Category Archives: Food and drink

Mexican style churro pancakes with burnt butter syrup

I first had churros at Alexandra Palace, of all places, while waiting for an Embrace gig. Crispy, sweet, subtly smokey, with a butterscotch-y filling, these awesome, ridged, tubular donuts are amazing, but not the kind of thing you see often in Devon, sadly. Wiki tells me they’re popular in Portugal, Spain, Brazil, France, and often dunked in hot chocolate.

I’ve become a dab-hand at pancakes over the last few years, and specialise in a fluffy, drop-scone derived type that I’ve refined and adjusted to get to the point where I’d call them my speciality. We have them often – probably once a month if not more – for breakfast, and they’re Emma’s favourite thing, especially with maple syrup. I tried traditional British thin pancakes again for Shrove Tuesday this year, and we both felt a bit underwhelmed and disappointed that I hadn’t just made the usual fluffy pancakes.

The other day Emma saw a recipe for ‘Mexican style churro pancakes’, which were flavoured with cinnamon and served with a burnt butter and maple syrup. I have no idea if these are in any way authentically Mexican or not. Frankly, who cares? Cinnamon is another of Emma’s favourite things, so I don’t know why we’d never thought of putting it in pancakes before; we’ve put everything else in them! The recipe for the pancakes themselves was American and pretty foul; it had all sorts of artificial and unnecessary crap in it, put was flavoured with a teaspoon of ground cinnamon powder. The picture was of fluffy pancakes, so I thought I’d just make my usual ones and add the cinnamon.

So I did. And they were amazing; coupled with the burnt mutter and maple syrup, they were fluffy and light, like my usual pancakes, but had that mysterious, subtle smokeyness that’s the defining flavour of churros; it must be the cinnamon and burnt butter.

Here’s how I did it.

Pancake ingredients:

• 125g plain flower
• Heaped teaspoon baking powder
• Pinch sea salt
• 1 heaped teaspoon of caster sugar
• 1 heaped teaspoon of cinnamon powder
• 1 large egg
• 140ml milk
• 25g butter, melted
• A knob of butter for the frying pan

Syrup ingredients:

• 1 part butter (1 part = about a dessertspoon)
• 1 part maple syrup
• 1 part golden syrup (the recipe Emma saw was 2 parts maple syrup, but this makes it more economical!)
• A big pinch of cinnamon powder

To make the pancakes, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cinnamon to aerate them. Add the egg and milk, and whisk together into a batter. Add the melted butter, still whisking thoroughly, so it emulsifies into a smoother consistency batter. Then drop dessertspoonfuls of the mixture into a medium-heat frying pan; I tend to do about four at a time. After a minute or two they’ll go matte on top, which means it’s time to turn them over. Cook them about the same amount of time on the other side; they should have fluffed-up nicely, and be light golden brown.

To make the syrup, melt the butter in a small pan, and let it bubble until it just starts to go brown; if it goes completely brown it will burn and go very bitter, which you do not want. Take it off the heat, and add the maple syrup and golden syrup, and stir it all together before adding a big pinch (or a few shakes) of cinnamon powder. Pour a teaspoon or three of the syrup over a stack of the pancakes, and you’re done. Perfect breakfast.


Ham hock and onion rarebit

Over the last twelve months or so I’ve become rather enamoured of ham hock; a cheap, tasty cut of meat that needs some work but which is amazingly rewarding. It’s basically a pig’s front shins, I gather, and not the most sophisticated purchase; even our local, award-winning, reputationally expensive butcher sells them for only £3.50 each – I got about 450g of meat off the last one we bought after I’d stripped it off the bone, which makes it cheaper than any sliced ham or bacon you’d get, pretty much.

