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Winter is coming? WTF?

Why is it so cold? Where the fuck is my English-literature mandated seasons of mists and mellow wossnames? This is just disgraceful - I'm supposed to have some time to plant extra basil before it gets too cold. This can only end in ice zombies.

And I'm grumpy. Cigarette craving has suddenly resurfaced out of nowhere, even though it's been gone for days, miraculously while I'm writing a book set in the 1920s when everyone smoked like laboratory beagles. There's no way I can make everyone non-smokers because it's 1925 and fags were good for you! They didn't even give you cancer back then! Yay! I've got one character who is a fanatical non-smoker but she's right in all the wrong ways - she thinks smoking 'pollutes the etheric plane' and prevents you from communicating with ghosts. Maybe that's why I've never seen one.
Hey Mon? Tell Tom to turn that shit down. Wow, that sounds grating.

On the plus side, I do like not suffering constant sinus pain. I didn't even realise I had sinuses until I was about thirty. Then they let me know they were there and that I really, really ought to stop smoking. Thanks, excruciating head cavities.

Anyway, many things are horrible and other things are not and I just can't be bothered to elaborate right now as I am bored and slightly drunk. Bodysnatchers scenario in the garden has now morphed into Attack of the Killer Tomatoes do you like tomatoes I hope you like tomatoes I hope you like tomato soup and tomato sauce and tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes because holy shit tomatoes have gone insane.

I was told Moneymaker tomatoes were a good cropper, especially for beginners, but I was not prepared for just how mental these things went. I grew them from tiny baby seeds and cooed over them when they were cute little bi-leaved seedlings. And then before I knew it they were over five feet tall and difficult, lolling, complaining and busting out more fruit than the stems could reasonably support.

The other day I picked about two pounds of the fucking things, taking care to remove all the red fruits. Half an hour later I went outside to pick some fresh basil and I could have sworn that in the interim at least ten more tomatoes had ripened. The gardening books were right about the size of the crop - unfortunately they were also right about the flavour. Moneymakers are not very tasty eating tomatoes. If you want the kind of sweet salad tomatoes you can eat raw then you're better off with one of those delicious baby plum varieties or the sweet yellow fancies, because at large sizes Moneymakers are mealy, pappy and just not that good in a sandwich.

However, Moneymakers (and Alicantes) make superior quality cooking tomatoes. They spaff out huge amounts of large fruits, which is precisely what you want when you're looking to cram your freezer with passata and soup. The alternative is sneaking round your friends' houses at night and pushing bags of tomatoes through the catflap in the hope that they won't give them back. This method never wins you any friends and everyone ends up heartily sick of tomatoes.

So. Soup. It was just about the best tomato soup I'd ever eaten in my life, even if I do say so myself.

1 1/2-2lbs of ripe tomatoes
1 large red onion
3-4 cloves of garlic
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
fresh basil
vegetable stock
tomato puree
salt, sugar, fresh ground black pepper

1. Skin the tomatoes by pricking the skin and dropping them into boiling (not just hot, boiling) water until the skin begins to peel. Then grab a slotted spoon, yank them out and denude the little shits. You can leave the skins on if you like because we're going to putting the lot through a sieve when we're finished, but tomato skin is ubiquitous stuff, as anyone who's fond of anal sex will tell you.

Take out the calyx and pithy part of the tomatoes with a fruit knife. General rule of thumb is that if it's more white than red then get rid of it.

2. Now roughly chop your onion and garlic. Fry in the bottom of a large saucepan until the onion begins to soften and then deglaze the pan with a splash of balsamic vinegar. I know Modena vinegar has become kind of a byword for yuppie fuckery in cookery but when it comes to tomatoes balsamic is utter fucking magic. There are few things that bring out the sweetness of good tomatoes than a dash of balsamic.

3. Toss in the peeled and chopped tomatoes and add 3/4 of a pint to 1 pint of vegetable stock. Simmer with lid on for ten minutes then remove the lid, fire up the gas and cook the fuck out of it for a further five minutes to concentrate the flavour. Turn off the gas and allow to cool slightly.

4. Now stick the stuff through a blender. Puree and then push through a sieve. Return to the saucepan ready to reheat.

5. Season with cracked black pepper and salt - not too much. I use rock salt (kosher salt, for those of a Leftpondian persuasion) in a grinder and one or two screws is usually enough for me. (Shut up.) Go easy with the sugar too. Just a spoonful of sugar will help the medicine go down cut the acidity of the tomatoes, but go as crazy with your fresh chopped basil as you like.

Basil was made for tomatoes, but do wait until the end to add it. If you can possibly help it, don't add the basil until you reheat the soup for serving. Basil is a delicious herb but so, so delicate - it's only too easy to cook the shit out of it and so do it a disservice. Always add it as far towards the end of cooking as you can, if possible.

Oh, and it's about this time that you can be a dirty, sneaky cheat and add in about a dessert-spoon's worth of concentrated tomato puree, if you like.

6. Freeze or eat now. Works very well with a swirl of sour cream and garlic croutons.

nyrghfsfDF

I do not know why this happens and there is no medical reason for it as far as I know, but the fifth day of nicotine cold turkey is an ABSOLUTE FUCKING BASTARD.

