Saturday, 28 July 2012

Challenge Number 29: Make jam or marmalade

Well, this was an unmitigated disaster.

One of the many things I miss about my mum is her raspberry jam. It remains the finest I’ve ever tasted. She also made delicious marmalade, though it was advisable to be out that day as it always put her in a bad mood.

I’d never made jam myself, despite my friend Becky having bought me the Best-Kept Secrets Of The Women’s Institute: Jams, Pickles and Chutneys book for my 30th birthday. I think her implication was that I was hitting middle age, which makes me worried about what I might be hitting now that I’m nearly 40. I did have a go at courgette chutney three years ago, when our allotment-owning neighbour left a marrow the size of an airship on our front doorstep. And though I say so myself, the chutney came out rather well. Even my dad liked it. This inspired me to ask for a jam pan the following Christmas. But soon after Christmas I found out I was pregnant, felt like crap, and the jam pan has remained in its box ever since.

So to celebrate the start of the Olympics, I decided to have my very first go at making jam. I chose the very British flavour of raspberry and rhubarb. I was even going to go and pick the fruit myself, but Charlotte woke up from her afternoon nap in such a foul mood that it was just easier to drive to the farm shop, show her their pet goats and chickens, grab some punnets of fruit, buy her a chocolate car, and leave as quickly as possible. She was marginally cheered up when the Red Arrows suddenly flew over, at least.

Waiting for the BBC coverage of the Olympics opening ceremony to stop being boring interviews and start being Danny Boyle, I weighed everything out and started cooking. And I was really quite surprised by just how much sugar is in jam. I thought I was following the Women’s Institute instructions very well. And I managed to sterilise some jars without smashing them. But then the jam would not reach the right temperature, and it continually failed all of its setting point tests. At the point it was about to boil over the side of the pan and a stench of acrid sugar began to fill the air, I gave up and just poured it into jars. It looked like jam. I’d made jam. Unfortunately, it’s disgusting jam. Unless you like burnt caramel with a slight tinge of raspberry. In which case, it’s probably all right, and you’re more than welcome to a jar. Even Dave, who is ever the diplomat and always tries to be complimentary about my cooking, said on dipping his finger into it, “Well, it was just your first attempt.”

I’m spending this morning trying to clean the black beyond-goo that’s stop-welded to the bottom of the jam pan. My mother and grandmother are probably turning in their respective graves at my hopelessness. I wish they were still here to tell me what I did wrong. The internet has provided some answers (and some helpful hints on cleaning jam pans) and it’s clear that this sort of outcome happens a lot. So I feel a bit better about it. The Women’s Institute didn’t bother to tell me that I might need to STIR the jam at some point. Or that I should maybe warm the sugar first. Or that I should cook the fruit very very gently before adding the sugar. This must be why I am not a member of the Women’s Institute. You’re just supposed to know this stuff.

What was stuck to the bottom of the pan

It’s annoying to have wasted quite so much delicious Balloon Tree fruit. I’d have been better off just mashing up the raspberries to smear on my toast instead. And now I understand why my mother always ended up in such a bad mood on marmalade-making day. Hopefully, if I brave a marmalade marathon during Seville Orange season, I’ll have a bit more clue what I’m doing.

On a more positive note, here’s some more bread for challenge 34 (= bake 40 loaves of bread in a year):

Loaf 13: Honey and sunflower wholemeal loaf

Loaf 14: Another honey and sunflower loaf, baked overnight to greet us the next morning

Loaf 15: Cheesy courgette loaf, a staple on our summer menu (baked in the oven)

Loaf 16: A rapid-bake white loaf

And here is my broad bean crop (from challenge number five - grow something new) in action, mixed into mushroom and pancetta pasta with home-made pesto and crème fraiche:

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Challenge Number 22 – Read A Novel By Dickens

I’ve spent the past month ploughing through Hard Times and finally finished it at the weekend. I chose this challenge just because 2012 is Dickens’ bicentennial year, and I’d never read a complete one of his works. We read the first few chapters of Great Expectations at school, which meant we didn’t get further than Pip meeting Miss Havisham for the first time. And reading anything with my English teacher was made to be about as boring as boring gets. We just sat round in the classroom taking turns to read a paragraph aloud (and most of the class applied a dull monotone to their voices), and then would be set a waffly essay question to answer for homework. I didn’t read novels for years once I’d finished my English Lit GCSE and I still can’t bear the thought of Thomas Hardy. How much time this teacher led me to waste when there are so many wonderful books in the world!

