Beautiful to look at and beautiful to taste...

Tomorrow - Tuesday 27 May.
Mike and Pauline's coffee van on the Quayside.
Or Oliver's in Grainger Market if it's raining.
Be there.
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One of the more unavoidable - and most regrettable - aspects of growing old is the gradual sweetening of the tooth.  For most people creeping nervously toward their pension and bus pass, the process of favouring apple crumble and banoffee cheesecake over ploughman’s lunches and chicken korma seems to be inevitable.

My doctor reckons it’s nature’s way of hastening death and should be resisted at all costs - especially the cost of diabetes and cholesterol-clogged arteries.

I do my best, of course, but not taking sugar in my tea and coffee somehow doesn’t measure up to what’s required.  And the few days I recently spent in London with my old friend Brian serve as an indication of what I’m up against.

As Brian knows perfectly well, it’s not just my well-documented addiction to bilberries that he can indulge me with.

There’s also blood oranges.

I’d almost completely forgotten how criminally delicious blood oranges are until I started going to France regularly a few years ago.  Beaujolais is, of course, much closer to Sicily than Tyneside is and, as all the tastiest blood oranges are grown in Sicily, they are much commoner there than they are here.  We bought some at a local market on my first visit and I spent the afternoon in almost total gastronomic heaven, re-discovering the juicy, sharp sweetness that oozes from every blood-red fibre.

I subsequently discovered that freshly-squeezed blood orange juice is inexpensively available there too, in supermarket chiller-cabinets.  Naturally, the first thing I do when I arrive is deplete the local branch of Leclerc’s stock so that I can spend whole days slurping and smiling.

The problem that blood oranges have in this benighted country isn’t just their comparative rarity; it’s also their name.  Tesco stocks them sometimes but the marketing people there have decided that the reason they don’t sell in sufficiently huge quantities is their name:  people (they have deduced) are reluctant to buy them because they are ‘blood’ oranges and thus contain blood.  Tesco have re-branded them as ‘blush’ oranges, which makes them sound unnecessarily twee and ‘precious’.  (Waitrose do this, too.)

For all I know, the marketing folk may be right.  Perhaps the English have reached that terminally uneasy stage of word-gentrification that demands no mention of blood in anything we eat.  Each time I taste one, though, I thank the God of Small Things that the French and Italians aren’t so squeamish; the words they use are fearlessly honest - sanguine and sanguinello - ‘bloody’.

Last week in London, I was able to notch-up my membership of the blood orange supporters’ club, though.  Brian - who has an eye for these things - discovered that you can get blood orange marmalade.  Yes, I know.  I was flabbergasted, too.  Blood orange marmalade.  I had to have a sit down to recover my composure.

He’d been shopping at Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly.  (The less said about Brian’s habit of shopping at the world’s most expensive grocery store, the better.)  His eye was caught by a display of comestibles produced on the estate of the Prince of Wales (naturally) and there amongst them was….blood orange marmalade.  He bought a jar, knowing how effectively it would shut me up for a few hours.

The taste is wordlessly beautiful - so I went back to Fortnum’s and bankrupted myself by buying four more jars for home consumption.  I’m looking at them now, marshalled neatly on my ‘favourite things’ shelf, alongside a model of a ‘black five’ locomotive, a pottery hedgehog, a walrus made of coloured glass, my nana’s pewter christening mug and a bowl of dried ginkgo leaves.  That’s how much I love blood oranges.

Brian’s good like that.  If I go on and on and on about something I love the taste of, he makes it his business to scour London for supplies.  Which is how he found me some Blackberry and Elderflower tea.

Yes, elderflower gets my taste buds exploding as well…
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Fruit teas are another discovery I made in France.  Leclerc’s has a lot to answer for - in this case, blackberry and bilberry tea, which is, perhaps predictably, unavailable in England, even though the name on the box - Lipton’s - is about as English as you can get.

Nosing around Newcastle for fruit teas which are available here, though, I recently made the gloriously English discovery that you can relax and unwind after a hard day’s retirement by sipping a warming posset of Dandelion and Burdock tea.  Really.

(Dandelion and Burdock is another phenomenon entirely.  I could write whole theses about it…)
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Seen while I sipped a cup of tea and gazed out of a perfectly ordinary London suburban window one morning last week…
Three grey squirrels...

