vegetables) into a plastic bag, suck the air out of it and then seal it. Then you place it in a container of water at a specific temperature (always much less than boiling) and wait for the specified number of hours. There are devices available that will maintain the water at the specified temperature more or less forever, but they are not cheap. However, I came across The Beer Cooler Hack, and I'm using it right now to cook a breast of duck. As far as vacuum-wrapping the meat goes, you can buy machines to do this, or you can buy your meat already packed this way (but then you can't add any seasoning), or you can improvise with a zip-lock freezer bag and a drinking straw. As it happens, I have a roll of polythene tubing and a heat-sealing machine that I use for packaging my pies, so I cut a length of tube, sealed one end, put the seasoned duck in, sealed the other end, cut a small slit to insert a straw and suck the air out, and then sealed over the slit. Fingers crossed!

And the final weapon in the Cooking 2.0 arsenal: liquid nitrogen for instantly freezing stuff. I think I'll be giving that one a miss!

UPDATE: I found the mystery ingredients shop: they were just pulling the shutters across - closing an hour early because their computer was down. But the guy took a look at my list and confirmed they had all the things on it (woohoo!).

Sunday, 14 November 2010


We went to San Sebastian de los Reyes today. If you've ever been there, you'll be wondering why. It doesn't seem to have any historical interest, and not even the most optimistic town councillor would describe it as pretty. It's a kind of newish dormitory town to the north of Madrid. The reasons for the visit were twofold:
1) To check out a shop selling British products there
2) It's time for the annual IKEA trip.

When we emerged from the Metro at Hospital Infanta Sofia, we had an incredible sense of deja vu: the last time we went to a place like this was when we went to the IKEA at Las Suertes to the south of Madrid. Identical Metro station design, a view of motorways, mountains and general back-of-beyondness, and then wide boulevards flanked by 7-storey brick-clad apartment buildings and plenty of empty plots of land. All a bit desolate and weird.

Item one is called The Food Hall, and basically I wanted to see if it was worth trying to sell my pies to them. We came away with a selection of loot - a Wright's (of Crewe) Steak & Kidney pie for research purposes (yes it was as nasty as you'd expect for a pie that was made in England, frozen, shipped to Spain and ultimately sold for a bit over 2 Euros), a couple of Scotch Pies (pretty good, actually), 3 bottles of beer (Old Speckled Hen & Black Sheep), a bar of Cadbury's chocolate, some oatcakes (I don't know - the missus chose them) and some dried cranberries. 

Item two; when looking at the location of The Food Hall, I noticed there's an IKEA 'nearby'. So we had a spot of lunch, and set off walking in search of the big blue box. We found it after about 20 minutes, or rather, we found its backside, the bit where people pick up big bits of furniture. It was another 10 minutes' walk to get to the front door. And then the usual half-hour trek to go through the store and get to the checkouts. And the reason for going? In previous years, I've always bought these slippers they sell for mooching around the house in. They're very cheap, always come in bright colours, and only last for one winter. So I need some new ones, but was rather narked that I couldn't find them.

So we went to the 'nearby' Carrefour hypermarket - we were in some kind of 'retail park' - lots of big box stores around a gazillion-hectare car park. Again, miles and miles of walking. I did get some slippers, and some vino, and some turkey breast (gonna make some turkey & cranberry pies). And then we staggered, exhausted, up the hill to the Metro station.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

A Strange Thing

Some time ago, my MacBook decided it couldn't connect to the WiFi router two metres away. My old PC laptop can connect to it, and so can my phone and MamaDuck's netbook and laptop. Not having a WiFi connection didn't bother me too much, apart from the blue cable crawling across the floor, until yesterday when I was in a Skype call with Offspring and wanted to show him something in the kitchen. This required every cable to be disconnected from the MacBook, and so of course we lost the connection.

Anyhoo, I just searched Google for the solution to the problem, and it's so utterly unlikely that I just had to share it with you. Are you ready? Perched eagerly on the edge of your seat? Okay, you have to reset Safari.

'Do what?'

'Reset Safari. That's all. It does the job.'

Apparently, what happens is, well, I can't really explain what happens, but it's something to do with Safari wanting to go through all the bookmarks and stuff in its cache to... no, sorry, doesn't make any sense at all.

So when you reset Safari, it deletes all the history and remembered stuff, and that then enables your WiFi to work. I hate to say this, because I adore my MacBook, and love the way the hardware and OS are integrated, but this Safari thing (Safari is the web browser written by Apple) is complete and utter crap. I don't even use Safari except for testing websites occasionally, and it quite happily went ahead and busted my MacBook.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Dubai Rental Property

Dubai Rental Property have been comment spamming this blog and my Dubai blog, neither of which are about property rental, at least in Dubai. I asked them to desist yesterday, and in response they left me five fresh comments. I know that off-site links from other blogs and websites are good for search engine rankings, but this is going too far. I will be watching the results for Dubai Furnished Property quite closely over the next few days, and also reporting the company to Google if they persist in their extremely irritating action. Foolishly, they publish a mobile, landline and fax number on their website. It may become necessary to make a few phone calls.

How To Make Your Wife Give You One Million Brownie Points

Do the ironing. All of it. Without being asked to.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

How To Make Your Wife Giggle Uncontrollably

There are several ways of doing this, but here's a new one I discovered yesterday.

1) Go shopping, a few hours earlier than usual.

2) Notice that the professional kitchenware shop that is nearly always closed, and whose windows you normally gaze longingly into, is actually open.

3) Spend half an hour lusting after all the bits of kit you want, but only buy a slightly exotic Cook's Hat.

4) Do the rest of the shopping.

5) Rush home and head straight for the bathroom.

6) Unwrap your new hat. Put it on, and admire yourself in the mirror.

7) Wander nonchalantly into the kitchen, put away the groceries, and wait for your wife to notice your cute new headgear.

8) Try not to get upset as she laughs her leg off for half an hour.

Iluvit. And I'm sure if I put my mind to it, I could balance a stack of pizza bases on it.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Invertir En Cine is now live ('invertir en cine' is Spanish for 'invest in film'). It's the Spanish version of the Film Production Investments site I mentioned last week - oh, and anyone who had trouble viewing that, there was a glitch with the server DNS, which is now fixed.

So now we're working on the German version. All good fun.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Independent Film Investment

For the last month, I've had my head deeply immersed in work, creating a website for a new client. They're in the film production business, and what they do is find independent film projects that look like they could make money, and then find people to invest in them. We launched the site yesterday (several bottles of Diet Coke were consumed), so now I'm getting busy on the Spanish version, with a German one to follow. And maybe an Arabic one after that. Film production investments site is here. Take a look.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Segovia Again

Segovia was the first place we visited outside Madrid after we arrived three years ago. We had a pretty crummy time, as described here.  I'd always wanted to go back, and when the offspring arrived a few weeks ago, it seemed like the perfect time to do it. I decided to splash out a bit and book tickets on the AVE (Spain's high-speed train).

In case anyone's interested, it took 27 minutes from Madrid Chamartín, reached a top speed of 247kph and cost €10 outbound and €8 for the return trip. For some bizarre reason, the AVE uses a brand-new station in a field about a thousand kilometres outside Segovia - it took the driver of the overcrowded bus  15 minutes before he decided he couldn't squeeze any more passengers in, and the trip into the town centre took 20 minutes.

Nothing much changes in Segovia: it still has its mind-boggling Roman aqueduct,

its gorgeous Cathedral,

and the amazing Alcazar, which we did a tour of.

After the Alcazar tour, we headed off in search of lunch. It's compulsory to have cochinillo (suckling pig) when in Segovia. I had declared that we would not be eating in the pretty Plaza Mayor, on the basis that restaurants in Plaza Mayores all over Spain exist only to steal money off tourists with overpriced, badly-cooked food. But actually, that's where we ended up, and it was pretty good.

A nice day out, methinks.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Down To The River

Unlike all other European capitals, Madrid does not sit astride a big river. It does, however, sit beside a little one, the much ignored Río Manzanares. The lack of flowing water was always a downside to Madrid for us, so I was interested to hear the plan by Alberto Ruíz Gallardón, Mayor of Madrid, to bury about 6 kilometres of the M-30 motorway, which had previously formed a fairly impenetrable barrier between the city and the river (you've got to admire 70s and 80s Town Planning, for its sheer stupidity, if nothing else). With the motorway out of the picture, the plan then was to create a linear park along both banks, a beach, a rowing area and some cafés. Existing bridges would be refurbished, one or two of them closed to traffic, and about nine new footbridges would be built.

Recently we heard that much of the park is now open, so we went to have a peep. I have to say the bit we saw (between Principe Pio and Estadio Vicente Calderón) is very impressive. The hard landscaping uses rough-hewn slabs of granite for walls, smooth granite for footpath edges, and something like rough slate setts for the paths themselves. Metal details like fences and lighting are done in stainless steel. These materials will look good for a very long time, and the stone will actually improve with age, unlike the rain-stained concrete that would have inevitably have been used if this project were done in, say, Sheffield. Plants and trees, obviously, need a couple of years to mature, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops.