Writing literary criticism brings back too many memories of my hated English Lit GCSE coursework and completely kills a book for me so I’m not going to attempt much here, but I do need to demonstrate to you that I have actually read Hard Times properly, so here goes...

I concluded that choosing his shortest novel wasn’t necessarily the slight cheat I’d hoped for and was in fact probably a mistake (but hey, I made some effort – it could have been A Christmas Carol or The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, which even Dickens didn’t bother to finish), and I might preferred one that was a little less didactic. I found it tedious to process the discourse attempting to portray a lisp (“a thplendid thoot of armour”) and a bad northern accent (“I ha’ fell into a pit that ha’ been wi’ th’ Fire-damp crueller than battle. I ha-read on’t in the public petition, as onny one may read”). Where’s the IPA when you need it? Oh, not invented yet.

There is too much trying to get certain messages across, and not much plot. There is a bit of excitement – a bank robbery, a near affair followed by a divorce, and a dramatic pit rescue – but otherwise it all felt a bit worthy. And the fact that he was apparently restricted by the available magazine space in Household Words for the novel’s original publication means he’s somehow condensed everything to focus on getting said messages across. But that’s not to say that Dickens’ messages aren't important or relevant to these, our current hard times. Particularly his beliefs that education shouldn’t be allowed to stifle creativity and that all bankers are evil. And then there’s the thought that the mighty industrial north of which he writes really no longer exists. Coketown’s mills (Coketown apparently having been based on Preston) would now be either derelict or yuppy flats.

Claire Tomalin, in her massive biography of Dickens, of which I have read only the relevant three pages, describes Hard Times as “close to [a] parable or fable” which “fails to take note of its own message that people must be amused”. But in Dickens’ defence, certain passages did make me laugh out loud. He is incredibly witty when he chooses. There are some typically Dickensian comedy names – Gradgrind, Sparsit, Bounderby, M’Choakumchild. Here are some of my favourite lines:

“If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more.”

“No little Gradgrind had ever associated a cow in a field with that famous cow with the crumpled horn who tossed the dog who worried the cat who killed the rat who ate the malt, or with that yet more famous cow who swallowed Tom Thumb: it had never heard of those celebrities, and had only been introduced to a cow as a graminivorous ruminating quadruped with several stomachs.”

“A sunny midsummer day. There was such a thing sometimes, even in Coketown.”

“[Coketown] had been ruined so often, that it was amazing how it had borne so many shocks. Surely there never was such fragile china-ware as that of which the millers of Coketown were made... They were ruined when they were required to send labouring children to school; they were ruined when inspectors were appointed to look into their works, they were ruined when such inspectors considered it doubtful whether they were quite justified in chopping people up with their machinery, they were utterly undone when it was hinted that perhaps they need not always make quite so much smoke.”

“Any capitalist [in Coketown] who had made sixty thousand pounds out of sixpence, always professed to wonder why the sixty thousand nearest Hands [=workers] didn’t each make sixty thousand pounds out of sixpence, and more or less reproached them every one for not accomplishing the little feat.”

“The bank had foreclosed a mortgage effected on the one of the Coketown magnates who, in his determination to make a shorter cut than usual to an enormous fortune, overspeculated himself by about two hundred thousand pounds. These accidents did sometimes happen in the best regulated families of Coketown, but the bankrupts had no connection whatever with the improvident classes.”

So there you go - teachers aren't allowed to use their imagination, play and song are important, the weather is grim up north, business owners don't like government interference, Thatcherism 125 years before she came to power, and dodgy mortgages. If that ain't relevant in 2012 Britain, nothing is.

Hard Times, despite the effort it took to read, has not put me off Dickens, and I’ll be looking to take on another. It will be A Christmas Carol next, however, just because it’s our book group’s chosen text for September. But after that... All suggestions welcome from Dickens fans out there.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Challenge Number Six – Drink Cocktails In a Glamorous Dress and Non-Clumpy Shoes

I can’t do dressing up. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I seldom get an opportunity to do it. And I don’t really know how.