Because hock’s on the bone, and fatty too, it needs some serious cooking. I’ve taken to parceling it in tinfoil with a splash of olive oil, some bay leaves, sage and thyme, a few cloves of garlic, a shake or two of allspice, half an onion, and whatever else I might have laying around, plus half a cup of water. I roughly seal the parcel, and put it in a roasting tray in the oven for about 4 hours at 160 degrees; after two hours, I check it and maybe add a splash more water (I’d use cider if we had any around).

After time’s up, take the ham hock out of the oven, let it cool for 30-45 minutes, and then have at it with a couple of robust forks and your fingers – tear the meat off the bone and pull it out of the fat, get into all the joints between the bones with your fingers and make sure you waste absolutely none of the incredibly tasty, deep-red flesh. (If you’re feeling lazy, you can buy little trays of ready-pulled ham hock from the supermarket; it’ll cost you more, but save you time. Will it be as tasty? Not quite.)

You can use the pulled ham hock for whatever you want – it works well in sandwiches, though it’s more value, I think, in a puff-pastry-lidded pie with some seriously sweated leeks, or in a quiche with yet more leeks and a savoury custard and mature cheddar, or added to a sage and onion stuffing mix for a turkey. But my favourite thing to do with a ham hock was decided a couple of weeks ago; put it in a rarebit.

Now rarebit always seemed a little pointless to me; cheese on toast is so simple and so good, why would you want to fart around with roux and mustard and a tiny splash of beer? Then one day, for some unknown reason, I decided to try a recipe for onion rarebit (I think by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, although I can’t find which book it might be from right now), which seemed a little more substantial and therefore more worthwhile spending some time on. So I browned some onions, made a roux of some melted butter and flour, added milk, grated cheese, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a hint of nutmeg and a splash of beer…

Sure enough, I found it absolutely delicious, and, as Emma had no interest in trying it, it made enough to leave some in a pot in the fridge for the next day (and even the day after that). Since then I’ve made it a number of times, and, as with any recipe, have got confident enough to mess around with it if every ingredient isn’t to hand in exactly the right quantities; red onions instead of white, no onions at all, baby leeks instead of onions, no beer, etcetera etcetera.

So it seemed almost painfully obvious to combine ham hock with beautifully browned onions in a rarebit the other week, especially when I had the last dregs of my Christmas keg of Doom Bar to hand. It was, if I say so myself, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

a knob of butter
a finely-chopped white onion
another knob of butter
a tablespoon of plain flour
a big glug of milk
a handful of grated mature cheddar cheese
a handful of pulled ham hock
a teaspoon of Dijon mustard
a shake of ground nutmeg
a couple of slices of bread, lightly toasted on the underside

What to do
Get a medium-sized pan on the hob at a low-to-medium heat, and melt the first knob of butter. Add the finely chopped onion, and keep it moving in the pan with a wooden spoon until it goes translucent and golden with flecks of brown. Professional recipe books will pretend that this take 5 minutes, but it doesn’t; it takes more like 15 or 20, but it’s worth it. There are few things finer in the world than slowly cooked onions that have gone properly golden-brown. Just making them go translucent white isn’t good enough – you want the sugars to caramelize and add amazing depth to the flavour.

When the onions are ready, add the second knob of butter, and when it’s melted quickly stir in the flour. Melted butter and flour makes a roux, which is the basis for pretty much any sauce. It’ll make a yellow-y paste around the onions, and bubble a little.

Once it’s bubbling, turn the heat up a little and slowly add the milk – depending on the amount of butter and size of the onion and how much flour you use, it could take between a couple of hundred milliliters and a pint. Stir constantly, so that the roux absorbs the milk and it becomes a sauce.

When your milk is all in and you have a smooth, thick consistency, add the cheese, mustard, splash of beer, and nutmeg, stirring all the while. Then add the ham hock. Once the cheese is melted in and the ham hock is spread through nicely, it should be more like an emulsified paste than a runny sauce; it should be able to sit on top of toast and need to be spread out over it with a spatula, and it shouldn’t ooze or slip off the top.

