Afternoon folks – keeping well? Here for the cheesy gnocchi bake? Of course you are, it’s a scorcher, but…
Apologies for the lack of posts, but as reasons go, as previously mentioned, we’ve got a killer reason. Now, because I know our readers consist of two types:
learned folks who will offer me sage advice which I’ll promptly ignore in favour of spending my days trying to perfect every voice from ‘One Day More’; and
nosey gossips who demand every morsel and detail and will be fumin hun if we don’t tell…
I shan’t go into detail. Maha. But that’s also the last time I’ll allude to it because frankly, Mr Shankley, I’m sick of talking about it.
Before we get to the blog, just a reminder that our diet planner is coming out very soon! If you liked the cookbook you’ll love the planner, and if you buy it and hate it, at least you can scrawl rude words on my cartoon face. There’s 26 recipes, six months of challenges and places to write stuff, and well, in short, it’s tremendous. You can order it here and it’ll even open in a fancy new window to stop you getting distracted.
As we press on with all the exciting things that need attending to, we’re going to revisit some of the older blog recipes and give them a gussy-up. Actually, I believe the term to use is glow-up, where something that was once a wreck to look at is transformed into something beautiful simply by shaking out their hair and taking their glasses off. I’ve tried doing exactly that, but if I shake my face, my lips don’t stop moving until three days later and people assume I’ve developed an essential tremor. Also, if you look back at our old blog entries, our recipe style was something else: a paragraph of guff with ingredients missing and measurements all awry. Oh, and let’s not forget that St Margaret of the Church Hall Massive does like to change the syns occasionally just to be tricksy.
We, because we’re filthy, will be calling these revisitations our ‘recipe reacharound’. Because who doesn’t look a reacharound? I wouldn’t know. I’m so rotund these days that it would take a relay team and a safety car to give me one of those. We aren’t planning on doing all the old recipes again because Christ, some of the combinations we used to come up both sicken and disgust me, but over the next year we might find ourselves revisiting a few. But just the old favourites, eh?
So, first in our reacharound is the saucy cheeseburger gnocchi bake from 2015. It’s an amazing dish – quick to make, easy to pad out and has enough cheese on it to drown a horse, though why you’d want to do that is anyone’s guess. When we published it Uptown Funk was at number one, no-one had heard of the coronaVIRUS and one of the biggest news items was that someone had taken a picture of the sun and it looked angry. I mean, as memorable days go, it’s not a winner. But looking back at the blog entry is hilariously sweet: I was gushing over the fact we had 1,000 followers. Seems incredible now we’re well over 500,000 but let me say, without a slip of sarcasm, that we’re still thankful for each and every one of you. If you have been reading since day one, I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment!
For some reason I thought the best lead-in for a recipe was to talk about my cat vomiting, which I’d probably steer away from now. But one thing remains a comfort: even half a decade ago, my cat was a stone-cold bitch. Don’t get me wrong, I love her and her permanently angry human face, but she exudes anger and vitriol like you wouldn’t believe. If she came through the cat flap covered in blood and waving a flick-knife around in her paws, I wouldn’t question her. I long worry for the day when I wake to find the corpse of my husband, his throat clawed open and her merciless eyes fixed on me from across the bedroom. She’d probably teach herself to speak human if only so she could silkily whisper in my ear that I’ve always been a fat disappointment to her as I died. The other cat is fine, by the way – he’s far more mellow, which I put down to the fact he spends 22 hours a day licking at his willy. I wish I could, but he’d probably scratch my face if I tried it.
Good news though: we longer have that carpet. Every cloud…
To the cheesy gnocchi bake then!
Honestly, how’s that pan of cheesy gnocchi bake for a sight for sore eyes?
You want the top of the cheesy gnocchi bake to crisp and bubble. Don’t be afraid to add more cheese, we won’t ever tell.
Cheesy gnocchi bake is one of those dishes that tastes amazing but looks shite plated up – cover with hot sauce, it hides all sins. Syns. Shush.
We previously used Quark for this recipe, and you can do so too if you're not a fan of flavour and fun in your meals. We swapped it out for Philadelphia Lightest which adds a much nicer creaminess but does add 10 syns - so if you are trying to make this lighter, drop it. If you wanted to take it a step further, you could swap the gnocchi for small boiled potatoes, but honestly.
This cheesy gnocchi bake - like all of our recipes - is very easy to customise. Good additions would be sweetcorn, peas or different, strong mushrooms. Quorn mince does work well if you're that way inclined.
100g of button mushrooms, sliced finely
two large peppers (one red, one green, or use whatever you have) diced fine
one large onion, diced fine
one garlic clove, minced fine
500g chilled gnocchi (we use ASDA gnocchi because we've let ourselves go, and that's 6 syns for 500g)
500g of lean mince
pinch of salt and pepper
250g of Philadelphia Lightest (swap for Quark if saving syns) (10 syns)
160g of light grated mozzarella (4 x HEA)
teaspoon of dijon mustard and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
one beef stock cube
This serves four big portions and comes in at 4 syns each.
preheat the oven to 180 degrees
cook your gnocchi according to instructions, but if it's anything other than throwing them in boiling water, waiting for them to float and setting aside, you're doing it wrong
pop your onion and peppers into a heavy-bottomed pan (and one that can go in the oven and under the grill, mind you) with a little bit of oil and sweat it down until softened
add the garlic and mince and fry it off - you can this to be quite 'dry'
we crumble in a stock cube here but you can skip it if you're watching your salt intake
in a bowl, combine the Philadelphia, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper together
mix it into your beef and add the gnocchi
top with the grated cheese
pop into the oven for about fifteen minutes, then under the grill to crisp up for about another five minutes (keep an eye on it)
we serve in a bowl with a lake of hot sauce, but your experience may vary
our slimming cookbook can be ordered online now - full of 100+ slimming recipes, and bloody amazing, with over 2400 5* reviews - even if we do say so ourselves: click here to order
our new diet planner is launching soon and is utterly brilliant - you can order it here (it’ll open in a new window)
we buy our flavoured oils from Yorkshire Drizzle and we used their chilli oil to cook off the mince and vegetables - you can take a look at their range here: it'll open in a new window
we have started using Musclefood again for meat - until we're happy that their quality is back to what it was, we will not be referring people there - but it's all under review. The mince we used here was superb however!
a decent sized frying pan that you can make this entire dish in will keep it as a one-pot dinner
we were asked where we got our silicone oven-mitts from that someone spotted in a video - they're from Amazon and are dirt cheap (£6) - you can buy them here and the good news is, once you've got your hot pan from the oven, you can grip your boob with the hot mitts and it feels lovely...so I'm told
I hope you all enjoy it! Please do let us know if you have cooked this by tagging us on Instagram or Twitter (@twochubbycubs for both) or via our Facebook channels. If there’s a particular recipe you want us to revisit, drop us a line!
Whilst we’re on a roll with one-pot dinners, you’ll find a lot to like here:
Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts recently – for once we have a tremendously decent excuse and we will come to that in the next post, where we will be starting a series of revisited recipes – I’m excited for that because we have a new logo and everything. It’s the little things that keep you going through life. It’s been a really, really rough couple of weeks, quite possibly the most challenging we’ve had to deal with as a couple since the time Paul ate more than his allocated 1/6th of the crisps, but we’ll get through together, as we always have.
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, our problems pale in significance to the wider issues going on in the world at the moment. I have wanted to write a blog-post addressing our thoughts on this for a while but finding the time to do it justice, rather than dashing off some pat sentiment, has proven difficult. Now, with Paul in his temporary bed snoring like a stuck pig having his ‘afternoon nap’ and me with my ‘bedtime’ (3.30pm) gin and tonic (served in a pint glass, as that’s all we have) to soothe me, now is a good time. I’ll open with a strong caveat – I might be a decent writer, but some of this is hard to articulate and when your schtick is making crass cock jokes and typing out gnocchi recipes, it can be hard to switch gears. But let’s give it a go.
At the time of writing, we currently have protests on the streets of the United Kingdom in support of Black Lives Matter, part of the increasing movement to acknowledge and rectify the years and years of discrimination and prejudice felt and experienced by black people. It comes on the back of the murder – because that is what it was – of George Floyd, an American killed by a policeman who thought a proportionate response to someone allegedly using a counterfeit note to buy cigarettes was to kneel on his throat for nine minutes. Can you actually imagine that? His death proved to be the spark that has seen mass protests sweep across America and now, the UK.
I live in Newcastle and saw it for myself yesterday: a peaceful protest by those in support of Black Lives Matter and the wider issues, and the counter-protest by the knuckle-dragging idiots who were there to protect Grey’s Monument. Part of the recent protests has seen statues of slave traders torn down and as a result, our local rent-a-gobs were anxious the same fate might befall Grey’s Monument, one of the centre-points in our lovely city. Let me touch on why that alone is so stupid because boy, there’s two juicy reasons. Firstly, the statue is 135 foot in the air, and each and all of these counter-protestors looked as though they’d get out of breath blowing out a match, let alone scaling a monument. I’m presuming that based on the colour of their mottled, beetroot-red faces, and I’m more than aware of the irony. Secondly, the statue is there to commemorate Charles Grey, the Prime Minister whose government oversaw the abolition of slave labour across the empire. I mean, as statues at risk, that has to be one of the lowest, no? Doesn’t matter. I’m still itching for someone to push the statue of Cilla Black into the Mersey, but I appreciate that’s a personal vendetta and it’s quite a trek.
Anyway. The police who were there in case things kicked off had bottles and smoke grenades thrown at them, along with the arresting sight of these idiots doing Nazi salutes. You know, to honour our country and its freedoms. The mind-cracking sight of eighty Ben Sherman shirts straining as their owners performed Nazi salutes in front of a statue of a person who they were trying to defend because of his rich history of er, stopping the Nazis – well, it was quite something. Imagine the mental gymnastics needed to make that rationalisation work. The depressing thing is that the news is full of this nonsense rhetoric (and I’m guilty of it myself in this post) rather than the actual message that matters: #blacklivesmatter.
And yet, you say #blacklivesmatter, and one of the immediate rejoinders is that #alllivesmatter. I mean, of course they do. Does anyone genuinely doubt that? But it speaks to an incredibly fragile ego if you can’t see that for decades, all lives haven’t mattered and people have been treated differently, appallingly – whether through aggressions of being passed over for interviews to the extremes of George Floyd above. Skin colour is as inalterable as blinking or breathing but still, even in our ‘learned’ times, is used as a benchmark to measure people by. I’ve had the discouraging sight of people I thought were decent, clever folks all frothing at the bit on Facebook, Twitter et al, all trying to justify why the protests shouldn’t be happening, why they’re not needed, why they’re inappropriate. It’s disheartening yes, but all it does is underscore how important the protests are. People are so wedded to the idea that racism doesn’t exist anymore, that we’re living in some tolerant Arcadia, but that’s an easy position to take when you don’t need to bear witness to it – when it’s not happening to you. People puff up their feathers and get indignant about this – they say you’re not allowed to ‘say anything these days‘ because ‘people will get offended‘ and ‘snowflakes yadda yadda‘. It’s funny, you know: I’ve been writing for six years now, and I can count on one hand the number of complaints we’ve received about our content. Given my writing style is fairly near the knuckle, that’s fairly impressive – you’d think with things as ‘bad’ as they supposedly are, my inbox would be awash with people complaining. It isn’t. It’s almost as if by simply not being a dick, you’ll get by unscathed. Anyway, this got me thinking about my own experiences with discrimination.
