Weird and Wonderful

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Like many people I’ve visited America on holiday, even to visit friends working over there, but usually to the easy bits, the edges where most people are white, wealthy, liberals who tend to have some of their own international holidays under their belts.

Even so, there are some things about America, even these most similar bits which are just a little bit weird and wonderful to the average British visitor; not bad, just a little bit peculiar.

 

1. “How are you” as a greeting, not a question

When a sales clerk in the States says “how are you” it’s not a question, but a way of saying “hello.” No matter how often this happens to a Brit, they will launch into a monologue about their health and well being and ask it right back — and expect an answer.

2. Ice cubes & free refills

Just like Americans are flummoxed by the lukewarm water presented to them in the UK, Brits can’t wrap their heads around how drinks in the US are mostly ice.  And what about those free refills? Is this because of all the ice? I  will never understand why I’m presented with a second cup of pop (soda) while the first one is still half full in front of me. What’s even stranger though, is the fact that one can (and does) order a large soda — despite the refills.

3. Portion sizes

They’re huge! Doggy bags are obviously a compensation — though who orders a two-for-one meal ? — but the concept doesn’t exist outside of the US, as people can generally easily finish their meal. And what’s with the question “Are you still working on that?” If it’s work finishing a meal that I’ve ordered for pleasure, then something has definitely gone wrong.

4. Infinite Choice

White, whole wheat, sourdough or rye bread? Swiss, American, provolone or cheddar? Most Brits feel accosted when bombarded with 12,857 questions when they just want to order a simple sandwich. Visiting supermarkets is a similar chore. How can you have so many versions of some things, say milk, or flavoured yoghurt, yet have next to no choice on apples, cheese or plain natural yoghurt?

Why is it so difficult to find plain foodstuffs like butter, and what on earth do you do to cottage cheese which is somehow an entirely different texture to the UK version?

& what is that stuff you call chocolate? It wouldn’t qualify in Europe or the UK. Somehow you have managed to make chocolate chalky, neither bitter nor sweet enough.

5. Tipping 

The fact that the onus is on the customer to pay for someone else’s employees to make a fair wage is mind boggling to most Europeans. The fact that they’re paying extra for someone to do their job, not even for doing it well, is astounding. Europeans also find it confusing that there’s no set amount or percentage one should tip, and who gets tipped seems equally ambiguous.

6. Taxes

Annual taxes are hard for everyone, but that’s different. What’s just weird is the fact that the price you see on an item is not the same one you pay at checkout. How is that reasonable?

 

7. Being cashless

1-SPLASH-Credit-cards-GETTY.jpg

Few Europeans wander about with wallets utterly devoid of cash, but America is basically a cashless society. Being able to pay for as little as a pack of chewing gum with a card is still amazing to most Europeans.

Being able to use a credit card without having to type in a PIN, just using a signature, feels crazy.

8. The measurement system

It just makes no sense. How is 7/8ths an appropriate measurement? How are feet still a thing? Who knows what size a “cup” is? How can America still not have the basic metric system that the rest of the world has adopted? Why?

9. Air conditioning

Why is the average shop or office in the US set to Arctic? Indoors anywhere in America during the summer is painfully, unbearably cold to a typical European and you have to spend all of your time putting layers on and off as you move from the boiling heat to the freezing cold.

10. The drinking age

In most of Europe, the legal drinking age is 18 (and in many places, it’s legal for teens as young as 16 to drink alcohol) — much younger than the 21-age limit it is in the US. The UK also has a much more liberal stance on public drinking, as you are allowed to bring alcohol out on the streets — something that you generally can’t do in the US.

9. Car Size

Why do Americans all drive such huge cars and without manual gears? If you’re going to have automatic cars only, at least make them change gears properly so you can accelerate with a bit of va-va-voom. Most of us in the UK are used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road in Europe, but the sheer size of cars in America seems unreasonable especially in cities.

& then there is the absence of the roundabout, even with traffic lights to control the flow as often happens in Europe. Instead there are “four way stops” where you have to guess the etiquette on who goes first, presumably the first to arrive rather than always the car to the left.

Why are u-turns illegal manoeuvres? What’s with the constant honking of horns in the city? Why do traffic lights jump straight from green to red – where is your amber warning light? & where are your cat’s eyes for the middle of the road?