Apart from that I am enjoying myself. Ever so much.

(I'm not. Oh God.)

I'm not sick but I'm not well

You'll never believe this but I'm actually having a hard time articulating just how incredibly angry I am at the situation in this country.

He said 'gangs', right? My ears are a little bit gacked up and I think I've got that throaty cough that's going round, but Cameron definitely pointed to a 'gang problem' outside No. 10 this morning, didn't he?

I mean, I feel like my nose has been removed from my face, had the reverse side applied energetically to a cheesegrater and replaced. My glands are all puffy, my sinuses are throbbing like a fucker and my ears aren't working as well as they should, but I could have sworn I heard a dogwhistle round about then.
Is it gauche or just obligatory to quote Sassoon (Siegfried, not Vidal. Obviously) when you're writing about the First World War? I can never tell.

And can you pickle mature cucumbers? The things have gone mental. In spring I thought they were doomed with seedling blight and pretty much wrote them off. Cucumber seedlings are a pain. Like all plants they like to be watered but you have to give them just enough to be going on with and then let them dry out completely before re-watering, because apparently the precious little babies don't like their roots to remain wet. Huh. So, solved this by replanting the awkward little sods in deeper pots (More root drainage) and now my deck looks like a scene from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Flowers and great green bulging pods everywhere, with those thick, sentient looking tendrils they chuck out everywhere. And the passionflower is helping with the B-movie atmosphere - passionflowers have to be some of the weirdest looking flowers I've ever seen. They genuinely look like like they belong on a Star Trek set - some alien Eden in which an impossibly innocent green haired beauty asks Captain Kirk to tell her more of this Earth thing called Love. And frottage.

Oh, and Googlemail wants my 'phone number in order to make my account more secure? Ahahahaha.

Not Pygmalion likely, as my granddad used to say. These people are shameless, I swear. Man was in a similar state of incredulity the other day when a car insurance company asked him that common bank security question - what was your mother's maiden name? So now they know that his mother's maiden name was not Chance. Because that's what he wrote - Not A Chance.

And I've just realised I've written a livejournal post without using my favourite word. (Starts with f, ends with uck.) That's just not right. Fuckery fuck fuck fuckety bollocks. There you go. I couldn't leave you unsatisfied with mere frottage, could I now?
Here's a very interesting article by one of my childhood favourites, Michael Rosen.

"Petulant rhetoric." It's just too apt.

Like most people I've been watching the chummy, plummy prime-minister-by-default squirming behind the despatch box for the past fortnight or so. It's quite funny how the whole thing came so rapidly after Ed Miliband had an uncomfortable moment in which he got stuck in some sort of spin-loop and continued babbling the same talking point over and over until everyone wondered if they were going slowly mad.

As Dave burped on Wednesday "You live and learn, and believe you me, I have learned."

Apparently he's learned from Miliband's mistake, but not in the way you might think. While Ed has rightly scurried screaming from his odd, robotic performance, Dave has decided to adopt Ed's demented talking-point tactic and keeps saying the same shit over and over again.

Of course, this is nothing new in the terrible, television conscious world of 21st Century politics. If your tongue (or more likely your speechwriter) stumbles across a yummy, biteable little chunk of nothing then the common practise is to repeat said bon mot more often than an idiot at a party, just in case people didn't hear your scorching wit the first time around. Or the second. Or third. (Witness Dave and his 'slumber party' jab at the opposition bench.)

What really caught my ear this week was how last week's 'firestorm' of allegations had now become a 'flood'. Dave really liked 'firestorm' last week at PMQ's. He kept saying it until presumably somebody told him to stop. Obviously I'm a writer and I think about words quite a lot but words are common currency in politics and the switch from fire metaphors to water metaphors struck me as significant. Why significant? Because we have to consider the possibility that someone in government actually had a conversation that might have gone a little something like this.

"You have to stop saying firestorm, Dave."

"I thought it played quite well with the chamber."

"Yeah, it did - but the trouble with firestorms is they burn everything the fuck down."

"Right."

"Call the allegations 'a flood', okay? Floods aren't as bad as fires. With floods everything's wet, smelly and in need of structural repair but with firestorms everything's...well..."

"On fire?"

"Totally. Floods are Boscastle - cosy, adorable, brave little Boscastle. Firestorms are more Hiroshima, August 1945. Where would you rather be, Dave?"

"Well, as you know, I'm very fond of Cornwall..."

"There you go then."

And so it was. Next day Dave's firestorm became a flood and he scooped the headlines with "Cameron Stems The Tide," in one or other of the Tory papers. Somebody thought about that - I'm convinced they did. They had to. This is how politics works. Every single word is chewed over, nibbled, tasted, spat out and sampled fifteen times in order that it should prove palatable.

'Conspiracy theory' was another nice one Dave chucked into the pot too. It's nicely loaded, conjuring up images of unemployed men with poor personal hygiene and way too much time on their hands, babbling about how NASA covered up the photographs of 'The Face of Mars'* or writing for the Daily Express. And to be fair, conspiracy theories contain an awful lot of detail - therefore they attract the kind of people who love detail, the tinkerers, the socially odd, the mildly to insanely obsessive.

