Friday, 13 May 2016


A proper fried breakfast is a thing of beauty and should reflect the following guidelines:

  • The essential key components are:
      • Smoked bacon (2 varieties can be used, but one is fine)
      • Sausages (more than one type may be used)
      • Chipolatas (optional)
      • Mushrooms, fresh, fried
      • Tomatoes, fresh, fried
      • Tomatoes, tinned (optional)
      • Baked beans (Heinz)
      • Black pudding (Bury)
      • Fried white sliced bread
      • Eggs (3) fried or poached, always presented atop the fried bread
      • Hash browns (optional)
  • Above to be served with toast and butter. Frank Cooper's vintage Oxford marmalade may be added.
  • Acceptable beverages are mugs of tea or coffee.
  • Orange juice may be served.
  • The only condiments acceptable are salt, pepper (but never on eggs), Heinz Tomato Ketchup and HP Sauce. No others. Barbecue sauce, no. Chili sauce, no. Thousand Island Sauce, Mint Sauce or any other sauce? Don't be silly.
  • Mustard? Only for those above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Even then, sparingly. And English only. And only applied to sausages.
  • Sauces should be in small pools at the edge of the plate. never in scrolls or flamboyant nouveau cuisine style flourishes.
  • The best fried bread result is achieved by cooking in bacon fat (or flitch if it can be obtained)
  • White pudding is for perverts.
  • Chorizo is for latin people.
  • Fried potatoes should never be served. Otherwise it's a lunch, not a breakfast.
  • A level of charring is desirable on fried fresh tomato halves.
  • Less than three eggs is ungenerous.
  • Bubble and Squeak, the cockney's friend, is welcome as an occasional visitor, but only in the manner as one would welcome a troglodyte to one's country house. In order to remind yourself why you don't want to be anything like them.
  • Laverbread doesn't travel, so leave it in Wales.
  • All other things you think "I'll just add that," - don't.
  • The best place to cook everything except the tinned tomatoes, beans and eggs is in an Aga. Yes, even the toast - Aga toast is great. I'm no fan of Agas. Generally they are crap. But they do do the fry up doings better than anything else.
  • Grilling bacon is like showering without soap. Or premature withdrawal. Or something.
  • Both bacon and sausages should be bought at a local butcher's. Seriously, the quality difference between their products and the supermarkets is huge.
  • The Oxford Union has debated whether mushrooms should be peeled before cooking. This House was undecided. They should however be large field mushrooms. Canned mushrooms are completely indigestible and are idiocy when fresh mushrooms are so easily and cheaply available.
  • Eggs should be sourced from local farms. If poaching, a fresh egg does not need vinegar in the water. It will hold together well. If it doesn't, your supply source is wrong. It isn't fresh. Poaching eggs is actually preferable to frying. On a decent fry up it isn't as though you don't have enough fried stuff already on the plate. Yolks should be runny. Whites should be white, not snotty.
  • Only salt should be put on egg. Pepper absolutely ruins the taste.
  • I think that purchased hash browns are actually preferable to home made. They are quite hard things to make properly, and there is something delightfully bland yet satisfying about the frozen variety.
  • These few guidelines seem to me to be perfectly easy to follow, and to result in breakfast happiness each and every time.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016


"Oh no," she said, emerging from the campervan. "We've forgotten the salad."

"Give me a bowl," I said.

A few minutes later - salad.

Dandelions are blooming in lawns, meadows and verges, triggering this memory.

Forget rocket and expensive salads. Young dandelion leaves are the business.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016


The Missus is locked into a Kafkaesque procedure with one of her clients. She did some work for them four months ago and they haven't paid. Rather than pay her, they send her endless versions of forms which have to be completed in order to satisfy their labyrinthine procurement procedures. Her Company is her. She's done the work. They've had the benefit. The answer is plain for anyone to see.

She, far more emollient than I would be, gets caught up and frustrated by meeting their requirements. I'd simply send 'em a legal letter with seven days for payment.

Once a client withheld payment of a six figure invoice because a small expenses claim was outside their policy. I discovered this as I was about to run a series of change programme events for their senior managers. I rang the procurement person and politely explained that I would be waiting to start the events (including some of her bosses) until I had her assurance of payment. After a few minutes thought she kindly rang me back with that assurance.

This is not a unique problem. Over the last twenty odd years of being in business I've encountered it myself a few times. Sometimes it has been a great amount of money at stake. Always it has been a great amount of frustration. Once, British Airways owed me a quarter of a million pounds for more than six months. I was extremely lucky that my business could ride that. Many could not.

More recently, my tolerance for such shenanigans is lower. Much lower. Clients who don't pay me on time get sent prompt reminders and then a legal process begins. I refuse to get caught in the trap that most small businesses feel when dealing with big Companies - that you can't afford to upset them. My thought is, if you're not going to pay me. you're not worth having as a client. Moreover if our relationship is to be one of mutual trust and respect then it needs to be honoured at the key test point of payment.

There are some clients who one senses will be difficult. Much as one senses, on a road, certain drivers who will do daft things. Once, sensing this of a very large client, I wrote penalty clauses into their contract and ended up with them paying more non and late payment penalties than they did for the original assignment. There was little joy in this for me. In the end, as they were paying penalties on the penalties, I rang one of their top guys and just wrote a line under it. For all I know it might still have been running. So inept were their processes.

I have very rarely had to threaten legal action. Only a couple of times in more than two decades. Neither progressed far. Both were solved by single legal letters. One procurement man I spoke to on the phone was wise enough not to actually say he would not pay, but hinted to that effect. As the call drew to a close I asked him,

"Do you have a wife and kids?"


"Will you see them this evening?"


"When you see your family and you tell them of how you are behaving with me, will you do so with pride?"

There was a silence. "No comment," he said.

"Then I think you know what to do," I said, and put the phone down.

Three days later a cheque arrived.

On the whole procurement people don't want to behave badly. They are as imprisoned in mad systems as the small companies supplying them. Nor do I believe that many big Companies really want to screw the cash flow advantage from tiny suppliers. This would be disastrous for their reputation. The answer really is obvious. Have one procurement system for when you are dealing with Microsoft, General Motors or Halliburton. Have another, radically simpler one for dealing with Joe Bloggs, sole trader, that pays them easily and on time.

Friday, 6 May 2016


A bumble bee, very fat and with a very deep orange stripe, got into the house and was bashing itself against a window trying to escape.
I gently wrapped it in kitchen roll and carried it out.
It was obviously either very scared or very angry, or both. Its buzzing pitch changed entirely.
I was careful not to crush it.
I don't think of bumble bees as fast, but it made off at a surprisingly great speed through the blossom of the orchard.