I'm wondering what they can do get more water into the river - it only seems to be about a foot deep at the moment, although staining on the old embankment walls show it can be a couple of metres deep. We saw two pairs of sluice gates - I guess they could use these to trap more water in the central section.

Anyway, a marvellous project, and I'm sure the EU thinks it was money well spent!

Thursday, 5 August 2010


Having been married for almost 25 years (yes, really!), most of our kitchen stuff is about that old. The pans, well, Prestige said they'd last a lifetime, and even though they never specified whose lifetime (the pan's, or the owner's), their little copper bottoms and stainless steel sides are still in fine fettle. The same cannot be said for my chef's knives: dull, dull, dull, and almost impossible to get an edge on. I only realised just how crappy they'd become when I did some cooking at a friend's place a few months ago and used a proper sharp knife. Since then I've been looking around and researching decent knives, and stumbled upon a most remarkable thing: ceramic knives.

Whoa! We are talking insanely sharp, here. The manufacturers say the only thing sharper is diamond, and the edge lasts 10 times longer than steel. Now that we're into August, most of Madrid's population has vamossed, and the shops that remain open are in desperation sale mode. So this evening I went to El Corte Inglés and got me two half-price ceramic knives. Watch this:

I did make the idiotic mistake of testing the big knife in the shop by stroking the blade with a finger. Got a great cut, bludd everywhere, and had to beg a plaster from MamaDuck's place of work when I went to meet her. I'm looking forward to doing some serious cutting with these babies!


I'm not an economist, politician, or banker. If I was, I would probably be infinitely richer by now. But it intrigues me when politicians whitter on about deficits and so on. The numbers seem to be huge (because, well, they are). But we never get to see them in context. So I did a little Googling, and found this page. It tells us the UK's current deficit is £159.2 BILLION! That's an incomprehensible number; if I was Bill Bryson, I'd illustrate that by saying if you had that amount of money in one-pound coins and stacked them up, it would reach from the Earth to Alpha Centauri. But I'm not, and it probably wouldn't.

Anyway, the point of this post is that  the UK is currently carrying an astounding amount of debt, as a result of the moronic bailing out of the ungrateful coños who run British banks. And the ConDemn coalition are hell-bent on using this to cut every kind of public service they can think of - health, education, public transport, social housing etc.

What you probably don't know is that this deficit represents only 11.4% of GDP. That doesn't seem life-threatening to me. EU rules would like it to be about 3%, but fuck, we're all fucked, aren't we? I don't see the urgency to get this down at the expense of everything that makes a country civilized. Cameroon and co would have us living in caves.

My 2 centimos. Now I have to go out and buy the world's sharpest knife (not a threat or anything: sale at El Corte Inglés).

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

New Post, New Phone

Yes, yes, I know I haven't posted for a coupla weeks. But I been busy, see. Gotta monster web-design project onna pretty tight schedule. Anyway, here's the new post. Which follows on from an earlier one.

Phones powered by Google Android have been crashing out of the skies in a rain-like manner. So a couple of weeks ago, I'd seen the one I wanted on the Interwebz. It's the HTC Desire (stock photo - sorry, can't be bothered to take my own pic):

It was, of course, a bit of an adventure to get one. My local Orange shop had never heard of it. The next one down the road (Calle Bravo Murillo has phone shops every 500 metres), had it on display, but when I asked for it the guy brought out an HTC Hero and said it was more-or-less the same. Hmm. The next phone shop I came to was Vodafone, and they had the Desire. I went in and asked about it, but they said it was only for self-employed people and small businesses - I qualify for that, but didn't have the required documentation on me. She couldn't explain to me why I couldn't have it as a particular (an individual), so I gave her a verbal slap and went on my way. Finally, I came to an Orange shop that not only had it in stock, but also let me have it! It cost me €78 plus 1100 Orange points, and I had to sign up for an 18-month data plan on top of the unfathomable call/SMS plan I already have.

But it's a damn fine phone. As a phone, I've had no problems with it - you can grip it any way you like, and it still works (despite what Steve Jobs would have you believe). It doesn't look great, but neither is it uglee. The rubberised plastic back and sides are pleasant to hold, it has a solid feel to it. It connects to everything (FaceBook, Twitter, GMail, Google Maps, Flickr) and has toys to let you play with those things.

My only criticisms are:

1) The battery life isn't great. This isn't a huge prob for me, 'cos I'm in the office most of the time. But it does need a charge every single day. Having said that, the charger is USB, so you can plug it into a laptop to suck some juice if you really need to.

2) It takes a long time (2-3 seconds) to switch the screen orientation when you turn the phone sideways. In fact this option is turned off by default, so I suspect somebody (Google? HTC? Both?) knows about it.

And that's it. An amazing phone. And I have to give credit to HTC - they've obviously bought lots of Apple products, and learned how to package a product. And I love their tagline: 'Quietly Brilliant'. Yepp, they are.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

¡Campeones Del Mundo!

Well, we did it! Bloody hard work, it was, though. I don't know if it was a deliberate strategy by the Dutch, but they seemed to want to injure any Spanish player they could get a boot to. I don't think I've ever seen such filthy play from a European team in a major game. De Yong should have been sent off in the first half for kicking Alonso in the chest. As the game continued, Spain showed flashes of brilliance, but couldn't manage to get the ball between the posts. It would have really pissed me off if the Netherlands got a shock goal, or the thing had gone to penalties. Fortunately, Iniesta saved the World Cup from the fate of awarding victory to the wrong team.

Is Madrid happy right now? You bet it is. Not much sleep expected tonight.

¡ES - PA - ÑA!

¡ES - PA - ÑA!

¡ES - PA - ÑA!

Excitement Is Building

Still about two hours to go before the World Cup Final kicks off. I've just been down to the shop to get some supplies in, having decided to forsake the atmosphere and dodgy viewing angles of being crushed in a bar somewhere, and watch it at home in the company of MamaDuck and possibly one or two mates.

The main street is full of people wearing red-and-yellow shirts, shorts, flags and caps, and most of the cars going past are adorned with Spanish flags and all seem to have developed the same malfunction of the horn (the one that goes beep beep, beep-beep-beep, beep-beep beep-beep, beep-beep).

Prediction? 3-2 to Spain. And my Dutch sister-in-law agrees. However it turns out, I don't really mind. Even if the Netherlands win, it's been a sensational ride. But let me just say this:

¡ES - PA - ÑA!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Pulpo Paul...

...the psychic octopus predicts Spain will win the World Cup Final on Sunday. Woohoo!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Espan - Ya!

Well, who'd a thunk it. Spain 1, Germany 0. Off to the finals we go. I can't begin to describe the atmosphere here in Madrid right now. Let's just say we're happy.

Jack Of All Trades

One of the fascinating things about running your own little business is that you pretty much have to do everything yourself, unless you have stacks of cash and can afford to hire people to do things you're no good at. So with Great British Food, I've had to design order forms, posters, flyers and packaging, as well as the website. Not a problem - I've been doing that kind of thing pretty much all my working life. I also make the products - again, not a problem, I'm a pretty good cook and I make really great pastry. I also keep track of income and expenditure for the accountant (yes, one essential outsider!), and at the moment, I'm the delivery boy too. My business partner takes care of sales, for which I am grateful - I can do that, but it doesn't exactly fill me with joy, even though I know very well that a business without sales is just a hobby.

Where is this leading? you ask. Well, one of the core concepts for market differentiation is that our pies are square. This means we have to find square moulds, square tins, square everything. Up till now, I've been using square stainless steel collars for the pork pies and the chicken & ham pies. This is less than ideal, because it's very difficult to get a good release, so you can end up with broken pies, or holes in the pastry. This is obviously not good when you try to inject the jelly and it all squirts out through a hole.

The solution? Silicone rubber moulds. Silicone rubber is fantastic for baking - absolutely nothing will stick to it! But it was impossible to find moulds of the right size and shape. I decided to make my own. I made a former out of modelling clay, and trawled the interwebz for a supplier of silicone rubber. It's quite easy if you live in the US, but the shipping costs are simply outrageous. Finally I asked a sculptor friend of mine if he knew any suppliers in Spain. He put me onto an outfit in Pontevedra, Galicia - Resinas Castro, who have a very good website and offer online sales. I received excellent service from them - I would email questions at 10 pm, and get answers (in English!) ten minutes later from the Technical & Commercial Director.