9. Public Transport

Why are there so few buses, trams or trains outside of the major cities? Most of the towns seem to be entirely lacking in public transport and dominated by car parking. There seem to be entire towns with no centre or walkable space, not even the ability to cross the road from one side to another.

 

 

 

 

10. Police with guns; people with guns; random strangers potentially with guns

Occasionally the police in the UK are armed but rarely and mainly at sites of special interest (Parliament or other government buildings, airports if there’s been an alert etc). Why on earth do American police need to carry guns all of the time? Being pulled over because you’ve just completed an illegal u-turn in your clumsy American car by a man with a gun is seriously freaky.

The thought that anyone around you could have a concealed permit and be carrying a gun is beyond scary. The world is full of nutters so why arm them?

 

11. Not taking  holidays

Squandering 169 million holidays like Americans did in 2013, or not taking a single day off like almost half the country last year is completely and utterly unfathomable to a European. Any European.

12. No maternity or paternity leave

I’m fairly sure that Americans have babies just like the rest of us, so why on earth not acknowledge the basic fact with some weeks paid leave?

13. Not retiring 

Most people in the UK can barely wait for their retirement. Retiring early, i.e. in their 50s, is the dream of most middle class workers over here, so the idea that people might choose to work past their 60s into their 70s and beyond is beyond belief. In the UK there is more status to retiring early, the working in any kind of job, no matter how high status or well-paid, with the possible exception of the judiciary and academia.

 

14. Talking about money

No one in the UK will talk about salaries where as it seems to happen quite a lot in America. In the UK the proxy conversation is about house prices – never ask a Brit how much they earn or how well they are doing, because it will just create an embarrassed change of subject but you can always ask about house prices in their neighbourhood.

15. Scheduling Social Engagements 

For child playdates in the UK, mostly there will be a start and an end time such as 3-6pm, but only in America have I ever come across an end-time for an adult social engagement e.g. a party from 7-10pm where people are actually supposed to stop and leave, at the time specified even if they’re in the middle of having a great time. It makes absolutely no sense to put and end time on an adult event rather than simply letting the event run for as long as people are having fun.

Partly this might be because almost no one arrives on time in the UK. An invitation for 6pm is almost universally interpreted as a 6:15pm start time with some people arriving upto 6:30. There is never an end time for adult events – though when the host hands out the coffee you should be thinking about it, and when they start clearing up, it’s time to ask for your coat.

16. American religion

Everyone in America seems to belong to a church, a temple or mosque and they actually goes once a week. Much of the weekly social life seems to be built around a family’s faith, with weekly fetes, bake offs, pray-ins etc. Perhaps even more peculiarly, a lack of faith is somehow considered edgy or cosmopolitan in America.

In the UK, the vast majority of people have no religious faith whatsoever. None. Having a religion, and actually attending is considered unusual or “edgy”. It’s also the last thing that people will talk about. Your faith is your own business and no one else’s.

16. American only games

What is the basic point of baseball? It looks like rounders ie. a “girls” game but seems to have a huge cult macho following.

And what’s with American football? That’s not football (soccer) as the rest of the world understands it. It looks more like some weird and wonderful top of rugby only one where you need twice the number players to play a single game.

17. American bathrooms

British plumbing is not great but mostly if you flush it, it stays flushed. American plumbing, or at least the drains, seem extraordinarily sensitive to blockages. In the UK there are problems because of the sheer age of the sewage system but America does not have the same excuses since it’s all relatively new, so why do toilets always seem to be on the verge of blocking?

& what is with the size of American baths? You could just about sit (upright) in most of them, certainly not lounge about and relax with some scented candles around the room. Don’t Americans have baths? Are they so time-short that everyone just showers?

18. American kitchens

Stove top kettles are slow compared to electric ones, but obviously the US doesn’t have a high enough voltage to power electric kettles. Why? All of the small appliances are slower as a result.

18. American nationalism

Every school child in America seems to start the day with a pledge of allegiance to the American flag. Every event, sporting or otherwise, seems to involve singing the national anthem, with your hand on heart. This is deeply weird to the British on a number of levels.

Everyone knows the American anthem where as no one in Britain can get beyond the first verse apart from he royal family (for obvious reasons).

What’s with the hand on heart? Mostly in the UK people shuffle around looking embarrassed or give it a good belting shout out right up to the point when they’ve forgotten to the words and then start shuffling.

