I had an Ian McEwan sort of day yesterday - but I’ll explain that in a moment.
I seem to be spending the week shuttling between the kitchen and the desk. After the pickled garlic enterprise I turned my attention to our sad little crop of under-sized onions and bottled all the smallest ones in hot spiced vinegar. The task now is to leave them alone until Christmas. Or to try. And I’ve made a valiant attempt, tucking them away at the back of a deep dark cupboard where I need to crouch down on my hands and knees to find them.
There’s a similar problem with the chutney, which, the cook-book tells me, ought to be left for at least a month, preferably three. I can’t remember ever doing that before, and I ask myself how I’m going to manage without it. Shop-bought stuff? I very much doubt it. If you ask me, all mass-manufactured chutneys, jams and marmalades are, without exception, inferior to anything you’re likely to knock out at home. I don’t know how they do it, but the makers always manage to abstract the essential flavour of the fruit they start off with - especially in the case of marmalade. What do they do with it? Distil it out and sell it off to parfumiers? Sneak it home in little glass phials for their own delectation? My suspicion is that they simply drown it out with an excess of the cheapest ingredient, namely sugar.
But… work. Yesterday I started on an eighth chapter of the new book, this time trying to tackle my years of fun and games as a Tote betting assistant - although how I’m going to cram my escapades in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, the karaoke night before the Ayr Gold Cup and the nights out in Southport’s clubland prior to the Grand National into a single chapter is still to be decided. By the time I’d chiselled out 272 words I needed a break. I might have felt a dismal failure, had I not remembered a statement from Ian McEwan on Desert Island Discs. I believe I mentioned it on a posting some time last year. What he said was that he would count 2-300 words as a good day’s work. That’s precisely the sort of attitude I encountered in the 1970s at Richmond upon Thames Parks Department, and various other workplaces I’m currently writing about - although it had to do with leaf-sweeping and such manual tasks.
My excuse yesterday - leaving aside all that work in the kitchen - is that I also produced a 450-word synopsis of the work in progress, and that it took up most of the day. I’m rather pleased with it, and have sent it off to my mate Andrew Wille, Book Doctor (http://wille.org/) for comment. What occasioned this was the realisation that I have already compiled 40,000 words and seven chapters of the proposed book, now provisionally entitled Casual Work: Further Education in a Time of Full Employment. Normally when you have a book idea, the advice is to write a compelling synopsis, an outline, and a couple of chapters, then hawk it around. There’s no way I’m going to get this finished before Mike Pannett and I start on the next policing memoir, so why not give it a try? Nowt to lose, surely.
So this morning - after I’ve skimmed through my copy of The Author, which has just flopped through the letter-box - I will get back to my brief tour of British racecourses, and figure out how to change all the names. Because we all came home with guilty secrets from those Tote bus rides, every one of us.