I placed my order last week, and received the material (Elastosil M4601, in case you're interested) this morning (it would have been yesterday, but I was out when the courier came). With a great deal of trepidation, I opened the big can and the small bottle. I had expected to be getting something like putty, but this is actually pourable, a bit like molasses. You mix it in the ratio of 9:1, and pour it into your mould or onto your former. It's as sticky as hell. I had no idea how much to mix up for my project, and the stuff is expensive, so you don't want to waste any of it. I now know that 100ml was about twice as much as I needed. And I also know that the poured product cures faster at higher temperatures. When I'm at home in our apartment in the summer, I tend to keep the shutters down to keep out the heat. Consequently the rubber was drifting away from the edges of the former before it began to set, leaving the coverage very thin. I salvaged it by scraping the material up and pouring it on again, and by blasting it with a hairdrier to get it curing before it all fell off. It's now basking in the sunshine on the window-sill and curing nicely. Next time, I think I'll do this on the roof, in full sun.

With a bit of luck, I should be able to make at least a dozen moulds with this batch of material.

And the title of this post? A crap Old Wive's Tale, ('Jack of all Trades, Master of None') that originated in the days when Guilds controlled everything, and they made you do a seven-year apprenticeship before you were considered qualified to bake a loaf, lay a few bricks or cut someone's hair. Other archaic pearls of wisdom include: 'The Camera Never Lies', 'A Bad Workman Blames his Tools', and 'Bloody Hell, This Silicone Rubber is Hard to Work With'.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Psychic Octopus Predicts Spain Win

And why the hell not. Story here.

Monday, 5 July 2010


If you've been following the plot, you'll know that our fledgling pie business got a bit of a boost a few days ago when InMadrid (monthly English-language paper) published an interview with me. Naturally, as a web-savvy kinda dude, I checked the SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) to see what impact this had on our website. If you Google 'pork pies Madrid', huzzah! Number one already! But the next result caught my eye, a discussion thread on

So, of course I went there for a look, and was astounded by the negativity, comments like 'well good luck, but it'll never work'. Sheesh, thanks for the advice guys, don't you think we thought about this for a few minutes before deciding to go ahead? Some other bugger posted a recipe for a Scotch egg - you can make this yourself for tuppence! But, as a subsequent supporter pointed out, you can also build a sofa, a car or a yacht, if you want to. I signed up to BritExpats in order to be able to post a reply, got accused of spamming and self-promotion (not allowed). It's all completely weird. I've had a few private messages with the moderator, who's actually very keen on the idea and can't wait for us to hit Malaga. And I have to point out I'm in a purely defensive position here, against folks who have never experienced the joy of a GBF pie. I am not spamming (pointless - these guys aren't even our market yet) - I hope I can be a bit more subtle than that. Grrr.

They say 'no publicity is bad publicity', but I think that's about as true as 'the camera never lies'. Anyway, let me call on PR guru Alexander McNabb - is I doing this right?

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Another Football Story

So last night I donned my Cruzcampo cap, slapped a flag on each cheek and went off to find my buddies to watch the Spain vs Portugal match at a terrace bar near the Bernabeu. I've never been to this place before ('Boulevard'), and it would have seriously helped if they'd had some signs up announcing their name. I must have walked round it two or three times (and I'd forgotten my phone, so I was somewhat stuffed). On the fourth pass somebody guarding the entrance gave me a flag and I asked him if he knew where this Boulevard place was, and he said 'here!'

The match wasn't great, but Spain got the goal that counted and Ronaldo the Smirking Diving Cheating Git didn't get on my tetas too much. So that was grand. And of course, walking back up the Paseo de la Castellana was an absolute treat - thousands of happy fans on foot and in cars, lots of good-natured horn-blowing and flag-waving; hard to beat, really.

And the next game is against Paraguay, which everybody seems to think should be a walkover...

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Blatter Sees The Light (A Bit) (It's An Oncoming Train)

So the corrupt old tosser (I'm gonna Google that phrase later) in charge of FIFA has said IFAB will reconsider the GLT (goal line technology) issue at their next meeting. Video replays. however, are still not on the table. Article here.

I have to come clean. I think sporting operations should be totally transparent, and should not be dominated by individual assholes. But Blatter behaves like he owns international football (and don't get me started on Bernie Ecclestone and F1 - not an actual sport, admittedly, but y'know), and sadly it seems nobody within FIFA can say no to him: the last guy who tried that was promptly removed from his post. Now we have Blatter threatening the French government if they try to get involved in the running of the French FA.

So Blatter's sorry that England and Mexico were robbed, but 'zeze zings happen een futboll, hein?', and shrugs his shoulders. Asshole. These things do happen, but they don't have to. A little bit of modern technology is all it takes to remove the injustice from a game that is passionately followed by about a gazillion people in the world. And only ONE [insert very rude word here] seems to have the power to fix it. He moves on a glacial timetable, and I think, only now, is beginning to realise how many people hate his guts.

The FIFA board members ought to call an emergency meeting - like tonight, never mind October - they're all there in South Africa right now - and kick him out. And in future, they need to limit the Presidential term to 2 or 3 goes, and not let anyone over 55 stand for the post. And while they're at it, they can authorise video replays if requested by the referee, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.  This whole issue is about technology used as tools to help the officials, not to replace them. But dinosaur Blatter cannot undertand that.

UPDATE: Slightly disappointed - I'm only number 2 on Google for "corrupt old tosser".

Monday, 28 June 2010

George Orwell & FIFA

FIFA have really got themselves in the mire over their refusal to consider GLT (Goal-Line Technology) and Video Replays in top-level games. A couple of incidents in this World Cup have confirmed just how untenable their position is. Because now, more than ever, worldwide audiences can see video images from dozens of cameras around the ground of what exactly happened, and with things like Twitter, Facebook and blogs, they can moan like hell about it (and we are - can you believe Sepp Blatter is now on Twitter?!).

FIFA President Sepp Blatter and his partners in crime say they don't want technology involved in association football. But they already do use technology - the officials have some kind of mini-radio system so they can talk to each other. And somehow we are able to see games played in darkness. Blatter is very happy with the idea of officials being human, but it also makes him guilty of a kind of Orwellian double-think, where he can see any number of replays of England's goal, but still believe with all his little shrivelled heart that it wasn't a goal because the referee said it wasn't.

Interestingly, and somewhat bizarrely, the decision about this technology is not purely down to FIFA. It's  the responsibility of a body called IFAB - the International Football Associations Board, which comprises representatives (I know not how many) of the FAs of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, who each have one vote. And since 1904, FIFA are also represented, and they have four votes. Any decision needs at least six votes to be approved. IFAB meets once a year to consider changes to the Laws (not 'Rules', notice) of the game, and once a year to fiddle the accounts. It's a tough old job, clearly.

Now, firstly, it's somewhat anachronistic that IFAB has this structure, but secondly, I cannot find out exactly who was present at the last IFAB meeting in March. I know the English and Scottish FAs at least, support GLT. It's possible Wales and Ireland do too. But if Blatter (74, well past retirement age) turns up with FIFAs four 'non' votes, the cause is bollocksed, is it not?

Time for FIFA to get rid of the dinosaur, methinks.

Calling Planet FIFA

FIFA Communications Director says goal-line technology will not be discussed. It was hard to hear what he said because his head was buried in the sand.

Disgraceful, dishonourable, disreputable, disgusting. Pick any three words to describe FIFA.

Speaking of Argentina's offside goal against Mexico:

"There was a controversial action shown during the game on the giant screens last night at Soccer City. This should not happen," he explained.

"The giant screens are part of the infotainment but should not show controversial actions."


UPDATE: Sepp Blatter is on Twitter! (Of course that means FIFA's Communications Dept is on Twitter, pretending to be him). No doubt he'll be told he's very popular, because so many people are Tweeting at him. He won't be told that all those Tweets are calling for his head on a plate, and he'll never see them himself, because, of course, he's a Luddite who refuses to use modern technology.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Sod Off Then, England

That's it then, England thrashed 4-1 by Germany after a shamefully bad start to their World Cup campaign. I really don't know what happened to England (although Tim Newman has some pretty good ideas). Whether the players are good or bad, they lacked fire and they really didn't hang together as a team. Manager Capello seemed clueless.

Here's my plan:

1) Capello must go. If he has any morals, he'll resign. Otherwise the English FA will have to sack him (I suppose it's too much to expect there's any kind of clause in his contract that says they don't have to pay him five year's worth of salary if he turns out to be a charlatan who cannot choose, train and motivate an England team that can actually win games).

2) Future England managers to be on one- or two- year contracts. Ability to speak English highly recommended.

3) No Premier League players allowed to play for England. Really. These guys might be good for their clubs, but hardly any of them in this World Cup demonstrated the slightest bit of interest in playing well for England.

And as for FIFA...

The disallowed England goal didn't help - it could well have changed the course of the game, but England were still outclassed by Germany. What it did do, though, is show in no uncertain terms (cliché alert) that FIFA's attitude to the 21st century is completely dinosaur-driven, blinkered and stupid. The old dinosaur himself, Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, said after the last decision (in March this year) not to introduce goal-line technology:

"The application of modern technologies can be very costly, and therefore not applicable on a global level. The universality of the game: one of the main objectives of FIFA is to protect the universality of the game of association football. This means that the game must be played in the same way no matter where you are in the world..."