I can, with my calloused hand over my barely beating heart, say that I have never really faced discrimination beyond the odd gasp of terror as I walk into an H&M and set about trying to find anything above an XL. Sheer bulk and strength (and sucking off the Head Bully) saw me sail through school with ne’ry a negative remark, despite my proclivities towards camp exclamations and a refusal to take part in team sports unless it was rugby and I had a decent chance of ending up with my face in someone’s sweaty bum. I had parents who were supportive but never intrusive, friends who put up with my nonsense and for the most part, employers who were never too prying. I sat and looked inwards about whether I’ve ever faced discrimination, or felt like I’ve missed out because of something I couldn’t change, and came up with nothing of note. Oh! I did once have someone suggest that a chair I had sat on should be burned in case the next person who sat in it got AIDS, but I took no offence: I knew it was a waiting game with him, and hey: he’s dead now, choked on his bile in more ways than one. But thirty five years I’ve been on the Earth and that’s the best example of discrimination that I can come up with, and if that’s not an example of privilege, I don’t know what it is.
I asked Paul what his experience was with discrimination and he’s much of the same, though pointed out something which I hadn’t considered – he feels that he’s experienced positive discrimination in the past, having applied for jobs which would (in the past) be seen as more female-centred: secretary, assistants and the like. Clearly this is a nonsense, but he was once told it would be ‘novel’ to have a male secretary. This in turn made me look at my own employment: up until a few years ago I was a P.A (personal assistant, not something cheap hanging off a bellend, though I confess that both work) in a law firm and honestly, people would start explaining their legal problems to me before acting utterly bewildered that I wasn’t a solicitor many times over. In the end, I used to joke that I could never afford the shoes to be a lawyer. Paul also mentioned that he thought people were nicer to him when he was skinny, but thought that may be more of a confidence thing rather than anything else. I know he experienced prejudice when he went to Cambridge, with people assuming he was there as the token council-estate kid rather than someone who earned his place. We talked about this way back in 2016, as it happens.
But that’s it. Neither of us has ever been held back by something we can’t change, not really. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a voice and show support. It may be that some of you – and I genuinely hope it isn’t many – decide that a cooking blog has no place to be making to be making grandiose political statements on life. But see, I disagree. It feels like the world is at a tipping point, where real positive change could and should be about to happen. Whilst twochubbycubs is only one tiny voice (two if I ever let Paul get a word in edgeways), if everyone who supported the current movement for change spoke up, the roar would become deafening and impossible to ignore. But perhaps you aren’t one for speaking up and protesting in the street – and some people simply aren’t, and there should be no shame in that. I’m not a fan of people being called out for not protesting loud enough or to the tune of the vocal. There’s a quote by the novelist Edith Wharton which said there are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. It’s a great way of looking at things: you don’t need to be someone who goes out and loudly protests to make a difference – if you uphold the same values in how you go about your life, calling out discrimination, supporting those who need it, you’ll make as much of a difference. Whatever you do, do it right.
So, it goes almost without saying, we stand alongside the Black Lives Matter movement. And, just saying, we’re not terrible people to have standing by you simply because of the heat our jiggling bodies generate.
As an aside, twochubbycubs will be making a donation to the Black Lives Matter gofundme on the back of this post, as it doesn’t seem correct to collect the ad-revenue from this post.
As a further aside, I’m open to discussion on this – if anyone wants to tell me why I’m wrong, you’re more than welcome. I mean, I’ll utterly ignore you, because you’re clearly simple, but do have a try.
Syn-free butterbean houmous awaits you today, with an apology because there’s absolutely no way of taking a photograph of a plate of syn-free butterbean houmous without it looking like Smash that someone’s already had a crack at eating. But it tastes lovely and makes a decent change from the chickpea houmous that we also recommend. That’s enough about houmous. Very quickly, I’m doing alright. Lots of lockdown langour at the moment – there’s only so much staring sadly out of the window one can do before he becomes a lighthouse keeper – but I’m getting on with things. As per the last few entries we’re opening with a tale as old as time before we get to the syn-free butterbean houmous, but you’re free to scroll down to the food pictures if you’re in a rush! Always welcome feedback on the holiday entries, and must apologise for this one, as it is a little more adult than the previous entries.
Little bit of admin first, of course: our fabulous new planner comes out next month, and if you’re needing inspiration, a kick up the arse, sex-tips (maybe not those) or other flimflam, you’ll find it all in our beautiful new book! You can order it here – I know, how terribly exciting! Now, come back with me to Canada…
Next on the list of attractions that time forgot, a mirror maze! Piece of piss this one, though: how hard can a hastily assembled mirror maze consisting of a few boards of plywood and some scotchy IKEA mirrors be? Please. I spend most of my day cats-bumming my mouth into my phone camera, a few tricksy mirrors and party-bus lighting wasn’t going to hold me back. I paid the lady, Paul went ahead, and in I stumbled into hell.
A little side-story for you. After Canada, we flew to Tokyo for a few days “to rest”. Whilst there we came to learn of a gay sauna exclusively for the larger gentleman – you would actually be turned away if you rocked up with a six pack and a BMI that didn’t need an extra digit on the calculator. Skinny and toned folks were sent next door to use the sauna for the slim. It was heaven: we’ve always been about the larger chap. Sex holds little allure for me unless there’s a strong risk of one of us clutching our arm and Jim Robinson-ing our way through to climax. Oh! They also fluffed you and measured your cock when you turned up and if you were over a certain size, you’d get a King Kong sticker to wear somewhere on your ample frame. They gave me a Goomba sticker and a lollipop.
Anyway, the way this sauna was set up was a giant dark maze – the idea being that you would stumble around until you slid into another fatty-boom-boom and made sweet, slappy love. Or, in my case, a breathless handjob whilst I tried not to pass out from the heady combination of poppers and having to climb more than two flights of stairs. It was great fun, if not a little disorientating.
Paul and I crashed around in the dark (though I went down well, figuratively and literally, because I was a good foot taller than everyone else there) and had a great time. At one point I decided to try and find a new nest of immorality and so I set about exploring in the dark. After a few false starts grabbing the wrong type of knob I managed to find a promising door. I yanked it open only to reveal the other sauna on the other side, well-lit, with lots and lots of skinny, beautiful Japanese fellas sitting around nude. The sight of my hairy, wobbling frame bursting through the door caused instant dismay, looking as I do like a badly-shaved McGrimace with a bouncing erection. I’ve never seen so many sets of lips purse at once – it was like someone had sprayed lemon juice into the room. I gently gave everyone a nod, did a little curtsy (my knees had been weakened by earlier activity – I had forgotten to bring my kneeling pad from the garden) and carefully shut the door. I know my place, and it isn’t amongst men who look like they’ve been whittled from marble by God himself.
Anyway – I mention this sauna because that’s what this mirror maze was like: endless corridors, albeit with less fat businessmen grabbing at my bumhole like a sliding mountaineer might grab at the cliff-edge as he tumbles. I panicked. I knew Paul had managed to escape relatively easily but I just could not figure it out. Small kids were running around my legs and making a quick exit as I blundered about leaving fingerprints on the glass and crying. OK, I may not have cried, but I won’t pretend that I wasn’t struggling to keep my shit together as I was surrounded by eight identical versions of myself. For someone whose camera is permanently on selfie mode you may think that this is my idea of nirvana but I assure you, seeing all my imperfections wrought large in octuple was soul-destroying. I have a friend whose sole reason for existence seems to be pointing out the fact my nose has more angles than a shattered protractor and having this presented to me from all sides really stabbed me deep. Like he does.
At one point I stopped trying to exit and just gazed at my haunting visage, lit by cruel blue LED and strobing green, and wondered where everything had gone wrong with my life to leave my face looking like a bag of broken china. I stood for a good few minutes before the owner must have spotted me looking glum and sad and turned the emergency lights on, leading me straight to the exit where I was met by Paul. To his credit, he had the decency to notice I’d had a full existential crisis and so took me gently over the road to get a burger, where all became right with the world and really, it was just the lighting that upset me. Yes.
Existential ennui overcome and drowned in saturated fat, we made for the final attraction of the night: an arcade that promised a ghost train and a 6D rollercoaster. Not 4D, no no, six dimensions of thrills. It barely managed three. We were the only ones on-board and once the shoulder-holders came down, we realised that actually, it didn’t move – it was a simulator. The 32” ALBA screen in front of us degaussed and we were off, the distant chimes of the Windows 95 start-up sound seeing us into the ride. It. Was. Crap. Give me ten minutes and I can knock together better animation in Paint 3D. The ‘six dimensions’ came from the seat rocking gently to the side about five seconds after the on-screen cue and a tiny spray of what I am sure was hydraulic fluid in my face when we went underwater. I’ve had more thrills and spills washing my poor nipsy on a Japanese toilet.
The ghost train was no better. We shunted off through various neon-painted cardboard ‘frights’ – cardboard graveyard, cardboard fun- house, cardboard 25 Cromwell Street. At one point a spring burst out with absolutely nothing on it. The only scream that the ride elicited from me was afterwards, when the busty young lady at the front asked if we wanted to pay half price and go again. I demurred, claiming my heart could only take so much excitement, and we instead set about winning enough tickets on the Wheel of Fortune machines to claim a glorious prize. An hour later, with handfuls and handfuls of tickets, we dashed up to claim our prize just to find we only had enough for a tacky painted fish (since lost) and some chewing gum. Best $120 we’ve ever spent.
All in all, an absolutely fucking brilliant night. We also squeezed in a round of crazy golf and half an hour in a weird door maze but I fear I’ll lose you forever if I don’t wrap this chapter up soon. All you need to know about the golf is that I won. I always win. Paul has prism lenses in his glasses that afford him four holes to aim for instead of the customary one and thus is at an immediate disadvantage. Thinking about it, that’ll be why we’re still, 12 years in, playing the ‘up a bit, up a bit, no down a bit, just push it in’ game of an evening.
Niagara done, we retired to bed, and with the burger and mouldy iHop platter from earlier rustling around in our bellies, were soothed to sleep by the sound and scent of a thousand farts.
We arose the next day in a grim state. I’d been fighting off a nasty cough for about a week and had woken up with a throat like sandpaper. Understand that’s par for the course when you’re a frisky bitch like me, but Christ I felt dreadful. We decided to reach for the antibiotics: but this meant a visit to the Canadian doctors. All very easy – trip to Walmart where the surgery was, a quick signing of a few forms and then I simply needed to pull together every piece of jewellery, money and property I own to hand over to the receptionist who took the lot and asked for more. In a perfect circular loop-back to the time we paid $180 for a course of antibiotics for Paul’s poorly ear back in Florida, here we paid $280 for a ten minute chat with the doctor and some amoxycilin. He had the sheer brass neck to make a loud disapproving noise when I explained that ‘otherwise I was in good health’. Great: I have a face that exudes illness.
