Reality, really?

Big enough for the largest cake mix

I’m a sucker for reality tv shows. By that I don’t mean any of the cringe-inducing competitive “celebrity” shows full of people I’ve never heard of who are  trying to revive flagging careers. No, I love cookery shows, one of the earliest forms of the genre.

I was weaned at my mother’s knee on Fanny Craddock and her long suffering husband Johnnie. Yes, I really am that old! I loved the way Fanny used to boss Johnny around, although I was less impressed with her cookery skills, I thought my mother was much better. The next show I recall was the Galloping Gourmet, Graham Kerr, who seemed to add cream, butter and wine to everything he cooked. No wonder his guests from the audience thought it tasted great. Why wouldn’t it? Naughtily, I often longed for someone to pull a face and say it tasted dreadful.

I should add that none of this prompted me to cook until I went to University and had to fend for myself. I was fortunate to share a flat with a number of girls who enjoyed cooking and this was where my interest germinated and flourished. Indeed I now like nothing better than spending hours pouring over my extensive  – seriously extensive – collection of cookery books before whipping up something new. Sometimes I’ll follow a recipe to the letter other times I’ll use it as inspiration.

Over the years I’ve become more discerning in my television viewing though with the advent of cable you can watch cookery programmes 24/7. I prefer those featuring great chefs such as Raymond Blanc or Michel Roux where inevitably I find myself learning some new technique or picking up a helpful hint or two. Their recipes I follow religiously. If they say whip something for 30 seconds over a bowl of iced water, that’s what I’ll do. Gratifyingly my attempts then more often resemble the photographs in their cookery tomes.

That said I also enjoy cookery shows where they demonstrate how easy it is to throw together a meal quickly and easily, providing you’ve done the planning and preparation beforehand. I tend generally to eschew any American cookery programmes  where calorific caution appears to be thrown to the wind and supersize is the order of the day. Also there seems to be a large number of programmes where the  – I hesitate to use the work chef – host doesn’t appear to be able to cook too well at all. Best avoided, I feel!

Equally, I really enjoy those programmes with a competitive element such as Master Chef or Professional Master Chef. While I’m often very impressed with the skills exhibited in the former, I find myself woefully underwhelmed by many in the latter. It’s no wonder they never say exactly where they work!

As a recent convert to baking I also enjoy the Great British Bake Off which I again watch in the interests of gleaning helpful titbits from Paul and Mary to improve my repertoire. I’m fortunate that my English class of teenage boys are happy to act as guinea pigs for my baked goodies and, while they’re not the most discerning group, it’s easy to tell which are their favourites. That’s when, despite however much I bake, I’m left with just crumbs. I note with interest that the number of shows connected with baking also seem to be proliferating.

Of course, there’s also versions of  MasterChef, and it’s professional equivalent, on French television. The shows are much longer, more intense and the contestants display a much greater knowledge and level of skills. It’s still pretty compelling viewing. No sign yet of a Great French Bake Off but I bet there’s one in the works.

False start

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much planning and preparation you undertake, things just don’t pan out the way you anticipated. Take this morning. It dawned gloriously sunny, perfect for a ride with my coach. We had reorganised our oft-cancelled ride in Italy for today and had agreed to rendezvous just after the motorway exit at 09:00. My kit and bike were prepared and ready the night before. Nothing worse than discovering you’ve got a flat five minutes before you’re due to leave the house.

I got up early, ate a hearty breakfast, dressed, put the bike on the car and set off with plenty of time to spare. At that time in the morning there’s always plenty of traffic and I hate to be late, for anything. I reached our meeting point early, parked, switched off the ignition and caught up with my emails on my Blackberry.  My coach was unusually early and after exchanging the obligatory kiss on both cheeks, I prepared to follow his van. I turned on the ignition, the car emitted a quiet cough and died.

I quickly leapt from the car to stop my coach leaving and he then took over. I’m a woman so of course I might be doing something wrong. I’ve long reached an age where this no longer bothers me. I handed him the keys and the instruction manual and stood back. Ten minutes later he confirmed I needed to ring Smart Assist. I gave them all the pertinent details, including a map reference for my location and they advised me to sit tight and await a call from the Smart mechanic.

I thanked my coach for his assistance and said I now regarded our trip to Italy as being jinxed. We’ve been trying to arrange it since early June and it’s been cancelled numerous times for one reason or another. He’s a chivalrous chap and I sensed his reluctance to leave me on my own. But I was fine. I had beverages, refreshments, indeed everything that one could possibly need and my knight in a white van would soon be with me.