So, obviously, spread it on the untoasted side of your bread, and stick it under a medium grill for a few minutes until it goes mottled and brown – it wont bubble like regular cheese on toast, so keep an eye on it and don’t let it burn. If you make enough or the rarebit topping, it’ll keep in a sealed container in the fridge for two or three days. Serve with a glass of chilled beer, and eat it standing up in the kitchen, or while wandering around the garden if the weather’s good. Honestly, there’s nothing better.

Ham hock and leek quiche

I first made this back in the summer, where it works well served with a light salad. In late autumn / early winter, it’d go well with a jacket potato, I reckon, and some steamed green beans. I had eggs, pastry, and cream at home, and wanted to make a quiche (or flan as me ma used to call it), and was browsing Waitrose for inspiration (I’m not a ponce, honest; it’s just closest). I picked up some leeks, because I love leeks, dismissed bacon because that’s my default quiche filling, and headed for cooked meats, where I spotted a packet of pulled ham hock which had that day’s date and was thus reduced to barely any money at all. So I bought it.

I’d not had ham hock until the other Christmas, when Jamie Oliver did something fancy with one and some jerk seasoning. We picked one up from the local butcher’s for a pittance, and did the same – it was delicious. There’s not masses of meat on them (they’re practically all bone and fat), but what’s there is tender and delicious, and they cost barely anything at all – ours weighed a kilo and a half and cost £3.50.


• 1 packet of pulled ham hock (from Waitrose) or a good handful of ham hock that you’ve cooked and pulled yourself
• 1 pre-made shortcrust pastry pie case (or a pre-rolled sheet, or half a pre-made block rolled out, or make some yourself if you’re insane – and a pie dish to put it in)
• 200mls extra thick double cream
• 2 eggs
• 1 good handful of grated mature cheddar cheese
• 2 leeks, diced
• A knob of butter and a splash of olive oil
• Salt and pepper to season

What you do with them

Start by sweating the leeks, with a good knob of butter and a splash of olive oil in a large pan, over a low heat with the lid on. Stir occasionally, until they start going sweet and soft. They should basically turn to mush – how long this takes will depend on how finely you chop them, how big your pan is, etcetera, etcetera. Don’t be tempted to turn the heat up, though – you don’t want them to catch and burn.

Once they’re translucent and mushy, add the ham hock and season, and keep stirring, now with the lid off, until all the whole mixture is a delicious-smelling mush, and with no excess liquid. If you’re feeling fancy, you could add some thyme when you season with salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt, as the ham will probably be quite salty itself.

Meanwhile, sort out your pastry case, however you’re doing it, and pre-bake it at about 200 degrees centigrade for ten to fifteen minutes or so to keep Mary Berry happy. I used to use the pre-made cases, but can never find them these days. I honestly cannot see the point in faffing around making pastry when a premade block is both very reasonably priced and very good; it’s one of the few things where I’ll err to convenience – curry pastes, pasta sauces, sage and onion stuffing, and various other things I’ll do myself from scratch, but pastry is fiddly and makes a mess. Or it does when I try and do it. Not that I’ve tried it in a very long time.

Now mix the cream and eggs together in a bowl, season them well and whisk them thoroughly to combine; you’re basically making a savoury custard mix.

Once everything’s ready, put the leek and ham hock mix in the pastry case, add the cheese on top, and pour the custard mix over the top so it seeps through into all the gaps and fills the case. Don’t be tempted to overfill the case – if you’ve got some left over, freeze it or use it for something else.

Now stick it in a hot oven (about 180) and bake for approx 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and set firm. Serve however you fancy, but I’d recommend allowing it to cool for about 15 minutes before you tuck in; there’s something about a quiche that’s approaching lukewarm which I find irresistible. Leftover slices will keep for a day in the fridge and make you a good packed lunch.

