Marina's Labour lover revealed

Loving across the political spectrum, polar bears and selling stories to the Sun

Dear Marina,

I don't consider myself a huge animal lover. I do have a cat, but I also have a fur coat, and find it enormously irritating when those PETA people shoot me dirty looks when I wear it. But last week I came across hundreds of pictures of Knut, the adorable four-month-old polar bear, rejected by his mother and raised by a Berlin zoo keeper. After ogling over him, even I felt slightly nauseous looking at my white coat! Then I found it was an animal rights campaigner who said raising Knut raised by a human violated animal rights, hinting he should be put to sleep. I wasn't surprised hundreds of websites had popped up dedicated to saving him. Although it turns out he won't be killed, I keep wondering why a supposed supporter of animal rights set the world into a frenzy by saying a healthy polar bear should be put to sleep?

Miss Mink

Has the world gone knuts? With the Arctic icecap melting faster than a well sucked Fox's glacier mint, polar bears in the wild are drowning in icy waters or dying of starvation as their natural habitat dwindles. Around 8,000 (almost a third of the global polar bear population) are predicted to die in this way in the next 45 years.

Expect total extinction 50 years later. Knuts will have died of old age well before then. When he does shuffle off this mortal coil he can be stuffed and installed next to the dodo skeleton in the Natural History Museum.

The justification for putting the cutest furry wurry bear in the world to sleep is that he’d be happier because when the bars come between him and his keeper, Knuts will pine and die of a broken heart.

Hmmm. Alive in a zoo or dead in the water? Could someone send that animal rights campaigner a climate chaos brochure please.

Dear Marina,

While catching up on the latest gossip in the Daily Mirror and Sun, I was slightly more disturbed than usual when I found some of the British sailors freed last week had been allowed to share personal stories with the papers. Reading the details of the harrowing hostage situation juxtaposed with the latest celeb scandals just didn't sit right with me. Apparently now Blair and his ministers are wondering if they should have been more careful about letting the papers get hold of the stories. What do you think?

MT Slightly-Disturbed, Swindon

Maybe I’m just too caught up the local election campaign, doing my best to hold onto my seat against the Tory Party machine with its Blue Chip computerised election campaign and every gaga old dear in our nursing homes signed up for a postal vote. But really, I can’t imagine what Blair is fussing about.

At least these photogenic soldiers have genuine tales to tell. Unlike the lie peddling reports of weapons of mass destruction that led us into war with Iraq. Maybe that’s the problem. Blair’s so caught up in his own spin cycle he can no longer tell the difference between his dirty laundry and his bright whites.

Or is it that compared to what goes on in Guantanamo Bay - where eight UK residents are still detained - or the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by British soldiers, the Iranians, quite frankly are just not brutal enough. Poor Faye, being forced to wear a headscarf and play endless games of noughts and crosses with herself. I mean how is Blair supposed to prepare our nation for war when that’s the best the Iranians can come up with. No one even lost a finger nail.

But it’s not nice fearing you’re going to die. Which is a reasonable excuse for not signing up to the armed forces in the first place.

Hi Marina

,

It's interesting and stimulating to read your column. I have a problem; although I am a Liberal Democrat like you, I find Tory women more attractive. I had a relationship with one of Tim Renton's female staff some years ago and have loved one of your fellow Lewes District Councillors [name supplied] from afar for the last four frustrating years. Do you ever feel tempted by Tories, Marina? Has Bonker Boris ever tickled your fancy?

Love, Bob Brown, Seaford

Having examined the notches on my bed post, so to speak, I can honestly say I have never knowingly fancied or slept with a Conservative let alone sparked up a relationship with one.

I’ve always sailed closer to the wind of New Labour and can admit to a few cross party away plays. There was the night I found myself [censored by Marina’s election agent] in a [ditto] with the now Labour MP for [censored by Newstatesman lawyers], for instance.

Later that week he invited me for a dirty weekend in Brighton – handwritten and signed on House of Commons headed notepaper! Oh why did I not keep the letter? But that was the winter of 1996/7 as we plotted in Grouchos, united against a common enemy – the Tory government. There was everything to play for. Those were fun times.

But Tories? Even those with a more favourable gene pool than the bonking Johnsons of this world, can’t help but open their mouths to ask in blunt foghorn tones: “How much is this going to cost?” It’s bad enough in council meetings when the Liberal Democrats are concentrating on positive outcomes and value for money. But in the bedroom department it’s a turn off. Not to mention scandalous!

Right. I’ve wasted enough time on this silliness Councillor Brown. If you’ve run out of Focus leaflets to deliver in Seaford (you obviously have far too much time on your hands) you can come and help deliver mine. As for you fancying Councillor [name supplied], you couldn’t afford her. See you at full council.

PS: The letter might be in a trunk in my loft.

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad