Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Home ... ? Part 2

Ah, now I understand: home is where the hob is! But if you've just tuned in to the Disco, please don't be put off by the opening beat - I promise that this isn't one of those sickly recipe-based blogs where ingredient amounts are designated by 'cups' and 'sticks' of butter and 'heavy cream' fly around with distinctly non-gay abandon (why are the majority of such blogs always North American? And why are they always, always so desperately prim?). Anyway, as I was saying, this blog doesn't revolve around the ramblings of a desperate housewife permanently on the lookout for new ways with 'hamburger' (they mean mincemeat) or Betty Crocker cake mixes. To the contrary; you'll find some very undomesticated ramblings here. But I do love food, glorious food, for both professional and amateur hour purposes. Not that last night's dinner was amateurish - no siree! But in my attempt to ground myself again (post-Liverpool, and all that), I managed to rustle up an extremely tasty little number that I feel obliged to share with you. If you prefer your dinner in (a) ready meal form or (b) from the nearest takeaway, skip the rest of this post and come back tomorrow, when I'll no doubt be hungover, morose and sorry for myself. But if you fancy getting your hands dirty in the most satisfactory way, read on (and have a notebook to hand):

Nigel Slater started it (doesn't he always?). He suggested using lamb chump chops, but I couldn't find any (I think I'm supposed to use the word 'source' instead of 'find' here) so I chopped up a slab of lamb loin instead (not a nice job unless you've got a very sharp knife, which I haven't). Whatever you find/source/use,  you need around 400g of lamb lumps, which you then put in a bowl with 6 tbs of plain yoghurt, two cloves of crushed garlic, 1 tsp of ground cumin and a handful of chopped fresh mint leaves. Mulch the whole lot together with your hands, making sure you really squidge the marinade into the meat, then cover it and forget about it for anything up to eight hours (but if you're in a hurry, even half an hour is better than nowt). When you can be bothered to turn the oven on, heat it up to around 200 degrees, tip the meaty minty mixture into an ovenproof dish and bake it for about an hour. I served mine on a tangle of rocket and fresh spinach, with the juices poured over the leaves and a little dollop of cannellini bean hummous (also very easy to make yourself) and a pool of fresh tsatsiki (ditto) artfully splurged either side of a toasted pitta bread. The result? It was the nicest thing I've cooked in ... ooh, days. Do it! 

This evening we're having Thai green curry made with roast vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots and aubergines) on brown rice. I might even sling a banana loaf into the oven at the same time. By tomorrow, I'll be fully grounded again, and all ready to hit the new sushi bar in town with a couple of girly mates, followed no doubt by a mini knees-up at GP. 

It's good to be home.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Home ... ?

If home really is where the heart is, I often wonder where I live. Ah, Liverpool: I do so much love you. Well okay, it's the people I love - 'my' people, to be precise (sorry, Lyn - I really was pressed for time, but promise to fully make up for it in June!). 

We left Bristol at 7pm, and by 9.30 I was sitting at my sister's breakfast bar all set to drink wine in an amount that Nanny would most definitely NOT approve of (I really must get around to posting my 'Woman and Alcohol' rant soon). I don't know how Mike manages to drive like he does; it never feels like we're dashing down the motorway at an illegal rate. Who cares, anyway - we got there. Saturday afternoon was spent at Ma's house in the company of the Ya Ya Sisterhood (who all brought fizz, yay!); Saturday evening we went back to Vicki's for more Ya Ya, a table weighed down with six kinds of curry, the nieces all grown up with their boyfriends in tow and the grown ups acting like the overgrown teenagers we are, karaoke machine an' all. The stack of chocolate brownies went down a treat ("no really, they're easy, no trouble at all!") (actually they took me two attempts and three hours to make - no wonder Nigella buys them from Carluccio's these days) and I went off to bed, suitably 'tired and emotional', at 3am, only to be visited by a field mouse who attempted to eat a whole, unopened packet of Marlboro Lights that were hidden under the bed an hour later (that's scouse mice for you. It's a wonder it didn't start on the gin ...). 