You can, of course, substitute bacon or some other type of ham for the ham hock if you can’t get it. If you use bacon, cut it into small pieces and fry it separately until crispy for the best flavour.

Chicken and chickpea kabsa recipe

20120707-121734.jpgI’m not quite obsessed with one-pot rice dishes, but I’m pretty close to it. Every country and culture seems to have one, all based around cooking rice in flavoured stock, usually with some combination of meat and vegetables. Typically they betray something of their creators’ national character – the indulgent, slightly finicky cheese-and-wine laden risotto; the communal, best-eaten-outdoors paella; the spicy hodge-podge of flavours that is a jambalaya; the delicately-flavoured, familial and celebratory biryani; the slightly stodgy, school-dinner-memory of rice pudding – I’ve cooked them all, most of them many, many times, in many variations; once you know the basic principles, it’s pretty easy to experiment. Personal favourites include a simple leek risotto and a big, yellow paella mixta with chicken, sausage, prawns, mussels, and a squeeze of lemon juice at the end to bring everything together. (And maybe a hideously indulgent chocolate-and-mascarpone rice pudding with Arborio rice.)

One variation that I’ve been fancying trying my hand at is kabsa, a Saudi / Gulf states variation. Typically it’s a similar base – fried onions, rice, stock, meat – that could become any of the dishes I’ve mentioned (except, obviously, rice pudding!), but a different flavour set provided by particular spices – black pepper, cloves, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, black lime, bay, and nutmeg – makes it quite a different experience. I made one last night, and it was stunning. Here’s how to do it.

• 1 onion
• 4 chicken thighs (skin-on, bone-in)
• 1 cup of rice (I used basmati, but just use your favourite)
• 1 litre of stock (I used one chicken stock pot and 2 teaspoons of Marigold Bouillon vegetable stock powder)
• 2 tomatoes (I used about half a dozen cherry tomatoes)
• 4 cloves of garlic
• 2 green chillies
• salt and black pepper
• a handful of sultanas or raisins
• juice of ½ a lemon and 1 lime
• good squeeze of tomato puree and 1 teaspoon of sundried tomato paste
• 1 can of chickpeas, drained
• 3 cloves
• 8 cardamom pods (split and emptied, with the outer husks thrown away)
• 2 bay leaves
• I kaffir lime leaf
• 6 or so strands of saffron
• 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
• ½ a teaspoon of ground nutmeg

I sliced the onion (some tiny diced bits, some larger top-to-bottom strips) and fried it in a large pan with a glug of olive oil, over a low heat until it softened and started to brown; I put the pan lid on for a few minutes every so often. While I was doing this, I soaked the basmati rice, changing the water every five minutes or so.

(Properly browning onions almost always takes longer than it says in cookery books – it can take half an hour or more, but is worth doing, because they become incredibly sweet.)

Then I added the garlic and chillies, both diced (if I’d had a stick of celery, I would’ve diced that and added it too), and turned the heat up, whilst keeping stirring constantly.

After a couple of minutes I added all the spices (having ground the cloves and cardamom seeds to powder in a pestle and mortar) and the bay and kaffir lime leaves, and kept stirring. I then added the chicken thighs, skin-side down initially to get them to brown a little against the base of the pan. After a couple minutes I turned the thighs over, squeezed over the lemon and lime juice, chopped the tomatoes and added them, and threw in the sultanas too.

I put the pan lid on, turned the heat down, and left the thighs skin-side down again to brown some more. The onions, garlic, etc almost got close to burning after a few minutes, but, as long as it doesn’t turn to charcoal and make everything bitter and harsh, this is OK – a bit of brown means things have caramelised and released sugars, making everything tastier.

When the chicken thighs were the colour I wanted (golden-brown skin, dark underside), I turned the heat up, added the hot stock and tomato puree and paste, and gave it all a good stir. I put the lid on, and let it simmer away furiously for a few minutes so the stock reduced a bit. I then added the drained rice and the chickpeas too, removed the chicken thighs, put the lid back on, and turned to a medium heat.

