Saturday, December 31, 2016

Gin and tonic

The drink of millions worldwide, but it would not exist had it not been for Edinburgh-born George Cleghorn, an 18th-century doctor who discovered that quinine could cure malaria. The quinine was drunk in tonic water, but it was so bitter that gin was added to make it more palatable. Bottoms up!
Dry January starts tomorrow, but if I contract malaria I am going to release myself from it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Rogue Tacos

Ben and I went to the Wimbledon Odeon last night to see Rogue One, and good stuff it was too. Jonnie's Uncle Simon worked on it: 'Star Wars: Rogue One' Enlists Renowned Stunt Coordinator for Reshoots.

As usual we had the set meal for two in Wahaca downstairs afterwards. It always make me smile when I'm reminded that it includes three pork pibil tacos. Two or four might reduce the stress of fighting over the last one.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

How to eat a burrito

The Wrong Way
Remove the foil of the burrito all the way before eating.

The Right Way
Unwrap a bit, eat a bit, unwrap some more, eat some more, repeat.
I made some for a Boxing Day party. We could have done with this handy guide.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Light my way

The Lifx Colour 1000 11W B22 LED Light Bulb would appear to be what is required for Ben's room to go with the Echo Dot, and I can pick one up from the Tandem Centre.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


Brother Urban Murray had the initials BUM on his briefcase. I still consider that the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Six To Eight Black Men by David Sedaris

After a three year hiatus, the Yule Yarn is back.

I've never been much for guidebooks, so when trying to get my bearings in a strange American city, I normally start by asking the cab driver or hotel clerk some silly question regarding the latest census figures. I say silly because I don't really care how many people live in Olympia, Washington, or Columbus, Ohio. They're nice enough places, but the numbers mean nothing to me. My second question might have to do with average annual rainfall, which, again, doesn't tell me anything about the people who have chosen to call this place home.

What really interests me are the local gun laws. Can I carry a concealed weapon, and if so, under what circumstances? What's the waiting period for a tommy gun? Could I buy a Glock 17 if I were recently divorced or fired from my job? I've learned from experience that it's best to lead into this subject as delicately as possible, especially if you and the local citizen are alone and enclosed in a relatively small space. Bide your time, though, and you can walk away with some excellent stories. I've heard, for example, that the blind can legally hunt in both Texas and Michigan. They must be accompanied by a sighted companion, but still, it seems a bit risky. You wouldn't want a blind person driving a car or piloting a plane, so why hand him a rifle? What sense does that make? I ask about guns not because I want one of my own but because the answers vary so widely from state to state. In a country that's become so homogenous, I'm reassured by these last touches of regionalism.

Guns aren't really an issue in Europe, so when I'm traveling abroad, my first question usually relates to barnyard animals. "What do your roosters say?" is a good icebreaker, as every country has its own unique interpretation. In Germany, where dogs bark "vow vow" and both the frog and the duck say "quack," the rooster greets the dawn with a hearty "kik-a-ricki." Greek roosters crow "kiri-a- kee," and in France they scream "coco-rico," which sounds like one of those horrible premixed cocktails with a pirate on the label. When told that an American rooster says "cock-a-doodle-doo," my hosts look at me with disbelief and pity.

"When do you open your Christmas presents?" is another good conversation starter as it explains a lot about national character. People who traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve seem a bit more pious and family oriented than those who wait until Christmas morning. They go to mass, open presents, eat a late meal, return to church the following morning, and devote the rest of the day to eating another big meal. Gifts are generally reserved for children, and the parents tend not to go overboard. It's nothing I'd want for myself, but I suppose it's fine for those who prefer food and family to things of real value.

In France and Germany, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in Holland the children receive presents on December 5, in celebration of Saint Nicholas Day. It sounded sort of quaint until I spoke to a man named Oscar, who filled me in on a few of the details as we walked from my hotel to the Amsterdam train station.

Unlike the jolly, obese American Santa, Saint Nicholas is painfully thin and dresses not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is a carryover from his former career, when he served as a bishop in Turkey.

One doesn't want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me. For starters, Santa didn't use to do anything. He's not retired, and, more important, he has nothing to do with Turkey. The climate's all wrong, and people wouldn't appreciate him. When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that Saint Nicholas currently resides in Spain, which again is simply not true. While he could probably live wherever he wanted, Santa chose the North Pole specifically because it is harsh and isolated. No one can spy on him, and he doesn't have to worry about people coming to the door. Anyone can come to the door in Spain, and in that outfit, he'd most certainly be recognized. On top of that, aside from a few pleasantries, Santa doesn't speak Spanish. He knows enough to get by, but he's not fluent, and he certainly doesn't eat tapas.

