Distracted by poetry at Bantry Market

There are dangers to be had in leaving a small child unattended at Bantry Market so his father can take a more detailed look t the second hand books for sale.

Along the run of the unattractive concrete square there are two or three pools of water with half hearted fountains in the middle. There are benches around them and the wide rim of the pools and benches provide a natural place for a stall holder to lay out some of his wares and for the older attendees of the market to take a seat and rest their feet.

It would be an easy thing to leave a dissapointed child, angry at not being fed something sweet and bought a toy wooden gun, by the trinkets next to the pool. The child can be idle there looking at the things to be bought for a euro, a mismatched plastic half sized purple tennis racket, a toasting fork, a small collection of cutlery, a collection of Top Gun DVDs and, someone’s former pride and joy, a stainless steel toast rack.

For the child it will be a natural thing to pick up and admire the toy tennis racket and weigh it in his hand and look around for a ball and someone to play with. But his Dad was still at the book stall weighing up some poetry so he could impress the child’s mother. With there being no-one to engage with and play a game there was nothing for it but to hurl the racket into the water.  No-one objected but although there was fun to be had it did not make much of a splash. An odd knife from the collection of cutlery would do better. He tested it in his small hand and gave it a hurl. That was better! It made more of a splash near the fountain and sank quickly so there was no evidence left. The purple racket still floated.

He chucked in another and was emboldened by the splash and so cast his eye about for something bigger. The toasting fork was bigger and would make bigger splash. It did but the cild then made his mistake having picked up the toast rack. It was too big.

The attendees sat opposite had been content to watch the lad hurl in the racket and the odd items of cutlery but there was a danger the toast rack was of a size they might be held negligent and in any event one of the older attendees had had her eye on the toast rack and so she made a noise and raised her arm in the air.

The noise attracted the ear of the father and he was forced to lift his eye from the book of poetry all in time to catch sight of his son about to give the toast rack a good heave into the pool. Alacrity did not feature amongst the poems, no matter, he leapt to it and was able to rescue the toast rack and wrestle the small child into his pushchair book still in hand, finger keeping the page open.

There were words from the father to the child but as he spoke his eye was disturbed by the purple tennis racket floating on the pond the sight of the silver lying at the dark bottom of the pool and the owner of the book of poems bending his ear as to why it had not been paid for.

David Berman, The Silver Jews, Purple Mountains

So I got out of bed this morning and had a look at twitter and saw that David Berman had died yesterday. It hit me like a slap in the face.

Here’s a few things about him and his bands The Silver Jews and Purple Mountains.

  1. He wore a good baseball hat. Always important.
  2. I came across The Silver Jews 10 or so years ago downloading random albums from a web site that had these things too easily available. Without knowing why I had three of the albums on my laptop and then on my iPod. Random songs would come up and then there were times on a long car journey I would put the three albums on shuffle so I never knew what was coming next. There were songs about lovelost jukeboxes, punks in the moonlight, animals making shapes in the snow, a one armed drummer, sad victories and defeat, beer and a pier. The songs were funny and sad. Rickety and wry.
  3. Listen to enough music there is an intimacy about it, the songs and the voice. I know some of these voices better than those of people I see every day. David Berman’s was one of those voices.
  4. By the time I started listening to them The Silver Jews had split up and David Berman had stopped making music.
  5. There was/is something lost and mysterious about the records.
  6. Last year one of their albums, American Water, was re-released on vinyl. I was in Probe every week for a month asking if they could sell me the only copy they had. The release date kept getting put back and they kept having to say no. All for The Silver Jews. It was worth the wait.
  7. Earlier this year I was in Rough Trade on Brick Lane and too my surprise they had another three of their albums on vinyl, presumably left over from when they first came out 15 years or so ago. Soon I had the lot .
  8. I chose one of the albums, Tanglewood Numbers, for the music group to listen to. The cover has a photograph by Terry Eagleton. Only good records have these (see Big Star).
  9. Then a month or so ago there was talk of a new band, Purple Mountains, and new album. It came out in early July. It is very good one of the years best. Sad songs about love and loss and margaritas drank in a mall. You should buy it.


Rest easy now.

Good Thing’s Crab

There was a restaurant in West Cork called The Good Things Café. It did the simple things well and kept the difficult things simple. We ate there two or three times a year for the 12 years or so it operated out of the old butterfly house on the road out from Durrus towards Ahakista.

But there was always a dilemma to be had in going there. Whether to have the crab tart as a starter or main course. It always felt as if going one way meant having to give up on something else – a bowl of fish soup or cooling gazpacho to start with or hake with rice, duck legs with noodles, squid stew as a main. Over the years I realised that if one of the kids could be persuaded to have the fish soup there was a good chance it would it would need to be finished off by me although that could not be guaranteed and there were still decisions to be made over the rest of the meal.

The crab tart was a glorious thing – crisp pastry holding together a set golden custard flecked with white crab. I think saffron might have been involved.

It was so good we had a whole to share as part of the meal for my 50thbirthday on the Cottage’s lawn.

Back at home I have made the occasional attempt to find a recipe that would allow me to replicate the meals that we had there. I thought I had found one last year but the tart tin was too thick and I lacked confidence in how long it should be in the oven. As a consequence the custard had not set and it flowed across the plate a crabby gooey mess. Tasted pretty good though.

Then leafing through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book on fish cooking catching up on what he had to say about mackerel I came across his recipe for crab tart and thought I should give it a go.

As a bonus it was a grey wet Saturday morning so I bought a live crab from Wards all the better to give me an hour to waste picking out every small last morsel of white meat from the nooks and crannies of the papery shelled interior listening to good music as I went. I managed to snap the nut crackers whilst doing so.

An onion was chopped and cooked in olive oil until golden with some garlic and red chilli. Eggs were mixed with cream and hard cheese and it all went into a tin lined with layers of filo pastry.

Transpired I still lacked confidence with my timings. It looked very pretty but the pastry hadn’t cooked through and the custard needed another five minutes to set properly. Still it tasted pretty good.

Oh and we had a couple of artichokes picked from the garden. Surprisingly good!


It is possible to calculate the age of a mackerel by the careful examination of a small bone called the otolith or earstone. They float within a canal in the inner ear somewhere behind the brain and even in a big fish of 45 cm they will be no more than 6 – 7 mm long; they continue to grow throughout the life of the fish. As the mackerel goes through its seasonal cycle of feast and famine small rings or ridges occur in the bone a bit like the rings that appear in the cut stump of tree; each ridge another year. Examine the otolith under a microscope and count the number of ridges and you have the age of the fish.

There will be a bone somewhere inside us all that continues to grow and for each year we spend a week or so in the Cottage it develops another ridge to reflect the time that is bent out of shape as we feast on the special air in West Cork.