Thursday, January 27, 2011

A medical emergency

One can laugh at it all now, but as events unfolded it was a serious and frightening matter for all concerned.

We do not usually attend an annual get-together for members of our local Residents’ Association. This winter we did.

With our bought ticket came a drink, to be followed (much later on this evening) by small bites. With this in mind, we had enjoyed a bowl of soup beforehand, hoping for more substantial fare at the party.

My selection from the drinks on offer was a pint of Guinness which, with another half a pint lasted the one and a half hours that I stood, making the usual conversation that one does on such occasions.

Then, when enough was enough, I indicated to Margreet that perhaps we should make a move toward home.

So I passed her on my way to the door, where I suddenly felt a bit faint. So I sat down. She saw my plight and we left.

What I had not realised was, that standing for so long and with a comparatively empty stomach, and with one and a half pints of the black stuff inside, the blood in my body had drained downward, depriving my brain of enough of it to sustain normal life.

As the pub venue was near to our home, I had not bothered to wear a coat – even on this cold evening. The low temperature of outside air, after the very hot interior of the bar room, should have been bracing enough for full recovery.

It seems that I moved rather slowly toward home, where, having unlocked the house door with some difficulty and help, I fainted, collapsing from my considerable height to form a pile of limbs, set in a pool of blood from the head.

Margreet, in trying to keep me upright, fell on top of me. I had passed out, to a state of complete unawareness.

On regaining consciousness, I heard Margreet shout for help. She thought I was dying.

Neighbours rushed from their houses, and Margreet, beating on a nearby doctor’s door without success, left bloody stains on the paintwork in the process.

One neighbour, unknown to us as a doctor, recommended that I lie still until help, in the form of an ambulance, arrived.

Not only very cold as I lay uncovered on freezing flagstones, I was now a little damp in the lower regions.

The ambulance men helped me aboard their vehicle and tested me to decide on which hospital I should be taken to. Charing Cross was decided upon.

There, with equal courtesy, compassion and professionalism, I was subjected to a variety of tests for brain and lung function – and sewn up with stitches at the source of blood from my head.

Doctors recommended an overnight stay to check on brain damage. There was no sign of any. (After all, on crashing an aircraft in the war, my head had knocked two instruments out of the instrument panel without ill effect.)

Margreet collected me in the morning, and I continued life just as before, but with some aching joints, and awareness that at future “dos” I should be prepared to sit occasionally and to eat well beforehand.

Out of it all came the added awareness, if it was not already quite plain, that I have a wonderful wife, and that our National Health Service is, in an emergency, beyond reproach.

Except, one item did surprise me. When being allowed to depart from the hospital, a doctor wondered aloud what to record as the reason for my admission to Casualty. On reading from my hospital notes that I had consumed a pint and a half of Guinness, she decided that the reason for my trouble was alcohol.

So, when next you read a statistic that hospital casualty departments have admitted a certain large number of alcoholic cases for emergency treatment, please deduct one from the total.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Dumplings are a joy to eat for most people. They are simplicity itself to make, economical, filling and nutritious. By adding them to a soup (or stew) you will enhance it and turn a modest dish into a meal. They are especially good in winter when soups and stews seem to be at their most welcome. Come in from cold blasts over land, river or sea to a dish with dumplings and you will soon be warmed right through. Children love them.


You will need:

Flour (plain or self-raising)

Suet (that is, finely chopped or minced beef fat. Atora is a brand of it)

Salt and pepper

Herbal flavourings

Make your dumplings in the same way as suet crust pastry by combining twice the amount of flour, by weight or volume, to suet. Add some salt and pepper, stir together and then add cold water to form a stiff dough. Form this into balls, roughly the size of walnuts to golf balls, and drop them into the boiling soup or stew for 20 minutes to half an hour. They will then be ready to serve with the soup or stew. If you use self-raising flour the dumplings will be fluffier. With plain, they will take up less space and be chewier.

Consider putting lots of very small dumplings into soup. Two dessertspoons of flour to one of fat, with salt, when turned into dumpling mix with water will make 12 little dumplings. Two dessert spoons of flour to one of fat will make enough for two.

So good are dumplings that there will almost certainly be calls for more from a hungry family. So it is a good idea to add some more to the soup (or stew) as soon as you have served the first helping. Then, in 20 minutes or so, there will be more of them ready.

Plain dumplings may be best, but I favour them mixed with flavourings, like fresh or dried herbs, curry powder, chilli-con-carne powder, chopped onion, pressed garlic, English mustard, caraway seeds, cumin seeds, paprika, turmeric, chopped parsley, lemon or orange zest, and almost any dried herb or spice on your kitchen shelves. So here is an area in which to experiment. But start with plain ones.

Should you make too many for a meal, dumplings will heat up and be just as delicious when you want to eat the soup again.

Remember to boil up the soup every day – especially in warm weather. And keep adding to it any leftovers chopped-up, or the remains of stews or curries cut up with kitchen scissors. For extra liquid, add tea from the pot (not milked or sugared). And the addition of a stock cube may be necessary every so often.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Fusker lost

I have written several blogs about James May’s cat, Fusker.

The first blog was about our fight – one that became a bloody and noisy conflict that sent me to hospital for stitches and injection, but made me “top cat”.

For all his villainy, Fusker is a rather special cat. When I see him I growl, and off he scampers. He has a memory.

But Fusker has gone missing, and some of us are upset about it.

Being a petrolhead’s cat he loves cars and vans, as well as pretty girls and houses where he can sneak in unobserved.

So where is he? James and Sarah have bill-posted the immediate district, put notices behind car windscreen wipers, and placed circulars in letter boxes – so far (after 5 days) to no avail.

