The Hymn Book

A few weeks ago I was trying to help Alfie with his homework while also cooking dinner and bringing in the washing and feeding the dogs and keeping an eye on the news and sorting out the RSVPs for Archie’s 21st while playing solo parent because Carl had a late meeting.  And the phone rang.

And it was the home phone and that immediately made me suspicious because nobody rings me on the home phone.  And like a fool I answered it.  And on the other end was a very old man’s voice by the name of Henry.  And although I hadn’t seen or heard of Henry for about a decade I did remember him because he is a friend of my father-in-laws and by coincidence, his wife who died about seven years ago was the mother-in-law of one of my best friends.


Slow-cooked lamb leg, resting

Long story short, because this wasn’t a sharp and snappy conversation because he had to fill me in on how many trips he’d had to hospital so far this year and how he had the two best surgeons in the country and how they were going to charge him $10,000 for the operation but because he told them of all the work he’s done for the community they reduced the bill to $7,000 and how he told them he hoped they wouldn’t hit the 6th cranial nerve but it couldn’t be avoided and so now he’s dribbling down the right side of his mouth but on his last visit to the best surgeons in the country they said it will recover with time and so he’s looking forward to that.

I seriously had to pour myself a wine.  I had no idea why for 20 minutes I’d had to hear all of this.  But then he said he’d been on the phone to my father-in-law because he’d been tidying up a few things and he’d come across a book that belonged to my in-laws and he had it in his possession because his now deceased wife had borrowed it about a decade ago.

Place carrots, garlic and rosemary on the bottom of a roasting dish

Place carrots, garlic and rosemary on the bottom of a roasting dish

I asked, ‘What does this have to do with me?’

He said, ‘Oh, your father-in-law said that you’re going up to Queensland to see them at Easter and that you’d be happy to come up and get the book from me’.  I have no concrete plans to fly to Queensland and this man is an hour’s drive from my part of Sydney so not exactly in my neighbourhood.

I said, ‘No, we don’t have any plans to go to Queensland’.

‘Oh, but you will be seeing them sometime?’

‘Well, yes, I expect we will see them at some stage this year’.

‘Well that’s very helpful so just give me a ring before you come to get the book because I am very busy and I do go out a lot.’  I was horribly confused and all out of patience and wanted the conversation to end so I ran around looking for a pen and a piece of paper.

‘What’s your number then?’

‘I don’t give out my number to strange ladies’, he said slyly, which I found absolutely infuriating.


‘I don’t give out my number to strange ladies’.  And I groaned.  The wine hadn’t yet kicked in and I couldn’t help myself.  He thought he was being hilarious but no, just winding me up.

‘Fine then’.

‘It’s all right dear, you can have it’, and he gave me his number.

Just about all you need

Just about all you need

Busy as I was, I then sent a rather sternly worded email to my father-in-law asking him to refrain from handing out my number to his friends (this is not a once-off).  And that as we have no immediate plans to fly to Queensland and as Henry lives an hour away and then he’d make sure that he was home so he could again give me the low-down on his health and the medical professionals who are treating him and the state of his 6th cranial nerve, and as it would be very difficult for me to detangle myself from him and then I’d have to drive all the way back which would cause me to lose half a day, that unless the book was extremely valuable could he do the sensible thing and ask his friend to just take the short and level walk from his home to the local post office and post the bloody book?

My father-in-law did then send me an email with an apology and said he had phoned Henry and told him to post the book that was a hymn book and that that should be the end of the matter.

But it wasn’t.

The very next day the home phone rang again and I was not in the best frame of mind because Arabella had just told me she was going to Africa to help the orphans and Archie, who promised me his friends wouldn’t be RSVPing with requests for a ‘plus one’ were now doing so in force and I was just digesting the caterer’s quote and I had no chair to sit on because the upholsterer was recovering all my sofas, slowly, and Alfie had been given three weeks to write and memorise a three-minute speech and somehow it was due tomorrow and he hadn’t even thought of what he was going to talk about.

Place the lamb on top of the carrots, garlic and rosemary

Place the lamb on top of the carrots, garlic and rosemary

I don’t know why but I picked up the phone and I heard the same old man’s voice and at that point I really needed a sofa to sit on.  He said, ‘I’ve spoken to your father-in-law and he said you’d like me to post the book, is that right?’

‘Yes, that’s the best idea, just post it’.

‘But it weighs just over a kilo’.

‘That’s interesting’.

‘And do you know how much that will cost me to post?’

‘I don’t know the postal rates’.


‘Oh, so you know.  So you’ve been to the post office then’.

‘No, I have the postal charges book here and I looked it up and it said because it weighs just over a kilo it’s going to cost $14.85’.

‘Oh, well it’s good you’re informed’.

‘And I’m using last year’s book so it might have gone up since then’.

‘There’s every chance’.

Pour in stock and red wine

Pour in stock and red wine

‘Did you say you might be going to Queensland at some stage?’

‘We will be going at some stage but we have no definite plans at the moment’.

‘But as you will be going at some stage, why don’t you pop up and get the book then you can take it with you’.

