Friday, March 31, 2006

Dub Selector

My visit to Ting 'n Ting has reminded me that my family very nearly moved to Jamaica in the early 60s when my Dad was offered a job there. Things would have been very different I imagine if I'd been raised a Red Leg.

Here's a tool for generating a soundtrack appropriate to the daydream - see Infinite Wheel for more.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ting 'n Ting

The Caribbean food that Garfield Davidson cooks and sells from his trailer has long been a feature of Abbey Mills at the weekend and when I was in the office on Saturday I noticed that he has taken over the shop opposite his pitch as a cafe/restaurant that is now open from 11am to 8 pm every day except Monday.

He is something of a celebrity since he won a competition to prepare a packaged meal for Sainsburys in the year 2000. He's been on 'Ready Steady Cook' with Ainsley Harriot and he also travels around spreading the news with talks, displays and demonstrations.

Thus being on our doorstep he was a natural choice last night for the latest instalment of "Eat your way around the world in London".

We had the "fix up" meal which is made up of samples of most of the dishes he is selling on a particular day, so for £6.50 each we got jerk pork, stewed chicken, mutton curry, fried trevally fish, plantain, and beetroot coleslaw served up with rice and peas.

Great food, a good chat with the man himself and the best value by far of our campaign. You should run - not walk - to "Ting 'n Ting" at SW19 2RD without delay. You will waddle back.

(Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Crawling out of the night

Sometimes it is fun to dredge something up from the 'net and republish it here just because it is so evocative. When I first moved up to London, the Blues Brother's movie was always showing in a late night weekend feature at some cinema or other; a pattern that replayed itself every Friday or Saturday for the next decade or so.

I can't remember where I first read the text below. I've got a feeling that it was on a poster, but it seems too long, anyway:

Jake had a vision. It was his, the only real one he'd ever had, and he clung to it. There had been too many messy gas station holdups with only some green stamps and a case of Valvoline to show for the risk. Joliet Jake had always been full of schemes. But this was different; it played across his tiled cell wall 24 hours a day. And the ending was always the same - Jake and his younger brother Elwood cruising out of Calumet City, Ill., with the sun in their shades and a full tank of gas. He absentmindedly rubbed his Buddha belly; even on a diet of jail food and Chesterfields, Jake had gained weight. Someday they'd have a penthouse on Lake Shore Drive... float around with bourbons and blonds. It was out there for the taking and Jake could smell it like ozone in damp air.

It had always been the blues. Even back in the Rock Island City orphanage (that sweaty kid factory with the black windows) Jake and Elwood were saved by the music. Actually, saved by a gray-haired janitor everybody called Curtis. He wore these sinister midnight shades, a narrow black tie and a porkpie hat the he kept pushed back on his head. Curtis wrapped his waxy brown hands around his guitar neck and played the most dangerous blues this side of Robert Johnson. The nuns scorched their days with holy threats and Curtis rescued them by night. Down in the coolness of his basement he taught the brothers the blues.

Silent Elwood never did put more than two sentences together, but all those lost words burned from his Special 20 blues harp. And Joliet tore that voice from some hidden darkness, twisting his chubby body, snarling at the heavens, a born sinner. They used the basement because it was secret and because the echo gave them a nice dirty sound: Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter, slapping like a bad dream around the chilly room. And then one night, Jake brought in a gleaming E string he said came from Elmore James' guitar. He held it tight and as it glowed in the bulb light, Jake sliced Elwood's middle finger and then his own. Now the solo boys with soul in their blood were brothers. Jake and Elwood Blues... the Blues Brothers.

When Jake could keep himself outside jail, Elwood took off from the Taser factory and the brothers rode the state bare. They played everywhere: after-hours clubs, black-light bars. Word spread quietly across the steel belt about the two in the porkpie hats who still played the blues. And soon other musicians crawled out of the night. The Colonel showed up in Decatur with his Telecaster and and Duck. The Shiv, Mr Fabulous, Blue Lou, Bones, Triple Scale, and crazy Getdwa strutted in one Saturday night. Finally, Guitar Murphy, bigger than life, joined up and they were set. One scary soul band as mean and righteous as a fist.

Righteous indeed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Wandle Trout

I was charmed yesterday to come across a gaggle of schoolkids releasing brown trout, that they had raised from eggs, into the river Wandle just downstream of the watermill outside our office.

It turns out that there was a time when Wandle trout were famous, and now that the river is recovering from its dark Satanic days as a sluice and sewer, stout hearted men, women and children are trying to restore that heritage.

Here, from The Great British Kitchen is a Wandle trout recipe. I'm sure that I have read somehwere that in the 19th century Colliers Wood was known for watercress beds as well as trout, so I shall serve it up with a watercress sauce as recommended.

So, even as we eat your way around the world in London; "Home! And this is my room - and you are all here! And I'm not going to leave here ever again, because I love you all! And --- Oh, Auntie Em ----- there's no place like home!"

Monday, March 27, 2006

Play up! play up!

