Category Archives: Photography

Lambert Nagle Cooks Rhubarb Pie

ImageI’d be lying to you if I told you I grew this rhubarb.  Nor did I cycle down to the farmers’ market to buy it either because it’s not on until next weekend. I’d forgotten this, of course while I was in Sainsbury’s, impulse buying these glossy pink stalks. But when I realised, it was a relief – one less thing to feel guilty about.  There’s enough guilt-ridden angst in the world without that….

One example of which is that while I was trying to get to Somerset from Hampshire for a 10.30am start yesterday, my GPS decided it would be a really good idea to take a scenic shortcut via Glastonbury.  Only it hasn’t been watching the news, has it? The Somerset Levels, an area of around 20 square miles, usually all green fields and countryside has been underwater for weeks. And all I could think about – as I hurtled down the umpteenth country road only to come to yet another road block was, Woe is Me. When I should have been thinking about what it must be like for the locals after all these weeks. It hasn’t been possible to drive in or out of some of these places since before Christmas.

So I abandoned the GPS, pulled myself together and got out my Google Map and found my way and even managed to get to Taunton barely five minutes late.  So I hope you’ll forgive me today for feeling a little tired today after my 200 mile drive and just this once forgetting to check where the ingredients for Sunday lunch came from. It’s only rhubarb, innit?  Why would anyone go to the trouble of importing a vegetable (yes, it’s not even a fruit) that will remain forever unfashionable? Because unlike kale you can’t whizz rhubarb into a smoothie –  in its raw state it gives you terrible belly ache…

So I suppose I should be including a recipe for Humble Pie rather than Rhubarb Pie, when it turns out I was wrong and it wasn’t grown in the UK at all but in The Netherlands. Who knew rhubarb was even worth cultivating under glass, being put on a lorry and then sailing across the North Sea to where we grow loads of the stuff ourselves….

But I’d got it home by then and was hankering for old-fashioned rhubarb pie – like the one my grandmother used to make.  But that one was really more like a rhubarb sandwich – layered between buttery shortcrust pastry.  You could get away with pudding like that in the 1960s because you’d probably dug the rhubarb up yourself, walked to the shops for the rest of the ingredients or taken the bus and then lugged the shopping home, like she used to do.  But this is the 21st century and although I did happen to walk to the supermarket, I’m not going to rub that one in. Besides, you’ve probably been to the gym this morning.

And if you have. you aren’t going to thank me for a double whammy of pastry – even professional rugby players aren’t allowed pastry, it’s supposed to be that bad for you… But if you fancy rhubarb pie for Sunday lunch my solution is to have just one layer of pastry and put it on top and cut down on the sugar in the filling.  But then again, you might have had it up to here with parsimony and plan to eat it with custard or clotted cream or ice-cream.

RHUBARB PIE

Preheat the fan-assisted oven to 180C.

PASTRY

2oz ice cold butter or vegetable shortening

2oz fine wholemeal

2oz plain flour (or use all plain flour if you want it to look less rustic)

milk for brushing over the uncooked pastry

caster sugar for sprinkling on top before baking

Up to 1 tbs water added a drop at a time

METHOD

Cube butter, add flour and combine in a food processor and pulse until the consistency of fine breadcrumbs

Add the water one drop at a time and pulse until the pastry combines in a ball and leaves the sides of the bowl clean

Rest the pastry in the fridge for half an hour while you make the filling

FRUIT

600gm Rhubarb chopped into batons about half an inch wide

150g Sugar or the equivalent of xylitol

2tsp Arrowroot

1tsp dried ginger

METHOD

Roll the rhubarb in the sugar and arrowroot and then put in a 22cm shallow pie dish

Bake the rhubarb for 15 minutes or until it’s beginning to soften.  Check the consistency. If the fruit is too juicy you will need to drain some liquid off – as the last thing we want is the pastry lid to collapse into the fruit.

Roll out the pastry to a thickness that you can roll over a rolling pin. Place on top of the pie carefully. You can crimp the pastry at the sides if you can be arsed or want to be fancy. Brush lightly with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp. Serves 6 city slickers or 4 in the West Country, as I was reminded yesterday.

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Where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables

 

When I look at this photograph of Victor Hugo’s writing room, the Crystal Room in Hauteville House, St Peter Port, Guernsey, I find it hard to imagine that these surroundings inspired such a dark, literary work as Les Misérables.  ImageImageBut of course, Hugo, who was forced to flee his French home in 1851 to live in exile firstly in Jersey, then for fifteen years in Guernsey, although surrounded by light was responding to what he saw as the dark heart of French society at the time.  Les Misérables was published in1862 and by the time he was finally able to return to France after a political pardon, Hugo had written some of his best works while living in exile.