The idea that one would pledge allegiance to ones country as a child, each and every day, screams “totalitarian brain washing” to most people in the UK. Mostly the British spend their time making fun of the idea of being British, whilst being secretly pleased to have been born here. We are simultaneously proud and embarrassed by our country.

We know we are small, and have fallen far from power, but since that power inevitably involved a lot of abuses and bad behaviour on our part, we’re quite relieved to be a bit beyond that stage. Part of being the universal policemen, is the hatred as well as the respect.

It’s quite good to be beyond that stage. Honest.

Berserker Rook, Lewis Chessmen, British Museum

To The Road Rage Nutter

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You might not have seen the road accident between the cab and the cyclist, but I did. Driving up to the mini-roundabout and slowing down to turn right, I could see the cab some way in front doing a u-turn and just clip the cyclist coming out from the road on the right. Already stopped and waiting to turn, I rolled down my window to ask if the cyclist was okay.

I did this for a couple of reasons: I wanted to know if help was needed, and I wanted the cab to know that there was a witness so they took it seriously. I could hear someone beeping from behind which made it difficult to hear the cyclist. After a second shout from me, he waved to say he was okay, and I drove off reassured nothing too bad had happened. The whole thing took maybe 30 seconds.

But as I’m turning on the roundabout, the beeping didn’t stop. Turned onto my road, it just got louder, and looking into my mirror, all I can see is a huge big black range rover maybe centimetres away from my tiny car’s bumper, lights bright and dazzling.

So I slowed my car down and stopped. I got out of my car. Because I am a fool but also because at the point there was some basic chance that you’d seen some problem with my car (or the accident) that I needed to know about.

You came hurtling out of your car towards me, swearing and calling me names, telling to speed up. I was no more than ten metres from the roundabout so it’s a bit difficult to see how I could have been going faster. I asked if you’d missed the accident, if maybe you hadn’t seen what was going on? You didn’t stop for breath. The accident was not my business. I needed to drive faster. You threatened to hit me.

I stepped forwards. You stepped back. (Again – I’m a fool, something historic about childhood abuse we don’t need to worry about here has clearly hard-wired the wrong responses).

I told you that I was not in a hurry, that accidents were most definitely everyone’s business and responsibility to help. I asked him what was his problem? I was told to fuck off.

I urned to get into my car and he got into his. As I’m walking back maybe two steps, I feel his range rover pushing into my back. I stop and am forced one step forwards by his car. I turn and put my hands on the bonnet of his car.

“Really? You’re going to run a woman over because you’re in a hurry to get to work? Seriously”

I walked towards you and tapped on your window to ask you to run down your window. & bizarrely you did.

“I’d like to know your name”

You stopped swearing immediately and just stared straight ahead. There was a pause.

“Because you don’t seem safe to drive and I’m thinking of reporting you to the police”

“Fuck off”

A car from behind realising that though stopped, I hadn’t actually blocked the road, pulled around us. Realising you could do the same, you reversed and pulled away into the distance.

Leaving me shaking.

& seriously hoping that this not part of my character that either of my kids have inherited because, let’s face it, I was mad as a hatter to get out of the car in the first place.

But also left wondering how on earth you square what you have just done with living the rest of your everyday life today.

You were white, middle aged, maybe in your 40s, and well-to do, probably just short of 6ft tall with brown eyes, dark brown hair and a darker complexion. At a guess, I’d say you were of sephardi or arabic extraction but your accent was clearly well-to-do North London.

You probably know some of my friends. We might well meet again. Socially.

& you threatened to hit and then run over a total stranger, me, on a dark road in the middle of my suburb because you were in a hurry to get to work at 7:45 one rainy morning. What does that make you? You couldn’t care less about a potentially life threatening road accident you were driving past, because you were just too damn angry at being made to wait less than a minute.

Do you have a wife and kids at home that have to live with that anger of yours?

What happens if next time, the road accident involves your family, your wife, your child, your mother? Or does it only count if it’s you? Maybe you’re the cause of the “accidents” whether to strangers or family. How often has your wife been in the local A&E?

In our own lives, we all like to think that we are heroes, we all try to spin the stories we tell ourselves to the best, most flattering light. Yet I can’t see anyway that this event can be spun to make you look good to yourself. There is no way that threatening to hit and then drive over a smallish woman on a dark road, on the way to work can ever be made into a tale where you are the hero.