Once the rice is in and the lid is on, it should take between 10 and 20 minutes to cook. You’ll need to keep an eye on it, and maybe add more (boiling) water if there isn’t enough for the rice to go soft and fluffy before it goes dry. Alternatively, if it’s too wet, take the lid off and turn the heat right up and boil the excess liquid off.

While the rice was cooking, I stripped the meat off the chicken bones, cheekily ate the skin (Emma doesn’t like it), shredded the meat, and threw it back in the pot for the last 5 minutes or so.

Once the rice is done and there’s no excess liquid, it’s ready to eat. The whole process will probably take about 90 minutes, from starting to chop the onions to dishing-up. If I’d had any pine nuts or cashew nuts, I would’ve lightly toasted these and sprinkled them on top of the dished-up kabsa at the end.

I’ll definitely be making a kabsa again; despite being amazingly similar to a jambalaya in terms of method and bulk ingredients, it’s a completely different flavour set from the spices involved.

Chickpea rice recipe

I concocted this as a partner dish to Madhur Jaffry’s Trinidadian beef curry, which is intense, dark, and very, very hot. I wanted something nutritious and filling to go alongside it, but without going down the full-on rice & peas road.

• 1 onion
• 2 sticks of celery
• 1 cup of rice (whichever type you like best – I used basmati)
• 1 can of chickpeas
• Salt and pepper
• Pinch of turmeric
• Vegetable stock, just less than a litre

First of all, I soaked the uncooked rice for a couple of hours, changing the water several times. Apparently this gets rid of the starch and makes for fluffy rice. To be fair, the end result was dead fluffy, so there you are.

Then I diced the onion finely, and set it frying in a glug of olive oil and a little knob of butter, starting with a medium-high heat and stirring continuously for a few minutes, then turning the heat down and putting a lid on the pan to sweat them. I wanted the onion to be practically disintegrating and very sweet, as the plan was to make this rice as simple as possible, so I needed to extract all the flavour from it.

I then took the lid off the pan, maybe 15-20 minutes into cooking the onion, and added the diced celery. There’s no reason for the celery other than the fact that I understand it to take more calories to chew and digest than it imparts, so I try and use it to bulk out all kinds of rice dishes and stocks. I continued to fry the onion and celery, medium-low heat, lid on every so often, for another 10-15 minutes. Around about then I seasoned it pretty heavily with salt and pepper.

Then I added the rice, swirling it around in the pan and fully mixing it with the onion and celery. I fried the rice mixture dry for a couple of minutes, turned the heat up to high, and added the stock. The stock was, as usual, boiling water from the kettle with 2-3 heaped teaspoons of Marigold Bouillon stock powder and a pinch of turmeric powder for colour. Then I added the drained chickpeas, put the lid on, the heat low, and ten minutes or so later it was all done.

Amazingly, given how simple it was, this chickpea rice was amazingly tasty and moreish. So much so that I just had the leftovers on their own for lunch, and the only thing I would have wished for to go with it was more of the same.

Mass observation diary – 12.05.2012

Yesterday, rather than just make a note of all the music I listened to, I diarised everything, in order to help out some researchers. As I was diarising my listening already, it didn’t seem like too much of a stretch to record everything else as well. And I love helping out researchers.

Awoken by Cosmo the cat, who wanted to snuggle in by my elbow. Read The Guardian, Twitter, and ilXor, and checked blog stats on my iPhone. Tried to get back to sleep, without much success, because our bedroom faces the morning sun, which was bright even at this time in the morning.

Got up and went to the loo. Went back to bed.

Got up properly. Ate a slice of granary toast and drank a glass of orange juice. Listened to Endless Summer by Fennesz. Tweeted my music choice. Got Emma’s breakfast stuff ready, as she was going to work in the shoe shop today for her dad. Did yesterday’s washing-up.