No Sepp, it doesn't. Nobody expects this technology to be forced on small clubs who can't afford it. But the reputation of your organisation is at stake when disputed decisions are made by officials at ground-level who may not be in a position to see what happened.

"If the IFAB had approved goal-line technology, what would prevent the approval of technology for other aspects of the game? Every decision in every area of the pitch would soon be questioned.
"No matter which technology is applied, at the end of the day a decision will have to be taken by a human being.
"This being the case, why remove the responsibility from the referee to give it to someone else?"

Because referees don't always see what took place. Stop being an arse, Mr Blatter.

"Fans love to debate any given incident in a game. It is part of the human nature of our sport."

They also love to see match officials having at least a chance of doing their job correctly. I wonder how many referees would not jump at the chance of being able to see an instant replay of things that happened when they blinked, were distracted by something else or were simply in the wrong place to make a reliable decision. Blatter should have been kicked out of FIFA many years ago.

Grrr. ¡Vamos España!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Pretending To Be a Footie Fan

If I'm honest (which I am, sadly, most of the time), I'm not much of a football fan. I enjoy the big games, but I'm a floating voter when it comes to supporting any particular team, although I always enjoy it when Real Madrid don't win. So maybe that makes me an anti-fan of RM. In this World Cup, I'm secretly hoping England do well (despite 44 years of evidence to the contrary), but I'm pretty sure Spain can go all the way, and that'll be just grand.

So, I don't own any footie shirts or scarves, and I don't paint my face in team colours.

Until last night, that is. I met up with some friends to watch Spain beat Chile and a pretty young lady came in and gave everybody a baseball cap. I was grateful for the cap, because we were having prolonged thunderstorms, and I'd mistakenly assumed we were in summer now. The caps have 'Yo soy de la roja - Mundial 2010' (I am of the red, World 2010?) on the front, and the backside tells us that Cruzcampo is the official beer of the Spanish team (poor sods - Cruzcampo is a loooong way from being a beer I like).

When I went to the bar, Enyaki noticed my cheeks were unadorned, and pulled out a little box that he swiped across each one. I expressed astonishment, and he gave me a couple of the wee things. Like a triple-gang lipstick, one swipe gives you a perfect Spanish flag. Unlike how it was done in the olden days:

The swiper (also supplied by Cruzcampo, bless 'em):

Now I'm wondering if we'll get any England freebies tomorrow afternoon - massively unlikely, what with Guinness not actually being English. Hmmm. Can England beat Germany? I recall it happened at least once before - 1966, in fact. I was nine years old. It's nice for me to have the option of supporting a team that can actually play football (sorry, Wayney-boy).

And continuing the theme of footie fandom, it was brilliant to see lotsa Flagsa Sint George in Engerland last week. They were hanging over balconies, tied to the front of houses, and we even saw a pub that had fixed a horizontal red band and a vertical one to their almost-white façade. But mostly, at least half of the cars I saw had one or two little flags attached to the tops of their windows. Coming back to Spain, I noticed the car-flag idea hasn't got here yet. But, just to prove me wrong, on the way to the bar I saw three parked cars in a row, each sporting a Spanish flag. Except, in the centre band where you would normally see a small coat of arms, they had the letters 'DYC'. DYC (pronounced 'Dick', of course), produce whiskey in Spain. And flags, now, apparently.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Great British Food in Spain

The waiting is over and the website is now up and running. If you live in Central Madrid (inside the M-30 motorway), you can now order our fabulous pies: pork and pickle, chicken and ham, beef pasties, steak and kidney, chicken and mushroom, and a little apple one for your pudding. Oh, and we're also doing scotch eggs.

Great British Food. You know you lurve it.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Red Usually Wins

Just seen a news story saying that England will play in an all-red strip tomorrow, and it reminded me of a post I wrote five years ago: Red Always Wins.

Well, let's hope so, 'cos they've been shamefully shite so far.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Say Cheese!

I've never been keen on Spanish cheese, and the English and French cheeses I've bought in Spain never seem to have travelled well. Ho hum. And I've always been interested in the idea of trying to make my own cheese, but it looks pretty complicated, so I never did anything about it.

However, a couple of weeks ago, we had a Greek salad (at a Turkish restaurant - go figure). One of the essential components of a Greek salad is feta cheese, which I love, but I've only ever seen it in one shop in Madrid, at a higher price than I wanted to pay.

But it got me thinking. I looked up feta cheese recipes on the Interwebz, and it seemed fairly straightforward. I went to my local pharmacy and got some powdered rennet (cuajo, in Spanish), and my local Mercadona supermarket supplied some goat's milk. I was a bit worried, because supermarket milk is always highly sterilized / pastuerized / UHTd, and all the recipes say it's best to use fresh milk if you can.

Anyway, I followed the instructions as best I could, but I think I overheated the milk. Whatever the reason, I couldn't get a 'clean break' - it's hard to describe, but basically it's the point where the curds separate from the whey.

I left it overnight, but nothing much had changed, although it did taste like very good yoghurt. I poured it into a large plastic bottle and put it in the fridge, in the full expectation of having to eventually throw it away. But about five days later, my wife noticed some separation of curds and whey. We were travelling that afternoon, but before we went I poured the stuff into muslin cloths and hung them up over a pan, still not expecting much to happen, other than it making the apartment stinky.

But no! When we got back after four days, we had a pan full of whey, and two blobs of something that had the texture of a softish cheese. I cut the blobs into cubes and put them in a jar full of brine for a few days. And yesterday I tried a sample. It tasted just like feta cheese! There isn't a lot of it, and it's all going into a Greek salad tonight. I'd started off with three litres of milk, and finished up with about 250g of cheese, which makes it more expensive than the stuff I refused to buy from the shop, but the sense of accomplishment is indescribable.

I'll definitely try this one again.

Friday, 18 June 2010

I Married A Clan

As you may have gathered, my beloved Daddy-In-Law passed away about ten days ago. It had been expected for several months, but was still a horrible shock when it finally happened. The cremation was set for Wednesday, so we flew to Bristol on Monday, and returned to Madrid yesterday (Thursday). And we had a fantastic time. I think the DIL would have approved.

Here's the thing, see. When I married MamaDuck, I knew she came from a large family, and it did take several years to get my head round this. The Duck has six siblings, and I met them all and came to know them, their better halves and their ever-growing collection of offspring in the first few years of our marriage. I don't think I met any of the DIL's siblings until about ten years ago, and there's five of them and of course they too have assorted offspring and grand-offspring of their own.

The DIL was born and raised in Scotland, though he spent most of his adult life in England. He enjoyed his collection of malt whiskies, was admired, respected and loved by everyone who knew him well. He was actually one of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. And he could play a mean game of snooker or pool.

So, all of his siblings and their other halves (where applicable, may contain nuts), and some of their kids showed up, along with all of his surviving kids, other halves and offspring who could make it were in Brizzle to say goodbye to him.

Nobody would dispute that Bill Blackie Snr was the Chieftain of this clan, and I feel grateful and honoured to be a part of it. We terrify restaurants and bars wherever we go. It all sounds a bit Scottish, but I don't actually think I ever saw the Auld Geezer in a kilt.

So, all that above wasn't really what I wanted to write aboot. I'll do another post tomorrow about our trip, but for now, I'll just say 'Crivens, yer deed already, ye cannae die agin, Bill!'

And I'll see you later, William Somerville Blackie.

Monday, 14 June 2010


A friend of ours is the lead singer in a new band (Cat's Mother), and we were invited to attend their debut gig. Only problem was, it was in Chinchón, a small town about 50km southeast of Madrid. We've never been there before, but I had heard of it because they produce an aniseed liquor of the same name there (I could have said eponymous, but that would have been showing off).

A spot of internet research came up with a bus timetable, which turned out to be 100% wrong, and some photos of the place. The photos showed a cute old town, so we decided to get there early and spend the afternoon in Chinchón before the gig.

Chinchón's main attraction is the Plaza Mayor, which is where they stage their annual festival of teasing and killing bulls (note to self: don't go in August). All of the buildings on the periphery are three stories high and have balconies running the full length, and these are rented out at high prices to rich Madrileños for the corrida.

A bunch of hairy bikers take the Burro Taxi around the Plaza Mayor

Chinchón has an enormous church with a tablada by Goya. Surprisingly, for a Sunday, the church was locked up so we couldn't see it. There's also a castle overlooking the town, from where you can see an enormous cement works and Madrid on the horizon.

The gig itself was in the courtyard of a beautiful boutique hotel near Plaza Mayor: La Casa de la Marquesa. Why? Well, the bass player owns it, that's why. The audience of about 50 invited guests watched Cat's Mother play old-style R & B. Every member of the band was superb, the atmosphere was like a family party (the kind where the family members actually like each other, not the other kind), and, to roll out an old cliché, a great time was had by all.