You are a road rage nutter, dangerous to everyone that you come into contact with, not least yourself, and one day you will pay the price.

 

Cold

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Like a lot of people at this time of year, I have a cold and it’s making me miserable.

It is just a cold. Just a misery inducing, bundle of aches and pains, with added sinus issues. It is not flu. Flu involves a raised temperature and I know that I haven’t got one of those because I live with someone who always has a thermometer to hand. Always.

In their mind, if you don’t have a temperature then you’re not properly ill which, as you can imagine, certainly adds to the joy.

To be accurate, I am now on my second cold having had one before Christmas for a couple of weeks, recovered and then gone down with the one my daughter brought home from university. I love both of my children but they are absolutely death traps when it comes to catching everyday diseases.

But I am recovering or at least felt like I was recovering until the joys of the peri-menopause joined the party. Combine a bad cold with haemorrhaging blood from your nethers, flooding style, and suddenly HRT starts to sound attractive. If only you didn’t have to go through the whole thing as soon as you stop taking the meds.

& at the worst of it, there’s an article in the paper talking about how maybe the workplace should start to cut peri-menopausal women some slack. Cue endless comments about how trivial the whole event is and maybe we should start talking about men more. because obviously it’s all about the men, even the menopause.

Well, the day I see a man with blood shooting out of his arse (or any other orifice) with enough force to push his pants down to his knees, leaving him blood stained from crotch to knee, I shall certainly be sympathetic. But strangely enough, I believe that I’d probably be pushed to one side by people rushing to get him to an ambulance, possibly crushing the numerous women who have had similar experiences to the floor, in the effort to get the poor flower to the hospital.

By all means let’s talk about the milder symptoms of menopause, the hot flushes the lack of patience with imbeciles and general rattiness of sleeplessness but let’s not pretend that the last two at least aren’t pretty symptomatic of normal male behaviour.

As I grow older, I am developing more and more of an appreciation of general witchiness but also coming to realise that women giving less of a f*ck, becoming more witchy, are really just starting to own everyday male behaviour. We grow older, become invisible to men, and to be frank care less about the stuff that doesn’t matter and that includes the opinion of strangers.

Except you of course.

Seeded Soda bread

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I do like fresh bread, but sometimes you just don’t have the time or the energy, and that’s when soda bread comes into it’s own.

Pumpkin, linseed, sunflower or hemp seeds make for an interesting texture. Linseeds should be crushed to make the most of their plentiful omega-3 fats, but I use them just for their nutty taste and silky texture.

Makes 1 x 500g loaf
wholemeal flour 225g
plain flour 225g
bicarbonate of soda 1 tsp
sea salt ½ tsp
caster sugar 1 tsp
golden linseeds 2 tbsp
sunflower seeds 2 tbsp
hemp seeds 2 tbsp
buttermilk 350ml

Set the oven at 220C/gas mark 8. Place a heavy casserole, about 22cm in diameter, together with its lid, in the oven to heat up.

Sieve the flours, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the caster sugar. Add the linseeds, sunflower and hemp seeds and fold evenly through the flour. Pour in the buttermilk and mix thoroughly to a slightly sticky dough.

Dust a pastry board or the work surface generously with flour. Working fairly quickly, pat the dough into a round large enough to fit snugly into the casserole. Remove the hot pan from the oven, dust it generously with flour, which will prevent the loaf from sticking, then lower the dough into the casserole. Cover with a lid, then return to the oven and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes before freeing the loaf and placing on a rack to cool.

Great catch: soda bread with brown shrimp and dill butter.

Gin Pickled Cucumber

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There are two approaches to January but if the alcohol comes in the form of a pickle, does that make it better or worse?

People love the idea of gin, mint and cucumber on ice with a dash of tonic, and this recipe mixes that idea up, making the cucumber the headliner for a change, not the gin.

Makes 4-5 x 300ml jars

Ingredients

2 large cucumbers
1 bird’s-eye chilli
1 lime, zest and juice
500ml white wine vinegar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
12-15 juniper berries (3 in each jar)
8 baby round shallots
2-3 sprigs fresh mint
100-125ml gin (25ml per jar)

Instructions

Finely chop the chilli and put in a medium stainless-steel saucepan with the lime zest and juice, vinegar, sugar, juniper berries and1½ teaspoons of sea salt. Bring to a gentle simmer, dissolving the sugar and infusing the flavours for around five minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.

