Where have all the toilets gone… long time passing…

Where have all the toilets gone… long time passing…

We went on a recce at the weekend, for locations for my next book. The wind was howling and the rain tipping down. Perfect conditions for standing on a cliff/vast stretch of empty beach and taking photos with my hair whipping across my eyes, rain soaking my jeans. In fact, it played well for the story I’m telling, the miserable day lending a sinister quality to the place, which will come in handy as a backdrop for the house on the cliffs I’m inventing.

Anyway, things were going pretty well, I was excited by what I was seeing. But trips away from home these days, especially to this rather isolated spot, have major inconveniences, if you’ll excuse the imminent pun. Because there were no conveniences. Something you’d never have given a thought to back in that rosy past when everyday aspects of our lives were so thoughtless and casual.

But, here I was, beachside, and buying a cup of coffee – more on that later – at a food truck positioned by the side of the road, and I needed to pee. ‘Where,’ I asked the person cooking sausages to put in buns, ‘is the nearest toilet?’ Waving a hand vaguely to the east, she replied, ‘Oh, about a mile that way, I hope you’re not walking!’ Bloody good thing we weren’t.


Off we drove along the coast, clutching said coffee, getting a bit more desperate with every passing minute. Could we find the damn place? No. There was no one about to ask, obviously, on such a filthy day, as we scanned every building for some sign of relief. Finally, hidden behind a hedge in need of trimming, we found it, only the disabled area open. Phew! No wonder everyone is peeing in peoples’ front gardens in recreation spots this summer. We were that close!


Coffee to die for

So, back to the coffee. When we finally had the peace of mind to drink it, it was absolutely delicious. The best cup of coffee I’ve had in years. Decades, perhaps. It was cold brewed, apparently. I didn’t know that was even a thing, but apparently – as further research has revealed – it removes around 67% of acidity from the brew, makes it more mellow. You soak grounds in cold water, store it in the fridge, then use the concentrate to make hot or cold coffee. There’s simple equipment you can buy – more research needed. But has anyone out there tried it? Love to hear if you have.

More from Hilary’s weekly ramblings

Annoying stuff on a screen near you

Annoying stuff on a screen near you

I think I’m watching too much TV/online streaming platforms at the moment. But I’m starting to notice things that are beginning to annoy me big time. For instance:

Orphan Annie

Female characters who wear the sleeves of their oversized sweater pulled over their hands as if they’re orphan children left out in the cold. I assume it’s supposed to be sexy, the Vulnerable-Little-Woman syndrome, and falls into the same category as pearl-pink lipstick in 19th Century Russia. (Although Julie Christie got away with it.) Of course, this may just be envy, seeing as I was six foot at fifteen!

In the same vein, women who wear their jumper slipped casually over one naked shoulder. Have you ever worn your jumper like that? Even by mistake? Because if you have, you’ll know that it’s phenomenally irritating and all you want to do is haul it back into place.

And again, the women detectives on British TV who wear heels to work. They dash up rusty metal ladders in deserted warehouses and wade through mud to the riverbank to examine dead bodies in shoes better suited to their sister’s wedding.

If you watch Scandi-noire, or even Euro-noire – which we do quite a lot – the female detectives wear the equivalent of Doc Martens and look fantastic – proper professional women, not the glossy mag types that are the Brit equivalent.

The infamous wall-slide

Characters, men or women this time, who slide down walls when in distress. Am I missing something? Is this a thing? If I’m distressed I sit on the nearest chair or sofa or hurl myself onto a bed. But regularly on screen there are these actors doing the infamous wall-slide, ending up in a heap on the cold floor to weep. Maybe it’s again just jealousy on my part, because my knees aren’t what they used to be, but I do feel they’d be more comforted if they used the furniture instead.

Guild for Maligned Teenagers

Then there’s the main protagonist who has the dysfunctional teenage daughter. It’s always a girl, never an annoying boy. They’re astonishingly rude to their parent and completely moronic/incompetent – even by teenage standards – getting themselves into all kinds of hot water, from which said protagonist, (whose parenting skills, admittedly, probably leave much to be desired), then have to extricate them. If I were still a teenager, I’d form the Guild of Maligned Teenagers to protest.

And why do characters always chop carrots when they’re cooking? Does the carrot community demand Above The Title billing? The amount of carrots eaten – or at least chucked into saucepans – on screen should certainly warm the cockles of the Five-A-Day mob. But couldn’t we have a bit more imagination? Maybe a courgette or two, a nice bulb of fennel, a spud? There’s no evidence of what dish emerges from all these carrots… I’d love to know.

Castles made of sand – pace Jimi

Castles made of sand – pace Jimi

We went swimming at the beach last week, twice! Both times were exhilarating. Whatever the conditions, being in the sea is somehow life-enhancing. 

Logistic Nightmare

But beach swimming is a logistics palaver worthy of the most talented expert in the field. To start with, I must check that my cozzy still fits – it’s a year since I last dug it out. And check there isn’t inappropriate hair sprouting from places now made visible by the costume. I always put my cozzy on at home – I’ve seen these cute little sundresses that slip over a bathing costume perfectly, but, needless to say, I don’t have one, so settle for shorts. Must remember my knickers, I tell myself. And my neoprene beach shoes, which look ghastly, but my feet are rubbish on stones. Then there’s all the other essential paraphernalia: the towel, the sunscreen, the hat, the sunglasses, the bottle of water.


I arrive at the beach, but should I leave my phone/watch in the car? Is the car park safer than the beach bag I’ll dump on the sand, then turn my back on for hours to swim? I hang onto the car keys, certainly, stuffing them into some obscure back pocket of my shorts I hope a robber won’t find – and I probably won’t find either, of course.