Cat's Mother: bass player's not in this picture - he's hiding in a corner on the right

Dusk in Plaza Mayor

We got the last bus home at 1025 (the band having thoughtfully timed their set to coincide with the real bus timetable), and arrived at Conde de Casal at 1110.

Monday, 7 June 2010


How I lurve booking stuff online. Especially 'low-cost' flights. We have to go to the UK next week for a funeral (the DIL - RIP - I'm devastated - maybe a more complete post later...). Ryanair don't fly direct from Madrid to Bristol (it is possible to do it via Alicante, Malaga, Sevilla, Reus (eh?) or Valencia), but the buggeration factor is just too high. So that leaves EasyJet. We need to be in Bristol on Wednesday, but EasyJet have no seats available on Tuesday, so I do the booking for both of us on Monday. By crikey, they want €33 for each checked-in bag! No way, we can stuff our stuff into carry-on bags. Then I book a return flight for the boss. I might stay on in Land-Of-Maybe-Nuts for a few more days, so I don't book my return flight.

I move onto the online payment thing, and by some miracle, the payment goes through. The confirmation email arrives. My wife has two seats on the way out, and one on the way back. Feck. Feck. I mean, feck. I then spend an hour and a half trying to change this on EasyJet's website. Cannot be done. Then I waste half an hour trying to find a phone number for them. Cannot be done. I Google EasyJet phone numbers, and find one that could have worked. They close at 8pm, though, and this was a quarter to. I thought it might be worth the risk, but after listening to ridiculous recorded messages ('Welcome to the EasyJet Customer Experience' - I kid you not) for fifteen minutes, the thing shut off bang on 8pm, having no doubt charged me a preposterous amount of money for my hanging on.

So, tomorrow, when I finally get through to an actual person, they'll calmly explain to me that I am stupid (and I am - far too stupid to avoid the deliberate tricks their website puts in your way), and force me to pay another €30 to correct a mistake that their website fooled me into making. If it turns out otherwise, you'll be the first to know.

UPDATE: Well, my flabber is gasted! I spoke to real person. She made the change, and didn't ask me for any money!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Israel Kills Innocent Protestors: Rest Of World Not Bothered

I mean, come on, exactly what does it take for Israel to provoke a truly international outcry? In case you missed it, yesterday Israeli commandos rapelled from helicopters onto a ship carrying humanitarian aid to the imprisoned population of Gaza and killed between 10 and 19 unarmed (unless you think a stick is an arm) civilian activists. Get this: the ship was in international waters about 70km from Israel. So, act of war? Piracy? Mindless, vicious and brutal over-reaction? Whatever it was, Israel has once more enthusiastically leapt over the line that divides civilized nations from rogue states.

Half a dozen countries have given their Israeli ambassadors a ticking off (including Spain, God bless 'em). Billy Hague in the UK has expressed 'regret'. The US is 'seeking to understand what happened' - by the time they've sifted through the lies of the Israeli government, everyone will have forgotten the incident.

There were some fairly heated exchanges about this on Twitter yesterday - especially in the afternoon when America woke up (#flotilla & #freedomflotilla). The Israeli PR machine pumped out the most outrageous lies and that was the only news most Americans got.

Listen, I think it's a great idea for Jews to have their own state. Really, I do. The only thing I have against Jews is exactly the same thing I have against followers of any organised religion (basically 'you are deluded about heaven and hell, your antecedents have done some real shitty stuff in the past, and no, I'm not going to join you if that's what it takes to be "saved"'). Zionist zealots, on the other hand, can go fuck themselves, along with fundamentalist Christians, radical Islamists and anyone else who thinks religion has the answer to anything.

The problem with Israel is that it's in the wrong place. Its location could not be more wrong if you tried. But the Jews were given this bit of land in Palestine, on the understanding they'd get along with their Arab neighbours and not try to expand. They immediately kicked out the Arabs and began appropriating more land. On reflection, it would have been far better to give them Tierra del Fuego. They'd still have caused trouble, but at least not in such a religious- and oil'n'gas-sensitive area.

But that's by-the-by. There will never be peace in the Middle East as long as Israel is allowed to carry on like the spoilt brat it is, with the financial, political and emotional support of the US moneygarchy.

I had hoped that Obama would really make a difference in the world, and the Middle East in particular. Imagine his surprise when he sat down in the Oval Office for the first time and was told who exactly runs the US (it ain't the Pres, that's for sure).

So I don't know what should be done about Israel, an immoral, amoral, illegal and brutally violent state that does exactly what it feels like, no matter what the United Nations says. Should it stay or should it go? 'Go' would be my answer, but I know that's never going to happen. So, 'stop being a bastard and get along with thy neighbours' is probably the best we can hope for.

And you know what? Stranger things have happened. Here's a few that I would have ranked in improbability along with England winning the FIFA World Cup again:

1) Abolition of apartheid in South Africa
2) Demolition of the Berlin Wall
3) Collapse of the USSR

I hope this incident will change the way the world (especially the UK and the US, who are responsible for the whole damn mess in the first place) views Israel, and they can be made to just behave themselves. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

So, Facebook's Turn

After my rant about Google last week, I think it's only fair to have a go at Facebook. The founder of FB, Mark Zuckerberg, has been in the news this week after being forced by public outcry to roll back the privacy settings for FB users. Apparently a new, simpler to use system is being released to users over the next few weeks (why not all at once? I have no idea).

Anyway, I thought I'd check my account to see whether I have the new system yet. I don't think I do. What I've got is a series of pages to wade through. For each thing there's a dropdown list of options of who you want to see your stuff (usually 'Everybody', 'Friends Of Friends', 'Friends Only', and 'Customise'). Customise is usually the one you want, and that contains the 'Only Me' option. The whole process of going through every page and changing what I wanted to took about half an hour. Not exactly user-friendly. There were a few nasty surprises in there where FB had opted me into new features ("Instant Personalisation Pilot Program") without asking or telling me. There's more info here, and I especially like the comment from Sean.

I think the basic idea of FB is a good one. Many more people use it than have blogs, and it is a way of keeping in touch with people without necessarily interacting with them. But you may keep the games, the gifts, the fortune cookies and other malarkey. What does worry me is that FB now has data on 500 million people. I'm pretty careful about what personal info I put online, but others are much less so. And it seems that once you've given FB your phone number, address, blood type, whatever, even if you subsequently choose to hide it, that data is not deleted. And apparently it's almost impossible to get FB to delete your record even if you choose to leave.

This mountain of data is in the hands of some kids in California, who apparently have no understanding of privacy. If that doesn't send a chill down your spine, then it should.

Mind you, Google has a stack more of my stuff, including several thousand emails that they are happy to analyze to find out what kind of stuff they might be able to sell me, and that scares me too.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Do No Evil

I used to admire Google as an innovative opponent to the lovely Microsoft. I especially liked their motto: Do No Evil. Sadly, they seem to have forgotten about that motto. Either that or they can't tell right from wrong. I suspect the latter is the reason for some of the things they have done / are doing / will continue to do until somebody stops them. They've been accused of being 'autistic' when it comes to communicating with the public, and I think there's some truth in that: they really don't seem to dig certain ideas. Like, the reality that intellectual property always bilong someone - you just cannot scan every book you can find, stick it up on the Interwebz and then say that anyone who thinks they own the rights to any of this stuff should get in touch with them (by the way, have you ever tried to contact a real person at Google?).

So this little story caught my interest. Google's Street View cars 'accidentally' capturing data from unsecured wifi networks they happened to drive by. Hello? The cars have a camera tree on the roof. For what reason would they also have doohickeys to steal data? Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, an old dude they brought in to communicate with the real world on their behalf (because that's where he lives, whereas the founders live on Planet Chocolate), immediately said it was a mistake, or not company policy, or some other bollocks of that ilk. I hope they're paying him a ton of money to be the acceptable humanoid face of this increasingly dodgy outfit.

Now, let's see how long it takes The Googleplex to shut down this blog, which they very kindly host for free on the basis that they can steal anything I write on here.

Oh, and I hate Facebook too. Even more, actually.

Friday, 14 May 2010


Having moved to Spain from the Miggle East, I do find the availability and prices of herbs and spices to be a bit of a problem. For sure, there's a short list of stuff you can get in any supermarket for almost nothing, and there are herbalarios that sell the same things and a few others at a somewhat higher price. And anything else you want, you get it when you're in England or order it from some dodgy dudes on the Interwebz. In Dubai, you could go to the Spice Soukh, or even a supermarket, and they would have sacks full of everything and they'd sell you a bit of it for virtually nothing.

But hey, The Secret Pie Company got its First Order today (even though it wasn't planning to), and has almost run out of sage (even though this grows like wildfire all over the hills and mountains, it's almost impossible to find in a shop: and the hills and mountains are too bloody far away for me go and pick my own) and allspice (pimiento de Jamaica) which I've never, ever, seen in a shop in Spain.

The First Order (which will be framed, by the way, and treasured in the boardroom of The Secret Pie Company in decades to come) requires these substances, and I quietly mentioned this factoid to my companion, who told me about a new spice shop that had opened recently a few streets away from where we were.