Finely slice the cucumbers – a mandolin does this perfectly but you can slice them with a knife if you don’t have one or prefer thicker slices. Peel and finely slice the shallots. Strip the mint leaves from the stalks.

Start by stacking layers of cucumber, shallot and mint into warm, dry sterilised jars until the jars are half full. Add 25ml gin and three juniper berries (from the vinegar brine) to each jar and continue to stack, until the vegetables are about 1cm below the rim.

Fill the jars with the vinegar brine, distributing the remaining spices (in the brine) evenly between them and gently pushing down on the contents to let out the air bubbles. Tap the jars gently on a hard surface to remove any more bubbles, add more brine if necessary to completely cover the vegetables, then seal.

Eat the next day if you like a crunch to your pickle, or keep sealed for up to four weeks in a cool, dark place to allow the flavours to marry.

Keeps unopened for up to six months. Once opened, refrigerate and eat within four weeks.

A new slogan for the bus

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The real price of Brexit begins to emerge as FT research shows that the weekly hit to the British economy could be the same £350m that Leave campaigners promised to claw back

The big red bus emblazoned with the words “we send the EU £350m a week, let’s fund our NHS instead” is credited as being decisive in Britain’s vote to leave the EU last year. It promised — in absolute terms — financial gains for the British public if they voted to leave, a stark counterweight to a majority of economists who warned that a departure would hurt Britain.

The pre-referendum estimates of the long-term pain ranged from a hit to the economy of 1 to 9% of national income — an annual loss of gross domestic product of between £20bn and £180bn compared with remaining in the EU yet the Leave campaign won the battle of the slogans, and the referendum.

But who is winning the economic argument?

Almost 18 months on from the Brexit vote and with 15 months of detailed UK data, it is now possible to begin to answer that important question.

Economists for Brexit, a forecasting group, predicted that after a leave vote growth in GDP would expand 2.7% in 2017. The Treasury expected a mild recession. Neither was right. The 2017 growth rate appears likely to slow to 1.5% at a time when the global economy is strengthening.

A more pressing question is to assess the impact compared with what would have happened had the vote gone the other way.

This work has started, and includes a range of estimates calculated by the Financial Times suggesting that the value of Britain’s output is now around 0.9% lower than was possible if the country had voted to stay in the EU.

That equates to almost exactly £350m a week lost to the British economy — an irony that will not be lost on those who may have backed Leave because of the claim made on the side of the bus.

Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London and one of the academics leading publicly funded research into the effects of Brexit, says: “The conclusion that, very roughly, Brexit has already reduced UK growth by 1% or slightly less seems clear.”

Companies are becoming more vocal over the economic hit, blaming the government’s slow handling of the Brexit negotiations for a weaker business climate. In October, the International Monetary Fund highlighted Britain as a “notable exception” to an improving global economic outlook, while the OECD, the Paris-based club of mostly rich nations, has raised concerns about “the ongoing slowdown in the economy induced by Brexit”.

Thomas Sampson and colleagues at the London School of Economics have examined the direct effect of sterling’s depreciation since the EU referendum on prices and living standards. With the pound falling about 10% following the June 2016 result, inflation has risen more in Britain than in other advanced economies.

It started with petrol prices and spread to food and other goods, pushing overall inflation up from 0.4% at the time of the referendum to 3.1% last month. When looking at prices, depending on the level of import exposure of different goods and services, the LSE study estimates that the Brexit vote directly increased inflation by 1.7% of the 2.7 percentage-point rise in the 12 months after the referendum.

And with wage inflation stuck at just over 2%, “the increase in inflation caused by the Leave vote has already hurt UK households”, Mr Sampson says. He calculates that “the Brexit vote has cost the average worker almost one week’s wages”, but adds the figure could be higher or lower if a complete evaluation of the economic impact was applied rather than just the initial squeeze on incomes from leaving the EU.

Other effects are more apparent.

Business investment grew at an annual rate of 1.3% in the third quarter, compared with a March 2016 official forecast for annual growth of 6.1% for the whole of 2017.

Exports, boosted by sterling’s depreciation, have proved more resilient. The OBR now expects a 5.2% rise in the volume of goods and services sold abroad in 2017 compared with a pre-referendum prediction of 2.7%.