‘Henry’, I said most sternly, ‘I am very busy and I live an hour from where you live and as much as I would like to spend a day coming up to see you and collect the book, I just don’t have the time.  Please post the book’.  And I hung up.

The book was delivered by Australia Post a few days later.

Even so, I wasn’t singing any hymns.

I find slow-cooking comforting, soothing and therapeutic.  For a family dinner, it goes in the oven halfway through the day and then there’s nothing to do for hours allowing you to deal with everything else including annoying phone calls.

Halfway through the cooking time

Halfway through the cooking time

Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb

Serves:  6-8

Degree of Difficulty:  2/5

Cost:  Lamb is moderately priced but everything that goes with it is very affordable.

  • 6 carrots
  • 1 x bulb of garlic broken into cloves, unpeeled plus 1 extra clove
  • a few rosemary stalks, plus 1 extra
  • 1 x 2kg (4.4 lbs) leg of lamb
  • olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
  • 1 tbspn red wine vinegar

Pre-heat oven to 120C (250F).

Peel carrots and cut into large batons and place in a large roasting dish.  Scatter garlic cloves and rosemary stalks over the carrots.

Using a sharp knife, cut little deep cuts into the lamb.  Cut extra garlic clove into matchsticks and poke into lamb.  Cut extra rosemary stalk into 2cm lengths and poke into slits.  Place lamb on top of carrots and sprinkle with olive oil.  Season.

Pour stock and wine into roasting dish and place on a stove.  Bring to the boil to evaporate the alcohol then cover roasting dish with foil, securely.

Place in oven for 7 hours then remove lamb from the roasting pan and place in an ovenproof dish.  Turn up the oven to 200C (400F).  Return the lamb to the oven to allow the skin to become crispy for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make a sauce for the lamb out of the pan juices.  Strain.  Add mint and capers and red wine vinegar and heat through.  Serve lamb with vegetables and a salad.



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  1. Great story, I would have drunk a bottle of wine in that time.

  2. Slow cooking sounds the perfect antidote to calls like that. I hope at least the lamb was delicious.

  3. It never ends does it, darling? Lamb sounds like the perfect antidote. xxx

  4. With the way that story went I was surprised that the recipe didn’t call for wine + more for drinking!! I think I might need a glass now! Isn’t it just something how those types of things always happen at the most inconvenient times?!

  5. Danielle says:

    I would need several glasses of wine after that. It’s funny how busy retired people are, yet they don’t expect you to be the same. This slow-cooked lamb sounds like delicious reward for a frustrating phone call.

  6. How old is very old Henry? Rob’s 93 and there’s a bit of resemblance. 🙂

    I love a lamb roast cooked this way. Yum, said the southern way. It has 5 syllables.

  7. I’ve had those kinds of long ramblings conversations with people who knew my parents but I’d never met, both before and after they passed away.

    I love the spikes of rosemary in your leg of lamb.

  8. Some people just don’t get the message!!! Ugh. I would have been quite annoyed.

  9. Absolutely superb how you have woven this story into your LUSH Lamb.

    I love every single word.

    but the dude, is def quite ANNOYING!


  10. With all that on your plate, and then the phone call…I would have been fit to be tied. Love the rosemary on the lamb. I bet that infused a wonderful flavor and made the house smell fabulous.

  11. I’m making this on Saturday night for guests, it looks delicious. I rarely answer my home phone as it’s usually someone selling something. If it’s important they’ll leave a message or they have my mobile number anyway. Quite right to get the book sent! GG

  12. Africa hey Arabella? Interesting. Oh how iblove slow cooked lamb. I’ve only every done it in the slow cooker cause I’m scared of drying it out in the oven. Must try it!

  13. Oh, my, I know exactly the type of conversation you had because recently I became engaged in one and heard every detail about an auto accident.

    Seriously, is Arabella going to Africa?

  14. Oh my soul! I think I would have lost my mind half way through the convo with this dear old man… Oy! Is this thing with Aribella spur of the moment?? Wow! This lamb looks amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure… might have to add this to the list of must dos! 😉 xo

  15. I would have gone straight to the vodka!

  16. Never a dull moment Charlie! We love slow roast lamb and yours sounds fabulous.
    Have a lovely day and I think i shall have a glass of wine in your honour to help calm the nerves.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  17. I am quite skeptical when our home phone rings too, so I never answer it. I figure JT will get it or it’ll ring to the answering machine and be done with it. Too bad you answered it twice!
    What a gorgeous meal you made, it sounds absolutely mouth watering and I bet the whole house smelled incredible!

  18. At least if Arabella goes to Africa there will be room for someones plus-one at the party 🙂 My mother does EXACTLY the same thing to me too Charlie! The difference is that she’s the one who refuses to take no for an answer and lays the guilt on thick for me.
    Your dinner sounds lovely- but the wine sounds even better under these circumstances, good luck with the rest of the week sweetie! Xox

  19. Hilarious!!

  20. WOW!!!
    I would have needed a lot more wine to sit through that first conversation…. people seem to want to tell you their trouble??? Thankfully I must’nt look like someone to “share” with.. whew, lucky you handled it the way you did, he may have adopted you!!