I went to the shop ('Spicy Yuli' on Calle de Valverde, near 'The Quiet Man' boozah). It's a bit cool, as required by its location, and sells exotic teas and pretty much any spice you can think of. Allspice was no problem at all - they have it whole or powdered. And oh, always a plus for me, the proprietor speaks English. It's not exactly cheap, but they do give you a free sample of the tea of your choice.

Lovely packaging, by the way. And the Secret Pie Company also has to make some sample pies and things next week because it's being interviewed by a local English-language paper. And there's a plan to get more sales by the end of the week. Ooh, err. All a bit exciting, innit.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Spanish Health Service

I posted a couple of weeks ago about a visit or two to my doctor. This eventually resulted in a referral to a specialist medical centre up the road. The appointment was for this morning, and I put the previous horrible experience out of my mind. My positive approach worked: a young lady came out of the consulting room and told us who was who in the queue. I was actually seen at the appointed time, and the consultant spoke English! Brilliant. He didn't actually do anything much, though, just gave me some forms. One for a hospital appointment, and another for a follow-up with him where he would tell me the results.

Things took a turn for the worse after that. The appointments room was packed solid with people, and it took me five minutes to work out there was a ticket system in operation, and another five minutes to actually locate the ticket dispenser (it wasn't actually in the room, it was about ten metres away down the corridor outside). I was horrified to see I was number 818. The display was currently showing 702. I stood waiting for a few minutes to see how fast people were being dealt with. The answer was 'not very', so I went for a long walk. When I got back, the queue had advanced by about thirty. I went and did some shopping - the queues in the supermarket are normally fairly long and slow, but today I just whizzed through the checkout.

Back at the medical centre, there were still fifty-odd people ahead of me, so I went walking again. The display had just reached 800 when I got back, and the crowd was thinning out so I managed to get a seat. But I still had my positive little attitude on me. It would soon be my turn and then I would find out how Spanish hospital waiting lists would compare to British ones. I felt sure they'd be much shorter. Finally, after only one and a half hours of waiting, it was my turn.

The lady at the counter looked at my appointment request, looked at the computer, looked a bit puzzled, and picked up the phone. It seems the department in question is fully booked until the end of July.

'And after that?'


But surely they still operate the service? Buggered if I know. Try again in a couple of weeks, I think she said. And she very helpfully gave me the number for the free appointments phone line, which, of course, I am never going to use. Annoyed doesn't begin to describe how I'm feeling right now.

UPDATE: to be fair, I've just looked at the stack of papers they gave me, and the hospital appointment sheet has 3 boxes the doc can tick to indicate priority. It goes from urgent, in which case you should be seen within fourteen day, medium, a month, and non-urgent, three months. Guess which one is ticked on my form?

Sunday, 2 May 2010

A Luvverly Day

Like most of the slobs on this planet, I am quite capable of staying in bed until noon or beyond on a Sunday. But this morning was different. I was awake at five a.m., and began thinking about my new project. In my head, I was designing the workflow for the production facility, and even had an idea for how the façade should look. Then I moved on to directing the CGI animated TV commercial. Sleep was avoiding me, so I gave in and got up at seven. MamaDuck showed no signs of stirring, so rather than disturb her I got dressed and went out in search of a coffee.

On a triple holiday (Sunday / Dos de Mayo / Mother's Day), most cafés were resolutely closed (okay, it was also a tad early for most of them), and I was about 2km from home by the time I found an open one. I had a chat with a couple of young Spanish guys who were rounding off their night out with a couple more beers (I kid you not), and when I left the café, the sun was giving a bit of warmth to the day and I didn't feel like going home.

I had an idea. I would do something MamaDuck has repeatedly tried to get me to do previously, i.e. go to the Rastro. The Rastro is a huge flea market that takes place in the La Latino / Embajadores areas in the south of the city. It's more or less over by one or two in the afternoon, and I don't really like it because of the crowds. But I thought if I got there early enough it wouldn't be too bad.

Unfortunately, I'd left my sense of direction at home, and I soon found myself in Argüelles and then Moncloa, which are in the west end of Madrid. So I started heading east, and ended up in good old Chueca. I headed west again, along Gran Vía / Princesa before realising that what I should really try to do was head south a bit. And so it was that when my phone rang at about nine, I was outside the Palacio Real. I told MamaDuck I was on my way to the Rastro, and invited her to meet me there.

'Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?' she demanded. Anyway, she said she would come. And I realised that the top end of the Rastro (it's actually on a very long, straight, steep street) was somewhere near Plaza Mayor, so I headed up there. I stopped at a café for a thirst-quenching caña (small beer), and tootled down the hill to Calle de Toledo, which, if you proceed in the right direction, takes you to the Rastro. I realised the crowds were going the opposite way to me, so I turned round and followed them, and pretty soon was at the bar outside La Latina Metro station where we'd agreed to meet. She wasn't there, so I sneaked another quick caña and went outside to find a bench to sit on - that particular bar is all counter and no seats, and my little legs were a bit weary from all the walking. I soon spotted the boss and we went to another caff where we could sit outside and have a bit of breakfast.

We mooched through the Rastro - it was fairly busy, but not unpleasantly so, and about halfway down the hill I spotted an inviting-looking archway. We went through it and found ourselves in a marvellous Italianate courtyard with antique shops at ground level and lining the gallery above (I can't remember the name - it was Galerias de something) - I'll go back there one day with my camera.

The Rastro, with its infinite array of tat of all descriptions, didn't have anything we wanted to buy, so we carried on to the bottom of the hill, fought our way through the crowds on the Ronda de Toledo, and then escaped up into Lavapiés where a couple of cool drinks were waiting for us on a pavement table. The Spanish Air Force kindly put on a couple of fly-bys for us, and finally we made our way to Retiro Park to look at trees and ducks and swans, and consume a bit more beer and a sandwich.

The sky was turning cloudy at this point, and it was half past three, so we went and found a bus and came home. Perfect day, really. And I reckon I'll sleep okay tonight.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

This Election Thing

Next Thursday is the General Election in the UK, and for the first time in decades, I don't think anyone can reliably predict the result. If I was voting in it, I would normally vote for Labour, or tactically, LibDemSDP or whatever they were called on the day (which I did a few times when I lived in Weybridge in Surrey, where a vote for Labour was a wasted one). Basically, anything to keep the Tories out.

I hate what NuLabor did to their ideology, almost as much as I hated most of what La Thatcher did to British society (abolished it, basically, which I blame for the current dysfunction that Britain is suffering from). I hate the fact that Blair and Brown had this deal whereby Brown got to be Prime Minister without anyone voting for him. And I hate the fact that Labour didn't have the balls to get rid of Brown when they had the chance a year ago, after he'd proved he had the leadership qualities of an overcooked cabbage.  Now he's a total liability. Everybody knows it, but it's too bloody late now. Labour can not win this election.

Tory leader David Cameron is a tw*t. End of.

And Clegg looks like he's no worse than the others. A credible alternative, actually. But nobody seems to think the LibDems can win outright (don't they have enough candidates?), so they'll probably end up in a mess of a coalition Government. And, as Bank of England boss Mervyn King has said, whoever wins this election will have to do some deeply unpopular stuff that will keep them out of Government for a generation. I don't think that's entirely true - the electorate aren't that dumb, are they? They know the Brit economy is in the shite (thank you Gordon, so kind of you to give away all the gold and throw every penny we had at the thieving bankers), but once the new Gov is in place, there will be severe belt-tightening. So, on that basis, I might not mind too much if the Tories win this time. In any case, whoever gets to form the next Government, I don't think it will last more than two or three years.

Biting political analysis by Keefieboy. Bwuhahaha.

UPDATE: Just came across this - the Grauniad supporting LibDems.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The New Pi

You know my pork pies are fabulous (because I keep telling you they are), but just for a change, last night I invented the chicken and ham pie, and, oh my God, it is stupendous! Really, unbelievably fab. It's not the sloppy beige mush in pastry that you'd get from your local bakers. My chicken and ham is alternate layers of solid meat, seasoned with black pepper and fresh cilantro (coriander). Stuffed into a raised hot-water pastry case, surrounded by savoury jelly and designed to be eaten cold. Drool. I'm starting to sound like a marketing dude, but hey, these pies really are something else.

First of all, make the pastry and put it in the fridge to rest. Then prepare the filling - here I've packed it into glasses that are the same diameter as my glass mould. Press the meat down as much as you can (it won't stick together at this stage - that happens as the meat cooks and also the jellied stock helps to bind it).

Assemble the cases. Notice, I now put a tinfoil collar around the outside of the case - this stops the pies bulging too much during cooking, and also makes it much easier to release the glass former. I remove the collars about twenty minutes before the end of cooking.