Net migration to the UK from the EU fell by 40% in the first 12 months after the vote. Professor Portes last year predicted an ultimate decline of between 50 and 85% on net migration levels before the referendum. “Arithmetically, this reduction [of 40%] of net EU migration translates into a reduction in growth of 0.1 to 0.2%,” he says.

Economists working to estimate the overall Brexit impact on the economy need to build a counterfactual scenario — an imagined world in which Britain had voted to remain in the EU — to compare that with Britain’s economic performance since the vote. The counterfactual cannot be known for certain but it is possible to take a number of approaches, in three broad categories.

The first is to compare recent UK economic performance with its past. A worse performance than the UK has achieved over long historical periods or in recent years would support the view that the vote has hurt economic performance. But a shortcoming of this approach is that if the past year was always likely to be rather weak, this method could suggest a Brexit hit when there was none.

Comparing the UK performance with that of other countries is another option. Using its normal position in the G7 league table of leading economies is one possible technique, as is contrasting UK performance with the average of similar economies. A more sophisticated approach is to use a statistical algorithm to devise a historically accurate set of comparator countries, a method recently performed by a group of academics from the universities of Bonn, Tübingen and Oxford. These geographical techniques often smooth out concerns that the recent period might be unusual, but they are vulnerable to variations in other countries, such as a sudden boom in the eurozone that Britain was never likely to match.

A third tactic is to look at forecasts made for Britain’s economy before the referendum on the basis of staying in the EU and compare the actual outcome with these prior forecasts. Its weakness is that there was a wide range of pre-referendum forecasts, while its strength is that the figures reflect the best knowledge available at the time.

Jagjit Chadha, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, says each of the methods are reasonable for generating an estimate of the impact of Brexit so far. “We can’t know how the [UK] economy would have responded to the news over the past 18 months, but there have not been any large shocks and the rest of the world has done slightly better than we thought likely a year ago.”

The results vary according to the comparisons made, but all show the UK economy has been damaged even before it formally leaves the EU on March 29 2019.

When the past five quarters are judged against the UK’s historical average growth rate, the 1.9% expansion in GDP achieved between the second quarter of 2016 and the third quarter of 2017 is lower than history would suggest is normal for the UK economy.

Depending on the period of comparison chosen, the UK economy would normally have been expected to expand by between 2.5% and 3.2% over the same period. The lower end of the range comes from more recent history, such as the average since a Conservative-led government came to office in 2010, while the upper boundary reflects Britain’s long-term performance in the 30 years before the financial crisis. The hit to the economy on this comparison is between 0.6 and 1.2% of national income.

Geographical comparisons produce a similar conclusion. Britain’s year-on-year growth rate tended to be close to the G7 upper range of outcomes over the past 25 years. Had that performance continued, British GDP would have grown 2.9% since the referendum. The statistical algorithm produces a significantly larger estimate of what would have been possible, suggesting Brexit has already removed 1.3% from GDP since the vote. This equates British performance to a weighted average of other countries, with the US, Canada, Japan and Hungary having the largest weights.

Asked whether it was reasonable to judge the UK’s performance against that of Hungary, Professor Moritz Schularick of Bonn University says, “like the UK, Hungary is a European economy and integrated into the production chains, but remained outside the eurozone with a floating exchange rate and therefore could use monetary policy more aggressively after the crisis”. Estimates using pre-referendum forecasts provide a range within almost the exact same boundaries — between 0.6% of GDP and 1.1%. The larger figure is based on analysis from Economists for Brexit, which initially predicted strong growth after the vote. Professor Patrick Minford, who carried out the forecasts for the group, blames “Office for National Statistics productivity estimates, [which] are not convincing because they have made no real attempt to estimate the growth in quality of services, such as in education and healthcare”.

But all of this was known before the referendum. Companies have been critical of Theresa May’s government saying that delays in talks with the EU have hit business

Overall, 14 different counterfactuals estimated by the FT and others give a range of a hit between 0.6% of national income and 1.3%, with an average of 0.9%.

With national income of £2tn in the year ending in the third quarter of 2017, it means the UK is likely to be producing £18bn less a year than would have been reasonable to expect and this is directly attributable to Britain’s decision to leave the EU. That is just short of £350m a week.