Worst part of all of this? No sooner had I paid for my antibiotics and checked with my travel insurance company who no, of course not, wouldn’t cover the cost (too small of an expense – I was tempted to go ram my head through the plate glass window out of sheer fucking spite) than I immediately felt better. The shock of paying so much for a few pills was clearly enough to reboot my system. If I ever get some awful terminal disease, I’m going out to buy a BMW.
The rest of the day was spent driving back to Toronto and finding our AirBnB, before meeting our “just a friend”, who I’m naming Bhalu as he was cute and cuddly. We’ll come to Toronto in another blog entry, because see, that’s how holiday entries work, but I need a good closing anecdote.
Which I haven’t got. So let’s stumble around the word count and take a moment to bow our heads in sadness, because there was one casualty of our trip to Niagara: the sex-hat. Back in Montreal I successfully pulled The Hottest Barista in Town and he gave me a lovely cap to go with my troubled bumhole. The one hat I’ve ever had in my life that doesn’t look like a comedy Christmas cracker sized hat on my giant moonhead. The one that I was wearing because it reminded me of a happy time when I was used like Sooty by someone with hands with size of banquet gammons.
Paul left it in the fucking rental car. He had tried it on whilst he was driving and because I didn’t want a rim of dead skin and sun-tan lotion left on it, I had plucked it from his head and hurled it in the back. You may think the onus was on me to retrieve it but no, it would have been on my head had he not touched my things and ruined my life. I’m not one for sulking but you better believe I was at maximum tittylip for a good hour or so after that. Paul offered to go buy me a hat but it could never have been the same if it wasn’t gifted to me by The Dreamy Barista to make up for the blood pooling in my knickers.
Right, let’s get to the syn-free butterbean houmous, shall we? Looks alright!
The Northern Lights are dancing!
Čajet dan čuovgga!
Suppose you’ll be wanting the recipe for this syn-free butterbean houmous, aye? Gosh, I remember when you were far less maintenance…
Sometimes you just need something to dip your finger / crudites / nipples into without guilt or remorse, and that's where this syn-free butterbean houmous comes into it. You can make it syn free by leaving out the oil, but given this makes enough to serve four, we'd be tempted to demand you drizzle a bit of flavour oil on the top and soak up the syns (6 syns). But again, we aren't your parents.
one large tin of butterbeans
one clove of garlic (chopped garlic is fine)
one tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
good pinch of salt
one reserved tablespoon of the weird butterbean pre-cum that they come in the tin with (aquafaba, if you want to be technical)
couple of tablespoons of natural yoghurt
If you're using oil, add it at the end (6 syns).
I mean, haway. Do you want to have a guess, pet?
stick all the ingredients in a blender
loosen it up by adding more yoghurt or the aquafaba from the butterbeans
season to taste
Syn-free butterbean houmous, done.
the one thing I’m going to push here is our Kenwood Mini Chopper. It makes very quick work of this dip. It’s cheap on Amazon. Not essential but I will say this – as people who use a lot of gadgets, this is probably one of our favourites
we buy our flavoured oils from Yorkshire Drizzle, in this case, a lemon oil. You can take a look at their range here: it'll open in a new window. We haven't been paid to promote or anything like that, they're just a bloody good company and we love them very much
remember - our slimming cookbook can be ordered online now - full of 100+ slimming recipes, and bloody amazing, with over 2400 5* reviews: click here to order
our new diet planner launches soon: you can order it here (it’ll open in a new window)
Good morning all – perhaps you’re wondering why I’ve brought you all here today. The answer is this: what the hell do I call this recipe? I went for summer breakfast hash but that’s an absolutely bobbins title and we need more suggestions. Feel free to help! It’s a combination of shakshuka (spicy tomatoes and egg) and a hash (because it has cubed potatoes) but I also threw some chorizo in there. I was going to pen it as ‘shakshukash’ but that’s the noise my cat makes when she’s licking her tuppence right next to my ear at 4am in the morning. Honestly, I don’t know what she’s trying to mine from down there but she’s bloody determined for a breakthrough any day soon.
Couple of bits of admin before we get to the summer breakfast hash (sigh) – a gentle reminder that our planner launches next month! If you want a diet planner with tonnes of room to record your thoughts, plenty of us pointing at you, 26 recipes…all sorts – you can order it here (it’ll open in a new window), and I heartily promise you’ll love it!
Second, as mentioned before, in the absence of anything to write about (unless you want 2,000 words of me in lockdown, which is essentially eight wanks a day and the occasional row with the neighbours) (must stop wanking in front of the window), I’m continuing with our Canada tales. If you’re not a fan of the writing, simply scroll straight to the summer breakfast hash: I mean, it’s a safe bet a lot of you know exactly how to do that. It’s a funny thing though, looking back over what was the best few weeks of our lives. Drinking from the memory cup is also a poisoned chalice: we want to be out exploring again, ratching like old times, seeing the world. Even if the 🎵coronaVIRUS 🎵buggers off, what is travelling going to look like? Not as though insurance is going to cover going to America and picking up coronavirus now is it? I know, I know. Cry me a river.
But see, saying that doesn’t help, because I want to visit there too. Boom. Anyway, onto the stories – oh, and a wee plea. If you’re enjoying reading this, do let me know in the comments below. I appreciate they’re a bit lengthy but it’s nice to write about something different. Ta!
The first attraction was a laser maze: oooh! The literature outside promised thrills and spills and I went in with half a lob-on and a heart full of excitement, expecting crazy lasers and an obstacle course. What we actually got was a game fresh out of Bid Up TV’s hot-take on The Crystal Maze: a bedroom painted black with a few laser pens pointing around. I’ve had more risk and adventure getting the clothes out of the tumble drier. We pressed on, with the objective being to avoid the lasers and press the button at the other side of the room, and finished it in record time (so at least Paul felt at home). Turns out stepping over four lasers isn’t that taxing even when you have the manoeuvrability of a Resident Evil heroine, and boy was I pleased we’d spent twenty dollars on it. Paul tripped over his shoelaces upon leaving, becoming quite possibly the first tourist to ever faceplant in an entirely empty room.
Next: go-karting. For this to work, you have to realise how incredibly competitive I am at driving and how bad I am at taking criticism about my approach to motoring. You could come to me, tell me you were shagging my husband, killed my mother and taken a shit in my Instant Pot and I’d chortle and say jolly good, you’re welcome to him. My doctor could tell me I had six weeks to live because I had explosive-sphincter and I’d smile cheerily and say at least it wasn’t four. But, know this: if you get into a car with me and so much as suck air over your teeth as I hurtle up the arse of some old dear in a rust-coloured Renault Shitstorm, I’ll crash the car into the nearest tunnel without a second glance. Paul once told me I didn’t have my radio adjusted correctly and I sulked all the way through to our anniversary. So, go-karting is never a good idea: I can’t bear to lose. Nevertheless, we paid our tickets and joined the queue.
Two things riled me before I even sat in the kart: some airy little minge vocal-frying and pretending she was drunk in front of me. She was as drunk as I was straight. I’d rather hear gunshots from my parents’ bedroom than hear one more syllable from her pouting, oh-my-god- so-zaaaaany’ voice. Of course, she was in front, so I was subjected to it all for a good twenty minutes before I was served a final indignation: some spotty kid with a bless-him moustache who looked at my giant, elephantine head and had to go fetch a special 3XL helmet from under the counter. Alright mate, my mother smoked forty car-boot-sale Lambert and Butlers a day whilst carrying me, give me a chance – and mind I suspect she only took that route because she didn’t fancy hurtling herself down the stairs.
We got settled into our karts, me unable to see because my rage was making my visor steam up. Don’t worry, I recorded the whole thing on my phone – only I didn’t, because I selected selfie mode before slipping it into my shirt pocket so all we have is four minutes of revving and the sound of my nipples dancing under a polyester/viscose mix. Stupid ‘drunk’ girl was in front of me, Paul behind. Captain ‘tache waved us off and immediately the walking womb in front of me starts farting about, not ‘lolzzzz I’m not getting how to drive’, turning around and shrieking at me because ‘how do I work the pedals LOL Instagram am-I-right gurrrrrlz’.
I waited patiently for about three seconds before flooring it, hitting her kart and pushing it out of the starting grid. We were off!
I got to the first corner before I span out. Paul hurtled past cackling and did I balls manage to catch up. In my defence, I got stuck behind Tits McGee who kept stopping, making a lot of noise and trying to flirt with the traffic lights. She was being deliberately annoying and I couldn’t get past, with eventually Paul rejoining me from the rear and everyone starting to get pissed off with her.
She ruined a very good session of go-karting, but don’t worry, I’m a vindictive sod at the best of times, and when we all siphoned back into the starting channels, I took my opportunity. She’d stopped and was in the process of removing her helmet when I hurtled into the back of her at top speed. I’ve never seen a neck move like that – it was just like in the Roadrunner cartoons when he’d fall off the cliff and his body would drop but his head stayed in the same place. Whoops.
She turned to have a pop at me and I just gave the fakest laugh ever known to man, shrugged my shoulders and cawed ‘omg, hoooooooow do I work the pedals again?!’. Even Paul looked appalled. No regrets here though: never get in the way of a tight-arse Geordie and his ten dollars of go-karting. Last time I saw her she was being loaded into the back of an ambulance with a neck-brace on to the sounds of Viva Forever from her shattered iPhone*.
*I’m kidding. I think it was a Samsung.
Next door to the go-karts was a giant ferris wheel which promised unrivalled views of the fall and all the stupendous sights of the Niagara strip. I’m all for a sit-down so you best believe we were on this before I had a chance to fret about the oily-faced terror running the ride, who looked as though he’d struggle to check his own name off a list let alone complete a full safety review of a morning. Did you know Newcastle is getting its own ferris wheel like the London Eye at the time of me writing this? And, because of course, we’re calling it the Newcastle Way-Eye. I mean, the only way you could make the experience more Geordie is if Raoul Moat was in one of the pods and you had to take a gamble that you might finish the night having your teeth polished by a sawn-off shotgun.
The first rotation was great – the subsequent EIGHT spins far less so. There’s only so many ‘oooh’ noises (and I say that as a gay man who has perfected the disappointed-but-it’ll-do response to many an underwear reveal) you can make to the sight of a waterfall pitched in inky blackness half a mile away before you have to admit defeat. We must have been on that bloody wheel a good half hour. Even the London Eye loses its attractiveness after ten minutes. I once tugged my ex off inside a fairly busy capsule on the London Eye though, which remains high up on my list of inspired places I’ve had sex. Saying that, he had a tiny knob: it was like trying to fish a Mint Imperial out of your pocket in a darkened cinema.
The waxworks came next, and listen, if you’d told me the waxworks had recently suffered an intense electrical fire causing significant damage, I would well believe you. I’ve seen better takes on Jamie Lee Curtis and Mel Gibson formed from the cellulitis on my thighs than anything on display here. I’m not saying it was rough, but the lovely old biddy on the front desk looked more like Sylvester Stallone than the supposed waxwork did. Mind to her credit she was hanging from a helicopter with a knife in her gob at the time. We wandered around and had a whale of a time – Cher looked like Axl Rose having a shart, One Direction: The Meth Years were a particular highlight, and better yet: animatronics. Animatronics from the There Was An Attempt box – Mike Myers dressed as Frank Butcher cosplaying as Austin Powers shouting YEAH BABY accompanied by the loud hiss of hydraulics and a juddering lunge.