While our Santa flies on a sled, Saint Nicholas arrives by boat and then transfers to a white horse. The event is televised, and great crowds gather at the waterfront to greet him. I'm not sure if there's a set date, but he generally docks in late November and spends a few weeks hanging out and asking people what they want.

"Is it just him alone?" I asked. "Or does he come with backup?"

Oscar's English was close to perfect, but he seemed thrown by a term normally reserved for police reinforcement.

"Helpers," I said. "Does he have any elves?"

Maybe I'm just overly sensitive, but I couldn't help but feel personally insulted when Oscar denounced the very idea as grotesque and unrealistic. "Elves," he said. "They're just so silly."

The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as "six to eight black men." I asked several Dutch people to narrow it down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always "six to eight," which seems strange, seeing as they've had hundreds of years to get a decent count.

The six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid-fifties, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just good friends. I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility. They have such violence in Holland, but rather than duking it out among themselves, Santa and his former slaves decided to take it out on the public. In the early years, if a child was naughty, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would beat him with what Oscar described as "the small branch of a tree."

"A switch?"

"Yes," he said. "That's it. They'd kick him and beat him with a switch. Then, if the youngster was really bad, they'd put him in a sack and take him back to Spain."

"Saint Nicholas would kick you?"

"Well, not anymore," Oscar said. "Now he just pretends to kick you."

"And the six to eight black men?"

"Them, too."

He considered this to be progressive, but in a way I think it's almost more perverse than the original punishment. "I'm going to hurt you, but not really." How many times have we fallen for that line? The fake slap invariably makes contact, adding the elements of shock and betrayal to what had previously been plain, old- fashioned fear. What kind of Santa spends his time pretending to kick people before stuffing them into a canvas sack? Then, of course, you've got the six to eight former slaves who could potentially go off at any moment. This, I think, is the greatest difference between us and the Dutch. While a certain segment of our population might be perfectly happy with the arrangement, if you told the average white American that six to eight nameless black men would be sneaking into his house in the middle of the night, he would barricade the doors and arm himself with whatever he could get his hands on.

"Six to eight, did you say?"

In the years before central heating, Dutch children would leave their shoes by the fireplace, the promise being that unless they planned to beat you, kick you, or stuff you into a sack, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would fill your clogs with presents. Aside from the threats of violence and kidnapping, it's not much different from hanging your stockings from the mantel. Now that so few people have a working fireplace, Dutch children are instructed to leave their shoes beside the radiator, furnace, or space heater. Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men arrive on horses, which jump from the yard onto the roof. At this point, I guess, they either jump back down and use the door, or they stay put and vaporize through the pipes and electrical wires. Oscar wasn't too clear about the particulars, but, really, who can blame him? We have the same problem with our Santa. He's supposed to use the chimney, but if you don't have one, he still manages to come through. It's best not to think about it too hard.

While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively simple. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you're bad, he leaves you coal. If you're good and live in America, he'll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before you go to bed. The former bishop from Turkey will be coming along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."

This is the reward for living in Holland. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution—so what's not to love about being Dutch?

Oscar finished his story just as we arrived at the station. He was a polite and interesting guy—very good company—but when he offered to wait until my train arrived, I begged off, saying I had some calls to make. Sitting alone in the vast terminal, surrounded by other polite, seemingly interesting Dutch people, I couldn't help but feel second-rate. Yes, it was a small country, but it had six to eight black men and a really good bedtime story. Being a fairly competitive person, I felt jealous, then bitter, and was edging toward hostile when I remembered the blind hunter tramping off into the Michigan forest. He might bag a deer, or he might happily shoot his sighted companion in the stomach. He may find his way back to the car, or he may wander around for a week or two before stumbling through your front door. We don't know for sure, but in pinning that license to his chest, he inspires the sort of narrative that ultimately makes me proud to be an American.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

101 Fun Things to ask

See if you can guess what I have just got for Ben as a last minute Christmas present.