Because Emma is working (every other Saturday or so, to help out her dad over the summer) I have alternate Saturdays pretty much entirely to myself, which is strange, because we’ve spent practically every Saturday together for the last ten years. It does mean that I can go on guilt-free bike rides without having to leave at 7am so I’m back before she’s awake, though.

Sat down at the dining table with the laptop and typed up yesterday’s listening diary. Spoke with Em about my plans for the day; explained the diary research. Fought with Bob the cat half-heartedly because he’d rather I stroke him than type on the laptop.

Went down to the yard and flipped my bike stem to make the handlebars a bit racier. I’ve been pondering a new stem for ages; it took Pete getting a new bike and being told that he could flip his stem over to make it more aggressive for me to realize that I didn’t need to spend any money, just undo some bolts and then do them back up again.

Went for a bike ride, only my second in two weeks since damaging my knee again (the first was the night before, with Peter). It seems counter-intuitive to some people, but cycling is actually quite therapeutic for your knees if you used clipped-in pedals; the motion is entirely linear (it’s lateral movements and twists that cause my knee to give way) and with clipped-in pedals you’re not putting as much force through the knee on the downstroke. I took a few photos on the way and tweeted them, because it was a beautiful, sunny morning. I thought about the nature of psychedelic music whilst cycling up a sizable hill, and how Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys is psychedelic, and vaguely planned to write a blog post about it. Had Ill Communication lyrics in my head for whole ride in a bizarre internal medley. It’s amazing how your brain works to distract you from the hill you’re cycling up; I’m pretty sure I’m only concentrating on the road and my speed when I’m descending quickly. I cycled 21 miles altogether, on top of 32 the previous evening. Near the end I picked up my t-shirt from Rick’s house, which I’d left in his car after playing football last week.

Stopped off to water the allotment on the way home.

Got home, showered, got dressed, and went out to get lunch. It was the first day this year that I’ve put shorts on apart from to cycle or play football – normally I live in shorts, when I’m not at work, from about April to October. My mum rang, to ask what we’re doing on my birthday, which is next Tuesday. She offered to buy us a Chinese takeaway if we went down to see them after work.

Bought a slice of pizza and a brownie from my favourite delicatessen. Whilst out and about I met our old neighbours, who have moved because they had a baby. I also met Tony the sociology professor from work, and we discussed knee injuries – he damaged his whilst skiing. Met Rob from work and his wife and baby on the cathedral green, where I ate my lunch. Heard a man playing Spanish-style acoustic guitar on one side of the cathedral green, near Abode, possibly heard a trumpet on other the other side. The combination of the two reminded me of Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis. Bought a ginger beer in M&S. Browsed HMV for a few minutes, and heard Let Forever Be by The Chemical Brothers for the second time in two days, which felt like an odd coincidence as I’ve not heard it in probably years. I started to feel very tired after two bike rides sandwiched around not much sleep, so I walked home.

Got home, and lolled on the sofa listening to Truelove’s Gutter by Richard Hawley, which was excellent.

Went down to the yard to clean my bike, listening to the ‘I need this song on my iPhone’ playlist on my phone, via my Koss Portapro headphones. I took the wheels off, gave the gears and chain a damn good clean, and changed the tyres to my slick summer pair.

Finished cleaning my bike, came back inside, and jumped in the shower to wash the grease and dirt off my hands and feet because they were filthy.

Lolled on sofa whilst listening to Giant Steps by The Boo Radleys. Ate an apple; it was straight from the fridge, so I peeled it first. For the record, it was a Pink Lady, which I feel guilty about because of the air miles, but we had a voucher, and I love them.

Popped out to B&Q to buy gardening shears so we can cut the grass easily at the allotment tomorrow, and to get onions, ginger, poppadoms, and beer from Sainsbury’s.

Got home and started cooking a sweet potato and spinach curry, whilst listening to the last seven track of Giant Steps, which I’d paused before popping out.