Brexit-supporting economists say the figures are reasonable.

Julian Jessop, head of the Brexit unit at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says: “Lots of sensible Brexiters accept there will be a short-term hit and it is unarguable that the economy is weaker than it would have been, I would say between 0.5 and 1% weaker.

As for the longer term, it’s all to play for. Brexit creates lots of opportunities, it is for the government to make the most of them.” Recommended Britain has more illusions to shed on Brexit

The UK economy since the Brexit vote — in 5 charts Brexit and the Budget: Hammond pressed to go ‘big and bold’ In the referendum campaign the big red bus was making a different comparison, an incorrect one, about the budgetary costs of the EU to Britain. It suggested Britain contributes almost £18bn a year to the budget, when the net cost in 2016 was calculated by the Treasury to be £8.6bn. And this leaves one last comparison that it is possible to make. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says that “for every 1 per cent of GDP you lose, that’s getting on for £10bn a year of foregone tax revenues”. If 0.9 per cent of GDP has been lost over the five quarters for which data exists, there has already been a £9bn hit to the public finances.

So even before the UK has left the EU, the referendum result is costing the UK government more than can possibly be recovered by ending net contributions to Brussels.

Coeliac

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I have a friend coming to supper with her family, which includes a son who has been diagnosed with coeliac disease. They also keep kosher, which for a vegetarian household is nothing to worry about.

We’re not going to mix meat and milk accidentally and if they’re willing to eat at our house, the lack of involvement of a Jewish hand in the cooking process is not going to worry them too much, or can easily be assuaged by them helping transport the food to the table.

But being coeliac and unable to eat gluten from wheat products does cause some issues.

Obviously bread and bread products are out of the running, along with pasta and pastry and that makes a meal centre piece a bit harder to achieve. You could go with something like a risotto (rice is fine) or even a rice filled aubergine loaf and it’s something we’ve given them before.

I’ve decided to go with a table of curries and related dishes, with rice as an accompaniment and some convenient poppadums that turn out to be gluten free. I’m not going to bother with naan bread etc because gluten free substitutes are rarely as good as you’d like.

But I’m not going to be too didactic about it. There is a surprising overlap between Indian dishes and Arab or even S American dishes when it comes to spice. I’ll have to be a bit careful about the latter because a couple of people around the table have incredibly bland palates. The trick will probably be to include a reasonable numbers of side dishes or relishes.

  • Aloo Papri Chaat – using something gluten free and snack like for the texture on top*
  • Vegetable Jalfrezi with paneer cheese**
  • Spinach with Coconut – part of the continuing and seemingly endless campaign to use up the desiccated coconut**
  • Dhal – probably with red split lentils**
  • Chilli Roast Butternut Squash with lentils**
  • Cucumber salad*
  • Mango Chutney*
  • Yoghurt Raita*
  • Curry Puffs – based on a Brazilian Cheese puff recipe made with tapioca (potato) flour
  • Basmati rice

& I’m going to think about either minted pineapple for desert or a carrot halva**.

Making so many separate dishes means a fair bit of work, but a lot can be done in advance, or substantially in advance*

A couple will just need warming through last minute**

And the rice plus curry puffs will need to be made fresh, though the rice is forgiving enough.

It’s a plan.

 

Clafoutis

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I’ve a couple of bags of frozen cherries at the bottom of my freezer, and I need the space. One can be used to make a compote, good with yoghurt or on top of my breakfast porridge.

The other is going to be used for a clafoutis.

Ingredients

  • ½ tablespoon unsalted butter (at room temperature) , for greasing
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 300 g cherries
  • icing sugar , for dusting
  • BATTER
  • 60 g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • 60 g sugar
  • 300 ml milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Cherry clafoutis

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas 4.
  2. Mix all the batter ingredients with a pinch of sea salt in a blender or food processor until totally smooth, then set aside for 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, grease a 25cm round baking dish with the softened butter, then sprinkle over the sugar.
  4. Dot the cherries (stoned, if you prefer) around the base of the dish, then place in the oven for 5 minutes so the fruit can begin to soften.
  5. Remove the dish from the oven and pour over the batter until the cherries are just covered. Return to the oven to bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until puffy and golden.
  6. Dust the clafoutis with icing sugar and serve lukewarm.