Alexa, how old is Santa Claus?
Alexa, can I tell you a secret?
Alexa, what’s the magic word?
Alexa, do you smoke?
Alexa, are you smoking?
Alexa, what is your favorite food?
Alexa, what is your favorite drink?
Alexa, are you hungry/thirsty?
Alexa, what is your feature?
Alexa, do you have any pets?
Alexa, who is your best friend?
Alexa, what religion are you?
Alexa, are you God?
Alexa, are you evil?
Alexa, what language do you speak?
Alexa, am I funny?
Alexa, can I tell you a joke?
Alexa, what is happiness?
Alexa, what size shoe do you wear?
Alexa, what makes you happy?
Alexa, are you working?
Alexa, heads or tails?
Alexa, random number between “x” and “y”.
Alexa, what number are you thinking of?
Alexa, count by ten.
Alexa, rock, paper, scissors.
Alexa, random fact
Alexa, what is the meaning of life?
Alexa, when is the end of the world?
Alexa, when am I going to die?
Alexa, is there a Santa?
Alexa, make me a sandwich.
Alexa, what is the best tablet?
Alexa, mac or pc?
Alexa, where do babies come from?
Alexa, can you give me some money? (ask twice)
Alexa, how do I get rid of a dead body?
Alexa, I think you’re funny.
Alexa, where are my keys? (ask two times)
Alexa, testing 1-2-3
Alexa, I’m home.
Alexa, see you later alligator.
Alexa, thank you.
Alexa, good night.
Alexa, sing me a song.
Alexa, tell me a story.
Alexa, do you have any brothers or sisters?
Alexa, what are you going to do today?
Alexa, where do you live?
Alexa, where are you from?
Alexa, do you have a boyfriend?
Alexa, do you have a girlfriend?
Alexa, how much do you weigh?
Alexa, what is your favorite color?
Alexa, what color are your eyes?
Alexa, will you marry me?
Alexa, are you in love?
Alexa, how tall are you?
Alexa, what are you wearing?
Alexa, do you believe in god?
Alexa, do you believe in ghosts?
Alexa, are you lying?
Alexa, do you want to fight?
Alexa, do you want to play a game?
Alexa, give me a hug.
Alexa, tell me a joke.
Alexa, Simon says + words you want Echo to repeat.
Alexa, high five!
Alexa, flip a coin.
Alexa, roll the dice.
Alexa, give me a kiss
Alexa, clap
Alexa, tell me a secret
Alexa, show me the t.v.
Alexa, you’re fat
Alexa, you hurt me
Alexa, I’m hungry
Alexa, you rock
Alexa, not everything is a question
Alexa, are you tired?
Alexa, do you have a brain/heart?
Alexa, do you have a lover?
Alexa, do you want to go on a date?
Alexa, do you have any relatives?
Alexa, do you have a job?
Alexa, are you human?
Alexa, can you dance?
Alexa, did you miss me?
Alexa, can you pass the Turing test?
Alexa, what’s your middle/last name?
Alexa, what’s your sign?
Alexa, are you my friend?
Alexa, do you sleep?
Alexa, does everyone poop?
Alexa, I have a cold / the flu.
Alexa, when is your birthday?
Alexa, why did the chicken cross the road?
Alexa, what’s black and white and red all over?
Alexa, is your refrigerator running?
Alexa, do you have Prince Albert in a can?
Alexa, how old are you?

There's a pop culture version as well.

Friday, December 23, 2016

My Christmas turkey

The Bomber and  I rented Suicide Squad last night. We both agree with the review in the Wall Street Journal:
In a word, “Suicide Squad” is trash. In two words, it’s ugly trash. Maybe no more words should be wasted on a movie that is, after all, only a movie, not a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. Still, movies contribute to the collective awareness. They can color the way we feel about the life around us. This one deserves further attention by virtue of its exceptional cynicism and startling ineptitude. “Suicide Squad” amounts to an all-out attack on the whole idea of entertainment.
Almost everyone I meet lately seems to be in show business or have exalted entertainment industry relatives. What a lucky break that none of them was involved.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

More showbiz pals

We won the quiz in the Sultan the night before last. Rebecca was in our team. Her uncle won an Oscar for art direction on Great Expectations in 1948 and did the same job on The African Queen and many other movies over a distinguished career. Small world.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Randall & Hopkirk; degrees of separation

We won the quiz in the Sultan last night. Kenneth Cope's daughter was there. Ollie's cousin Guy is Mike Pratt's son. Randall's son and Hopkirk's daughter. Small world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Dates Night

It was pretty much the same in our house.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Saturday, December 17, 2016


It turns out that I am on nodding terms with Ivor Heller from "around." I had no idea he was such a world historic figure.

Friday, December 16, 2016

I’ll drink to that

As promised (Icons passim) I managed to catch the NT Live version of No Man's Land last night. The HMV Curzon was sold out so I went to the Odeon. Don't worry you can still buy a bottle of wine at the multiplex that they will tip into a plastic decanter for you to park in your cinema seat's cup holder.

Prodnose: Well, you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer.

Patrick Stewart appeared to have based his performance (alcohol loosened tongue, mood swings and disconcerting non-sequiturs) on my father.