After yesterday's disquiet about Afghanistan, I found this article from Times (hat-tip Norm), curiously heartening. How, "in the stifling heat, Afghanistan’s cricket team, cobbled together after the ousting of the Taleban, wrote a memorable story of their own, thrashing an MCC team led by Mike Gatting, the former England captain."

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night --
Ten to make and the match to win --
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red, --
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; --
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks,
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

This is the word that year by year
While in her place the School is set
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind --
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"


I've been reading about Nabokov in 'Written Lives' and was surprised to find that he played football when he was in Cambridge. He was a goalkeeper apparently. This naturally put me in mind of the fact that Albert Camus played between the sticks for Algeria.

I also remember being vaguely aware that another Nobel laureate - for physics rather than literature - was apparently a good soccer player in his youth.

Yes, Niels Bohr was indeed a keen football player and was the goalkeeper in the Danish team Akademisk Boldklub in the beginning of the 20th century, but even though AB [as the club is commonly known] were, at the time, one of the best clubs in Denmark, he never made it to the national team. However, his brother Harald - a well-known scientist in his own right - who also played at AB, played for the Danish national team and was part of the team that won silver at the 1908 London Olympics.
Maybe Monty Python got it right about goalkeepers and culture all those years ago:
"Why is it that so many of Britain's top goalies feel moved to write about the Yangtze?"
"It's a river of disillusioned ambition, and I think that this is good."
Here's the song.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Nostra Aetate

I'm cheered by the Badmash boys above, and appalled by the ordeal of Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert on trial for his life in Afghanistan so I thought that maybe I would distract myself this Sunday, and perhaps surprise a few people, by reviewing how Catholic doctrine is much closer to the inclusive life affirming attitude of "many names, one emoticon" than it is to a narrow doctrinaire assertion of Sharia law. (I am as ever thankful to Wikipedia for a lot of the information.)

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 "Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions" is called Nostra Aetate: follow the link (which will take you to the English version of the document on the Vatican's website) and read it for yourself. It is a short piece that will only take a few minutes to scan.

The Church's "task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations" is stressed in the first paragraph.

The second part of the Declaration talks about Hindus and Buddhists. It specifically says:
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.

Part three goes on to say that the Catholic Church regards the Muslims with esteem, and then continues by describing some of the things Islam has in common with Christianity and Catholicism: worship of One God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, Merciful and Omnipotent, Who has spoken to men; the Muslims' respect for Abraham and Mary, and the great respect they have for Jesus.

Part four speaks of the bond that ties the people of the 'New Covenant' to Abraham's stock (i.e. Christians to Jews) and decries all displays of antisemitism made at any time by anyone.

The final section of the Declaration states that all men are created in God's image, and that it is contrary to the teaching of the Church to discriminate against, show hatred towards or harass anybody on the basis of colour, race, or religion.

In 2000, John Paul II issued a statement to emphasising that the Church continued in the position of Vatican II that salvation was available to believers of other faiths:

The Gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes - the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life - will enter God's kingdom.

All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of this kingdom.

Last year, the new Pope Benedict said of Jewish Christian relations (thought the sentiment relates to relationships of all people of goodwill I think):
Forty years have passed since my predecessor Pope Paul VI promulgated the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Church's relation to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, which opened up a new era of relations with the Jewish People and offered a basis for a sincere theological dialogue. This anniversary gives us abundant reason to express gratitude to Almighty God for the witness of all those, who despite a complex and often painful history, and especially after the tragic experience of the Shoah, which was inspired by a neo-pagan racist ideology, worked courageously to foster reconciliation and improved understanding between Christians and Jews

I'm no theologian or apologist, or indeed PR man, but it seems to me that this Catholicism is about as far from the chauvinistic barbarism of the Afghan court as it is possible get, and it is a position that is not very widely known, appreciated or even suspected.

At the same time I would be a fool not to acknowledge that far worse religious savagery rent these islands as the Welsh Tudor sisters Mary and Elizabeth persecuted Protestants and Catholics respectively.

Despair is a sin against hope. If the British can move on, so can anyone else.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Major 'Cuth' Adami

Another Telegraph Obituary to savour:

Major 'Cuth' Adami, who has died aged 72, was an unconventional Army officer responsible for inadvertently encouraging the career of the young Idi Amin; later he became one of the first British restaurateurs in hippie-era Ibiza.
As adjutant of the Kenya Regiment, Adami encountered the young Idi Amin, later to become dictator of Uganda. He was impressed by Amin's optimism and recommended him as a man to promote - not least because he was good at rugby and muscular in the ring. Adami would in later years say: "Idi was a big, strong boy, but it's a pity he didn't stick to boxing".
After a final posting as an intelligence officer with the Trucial Oman Scouts, Adami, by now struggling with his weight, left the Army. He built a restaurant on Ibiza but did not know what to call it until one of his partners' wives sat on the ground and yelped. She had been pricked by the sharp leaves of an asparagus plant.
Adami ran The Wild Asparagus like a military outfit, frequently ordering licks of paint, decorating the bar with regimental emblems, and installing a tradition of a Sunday lunch curry.
Major events in the life of the House of Windsor, such as royal weddings, were marked with fiestas and loyal telegrams to Buckingham Palace. God Save the Queen would be sung, and the self-styled "queen" of London's Soho, gap-toothed Eileen Fox, would strip to do an exceedingly fat belly-dance. By day Adami could be found relaxing on the island's beaches, clothed in little more than a wraith of cigar smoke.