 ...a fox...
...and a small flock of parakeets
Isn’t London wonderful!!
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Just as a matter of interest....this map shows where 2% of Australians live

More proof (if ever it’s needed) that the world is more whimsically interesting than you may have thought...
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The most common surnames in Western Europe are…
Norway - Hansen
Sweden - Andersson
Finland - Korhonen
Denmark - Jensen
Scotland - Smith
England - Smith
Wales - Jones
Northern Ireland - Wilson
Eire - Murphy
Germany - Müller
Netherlands - de Jong
Belgium - Peeters
France - Martin
Austria - Gruber
Switzerland - Müller
Spain - Garcia
Portugal - Almeida
Italy - Rossi
Poland - Nowak
Czech Republic - Novak
Slovenia - Novak
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Only two countries on Earth do not use any version of the metric system:  the USA and Burma.
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If you translated the Chinese names for some European countries literally, you would get…
Norway - ‘more prestige’
Sweden - ‘very lucky soldiers’
UK - ‘brave land’
Eire - ‘love your orchid’
Germany - ‘moral land’
Netherlands - ‘lotus orchid’
France - ‘law land’
Spain - ‘west class tooth’
Portugal - ‘wine tooth’
Italy - ‘meaning big profit’
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Only eight of the world’s countries do not give mothers any maternity leave at all, namely…
Papua New Guinea
Western Samoa
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At some point in our history, we peace-loving British have invaded every country on Earth except…
Vatican City
Ivory Coast/Côte d’Ivoire
Central African Republic
Marshall Islands
Republic of Congo
Sao Tome
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If all this isn't inspiration and motivation for you to attend our next AGM, I don't know what is.

It'll take place at 1100 on Tuesday 27 May at either Mike and Pauline's coffee van on the Quayside if it's a nice day, or at Oliver's in Grainger Market if it's not
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Let's finish off with a final tranche of 'food flags'...
Turkey...Turkish delight

Spain...chorizo and rice

Indonesia...spicy curries and rice

Thailand...sweet chilli sauce, shredded coconut and blue swimmer crab

Switzerland...charcuteries and Swiss cheese

The UK...scone, cream and jams

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Here are some more clever ‘food flags’, starting with India (above) - made of curried chicken, rice, cheera thoran and a poppadom wafer.
Lebanon...tomatoes, pitta bread and parsley

Vietnam...lychees, rambutan and starfruit

Australia...meat pie and tomato sauce

(South) Korea...kimbap and sauces

France...blue cheese, brie and grapes

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Our next AGM will take place at 1100 on Tuesday 27 May - thus prolonging the Bank Holiday by a few more precious hours.

Truckshunters are invited to gather, in their usual huge numbers, at Mike and Pauline’s coffee van by the Swirle on the Quayside.  Unless it’s not a very nice day - in which case the convocation will retreat to Oliver’s, its usual haunt.

I’ve booked the brass band and a red carpet so don’t let me down...
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These are the answers to Ross’s quiz posted in blog 528.

1 Breaking Bad
2 Kirsty Young
3 Arizona
4 Fitzwilliam
6 Kansas
7 John Deacon
8 Cabbage
9 Dad’s Army
10 He sneezed
11 Ibiza
12 Witches
13 He dangled his baby out of a hotel window
14 Campbell’s
15 Men
16 Costa Blanca
17 Half
18 Paperclip
19 Jake & Elwood
20 A flood

1 Hydroelectricity
2 2
3 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
4 Pharos (Lighthouse) of Alexandria
5 Confluence

1 Deep Blue Something
2 George Gershwin
3 Cambridge
4 Eight
5 Nissan

1 23
2 873

I got 14 - which is substantially more than I’ve scored before.  I am therefore feeling particularly smug.
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The story making the rounds of the internet that volunteers on the Yorkshire leg of the Tour de France have been banned from calling visitors ‘love’ for fear of causing offence is, apparently, quite true.

Here are some other cases where censors of one description or another have wielded the red pen rather too enthusiastically - as censors are regrettably prone to do…

In 2008, the Christian website OneNewsNow referred to Olympic athlete Tyson Gay (above) as Tyson Homosexual because the word 'gay' is automatically filtered on the site.  I have to admit to a certain amount of wishful thinking on that one...

When Facebook - which God condemn - deemed the Irish village of Effin offensive in 2011, residents were left unable to list the name of their home town…

Films and tv shows depicting time travel were banned by Chinese censors in 2011 because (they said) time travel represents ‘ambiguous values’ and ‘lack of active ideological significance’…

In the 1980s, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu called for a ban on what he regarded as a ‘subversive evil’ which was ‘overly intellectual'.  Namely, Scrabble…

John Lennon’s 1971 song Imagine conjured up a peaceful world without hunger or greed.  Nevertheless, the BBC banned it during the 1991 Gulf War…

Anymore ludicrous examples of smug, misplaced or officious censorship gratefully received.