I read a magazine, drank my bidon and waited. After forty minutes the mechanic rang. He asked if I’d contacted the emergency services. I replied in the negative. I’d been told to sit tight and wait for him to contact me. Well it turns out that even though I had exited the motorway, I was parked on their terrain and so I needed to ring “112”.

I did and after explaining my plight was put in contact with the motorway’s rescue service. They promised someone would be with me in 40 minutes, but actually he only took 20 and was himself a keen cyclist. There then followed a series of telephone conversations on my mobile with the motorway rescue services, the mechanic and Smart Assist whereby the last one promised the first one payment for his services. Tom III was then loaded onto the back of the lorry, I climbed on board and we headed for Smart in Monaco.

Although I’m guaranteed a replacement hire car in the event of Tom’s incapacity there’s always a problem: it’s always a  manual car. While I passed my driving test on one I haven’t driven one since. Luckily I had my bike and advised that, if necessary, I would ride home.

With space being at a premium in the concrete jungle that is Monaco, the Smart garage is situated just off a narrow lane where you’d be hard pressed to drive anything apart from a Smart. Undeterred, my rescuer backed his lorry the wrong way up a one way street, dropped off my car and left me in the capable hands of the Smart mechanics.

They kindly gave it their immediate attention. The problem was a dead battery. Now I’d driven the car to Aix-en-Provence and back yesterday and then to and from the airport in the evening without any trouble. It had also started this morning without any hint of what was to come. I should add that this is my third Smart and I’d never had any problem with them. Indeed, even if I could buy any car at all, my heart’s desire would be the one I’ve got. It’s totally fit for purpose.

You might be wondering if I’d inadvertently left something alight in the car? No, I had not. A wire had worked loose from the battery. It’s a wonder I’d not had any trouble with it before now. Within 20 minutes of my arrival, I was heading out of Monaco for home.  The sun was still shining so I dropped off the car, hopped on the bike and went for a quick ride. All was now right again with my world.

Long distance

Last Sunday was the fifth edition of the Nice-Cannes marathon. Each year I toy momentarily with the idea of taking part in the following year’s.  The key word here is “momentarily,” common sense soon asserts itself. After taking part in the 1994 London Marathon, I did say I would do another one. Of course, no timeframe was specified and I suspect this was said during the rose pink post-completion after-glow.

I do run as part of my cycling training programme but I use the word “run” guardedly. To be honest, I find running for more than 40 minutes a bit boring and indeed prefer to sprint between lamp posts, trees or other such markers. Of course, it’s somewhat disheartening that while sprinting at my top speed I’m regularly overtaken by better runners just jogging effortlessly along. Though if I’m honest my most embarrassing moment remains being overtaken by a runner while riding up my favoured Col de Vence. But, back to the running.

My cycling coach often puts running on my weekly agenda and I duly oblige, even though I might prefer to be out riding. However, if the forecast is for rain, I’d rather run than ride. I’m not sure why but I get less wet running for 40 minutes than I do cycling. I think it’s all down to the feet. When I’m riding the rain water runs down my legs and rapidly soaks my socks. There’s nothing worse than cold wet feet. You should wear waterproof shoes covers I hear you cry. It’s true, they partly delay the inevitable but I find my feet get far too warm in them while they don’t get anywhere near as wet when I’m running.

Anyway, it wasn’t an issue this week as the weather was gloriously sunny  although there’s now a bit of a nip in the air and long descents demand a gilet. So I wisely saved my running for this week end when rain was (correctly) forecast. I managed my 40 minutes this morning while it was just drizzling. Since collecting my beloved from the airport at midday we’ve had a solid downpour which has forced him onto the home trainer on the balcony. He’s lost part of his home trainer: don’t ask how! So now he keeps sneaking bits off mine and then forgetting to put them back. Husbands!

We’re now into that time of year when the home trainer comes into its own. A bit like running, I can manage only an hour at most and find it best for one-legged exercises to improve my pedalling or using both legs to improve and increase my cadence. However, it remains at best a last resort. If it’s not raining too much, or it’s just wet underfoot, I’ll happily ride my mountain bike in preference to the home trainer.

We did have a couple of splendid descents in the domaine. Well-worn paths through the trees where the residents take shortcuts between the buildings which were great fun to ascend and descend, and only a stone’s throw from the doctors should I have a bit of a tumble. Some bright spark decided they should be turned into proper paths and they’ve now been concreted over so I’ll have to find somewhere else to practice my death defying descending.