Friday, 17 March 2023

It's Friday, it's Fontvieille, and it's fish and chips

We don't do too badly for fancy fare in Monaco. The 2023 Michelin Red Guide for France was published at the beginning of March, awarding a total of 9 stars to restaurants in the Principality. If something quick and simple is required the humble pissaladière and barbagiuan are delicious and can be bought for a few euros in my local boulangerie (or for a lot more in a starred restaurant in England, but that's another story). Sometimes tho', only a taste of home will satisfy, something from my native land: British ale, Tunnocks Tea Cakes, and of course, that staple of the working class, fish and chips.

Quite a few places in Monaco include fish and chips on the menu as a Friday special. I've never quite understood the 'fish on Fridays' idea. I was brought up with evangelical Methodists who considered cod and chips a treat for any day of the week. The only thing denied us was alcohol. But I digress.

Last week the Other Half and I had a hankering for fish and chips. With spring only a fortnight away the sun decided to get some practice in and we took advantage of the warmth and walked out to the Ship and Castle, a British style pub as the name suggests. Unusually for Monaco it's been serving punters for around 30 years, established in the late 1980s when the Fontvieille district was built. You'll find it at the end of the quayside, just before you hit the digue. We last visited in 2019, and four years on the weather-beaten inn sign is the same, although during Covid the management changed.

When we arrive staff offer us a friendly welcome and a seat on the outdoor terrace. It's quiet, being a bit off the beaten track and tending to attract locals at lunchtime. Business picks up while we're eating tho'.

The menu includes pub grub favourites such as sausage and mash. Tempting, but not enough to distract us. I'm delighted to discover that the kitchen uses proper cod fish, flaky and milky, not the insipid, squidgy stuff we've had elsewhere. The batter is crispy too, although perhaps not deep fried, at least I don't detect that bubbling, hissing slurp as the basket of fish plunges into a vat of oil. On the table there's a bottle of Sarson's Malt Vinegar but the chips are French fries and incapable of absorbing a decent dousing. The mushy peas are common or garden peas mashed up with a bit of mint rather than traditional marrowfat, and a dollop of tartar sauce completes the platter. In my native land I'd pair the dish with a mug of strong, milky tea, the colour of burnished copper, but I've never yet found somewhere in the region that serves it, so I make do with half a cider.

Friday lunchtime's backing track includes 70s-80s hits and is just the right volume to allow for chatting. My ears prick up when I hear the jangly guitar of The Smith's Bigmouth Strikes Again, and again with The Cure's happy, melancholic Boys Don't Cry. As we leave, one trendy looking bloke with a barbered beard is whistling the latter, clearly satisfied with his lunch. So was I.

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Virginity: the sum of a girl's worth

In the early 1970s Mum's American pen friend and family paid us a visit on their way home from Iran; the husband was something in US diplomacy. We wore our best clothes and had to be on our best behaviour. Our visitors had straight teeth and spoke with movie-star accents. They brought with them a small souvenir for each of us from the faraway, fairytale country about which I knew nothing. I still have my gift, a little mirror mounted behind small doors in a hand-made, hand-painted frame. I'd never owned anything so exotic, and for many years this was my only image of Iran. So when I picked up Jasmin Darznik's Song Of A Captive Bird I thought it might give me some insight into the country.

Thursday, 2 March 2023

Alice's Adventures in Blackpool - a poem for children that's best read aloud

Writing Magazine's recent competition was to write a poem inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice adventures. If you've been following my book reviews, you'll know that last year I read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for the first time. The competition asked for "a poem on any aspect of the Alice stories, from a re-imagining of their contents to the facts and myths that surround their writing, illustration and publication." I imagined Alice transported to Blackpool to see her distant working class relatives, the Ramsbottoms. You might recall that Albert was swallowed by Wallace the lion after poking the big cat's ear with his stick with an 'orse's 'ead 'andle. The story was immortalised in verse by Marriott Edgar.

Well, I wrote and I wrote, and by the time I'd finished, my poem was too long for the competition. So here it is for you, dear reader. I hope you enjoy it.

Alice's Adventures in Blackpool

It'd been such a very long journey
to Blackpool, and right after tea
young Alice was feeling quite drowsy,
so declined to go paddling in t'sea.

Friday, 24 February 2023

Now, I realize that accounts differ... My account you can trust

A History of the World in 10½  Chapters Did you know that Macbeth was a real Scottish king who died nine years before William the Conqueror fought the battle of Hastings? Shakespeare put his own spin on the real man to big-up the ancestry of James Sixth of Scotland (and First of England). The playwright relied on an English chronicle, but there are at least four alternative Scottish histories. And have you seen Braveheart, Mel Gibson's kilt-clad, woad-faced portrayal of the 13th century struggle for Scottish independence? One historian said of the movie that it was "one of the most historically inaccurate films I have ever seen. It bears almost no relation to historical fact". Now I'm not suggesting that everything we think we know about Scotland might be made-up for some nefarious purpose, but maybe we should take a step back and reconsider what we've been told, especially if it's based on the work of a couple of blokes in the entertainment industry, both of whom had businesses to run.

Saturday, 18 February 2023

Pussy Riot. - That's just middle age. It'll sort itself ou'.

Two Pints I started to read Roddy Doyle's Two Pints a few years ago, when an Irish friend gave me a copy and told me it was "feckin' brilliant". Well, I didn't get far with it. I couldn't get to grips with the dialogue, written to try and capture the Dublin accent. So the book lurked at the back of the shelf, forgotten.

Thursday, 9 February 2023

It wouldn't be long before people lost interest.

The Disaster Tourist I was intrigued by the premise of Yun Ko-eun's The Disaster Tourist. It's about a South Korean woman named Yona, who works for a travel company called Jungle that organizes holidays based around disaster zones. After being assaulted by her boss, and knowing that if she makes a fuss she'll lose her job, Yona accepts the offer of a business trip to assess one of Jungle's destinations: the fictional island of Mui.

Monday, 23 January 2023

Fish, felines, and fowl

In the run up to Christmas I read three more of the books that have been sitting on my shelf for years. They're all novella length and each one features a creature alongside a human. Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea (1952) recounts a lone man's struggle to land a fish, George Mikes's Tsi-Tsa (1978) charts the writer's relationship with a cat, and Barry Hines's A Kestrel for a Knave (1968) relates how a bird of prey lifts a boy out of misery.