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Just for the sheer whimsical delight of it - and courtesy of the Sydney International Food Festival - here is a selection of ‘Flags of all Nations’ composed of foods characteristic of the nations involved…
Italy...basil, pasta and tomatoes

Brazil...banana leaf, limes, pineapple and passion fruit

China...dragon fruit and star fruit

The USA...hot dogs, ketchup and mustard

Greece...olives and feta cheese

Japan...tuna and rice


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Our next AGM - when I sit and read the paper, intermittently scanning the horizon to see if anyone actually arrives - will take place at 1100 on Tuesday 27 May.  If it’s sunny, we’ll be mustered at Mike and Pauline’s coffee van by the Swirle on the Quayside.  If it’s not, we’ll foregather at Oliver’s in Grainger Market.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.  Well, for me, at least.
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Here's another reason why I'm proud that Paul and I are still buddies - his enthralling ability to re-invent himself; to adapt and innovate; and to master the skills necessary to do it all.  He's left quadbikes behind and is now in the hospitality industry - for which, I reckon, he is particularly well-suited.
I took these pictures when I visited him and Penny today at their new enterpirse - The Grange B&B up at Blagdon.  They spent months re-designing, refurbishing and redecorating this lovely old Georgian house - and the result is absolutely stunning.  Paul has promised to send me some photographs of the interior but, until he does, you can get a taste of how lovely it is at their website:  http://thegrangebandb.co.uk/
Let's all wish them both the very best of luck.
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Thanks again to Hildie's nephew Ross for keeping me supplied with his fiendish quizzes...

1  Which recent hit tv show features Jesse Pinkman as one of its main characters?
2  Who is the current presenter of Desert Island Discs?
3  In which US state is the Grand Canyon?
4  In Pride and Prejudice, what is the first name of Mr D’Arcy?
5  The terms ‘off road vehicle’, ‘four wheel drive’ or ‘four by four’ are rarely used in the USA to describe such vehicles.  What three-letter acronym do they use?
6  In The Wizard Of Oz, which US state does Dorothy live in?
7  Brian May, Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor and which other member made up the band Queen?
8  What is the main vegetable used in sauerkraut?
9  It has been announced that a film version of which classic sitcom is to be made, with Bill Nighy in one of the starring roles?
10  In the Disney film, how did Dumbo make his ears grow?
11  Which of the Balaerics is nearest to mainland Spain?
12  In old superstition, wearing socks inside out is supposed to be a protection from what?
13  In 2002, how did Michael Jackson shock fans who were waiting on a street in Berlin?
14  The artist Andy Warhol famously painted a picture of a can of what make of soup?
15  On tv’s Strictly Come Dancing, have more men or women been successful?
16  The resort of Benidorm lies on which of the Spanish Costas?
17  Which word when put in front of ‘full’ and ‘empty’ would give you two new terms with exactly the same meaning as each other?
18  The much-hated help icon that used be part of Microsoft's Office Suite was shaped like what workplace product?
19  In the Blues Brothers film, what were the first names of the two brothers?
20  What caused the ironic cancellation of a screening of the film Noah in Exeter recently?

1  Electrical energy generated from water is known as what?
2  After diving off in a competition swim, how many underwater strokes are allowed?
3  In which poem would you find the line Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink?
4  Which of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was found underwater?
5  What is the name of the point where two bodies of water meet?

1  Who had a hit in the nineties with Breakfast at Tiffany's?
2  Which composer is famous for his Rhapsody In Blue?
3  Which University are the 'light blues' - Oxford or Cambridge?
4  How many blue triangles are there on the Union Flag?
5  Which car manufacturer produced the Bluebird between 1957 and 2001?

1  How many times was Julius Caesar stabbed at his murder?
2  How many caps have the top 5 most internationally capped football players got between them?

Answers next time - or the time after that.
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On its way back to Kielder Forest...


The periodic table is to get a new addition after the confirmation of the existence of a 117th element.  Researchers in Germany created atoms of ununseptium four years after the element was identified in the latest step towards the ‘island of stability’ - a predicted group of massive but stable atoms.