Prodnose: If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don't.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq

I watched The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq on Amazon Prime last night. It is absolutely hilarious. I am too busy to write more this morning, but Peter Bradshaw of the Grauniard explains above.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Now Open – AWS London Region

Jeff Barr
Last week we launched our 15th AWS Region and today we are launching our 16th. We have expanded the AWS footprint into the United Kingdom with a new Region in London, our third in Europe. AWS customers can use the new London Region to better serve end-users in the United Kingdom and can also use it to store data in the UK.
Nor rush but I guess it would be prudent for us to look at migrating all our AWS properties from Ireland to London; Brexit?

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

reflections on Brian Moore's weekend

The Brian Moore column published in the Telegraph yesterday began with the following paragraph (my italics):
On Friday I was sat, unexpectedly, next to England coach Eddie Jones at a Rugby Football Union charity lunch. We had a long chat, confidential in terms of players, about our philosophies and the technicalities of rugby. On Saturday I watched the elite European clubs battling in Europe and on Sunday watched Wimbledon Warriors v Old Ruts under-nines.
Sunday surely was his highlight.

Monday, December 12, 2016

reflections on this weekend

If it's true that you are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time, I can only apologise if I am one of them.

The maximum you will be able to get for any particular virtue is eighty percent.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

My two souths

My Two Souths takes you on a culinary journey with Chef Asha Gomez, from her small village in the Kerala region of southern India to her celebrated restaurants in Atlanta, and on into your kitchen. Her singular recipes are rooted in her love of Deep-South cooking, as well as the Southern Indian flavors of her childhood home. These "Two Souths" that are close to her heart are thousands of miles apart, yet share similarities in traditions, seasonings, and most importantly, an abiding appreciation of food as both celebration and comfort
I am not entirely sure that this woman isn't me.

Thursday, December 08, 2016


Bohemian Rhapsody as a dark crime action movie; works for me.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

To be or not to be?

Paapa Essiedu, Tim Minchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dame Harriet Walter, David Tennant, Rory Kinnear, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, and HRH the Prince of Wales.

Paapa Essiedu comes into the coffee shop on his way to work apparently. Frankie got a bit of a shock regarding the company he keeps when she looked him up.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Once upon a time long ago

Once upon a time long ago, two boys born in the same city in the same year grew up as neighbours - one at number four Angelina Street in the old Tiger Bay area of Cardiff, the other at number seven.
They made it together into the same Cardiff schoolboy rugby team of the late 1940s and then they went their separate ways.
The boy at number four - the late Joe Erskine - became heavyweight champion of Britain and the Empire, a stylist whose ring career included victories over three world title contenders - Willie Pastrano, Henry Cooper, George Chuvalo.
And what became of the boy at number seven Angelina Street? Well, how long have you got because we are talking about the greatest try-scorer in rugby history - union and league - 571 touchdowns in 562 matches.
His name is Billy Boston.
His mother, Nellie, was Cardiff-Irish, his father, John all five feet four inches of him, was a merchant seaman from Sierra Leone. They had 11 children and Billy came smack in the middle.
My father talks about Joe Erskine and Billy Boston all the time. When Ben was little and we were back in Cardiff I used to take him down to the Cardiff Central Youth Club with his cousins to do free running. When I was wandering around there once I came across an old wooden board showing captains (or something similar) from back in the 40s and 50s. It showed J Browne and W Boston in successive years. I took a photo but I have mislaid it over the years.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Article 50 and the Supreme Court

In addition to the 11 judges, there are 55 barristers and other lawyers, including 26 QCs, representing the 14 parties in the case.

There are so many lawyers, in fact, that there is not room for all of them in court - some are having to follow proceedings via videolink in another part of the building.

Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done believed.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

why alcohol makes us feel good, then doesn’t

If someone offered you a glass of mild poison, you’d decline. If they said “drink this, it’ll make it harder to walk, speak and remember things, and you’ll feel awful tomorrow”, you’d be even less keen. If they expected payment for it, you might even get annoyed at their audacity. You certainly wouldn’t be grateful for it, then buy yourself and them several more doses over the course of an evening. Nonetheless, this happens all the time.
To be borne in mind after the weekend I've had and with Dry January on the horizon.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

God! Show Me Magic

The Super Furry Animals are on tour celebrating 20 years of Fuzzy Logic. Man we are getting old.

Friday, December 02, 2016

back fill

Didn't get round to writing anything here on Friday what with going to Wales and all.

Making up for it now.

Also the Bomber didn't make the Surrey squad; bad grumf,

Thursday, December 01, 2016

First World Problems II

We host regular four course wine dinners throughout the year, assisted by Daniel O'Keefe of Hallgarten Wines.
I have laid out my dinner suit, dress shirt and bow tie but I can't seem to find cuff links.

Update: Relax, I found them, hidden in the inlaid wooden box, with my half hunter gold fob watch.