Camping

Those of us following the Roman model find ourselves enjoying/enduring the first day of a new year, with all the promise and/or horror that might entail.  Of course, any moment could be considered the start of a new year – but the degree of alcoholic excess that such an approach would entail doesn’t bear thinking about – so I stick with the convention that is just one of the many things the Romans did for us.

Given that I am writing at the cusp of two years, readers might be anticipating a review of 2014 or perhaps my resolutions or hopes for 2015.  Such readers had best prepare themselves for disappointment – as a sometime consultant, I have learnt the importance of managing a client’s expectations downwards early doors (as I believe the young people might say).  Instead, this post will be carelessly hung on the inadequate superstructure of my own passage from last year into this one – expect some sagging or at least a rather poor fit with the potential for creasing.

In recent years, myself and a couple of Sussex-based friends have alternated hosting duties  as we mark the passage from one year into the next.  This seems vastly preferable to “going out”, which whilst it can be fun is best avoided when every one else has exactly the same plan and prices rise to reflect the (un)favourable operation of supply and demand.  This year it was my turn to host, for the first time in my new – and modestly proportioned, verging on deceptively spacious – south coast abode.

Hosting, as performed by the author, does require a fair amount of preparation – for a start, the flat must be converted from its normal condition to something that approximates at least one (and preferably both) of spick and span.  There is also planning the menu, acquiring the ingredients and then a degree of prep before the guests arrive.  This year’s menu ran to roughly six courses: starter, fish, meat (which makes me a very bad vegetarian, but a better host), cheese, cold dessert and hot dessert.  I have yet to start making my own cheese (though it is a blessèd occupation), but the rest I tend to construct from scratch (that most versatile of ingredients).  If I am honest, I probably rather overdo the whole cooking side of things – which I blame on (a) genetics and (b) the fact that hosting is (at least in some ways) a performance and am forced to admit that I may be a frustrated performer.  (Given that there is some history of am-dram in the family, item (b) may also have a genetic component).  I fear I do have a tendency to overact somewhat in the kitchen (and elsewhere) – even when alone, but worse in company – which may be explained by exposure to the late, great Keith Floyd at an impressionable age.

Anyway, last night went off very well, after a delayed start following an expected corpse in the Barnham area which delayed my guests’ arrival by almost two hours.   There was excellent company, wide ranging conversation, good wine and my attempts at cooking all came out rather well (if I says so as shouldn’t).  The evening even yielded a few insights.

Firstly, the introduction of a few agar crystals to my port and blackberry sauce (or jus, should I ever be tempted by the prospect of social climbing) yielded that critical extra viscosity that previous attempts have always lacked – not sure why I’d not thought of this before, though the imbibing of a glass (or several) of champagne may have helped shake a new or two idea free.

Secondly, just after midnight it became clear that more is not always better when it comes to fireworks.  The New Year firework display broadcast from London was just an incoherent mess as there were just too many in the sky at once – either fewer fireworks or the same number spread over a much longer period would have been a more sensible option.  I fear there may be a metaphor for wider issues relating to London struggling to burst free from this paragraph, but it will receive no help from me!

Finally, it became clear that I whip cream in rather a camp manner (I also did it with a pleasing – to me – degree of insouciance).  Unlike many today, I do not use an electric device for my whipping (or beating needs) but prefer to use brute force – aided by a balloon whisk (or spoon) – as it is important to keep these ancient crafts alive in these debased modern times.  I’ve just realised that 2/3 of my insights relate to thickening, though I suspect this may not be significant.

As my flat has but one bedroom (and only three rooms – plus tiny hall – all told), hosting guests overnight brings additional challenges.  On the FHB-principle, the guests were granted the bedroom and its associated bed – and so I had to make alternative arrangements.  I do not have a sofa-bed, nor the space for one to be honest, and decided to craft my sleeping arrangements from stuff that I already owned, rather than buying an inflatable bed (or similar temporary option).  As a result, I found myself “camping” at home – using the rug in the lounge, with my pilates mat and then a Ridge Rest and sleeping bag I used when a camped my way across the US of A a quarter of a century-or-so ago.  On top of this makeshift camping mattress I lay swaddled in my duvet – and very comfy I was too, perhaps even more so than in the bed I had ceded to my visitors.  I didn’t bother with a tent as my flat provided a perfectly adequate roof without the need for canvas and affixing the guy ropes to the shag-pile would have been rather a challenge.  Actually, in the southwest of the US (where desert skies promised little risk of rain and balmy conditions), I forwent the tent and enjoyed sleeping out under the stars (though these were absent from the ceiling of my flat – perhaps something to fix for next time?).  Anyway, after last night I can thoroughly recommend camping at home – which involves so much less hassle and risk of unwanted dampness than doing it out of doors.

Perhaps inspired by my cream whipping, we started the morning with Sondheim excerpts from the 2010 Sondheim 80th birthday Prom, and in particular Everybody Ought to have a Maid from A Thing Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum – which was probably even more camp than my thickening of a dairy product.  Still, a good way to start New Year’s Day and fine preparation for the Craster kippers that were to follow.  Frankly, 2015 has been somewhat downhill from there, but I guess there is still quite a ways to go – so I’ll avoid leaping to judgement for now.

3 thoughts on “Camping

  1. Mark says:

    Mmmmm, Craster kippers, how did you source these beauties that far South? Can you buy them mail order? Can’t imagine the postie would thank you for that!

    • Stuart Ffoulkes says:

      The Craster kippers came via the good offices of Waitrose in Portswood (an area of Southampton) – though I’ve not seen them there before or since. The postal route would indeed have its issues – as it was, they had to be banished from the fridge to a cool bag to avoid the entire contents of the aforementioned gaining an unwanted eau de kipper (sub-optimal for a chocolate tart, as but one example).

      They were delicious and looked like kippers (i.e. like fish), unlike the usual vacuum-packed items with ambitions to kipper-hood (but which totally conceal their oceanic origins). I now have a serious desire to go to Alnmouth and walk up the coast past Dunstanburgh to Craster – an experience not available from my local supermarket, alas (and probably also quite chilly in early January!).

  2. matathew says:

    I think I recognise myself as one of the “Sussex-based” guests who appear in your narrative. I can therefore corroborate (in spades) the favourable comments which you heap upon the chef.

    Thank you for being such an excellent host and for selflessly vacating the comfiest bed in your abode, and spending a night au camping mat. As you say, not quite as camp as a row of tents, but a promising start…

    Best wishes for 2015.

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