Although he lived on Ibiza for more than 40 years, Adami never acquired more than a parade-ground grasp of Spanish. In later years he could be seen being wheeled through the streets of Santa Eulalia by his faithful Ecuadorean manservant. On his daily promenades he liked to sing In An English Country Garden in a wobbly tenor. If he saw female friends across the street he would shout out, for all to hear: "Thank you for last night, darling!"
Although long pursued romantically by Eileen Fox, Adami successfully defended his confirmed bachelor status.

Sufi Stories

I've been intrigued by the wise and humane stories of the Sufis since I read in William Dalrymple's 'City Of Djinns' of a Persian warrior who was marching to battle:

The warrior was carrying a bow but no arrows. On the road he met a friend who asked why he had not brought any ammunition. "How will you fight?" asked his friend. "I will use the arrows sent by the enemy," he replied. "But what if no arrow comes?" "Then, "replied the bowman, "there will be no war."

I take a very firm line on the need to confront bigots and loonies but this is very salutory reminder that there are very much nobler traditions in Islam than the frothing of fanatics.

Many stories feature a kind of holy fool - Mullah Nasrudin Hodja - and I was delighted to find that a favourite joke/story of my father's seems to be a version of a Middle Eastern original:

A man saw Mullah Nasrudin searching for something on the ground.
'What have you lost, Mullah?' he asked.
'My key,' said the Mullah.
So the man went down on his knees too, and they both looked for the lost key.
After a time, the other man asked, 'Where exactly did you drop it?'
'In my house,' replied the Mullah.
'Then why are you looking here?'
'There is more light here than inside my house.'

I'd like to know more and looks like a good place to start.

"Nasrudin, is your religion orthodox?"
"It all depends," said Nasrudin, "on which bunch of heretics is in power."

Friday, March 24, 2006

Be careful what you wish for

Back in August last year I was bemoaning the fact that there wasn't a Folio edition of Herodotus.

Back in November I got a copy of Victor David Hanson's 'A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Sparta Fought the Peloponnesian War' and - as any fule kno - we owe almost all our knowledge of that conflict to Thucydides.

So what dropped through my letterbox yesterday? A breathless promotion of "The Fathers of History in two magnificent New Folio Editions" bound in gold-blocked cloth with binding designs based on relief sculpture from Athenian monuments of the fifth century BC, set in Poliphilus ..... yada, yada, yada ......

It is really impossible for me to resist beautiful twin editions of Herodotus' "The Histories" and Thucydides' "The History of the Peloponnesian War". Today my pocket book is about seventy quid poorer so that soon my bookshelf may be a little richer.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Vodka University

Evening all. I'm soothing myself as I settle in for the night with my first Tatanka, a drink comprising two thirds apple juice to one third Zubrowka vodka, and very nice it is too.

(Tatanka, by the way, is the Lakota native American word for Bison hence "Sitting Bull", the legendary Chief, is an English rendering of Tatanka Yotanka. How a Polish cocktail got a Red Indian name I have no idea. Which reminds me - moving East instead of West - there is a blues guitar slack tuning (DADF#AD) called Sevastopol. I've similarly no idea how that got from the Crimea to the New World ..... intertwingled ...... intertwingled.)

Further - and as part of my relentless drive for self improvement - I've signed up for Vodka University at the Fifth Floor bar in Harvey Nichols on April 3rd. This will comprise a history of the fearsome tipple from the twelfth century to the twenty first followed by a tasting of fifteen (count 'em) top vodkas from around the world including - from my own Polish syllabus - Wyborowa.

Testing 1, 2, 3 .....

I'm moving "A Welsh Born Icon" between servers as part of the ongoing (unending?) network and hardware upgrades needed to support our external (web) and internal (VPN) traffic growth. This is the first post to the new server. Fingers crossed.

I read the profile of Joseph Conrad in 'Written Lives' this morning. According to Marias:

Conrad was so irritable that whenever he dropped his pen, instead of picking it up at once and carrying on writing, he would spend several minutes drumming his fingers on the desk as if bemoaning what had occurred.

As Paul can testify, this is exactly my response to any setbacks in configuring computer systems and goes some way to explain why upgrades in which I am involved take so long. Must do better.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Vin Diesel Facts

It has been too long - nearly a year in fact - since we had any Vin Diesel facts:
Vin Diesel made a food chart that adds a necessary food group: The souls of your enemies.

Vin Diesel's voice cannot be heard by God's ears.

It is believed by most that Vin Diesel does not feel the need to eat, but does so out of habit. His favourite dishes include the despair of the innocent, the last breath of the dying, and spaghetti bolognaise.

If you pay close attention to the background of Zoolander, you can see Vin Diesel hog-tying a blue whale through an aquarium window.

Has a button installed behind his right ear labeled 'sparkles'. It is unclear what this button does exactly.