Somewhat inexplicably, amongst the waxworks, they had a full size set of The Simpsons, with them all sat on the sofa. Because I’m a pervert, I immediately climbed over and stuck my face into Homer’s crotch for a photo opportunity. What can I say: at times like this, instinct takes over and when presented with a straight daddy with his legs open, my knees go out from under me like I’ve got rickets (Dickits?) and my lips drip like a sunken sponge. No sooner had I started gagging on the polystyrene and Paul had taken a few photos for above the fireplace than all the lights came on and the primmest voice you’ve ever heard came crackling out of the tannoy to ask me to ‘refrain from posing with the models’. Posing? Bitch. We were ushered out with a face that said ‘don’t come back for a refund’ but I could see from the twinkle in her eye and indeed, the dew on her twinkle that she’d be buttering her muffin over the CCTV footage later.
You know, let me say something here. It’s too easy – and cracking for the word count – to be dismissive about places like this. They’re crap, but by god they’re entertaining crap. I compare it to somewhere like Benidorm – no-one goes to Benidorm to stroke their chins and admire the high culture (and if they do, they’re wankers), but if you go to have a good time, that’s exactly what you’ll have. Too many people walk around with their nose in the air and a stick up their arse in some misguided attempt to look aloof and superior. Please. I might write about things in a sarcastic fashion here but know this: I will always be the first in the queue for a shitty exhibition or a naff house of horrors, with Paul a close second (and third, because he’s so fat). Life is for having fun, not sneering at those who do.
Anyway, enough of that, let me get back to stroking my chin, walking around with my nose in the air and a stick up my arse – it’s hard work being this aloof and superior, you know. We shall continue this post next week!
Right then, to the summer breakfast hash which still absolutely need a better title. If you want to make a lighter version you could leave out the chorizo, but it does add a lovely taste to the whole dish.
This recipe for summer breakfast hash is surprisingly quick to throw together, and is perfect for using up all the veg shite you have cluttering around in the bottom of the fridge. If you're not a fan of spice, leave out the chilli flakes. Similarly, if you want to cut a few calories/syns, ditch the chorizo.
You absolutely can cook the potato in the tomato sauce if you want to make it a one-pot summer breakfast hash, but we recommend following the recipe - the crunchy oven-baked potatoes add a nice contrast to the 'gooey' eggs and sauce. But each to their own.
Oh and of course, you can use Frylight instead of oil on the potatoes and your pan. But you can pleat your own bog roll from dock leaves, doesn't mean you should. Flavour always.
two tablespoons of oil - one for the potatoes, one for the pan
swap out for Frylight if you want to save syns, but please, don't
three fist-sized potatoes, peeled if you prefer, cut into small cubes
two large red onions
two large peppers - we went for a yellow pepper and a large sweet red pepper, but it hardly matters
four fresh large eggs
50g of diced chorizo (6 syns) - you can buy frozen diced chorizo in Tesco now, which makes this so much easier
teaspoon of chilli flakes
one tin of chopped tomatoes (we use the chopped tomatoes with chilli, again from Tesco) - if you have fresh tomatoes, dice them up and use those instead
one carton of passata (500g)
A note on the oils. We've been using rapeseed oil from Yorkshire Drizzle for the last few weeks - same amount of syns as regular olive oil but a much higher frying point. That's all well and good but really the most important thing is they're flavoured, and flavoured well. For this recipe, we used the black pepper oil. You can take a look at their range here: it'll open in a new window. We haven't been paid to promote or anything like that, they're just a bloody good company!
preheat the oven to around 190 degrees
take your cubed potato, put them in a bowl with a tablespoon of oil and give them a right good toss around - you don't need a lot of oil to coat them
spread them on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for about 15 minutes until they're softened - might do you as well to give them a quick turn halfway through
if you have an Actifry, you can just chuck them in there to cook and everyone's a winner
meanwhile, finely slice the onion and peppers and gently fry them off in the oil until softened
add the tomatoes, chilli flakes and passata and leave to bubble away until your potatoes are done
when the potatoes are done, chuck them in too - taste the sauce, add a pinch of salt if you like, and then leave to reduce and thicken
once you're ready to serve, make four wells in the pan and crack your eggs into them - cover the pan with a lid and let the eggs cook through
serve to the gasps and shrieks of your loved ones
remember - our slimming cookbook can be ordered online now - full of 100+ slimming recipes, and bloody amazing, with over 2400 5* reviews: Click here to order
our new diet planner launches soon: you can order it here (it’ll open in a new window)
Hello! What follows is a very special announcement to any of our readers who attend Slimming World groups. We have to think that’s a great number of you because when we look at the Google Analytics to see what brought you here, we’re still seeing every possible known variation on the word ‘syns’ you can imagine. Suns. Sins. Sinz. Recipes. Recepeas. Rice’n’peas. Seriously, if we’re going to use lockdown for any good, let’s work on our spelling, shall we?
Now, you know Slimming World have always been good to us – allowing us to build our own wee blog full of recipes with only the occasional letter tutting at us for swearing too much or Paul looking too sexy in his swimming knickers. So, in the spirit of giving back, we’re letting you know what they are currently offering in the absence of their normal groups, which are, of course, out-of-bounds at the moment.
To be clear, we’re not being paid to promote this, nor have we been asked to do so, but we know plenty of consultants who are struggling. So, least we can do, and the below is entirely our own thoughts. Naturally we’re taken their very-posh press releases and spun it into our fruity way with words, but if you need the official line, you can find them here:
a detailed FAQ which should answer your questions.
In the absence of group meetings, Slimming World have launched virtual groups – the same sessions as before in terms of inspiration and support, only you don’t need to sit in a draughty church hall for the privilege. Using Zoom (which trust me, is easy enough to get your head around), you will be video-calling (or just audio, if you’re shy, or like us don’t want people to see you rolling your eyes) the rest of your group at a set time.
Then, it’s much the same as before: a group discussion to swap recipes, weigh-in (if you want to – you don’t have to weight at home), support and encouragement.
If you’re someone who relishes going to group then this will be a good substitute and means you have the continued support of your fellow members.
However, we think the best part of this is that for £2.50 a week, you get the above meeting and continued support, but you also have access to all the weight-loss tools on the website, including their syns checker, shopping planner, stories and meal-planning ideas.
Also! If you’re an frontline NHS/HSE worker, you can attend these meetings free of charge as a thank you for everything you do – speak to your consultant for more details.
There’s lots of detail about what happens if you’re on a countdown or have paid your fees – they’re all explained here, but it’s genuinely straightforward.
We no longer go to classes because we struggle to make the time every week to sit for two hours, but at the same time, we remember how important they are to folks. We say without exaggeration that we’ve seen the feverish excitement some people have for their weekly weigh-in and chance to talk about their bowels / weight-loss / weight-loss and bowel problems. You don’t have to forgo that – this is a genuinely good compromise between the support and friendship found in class and trying to strike out and do it on your own.
And, you know, if I may speak on a more personal note: as mentioned above, we’re good friends with a fair few consultants. These consultants are self-employed (Slimming World is a franchise which you buy into) and are suddenly facing quite a bleak time. If this move – and we know it won’t be to everyone’s taste – helps keep their lights on for a bit longer, then that’s no bad thing. The majority of the £2.50 goes to the consultant – not the organisation – which I really like. I’m yet to meet a consultant who hasn’t had their heart 100% in this – sometimes to almost scary levels of positivity – and maybe, just maybe and only if you can, it’s time to support them too.
Long-time readers and listeners will know that we poke fun at the ways of Slimming World, with our references to cat-hair quiche and Sandra (always Sandra) and her constant rambling. But they are the only weight loss organisation we’ve ever used because they’re consistently decent in the way they go about things. There’s a lot of love there, always has been, and will be going forward. If you’re feeling cut adrift and uncertain and need the support, you know where to find it.
Good luck everyone! We’re off round Mags’ gaff now for a Campari and Soda served up in mismatched Stella glasses.
Pulled pork: one of those things that happen to the best of us when we’re locked down and not much to do. Seriously, mine is about to drop off. However, I picked up a shoulder of pork in the reduced bit in Morrisons for £1.60 and, after leaving it sweating in my car for about six hours, realised I had to save it. So, pulled pork burgers it was. The benefit of this recipe is that you get enough pulled pork to make a thousand other things with – wraps, pasta bakes, I even stuck some in a cheese toastie the other day. We’ve used an Instant Pot to speed up the pulled pork but you can make it in a slow cooker just as easily.
Quick mention: our planner has now been finalised and is being printed – if you want a diet planner with tonnes of room to record your thoughts, plenty of us pointing at you, 26 recipes…all sorts – you can order it here (it’ll open in a new window), and I heartily promise you’ll love it!
However, before you get to the pulled pork recipe, there’s a hell of a long entry to read and/or scroll past. See, I’m very conscious that I haven’t been writing much (well, I have, but nothing I can share with you, yet) and, god love you all, you guys do seem to enjoy my scribbles. So, rather like the writers of Doctor Who at the moment, I’m scrambling through my old writings to see what I am yet to publish. I’m not so arrogant to think you’ll all be chomping at the bit to read, but if you have ten minutes, what follows is part two of our trip to Niagara Falls. Which is a tiny, tiny part of our massive book on our trip, bits of which I have scattered around on the laptop. I always enjoy writing the trip reports, so I hope you like them.
As an aside, I recently pulled together a load of clips from Canada for Paul so we can look back and shake our heads and be thankful I got over the gastroenteritis I was suffering from at the time. You can find the video here:
I know, we’ve never looked better. To the next chapter then!
Niagara Falls, then. We decided to have a stroll along to see it from the side. There’s an option to ‘cross the rainbow bridge’ and see it from the American side, but why bother? Plus the phrase rainbow bridge makes my teeth itchy, because I’ve seen it used in conjunction with dogs dying on Facebook and it’s nearly always accompanied by a trite quote and a Minion. We stopped for a moment to get the biggest ice-cream I’ve ever seen in my life from a place called Sweet Jesus. It was bigger than my head, and I had to apply for planning permission for my fivehead. Paul fibbed and told them it was his birthday so they gave him an extra scoop and stuck a candle in the top.
I’m glad, for a fleeting ten minutes, we were able to provide everyone with the stereotypical sight of two morbidly obese blokes eating enough ice-cream to feed a Christmas orphanage. I went at that ice-cream like a sex-starved sailor going at a portside snatch. It’s a bad job when someone who had been poured over a mobility scooter like hot wax gives you a withering look at your excesses.
The Falls, then. Here’s a revelation. Like so many things in life, including 90% of my Grindr dick appointments, it doesn’t look as big in real- life as they’ve made it look in photos. Presumably because they’re not pressing so hard into their pube fat-pad that they’ve got diamonds forming in their thumb-print. Don’t get me wrong, the main falls (i.e. the one you’ll know, the Horseshoe Falls) is 800m across, it’s not exactly an emptying bath, but I dunno – I expected bigger. Story of my life.