And then, on Sunday ... we went to get a dog! Well we did, but we didn't. What actually happened was, we visited the Whiston branch of the Dog's Trust (a charity I'd happily volunteer for if my nearest branch wasn't an hour's drive away) (or ten minutes, if Mike's driving) and made friends with loads of abandoned dogs before registering ourselves as 'actively interested' in rehoming. Yes, yes, YES! We're going to be adoptive parents at last. I'm now more obsessed than ever with the very idea - expect to see me taking to the ring at Crufts next year, a hybrid terrier/Alsatian/Chihuaha/ Great Dane cross dangling from the end of a pink velvet lead. It's just as well, really, that I've got such fantasies to cheer me up. Much as I love reuniting with everybody, I always feel a bit down after the inevitable goodbyes. But as I said (Lyn), I'll see everybody again in June. And let's not forget that it's mum's actual birthday today, so Happy Birthday to her - she's fabulous, and I really do hope that, as she says, what's in the cat is in the kitten. Or the puppy. Or the three year old West Highland/Cairn Terrier that I've got my eye (and heart) set on ...

Okay-doke, little catch-up over. I'll be back as soon as the ideas/thoughts/musings that are forming on the subject of birthdays, families, friends, distance and all manner of related esoterical ponderings are formed. Oh, and when I can be bothered to shift my lardy ass from the kitchen computer to the one in the living room, I'll get around to posting the promised rant too. Now do me a favour if you've read this far and leave a little comment, okay? I do love to know who's dancing with me.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Hoorah, we're off to Liverpool! Okay, so we're neither leaving as early as I wanted to or going for as long as I'd like to be, but hey, home's home - we'll get there eventually.

I fully intended to leave you with my rant about women and alcohol to peruse while I'm away, but it's on the other computer and I'm stuck in the kitchen keeping my eye on the tray of chocolate brownies that's baking in the oven (the fruit cake and the chocolate truffles are already safely packed). So sorry, kids, but you'll have to wait until early next week for that one.  But while I'm here, I might as well fully utilise Mike's computer. Those of you who noticed the 'Little Update' section on a recent post will have also noted my reference to Blancmange/'Living on the Ceiling'. What Berocca have so cleverly done to our TV ad breaks, the originals did much better. Click, click ... enjoy:

Now have yourselves a lovely l'il w'end.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

... we interrupt this programme with some breaking news ...

Despite UK tax officials acknowledging that chocolate teacakes had been wrongly categorised as biscuits way back in 1994, it took high street giants Marks and Spencer to bring such discriminatory practises back into the public eye again last week, when a legal battle to reclaim the wrongly-paid VAT from the UK Treasury was ruled in their favour, in principle.

“The outcome of this case represents the justice and recognition that we so richly deserve,” said a chocolate teacake, in an exclusive interview with the Animal Disco yesterday. “We’ve been erroneously accused of being biscuits for over two decades. But while we come wrapped in silver foil with our cake-like qualities are hidden beneath a chocolate flavoured coating, we are not - and have never been – related to biscuits in any way”. Jaffa Cakes, who have been strongly supporting the chocolate teacakes throughout the case, faced a similar ordeal in August 1991. After a 12-inch wide Jaffa Cake was produced as evidence, a jury agreed that, while it clearly “had the characteristics of biscuits or confectionery which was not cake”, it had sufficient cake-like characteristics to be classified accordingly.

As the debate regarding the distinction between bread and cakes (which enjoy tax free status) and confectionery and snack products (subject to the standard rate) raged on in bakeries across the land last night, an outraged Swiss Roll described the situation thus: “As a sponge-based, teatime treat, I don’t consider myself to be in any way related to the rather less salubrious Jaffa Cakes, or any members of their hybrid, mongrel family. Neither I, the fruited teacake or indeed the scone are happy about the recent court rulings”. If the European Court of Justice ruling is upheld, however, Marks and Spencer will have every reason to celebrate. The flapjacks, meanwhile, were not available for comment.

Elsewhere, in what many will see as an inevitable move, government plans to go ahead with a pilot scheme to monitor (and tax) gluttonous gourmets are in the pipeline. From the first of this month, several independent restaurants in the region are voluntarily participating in the pilot, using the government’s recommended daily allowance guidelines to analyse the fat, calorie and salt levels in their customer’s chosen dishes of the day, alerting them when they meander into the ‘red zone’ (over the RDA) and charging a ‘premium tax’ to diners who exceed the limit by more than 12%. Meanwhile, diners who attempt to order more than three units of alcohol to accompany their meal will be offered a free soft drink instead.

