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    Well, it’s election time again and I’m doing my usual thing – running away from the radio, zoning out whenever I see a headline involving a politician, and gritting my teeth when my politically enthused husband talks away about the issues of today.

    Now, it’s not that I don’t care about my country; I’m as interested as anyone about the fate of the NHS now it’s being handed over to private companies whose main priority will be making sure their shareholders get their cut. It’s interesting, too, that the NHS issue, which was one of the election’s main points of debate, has been put to bed before the votes are cast. I’m interested in our obsession with Trident and the paranoia that has us convinced we’re about to be invaded by Russia; I’m interested in education, and the current generation of children, who are the fallout of the worst excesses of consumerism, a high cost of living and 1970s feminism. My aversion to election season is that it isn’t about any of those things – it’s about the struggle to hold onto or gain power at any cost, and nothing at all to do with policies or truth-telling.

    The high-profile main contenders of the Conservative, Labour and Social Democrats seem incapable of sensible debate about anything; their focus is on rubbishing the opposition, getting camera time and dodging the mud-slinging.  TV debates just add to the posture-politicking that characterises the whole silly season. I like to think that the majority of serious-minded MPs are crying into their beer over the antics of their exalted colleagues. Parties like the SNP and the Greens are more interested in getting across their ideas than playing power games; whether you agree with them or not, it still makes them much more interesting to listen to.

    So election time is not about the serious discussion of policies, it’s about rutting and head-butting. Another month of honking and braying, and the worst will be over – and no doubt the usual suspects will be back in their places barring some routine shuffling, and thinking up tactics to persuade us that £100bn spent on Trident is a far better way of using the UK’s money than on protecting our health service, tackling our rampant social problems and freeing the education system from the tyranny of bureaucracy so it can do its job properly and serve the young.

  2. di red portrait

    Back in the autumn, I acquired two very large, bullet-hard butternut squashes from a fellow craft market trader. I decided to make them into soup, so spent a good hour peeling, deseeding and chopping them up. Into a large saucepan they went, with almost enough water to cover, and they were cooked until tender.

    The mistake was to not drain them before blitzing. It didn’t look like that much water, and I was keen to flavour the soup with some excellent chicken stock nicely jellied in the fridge. In that went too, along with allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon, salt and black pepper and a skoosh of double cream. Great flavour, lovely silky texture – but hopelessly thin. Disappointedly, I boxed it, consigned it to the freezer, and avoided dealing with it until the other day.

    Reluctant to chuck out something with such good ingredients, and which took some work to generate, I thawed it out over two days, then transferred it to a pan and reheated it very gently, wondering how I could make something of it. It was still very thin, although the aroma coming off it was seductive. I didn’t want to use flour as a thickener as it would wreck the silky texture which is half the fun of eating it. Mashed potato would do the same.

    Put some rice in, my husband suggested from behind his fly tying vice.

    I hadn’t thought of rice. I put a handful in, stirred it and went away, not convinced it would do the trick. But it did. After about an hour, the starch had come out of the rice and thickened the soup just enough; the flavour was still really good and the texture was intact.

    All it needs is some homemade bread, and optional grated cheese.

    If you decide to have a go, remember to drain the squash of its cooking liquid before adding the chicken stock.