Stick the lids on, paint with beaten egg, bake for an hour and a bit at 210 C. When cool, spoon the liquid jelly stock through the hole in the top. Chill in the fridge, and eat slowly. This is the best pie you're ever going to get (well, actually, sorry, you're not going to get one unless you come to Madrid and beg).

Monday, 19 April 2010

It's Sausage Day!

MamaDuck rushed home from her knitting group last Friday night and hid in the bedroom. Ten minutes later she emerged with a bright orange-gift-wrapped parcel with my name on it! It was about the right size to be a pair of cowboy boots, but she wouldn't let me open it till the next morning.

[The following is unsuitable for vegetarians - but if you want to send cowboy boots: size 44 (UK 8.5)].

Next morning came (and being basically a kid, I'd hardly slept), and I opened the package. Woot! A meat grinder / sausage stuffer! So I rushed up to the market, got me a kilo of pork shoulder and asked the guy for some tripas para hacer salchichon (casings for to make sausage). He said he didn't have, but pointed me to an offal stall. The lady there did indeed have tripas, but these were the whole things (chitterlings, in English - bleucch), not the skins. Dang. So I traipsed round every butcher in the market, a butcher's shop nearby, and finally a sausage shop near our house. Nada.

Not to worry. I'd been talking to a friend about my banger-making ambitions, and she said she sometimes makes them. She got her tripas from the butcher across the road from her flat in Malasaña, so I went there. No joy. But I remembered seeing a place mentioned on the blog of two guys who make their own bangers in Madrid ( Sadly, I couldn't remember the address or even the area, so I abandoned the search and went home.

Yesterday I assembled the meat/rusk/herb/spice mix, and this morning I went to the shop (c/Atocha 95, if you're interested). They wouldn't sell me less than 25m (€6), but apparently it'll keep for a year or two in the fridge.

I don't know quite what I was expecting, but I was surprised to see I'd apparently bought a bag of dead worms. It was a plain bag - no branding, no info, no nuffin. I opened it and pulled out this hank of shrivelled guts packed in rock salt. I pulled out a couple of metres of it (not unlike unravelling a skein of wool, but a bit smellier, obviously), and put it in lukewarm water to soak.

I've seen a YouTube video where somebody rinses water through it, so I tried that and it worked!

After a couple more hours of soaking, I steeled my nerves, assembled the equipment (half of which had spent the last 30 minutes in the freezer because colder is better for this kind of work), and threaded the casing onto the nozzle of the machine. Then I popped some of the meat mixture into the tray, switched on the machine, pushed with the pestle and waited for stuff to emerge. It took a while, but eventually, sausage extrusion began to occur, and I tried to ease the casing off the nozzle while manipulating the sausage into a regular shape. I stopped the machine after a bit, because the first eight inches were just way too thick. I cut that off, tried to twist it into two links, and broke the skin. Ho hum, try again.

This time I got the sausage down to a reasonable diameter, squeezing, teasing and coiling as I went. When all the meat mix had gone through the machine, I twisted the coil into links, and made nine fat juicy bangers. Looking at the original two, I decided to scrap them and try again. I pulled the casing off the nozzle much faster this time, and finished up with six narrow-gauge sausages. For a first attempt, I am pretty damn chuffed, and I know they're going to taste great because I fried off a bit of the meat mix this morning and had it in a sandwich for my breakfast.


UPDATE: Guess what we had for tea? Bangers 'n' mash. MamaDuck cut into a sausage and took a bite. 'My God! It's so meaty!' she said. Yep. Absolutely fabulous.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Doctor, Doctor

I haven't been to see a doctor since we arrived in Spain, but MamaDuck and I have decided well (well, okay, she told me) that I need to have a checkup and see if they can do anything about my nocturnal nasal conciertos (being on the wagon doesn't actually make much difference, so we're prolly looking at a bit of surgery in the sinus department).

So yesterday, I went and registered at our local clinic - I was chuffed that I managed it entirely in Spanish without a single 'que' or 'no entiende' from either side, and that I had managed to bring the two bits of documentation required (tarjeta sanitaria (health card) and empadronomiento (don't ask, but see other posts)). She asked me if I wanted a morning doctor or an afternoon doctor. I said it didn't matter, I just wanted the one who spoke the best English. She said none of them spoke any English (and why should they? How many English doctors speak Spanish?), so I opted for a morning one.

After that I went home and made myself an appointment online to see my new doctor. 10.40 this morning, no problem.

Got to the clinic this morning, sat outside his room, and was surprised not to hear my name called at any point. At eleven, the doctor emerged from his room, switched off the light and locked the door. I stood up and asked him if he was Dr Xxx. Yes, he said. Well, I have an appointment. With a sigh, he opened the door and got his list. He showed it to me, and I'm not on it.


Buggered if I know what happened, but I did think it a bit odd that the online system didn't send me a confirmation email or give me a chance to print anything out. Hmm. Got another appointment for tomorrow morning.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Lost In Translation

Patatas Bravas is a fairly common dish in Madrid. It consists of chunks of fried potato topped with a spicy tomato-based sauce. We've been to the café that claims to have invented them, but nobody seems to know why they bear this name ('brave potatoes'). Sometimes, you'll see patatas written as papas. Papa also means father, and there's a Holy Father in the Vatican who is known as El Papa.

So I couldn't resist a little giggle the other day when I read a menu that had English translations. The translation of papas bravas was 'brave Popes'.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Semana Santa in Ocentejo

We're just coming to the end of Semana Santa - Holy Week in Spain. The week leading up to Easter is as important as Easter itself, and MamaDuck had a week off work. We were invited to spend the week with some friends of ours at their place in Ocentejo, a tiny village (permanent population 25, but weekend and holiday population somewhat larger) about 150 kms north of Madrid. We've been there several times, but usually only for an overnighter, and usually as passengers in someone else's car. This time, our friends were already there, so we took the twice-daily coach as far as Cifuentes, about half-an-hour from Ocentejo, and they picked us up from there.

With spring teetering on the verge of sprunging, there is a lot of work to be done in the garden, and MamaDuck was eager to do some of it. I had been enlisted to make pork pies for general nibbling through the week, and a big steak and kidney pie to share with the family of José-Luis (the chef/owner of the only bar/restaurant in the village), and Espe, who just happened to be around. I spent a very happy morning in the kitchen constructing these pies, and they were a great success.

The pattern of our days at the house goes something like this: get up some time between 9 and 10, sort yourself out with breakfast, then get down to thinking about writing a new novel / actual work / dig the garden / make pies / go for a walk / paint the walls of the living room / try to draw a picture or do whatever it is you want to do. Sometimes there's a mid-morning coffee at the bar. At about 2.30, we knock off and go for an aperitivo at the bar. José-Luis is very canny, and will appear with a superb bit of food just as we look to be on the point of going back to the house for lunch. As we're eating this, we will of course order another round of drinks, and on more than one occasion we would be too full of J-L's creations to actually have or need any lunch. Some of the things he made for us: codornices (quails); migas (a southern Spanish dish of breadcrumbs and meat with a chopped-up fried egg stirred in - it sounds weird, but José-Luis makes the best migas I've ever had); beans (not Heinz); red peppers stuffed with a cheesy cod sauce; lomo (pork loin); patatas bravas (sauteed chunks of potato with a hot sauce); and many other goodies.

Then, back to the house for lunch (or not), usually followed by a snooze, and then whatever was planned for the evening. One night this involved trooping down to the Mayor's* house to watch Atléti vs Real Madrid (el Derbi, and a truly crap match it was), and a few days later a drive to the next village, Sacecorbo, to watch Atléti vs Valencia. The reason for all this mooching around to watch footie is that Castilla La Mancha switched off their analogue TV broadcasts last weekend. Now, this has been planned for years, and everyone now has a TDT (Terrestrial Digital Television) adapter. But Ocentejo (actually, the beloved Mayor of Ocentejo, who is the only person in the village who has satellite TV), forgot / didn't bother to tell the authorities they would like to have whatever doohickey is required to transmit digital signals. So, blank screens in Ocentejo.

And then back to the house for a nightcap, and sometimes staying up talking till stupid o'clock.

Sigüenza Cathedral

Some days we'd have a trip out of the village - MamaDuck and lady friend went to a garden centre in Guadalajara one day. We all went to Siguenza a few days later - it's quite a pretty place with an astounding cathedral and a castle that has been restored and is now a Parador.

Castle / Parador

And finally, the culmination of Semana Santa - el viernes Santo (Good Friday). There were lots of events organised by the village, starting with a competition to see who could make the best torrijas (a bit like a cross between French toast and bread-and-butter pudding). MamaDuck and I had been co-opted onto the judging panel, along with one of our friends and the mayor's wife. After that there was a concert of classical music given by a violinist and a guitarist, followed by the church-goers parading their little statue of Christ on the cross around the village. And then a bonfire in the square, which was supposed to be accompanied by roast potatoes. But they didn't put the spuds in until about 11pm, and by midnight they were still not ready, it had turned seriously cold, and us poor little Brits buggered off to bed.