A spokesperson for the recently formed lobbying organisation ‘Say No to Nanny’, called the scheme “preposterous”, accusing the government of adopting a Big Brother approach in their relentless drive to police our personal choices. “First the smoking ban, now this”, says Hugo J’arsé. “It’s terrifying”. But many restaurateurs beg to differ. “Our customers are aware of the health risks associated with certain foods,” said Réussi Arnaqueur of Keynsham’s new Russian venture A!Bling! . “ But forbidden fruit is so sexy – and a great money-spinner. If you want foie gras ballotine, dauphinois potatoes or double crème brulee, we’ll happily serve it to you, with the extra tax and health warnings adding an element of luxury and danger to you final bill. I think the scheme will be huge success”.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

.... or just email me and tell me to stop moping around!

I should be feeling all fresh and inspired and bouncy. The weather’s hardly gorgeous (sorry for starting every ‘personal post’ with a weather report, but hey, I’m English), but the pain in the neck has subsided and there’s a fabulous rocket’n’nicestuff salad for lunch. I haven’t been hungover for days, and last night I caught up with the lovely Lady A – read an example of her work here; she’s one of the bestest, coolest, cleverest, funniest and prettiest women in the whole wide world (okay, so we had to sit through a bum-numbing performance of ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ before we earned ourselves a glass of Chardonnay each, but it was worth it). The ‘quirky’ thing at the Ustinov on Saturday turned out to be one of the most fabulous performances I’ve ever seen (‘Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath’ – look out for my review here as soon as tomorrow’s issue of Venue is old news), and I spent Sunday evening getting all girly and maudlin over a top-notch rom-com (predictable plot, unlikely outcome – who cares? Debra Messing rules). AND I’m off to Liverpool for the weekend on Friday – yaaaay! But the bleeeeurgh mood is still hanging around. So …

… if anybody has some Top Tips for chasing a bout of totally unreasonable blues away, I’d love to hear them. In fact, why don’t you brighten up my day even if you haven’t got any advice; loads of people drop by here, but few leave their pawprints. Come on, ladies and gentlemen – introduce yourselves! I may bark occasionally, but I promise I don’t bite; you can even remain anonymous, if you so wish. Whaddya waiting for? Cheer. Me. Up.

Things that make me go to 'woo!':

1. Your lovely comments - keep 'em coming!
2. The Berocca advert on the TV (Blancmange/'Living on the Ceiling' - ah, the memories!)
3. A circus has arrived in the park!

Things can only get better? They already have ...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

... and then you have to spend hours working out how to spell procrastination ...

It’s raining again; the sky is silvery-grey and the magnolia bush down the road has been attacked by frost. This time last week I was contemplating the start of the annual ‘which brand of expensive gravy browning should I start painting my legs with?’ search in readiness for the Grand Return of the Flowery Skirt. This afternoon, before I head off into town, I’ll be searching in the washing basket for the least grubby pair of woolen tights, which I’ll probably end up wearing under jeans. Ah well – at least my neck is almost better (either that, or I’ve merely learned to live with the pain; I’m still walking around like a badly-soldered glass giraffe) (wearing a Rod Stewart wig). Thursday’s sausage thingie went down a treat, the Kirkby house on ’60 Minute Makeover’ scrubbed up lovely and last night, I was officially allowed to binge out on ready meals (but only because I was reviewing a new, posh version of the genre for a supermarket chain). Tomorrow I’ll be roasting pork. This evening, I’ll most probably end up grabbing a buttie on the way to review something quirky at the Ustinov. So seeing as neither the weather, what to wear or food is capturing my imagination today, what is? Or rather: what should be?

