Monday, October 29, 2007

Baked Potatoes and Peterborough

I'm somewhere near Doncaster, on my weekly train to London, finishing my scrambled eggs. Breakfasts on the train haven't been the same since they took Robson's Craster kippers off the menu.

Soon I'll be looking sympathetically on the poor people boarding at Peterborough and wondering what on earth made them live in such a dull flatland of a region. Because the geography of a region is directly reflected in the creativity and sense of humour of its inhabitants, I'll be basking in the superior glow of someone who knows just how lucky he is to be returning to Northumberland tonight.

Last week's London trip brought a meeting with Peaches Geldof to talk about a new TV programme idea, then an afternoon at ITV, trying to persuade them to buy a new gameshow. It took us six weeks to plan the pitch, and precisely half an hour for them to turn it down. So Jo and I took solace in the ultimate home of comfort food, The Ivy.

I have a friend who flies up from his home in Provence twice a year just to join me at The Ivy for their French roast chicken. I was there during the famous Ivy lock-in, when the police refused to let us leave because the IRA had planted a bomb in the next street. The owners opened champagne and all the celebrities danced on the tables singing hits from the shows. I've only once had an unhappy evening there, which was with my ex-wife on our first and last wedding anniversary. Julie Andrews, sitting at the next table, complained to the manager because we were rowing so loudly.

Last week's experience was much more pleasant, though the only star sighting was Andrew Lloyd Webber holding court with his Connie/Maria girl.
Later, I thought I caught sight of the back of Monty Don's head. A year ago I wouldn't have blinked, because to me gardening was as dull as a London football derby. When I was young, my parents had an allotment. There, in sub-zero temperatures, they would prise frozen sprouts from their stalks on Christmas Eve. Why they couldn't go to Walter Willson's like everyone else was beyond me. But now, having relocated from Southern California (which grows only dry, fire-ready scrubland) and Hampstead (where an allotment is called a patio), I have my very own vegetable garden and I've discovered the meaning of fresh. We now have enough potatoes to last us through till Christmas Day.

But only just. Jo, who as a Californian is enduring her first Northumbrian autumn, offered to help me with the harvest.
"Just brush off some of this soil before we bag them", I said, doing my Monty Don impression. Twenty minutes later, I walked into the kitchen to find the sink completely full of drowning King Edwards.
To say that there was a strain in Anglo-American relations would be an understatement. I know little enough about gardening, but on Gardeners World I had distinctly heard Monty say "lift and dry potatoes and store in paper sacks in a cool, dry, dark place".

"They're supposed to be dry", I hollered, and stormed out to the spinach to cool off.

Half an hour passed, and I went back inside. There on the kitchen table was a huge mound of potatoes and Jo meticulously drying each one -- with her hair dryer.

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