‘Ununseptium’ is adapted from the Latin for 117.
A fire in a warehouse on the east coast of Sweden caused cans of fermented fish to explode and fly through the air.  Reports said that  the building, near the town of Enaanger, in the Hudiksvall region, went up in flames with 1,000 tins of soured Baltic sea herring inside.
Water-voles are to be re-introduced to Kielder Forest after a project run by the Tyne Rivers Trust, the Forestry Commission and the Northumberland Wildlife Trust was awarded £40,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The water-vole population has been in steep decline here in the north-east.
A mountain has been put up for sale because its owner has to pay off a huge tax bill.  The asking price for Blencathra/Saddleback, in the Lake District -  which rises to 868m - is £1.75m.
Police baseball club New York’s Finest had to fill out crime reports instead of taking to the field after equipment worth about £9,000 was stolen from the team’s van.
Brian Veatch, a Colorado pilot, walked away unhurt after his single-engine plane crashed into a suburban Denver house he had once been the owner of.
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This time round, I thought I’d share some pithy and liberating quotations I’ve been picking up along the way in recent weeks…

'The drops of rain make a hole in the stone not by violence but by oft falling'

'Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, and a tragedy for the poor'
Sholom Aleichem

'Parents wonder why the streams are bitter when they themselves have poisoned the fountain'
John Locke

'The guns and the bombs, the rockets and the warships, are all symbols of human failure'
Lyndon B Johnson
'Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to remain silent'
Victor Hugo

'Humour is the affectionate communication of insight'
Leo Rosten

'It has been said that man is a rational animal.  All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this'
Bertrand Russell
'Unlike fiction, life doesn’t have to make either sense or point'
Mark Twain
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The gigantic memorial at Thiepval
Just in case you didn’t see it, here’s a Comment that Val left to blogposting 523, in which I was pondering a visit to the World War One cemeteries in northern France and Belgium.  It has provided more motivation for me to make the journey.

'Ian you really must go to visit some of the WW1 war graves.

We went over 30 years ago when on a camping holiday in Northern France.  In those days we'd never seen any pictures of those massive, well-kept cemeteries so it had a huge impact on us - specifically the Tyne Cot cemetery near Ypres.  There are so many cemeteries and memorials over there, including the Menin Gate in Ypres.

The Flanders Field museum in Ypres is also a must.  30 years ago it was a traditional museum with display cases and exhibits like shells and bayonets.  I had nightmares after seeing them that night.  I remember being moved to tears reading soldiers’ letters home alongside their packets of Woodbines.

We took our kids there in 2000 when they were in their teens.  Our teenage daughter pretended she wasn't interested in the cemetery at first but couldn't help be affected too. We showed them other monuments and trenches.

By then the museum in Ypres was a multi-media experience which really brought home the horrors of war.  Yet the display of the soldiers’ letters and Woodbines was still there and still as poignant as the first time I saw them.

We've no near relatives who died in WW1 but we've a cassette of my great uncle [whom I knew] talking about some of his experiences.  He overstayed his leave by a day with one of his pals as they weren't bothered about any punishment - they knew it couldn't be as bad as what they were going back to...'

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Time, I think, for another list of the Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know variety, to which I am hopelessly addicted.

Here’s a list of once-common fruit and veg which have almost entirely disappeared from the gardens and kitchens of England…
Formby asparagus...
...was originally grown by locals on the sand-dunes around Formby (in Lancashire).  Its sweetly delicate flavour made it immensely popular in the late 19th century - it was even served up on the Titanic.  Which may have been an omen…
Brighstone beans
Legend has it that the Brighstone bean was cast into the sea in an 18th-century shipwreck and washed up onto the shores of the Isle of Wight (which is where Brighstone is).  There, the seeds were carefully cultivated by generations of gardeners due to the bean’s history, rarity and distinctive taste.  Not any more, though…
...resemble a kind of cross between a small apple and a rosehip.  They are - or were - harvested when they’re hard and green.  But they're not edible until they’ve become half-rotten - or ‘bletted’ - when they turn brown and soft.  Their flavour is described as ‘apple with cinnamon’, which gets them my vote.

But, for me, the most regrettable inclusion on the list are…
I can just about remember picking bilberries with my Aunty Mill on Waldridge Fell when I was very, very young; and they’ve been up there amongst my favourite tastes ever since, along with blackberries.  Once a common fruit pie ingredient, they have been almost completely usurped by their brasher American cousins - blueberries - or forgotten altogether.

Fortunately for gastronomic civilisation, they are still highly regarded in France, where bilberry jam is still common and where they are also used to flavour everything from vinegar and oil to sausages, which sounds weirder than it tastes.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, though, they’ve become strangers to the English diet.

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