I’ve never had a job that required me to look smart. (Apart from a Christmas job in a gift shop when I was 18, when I got told off by the manager for wearing pantaloons.) I worked in subtitling for nine years in London, which is very much a casual clothing environment. Any client contact was usually done over the phone. As in “Dude, where’s the tape for the programme you’re planning on broadcasting in 20 minutes’ time that we need to subtitle?” or “Hello, you need to put in warnings for strong language and sexual content for Late-Night Countdown” or “Hi, yeah, we’ve decided to edit out three minutes in the middle of this DVD extra that you’re delivering 38 language streams for tomorrow. Will that affect the subtitles at all?” As clients plainly had no regard for our sanity, they probably had little interest in what we looked like either. And living in London, if we went out for drinks or dinner after work, we just went straight from the office, as it was always too far to head home to change first.

Then I worked for three years in a baby language lab at the University of York. No point in skirts here either – I spent half the time crawling round the floor playing with stacking cups and mopping up dribble.

And now, as a full-time mother, when I’m still crawling round the floor playing with stacking cups and mopping up dribble, my appearance has definitely ended up taking a back seat. Permanent bags under the eyes and hair in dire need of cutting are the norm. And frankly you should just be grateful that I’ve even remembered to put clothes on, so please don’t complain about the fact that they are unironed and covered in dodgy stains. None of my clothes fit me any more as my torso is a completely different shape post-childbirth, but I can’t afford to replace my wardrobe as I’m not earning any money, and anyway, if I did, everything would just end up smeared with Petits Filous.
I can’t walk in heels, and am crap at doing make-up. It doesn’t help that I have a predisposition to knee dislocations. But how do women learn to do these things? Do they get lessons somewhere that I somehow missed when I was growing up? I guess my mother never wore make-up or heels either (despite being only 5’2” tall). And I started my teenage years in the ‘80s, so that was not the best influence on the make-up front – blue eye shadow, bad blusher, hair gel. My first boyfriends seriously disapproved of women with painted faces, and being young and foolish, I let them influence me.

So my friend Beth from Book Club set me the challenge of drinking cocktails in a glamorous dress, à la Carrie Bradshaw in Sex And The City. I added the non-clumpy shoes part, since I live in trainers. It’s a shame that this had to be a challenge rather than a normal thing to do. Nights out are a very rare commodity indeed these days. I’m always exhausted, and we hardly ever get a baby-sitting opportunity.

I do love cocktails. The best cocktail nights I’ve known were my hen night in Covent Garden (though this was understandably marred by the fact that my mum was diagnosed with cancer three days before it) and one during a trip to New York in 2002, where our friend Jessamine took us to some underground bar in the Lower East Side that I’d never be able to find again in a million years, and we ran up such a huge bar bill that we just had to hand over a credit card, shame-faced, at the end of the night. But I wasn’t wearing a glamorous dress for either of those. I’m no Sarah Jessica Parker – or any of the other members of the Sex And The City quartet. In fact, I was the one usually asking the embarrassing spelling questions whenever I had to subtitle it for Channel 4.

I did wear a fairly nice white dress a fortnight after my hen do, however. And I got a fake tan, a pedicure and manicure and various bits of me tanned, waxed and plucked for the occasion. And I paid someone to do my make-up for me. But I very determinedly wore flat shoes. (No falling flat on my face halfway down the aisle for me!)

Beth also decided to help me complete this challenge, even though she is pregnant so unable to drink any cocktails herself, and arranged a night out for us. But I had nothing to wear! I had no shoes that weren’t trainers! I’ve spent the last few months comfort-eating cake! Oh, what the flip. So we had a little clothes-swapping soiree at mine to get us in the mood. No, that sounds dodgy. I invited everyone over to mine and asked them bring their smart dresses that we could exchange for other smart dresses so that we all had something new to wear. Except I was far too fat to fit into anything anyone brought. But we had fun. I scoured the York charity shops for glamorous dresses, but without success. (I’d never realised just quite how many charity shops there are on Goodramgate.) Then a passing glance into TKMaxxxxx or whatever it’s called on Coney Street caught sight of exactly the sort of dress I had in mind at a justifiable price. So I bought it. And then I remembered I did have a pair of slightly glitzy shoes that I’d once worn as a bridesmaid. I managed to remember to shave my armpits and paint my toenails. There wasn’t time to diet. I was set to go.