The geeks, in a word. And obviously there's no two ways around it - the leader of the opposition is pretty fucking geeky. He's physically awkward, speaks with a lisp and demonstrates a beady eyed attention to detail. Stick a tinfoil hat on the boy and call him fucking crazy. Done. Everyone who's concerned about the phone hacking scandal is a swivel eyed conspiracy theorist - weird, mouth-breathing fatties who think the moon-landing was faked and that 9/11 was a put up job. **

It might just work for Dave. Might. Unless further revelations and the judicial inquiries reveal that there really was a conspiracy - a culture of conspiracy, back-patting and sly-winking usury that went all the way through News International, the Met and the corridors of power. Dave may think he's held back the tide, but the tide may still have the capacity to leave him looking like a right Cnut.

* NASA were the ones to release the famous 'Face of Mars' pictures, ostensibly for shits and giggles. It's safe to say they probably won't do that again.

** "Yeah, but what was that weird explosion when the first plane hit?" Oh, I dunno - several thousand gallons of jet fuel catching fire at once? That'll do it.

The Heart of Rupert Murdoch

I think it was Tiberius who said (and pardon my Suetonius if I'm wrong) "Let them hate me, so long as they fear me."

It worked. For a while.

The only trouble with this maxim is that once someone displays that one little spark of courage it often reminds people of their better selves and the spark becomes a fireball when people refuse to shit their pants at the mention of your name any more. Once the fear is gone there's nothing left but hate. And maybe anger. Usually anger. Fear is a funny thing - as soon as people realise there was nothing to be afraid of they either laugh or they get very, very angry. (Try jumping out at someone in a darkened room if you long to test this. You'll either be hailed as a prankster or punched in the face.)

That's the problem facing Rupert Murdoch right now. Everyone knows he's been operating a Westminster protection racket since the Thatcher government.

Take David Mellor, for instance. He made an ill-advised comment that the British gutter press were out of control and said they were 'drinking at the last chance saloon'. Subsequently Mellor's mistress published a tell-all in the Murdoch tabloids and he was one of those notoriously sleazy Tories who went down spectacularly in 1997 to a chorus of 'OUT, OUT, OUT' from his constituents. By this time Murdoch was no longer preoccupied with destroying dissenting voices in the Tory cabinet - he'd had his eye on Blair since 1995 and had shrewdly identified Tony as exactly the kind of slick, shallow media whore who would allow him to keep his influence over British politics.

Or Clare Short. Clare had the nerve to point out that tits in the newspaper were not really newsworthy. She was nicknamed 'Killjoy Clare' and caricatured as the kind of hatchet-faced socialist hag that no man would really want to sleep with. She just didn't like tits in the newspaper because she was 'fat' and 'jealous'. Poor woman. She was only a long serving and respected member of parliament, a party whip and an important dissenting voice on international affairs - she must have been fucking heartbroken that she didn't have the looks to be treated as a disposable piece of baby-oiled meat.

This charming piece of misogyny happened under the editorial watch of Rebekah Brooks, who trots through this latter day Vanity Fair like Becky Sharp on steroids. Except with Becky Sharp you could cheer for her chutzpah and feel secure that what you were reading was, after all, an entertaining and satirical piece of fiction. Becky B? Now she's just scary.

For example, take Jerry Hayes, former Conservative MP. Hayes, a closeted homosexual, was keeping an eighteen year old boyfriend, at a time when the gay age of consent was still (absurdly) twenty one. This was in 1997, when Murdoch had decided that the third-term and hopelessly out of touch Tory government was no longer capable of winning the election. Besides, Jerry wasn't popular, being on the left wing of the Tory party.

Consequently...
TORY MP 2-TIMED WIFE WITH UNDER-AGE GAY LOVER.

According to The Guardian he later thanked then feature writer Rebekah Wade for the way she'd handled the story.

She'd written the fucking thing. He knew she was responsible for the story.

He was the victim.

And he thanked her.

Yeah. Chilling, as The Sun is so fond of saying.

The question on everyone's lips at the moment is What Does This Woman Know? She must know something even more scandalous than the unbelievable shitstorm already swirling over Britain - it's the only possible explanation for her remaining in her job as CE of News International. Right?

Well, maybe. Or maybe it's simpler than that. And sadder. Murdoch refers to her as his 'Fifth Daughter'.

I was making my way through this blog post by the wonderful Adam Curtis and came to the Panorama segment from the early 1980s. In it someone (Can't remember who, I'm afraid, but it's worth a watch) explains that Rupert Murdoch has no friends outside of his blood relations. None. Not one. He only has people who are useful to him. His only friend was his wife, Anna. Anna and Rupert's thirty one year marriage ended in 1999.

So maybe that's the real hold Rebekah Brooks has over Rupert Murdoch - she's his friend. His only friend.

Maybe I'm crediting the old bastard with too much heart, but how sad and ironic would it be if he'd finally learned to love. And that the object of this love was one of his own rotten ilk - a stone-cold sociopath who doesn't have friends, just people who are useful to her.

Horrible thought, isn't it?