The only language he can not speak is English. All his voice work is over dubbed by James Earl Jones, but heavily modified by software to be unrecognizable. His lip movements are synched up via hand manipulation of the source film.

Vin Diesel single-handedly broadcasts much of Central America's television from his mind.

Vin Diesel can count backwards from infinity, but only if you double-dog dare him.

Vin Diesel's favorite movie is Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. But if he finds out you know that, he will corrode your soul.

It is not laughter that is the best medicine, but Vin Diesel.

Vin Diesel passed up the opportunity to star in 2 Fast 2 Furious because he was exactly 3 Fast 3 Furious to be caught on film.

Vin Diesel is the link between fission and fusion.

Vin Diesel eats his weight in Tom Cruise every morning.

It takes Vin Diesel 6 cases of beer, 2 handles of vodka, 4 bottles of wine, 3 gallons of rubbing alcohol, and 17 Tic-Tacs just to get a buzz.

Verne Troyer is the result of someone feeding Vin Disel after midnight.

el grupo libros

I am already the proud owner of a hardback ("there's posh") of 'Birds Without Wings' and yesterday Amazon delivered freshly minted copies of 'Brideshead Revisited', 'The Kite Runner', and 'Written Lives' so I should have plenty of time to read - and reread - before meeting with Chris et al to disuss them on the weekend commencing May 26th.

I've already got a copy of Brideshead somewhere amongst the hundreds (thousands?) of books that I have boxed up in the loft of the Apprentice shop, but if I went to search for it I would have to write off days on end cooing over other volumes I have loved.

My first copy of Brideshead was a TV series tie-in edition paperback with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews pouting on the cover. Uninspiring as that may sound it was preferable to the exerable monochrome cover of the Penguin edition that has just arrived. This is adorned by some knob in a bow tie with his eyelids shut in ecstacy, perhaps as Anthony Blanche - out of shot - smacks his arse.

That said, when I revisit Brideshead my intention is to read it as opposed to prospect for, and then mine, seams of homoeroticism.

All joking aside I think Brideshead may be a profound work. I remembered a scene from the TV series and dug it up in the book:

Often, almost daily, since I had known Sebastian, some chance ' word in his conversation had reminded me that he was a Catholic, ' but I took it as a foible, like his Teddy-bear. We never discussed the matter until on the second Sunday at Brideshead, when Father Phipps had left us and we sat in the colonnade with the papers, he surprised me by saying: "Oh dear, it's very difficult being a Catholic."

"Does it make much difference to you?"

"Of course. All the time."

"Well, I can't say I've noticed it. Are you struggling against temptation? You don't seem much more virtuous than me."

"I'm very, very much wickeder," said Sebastian indignantly.

"Well then?"

"Who was it used to pray, 'Oh God, make me good, but not yet'?"'

"I don't know. You, I should think."

"Why, yes, I do, every day. But it isn't that." He turned back to the pages of the News of -the World and said, "Another naughty scout-master."

"I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?"

"Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me."

"But, my dear Sebastian, you can't seriously believe it all."

"Can't I?"

"I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass."

"Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea."

"But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea."

"But I do. That's how I believe."

That exchange drove me nuts a quarter of a century ago, but these days I'm moving closer to accepting that "a lovely idea" is what inspires people to believe everything from maths to magi.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Trapped in the Web of Love

Decades before the Cruisemeister was "Trapped in the Closet" Joi Lansing was "Trapped in the Web of Love". Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains.


Further to this morning's post, I've already managed to pick up a bottle of Zubrowka. It is in the freezer and there is apple juice in the fridge so I have got all the fixings for Tatanka.

All I need now is a subject upon whom to test its efficacy as a medicinal body rub before moving on to its reported "bison-like aphrodisiac properties" .......

Lacking Polish

For those who think it is ridiculous that I drink as much as I do lately while exercising every day - and indeed for those who think it is ridiculous that I exercise as much as I do lately while drinking every day - this:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then
I contradict myself
I am large, I contain multitudes.
I gave arrack as Christmas presents last year, but now given the fluid demographics of Colliers Wood I think it is time to start investigating Polish vodka.

The origins of vodka are shrouded in the swirling mists and frozen winters of Eastern Europe, and are the subject of much debate in Russia and Poland. Whichever country it happened in first, sometime in the eighth century someone left a bottle of wine outside, thus freezing off the water to leave a residue of alcohol. It was then mixed with medicinal herbs, and prescribed as a healing body rub, rather than a drink, by the pagans who produced it.

After the Poles accepted Christianity in 966, priests saw the light and started drinking this rough spirit, while continuing to extol its medicinal virtues. By the end of the 14th century, the French method of heating wine to become a spirit was widely practised. Polish distilling really took off in the 16th century when a decree was passed allowing anyone to produce and sell alcohol. This early free-market experiment was quickly amended in favour of a policy of granting tax-producing licences - but by this time the nation's taste for the hard stuff was well whetted.

