Friday, 12 November 2010


The Ferret is away so catering here is back on a wartime footing. One spoon, one knife, to save washing up, and an endless oxtail eaten from the pan for the same reason.

I expect the friend who sent me the Oxford University Press paperback edition of the incomparable Mrs Beeton’s book on household management meant it kindly. But when I've forgotten to put the rubbish out, the dog is sulking in the waste paper basket and the mice are running riot, recipes that begin “First catch your hare” strike quite the wrong note.

Not that Mrs Beeton would have been unsympathetic to my chaos. She was one of twenty-one children and her mother’s idea of getting them out of the way was to send them to live in the grandstand at Ascot racecourse, where their father was Clerk of the Course. On race days they were farmed out. Yet this amazing lady lived through it happily, at the same time amassing the knowledge that enabled her to write one of the great classic books in the English language.

The instructions to a valet might be copied by a greyhound called Taz to advantage....... “of course subject to their master’s every command. They themselves being subject to erring judgement, aggravated by an imperfect education, their duty leads them to wait upon those who from sheer wealth, station and education are more polished and consequently more susceptible to annoyance.”

The valet must warm the young master’s body linen before the fire, shaving him, washing and combing hair, moustache and beard “where such an appendage is encouraged, arranging the whole simply and gracefully according to the age and style of countenance.”

Heady stuff when you have been wearing your socks so long olfactory gifted hounds can find them.

Mrs Beeton will never be a feminist icon. “Men are so well served out of doors,” she writes, “at their clubs, well-ordered taverns and dining-houses that in order to compete with the attraction of these places a mistress must be thoroughly acquainted with the theory and practise of cookery........there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly cooked dinners and untidy ways.”

Labour saving devices include a scullery maid who lights the fire, sweeps and cleans the kitchen, cleans the entrance step, the halls, passages and stairs. Twice a week she washes and scours these places as well as tables, shelves and cupboards. She dresses the nursery and servants’ meals and prepares all meat, poultry and vegetables. You will not wish to hear about the 13-year-old maid of all work in one-servant houses but the recipes are mouth watering.
At Skidmore Prava these tasks are carried out by She Who Must Never Be Obeyed.

Before she left, SWMNBE dropped a domestic bombshell. She announced that she plans to adopt a tiger.

Alas, the dog overheard and I have not known a peaceful moment since. Dogs have a literal mind and the concept of adoption without accommodation is foreign to them. No-one does apprehension like a greyhound.

Belay “Forests of the Night”. So far as Taz is concerned, the “tiger, tiger” is “burning bright” on his sofa in the sitting room which he now enters with great care, rather like the late John Wayne “casing” a saloon. Taz, though his manners are immaculate, though he leaks love which comes off him in warm waves and has two speeds, “Fast” and “Fast Asleep” is not the bravest of dogs. He was traumatised early in life in consequence of being mugged by a robin.

Also he has form where cats are concerned. He largely uses his turn of speed to put the fear of doggy god into the neighbours' cats. Now he is convinced the cats have taken out a contract on him with a giant cat that is going to chase him down the days like the Hound of Heaven .

When he finally plucks up courage and sidles into the sitting room to find an empty sofa, he leaps on it, curls into the smallest conceivable ball, firmly closes his eyes and sinks into a deep sleep. Not undisturbed, it must be said. From time to time he utters little cries as of one pursued by tigers.

Mark my words, no good will come of it.


“I hesitate to say that Fry, who, alas, did not reach the Olympian heights of playing a grumpy doctor on prime time US television, has his sights fixed on similar pretty pennies. In a way, this is why this book is what was once called a curate's egg: uneven in parts.
When he riffs on his faults - "physical awkwardness, reliance on speech, tendency to choose ironic ruefulness over raw emotion" - he puts his finger on exactly what is missing here. It is all performance, disarming, rueful, sweet, 'candid' and just the teeniest, weeniest little bit of a fake.”


A young man with an ego which approaches the Great Fry Up is the newest recruit to “Today” on R4, Justin Webb.
The Great Libby Purves, whom God preserve, has wisely said that reading the news is the easiest job on earth. I have done it and the only job I have had which was easier was sweeping out the R.C. Chapel on Jankers.
Newsreaders get a script, an autocue that unrolls at the speed of their speech and a producer in the ear offering advice. Newsreaders not only get paid far too much: they develop enormous egos in inverse ratio to their ability.
Witness James Naughtie on “Today”. By the time this latter day Harry Lauder has finished a question, and on the rare occasions the interviewee gets a word in, the programme is “Tomorrow”.
Naughtie invariably begins the next question by explaining what the interviewee meant by his answer. “I think what you are saying is this...” There is no greater passion than a Scotchman in love with himself, though Webb proves the feeling passes over frontiers.
In a recent interview he announced that ALTHOUGH THE LISTENERS WOULD HATE IT he proposed in future to interrupt the guests more often.
Thus he demonstrates how unimportant listeners are to him and how his ignorance of the techniques of his trade is boundless.
Older listeners will recall that I once fell asleep whilst interviewing a chum on a Radio 4 series. A Russian princess called Masha.
No one noticed and I wasn't going to tell them. When the programme went out letters arrived from listeners saying, “At last a presenter who isn't for ever interrupting.”
Oh, what a tangled Webb..............................

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