The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 19

I’m trying to spread The Swipe into different distribution vectors (hello to any new readers coming in from Tumblr, Mastodon and LinkedIn) so introductions are in order if this is your first visit to Excuses And Half Truths and The Swipe.

Hello there. I’m Rob Wickings, a writer and dweeb based in England’s largest town, Reading. The blog in which this newsletter is based has been running in some form for 15 years, but the current weekly ‘diary, links and a song to finish’ format comes out of lockdown. What can I say, it keeps me busy.

Expect the content to skew towards thoughts on creativity, communication and language, with a spot focus on art, culture and food. Oh, and I’ll wibble on about my garden a lot. If you want to know more about my novels and anthologies, check out the link in the sidebar. Hope to see you every Saturday.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Continue reading The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 19

The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 18

You’ve probably noticed I bang on a lot about the garden in the weekly preamble. It’s not just because I have had an epiphany at the feet of Saint Montague of Don and have become an acolyte in the ways of compost and seed rotation. There are clear benefits to the life of a writer in spending time in the garden. Exercise is good for the soul, and the mental peace it engenders can settle the questions I have about a plot point or character quirk. I’m certainly not the only writer to see the similarity in what happens through the seasons and the creation of an artwork. Austin Kleon, for example, is on the money when he compares writing to the old gardening truism of Sleep, Creep, Leap. If nothing else, it’s a creative act TLC and I enjoy together out in the fresh air and greenery, which has to be a good thing, right?

This week: a couple of drinks, some positive thinking on AI and considerations on the concept of penguin.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Continue reading The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 18

The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 17

A week away has done wonders for the mental batteries. I feel calm, collected and focussed. Just as well, as there’s lots to do on both the writing front and in terms of this year’s garden project. I’ll bore you more on that in a couple of weeks. Still, at least it’s No-Mow May, so I don’t have that chore to worry about. Wildlife of All Hallows Road—you’re welcome.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Continue reading The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 17

The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 16

We are In The North, well and truly over the border into Danelaw. Warkworth, a pretty village with an imposing castle up on the hill. From here, the fishing port of Amble is an—amble along the coast walk. Northumberland is a happy place for us, a point of peace and joy where we can rediscover ourselves, reenergise and reset for the coming summer. Much fish will be eaten. Much ale will be drunk. Time to get salty air in our lungs and the soft light of the north-east in our souls.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Continue reading The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 16

The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 15

A brief schedule update before we start. TLC and I will be away next week, so there’s a possibility Chapter 16 may be delayed, running short, or both. The fact we will be in the wilds and away from people during the week of Royalist Foolishness is entirely coincidental. Enjoy your bunting and coronation chicken samosas if you choose to celebrate. We’ll be up a hill somewhere, plotting the inevitable demise of the parasitic monarchy.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Continue reading The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 15

The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 14

The blossoms are finally on the apple and cherry trees at the bottom end of the garden, and the acers are unfurling their fractal leaves in shades of cream and crimson. We are making plans for the copse end of the grounds, which goes through periods of focus and neglect. It’ll never be done, but then that’s the joy and pain of a garden. Change is the only constant.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Continue reading The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 14

The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 13

We spent Easter in and out of garden centres, planting up our purchases, digging and tidying and clearing. Under clean blue skies dotted with swooping red kites, serenaded by the occasional sparrow, it felt good to be out in the sunshine. Of course, exercise has a cost, and we paid for it on Easter Monday, muscles groaning and bones twanging, our bodies singing a song with the refrain ‘you overdid it, you silly old sods.’

And the busy time in the garden is only just starting. Oh well. It’s more fun than going to the gym.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Continue reading The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 13

The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 12

Easter? EASTER? What is this foolishness? At what point did I doze off on the sofa for five minutes to wake and find the year is a quarter over and we’re into Eggmas?

Obviously, the very nature of a weekly newsletter is to track the seasons—it’s a good way to mine the information catacombs for content. Keep it a bit topical, make it look less like you’ve just instructed GPT-4 to scrape up some links and toss in a bit of context ‘in the style of.’

Incidentally, tried that. Did not work. You’re stuck with the real-life second-rate version of Rob while the engineers try to spin up a less prone-to-surrealist-outbursts host.