When you’re a person who writes stuff (aargh, no, please don’t say ‘writer’ – makes my flesh creep), days like this – no fixed plans, no urgent, professional deadlines – tend to be weighed down with an ominous sense of responsibility. So many great ideas for novels are waiting to be succinctly reduced to synopsis form - the one about the 40-year-old woman who starts sending a year-long series of monthly letters to her niece on her 17th birthday, for example. Each letter becomes a neat, self-contained little homily relating to a particular relationship pattern that the aunt hopes the niece will avoid, but knows she won’t be able to (so the letters, you see, form a kind of handbook … ooh, Oprah’s gonna love this!). Or, the one that starts with a woman searching for her lost son in a charity shop. Attentive Disco-ites will remember meeting this character here before, but a more detailed synopsis reveals hidden, complicated depths - for starters, mum didn’t even know she was preggers until she gave birth to son in a nightclub toilet; I sense an Orange nomination heading my way any decade now. But hang on; surely I should give that quirky little idea – the one with the working title ‘Medad: A User’s Manual’ - some attention? Thousands of people are slowly slipping into the role of carer – or at least guardian – of an aging parent; few are blessed/cursed/strange enough to have one as eccentric as mine to deal with. Oh, how we’ll laugh/cry/raise our eyebrows as we turn the pages! And guess what? There are even recipes included! Take note, Richard and Judy – Medad’s coming atcha!

Such are the stories bubbling away on the backburner in the kitchen at the Animal Disco. But here comes the shopping list of ingredients that distract me from giving those literary pots the full attention they deserve, giving me a multitude of ‘excuses’ for taking my eye off the boil: I need to go and buy the Saturday papers, but first I’ll make a cup of tea. The laundry needs doing. The kitchen needs cleaning. I wonder if the rain will stop this afternoon … ? My neck is hurting again. I really must do something about my hair …


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Brace yourself!

It’s official – I’m a walking pain in the neck. Since having my hair washed (and cut, and anti-greyed, and generally polished) at the hairdressers last week, my neck and shoulders have stiffed out to the point where I’ve been carrying myself like a particularly fragile Thunderbirds puppet for days, and last night I was almost crying with pain trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in. Eek, aargh and yuk – it’s not nice at all, but the only thing I can do about it is overdose on Ibuprofen, wrap myself up in a soft purple blanket, sit myself on the sofa in an oddly formal way and watch endless daytime TV. “So what’s new?”, I hear you say. Don’t be facetious – I’m suffering, here! Fortunately, the haircut was worth it (well the colour was, at least. The style is actually a bit mullety; kinda, Faces-circa Rod Stewart. But like the neck pain, this too will pass).

All this sort of explains why I’ve been a bit slow-to-post over the past week. I could do as I so often (lazily) do and resort to bombarding you with gems from this week’s issue of Venue (a rant about women and alcohol, a couple of theatre reviews, a comedy show review and a tale of two girls about town living it up at Bath’s Riverside Café), but they can wait in the wings until another slow day, while those living in the vicinity can read them all right now anyway – alongside other stuff written by folk who are not me! – for the price of a McDonalds cappuccino (no prizes for guessing where I think the money is best spent). Anyhoo, talking of Venue, the rather nice mention given to this very blog in last week’s issue has put my visitor traffic up by (attempts to work out what an extra 150 visitors last week has put the percentage up by, but sadly fails) … a lot. So, hello newbies, and welcome to the Disco! Rest assured that I don’t usually start a new post off with a bout of grumbling. But, in response to emails from more than handful of those new visitors, yes I do actually sometimes waffle on about food – and right now, being housebound makes me hungry. So tonight, kids, I will be cooking one of my favourite ‘store cupboard’ yummies, the recipe for which goes something like this:

Take a packet of interesting, proper sausages (ie, the kind you find at the Farmers’ Market - in this instance, prime smoked porkers from the Sandridge Farmhouse, Wiltshire). Brown them in olive oil, in a big pan. Once browned, take them out and put them on a plate while you fry off half a red onion and a medium sized leek with a bit of smoked paprika. Drain and rinse a large tin of butter beans and add them to the pot with a tin of chopped tomatoes, a good slug of red wine and a generous grinding of black pepper. Bring everything to almost boiling point, return the sausages to the pan, semi-lid it, reduce the heat and simmer together for about 40 minutes (if you have a bay leaf and some fresh thyme or rosemary to hand, add them to the party too). And there you have it! This is lovely served just as it is, or with a couple of big chunks of fresh crusty bread (and, of course, the remains of the bottle of red wine you opened at slugging point). Gruyere cheese – either melted on top of slices of French bread or just sprinkled on top of the casserole – adds an extra, ‘cheffy’ dimension, the like of which makes anybody lucky enough to be eating with you say, “gosh, you’re such a brilliant cook”. Slurp, bask, enjoy (neck brace/shrieking and yelping as you cook optional).