We (those of us who made it, and hadn’t ended up ill, stuck in Manchester or giving birth) started the evening in 1331 on Swinegate, where Beth had booked us a table. But it was the epitome of why York on a Saturday night is a bad thing. The stag do. We hadn’t even sat down before a group of men dressed as cowboys and reeking of booze leered over and began fondling us with a giant donkey. I just feel way too old to humour this kind of thing, or even find it remotely humorous. We told them to sod off. They wouldn’t. Eventually, just as we neared the chucking water at them phase, they moved on somewhere else, though not before they’d loudly dismissed us a “bunch of lesbians” because we wouldn’t respond to their advances. Mm.

By this point the music in the bar was so loud that we were growing hoarse trying to have a conversation above it (I know, I’m sounding even older now) so we moved on to the Biltmore round the corner, which was a much more glamorous dress and cocktails sort of place (though bizarrely, it has excellent baby-changing facilities, I discovered). I removed my frumpy sandals, got my glitzy shoes out of my handbag and put them on. (You didn’t think I was going to attempt to walk anywhere in them, did you?) We had a lovely time.

I drank three cocktails in the course of the evening, a Woo Woo, a Rococo Fizz, and a Godfrey. We left for home at twenty past ten. Very tame, you might think. But I knew what was coming. True to form, Charlotte was up at six the next morning. This is the way of the world at the moment. Nights out always come with a price. Hangovers are no longer an option. It’s nearly two years since I last had a lie-in.
A Woowoo - vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry

Rococo fizz - Moet Chandon, strawberry vodka, passionfruit

Godfrey - lots of blackberry stuff. Very strong.

And I’ve still no idea how to do make-up.

Oh, and if anyone would like to help me repeat this challenge, I’m very open to offers.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Challenge Number One – Climb Snowdon (By Train Is Allowed)

I set myself this challenge simply to give us an excuse to visit North Wales, where I had never been. I don’t know why I hadn’t managed to go before – I suppose we always ended up going to visit our family in the Lake District whenever we felt a need for northern hills. Obviously, the real challenge would have been to actually walk up Snowdon, since my grandfather of the tarn-bagging and mountaineering fame would have skipped up it before breakfast, then probably gone on to do Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis before dinner. But this year I have bad knee on top of the bad knee I’ve had since I was a teenager, and I also have a Charlotte, who currently won’t even go upstairs without insisting on being carried. So by train it was.

Discovering (via Facebook) that I had a long-lost school friend who owned a B&B in North Wales spurred us on to make a reservation and arrange ourselves a long weekend in the vicinity of Snowdon. My friend advised us to book the train trip up the mountain in advance, as it is understandably popular. This meant a gamble with the weather, since I had to choose a day based on a long-range forecast. So what the heck, I thought. Given that it’s chucked it down all summer, we might as well pick St Swithin’s Day.

Miraculously, the gamble paid off. Having driven over to Wales in torrential rain on Friday, we had very low expectations. Saturday also brought huge black sodden clouds over Snowdonia, which thankfully we were stood watching from the coast and were nowhere near. But Sunday dawned beautifully sunny in Clocaenog, where we were staying. As this was about an hour’s drive from Llanberis, the Snowdon Mountain Railway’s base station, we didn’t dare get our hopes up too much, but the weather was also fine over there when we arrived. (“Fydd hi’n braf?” “Bydd. Mae hi’n mynd i fod yn sych”, the locals would have said. Oh, yes.) We collected our tickets, and then the most challenging part of the challenge began.

Living in York, I spend every single day trying to persuade Charlotte that we DON’T need to go to the National Railway Museum AGAIN, and that really once a week is more than enough, especially if I throw in a trip to the station to meet Daddy from work in between. She adores Thomas the Tank Engine, and Chuggington even more. She reads her Freight Train book over and over. She makes a beeline for the train set at playgroup and snatches the tunnel off anyone who dares pick it up. In short, she is a choo-choo fiend. But not, it transpires, when faced with a real-life huffing, puffing, whistling steam train. Thirty seconds on the platform waiting to board and Charlotte had gone ballistic. The compartments on the tiny train are also very cramped, as they ram eight people in a space that would only be properly comfortable for six, with knees touching opposite knees. 

Suddenly, we faced the prospect of an hour with a kicking, screaming, arched-back monster, who was so distraught that she kept bringing up bile. The train guard was incredibly kind and let us get off the train until a few seconds before its scheduled departure, which also gave Daddy enough time to run back to the car to pick up Stripey, Charlotte’s now really quite manky snuggle monkey, who she grows ever more worryingly obsessed about, and who normally isn’t allowed out in case we lose him.

