Monday 6 October 2014

All change


A nice, neat plait of violet garlic, which cost a satisfying €5.

Here’s the thing. As soon as I arrive in France, I transfer a credit card and some nice, crisp Euro notes from my large, London wallet to my small, zipped holiday purse. Within an hour of running about to buy fruit and yoghurt, loo paper, bottles of wine and water, and stopping to refuel with coffee, rosé or Ricard, with a reasonable aim and a little luck that little purse could take out a rhino. It weighs as much as a brick.

I suffer from a fear of change. Not merely an antipathy for altering circumstance (though I confess that I was embarrassingly tearful when our beloved hardware shop closed), but a fear of change, monnaie, coin.

I’ll be standing in a queue with my shopping basket, hopeful that this time I’ll make it, this time I will be able to suffer the patient or impatient gazes of the greengrocer, supermarket checkout man, lady in the newspaper shop, queue of locals snaking along behind me, for long enough to count out €2.87, €4.26 or €1.42. And in this fantasy of coin-based confidence, I will be able to perform these mathematical gymnastics without having to dig my glasses out of the very last, most secret and difficult-to-access compartment in my handbag. Ta da! Watch the amazing counting lady, marvel at her fearlessness.

Let’s forget for a minute the one, two and five cent coppery pieces, which surely must cost more to manufacture than they’re worth (Tip: they make excellent curtain weights). It’s the brassy 10, 20 and 50 cent pieces that push my queuing anxiety into overdrive. They’re of an almost identical size and colour and yes, yes, I know there is some tricksy system of grooves around the edge, a half-arsed attempt to help you to distinguish one from another, but really? Enough of this coin-based parlour game. Europe, please could you be the change I wish to see in the world and make the coins substantially different from one another? Perhaps cover the tens in glitter, make the twenties into a flower shape, the fifties play a happy tune (I suggest Ode to Joy is something we could all get behind)?

Until then, I have two choices. One, take on the habit of the very, very young or the very, very old – fill my hand with change and rely on the kindness, patience and honesty of strangers to pick out what the need. Two, my preferred method, just drag out another note and hope for the best. This works, but like all forms of instant gratification, there’s a price. In this case, a little zippy purse overflowing with a pirate’s ransom of coins.

The other day my mother, who is quite terrifyingly clever, said ‘Oh, I’ve cracked that.
‘What, what?’ I asked, excited over what was no doubt a terrifyingly clever solution.
‘I keep all of my notes in my wallet and five euro coins in my pocket,’ she said.
‘And what about all of the small change?’ I said.
‘That? I just leave all that on my dresser.’
Sometimes Terrifyingly Clever is no help at all.

Roasted garlic

Roasted garlic. Simply squeeze the softened cloves onto pieces of bread. So good. Don’t forget to mop up the cooking juices with more bread too.

I was very excited to buy plaits of garlic – rose garlic, violet garlic, regular garlic - from the stall in Agde market on my last trip, not just because it’s delicious, but also because they cost a nice, round €5 each. No change.

Roasting whole heads of garlic is so easy and it makes a good starter or easy lunch with some salad and bread.

Per person:
a whole head of garlic, unpeeled but outer papery layer removed
a splash of white wine
a small bay leaf
a sprig or two of thyme or lemon thyme
a knob of butter and/or a splash of olive oil
some salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4.


Place a small bay leaf, some thyme, a splash of oil and a bit of white wine into the bottom of a small dish. Put a head of garlic on top. Place a knob of butter on top of the garlic or trickle on a little more olive oil. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Seal tightly with foil. (My little dishes have lids, so I bung these on top too. Belt and braces.) You can also do quite a few heads of garlic all together in one dish, of course, just make sure you cover it tightly with foil.

Bake for about 50 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the cloves. The flesh should be very tender indeed when pierced with a small, sharp knife. If it’s not soft enough, just put it back into the oven for a bit and check again every 5 minutes or so. Remove the foil and lid if your dish has one, and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes. Serve hot.


I love the papery skins.


  1. SCRONF. Also, such clean + lovely blood you will have. All the health! And is that our old friend Captain Picpoul I see?

  2. Such DELICIOUS and wholesome blood, just in time for Halloween. Captain Picpoul always visits us when he is on shore leave, which is delightful of him.

  3. Hurrah for change. Or not. What a splendid blog. It reminds me of a Spar in my home town where the two people who worked there had the honour of being Characters. Characters were people who we had no idea of their name, but they either cut such a distinctive figure about town or had a particular trait that they were notable for that they had to be refered to by a constant name. Perhaps my favourite of all was Christmas Cracker...who as well as having a tattoo of David Essex in Silver Dream Racer period on one bicep and former world number 6 snooker player Mike Hallett on the other, was known as Christmas Cracker as his glasses, tache and nose combo were exactly like the plastic ones you used to find in a cracker. In the Spar was The Then Woman and Changey. A typical exchange with The Then Woman might go as follows: 'Hello then. Two tins of beans then, spaghetti then, a newspaper then and 16 cans of Crucial brew then...that'll be £8.53 then please'. Changey was a bizarre forerunner to Peter Kay's hand over £20 for a £1.20 sale...and she'd put the change in yr hand and be all 'that's yr ten, yr 5, yr one two three pounds, yr fifty, a twenty and yr ten makes it twenty...thank you'. Noone ever went in with the right money

  4. Mark, I LOVE this story. One day I would very much like to be A Character as it seems a great cover for much oddness and gives a certain liberty to do whatever the heck you want. I think that day might be soon.

    I remember when S and I were first married, we sometimes used to shop at a huge supermarket in Camden. There was a customer you could hear right across the store as he walked around with his little basket, shouting at the top of his voice 'The BEST of luck!' Everyone knew The Best of Luck Guy and he always made you smile, especially in December when he changed his schtick to 'The BEST of luck! MERRY CHRISTMAS! The BEST of luck! MERRY CHRISTMAS!'. Joy to the world, and all that...


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