At last, I’m ready. Cozzy on, shoes on, sunscreen and sunglasses on, towel and clothes piled neatly. ‘Left of the yellow blow-up boat’ I remind myself as I skip off to the waves – hoping the family who owns it doesn’t go home before I get out of the water, because the tow on our beach is really strong. Even a good swimmer is swept along without realising it and gets out miles from where they went in.


Beach-towel juggle

The swim is gorgeous. I splash and frolic in the waves as if I were twelve again and when I get out I’m glowing and invigorated. But what to do next? If it’s boiling hot, I could sit on the beach and dry off. But we’re talking British summer here. I don’t know about you, but in all the many decades I’ve been swimming in this country, I’ve never mastered the beach-towel juggle that involves dragging a wet cozzy down over wet limbs and replacing it with dry knickers without revealing acres of naked bum to various innocent bystanders – probably traumatising the family with the yellow blow-up boat into the bargain. It’s just not possible. I could do it in the car park, of course, crouching by the open boot in vain illusion of shelter. But the same applies. Just at the moment the towel slips off, is the moment a whole gaggle of gawping teenagers saunters past.

By the time I get home, there’s sand in every nook and cranny of my body and my clothes – which I then deposit on the bedroom floor to crunch over when I go to bed. My hair is stiff and creaky with salt, my skin dry, my cozzy cold and nasty, and I’m shivering because I forgot my hoody. But I’ve loved every minute and as soon as the sun comes out, I’ll be off to the beach and start the whole seaside rigmarole again.

Much more cheerful

Much more cheerful

I’m in a much more cheerful mood this week. The reason? Food! Specifically, my sister, Judie’s, little cheese and chilli biscuits. Completely delicious to nibble with a glass of wine. I have no idea how she makes them, but I hope she doesn’t lose the will to do so. She’s been shielding, hasn’t been out of the house for months now. Which is good for the cheese biscuit production line, but extremely difficult for her. I really take my hat off to all the millions of people living alone who have endured such an extended period of solitude so stoically. There may be tensions being holed up with potentially irritating spouses and even more annoying kids, but the thought of being totally on my own day after day, month after month, is terrifying. I think this dotty government should hand out prizes when this is all over. (I might get Marcus – or Daniel, as Hancock likes to call him – onto it. He seems to be the only one around here that gets things done.)


I’m sure you’ve all got them, those food moments in your life when something tastes magical, just absolutely right? No good trying to replicate it – like that blissful Italian holiday back in 1976 when nobody argued – because it was probably as much to do with where you were in your life, your hunger levels, the air, the company, as the food itself. One of mine is what we dubbed ‘killer pie’ in a Lake District tea shop – banoffee with an acre of cream on top, by any other name. Another is lamb chops and chips in a deserted mountain café in Crete with the cook and the owner having a domestic in the background. Another is my school friend’s mum’s cauliflower cheese… which she said, many years later, for sure was out of a packet, because her mum couldn’t cook. And my own mum’s fish pie.


I’ve been lucky in lockdown, foodwise. My neighbour got bored and baked these delicious cakes, kindly leaving 2 slices on the doorstep for us. We found a farm shop with asparagus – for which, I’m proud to say, I made hollandaise sauce (the first attempt did turn into scrambled egg, admittedly, but Jamie Oliver saved the day). And tonight I’m watching a Zoom demonstration with my cousin Mark, (www.cookingexperience.co.uk) who is going to attempt to teach me how to make risotto. Good luck to him, I say. I only tried to make it once and it was bullets-and-sludge, more suitable for sealing a wall – not that I know anything about sealing a wall, either, of course. So cheers to everyone out there improving my eating experience on so many levels. You are all much appreciated.

Enough already!

Enough already!

Maybe I’m becoming increasingly grumpy in my old age. But I’m worried we’re all turning into a nation of navel-gazers. Our lives have become so small and self-contained, we seem to be focusing on ourselves to an unhealthy extent. At first it was amusing, to hear in detail everyone’s lockdown life: favourite desert-lockdown track, poem, lunge, neurosis, cereal, Netflix box set, hand cream, sweatpants… on and on we all went. Every inch of the media is now thick with intimate details perhaps we’d rather not know.

I sympathise, obviously. I’ve done it myself. What else are we poor buggers going to talk about, seeing as we can’t go anywhere, and we’re all in need of a vent. But, as with all the blanket coverage of Covid wind-ups and speculation we have to wade through every day, it’s just not interesting anymore. It was, for a while, but could we move on now?

Radio days

Take Radio 4. Now, I’m an avid fan. I have the radio on a lot of the time, when I’m cooking or driving or in the mornings to catch up with the headlines. But I’ve almost stopped listening in the last two months. I don’t want to hear yet another theme on the virus played out in programmes that aren’t usually concerned with the news – when the news itself is scaring us, baffling us, and irritating us out of our wits. I almost long for the good old days of international death and destruction that didn’t involve a care home – tales from Syria, Afghanistan, The West Bank, Putin and Erdogan’s latest scams. Almost.

Nimbyism flourishes

What’s the solution? As my dear father always said, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’. So, read on… We had bacon for breakfast. We’re eating too much during lockdown, no idea why. (how am I doing?) Then my hero husband struggled manfully with my new desktop, transferring endless files while I sweated quietly in the wings, convinced all my work would disappear forever in a puff of the other sort of virus that no one’s interested in except the perhaps the Chinese these days. (Gripped yet?) After lunch of salad with unmentionables left over in the fridge, I went for a walk and flexed my unfortunately burgeoning nimbyism – hordes of incomers littering our quiet little harbour and weeing in the churchyard. And that’s pretty much my day. I hope you’ve been entertained? Answers on a postcard please, if such things exist anymore… you can see my mood has not improved.

More from Hilary’s weekly ramblings