Thankfully, the presence of Stripey and about a hundred readings of Theo Learns To Roar calmed Charlotte enough for us to be able to relax and finally start to enjoy the view. We could see for miles, out to the coast and beyond, and the peaks and valleys all around us were simply gorgeous. The train crept up the mountainside, working the same rack and pinion way it always has since the railway was completed in 1896, though apparently the carriages only got roofs in the 1950s.

When we finally got to the top, the summit itself was encased in swirling cloud and freezing cold. The train pulled in to Hafod Eryri visitor centre and we then had half an hour to nip up to the very top and warm up in the cafe. (You have to get the same train back down or walk.) It was such a different experience to other mountains in the UK – in the Alps it’s normal to scale huge peaks by cable car or train and then have a cup of tea when you arrive, but we’ve never really gone in for that sort of thing over here, preferring our hills au naturel. The summit is just a short scramble up from the station, and as we didn’t trust Charlotte on the verge of a precipice, Dave and I took turns to head up. So thank you to the poor woman clinging to some steps with vertigo who I made take a photo of me to prove I was there. Though not with the same sense of achievement I’d have felt if I’d used my legs all the way of course.

The journey down was uneventful, apart from the summit cloud suddenly lifting when we were about halfway down. But we weren’t going to complain – given what most of the summer has been like, we were truly grateful that we hadn’t had to spend £50 on train tickets to only be able to see mist and downpour. We’d seen plenty en route. The pictures speak for themselves. We had more space in our compartment on the way back too, as four of our original fellow travellers had obviously decided that walking down would be preferable to spending another second with our bawling toddler.

The summit finally visible!

Although the purpose of the weekend was to climb Snowdon, being in North Wales gave us plenty of bonus activities – a trip to Conwy Castle, a quick spell in Llandudno, and a visit to another island for challenge number 26, Anglesey. We also spent the wettest day imaginable in Chester Zoo during our return trip to York on Monday, when the rain had set back in with a vengeance. It’s a telling sign that Charlotte has started referring to outside as simply “pouring down”.
Conwy, looking towards Llandudno

Conwy Suspension Bridge

Conwy Castle

Plas Newydd, Anglesey

Looking towards Snowdonia from Anglesey

Bridge over the Menai Strait to Anglesey

Wet elephants at Chester Zoo
This blog entry would not be complete without a shameless plug for my friend’s B&B, the Old Rectory in Clocaenog. It is a beautiful house overlooking rolling hills, and is immaculately clean and light and airy. The cooked breakfasts are superb. You get greeted with chocolate cake. They had left toys in the room for Charlotte. It had a lounge where we could hang out once Charlotte was in bed, rather than being confined to the bathroom or lying on the bed in silence. There was a play park at the end of the drive. Charlotte’s strops and appalling table manners were tolerated with good grace. We had a lovely time.

But given Charlotte’s reaction to the steam train, it looks like I’m going to have to rethink challenge number 31, Take Charlotte On The North York Moors Railway. All suggestions for a replacement challenge welcome!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Challenge Number Twelve: Get Our Attic Fixed

Ever since we moved into this house nearly five years ago, the dormer window on our top floor has leaked. Quite why the crazy people we bought the house from had never noticed this lies probably in the fact that they were crazy, or too busy installing the crazy kitchen sink, crazy window blinds, crazy bathroom sink, crazy lack of splashback tiles, and crazy decking with no drain access in the back yard. The builder who did all this for them had their number programmed into his phone as “the crazy people”. (We know this because he’s been to service our boiler a couple of times.) What seemed quirky and original when we viewed the property quickly became annoying.

But not as annoying as the leaky window. Obviously we tried to get it fixed. A pair of cowboy roofers turned up and charged us £700 to do everything to our roof and chimneys other than repair the leak, which was caused by a bad seal against the lead flashings down the side. We tried several other roofers. They either didn’t return our call, or came to have a look to give a quote and then disappeared. One said it was too big a job and that he would pass on our number to a bigger roofing company, who then never contacted us. We tried joiners instead but as we couldn’t afford to replace all the windows in the house and therewith give them a 20-grand project, they weren’t interested in a small but complicated job. We were well aware that to replace the window, scaffolding would have to be erected, adding to both the hassle and expense of the work. The landlord of the student house next door, a local property baron and developer, offered to have a look when I was moaning to him about the behaviour of his latest tenants, but he quoted a total of £8,000 to do the work. I think he only came round because it was his mother who used to own our house and sold it to the crazy people, and he was curious to see all the crazy things that the crazy people had done. It seemed ridiculous that nobody wanted the work when there’s allegedly a recession on.