    The roast looks very delicious and comforting, that would have made everything right again 🙂

  21. My goodness some people have absolutely no clue about how they are perceived. And some people just love to impose on others (I’m thinking of some of my in laws here).

  22. Never.Answer.The.Landline
    I want to have my disconnected – is a PIA.

  23. I never answer the landline unless I’m expecting a delivery – it’s always spam calls. He just sounds old and lonely and I know from talking to my folks the smallest things take on significance way beyond what they would have a few years ago. Mind you, when I visit them I NEVER answer their landline or I get stuck talking to their crazy old friends for ages so I do feel your pain.
    I bet that gravy is superb after that long slow cooking time – perfect autumnal food.

  24. LOL, I think you needed more than a glass of wine!!! Hope Alfie did OK with his memorization 🙂 And that Henry has lost your number!

  25. Sometimes I do feel sorry for the old folks…they are so desperate just to talk to someone….even strangers from whose in law their late wife had borrowed a book a decade ago….I think the book was an excuse. the old guy was just looking to chat someone up. Poor you. I would have had a big glass of wine too!

  26. You obviously have a lot of patience to have dealt with that man as long as you did. Well at least it didn’t affect your cooking. This leg of lamb is to die for!!! Oh how we love lamb! Great recipe Charlie!

  27. Ooft more like a bottle of wine was needed!
    What an annoyance! Glad you got your delicious lamb afterwards to enjoy 🙂

    Choc Chip Uru

  28. G’day! Can almost smell your wonderful lamb from here Charlie!
    Sounds like Henry was lonely and just need or wanted someone to talk to..never very nice losing one’s life partner and sorting through years of memories and “things.”
    Cheers! Joanne

  29. Lol! You are so patient!! That bottle of wine would have be gone in a flash! Love how you poked the lamb with the rosemary! Bet it was delicious!

  30. LOL – love it, though you certainly didn’t, and how bizarre the phone calls etc…

  31. All I can say is, ‘Lordy!’.

  32. Like others who have commented, I also don’t answer my landline unless I recognize the call-waiting number, or hear a familiar voice on the answering machine. It has saved many headaches. But you were quite kind to the gentleman. Calls and conversations of this sort are so uncomfortable for me. But that leg of lamb is beautiful. My dad is back in the hospital and with Easter coming, I can foresee some changes in our usual dinner. More than likely we’ll end up with some kind of potluck. I might volunteer to make this particular slow-cooked lamb. It would be so welcome! In fact, I may go through many of your recipes to come up with some good ideas. There are many that come to mind! 🙂

  33. I let my answering machine pick up the calls to the home phone. I don’t think I’ve ever used that phone. At least a good lamb dinner was a pick me up, and a few glasses of wine!

  34. Oh dear. I too take a sharp inward breath when the home phone rings but I’ve never had quite the conversation you did on answering it! What an unwelcome request to add to your lengthy to do list. The fuel and your time would definitely have summed to more than $15!!

  35. You have the patience of a saint. What a fabulously told story – I was with you every second of the way.

  36. Well, that was quite a saga but that lamb looks absolutely divine!

  37. Your stories always bring a smile to my face…I can just imagine the faces you must have been making during your conversation. I nice leg of lamb slowly cooked in wine must have been comforting to say the least.

  38. How exasperating, Charlie! I’m glad that Henry took you at your word and mailed the hymnal. I look forward to your posts about Arabella and her Africa plans; Archie and his invites; and, not to be forgotten, Alfie and his speech. I doubt you’ll ever run out of material for posts 😀

  39. You have the best stories! Although I know that at the time this was no fun for you. Fun read, though — thanks.

  40. One of your lonely strangers by the sound of it – good job you didn’t meet him in the supermarket. Nice lamb though.

  41. I feel sorry for the guy and really annoyed at the same time!

  42. You do tell the best stories, Charlie. But what a totally weird and sort of sad, creepy phone call. But the delicious-looking lamb makes up for it.

  43. Gosh! That’s so annoying, I’m understand that because this old man is lonely he’d like you to go and visit him, but pestering you to drive over an hour to get the book and back just to leave it at your house for an ‘unknown’ amount of time.

    What was the book about in the end? Is it a cookbook that you can at least flip through and make something from?

  44. I think I might have driven the hour to clonk this guy over the head with the bottle of wine. You have more patience than I do, Charlie.

  45. I do feel sorry for the poor lonely old man tho it must have been so frustrating to talk to him. I am not a fan of lamb at all but if I had to eat it this method looks great!

  46. Haha, it’s amazing how some people just don’t seem to “get it” isn’t it? I know a few of those. My aunt keeps badgering me, and my mother, and my father, and everyone else for us to come and visit her “next time we’re in England”. The only problem is – she lives about a million miles away from anywhere in the middle of nowhere in Scotland and naturally – when we *do* go to England, it’s to see my parents… not to spend two days touring around driving into the mountains somewhere.

  47. You have to admire the man’s persistence. He clearly comes from a different time, where things cost a shillings and women were treated as dogs bodies. Actually come to think of it ,some things never change.

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