Monday, 23 July 2007

This battered isle

61469_6881  The Guardian's ode to the ever-changing landscape of British Fish & Chips. No longer greasy cod served in yesterday's newspaper, now fish and chip restaurants serve wine - and even sell batter scraps as a delicacy.

Whatever next? They'll be selling the potato peelings

This battered isle

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Allergies Cats Can Have

Bettty under the vines

When people think of cat allergies they usually think of people being allergic to the cat dander and the mild to severe reactions a person can have. It is important to realize that just as people have allergies cats can have allergies too.

Figuring out what your cat is allergic too is no easy task, but process of elimination and observation help. One of mine had a skin rash so bad (he would develop scabs on his ears and neck and the fur would disappear from these areas and his underarms and tummy would erupt in red blotches like hives or heat rash) that he had to be given cortisone injections.

But knowing that those are undesirable, I wanted to get to the bottom of the problem. Food is one major culprit and my dog may be allergic to certain things: she gets diarrhoea from multi-colored foods that have colorants in.

We discounted food as the problem in the cat. We eliminated any household products, because the problem improved if the cat was kept indoors.

At first the vet thought it was reaction to flea infestation, but we ruled that out too. Once everything else was eliminated, we knew that it must have been an allergy to a plant of some sort, but I live in the countryside, in a fertile valley, that has hundreds, if not millions of plants, both wild and cultivated.

Where the heck do you start?

The vet said that we could do patch tests to find out what he reacted too, but that this would be both exhaustive as well as prohibitively expensive, so I spent years watching the seasons and the rash come and go (treating it naturally with aloe and olive oil and simply keeping the cat in for spells to let it calm), before I finally cracked it when the rash totally disappeared and healed within a week of the grapes being harvested from the vines.

Now I can see why: the cats used to spend a lot of time sleeping in the shade under the vines in the summer, which is hard to avoid when there are vines - enough to produce 200 liters of wine - right here in our backyard.

It appears that the acid from the fruit was literally burning them. Mico is obviously highly allergic as he has the biggest adverse reaction; Betty, who also comes from another part of the island, is also slightly affected.

The two cats who were born right here in the valley show no symptoms: presumably come from stock that has developed immunity.

Now the only recourse, as the article above suggests, is to keep the cat away from the substance causing the allergy. In our case, I have to keep them in from when the grapes first form in June/July through until early October when they're harvested. In old man Mico's case, this presents no difficulty.

Betty is another story: she yowls at the door and tries to escape constantly.

How do you tell a cat that something is for their own good?

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

As pies become edible, we stop eating them

566505_15441081 If fast food is killing us, it has probably already killed what was once a staple of the British diet (and, what got British food such a bad name): the pie. Occasionally, I get a craving for one of those pork jobbies as illustrated right.

The dog can have the meat, but I happen to like the "crunchy hot-water-crust and pale jelly". Well, maybe "like" is a rather strong word.

Perhaps it's just perverse nostalgia for the days, when I grew up, when even Frey Bentos pies were considered to be a perfectly viable meal. At least they were in our house: my mother can't boil water or cook eggs, because they don't have instructions on the tin, but a Frey Bentos pie she could manage!

 frey_bentos Photo: sky_mitchNow, if you are in the US, I probably have to explain this, because, reading the FAQ at UKGoods, their response to the question, "Why don't you stock Frey-Bentos tinned pies?" is because "The United States does not allow these items to be imported." Probably very wise, but hardly fair: we all get your hamburgers!

So, for those of you unfamiliar with these delicacies, pictured, is "Exhibit A", a fully cooked Frey Bentos pie. They come in that tin that you cook them in, after removing the lid. And, you have to admit that it looks OK, until you read the list of ingredients that includes "two colourings, three flavour enhancers, one stabiliser and two flavourings, as well as beef fat and monosodium glutamate, "dried beef bonestock" and the enigmatic "Herb".

I knew if I looked hard enough, I'd find sites still selling these - I imagined there was a market, along with Marmite, amongst expats. Don't be put off by their designer image - at least if I put in my location in the Canary Islands - I could still buy Frey Bentos pies from UK groceries, in no less than 6 different varieties. Operative word being could: I have no intention of doing so!

smash The only things you need to make this meal just a tad more authentic would be some Smash Instant Mashed Potatoes and Mushy Peas, proudly described on the can as "Original Cooked Dry Peas, artificially colored".

mushypeas Well, that's a relief: I was worried there for a moment that the Martian / Kermit like Glo-in-the-Dark green might have been natural. Knowing it's the result of a nuclear accident would be more reassuring. Ah, yes the point ...

Well, an article in the Telegraph provoked tears of laughter in Brits of "a certain age" (those of us from the "Generations fought their way through the most unbelievably horrid rot just to keep the dream alive"), along with the disclosure that "One fifth of 16- to 19-year-olds have never eaten a pasty; 42 per cent have never tasted steak 'n' kiddley; 65 per cent have never scoffed a Melton Mowbray. Ginsters delights not them. No, nor Fray Bentos neither."

The poor things! But, if "Those days are gone. In any Tesco, you can now find an array of tastebud-ravishing ready-made pies for on-the-go singletons."

And, apparently, these days they're even edible too!

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Why can't Birmingham do it like Manchester?

A tourist map of Birmingham centre

The short answer to that is because it's Birmingham, of course.

This is something I've never really been able to get, but having suffered the misfortune of being born in Birmingham 50 odd years ago, I've always virtually had to apologize for it. It's never been something to be proud of, but this was never encouraged anyway, because me muvver is from a much prouder breed: generations of true cockneys. She wanted me to be born in London, but in those days, pregnant women were told not to travel, so I made my first appearance in Birmingham, which was never seen as ideal, but rather regretful.

Way back then, it was in Warwickshire too, so I was born in Warwickshire, thank you very much. I can't say that I was born in the West Midlands, because there was no such place as the West Midlands at that time.

Thus, when I have to fill out forms I just put Birmingham, because I never really got into the West Midlands concept at all. In fact, I just consider it to be Birmingham and the surrounding areas, so to me a Greater Birmingham, like Greater London and Greater Manchester is a perfectly logical idea.

Putting a great into the name would help with the confidence problem and, I'm pretty sure the city has one, even if it can't understand exactly why.

Having been to Manchester on a number of occasions, it's very clear they do many things better than Birmingham. Yes, I know, that's a blasphemous statement, but it is time Brum woke up and realized that no amount of tacky urban beaches are going to improve their press. Quite the contrary.

So, yes, I like Jean-Luc Fournier's ideas and his example of Barcelona, which is much trendier than Spain's capital, Madrid, is a good one. If they can do it, why the hell can't Birmingham do better than it's second-rate image?

Would Brum do it though, or does it secretly enjoy being the underdog?

Why can't Birmingham do it like Manchester? Via: Brum Blog


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