This week—nothing about eggs, rabbits, Palestinian freedom fighters from two thousand some years ago or murderous woodworking. We’ll save all that for Whitsun.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Continue reading The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 12

The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 11

This week: short things, fake bands and two things which end up buried. Must crack on, busy weekend, got a lady to spoil.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Continue reading The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 11

The Gift Of Salt

Joe is always trying to give me stuff. He is a generous and sweet-natured soul, and I cherish our relationship—even though it feels like I’m taking advantage. Over the years, he’s given me a beautiful tech-useful messenger bag, a set of quite useful kitchen knives, several bottles of seriously good bourbon. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve them—or him, for that matter.

On our last visit up to the Midlands to see him and TLC’s mum, he wanted to give me some salt. Bog standard, bulk-buy free-flow salt. The sort that comes in 750g containers the shape of which, if cast in steel, you could load into a howitzer and fire at the enemy.

Of course, I turned him down. Partly out of embarrassment at always being the taker, but come on, seriously. Why should I, a man of culinary taste and refined manners, allow horrible basic salt within a country mile of the hallowed ground that is my kitchen?

I have plenty of good salt. I love my salt. I am by birth an Essex boy, so there’s usually a box of Maldon’s finest on the counter. A current favourite is Sal de Portugal, a flaky soft salt in a sweet ceramic pinch pot. That, along with most of my saline solutions, comes from the savvy cook’s best kept secret—TK Maxx. If you need Himalayan pink salt, there are groaning shelf-fulls of the stuff. Then there’s the fancy blends and mixes the collector in me can’t resist. Old Bay seasoning, Montreal Steak blend, the stuff I make from dried mushrooms blended with Maldon and just a touch of MSG (which is something for a whole other blog post).

Salt is vital. You need a gram of it a day to live. It’s the first word in the title of Samin Nosrat’s bible of kitchen essentials. One of the worst crimes you can commit in Masterchef or Great British Menu is to under-season your food. One of the reasons restaurant food tastes so good? Much more salt than you’d consider feasible. OK, far too much butter and cream too, but good food needs a heavy hand with the salt pig.

Once upon a long ago, salt was so important that ownership of a decent stash was a sign of wealth and status. At the lord’s table, your place in the pecking order was predicated by where you were sitting in relation to the salt bowl, which was normally in the middle. If you were below the salt, you were on the same level of importance as livestock. Which brings back a childhood memory of an old Steeleye Span album my parents used to play regularly.

The salt at the lord’s table had value which was reflected in the work required to get it in that bowl. Similarly, my Maldon and Sal de Portugal costs much more than Joe’s howitzer-shell of salinity. But much of that cost nowadays comes down to processing and, let’s be frank, marketing. We expect to pay more for fancy salt in fancy packaging. Fundamentally, though, they are chemically identical to the stuff I throw in the dish-washer and water-softener. It’s all sodium chloride.

I was, as I hope some of you have realised already, not just being a snob when I refused Joe’s offer. I was an idiot. Why on earth should I use fancy finishing salts for every seasoning job in the kitchen? It’s wasteful and expensive.

If I want to build a dough for salt-crust baking a celeriac, some lamb or a whole sea bass, the free-flow stuff is fine. I could use piles of it to prop up delicate, wobbly items like oysters for a blast under the grill. Or for salting pasta water, ffs. In a worst case scenario, it would come in handy to de-ice the slippery bit by the front door. Whatever happened, I would be better off with the salt than without it.

Therefore, two minutes after turning down Joe’s offer, I came to my senses, humbly apologised and asked if it was still on the table. Fortunately, Joe was more of a gentleman than I had been. I accepted his gift with thanks. Then I made a promise not be such a moron in future.

The lesson to take from all this? Firstly and most importantly, get over yourself. Don’t assume you’re better than the gift. Chances are, it’s offered with love. You should never turn your back on that.

All ingredients have a purpose. It’s down to you, as a cook, to find what that may be. Stress-test your assumptions and prejudices. Don’t sneer at the basics. Play. Explore. Enjoy. Your food and your cookery will be all the better for it.