Rye, buckwheat and oats thrive in Poland's chilly soil, and the noblemen who had been granted licences used these grains rather than more costly grapes, which were often imported. Purity was a problem, moving distillers to dress up their spirits in flavoured finery that would mask off-flavours and hues. Situated on the trade route from Asia to Western Europe and Scandinavia, Poland enjoyed easy access to exotic herbs, roots and spices, many of which made their way into the distillers' products, marking the start of an enduring relationship between flavoured vodka and the Polish.
... read on .....

My initial to-do list comprises:

Polish super-premium grain vodka, delicate character made from the finest rectified spirit.
Vodka produced using the juice and infusion of Polish cherries especially cultivated for production of Wisniowka. Full, rich but, dry flavour.
Based on twice-rectified spirit with a dry spicy flavour obtained from Turkish pepper, black pepper and other ingredients giving a prolonged aftertaste.
Extra Zytnia
Distilled from rye, with a small addition of apple spirit and aromatic fruity ingredients. Very popular Polish vodka with a subtle sweetness, though dry and exquisitely light on the palate.
Polish honey vodka to which cinnamon, cloves and ginger are also added. Frequently served hot making it a popular winter drink.
A more exclusive tasting Polish plum, brandy/vodka mix.
This Polish rowan berry vodka has a taste mollified and refined by a small addition of sugar, well-seasoned wine, essence of figs, raisins and dried plums, matured in oak casks.
Polish Pure Spirit - 79.9%
The strongest of Polish rectified spirits, not to be consumed in large quantities!
Poland’s most famous export, a twice rectified rye spirit with a subtle sweetness. Available in Original, Pineapple, Orange, Pepper, Peach, Melon and Lemon flavours.
This greenish-yellow Polish vodka is distilled from the infusion of “sweet grass” with a herbaceous, mild and slightly burning flavour giving it a medicinal quality.

A hobby is a wonderful thing.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Social Significance of Sin

The fact that back when I was a student I had no real curiosity about anything outside the vapid, narrow and long vanished right-on punk rock catechism of the late seventies and early eighties has long furnished me with a warning against myself.

Did I ever during the three years I was in Swansea University take the local ferry to Cork, the Irish port that may well have been the the embarkation point of almost all my direct ancestors? No I bleedin' didn't, so it can be no surprise that I managed to live in the hall of residence Neuadd Lewis Jones with no idea of - and no interest in - who Lewis Jones may or may not have been.

Well now courtesy of Dai Smith and the Library of Wales I have learned a little.
Labour college student, imprisoned in 1926, Cambrian Colliery checkweighman, victimised union activist, leader of several hunger marches, remarkable orator, Communist councillor and proletarian novelist. He was even capable of holding an audience of over a thousand people for two and a half hours with his lecture ‘The Social Significance of Sin’.
It is however entirely likely that Lewis and I wouldn't have seen eye to eye.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Keeping it real

Radio channel hopping on my way over the channel bridge I was amazed to hear David Bishop - who went to school with me in the Seventies - working as a sports pundit on a station called Real Radio Wales. He seems to be doing a good job as well as this coverage of a recent show featuring Robbie Savage shows.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Silver Linings

One inestimable plus of my newish single status is that I am in Wales with my boy this weekend rather than attending - as is my erstwhile better half's fate - the nuptials of a narcissistic, manic depressive parasite.

So by way of celebrating being in back home with friends and family I actually like rather than smiling through gritted teeth at - and making stilted small talk with - people I could live without, allow me to present a list by Dai Smith - research chair in the cultural history of Wales at my alma mater Swansea University - of ten Welsh works of literature written in English that deserve to be better known.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Trapped in the Closet

It has been reported that in the States a repeat of a South Park episode called "Trapped in the Closet" which satirizes Scientology and has R. Kelly imploring Tom Cruise to "come out of the closet" - was pulled due to Cruise threatening parent company Viacom.

When I was first in London I worked in Euston and was for ever being driven nuts - just like Stan in South Park - by Scientologists importuning me to take a "personality test" if I ever walked past their shopfront in Tottenham Court Road.

So - as Tom Cruise is unlikely to be promoting Mission Impossible 3 on this blog - you can make your own mind up on the controversy below.


I got a couple of interesting comments from Chris on my "headcheese" post. The first said that headcheese reminded him of the scary brawn that his grandfather used to make "........ yeuch", and the second relayed his discovery that that the wiki link gets redirected to Brawn and head cheese are one and the same.

It seems that head cheese is an American idiom:

In England, head cheese is referred to as brawn, in Scotland as "Potted Head", and in France as fromage de tĂȘte, which translates as "cheese of the head". In Louisiana, the highly seasoned "Hog's Head Cheese" is very popular as a cold cut or appetizer. It is also something of a staple of soul food, and may also be known as "souse meat" or simply "souse".
So the headcheese subtitle on the Polish cold cut in my grocers is a Yank term that got into the vernacular as a literal translation - from Louisiana's Cajuns I suppose - of the French term.

Hmmmmm, everything is deeply intertwingled, though I'd certainly have a petite morte in delight and surprise if there was a straightforward French term for anything.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Fish and Chips

Paul and I - who have not yet discovered a topic on which we can't argue - were disputing fish and chips last night. We both agreed that we had heard that it came from an amalgam of two traditions. I said that I had heard that it was Jewish fried fish and Lancastrian chips, while he maintained that it was Portuguese fish and Scottish chips.