Favourite fact? In 1901, a 63 year old schoolteacher named Annie Taylor climbed into a barrel and set away, only to be washed over the falls. Oops. They found her barrel a few hundred meters downstream and out she popped, exclaiming that “no one ought ever to do that again”. Talk about an action nana! My nana, at least before we returned her to the Earth in a cloud of smouldering winceyette, used to get out of breath spreading butter on her toast in the morning. Best part is, Adventurous Annie didn’t get paid for her exciting adventure. I’d have been furious and sulked in my barrel for at least three days.
Oh, and 90% of fish that get swept over survive AND have some cracking Instagram shots afterwards.
Speaking of Instagram shots, some random ones to punctuate the words:
The waterfall was pretty. I wish I could do it justice with words but frankly, it’s a lot of water sloshing over a giant crack, and I covered that with my bubble-bath tale. But, because I’m an uncultured queen, I gazed at it for about five minutes, wondered how it would feel to be swept over the edge and then was ready to move on. Once you’ve got a picture (and trust me, that’s an adventure, given the sheer amount of tourists standing in front of it doing wistful looks into the distance) you’re kinda done. Worth the trip to say you’ve done it, but well. We stayed for another ten minutes watching the lights change and then went to find a pub.
A bar called Spyce came to the rescue (although I did wince at the weird Y in the name – love, Jaymes) and we were soon settled right behind a live singer with a flight of beer that extended to the sky. It was tremendous – lots of locally brewed beers and ales all with puns in the title. That’s my dream, right there, and we were having a great time until the singer started with his Tracy Chapman covers. Paul was dilating with pleasure and me? Well, if you have been a long-term reader you’d realise I’d sooner have extensive pulsatile tinnitus than listening to that warbling hellcat and so, we nicked off to the arcades. She absolutely infuriates: two chords on her guitar and no hope in her voice.
After a long night of pissing away the beer and altogether too much in the arcades, we went to bed. Our bathroom still looked like a pre-go-kart game in Fun House, only we didn’t have a walking mullet offering us the chance to win a ruler with a calculator in it. Gutted.
We awoke the next day, surprisingly refreshed for two lads with a surprise 2am Grindr visit from the floor below. My beard looked as though someone had spilled PVA glue on the floor of a barbershop but you know, a hot shower and a quick apology prayer to God soon put that right. We decided to do a few tours and so, after a keen breakfast buffet, we went out to find the information desk. We found it after a fashion which necessitated me having a strop, taking up smoking and a brief interlude where I considered going home, and joined the queue of about six groups.
We were there FOR NEARLY A WHOLE FUCKING HOUR. I’ve never known such unbelievably slow service. I don’t know whether the cashier was physically getting up and driving each customer to the various lookout points but it would have been quicker to wait for the waterfall to erode to the point where we just fell in. Christ almighty. Grim British Resolve meant we couldn’t move but we were entertained at least by the little Chinese lady in front who, after fifteen minutes of flapping her arms about, was smartly stung by a wasp right on the end of her nose. The first aider in me wanted to step in and help but the selfish, mean bastard in me overruled that and was glad to take her place when she had to step out crying. Pfft: amateur hour.
We arrived at the front after stopping to celebrate our 12th and 13th wedding anniversary in the queue (the Chinese lady had returned at this point, and I like to think the tears in her eyes wasn’t just venom leaking out) and were busy being served when some chap started proper kicking off in the queue because he thought a gaggle of Chinese ladies had pushed in. They hadn’t, they’d just done the entirely sensible thing of going off whilst another member of the family stayed put). He was giving it great classy guns, shouting in their face in loud Australian whilst they look confused and scared. I shouted oi but kept my face to the ticket lady, which gave her such a start that she sped her way through dispensing the tickets and drawing on our map and sent us on our way. I’d have stepped in but a) I wanted my tickets. There’s no b) – I’m horrendous.
Our first tour necessitated a bus-trip up the road, which I was eternally grateful for as up until that point I’d barely had a chance to sit down and send my eighty thousand texts and Instagram shots. Paul has so many photos of me taking photos of myself in his phone that we’ve almost reached Inception levels of vanity. The tour wasn’t even of the falls themselves but rather a wee bit down the river where the waters boil and swirl in a narrow gorge, and you’re taken over this water in a charming little cable car that the attendant took great care to tell us was ‘ancient’ and ‘rickety’ but ‘had never had an accident’. Hmm. I’m fine with heights but thundering water scares the bejesus out of me – Paul was happy as larry but it was all I could do not to rainbow-yawn over the side. I definitely drowned in a previous life – I get the willies when you take the plug out of a bath and the tiny whirlpool appears, for goodness sake.
It was beautiful, to be fair, and we got some cracking photos, but boy was I glad to be off. We spotted an iHop over the road and, buoyed up by excellent memories of Disney-times past, we made our way in, only to be curtly told that they shut at half two. It was half one. I reassured them that an hour was probably more than enough time for us to choke some dry pancakes down and then immediately resolved to order something I knew would need to be cooked fresh. Bastards.
We were shown to our seats by a man whose face betrayed the fact he’d had to battle for every erection he’d ever had and who then proceeded to serve us with all the enthusiasm of a prostitute’s eighth blowjob of the day. I mistook his grave attitude and dour face for an attempt at deadpan humour, and was badly mistaken: he was just a miserable fucker. He took our order without a please or a thank you, looked like he was about to cry when I asked for a refill and Christ, when Paul asked for some ketchup, you’d think he’d asked to borrow the waiter’s shoes. I’ve never seen such a downcast expression and, may I remind you, I used to have summer holidays in Darlington.
Now, you might be reading this thinking he was having a bad day, perhaps he didn’t want to deal with two jolly Englishmen wanting sustenance, and that’s possibly true: but fake it, mate. I don’t need a half-hour rimjob when I come into a restaurant but a degree of civility and a look that doesn’t suggest I trod dog-shit into the carpet will suffice. Things came to a head when I very gently pointed out that my steak philly sandwich had clearly been served straight from Alexander Fleming’s lunchbox, given the amount of mould growing on it, and he took the baguette, rubbed it on his pinny to check I hadn’t just painted the mould on myself, and took it away without a word of an apology.
Well, fuck that for a game of soldiers. It’s not like I have high food standards: I just prefer my sandwiches to be cold and emotionless, not sentient and able to move of their own volition. We slapped ten dollars on the table to pay for our drinks and walked straight out. I imagine he’s probably still there, looking at our empty seats with those big watery eyes and wondering where it all went wrong. We jumped on the bus and made our way to the next tour, a walk behind the falls.
Of course, before we could do that, Paul let me know that he needed a waterfall of his very own: from his anus. Smooth bit of writing, that. We nipped into the gift shop so that he could strangle a brownie and I was left to mince around looking at the tat on show whilst he took care of business.
I love a gift shop, especially a naff one, and I can spend a lot of time fingering lumps of wood with Niagara on and the exact same shirts and jerseys we’d seen literally everywhere else but with Niagara stencilled across them in Lucinda Handwriting. I was cooing to myself and wondering just how they sell enough china replicas of waterfalls to make it worthwhile giving them their own stand when I heard the thunder of a pair of George trainers rushing towards me. Paul skidded to a halt with a face that said ‘deportation imminent’ before clutching my sleeve and pulling me out of the shop as though it was about to blow up.
I cast a stricken glance over my shoulder as we rushed for the exit only to see about twelve Orthodox Jewish women waving their arms and shouting at us. It was only once we’d hyper-minced to the relative safety of a Baskin Robbins stand that Paul, breathlessly, clued me in as to the cause of all the tumult. He’d seen the queue for the gents stretching well into the bank of ‘I wish my husband got me as wet as Niagara’ XXXXL shirts and decided to instead nip into the ‘accessible toilet’, which was open for all. Not the disabled toilet, mind you: the genderfluid shitter.
In he had dashed, unbuckling his kegs as he jostled towards the trap, only for the door to burst open in his face to reveal a woman crimping off a hot turd and, inexplicably, another eleven or so ladies all bent around her watching what she was doing. Mortified, Paul starts putting his cock away, they all start shrieking and screaming, and out he dashed with a bright red face and a turtle’s head poking out. I’ve never seen him move so fast, and this is a chap who appears like the Tardis if he so much as hears a Toblerone being snapped. We never found out why they were all in there, why they didn’t lock the door or whether the Shitting Lady felt better after dropping the kids off, and we’ll never know. One of life’s little mysteries. We took the opportunity to join our tour ‘Behind the Falls’.
Now, admittedly, I could have guessed from the name, but a tour ‘behind the waterfalls’ wasn’t exactly much to write home about. You can look at a waterfall from many interesting perspectives: from the air to appreciate the scope, from a boat to take in the noise, from the edge to gain a new found love of life. What isn’t interesting is viewing a waterfall from behind. Think about it: you’re led down a couple of dank tunnels only to experience the ‘fascinating’ sight of water thundering down in front of you in a window sized hole. I felt like a Toilet Duck on curry night. You could have held up a badly-tuned television for the same effect.
Inexplicably, hundreds of tourists were snapping pictures of this astonishing vista as though it was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and as a consequence, we couldn’t move because of all the mouth-breathers getting their photos just-so. It was awful, and I do not recommend. Half an hour we were down there and the only respite from the misery was me suffocating myself with the poncho, initially for a joke but then with a certain sincerity in my eyes as my lips turned blue. I took a picture and sent it to a friend who is well into suffocation play: fair took his breath away.
We hustled to the next tour – the famous one, mind, the Maid of the Mist. You know it: get on a boat with nine thousand other tourists, bob towards the bottom of the falls and get wet. I’m not doing it justice – it was fantastic and awe-inspiring and terrifying and wonderful – but again, it’s still just a waterfall. We’d seen this friggin’ waterfall from the air, from the side, from behind and now from the bottom. At this point I felt so close to the falls that I almost unlocked my private Growlr pics for him.
Oh: memory unlocked! When I was at school, a friend of mine appeared on 999: International when the boat he was on at the top of the falls broke down and started drifting towards the edge. That’s frightful luck, isn’t it? We all put it down to the fact his family and indeed, himself, were so astonishingly fat, and it led to all manner of ‘he’s fat, he’s round, he bounces on the ground’ songs for a good few months, until he kicked a window out on the school bus on the way home and ran away. Honestly, kids can be so cruel. Me especially. I was driving the bus, and this was only last year. His drifting boat was rescued by the hydroelectric workers just up the river, as it happens.
We docked up, and went for another beer. See, there’s a problem with Niagara: once you’ve got cooing at the waterfall out of the way, you’re stuck in a town that doesn’t have an awful lot going on for it. Cultured folk might drive on and visit one of the myriad beautiful villages nearby but well, we aren’t cultured, unless you count what’s growing on Paul’s taint. Which we ought to have looked at but hey, free Brie. So, to give all the people who buy Chat to sit on their coffee table something to do, they’ve built a strip of the most magnificent shite imaginable. It’s like Blackpool, only you don’t get given a cocktail of naloxone and Imperial Leather upon entry as a precautionary matter. Look it up: that joke works so much better than you imagine.
