`For those who are a bit squeamish, the worst part is taking the pig's head off'

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"Mmmmmmmmmmmmm," to borrow Tom Wolfe's evocative phrase from Radical Chic, "these are nice." I was not so much consuming as absorbing a stamp- sized square of pure, clean whiteness. Anointed with champagne vinegar and flecks of chervil, it was the quintessence of delicate refreshment. I'm sure you'll have already guessed, but this dainty appetiser was a fragment of tripe. It was succeeded by an unctuous round of black pudding, winner of the Grand Prix d'Excellence au Concours International du Meilleur Boudin, no less. accompanied in an unlikely culinary marriage by smoked trout mousse. In which foodie paradise was I enjoying such delights? Strasbourg? Lyons, perhaps, or Brussels? In fact, it was near Blackburn, Lancs. Together with four other journalists from London - they were all females in their mid-twenties - I was attending an event called "A Taste of Lancashire". A star of the local gastronomic firmament called Nigel Howarth was giving a new twist to traditional northern grub at his posh restaurant, Northcote Manor.

I have long held the view that the closest British parallel to the great cuisines of France and Brussels is to be found in the north country. In particular, Tykes and Lankies have an enduring love affair with viscera which is a mystery to southerners. As a small boy, I remember going to Bradford market with Mr Weasel Snr and chomping my way through tiny platefuls piled high with tripe drenched in eye-wateringly powerful mustard. Mrs Weasel, who hails from the less-than-gritty purlieus of Surbiton, refuses to be seduced by such gutsy nosh, despite my unremitting efforts. On one occasion, I almost succeeded in getting her to consume a bowl of tripes a la mode de Caen, which I tried to palm off as Irish stew, but she detected something awry in her second mouthful. "I've just eaten something SQUELCHY!" she screeched, while turning an interesting greenish colour.

Among the other culinary wonders at Northcote Manor were a marvellous Lancashire cheese, which goes by the tempting name of "Tasty", and yummy medallions of boned suckling pig. Not only did we feast on the latter, but in an unusual pre-prandial entertainment, we saw it being prepared. The luncheon party of journalists and food producers was ushered into a conference room and, where a lectern might normally be, there was an eviscerated piglet lying on a large chopping block. "For those who are a bit squeamish, the worst part is taking the pig's head off," the butcher cheerily announced. My young colleagues looked on wide-eyed as his Italian assistant began hacking and filleting. "There, Giovanni has taken the ribcage out," the commentary proceeded. "Now he is opening the pig up like a book ... "

When it came to lunch, I couldn't help noticing that my fellow reporters did not tackle the prize-winning black pudding with gusto. But, professionals to their fingernails, they took an avid interest in an account of its manufacture. "Most people insist on cubes of fat in the pudding," explained Andrew Holt, whose haul of trophies gleamed nearby. "The blood is boiled with oatmeal and spices for an hour or so. Of course, it has to be fresh. For special orders, we have to rush round picking up blood here and there." My colleagues paled perceptibly at this intriguing insight into Lancashire life.

Peter Rawcliffe, of the evocatively named company Parry Scragg, the leading UK tripe supplier, gave the low-down on his speciality. "Business is chugging along very nicely. Tripe is the stomach lining of the ox. It's very healthy, as rich in protein as steak and contains next to no fat. I don't know why people think it's funny. When Ken Dodd wanted to buy a large piece so he could do a clog dance on it on the telly, I refused to sell any to him." The look on the faces of my young companions confirmed that tripe is no laughing matter.

I don't say that our rather odd musical collection at Weasel Villas would be to everyone's taste - in fact, I'm not sure it's to mine - but our eccentric haul of CDs must have something going for it because I'm constantly hearing snatches used as background music. Since Michael Nyman provided the score for several Peter Greenaway movies, I'm not surprised that he is a favourite of programme makers. I was, however, slightly taken aback to hear Steely Dan's version of the Ellington classic "East St Louis Toodle-oo" used in a furniture advert. Perhaps because it is somewhat obscure, some Radio 4 producer thought he could get away with using a fragment of percussion from "Pieces of Africa" by the Kronos Quartet to spice up an item about Afghanistan the other day. Mrs W's current rave, "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve is, of course, everywhere.

But the most frequently raided oeuvre is that of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, a vehicle for the music of Simon Jeffes, who died tragically young last December. His characteristically inventive composition, "Telephone and Rubber Band", which incorporates a dialling tone, can currently be heard on an advert for (clever touch this) mobile phones. But, as far as I know, no one has appropriated "Passing Through", the final seven-minute track on the group's last CD, Union Cafe. Since it is devoted to a solo performance by a rhythmically dripping tap, it would be ideal for a commercial plugging one of our wonderful new water companies.

Surprisingly, perhaps, I do not entirely welcome the slanting rays of spring sunshine which have illuminated Weasel Villas in recent days. For their joyful radiance also reveals the porridge-like patina which accumulated over the windows in the course of last winter. "That's your job," announced Mrs W in her best parade-ground bark. "You sacked the window cleaner." This is true. He was a rat-faced little fellow who usually arrived when I was still in bed. On hearing the first rattle of his ladder, I knew I had to rush and get dressed, because, seconds later, he was finished and ringing the door bell. For this tiny expenditure of effort, he demanded pounds 4.50, and often the same again for (a possibly mythical) "last time". On a per-minute basis, he must be in the same income bracket as Richard Branson and Tiny Rowland. Unfortunately, it has proved impossible to find a replacement, though there are no shortage of window cleaners sponging away at shops in the high street. "Only do commercial, mate," they inevitably respond to my enquiries.

The result is that I have to risk life and limb by leaning perilously out of sash windows, then corkscrew round to face inside. Perched on the window-sill, attempting to control my centre of gravity by sheer will- power, I apply the Windowlene. My sole pleasure during this sacroiliac- wrenching episode is to gurn repulsively at my overseer. Ironically, I have discovered from a friend that window-cleaners are freely available in a slightly more socially elevated suburb closer to the centre of London. "I rather think I've got two lots of window cleaners," she shrugged. "We hired a second chap by mistake." Obviously, the only solution is to send our windows round there

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