I have dug up the reference I half remembered. See A Welsh Born Icon: The history and origin of fish and chips. It is from the early days of the weblog and can't be reached from the Archives.

The great Claudia Roden credits Portuguese Marranos - Jews who had been forced to hide their ethnicity due to persecution - for introducing fried fish to this country when they arrived as refugees in the sixteenth century.

So we're both right. Hurray!

The Ard-Ri Dining Room

Last night, in honour of St Patrick's Day on Friday and in a selfless act of Celtic fraternity in advance of Ireland's game against England on Saturday, "Eat your way around the world in London" decided to patronise the Emerald Isle.

We set our sights upon the Ard-Ri Dining Room in light of this review in the Guardian. I - not being proud - followed Matthew Fort and washed down half a dozen Cuan oysters with a pint of Guimess, then Irish Stew followed by a selection of Irish cheeses- with a good red wine.

I wasn't being original or incisive but it was fine food, and I thought - not for the first time - that there is little better than simple dishes that have stood the test of time expertly prepared from fresh ingredients.

Paul started with traditional Irish "tiger prawns in tempura batter with a cucumber noodle salad, coriander and sweet chili dressing", I'm not really sure that he gets this project you know.

When we came to pay, the credit card was whisked away without me getting a chance - as I thought - to include a tip so we tucked a tenner under a plate. When the manageress returned with the receipt, she turned her nose up at the folding stuff and told us that service was included, earning my eternal loyalty, respect and regard.

(Follow the links for our real and imaginary destinations.)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Girls in Uniform

Via Normblog, an hilarious video of an Iranian Police Women Graduation.

I agree with him about the Pythonesque pepperpots, but I should point out - in the interests of balance - that I don't find them any more ridiculous than Demi Moore in G.I. Jane.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ozzy, Ozzier, Ozziest!

I was sad to read in the Sun yesterday, that "hellraiser Ozzy Osbourne has confessed he can’t make love to wife Sharon — even after taking FOUR Viagra tablets".

How are the mighty fallen. There was a time - as you can see on the left - when the Ozzmeister could give Ziggy Stardust a good mid-air rogering even as they cooperated in zapping a "sorcerors dragon of unknown origin".

A big shout out to Mistress Indi, curator of the David Bowie comics inherited by her boyfriend.

I demand that you follow the link. Why, in the very next panel, "The evil Elton John appears in his Biplane of Obviously Closeted Gayness!"

Monday, March 13, 2006



Don't ask, don't tell.

Hard of Herring

The East European, and especially Polish, influence in SW19 continues to grow. You can't get lentils or turmeric any more in my local Pakistani run grocers any more, but you can get matjes, sopoka loin, and something that looks meatish but carries the disturbing English subtitle "headcheese".

Headcheese notwithstanding, the Poles certainly seem to know what they are doing with cured pork and my larder is never without some of their ham, bacon joints or sausages these days.

Matjes turns out to be herring. I bought some because I'd enjoyed it in Glas last month. I served it up with an apple and horseradish sauce and a baked potato because I had read that that was the kind of thing that might be eaten during Lent in Poland.

It may be the result of my imperfect preparation, but it was certainly penance consuming it.

P.S. The estimable Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food describes herring as being, "of all fish probably the one that has had most influence on the economic and political history of Europe", but doesn't really elaborate on that striking claim in the rest of the entry.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Girls Aloud

My five year old has asked me to buy him Girls Aloud.

I don't know if he means a CD, a DVD, a poster, or white slavery but it is not a bridge I was expecting to be crossing quite this early.

Alvy's Classmate: For God's sake, Alvy, even Freud speaks of a latency period.
Alvy Singer:
Well, I never had a latency period. I can't help it.

Anyway it is all two way traffic. After last week I have determined that when in the fullness of time, he moves on to make his own way in the world, I am going to look him straight in the eye Polonius-like and advise in a deadpan Scottish brogue, "you must not eat a lady's bun even if you are hungry".

Knowledge Without A Larger Understanding

To trace the boundaries of the vanished Ottoman Empire, take a map of Europe and the Middle East and start shading in every country that, for the last 15 years, has been in the news thanks to civil war, ethnic cleansing, and terrorism. From Bosnia in the northwest to Baghdad in the southeast, the world's most dangerous zone is made up of Ottoman successor states, carved out of the corpse of the empire by rebellious ethnic groups (Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania) or high-handed European imperialists (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq). Just as the collapse of the U.S.S.R. made it possible to feel nostalgic for the Cold War as a time of relative stability, so the aftermath of the fall of the Ottoman Empire - a consummation devoutly wished by Europe for most of the 19th century, and finally achieved after World War I - can make even that corrupt, despotic regime look good.
From Knowledge Without A Larger Understanding - March 8, 2006 - The New York Sun, I post it here to spur consideration of the mega (meta?) context of Birds Without Wings ahead of Chris et al's next book club meeting.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


I didn't miss a day training last week, but when I came to weigh myself yesterday, I found that it had been one of those rare weeks since last summer when I put on a pound.