Here in Newcastle we have a seaside town called Whitley Bay. It’s just the ticket if you’re a stag party wanting to work on your STD catalogue and the beaches are terrific if you enjoy basking in a fetid mix of dimps and dog turds. To compensate for the lack of sunlight, vitamins and wholesome fun they tried many things: carnival rides which collapsed, arcades which take your money either through rigged machines or getting mugged by someone in a tracksuit with teeth installed by the council, summer festivals consisting of a stand selling knock-off Ella-with-Mumps dolls and tiny fried doughnuts – but nothing has ever worked. There’s always an air of gloom and poverty hanging over the place and hell, that’s Niagara for you, only with a giant overflowing bath in the middle.
Of course, we absolutely fucking loved it. There’s nothing more attractive to me than shite attractions with ridiculously high entrance prices: it’s why I married Paul, and gave away my soul. What follows in the next post will be a mince through some of Niagara’s premier entertainment choices. Strap in, give yourself a quick spray of your B&M David Beckham aftershave, and enjoy…once we come back. Which given my posting history, will be sometime in 2022.
To the pulled pork then. You can throw anything in with this, in all honesty, but we found this works well.
I mean just look at that. Perfect for Slimming World, given it’s only half a syn.
This stage is important – don’t be tempted to skip it.
This is a dead easy pulled pork recipe, which pretty much makes itself. The Instant Pot makes this a one pot, quick dinner but you can do it in the slow cooker if you prefer.
Again, use this as a rough guide, but there's really no exact science here. We used treacle because we like the taste, but you can swap it out for brown sugar. Up to you, but the syns are negligible when split between the easily eight portions this makes.
1.5kg of pork shoulder, fat removed and cut into chunks about the size of your fist
well not your fists, a normal person's fists
two tablespoons of treacle (4 syns)
two teaspoons of salt
few good grinds of black pepper
one teaspoon of smoked paprika
one teaspoon of garlic powder
one teaspoon of onion powder
one teaspoon of ground mustard
a good pinch of chilli flakes (leave out if you don't want your arse troubled)
300ml of chicken stock
more than a fair few shakes of mushroom ketchup (we use Geo Watkins' ketchup here, but if you can't find it, add Worcestershire Sauce)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
Speaking of Geo Watkins, they were excellent enough to send us a personalised bottle to try - we use it all the time, but shamefully, it hasn't come up in recent recipes! We do recommend it - it's like a more savoury Worcestershire sauce. Paul hates mushrooms but loves it!
place your pork chunks into a massive bowl and tip over the dry ingredients
add the treacle - if you do it from a spoon, try and cover the pork all over as it slowly, slowly, slowly drips
get your fingers in - you want to rub the ingredients in as much as possible - I take five minutes or so here, and then have a cigarette after to calm down and feel ashamed of myself
then, depending on whether you're doing this in an Instant Pot or not...
click 'Saute', add a fair glug of oil to the bottom and when hot, sear the chunks of pork on all sides - you'll probably need to do it in two batches
once done, add the trivet, then the stock, then the pork
seal the Instant Pot and set the pressure to high for 75 minutes
go play with your ha'penny and come back once it's done, letting it vent naturally
once safe to do so, open the Instant Pot, drain the liquid (but keeping about 100ml aside), shred the pork with two forks, tip the passata and the leftover liquid back in
hit saute and let everything bubble away until the sauce has reduced right down - make sure you keep stirring
serve however you want - we put ours in burgers with a brioche bun, cheese, lettuce and pickled red onion - but we're fat
as above, but you're gonna wanna add the passata right at the start, and leave it to burble away for eight hours
shred the meat and if there is still too much sauce, throw it all in a big pan and cook it right down
pulled pork freezes well, and can be thrown into all sorts
remember - our slimming cookbook is now generally always at £9.99 and can be ordered online now - full of 100+ slimming recipes, and bloody amazing! Click here to order
Here for the bacon and butternut squash dahl? Of course: because the bacon and butternut squash dahl is amazing. You’ll find the recipe for bacon and butternut squash dahl down below, but before we get to the bacon and butternut squash dahl, you’ll have to endure a few words from your fearless leader. And Lisa, you may be saying bacon and butternut squash dahl an awful lot, but that’s because I can’t be arsed to scatter the references to bacon and butternut squash dahl throughout the article properly to hit the SEO target. What am I like!
Morning all! Having been woken up at 8am by my other half grabbing my morning thickness in his sleep and loudly going ‘Oooooh MY‘ like an especially somnambulant Kenneth Williams – and then having the poor grace to turn over and ignore it – I’ve decided to wake early. And not just so I could ‘realise my full potential’ all over his pillow out of frustrated spite. Good luck prying your face off that when you wake up, you jolly little butterball, it’ll be like pulling a cheese toastie out of a car-boot Breville.
There’s the classy writing you’ve all been missing during these times of uncertainty and woe. And what truly preternatural times these are – normally the biggest decision I have at the corner shop is whether I can eat four Kinder Buenos on the short drive home so I don’t have to share with Paul (readers: I can, and a pack of knock-off Wine Gums), now I have to worry about picking up a deadly virus with my bits and bobs. Fun!
In my last blog post I spoke of being hopeful and being kind, and all that applies ever more so now, but I won’t lie and say everything has been just peachy for me. I’ve always been entirely open and honest about my mental health – for there is no shame in it – but long days without the usual focuses of work or the familiar anchors have meant that there’s been times when I’ve been inside my own head too much. And listen: I have a giant fucking head, there’s room for us all in there as long as you like endless Doctor Who music and creaking Simpsons jokes. Curiously, I’ve managed to keep a lid on my health anxiety, taking the somewhat fatalistic view that I’ll probably get it and might die, but that does take some effort.
Anyway. I’m feeling much better now. Why worry about what you can’t change during a pandemic – going out, getting the bits you need, Paul – and concentrate on the good things. Little victories, my Good Friend Paul calls them, and so it is I will share with you my tips for getting through when you’ve got a face like a slapped arse and a head full of apathy.
Get a hammock or go outside
I can’t begin to tell you how much I love our hammock. Now I appreciate this will alienate those without a garden so I’m caveating it by saying, go outside. But, having finally assembled the bastard with Paul ‘helping’, I can’t recommend it enough. I lie outside and get a full dose of Vitamin D (sadly not euphemistically, and boy, am I missing that) and feel like a new man. I do feel for the neighbours though: I’m not shy about my body and so I tip myself into that hammock in just my boxer shorts and it must look to all the world like someone left two tonnes of bread mix out to prove in the sun.
There’s also the small matter of getting into it. Again, I am a man of heft and very little grace, and I essentially have to tip myself in. This is quite the acrobatic feat for someone for whom getting into a sex-sling requires two strong men to hold the frame and an army instructor bellowing encouragement. It would be easier to air-lift me in but I feel inappropriate ringing the air ambulance. More than twice I have thrown myself in and rolled straight back out the other side onto hard concrete, but I still persevere.
And honestly, I feel so much better for it, despite the sun bleaching my eyebrows blonde to the point where they disappear and remove my ability to look surprised.
Oh: added bonus. Being secreted into my hammock gives me the opportunity to eavesdrop on some of the conversations my neighbours have. So far, I’ve heard them slag off Paul, his car (fair game), our broken fence (broken by their tree) and us in general. Mind, I’ve also heard one of them describe the virus as ‘nothing more than a common cold, so this is all over the top’. She’s in her seventies, exactly the type who people are staying in to protect, and that’s her attitude. I’m not saying I get excited when I see an ambulance pull into the street but…
Stop reading the news
I mean, within reason – still keep the occasional eye for the bigger headlines: is Trump dead yet, when can we get back to shenanigans and firkytoodling, when can I get 5G in my local area and has the price gone up due to lockdown? But otherwise, what is there to say? At the start of this I was feverishly (poor choice of words, granted) reading the news for updates and all you see is woe and misery, plus Priti Patel, a sneer given sentience and an expenses account at Jigsaw. Nobody needs that negativity in their life. Stop reading it, and this just becomes a fancy stay-at-home holiday. You can’t complain about getting wet if you keep going out in the rain, after all.
Do something you’ve been unable to do before
With most of us having the obligation of going into work not looking like Worzel Gummidge halfway through the 12-step programme, we’re now afforded an amazing opportunity to experiment with our looks without judgement from those we shouldn’t care about. For example, a good friend of mine is letting her roots come in so she can turn her hair grey, something I’ve been badgering her about for ages. For my part, I’m growing out my beard, and have successfully navigated the difficult period of looking like someone you’d throw pennies at to keep me away, into the luxurious Saul from Homeland beard that I’ve been craving.
I’ve even got quite a bit of grey in there, which makes me look terribly distinguished, albeit it’s probably only spilt Activia. I’m longing for the days when art galleries reopen and I can walk around stroking my beard and saying hmm, quite, but what of the human nature?
Write a list of all the shite you’ve been putting off
Not saying you should actually do anything on there, but there’s a grim satisfaction of seeing all the chores and tut you’ve been putting off. However, if you’re feeling as keen as mustard, break each chore down even further into smaller targets, and work on them. For example, I’ve been wanting to learn a new language for years. Years! So I’ve paid for a course of lessons. Don’t get me wrong, that’s as far as I’ve got (and indeed, am going to get) but it did make me feel better just ticking off a tiny bit of progress.
Speaking of progress…
Meet your new diet assistants – order a new twochubbycubs planner!
The time to ourselves has given us plenty of time to finalise our diet planner – which is available to order now! The planner has 26 slimming recipes, all of our nonsense, inspirational quotes (written by me, so you can really guess how they go), weekly challenges, 10 pages per week to complete AND, best of all, colouring in pages to keep you distracted featuring us! And look how bloody adorable they are. Even I went ‘aww’ and my heart is made of granite.
You can order it here (it’ll open in a new window), and I heartily promise you’ll love it!
OK, there’s probably more I can write, but frankly, I need the loo so let’s barrel out this bacon and butternut squash dahl and be done.
The ingredients for bacon and butternut squash dahl, with Paul guest-starring.
Serve your bacon and butternut squash dahl with warmed pittas
Finally, an easy dish of bacon and butternut squash dahl you can get down pat!
This bacon and butternut squash dahl is a dirt-cheap meal to make - we use our Instant Pot Duo because honestly, it's easy just to chuck everything in and let it do the hard work, but a dahl is equally as happy burbling away on the hob on the lowest possible heat. You can swap the coconut milk for stock if you like, but this serves eight so I wouldn't worry about the syns.
Newsflash for those who can’t be arsed to read all the pretty words below: we’re stumbling through a TV appearance on the James Martin’s Saturday Morning show tomorrow on ITV. You’ll gasp, wince and flutter as we cock up a salad and flirt outrageously with a man we’d both happily chuck each other under the bus for. Anyway.
Good evening all, your Fearless Leader James here. Apologies for the lack of posts in the last couple of weeks, but in my defence, we’ve been super busy: recording stuff for telly, writing the new planner and of course, touching our faces as much as possible in this time of coronavirus. Not a recipe post today but rather one where I want to relay my thoughts, and not just to pilfer those eighty packets of pasta you’ve squirrelled away in your knickers. Tuna bake anyone? Oh you’re nasty.