Got to the end of Giant Steps, so I put on Ill Communication. Still cooking the curry, which wasn’t to a recipe, but off the top of my head. I’ve done this curry before, and just apply various curry-cooking principles I have picked up fro recipe books and websites to the set of ingredients I wanted to use.

Emma got home from the shoe shop. I was still cooking. We ate bits of poppadoms with lime pickle, mango chutney, and diced onion and coriander. I let the curry simmer gently whilst Emma phoned her mum.

The curry was finally ready to serve. Put the telebox on; Come Dine With Me was the only thing even vaguely worth watching. I drank a beer (an IPA) and Emma had a glass of white wine.

Finished dinner; Emma washed up and I put portions of leftover curry into Tupperware containers; five in all. Three went in the freezer, and two in the fridge for Monday.

I spotted on Twitter that Japandroids are playing in Bristol in a week and a bit. Told Emma, and she bought tickets.

Sat on the sofa, watching old episodes of Grand Designs (and then a new episode of Casualty) and typing up this diary, which I’d been keeping in the Notes app on my phone, and then transferred to Word on the laptop so I can flesh it out and make it into a full blog post. Drank a second beer.

Switched to Channel 5 to watch CSI:NY. Drank a glass of white wine. Exchanged tweets with various people. Noticed two Massive Attack songs (both from Mezzanine; Angel and then Risingson) on the CSI soundtrack.

Went upstairs, cleaned teeth, and went to bed.

Fascinating, n’est pas?

Legal disclaimer – I have to include this bit so that the researchers can use this diary.
“I donate my 12th May diary to the Mass Observation Archive. I consent to it being made publicly available as part of the Archive and assign my copyright in the diary to the Mass Observation Archive Trustees so that it can be reproduced in full or in part on websites, in publications and in broadcasts as approved by the Trustees.”

What I did on my holidays

I’ve always hated people who apologise for not updating their blogs for a while; it seems like such an egotistical thing to do, to apologise for not gifting people with your thoughts and words. I remember Ian Brown, in an interview circa 1995 after The Stone Roses had returned from their 5-year hiatus (how short a gap between albums does 5-years seem now?), saying something like “do you think we’re that important? Do you think people just sat around not breathing while they waited for us to make another record? I don’t.”

Since April 14th I have ridden over 200 miles on my bicycle (some of it in the company of my wife). I have visited The Drift Record shop in Totnes for Record Store Day, and bought some vinyl. I have had a brief, beautiful anniversary holiday with my wife in St Ives (where we stayed in a terrific B&B), visiting Sennen Cove with a friend on the way back (and listening to a certain Ride b-side on the journey), and took a lot of pictures while we were there. I’ve had a family barbecue at the in-laws’ house. I’ve been to the theatre for the first time in a decade (to see The Dumb Waiter by Pinter). I’ve played Brian Eno’s Another Green World at Devon Record Club. I’ve been to the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink. I’ve helped my wife plant some tomatoes, some chillies, some lettuce, some mint, and some other stuff in our yard. I’ve bought a garden chair. I’ve put SPD pedals on my bicycle, and clocked my fastest-ever single mile (2mins 58secs down Honiton Road behind Exeter Airport, without realising how fast I was going at the time). I’ve watched some of the Royal Wedding (despite being a vague republican). What I haven’t done (bar the Brian Eno piece for DRC) is any writing. I had every intention of doing some, given that we took advantage of the cluster of Bank Holidays and extended our break to eleven days in a row, but frankly I haven’t been of a mind to. I’ve pondered writing something about being a dilettante, about cycling, about St Ives, about record clubs, about lots and lots of things, but sitting down at a desk to type has seemed too much like work. I return to actual work on Tuesday for three days before another long weekend (including a trip to Scotland for a friend’s wedding), so maybe… I would say “normal service will resume”, but what’s normal service?