Last week contained an unusual amount of eating and drinking and socialising so c'est la vie.

I've written before about seeing a personal trainer every fortnight or so to keep me motivated and on track so I thought that I would put some meat on those bones for today's post.

I've never been the most flexible or limber of people, but what astounded me in my first session was that Gordon could tell that without seeing me do any exercise at all. It seems that my habit of standing with my feet not parallel but turned ou at an angle of ten to two on an imaginary clockface indicates tight hip flexors. I've since learned that my left side is much stiffer than my right and that the adductor in my left leg is stiffest of all. What is great about knowing that is that it gives me something specific to work on rather than ignoring stretching in a fit of adolescent pique because I can hardly touch my toes.

He told me this week when prescribing some exercises while proscribing others that I tended towards being kyphotic - or round shouldered.

I googled the term when I got back to the office and found this article 'Heal that Hunchback!' from - God help us - Testosterone Nation. If you can get past the titles and read it however it is fascinating. It certainly resonated with me. Early in the article the author says:

Let me tell you a little story about how kyphosis can negatively affect your lifting. One of my first patients at the Athletic Performance Center showed up with some serious kyphosis and the worst case of shoulder tendonitis I've ever seen. This 40-year-old trained four days a week and had the body of someone half his age. However, he had a problem: his shoulders were wrecked!
He used to start his training with flat and incline barbell benches. Eventually they hurt too much so he switched to dumbbells. Soon, those hurt too much as well, so he switched to dumbbells with a hammer grip. He'd naturally been progressing to exercises that used less and less shoulder rotation, and when he came to us he
had stopped doing any chest or shoulder movements whatsoever. His condition had gotten so bad he couldn't even put his arm around his wife at the movies!
His kyphotic posture had lead to an extreme amount of stress being placed on his rotator cuff muscles. It was so bad and his muscles were so beat up that his body was laying bone instead of scar tissue to stop the area from being injured any further!
Now the weird thing about that from my standpoint is that I do have two bad shoulders. I had always thought that one was an old rugby injury and one was the result of a skiing accident. But when I went to hospital in agony when I got back to the UK after skiing I was told that I had a lump of calcium laid down in my left shoulder and that if the the cortisone injection that they gave me didn't clear it up I would need an operation. And again when my other shoulder flared up a few years later I was told that I had torn my rotator cuff.

Here is the amazing thing about these shoulder problems:
Anterior pelvic tilt is quite often the culprit. When you have a severe anterior pelvic tilt, the upper body has a tendency to overcompensate. Think about your spine as an "S" that must be equal on both the top and bottom. If the bottom half of the S is small and thin, the upper part will be small and thin as well. This is how a normal spine should look. However, if the bottom part of the S is very wide, the top part of the S will have to be very wide as well to compensate and balance out the bottom. Therefore, you can do all the upper body exercises and stretches you want, but until you solve the problem at the hips your results will probably always be sub-par.
So what if your hips are the problem; what can you do about it? Usually people who have issues with their hips have signs of either pelvic crossed or layer syndrome. When someone exhibits an anterior pelvic tilt, the hip flexor muscles (psoas and iliacus) are usually very tight and overactive. The psoas is usually the culprit here. Since it originates from the lumbar spine, hypertonicity and tightness create an increase in anterior pelvic tilt, which then creates a disruption throughout the low body and trunk.
This overactivity causes an inhibition of the hip extensors, primarily the glutes. When the glutes are inhibited, you often see other extensor muscle groups such as the spinal erectors or hamstrings take on the added workload left over by the inhibited glutes. Think about it: how often do you hear about someone pulling their low back or hamstrings? It’s probably an everyday occurrence in some of the larger gyms. Now think about how often you hear of someone who pulled a glute… probably not often, if ever. Not only do the hamstrings and low back have to take over an increased workload, but they also tend to get tight in the process.

Can this be right, that my hips have contributed to damaging my shoulders over the years? It would seem to be an extraordinary coindence if there is not at least a glimmer of truth in it.

Anyway I am happy to leave myself in Gordon's hands. He has discouraged me - for example - from using the exercise bike for my aerobic work. This baffled me, but I have since read that tight flexors and anterior pelvic tilt is something to which cyclists are prone. So there is obviously a lot more going on than meets the eye in the programmes that he gives me.

Friday, March 10, 2006

surfwide'n interwebber lopers

In a week when we have lost Ivor Cutler, and I have been thinking about Viv Stanshall, there should also be room to remember Stanley Unwin. There is a sense in which Viv - for all his originality - was an heir to, and perhaps even the culmination of, a whimsical British tradtion that has almost died out today.

So from today "Nick Browne's Stammtisch Table" is no more, and for the foreseeable future, A Welsh Born Icon's strapline shall become "Hi ho and a jolly welcode to all you surfwide'n interwebber lopers. Here beholdy manifold things" in honour of Mr Unwin".

Deep joy.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Which Seventeenth-Century Anglican Churchman are You?

I am suffering after last night's 2oth anniversary MBA reunion so I can't think of anything to write except that I hope I recover in time for the next one in 2026.