Okay, I’ve endured wincing at the computer for long enough – and anyway, ‘60 Minute Makeover’ is about to start on TV. Pass me the purple blanket, minion! The sofa beckons …

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Friends for dinner?

“Honfleur!”, I declared. “Easy to get to, properly French, and tres foodie. Book that ferry today!”. So off we went, me fella planning to make like a monk (of the Benedictine order, that is) and drink northern France dry of their speciality liqueur, while I aimed to do what proper food writers do, and experience the Normandy coastline’s globally renowned Fruits du Mer first hand.

So there we were, in one of those properly authentic harbourside bistros, the local rosé flowing and the local fishermen doing their thang against the old port walls. And there they were: six longed-for langoustines, arranged in a thoughtful circle on a plate. Le yummy, oui? Er - non. Because up until the moment I ordered them, those cute little claws had been waving to each other, beady eyes gazing into a dreamy middle distance as endearing tentacles twitched in the direction of a prospective mate. Surely these fascinating, perfectly-formed prehistoric creatures weren’t destined to be my supper; surely their intricate, seemingly impenetrable suits of armour weren’t designed to be torn apart by a greedy food writer in search of yet another clever flourish on the page? “Pass ‘em over here,” muttered my confused, embarrassed fella as the tears started to tumble … but I couldn’t even bring myself to pick up the plate. “Is everyseeng oo-kay?”, asked the concerned waiter. “No!”, I sobbed; “Les animaux sont mon amis!”.

And that was the end of my Honfleur Fruits du Mer experience - and, possibly, the beginning of my return to the ‘nothing with a face’ lifestyle? Watch this space. In restaurants, as in all aspects of life, I’m going to be very careful what I ask for in the future – it may no longer be what I want.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Let's hear it for ...

... the Doner Kebab!!!

It’s on midnight Friday. The taxi queue’s a mile long, home is a 40-minute stagger away, it’s starting to drizzle and you’re wishing you hadn’t drunk eight pints of beer. And then you spot a garish neon sign beyond an awning in front of a dirty white: Karl’s Kebab’s – to you, it’s the modern day equivalent of the Holy Grail

“Mine’sadonerthanksmate”, you mumble, flinging the contents of your pocket on the counter. Karl grins as his chubby, grubby fingers relieve you of the best £5.25 you’ve ever spent before slapping a dusty white pitta on a hotplate and taking a lethal-looking blade to what appears to be a charred elephant’s leg slowly revolving on a spit, rivulets of fat spitting against the electric grille behind it. “Salad?”, Karl barks, splitting the pale, flaccid pitta. “Yesplease - verrhealthy, is salad”, you burble. So Karl fills the doughy pocket up with damp lettuce, soggy tomatoes and a pickled green chilli still dripping vinegar from the jar. “Sauce?”, he asks, a spoon caked in the sticky, black remains of three week old ketchup hovering over a plastic tray. “Yeahsauce, yeah”, you belch. Karl treats you to garlic, chilli and yoghurt varieties, because by now he’s your best mate ever.

Five minutes later, and you’ve scoffed Britain’s most popular post-pub takeaway: 800 fat and salt laden calories-worth of ancient, perpetually reheated doner kebab – and it was the best thing you’ve tasted all year. Still no sign of a taxi, though.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Dinner is Served

Good morning, thrill seekers! I hope it's as lovely a morning wherever you're reading this at is here today, where spring has properly sprung. I'm up early (nothing unusual about that, but today the weather makes such an activity feel less insane) so I can dash up the hill to the local shops to buy the basics for an impromptu dinner party for seven (possibly eight) this evening, after which I'll be dashing down the hill to the Farmers Market for some fancier peripherals. But after you've read the rest of this post (hot off the press from this week's issue of Venue), you'd be forgiven for wondering how I've summoned the nerve to go ahead with such a plan. Enjoy! (ps. I've quit worrying about now (see update to previous post). I read their emails, and Ben's Dad was right about them trawling for advertising. Whilst I don't intend to go ahead with such a plan, I've sent them a little email querying how they collect their site traffic stats. Call me bigheaded (I've been called worse), but really - one visitor a day? Crikey - the Disco would be in receivership if business was that sad! Oooh, look at that; triple parenthesis! Let's get on with some pre-edited words ...).