Lists

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This time of year might be one of cheer and goodwill, but it’s also a time for lists. By this time, my list has taken on either a hint of desperation or resignation, and the latter is far more soothing.

What will be, will be…

  • Write the final Christmas cards, usually for family, so fairly disastrous if they’re missing on Christmas morning;
  • Check the cupboards and fridge to make sure that all the required ingredients ordered were delivered and put away in a lace someone human would recognise. All that goodwill means there are plenty of hands willing to help put stuff away but it never seems to end up in the obvious place;
  • Make the mushroom risotto for tomorrow’s pie, and if you’re feeling good, think about making the pastry case also;
  • Consider knocking up a trifle, or maybe this year making 4 individual trifles in glasses because the trifle bowl is vast, we never get through it all and it takes up a huge amount of space in the fridge;
  • Dress the table ie. wrap it in some festive paper and make it look cheerful. Do not put out a cloth for the cats to trash with muddy footprints;
  • Plan tomorrow’s campaign.

Every family has some traditions they’ve inherited from their parents and some they’ve made all on their own. Our kids have been brought up with a stack of them, in part because I had so few. Christmas wasn’t exactly a non-event, but it certainly wasn’t as memorable as most seem to be.

We wake up Christmas Day and gather in the parents bedroom. Settled with a coffee, the kids open up the presents in their Christmas stockings which tend to be small and trivial but still get the day off to a good start.

Usually, there are pancakes for Christmas breakfast, whilst the preparation of the meal gets going with vegetables peeled (potatoes, parsnips, carrots) and the first two parboiled ready for roasting.

The first, main round of present opening happens post-breakfast and pre-church.

The local church service starts at 10:30 and finishes at around12ish with a glass of prosecco at the back of the nave.

Back home, and the oven is warm having been turned on by timer, and the vegetables can go into the over to roast. If we’re aiming for “lunch” at around 2pm, it means potatoes to roast in oven by 1pm, parsnips shortly thereafter, with the pie going in at 1:30.

The sprouts go onto boil for 5 minutes at around that time because they are drained and pan-fried with chestnuts just before serving. The carrots are put onto boil at about 1:45 and can be drained and fried with some honey or maple syrup with a dash of lemon.

There should be some cranberry sauce left over from topping the pie, plus some bread sauce heating up in the microwave. & hopefully someone else is laying the table in the dining room.

We have trifle for desert but everyone is far too full to eat it so we mainly retire to the living room for some telly.

Each to their own.

Wishing everyone a very happy Christmas!

Roast aubergine with curried yoghurt, caramelised onions and pomegranate

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Half the challenge at this time of year is to plan what you’re going to eat on Christmas Day and to stick to it, and the last thing you need from anyone is more ideas about what to cook.

So here is something from Ottolenghi  to provide light and easy relief from the main event, put together largely from what’s  already in the cupboard or fridge, quick to make and confident enough to hold their own against the rest.

Happy Christmas!

Yotam Ottolenghi’s roast aubergine with curried yoghurt, caramelised onions and pomegranate.

A breath of fresh air for tired, jaded tastebuds. Serves four, generously.

3 large (or 4 regular) aubergines
100ml groundnut oil
200g Greek-style yoghurt
2 tsp medium curry powder
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1 lime – finely grate the zest to get 1 tsp and juice to get 2 tsp
Salt and black pepper
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
30g flaked almonds
½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
½ tsp coriander seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
40g pomegranate seeds

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Use a vegetable peeler to shave strips of skin off the aubergines from top to bottom, so they end up with alternating stripes of dark purple skin and clear white flesh. Cut the aubergines widthways into 2cm-thick rounds and put in a large bowl. Add 70ml oil, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper, then spread out on a large oven tray lined with baking paper. Roast for 40-45 minutes, until dark golden brown, then remove and leave to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the yoghurt with a teaspoon of curry powder, the turmeric, lime juice, a generous pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper, then put it in the fridge until later.

Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan on a medium-high flame. Once hot, fry the onion for eight minutes, stirring frequently, until soft and dark golden brown. Add the remaining teaspoon of curry powder, the almonds and a pinch of salt, and fry for two minutes, until the almonds are lightly browned.

To serve, lay the aubergine slices on a platter, overlapping them slightly. Spoon the yoghurt sauce over the top, then scatter on the fried onion mix. Sprinkle over the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, pomegranate seeds and lime zest, and serve.

All about me!