Someone sent me a message on Facebook asking how I am coping with all the worrying news and scary stats in the media, as someone with previously terrible health anxiety. To give you an idea of what living with health anxiety is like – every headache is a brain tumour. Every shake of the hands is Parkinsons. Stubbing a toe isn’t just an excuse to swear like a sailor but rather a thrilling two day adventure of wondering whether it’ll form a clot in my blood that will then speed its way to my brain stem to sizzle gently and turn me into stupefied mush. It’s not fun. At the worst, I spent more time in an MRI scanner than my own bed – it’s a bad job when the radiologist has to tell you to stop wanking because you’ve forgotten where you are. Apparently it was making the images blurry and they’d never be able to spot the brain-eating amoeba sunbathing on my meninges if I kept on.
Luckily (not least because I was racking up quite the considerable bill at Spire Healthcare) my health anxiety seemed to disappear a couple of years ago. I can’t quite tell you how I did it other than to offer the incredibly blasé ‘I just stopped worrying’, but that’s all I can really say. I distracted myself with pretty things and forced myself to do all the ‘trigger’ activities that I was putting off in case my heart stopped. Said before – busy hands distract a busy mind. So, aside from little wobbles of angst when I remember my mother fed me entirely on cheap Netto beefburgers as a kid (CJD) and I grew up in the combined fug of 40 Lambert & Butler (lung cancer), a roaring coal fire and surrounded by pesticide-soaked fields (emphysema), I’m fine.
So, in answer to the original question: how do I feel? I’m honestly quite laid back about the whole thing. I’m not really an at-risk category, years of sleeping with Paul and pushing his drool off my face in the morning has numbed me to bodily secretions and well, if it is only as bad as the flu for most, it’ll be unpleasant, but doable. If not, something has to kill me, and if it isn’t my current rollercoaster of injudicious living, than why not some fancy pathogens?
However, if I’m absolutely and utterly honest, the health anxiety – though a constant electrical hum – isn’t the issue, but isolation isn’t great. I’m a surprisingly private person for someone who’ll cheerfully describe the last forty knobs he’s seen, and more than happy in my own company, but there’s something about being told you can’t socialise that puts the brakes on things. I’m getting lonely. Paul works in the NHS and so he’s away to work all days which makes for a long day at home for me. I like to chat – people who know me will testify to my ability to fill five seconds of inky silence with ten seconds of burble – and although we can pick up the phone or use video conference, there’s a lot to be said for a face to face chat where you can see people’s reactions and wince as they spray spittle on your corneas. Now, I’m lucky: I have a good circle of close friends, a strong family and a husband who knows when to shut his mouth, rub my feet and make me laugh, but there’s plenty of others out there who don’t have that. If that’s you, see the stuff I post below.
It doesn’t help that it’s my birthday at the weekend, and I’ve finally reached a point where I have to move into the next bracket on the age demographic form, 35-49. I’m not one for worrying about age – from the moment your sperm meets your egg you join the queue for death (nicked that from Private Eye, because I fucking love it) – but I’d have loved to be able to go out and get hammered and celebrate it. Similarly, we’ve had to cancel Berlin (a weekend of filth that I was so, so looking forward to) and our 10-year-anniversary holiday to Disney. Yep, in the grand scheme of things it’s fuck all and I know it’s indulgent to be sad about these things (but sadnesses and joys are individual, not homogenous across mankind), but you know when you are really, really excited for something and the rug gets pulled away? That. Still. Come on, James. There’s people dying in the streets, I know.
Anyway, shush, no navel-gazing, I’ll crack on, and I’ll be reet, but it’s important to be honest about stuff like this at times of crisis, no?
Hell, if you found all that mush hard to swallow, here’s a video version:
I know, you’ve got chills. Who knew I spoke so posh?
One thing that does stand out like a shit in a doorway right now is how unbelievably stupid and selfish the tiny minority can be. At the time of writing we’re in a soft lockdown where people have been told they have to stay in their homes and only go out if absolutely necessary. Going to the shops for a full shop is one thing, but going to have a browse around Lidl with your bingo buddies is fucking moronic. We are lucky here at Chubby Towers: my keen eye for a bargain and our staggering obesity means that we had a well-stocked shed and two full freezers before this all kicked off, so we aren’t fretting about running out of food. If that does happen, I fully intend to pop one of Paul’s bingo wings over his gaping maw when he sleeps and then start eating him as winter sets in. That should see me through to about 2034, though I imagine I’ll tire of the taste of Trex and Cerutti 1881 long before then. On the rare occasion that I’ve gone to the shops for essentials I’ve seen the same sights, as indeed we all have, of people greedily filling their trolleys with shite that’ll end up in the rubbish bin when it doesn’t get consumed. Don’t be those people. If you need to stock up then by all means do, but just remember that there are people working tireless, thankless hours who’ll get to the supermarket and have fuck all to reward themselves with. Also, if you’re dealing with someone who is there to help you – be bloody decent and appreciative. Not just checkout staff, but the folks cleaning the store. Driving your buses. Bringing your delivery and handling your post. Bin-men. The police. Call-centre staff on the phone, every last person at the NHS. These people are as scared as we are and they’re dealing with that and trying to help you, and honestly, if I had my way, the second someone spoke out of turn to anyone in a position to help, I’d have their heads staved in and them zipped thrashing into a bodybag before you could say ‘reasonable cause’.
That’s enough negativity, though. One excellent thing to come out of this enforced isolation and distancing is the way the majority of folk have shown their absolute decency. People providing classes for free, parents creating teaching plans for the kids, Pornhub offering free online filth to all those stuck at home with nothing to look at other than the haggard faces of their brow-beaten partners. Honestly, I’m going to have a right arm like a sausage skin full of basketballs if this lockdown continues. It really cheers me to see people setting up community funds and volunteer groups to help the elderly and the infirm. I’ve been over to slip a ‘we will go get your shopping’ note through our elderly neighbour’s door – but only the one we like, mind you. We shouldn’t have to plug the gaps in society, but it’s not a bad thing that we’re willing to do so. Doubtless that we’re all about to see the biggest storm the country has had to weather in decades, but we’ll get through by helping each other and not being dicks. We always do.
To do our bit, as much as we can, we’re ramping up our social media output, including yours truly trying to do a daily video of nonsense. Not saying it’s entertaining, because modesty prevents me, but if you’re stuck for ideas:
https://amzn.to/39mfw0Y – our cookbook – at the time of writing – is currently £4.99 on Kindle and £9.99 delivered – full of stories, excellent recipes and more importantly, us – it’s a cookbook like no other, we promise you
PEOPLE OF THE NORTH EAST! We’re doing a book-signing TOMORROW (Saturday 7 March) at NOON at the Waterstones in Newcastle! Please come along and bring your books with you (or you can buy one there) – we’d love to see you!
Chernobyl soup: it cooks itself! No, stop it, we won’t have any jokes about Chernobyl in here, this is a tasteful blog. However let me tell you this: the soup looks like something you’d find in a layby nappy, hurriedly thrown from a moving car by some frazzled parents, but it tastes bloody good. If you’re looking for something very quick, cheap and easy, then nip over and I’ll sort you out, and we can have the soup after. It’s a simple enough combination of stock, veg and sausage with paprika. It uses an Instant Pot but fret not – you can make it on the hob just as easy.
Why are we calling it Chernobyl soup anyway? Because it was part of the meal we had at the Chernobyl Power Plant Workers’ Canteen, and so, with the confident ease of someone who has played the up-a-bit-down-a-bit-push game all too often, let’s segue straight to part two of our Ukraine holiday report. Look! A fancy banner approaches – click it to whisk straight to the recipe – and this is a VERY long entry, so I won’t even hold it against you.
Chernobyl, then. Our holiday package came with a twelve hour tour, which at 5.30am in the morning, pulling on sodden Dr Martens and wishing for death, felt like an awfully long time to stand around looking at dusty, toxic relics from a bygone era – we can do that easily enough by Skypeing Paul’s mother, and she’s only slightly less radioactive. We were up early as we had to be at a random hotel by 7am and we had no idea of the Metro schedule. After spending forty minutes feeling each individual drop of water hit me from the shower, we bustled out, asking the hotel concierge to call us a taxi. He gave us an earnest smile, coughed into his beard and pushed us outside to wait. Perhaps we were cluttering up the lobby or detracting from the entrance to the ‘Gentleman’s Club’, I don’t know. Anyway, we waited for a while until what would turn out to be a recurring theme of this holiday turned up: a car that looked like it was put together by my nephew in a fever dream. Rusted? I could see the petrol flowing through the door. No way were we getting in that, so the next ten minutes were spent stealthily hiding from both the very angry looking taxi driver and the concierge, who seemed bemused that we had disappeared into fat air. We stayed around the corner until the taxi driver drove off in a cloud of toxic blue smoke and the concierge went back to extracting new flavours of phlegm from his lungs. Paul called an Uber Exec in a fit of excitement and thankfully, a car that hadn’t been witness to seventy years of history rolled in, accompanied by yet another beautiful Ukrainian man whose name I’d never learn but whose eyes I’d always remember.
Honestly, long term readers of this blog will know that I have a real thing for taxi drivers – I think it’s simply any lust that allows me to sit down and rest my legs, to be honest – but it’s getting to a point where Paul’s having to pop a meter on and hang a Magic Tree off his knob if he wants to get his leg over.
The driver was cold and efficient and dropped us where we needed to be with a grunt. We gave him a tip of 5, 667,344,667 Ukrainian hryvnia (about £2.10) and sent him on his way. There were several white minibuses all boarding tour groups and of course, the anxiety of having to get on the right bus was overwhelming. Imagine my distress if I’d hopped on the wrong bus only to be taken to a gulag and passed around like life-raft chocolate. After I’d double-checked that this wasn’t happening, and hidden my disappointment from Paul, we climbed aboard. There’s always a worry about shared tour groups that you’re going to get onto a bus and find yourself sandwiched between folks who want to talk to you about Jesus and others who snack with their mouths wide open. Luckily – for the most part, ssh – this was a decent group – and once our tour guide (Cynthia, the doll beloved by Angelica from The Rugrats, electrified, made human and given an action-jackson gilet) jumped on, we were away.
She explained a few things: we were to buy snacks en-route because, obviously, nowhere to buy them in the Exclusion Zone. We had to try for a tom-tit at the petrol station because you really don’t want to be flaring your bumhole in the wild open air (she phrased it better, admittedly) and the toilet facilities were ropey. Don’t pick anything up. Don’t eat the berries. Buy some wet-wipes for your hands and dog treats for all the wild dogs that have set up home. We then had to sign a very official looking document (well sort of – the Ukrainian flag still had ‘shutterstock’ printed across it where they’d lifted it from google images, but top marks for theatre) to say we understood the risks of entering the Exclusion Zone and that we would be subject to punishment if we broke any of the rules. One of those rules? Don’t enter any abandoned structure. Just remember that. After twenty minutes, we pulled into the petrol station. I wish I could tell you the name because it was hilarious but I’d get wrong. So I can’t.