Yesterday our pals gave as a lift into Guadalajara and we caught the train back to Madrid, where it promptly started to rain. But it was such a pleasure to be out of Madrid and plunged into a proper little Spanish pueblo where, of course, almost nobody speaks English and so you absolutely have to inflict your appalling Spanish on them.

*It's always amazed me that such a tiny village as Ocentejo has a Mayor and a town hall, but it turns out that the municipality is actually the largest in Castilla La Mancha in terms of land area. 

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Media Overload

MamaDuck returned from The Land That May Contains Nuts last Friday. Bearing gifts, she was, including a bunch of DVDs. She brought two serieseses of The Mighty Boosh, the first series of Spaced (are there any more?), and a couple of Doctor Whos.

And the following day she bought me 'And Another Thing' - the sixth instalment in the HitchHiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Eoin Colfer, and 'Unseen Academicals' by Pterry Pratchett.

So that's my reading and viewing sorted out for a while.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Acid Test

This will be the last story about pork pies, I promise (for now, at least).

So, I'm here in a little village in the mountains of Guadalajara, enjoying a relaxing long weekend. The village is very small, and has one bar/restaurant. It's owned and operated by José-Luis, who loves Brit food and trained as a chef in England. Having eaten there a few times, I can tell you he is an excellent cook.

When I arrived on Saturday, my friends told José-Luis about my pork pies and home-made Branston-style pickle, and promised to let the regulars have a taste (but not on Saturday when the place is swamped by tourists).

Last night we took two pies down and cut them into wedges. The verdict? José-Luis says he wants to marry me. He also wants as much of the pickle I care to give him next time I visit. And he's been told about my steak and kidney pie, so I'll be making a big one on the next trip - likely to be at Easter.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Perfect Pork Pie - Part Four

I gave one of the first batch of pies to a mate. He loved it, and told another dude about it. A few days later I was out with this other dude, who said he would pay a good bottle of wine for one of these pies. So I made another batch and gave him one (and first friend got another one). And they both got a little jar of pseudo-Branston pickle that I made. Got a text from other dude today, 'wow what a pie! D fucking licious!'.

I'm off to stay with some buddies in the sticks this weekend, so naturally, pies will be required. I've improved the production technique since the first batch. The jam jar is gone, replaced by a small, slightly tapered bistro glass.

Pack it with the meat mixture:

Then smear the outside with flour and raise the pastry round it:

Finally, use the upturned glass to cut the pastry lids:

This is just wonderful, because it means everything fits together nicely. The block of meat shrinks during cooking, leaving a goodly gap for the jelly to flow into. Oh, and I've started putting a few blobs of pastry on top of the meat before putting the lid on. These act as spacers, and make sure there's a gap between the top of the meat and the lid - again, for the purpose of good jelly flow.

Here's what this batch looks like:

Not a great photo, actually - they're much better-looking in the flesh. Off to pump them full of jelly now.

Friday, 5 March 2010

My Day

Pathetic, really, the things we wish for. Two days ago, I wished for a meat grinder, and if it had nozzles to stuff sausages with, that would be even better. A few days before that, I’d been in an industrial catering shop and asked about picadores de carne. They showed me what they had, and I got the impression that the manual ones were 23 Euros. I had no cash on me at the time, and resolved to go back later.

Two days ago, I went back. The two ugly cast aluminium ones were actually fifty three Euros. The sole electric one, which looked like it could do a thousand bangers a minute, was about two hundred. They showed me another one, apparently made out of tinfoil. Clearly that would not be up to the job.

But I was extremely pleased with my use of Spanish in explaining my decision not to buy any of them. I got this, that and those into one sentence, and made them laugh. (Este is too crappy, ese is too expensive, aquellos are too ugly).

On my return home, I logged onto EBay Spain, and came up with a result. An electric grinder and embutidora for 39 Euros. And in Madrid, too. I emailed the seller in my bad Spanish. I want this machine: ¿where and when can I get it?  The next day they emailed the address. The other side of town, but very close to a Metro station, so not a problem. I emailed back. ¿I will come at 1.30, is that okay? At three o’clock, they replied. Sure, they said. I emailed them to say I would be there tomorrow (Friday) at eleven, and please don’t sell it to anyone else.

There were a few more emails where we exchanged phone numbers.

Cue REM: It’s Been A Bad Day…

I had plans to be up bright and early this morning, but with my wife away and my aversion to alarm clocks, it was ten o’clock when I surfaced.

I got to the address at 11.30. It was a shop, closing down, and the stuff in it was the remnants of their stock. I could have gone at any time, without an appointment, but they hadn’t told me this: I thought I was dealing with a private vendor. Never mind. The man in the shop was busy with a customer, so I mooched around the place. Not a meat grinder to be seen. Eventually, the shopkeeper was free.

I saw a meat grinder on EBay. I emailed you. ¿Where is it?

Expecting him to pull it out from a secret place somewhere. Ah, no, he said, I sold it to a man in Zaragoza, over the phone.

I expressed my disgust, went to a horrible bar for a consolatory vermut de grifo. My phone rang. The man from the shop: don’t come to the shop, the machine is sold.

Yeah, right. Gracias, hijo de puta, joder. &c.

Emerging from the horrible bar, I could not but help notice the rain, freezing cold shards digging into my scalp. I’d come out without my hat. Joder. I mooched around this unfamiliar barrio (Prosperidad/Alfonso Trece). By this time, I had decided that if I couldn’t have a meat grinder, I could at least have a nice lunch. I examined the blackboards outside the restaurants. None had anything I fancied, so I took the Metro into town. I got off at Bilbao and walked up to Plaza de Olavide. On a decent day, you cannot move for people in this place. Today, in the now-pissing-down rain, it was deserted. Not one of the restaurants here was offering anything I wanted.

I headed down Calle de Hortaleza, examining every Menu Del Día I passed. Obviously, Friday is Crap Food Day. I finished up in Chueca, the gay barrio where I used to live. There are four or five places here where I used to eat, none of them brilliant, but all competent (although one of them does do the world’s best Cocido Madrileño, but only on Thursdays). They all seemed to be observing Crap Food Day too, so I finished up at the grey place whose name I do not know, on the corner of Calles Prim and Barquillo.

The pinch-faced, bespectacled, surly waiter takes my order. The chickpea soup with salt cod is okay, but I don’t eat all of it because you can only eat so many beans without changing your underpants. I don’t have the Spanish language skill to explain this as he glares down his nose at me in disapproval of me leaving food. Joder, I’m paying for it.

Another waiter brings my second plate. Allegedly roast lamb, but I can tell when something has been deep-fried. I eat as much as I can, and begin looking for a pot-plant or something like it where I can hide the rest of the inedible food. The dining area in this place is up a few steps at the back of the room. From here, if I wear my glasses, I can see everything that goes on.

And what I see is the pinch-faced, bespectacled, surly waiter running to the near end of the bar. He is obstructed by a crowd of people and turns round to face a thick-set man in a high-visiblity jacket, who throws a punch at him. It doesn’t quite connect, but does knock his glasses off. The waiter is infuriated, and determined to return the aggression, but his colleagues jump on him and restrain him. The thick-set man in the high-visibility jacket is escorted from the premises, and the waiter is allowed to continue work.

I am surprised that no police are called, and that the waiter, once his glasses have been found, seems to be completely unaffected by this incident. Had it been me, I would need a bucketful of brandy to aid my recovery. The words loco and tonto are heard. Nobody offers any comfort or solace to the waiter, and he doesn’t seem to need it. It’s as if this happens all the time.

So perhaps I’ve walked into the middle of a soap opera. Hi-vis-jacket-man is nasty waiter’s former lover, seeking retribution. Or something like that. Who knows?

I cannot eat anything after this, and nasty waiter takes my half-full plate away and brings me a café solo.
I pay the bill and get out of there as quickly as I can.

I go to Café Lucar, across the road. There are no free stools, so I stand for a bit and order a glass of wine. I roll me a cigarette, and look around the place. Sitting on the stool nearest the window is a thick-set man in a high-visibility jacket. He’s talking to a camarero, something along the lines of ‘you’ll never guess what just happened to me’. The words loco and tonto are heard.

A stool becomes available further down the bar, so I take it. The waiter who is looking after the diners recognises me and comes over. ¿Que tal? ¿Todo bien? He’s a nice guy, I think, but has unusually dark eyelashes, dark enough so you’d notice. And this is Chueca. I grunt and smile, and he goes away.

I focus on the guy behind the bar. He’s stopped talking to señor hi-vis jacket, and is doing something at the coffee machine. Something weird. He’s got a tumbler half-full of… what? Brandy? Whiskey? Whatever, he’s just set fire to it and now has coffee dribbling into it while it burns. He delivers it to the guy sitting next to me. I ask him what it is, but don’t catch the reply. It seems he’s from Barcelona, and this drink is common there.

I walk to Gran Via Metro and return to Tetuan, where nothing ever happens.