Baked Beans and Brexit

My wife has started an emergency food store in case there’s a no-deal Brexit. I’ve told her I’m not that bothered. We only do 40% of our trade with the EU so it could be worse. OK, every pack of fruit you pick up in Sainsburys is from Spain or Holland but what’s wrong with a nice English Worcester or even a nice shiny red Gala from New Zealand?
When it all kicked off in 2016, I made the prediction that we wouldn’t leave because of the economic dislocation involved in leaving a club that we had spent the last 40 years developing a close trade relationship with. And even if we left it would be some sort of ‘half in, half out’ arrangement like what Norway and Switzerland have now with the EU – but with no say. Looks like, on the face of it, I could be proved wrong but then there’s the strong likelihood that, following a no deal Brexit and the inevitable economic decline, we might be forced to go back and negotiate a new trade deal. What else could you do with your biggest trading partner?
We studied what was then the common market in my economic geography course at uni many years ago. I still recall learning about the European Coal and Steel Community (which evolved into the common market) set up by French and German politicians after the war to so interweave their strategic industries that there could never be another war in Europe. And then there were the economic difficulties the UK faced after we lost the Empire and found that trade with the Commonwealth wasn’t enough to get us by. The country was in economic decline. So we joined the Common Market. And later, as a regeneration professional, I was there when we heard that Merseyside had gained EU Objective One status and we had almost unlimited funds to set things right – not based on political whim but objective criteria such as unemployment. And then there was the trip around the aeroplane factory at Broughton where we marvelled at how wings, fuselages and all the other bits were brought from all over Europe to be put together. Just in time. And I’ll make another prediction – that all this talk of closer trade links with the USA won’t amount to much in the end.
Not that everything is rosy with the EU – I am definitely a skeptic when it comes to political unification and joining the Euro. If you take the trouble to check the facts you discover that we always had the power to stop immigration from countries such as Poland if we wanted to. That fishing is a hard nut to crack, in or out. That, contrary to what someone emphatically told me in a pub, the European Court of Human Rights has nothing to do with the EU. In my opinion, it is better to be in with a say and a veto. Be awkward sods if needs be.
But it looks like the views of me and many who think like me will be overruled and that we need to prepare for a no deal Brexit. Though in the end I rather think my prediction about not leaving will come true in one form or another. You can hold me to that. If I’m wrong I’ll show my arse on the town hall steps (I knew a council officer who made that boast – and was held to it when he lost).
I knew there was something bothering me about that emergency food cache. It needs baked beans. Lots of tins of baked beans.

Natural Causes? Book Review of The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri

When news came through recently that Andrea Camilleri had died at the age of 93 from natural causes – ie a heart attack, I wondered. Had the police checked the hospital CCTV for a suspicious-looking nurse hanging around, just waiting to slip into the room to deliver a syringeful of poison that would make it look like a heart attack? That’s what would have happened to an enemy of the mafia in one of his books.
I have developed the habit of watching ‘Inspector Montalbano’, the TV detective series set in Sicily, on Sunday evenings. To be honest, I prefer shows such as Spiral, Fargo or the Scandinavian stuff, which have just a little bit more bite. When Cateralla barges through the door yet again, it’s just a bit too much slapstick. What will happen next? Will he be pouring custard down the inspector’s trousers?
But I realised that I’d not read any of the books so I decided to try The Potter’s Field, reckoned to be one of Camilleri’s best in the series. I’d seen the TV episode some time ago and couldn’t remember all the details of the plot so it was reasonably fresh. And the book was good. I whupped through it in a couple of days, and I’ve not done that with a book for a long time. It starts with a dream in which Montalbano’s boss hammers on the door in a storm at night; he is a fugitive from the new Italian government led by prime minister, Toto Riina. Toto was the mafioisi who ordered the assassination of the anti-mafia prosecutors Falcone and Borsellino. Good start.
The mafia is a key player in the complex plot of this book. A corpse is found cut up into thirty pieces. Thirty pieces, geddit? From the thirty pieces of silver Judas was paid in the bible for betraying Christ. And the body is buried in a potter’s field – Judas’ resting place. So the victim is obviously the victim of a mafia vendetta on a traitor. Or is he? Betrayal is a theme running through the book – Mimi, the inspector’s long standing and trusted sidekick, is acting strangely, and the inspector suspects that he is mixed up in the murder. Similarly, Montalbano betrays his partner Livia with a female colleague.
A flawed hero? Love it. And there is a femme fatale, the delicious Dolores Alfano, who has a pivotal role in the complex plot. And then there are the cheeky bits. For instance, the inspector refers to a Camilleri novel he has read with its ‘quite far-fetched plot’.
Any quibbles? Well there is the slapstick with Catarella. And Camilleri reproduces local Sicilian dialect in Cateralla’s speech directly. Here he introduces the tasty femme fatale: ‘Right ‘ere, Chief. Inna waitin’ room. Says ‘er name’s Dolorosa. I say it ought to be Amorosa! Says she wants a talk t’yiz poissonally in poisson.’ Maybe a bit at the start and then the odd expression or word to suggest the dialect would have been better? I was surprised that there weren’t more lingering Dickensian descriptions of food, just the use of a few deft brushstrokes to tickle your taste buds, as with setting, scenery and character. Deft. Good word, that. As with Jay Rayner, the best meal descriptions are for the bad experiences:
‘He realised his grave mistake at once. How could they call arancini these rice balls fried in hundred-year-old oil and cooked by a chef suffering from violent hallucinations? And how acidic the meat sauce was! He spat the rest of the arancini he had in his mouth into the sea, and the remaining whole and half arancini met the same watery end.’
The complex plot resolves itself with a surprising twist and, like one of Montalbano’s (good) meals, leaves you with a feeling of replete satisfaction. Note to myself: must try more Italian food. Tumazzo and ‘ncascatia. Sounds half decent, that. Though I might give the arancini on the Vigata-Messina ferry a miss.