Once Charlotte arrived, we just gave up, as we had more important things to worry about, and simply made sure that we regularly emptied the buckets stashed under the eaves to catch the drips and stop the water soaking through our bedroom ceiling. It’s amazing what you get used to. Realising we lived in a crazy house meant that we were minded to look for something for practical for life with a toddler and so we just thought we’d put the house up for sale with the work still needing doing and price it accordingly. However, as time went on, we decided we’d be better off selling a watertight house, crazy or not.

So I resolved to try again. One brilliant thing about having a baby is that you get to meet loads of new people who all live near you, which means it’s far easier to get recommendations of local tradesmen. So all it took was a visit to a friend’s house and an admiring comment of her windows, and lo and behold, the magic phone number fell into my hands. I then just had to make one phone call.

But then there was the minor obstacle of my phone phobia to overcome. I hate ringing strangers, particularly when I need to ask them to do something for me. I usually nag Dave to do it instead. Or send an e-mail. But making this one of my challenges meant I had to ignore my cowardice, pick up my phone, sit on the front step and, hands trembling, dial the magic number. Then a few days later we had a quote within budget, and a couple of months after that, the new window was delivered and installed. The joiner was brilliant, the decorator he employed less so. The buildings inspector was nonetheless thoroughly impressed and gave the new window a big tick.

We still live in a crazy house, and we still have leaks elsewhere. And other things to fix in the attic, like the fact that it has no insulation and a big crack in one of the bedroom ceilings. But the challenge I set myself has been completed.

The old window

Water damage

No view thanks to the seal having gone in the glazing


One of many water catchers under the eaves

Work in progress

Terry's and the Knavesmire grandstand visible again

Millennium Bridge visible again

The finished window

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Challenge Number Seven – Eat lobster

One marvellous discovery about Jersey was that seafood is incredibly cheap there. It’s just normal to have shellfish on a restaurant menu at affordable prices. After a delicious crab sandwich in Durrell and scallops in a cafe overlooking St Brelade’s Bay, I realised that this was going to have to be my week to eat lobster.

I’ve been slow to come to molluscs. A bad experience with crab at a wedding buffet when I was 14 convinced me I was allergic, and I’ve always taken seriously Anthony Bourdain’s advice in Kitchen Confidential to avoid the fish special in restaurants on a Monday and mussels at all other times. One of my uncles went into anaphylactic shock after eating shellfish, which further led me to err on the side of caution. But slowly, once I started being able to afford to eat in better places, curiosity got the better of me and I started to try seafood out, realising what I had been missing. I now have a passion for scallops and prawns. A langoustine at Tom Kitchin’s restaurant in Leith was part of the best meal of my life. However, I still don’t do mussels or clams. Or whelks or cockles. And I’d never tried lobster. It’s a hangover from my days of paranoia – it’s always so expensive and so I was scared of spending a small fortune on something I didn’t like or which might cause an allergic reaction. But nearing 40 and remembering that langoustine, it just had to be done.

In Gorey, in the shadow of Mont Orgueil, there’s a restaurant on the main road called the Bass and Lobster Food House, which seemed a fitting title for my first taste of lobster. First we had to check that they’d let us in with Charlotte, and had suitable food and a high chair for her, which they thankfully did. (Pasta in tomato sauce – always a winner with our Charlotte. And this was actually made fresh for her. In fact, in my forthcoming book “Nice Places To Eat With Kids”, the Bass and Lobster will get 10/10 for customer service and attitude to little ones, since they treated us as politely and respectfully as an apparently eminent local politician sat at the next table.) Thus we relaxed and settled down to their lunchtime set menu – a snip at £13.95 for three courses of fabulous fine dining. And lobster thermidor as one of the mains (sandwiched between a starter of blue cheese and wild mushroom risotto balls with pumpkin puree, and a white chocolate and orange cheesecake and blood orange granita for dessert) Mm-mm. It was delicious. But there wasn’t enough of it. I’ll be having lobster again whenever I can. But I’ll maybe ditch the cheese sauce next time.