He could be in a house where the owners have not noticed him, then locked up and gone away on holiday or business. He could be in a builder’s van anywhere, or he could have come across a hungry fox – and foxes do live in an abandoned garden next to mine.

In James’s notice there is a fine photograph of the cat and a description of his habits. Omitted, though, is a warning that appearing friendly, he can suddenly scratch and bite.

Has anyone seen him (black with front white paws and white nose and bib)?

Our district is the duller without him.


We now learn that people close to the main road nearby had found Fusker's body and disposed of it.

So poor Fusker died beneath the wheels of vehicles he loved so much.

If there's a cat heaven, he will be much respected there.


First select your Brussels sprouts. They vary a lot in taste from the bland to the deliciously nutty. As far as I can see, you will get no indication of their taste by inspecting them on the supermarket shelf or market stall.

Sprouts are best consumed in the cold of winter My father would never eat them until the plants had experienced the first frost, though I have since eaten excellent sprouts before the arrival of cold weather. In the springtime they start to enlarge and become unpleasant to eat.

Look at the base of the sprouts. Freshly picked ones will have a clean, whitish base where they have been broken or cut from their parent stem. The longer they have been offered for sale, the darker and drier this base will become. Aim for small, tight sprouts with clean outer leaves. If the outer leaves are yellowing, do not buy them.

Trim off the base with a knife and peel off the outer leaves if they are bruised or dirty. The sprouts will then be ready to cook. Boil more than you need so that any remaining can be fried for a dish the next day - which is when they change taste and are just as delicious, if not more so.


You will need:

Brussels sprouts

Salt and pepper

Butter and/or olive oil

Nutmeg (possibly)

Ginger root (possibly)

Garlic (essential)

Into salted boiling water throw the trimmed sprouts. Bring the water back to the boil and time the cooking for 5 minutes exactly – or 8 for large ones. They will then be cooked, firm and at their very best. Strain the cooked sprouts and return them to the pan so that any remaining water will evaporate over heat. Now add a good lump of butter or some olive oil with salt and pepper. Add a pressed garlic clove. Toss the sprouts around in this until coated. Serve immediately. Many believe that a grating of nutmeg is almost essential – I don’t..

If possible, retain enough sprouts to fry the following day – or start from scratch. Put the boiled and dried sprouts into a frying pan with a little olive oil, or oil and butter, with some pressed garlic. Add pepper and salt. Fry the sprouts until their outer leaves are brown and crisp, almost black, by which time the smell, with the added garlic, will be delicious. Sometimes I sprinkle over some peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger root, or boil and fry a couple of pieces of ginger root with the sprouts. But they are quite delicious enough without this adornment.

Another way to eat sprouts is to trim them, divide them in half and then slice the halves into shreds. Eat these raw with onion in mayonnaise or fry the shreds quickly in garlic, olive oil, pepper and salt.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


My feeling concerning houses is that if you look after them, they will look after you. This attitude has, throughout most of my life, helped to keep me solvent.

I have lived in my present place for over 21 years. And during that time I have used a pedestal wash basin in the bathroom.

In the course of general cleaning, and curiosity about plumbing (viewing crazy French plumbing has given me great pleasure), I noticed that behind the pedestal and rather hidden by pipes and being fairly inaccessible, is a U-bend that maintains water in the U part to prevent sewer smells from entering the house from the main drains. Baths, lavatories and basins, all have them.

But this particular one is different. The U is squashed together and upright – presumably to fit in and hide behind the pedestal.

And on top of this white plastic U-bend contraption is a small reservoir-looking shape, with a screw-down cap at its top.

I often wondered why it was there, but ignored it. And as it gave no trouble, presumably had a use, and was virtually unseen, I did not touch it except for a very occasional dusting of pipework.

It so happens that this pedestal basin was positioned by the original plumber at the opposite side of the bathroom from the main, downpipe drain. So the fall of the waste pipe is minimal, thus having a sluggish flow and not well scoured by fast running water. Moreover, I had added a bidet near to the basin to share this waste pipe.

This meant that every so often, when the basin and bidet became slow to drain, I used a plunger to speed things up a bit.

Well, after washing my hair in the basin early one morning, I noticed a wet patch on the carpet beneath the pedestal. And it was foaming with shampoo bubbles. So an investigation was necessary.

I found that wastewater was leaking out of this odd reservoir thing. And at the bottom of the contraption was a pin.

I pushed this up and out flowed water when the basin was emptying.

So, after some difficulty in unscrewing the cap at the top, I found a plunger inside, with a washer attached.

This flexible washer was then rubbed clear of lime scale and its seating cleaned. I then re-assembled the contraption.

Water still flowed out of the reservoir’s base, and now even from through the threads of the cap on top.

Thinking that perhaps the rubber of the washer had perished over time, I took the plunger with its washer to two suppliers of plumbers’ needs. No one had ever seen one before, or knew anything about it, except to suggest that it might have something to do with an air vent. So I said to one of these plumbing experts that I might have to seal it up with superglue. A good enough idea, he thought.

So, with the glue spread with difficulty from the tip of a cotton bud, down went the washer. I gave it time to set.

The next move was to fill the reservoir with a filler that sets like an impermeable rock. On went the cap, with the threads surrounded by plumber’s tape, and all was left overnight to bed in and set fast.

The result was that there were now no leaks and I hadn’t blocked the drains. The sink waste flowed, if a little more slowly.

Now the carpet has to dry out, watched by someone who rather likes to tackle such problems, but is slightly frightened by plumbing matters, but willing to “have a go” in extremis.

Perhaps I will even find out at some time why the U-bend was ever designed with this odd plunger device.