Whilst Paul busied himself trying to work out the coffee machine I took the role of class swot and went for a shite, bought my snacks and wet-wipes and then went outside to stand by the bus. Well no, I wanted to smoke, and as nonchalant as the Ukraine seemed to be about health and safety, I didn’t fancy sparking up in a petrol station. Oh and I know I shouldn’t smoke, but something has to take the bitterness of my words away. Luckily, my COPD-Club of One became three with the addition of two other Northerners, Vicky and Natalie. It took me a while to understand they were from the UK because with their strangled vowels and hissing sibilants I’d just assumed they were local engineers here to fix the bus. We bonded immediately over the sight of a dog and Paul’s ashen face at trying to drink a takeaway coffee consisting entirely of milk foam and cherry syrup, and then we were on our way. It was a good hour drive and I could tell Paul was itching to chat excitedly, so I shut my eyes and listened to my Billie Eilish tapes.
I can’t get enough of her, by the way. Imagine being eighteen and having a Bond theme out? The only thing I was responsible for at eighteen was an especially virulent outbreak for gonorrhoea. Well, it was the noughties after all.
An hour or two passed with very little to look at outside of the window save for the oncoming traffic, which the bus driver seemed to be taking a personal affront against given he was driving on both sides of the road at once. After twenty minutes of wincing, I nodded off, only for Paul to shake me from my slumber when we reached the first control point, where we told not to take pictures under any circumstances. There were a few burly mean-looking blokes hanging around so I’d cracked the emergency exit and slithered off like Tooms before our guide had finished telling everyone to behave. Our passports were checked, some tat was bought (I bought a gas mask, for reasons, not realising it was to fit a child – I look like one of those videos on Youtube where people put elastic bands around a watermelon when I wear it) and we were cleared to go exploring.
I should say at this point: we were given little Geiger counters to clip on, but at no time are you really in any major danger as long as you’re sensible. I did start clicking like the girl from The Grudge at one point but that was deliberate to shit Paul up.
This video, from the recent Chernobyl docudrama, explains what happened – and honestly if you’ve got ten minutes, watch it – amazing acting and you’ll never feel more like you could run a nuclear powerplant. Alternatively, cut to the ten minute mark, absolutely terrifying:
Now, since the reactor went boom, there were two exclusion zones set up – one 10km around the plant and another 30km. Both are safe for a day as long as you’re not snorting lines of dust, but you do have to be careful. You can’t explore yourself and must stay with a tour guide. Our tour started in a little village in the 30km zone, with us all tramping off the bus to walk around. Of course, it is eerie – a whole village lost to the forest – and we took some shots, walked around respectfully and went back to the bus. That was just a taster. Someone on the bus asked whether or not the dogs you see roaming around were the same dogs from thirty years ago and we all had to politely ball our fists in our mouth to stop laughing. Bless her, though I do like the idea of an irradiated Cujo wandering around looking for some glowing Bonio. That was a whistle-stop tour and the bus drove us to the next destination: the plant itself.
Perhaps you might not think it interesting to spend an hour looking at a power-plant, but in all honesty, the tour was captivating – we stood just outside the Containment Chamber which houses the incredibly radioactive remains of Reactor 4 and it’s mind-blowingly huge – an incredible piece of engineering when you consider it’s the largest man-made moveable object in the world. After Paul. Our tour guide showed us pictures of how it used to look and how it looked after the explosion and usually I zone out at stuff like that but she was terrific – and standing in front of something so destructive was genuinely terrifying. Brrr.
We drove on, with the next stop being Pripyat, the town built for the families of the workers of the powerplant. 50,000 people lived here in what looked to be a gorgeous town – then in the two days following the explosion, those who didn’t die were evacuated. This number rose as the Exclusion Zone grew to over 300,000. The bus turned a corner and we were on the Bridge of Death, where residents of the town gathered to watch the fire in the distance, all of them not knowing that they were watching their lives burn out in front of them. Everyone on the bridge died within days, captivated by the electric blue smoke pushed out by the reactor burning. The bus didn’t stop, which was entirely the right decision, and we parked up in the centre.
Our tour guide made a very stern face and told us we weren’t, by law, allowed to explore the buildings – partly out of respect, partly out of the fact they are unsafe structures, partly because they’re radioactive. If we were seen by the police who patrol the area we would be tossed back out with a flea in our ear. So, very clearly, if she saw us exploring inside the buildings, the tour would stop. Lucky, then, that she followed up this strict message by saying she would stay outside and do her paperwork, and if we wandered off…
So we explored five main points: the swimming pool, the school, a block of high rise apartments, the fairground and a nursery. I won’t go into all of them bar to tell you the common theme – imagine if someone pressed pause on an entire city. Everyone had to leave everything behind, soaked in radiation, and despite promises about returning, never could. You’re walking through a ghost city and it’s one of the must vaguely unsettling feelings I’ve ever felt. For example, in the high-rise buildings, you can walk up all twenty floors (and we did, with Paul gasping the entire way) and walk into people’s flats to see snapshots of their lives left to the dust: board games halfway played, pots left on the cooker, beds half-made and photos of loved ones cracked and fallen. It’s safe – so far as walking around buildings that haven’t been maintained for thirty years can be – but it’s absolutely haunting. When I’m uneasy or anxious I get an ache at the bottom of my back like someone is pressing on my spine and that feeling never left me. The faint taste of metal was a distraction though.
There’s so many photos out there of the various places you can visit so I won’t put my own up here, but have a look at our Instagram shots for a selection:
The floor full of children’s gas-masks was what got me though – tears actually welled up in my eyes when I realised that I shouldn’t have paid £20 for one from the gift shop and instead, just lifted one from here. Quick going over with a wet-wipe, job done.
One thing slightly irritated me – in quite a few places, you could tell things had been set up to make it ‘creepy’ – dolls with gas-masks on, faces half-buried in the soil. Chernobyl is dark tourism in its purist form – you don’t need to make a spectacle of it. Says the two lads who paid to tour it. That’s a fine looking high horse, fella.
We spent about two hours touring Pripyat and then it was back to the power-plant where we would join the current workers on site for lunch. We had another radiation check before going in – climb inside a little scanner, press your hands and wait for the beep – and then took a place in the queue (after I managed to fall up the stairs in my haste to get fed – they probably thought the reactor was having another wobbly when they felt the tables shake). We were warned that the ladies serving were miserable and christ, were they right – I’ve never been served lunch with such malice. I wanted to ask if I could swap my rye bread for a brown bun but it wouldn’t have surprised me if the bewhiskered babushka had pulled me over the counter and held me face down in the soup until my legs stopped kicking.
Lunch wasn’t bad mind – a little salad which I left because I’m not vegetarian, a soup which looked like someone had already digested it for me but tasted wonderful (see recipe below), a breaded (I think) piece of pork (I think) served on sticky rice (I think) and a lovely little muffin that I keep under my tongue even now so I can have a few more stabs at chewing it. This sounds like I’m being mean for the sake of it, and I am being facetious, certainly, but it honestly wasn’t bad at all. I made the mistake of scooping some mustard up off and putting it in my soup, not realising that this wasn’t mustard but something that must have been scrapped off the side of the blown reactor. Hot? I didn’t want to lose face, though ironically I did lose face as it burnt through my cheek. We made our way back to the bus, stopping (the group) to pet all the dogs milling around the plant and stopping (me) to smoke with all the workers in the vain hope I’d be squirrelled away as the office entertainment.
Next stop was something I hadn’t expected – a stop at the DUGA radar installation and the accompanying secret Soviet base. I adore stuff like this – incredible feats of engineering built for menace. I tried to take a photo to try and encapsulate the sheer size and freakery of this place and failed – it’s 500ft tall and half a mile long of tarnished metal, long-silent wires and rusting joints. At some points, you can stand under it and look up and it is all you can see. I’ve mentioned my phobia of dams before – part of that phobia is that dams look so unnatural and man-made set in usually beautiful countryside. This was the same with the DUGA station – so unnatural, so weird. That phobia of large structures is called megalophobia and I can’t deny that as excited as I was to see it, that little knot of anxiety was back in my spine. You can hear it creaking in the wind which is unsettling enough, and knowing it needs to come down soon but has to be taken apart by hand due to the radiation…nope. It was used to listen out for ballistic missile launches – I can’t help but think if Comrade Paul Anderson had his hands on it, he’d be using it to check my WhatsApp. Brrr.
The rest of the tour involved lots of little stops at various points – the working town where the current workers live (had to check we hadn’t turned off and ended up in Gateshead for a hot second), the memorial to the fallen, the little robots they attempted to use to shift the burning, highly radioactive graphite off the roof. The radiation was so intense that the robots only worked for moments before cutting out – they had to send humans up onto the roof to do what the robots couldn’t. Think on that for a second: so radioactive it fries a robot, so they sent these ‘bio-robots’ onto the roof instead. One minute to chuck as much rubble over the side as you can, and that’s you done, never to serve again. Fall over onto the graphite and you’re dead. Brush against it, and you’re dying. The thought of having to do something so intense made my spine hurt again: you’re talking to the man who fell up the stairs on his way to get soup, remember.
Though I have a confession: throughout the tour the guide kept telling us we would get a chance to meet the Roberts who helped with the clean-up exercise. I thought it was going to be a meet and greet of two blokes called Robert and spent a while on Wikipedia trying to work out who she could mean. Nope. Robots. I was a trifle disappointed.
Throughout the tour we spoke with the various folks on the bus with us – some were more engaging than others – and we made friends with the previously mentioned Natalie and Vicky, and then later Reiss and Sharlette (which made for an awkward moment when they both said that’s not how you spell my name when I was trying to find them on Facebook), a lovely couple who had come along on the same flight, with the same company, having watched the same documentary as us. I’ll circle back to these lovely four in the next blog entry but haven’t we come a long way since Paul and I pretended to be Armenian so that we didn’t have to make small-talk on a previous tour?
And that’s it – the driver got us all back on board, we cleared the checkpoint and then he cranked up the heating so we all fell asleep. I woke myself up with a fart so noxious (and I pray, silent) you’d be forgiven for thinking I was smuggling rubble back with me. It’s OK, I shut my eyes and went back to sleep with the lullaby of dry-heaving behind me to whoosh me to sleep.
So: would I recommend it? Absolutely. I knew Paul would enjoy it because he’s always been a fan of desolation, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. Your experience will depend entirely on the skill of your tour guide – ours was incredible, the right balance of humour, knowledge and pathos – and we tipped her well. The bus – awash with jokes and jibes about radiation on the way there – was silent coming back. They played a video of what the town was like on the drive back, which was an especially timely touch. It’s fascinating to see an entire town held in a time bubble and utterly incomprehensible to realise what an evacuation on that scale would actually mean. It was almost so much worse, too – had the core hit the water pooled underneath the reactor, almost all of Europe would have been rendered uninhabitable by the subsequent nuclear explosion.
As a footnote: the official Soviet death-count for Chernobyl, as of today: 31. Official studies actually put the numbers up near 90,000.
And there’s me grumbling about my weak shower.
To the Chernobyl soup, then. If you have an Instant Pot this is truly the work of minutes, but if not, fear not: you can make it on the hob just as easy. This makes enough for four servings of Chernobyl soup, which I really ought to call veg and sausage soup, but hell. To the recipe!
Yeah I should have cleaned that bowl first. But I was too busy playing with my gas-mask.