 

Although Hugo was estranged from his homeland during his time on the Channel Islands and he must have suffered as a result of that as well as coping with the loss of two of his children, who had pre-deceased him; Hugo it must be said, was at least able to lead a very comfortable, bourgeois existence while in Guernsey.  Not only did Victor Hugo’s wife and family accompany him into exile, so too did his lover, the French actress Juliette Drouet, who gave up her career to be with him.

 

Hugo’s writing had already made him rich by the time he arrived on Guernsey and bought Hauteville House, now at least, in one of the most desirable areas of St Peter Port. Hugo spent many years completely remodelling the house and it stands today as one of the most idiosyncratic houses I have ever visited.

 

It is stuffed full of ornate, dark furniture with quirky features, including a recycled door turned into a table, hidden doors behind dark, ornate panelling, a memento mori over the bedhead in the guest bedroom (of all places) and his original writing room so dark and gloomy that even Victor Hugo found it was too dark to work in and had to abandon it for the delightful light-filled room you see in the photograph. 

 

The other photographs you can see here are of Fermain Bay and the surrounding area, which was one of Hugo’s favourite places to walk. There is a cliff path that takes you there from St Peter Port, which twists and turns through forest and then drops away sharply to reveal the stunning rocky coastline on what is one of the most delightful spots on the island. 

 

More photographs of Hauteville House can be found at: http://www.visitguernsey.com/victor-hugos-guernsey

 

 

 

 

 

Australia – still the lucky country?

Australia with Simon Reeve, a three part series screened on BBC2 in May revealed a side to the ‘lucky country’ that was a long way from the usual sun, sand and surfing clichés of the average travelogue. Yes there’s a shot of Reeve driving over the Sydney Harbour Bridge but in the rest of the series if there is any spectacular scenery it’s put firmly into a context that not everything is as it might seem. For the segment on venom hunting off the coast of Cape York that means – don’t be fooled by these idyllic-looking waters because if you venture in without a protective ‘stinger’ suit – if the box jellyfish doesn’t kill you, a hungry salt-water crocodile will.

The paradox is, of course, that although Australians’ love to scare the bejesus out of British visitors to Oz – where there’s usually a competition for which state has the most deadly creature that the hapless tourist is going to encounter – the truth is that Australia is one of the world’s most urbanised societies and the closest that city dwelling Australians have been to a salt water crocodile is either in a zoo or on a television programme.

Up on the Gold Coast in Surfer’s Paradise tourists go for sun, surf – and casinos and most visitors are too busy enjoying the hedonistic lifestyle to notice what goes on behind the scenes here.  There’s a seamy side to Surfer’s and that is the organised crime scene, run by what appear to be renegade motorcycle gangs. Violence fuelled by drugs, alcohol and gangland rivalry – it’s all there – something I expect the tourist industry would rather you didn’t know about.

There’s another side of Australia that the tourist industry is keen to cover up and that is the scandalous paradox of the amount of poverty and suffering that still exists in one of the world’s richest countries.  If there is any mention of indigenous culture at all to tourists it is packaged as the promise of some sort of entertainment when visiting Uluru or Ayers Rock as it was previously called.

This series isn’t afraid of getting stuck in to the darker side of Australia – and exposes the way that the dominant white culture and the indigenous one lead vastly different lives. The programme takes the viewer into the heart of an isolated (as most of them are) and highly dysfunctional aboriginal community and showed the shocking housing and living conditions. There are no easy answers here as any Australian will tell you, as it’s not as though the State and Federal governments haven’t pumped money into trying to improve Aboriginal people’s lives.  It’s just that so far there still seems to be a vast cultural gap between the two sides about the way to go about it.

Although this aspect of the programme was shocking for many of us watching, even for those of us who have travelled into these remote communities, Reeves does provide an example of one feel-good story in the indigenous community as he interviews an entrepreneurial Aboriginal woman in the Cape York area who is actively involved in the resources boom, hiring out diggers to a mining company.

Although it may come as a surprise to the rest of the world, the resources boom is the greatest driver of the Australian economy and is the one reason why Australia largely escaped the global recession.