According to ex-popstar turned cheese maker extraordinaire Alex James (isn’t life funny?), the dinner party is making a comeback. “The gentle formality and comfort of an evening spent in someone's home with hot food and warm company”, he wrote, in a recent ‘Foodie Boy’ column for the OFM. “It doesn't get any better”. Crikey – he’s never had supper round at mine, then (actually he has, but that was years ago, and the past is another country). Still, his gorgeously Slater-esque portrait of the dinner party AJ style is about as far removed from the Blease ‘at home’ experience as you can get.

High lowlights of suppers round at mine include: the time I tried to throw my stepfather out of the house following an animated Wurzels vs Beatles ‘debate’ (ugly). The time my flatmate and his paramour turned into an evil version of Stephen Fry and a real life incarnation of Cruella DeVille and spent hours deriding my friends before one of those friends had enough and derided them right back (terrifying). The intimate supper for a high profile nutritionist and a local slow food movement guru, during which nobody either ate or said much, and after which neither ever got in touch again (eek!). Meanwhile, memories from family dinner parties include my dad munching his way through half a pound of halva before declaring the cheese to be ‘wonderful’ (wonder what AJ would make of that?); a guest falling asleep in a basket chair (it was the 1960s) then letting out a fart that, reverberating through the wicker, sounded like a rocket launch; a friend of theirs spewing red vomit all over the living room window.

Gentle formality? Warm company? If only! But if you want high drama, low morals and a badly made Thai curry, my door is always open (advance booking highly recommended).

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A possible contender for My Least Favourite Book

**Little Update ***

Hello! I'm about to put another post up (well, I'll get round to it tomorrow morning, at least). But before I go ahead, I wonder if any of my regular visitors (or even a newbie) could tell me if they've registered my blog with a search engine called I keep getting the strangest email alerts from them, with 're Your Blog' in the subject line. But what with all the current hoo-hah about viruses etc, I'm too much of a wimp to open them! I did, however, check myself out via their search engine, and the results were really weird - one visitor a day, or something. Oh, this is all too spooky! Does anyone have Dr Who's contact details? He'd know what to do!

Anyway, as I said, I'll be freshening us up tomorrow. Until then ... keeeep dancin'!

Tony Parsons: My Favourite Wife

Once upon a time, Tony Parsons was a ‘hip young gunslinger’ for the NME. When he grew up, the ex Mr Julie Burchill dabbled in writing rock autobiographies, regularly appeared in ‘pundit pop up’ form on several late night arts and culture smugfests and even penned a Jackie Collins-style blockbuster (‘Platinum Logic’, 1981) in an early bid to set his working-boy-made-good cap at the literary charts. But In 1991, he eventually found his niche. “I know”, he said to himself. “I’ll be just like Nick Hornby, giving 30-something men a popular fiction genre of their own - which I’ll take credit for defining as ‘lad lit’ - while also proving what a sensitive New Man I am”. So, a series of novels (from ‘Man and Boy’ in 2000 to ‘One for my Baby’ some years later) were duly churned out, each becoming increasingly cheesy, platitude and cliché laden as time rolled by (though it has to be said, each had their own merits in a guilty pleasure kinda way).

Last year – perhaps in a vain attempt to rekindle his youthful hipster credentials – Parsons gave us ‘Stories We Could Tell’ – a ‘contemporary love story’ set against a late-1970s backdrop, with a music paper journalist as hero/protagonist. Sound familiar? It flopped. So, our Tone has returned to familiar themes with ‘My Favourite Wife’. “A veritable Barbara Cartland in trousers”, cooed the Independent (bless ‘em). “Parsons explores that most cherished of male fantasies: can a married man maintain a happy home life while also seeing a third-world sex worker on the side?”.

Oh, for goodness sake! The straight answer is, of course, no – not unless the man in question happens to live in a dream world (ie, a Parsons novel), where every character he comes into contact with neatly complies with his own world view, the women are all completely one-dimensional, sexless robots and the men sycophantic misogynists who think that making references to reading the Guardian and loving their families will let them off the hook.

Okay, Parsons’ thoughtfully wrought and painstakingly detailed evocation of modern-day China (which forms the backdrop for the whole sorry tale) is vivid and, very occasionally, fascinating. It’s a shame that he’s buried such vigour beneath a dreary, self-serving soap opera wherein nothing much of any consequence - other than the repetitive ramblings of a married businessman having a mid-life crisis - happens at all.