A resource boom driven economy though is nothing new.  Before Australia became a federation of its various states, the state of Victoria was for a time the richest colony in the British Empire, founded as it was in the Gold Rush. Profits from gold ensured that Melbourne could build on a scale to rival some of Europe’s greatest cities and even today there is a part of the city at its eastern edge known as ‘the Paris end of Collins Street.’

One of the most extraordinary places that Simon Reeves visited was Kakadu National Park. It is the size of Wales yet rarely visited by tourists and certainly not by the numbers who visit Uluru. Kakadu is an extraordinary ecosystem and we used the park as a setting for the prologue and the final chapter of Revolution Earth.  Another World Heritage Site it too hasn’t escaped the drive to find minerals to dig up and export to the booming economies of Asia.

The raw material for uranium has been mined for many years – it’s only in recent times that the infrastructure has been put in to mine it on an industrial scale.  As recently as the 1950s, mining uranium ore was carried out by hand (often by migrant labour) with pick axes and shovels, with not even so much as gloves for protection.  You can see how primitive these mining implements were in the photographs that accompany this piece. And contrast that to the scale of the mining now.  To research our book we posed as tourists and took a trip around Ranger Mine in Jabiru. It was certainly an eye opener to get the slick PR spiel about the benefits of uranium mining to the Australian economy and how the company was committed to employing indigenous people.

But benefits aside, we didn’t hear much talk on that trip of the environmental damage that Australia’s resources boom has caused.  In the wet season the run-off from uranium mining washes directly into the river systems in Kakadu National Park. The problem for environmental activists in Australia is that these remote places are so far away from the major cities (Darwin is five hours by jet from Melbourne) that it is very hard to monitor the environmental impact of mining from a distance.

Even though Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef is a protected World Heritage Site the need to protect the reef from the impact of environmental damage isn’t allowed to obstruct the resources boom as massive container ships are allowed to use it as a shortcut to get to port.  They do so under the guidance of highly experienced reef pilots but even so, all it takes is one small error of judgment that could have potentially deadly consequences for the wildlife.

There is one predator though that has been quietly creating havoc on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef since the 1970s but in recent years the crown-of-thorns starfish population has increased to epidemic proportions.  Usually when a species in Australia becomes invasive it is because it was introduced but the starfish is native to the reef.  If you think of the word starfish you may be imagining a small, benign little creature but the crown-of-thorns is the stuff of science fiction – with multiple arms that slowly eat their way through the coral.

The problem has got so acute that the tourist boat operators, who depend on the reef for their livelihoods go out and try to kill the starfish on the parts of the reef where their boats take visitors. Although you can understand why the operators are worried, such an undertaking seems futile, as the cause of the proliferation of the crown-of-thorns is likely to have been caused by human intervention, namely pollution and the run-off from agriculture fertilisers leaching into the ocean. The fledgling starfish thrive on the algal blooms caused by the chemicals in the fertiliser.

Lest you get the wrong idea, the series finishes on an upbeat note as Reeves celebrated Australia Day in Melbourne. I do hope that an Australian broadcaster buys Australia with Simon Reeve so that locals get the chance to see the series for themselves.

Australia – the lucky country? Certainly it is for those who have been able to live and work there as a result of the resources boom – but sadly not for those marginalised communities  that are still yet to be given their share of the proceeds of the wealth bonanza.  Image

Thrillers versus Real Life Crime Scenes

Crime, violent death and big cities seem to go together, don’t they? Or at least they do in the kind of thrillers that we write, at any rate.  Revolution Earth opens with the death of a cyclist on a central London street in a seemingly ordinary hit-and-run.  We tried to give the reader a sense of what it feels like to witness something so shocking, by showing the impact on passers-by, who just happened to be walking down the street at the time.

But seldom, when you write thrillers do you think about what that street might look like after the event.  Photographer Antonio Olmos‘s pictures of the aftermath of London crime scenes, (Guardian Weekend 20.04.13) reminds me that when you take away the drama, how ordinary these locations seem.  They are by and large, bus stops used by commuters, street frontages of family homes in suburban streets, in short, places that you or I might walk straight past.

As Blake Morrison writes, in his introduction to Olmos’s project, ‘murder sites are spooky places.’  We perceive them to be that way because of a novel we’ve read or a crime drama we’ve seen.  But as there is death on the streets, so too there is life and it is the relentless pace of the latter that ensures that only the family and friends of the victim will remember what once happened in that place at that time.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/apr/19/murder-most-ordinary