In the meantime - to celebrate the tomorrow's anniversary of taking the 'What Classic Movie Are You?' quiz, I have completed 'Which Seventeenth-Century Anglican Churchman are You?'. It seems that I am the Bishop of Down, Connor and Clomore from 1661-7.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

popliteal fossa

English as tuppence, changing yet changeless as canal water, nestling in green nowhere, armoured and effete, bold flag-bearer, lotus fed, Miss Havershambling opsimath and eremite, feudal still, reactionary Rawlinson End.
As I was browsing the dearly departed Ivor Cutler's works on Amazon, I couldn't help but notice a ubiquitous "customers who bought this item also bought: Sir Henry at Rawlinson End; Audio CD ~ Vivian Stanshall". Cutler's wikipedia entry also acknowledges a kinship: "see also Vivian Stanshall" it advises.

Listening again last night to the Ginger Geezer's masterpiece I couldn't help but wonder if my obsessive squirreling of nuggets to feed the blog is not in danger of turning me into Reg Smeeton, Rawlinson End's resident pub know-it-all: 'Did you know there is no proper name for the back of the knee?'

Reg Smeeton, floccose red wig like a kipper nailed to his bonce, nodded with ill-feigned interest; but the butterfly flexions of his face muscles argued the mental tumult within - urging fervid facts chattering in Stockhausen tongues.

"Drawing from my vast, though admittedly unresolved catalogue of general know-it-all, facts of interest etcetera, corroborated, corroboree: a sacred or warlike assembly of aboriginals, may I remind you of ........"
Another stray thought, is Beachcomber's Lord Shortcake perhaps the missing link between Sir Henry and Wodehouse's Blandings Castle?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I ate a lady's bun

I was sorry to learn - from a Telegraph obituary - that Ivor Cutler has died. I wasn't very familiar with his work, but Chris played me a track called "I ate a lady's bun" when I visited over the New Year and it was hilarious.
Among Cutler's recreations in later life was "dishing out sticky labels to deserving persons" - bus drivers, passers-by, supermarket check-out girls. One such read: "Add 15 inches to your stride and save 4½ per cent of insects."
You get the picture.

The Godfather: The Game

I've never really got on with or into computer games. I wonder if Electronic Arts' The Godfather could be the one that tips the balance for me when it ships in a fortnight.

It has been years in development and according to the Daily Telegraph, while it has been disowned by Coppola, it does feature new voice recordings by - and the licensed images of - James Caan, Robert Duvall and even Brando. I've also read somewhere else that it will feature the classic score of the original films.

Last year games worth £1.35 billion were sold in the UK, while cinemas only took in £840 million. Watch this space.

Monday, March 06, 2006


Times Online:
POLICE released three suspects yesterday after admitting that they had been held in custody for several weeks just because they were black.

This might have been a big story, except that they were golliwoggs.

The dolls were seized from the window of a shop on suspicion of causing "alarm, harassment or distress" under Section 5 of the Public Order Act when West Mercia police received a complaint from a passer-by. They were returned to the custody of shopkeeper Donald Reynolds, owner of Pettifer's hardware and general store in Bromyard, Herefordshire, after an investigation.

A police spokesman said that no further action was being taken but that Mr Reynolds had been advised not to display them "insensitively" in future.

Beachcomber, Thou Should'st Be Living at This Hour! Part the Second.

Sarkar 2

I did manage to pick up a copy of Sarkar - a modern Indian take on 'The Godfather - in Tooting. I was a little disappointed with it to be honest, but maybe my expectations were too high.

I see from IMDB that we can expect Sarkar 2 some time this year. Maybe that will be better.

Another thing that IMDB demonstrates is the extraordinary work ethic of Indian cinema. According to his entry, Amitabh Bachchan made four other films betweeen Black and Sarkar last year, and has made, is filming, or has announced another 12 since then.

By way of contrast, according to the UK Film Council, only 37 indigenous feature films were made in Britain last year. I wonder how many India pumped out.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

On the Waterfront

After having my interest in it piqued the other day - by the reference to Terry's weight in the shooting script - I picked up a copy of 'On the Waterfront' on DVD in Sainsbury's for £5.99.

I watched it this afternoon - and as I know the movie so well - listened to the Richard Schickel and Jeff Young commentary. I didn't learn a lot from the commentary although, as the actual soundtrack of the movie is turned down so low when it is on, I did discover - through its absence - how important Bernstein's score is to the movie.

The DVD also has an added bonus feature "Contender: Mastering The Method Featurette " about the famous taxi scene. Watching that I found that in the film, Terry's fighting weight was 168lb rather than 175.

Rather appropriately on this day of days, that makes him a super middleweight like Joe Calzaghe rather than a light heavyweight.

Dazzling Calzaghe

I am delighted to acknowledge that all my long time doubts and fears about how Joe Calzaghe would cope once he got in the ring with Jeff Lacey were unfounded.

BBC SPORT Boxing Dazzling Calzaghe unifies titles.

Surely he must be comfortably the most successfu British boxer of all time now. I'm still amazed he doesn't have a higher profile.

(Yesterday was a strange and contrasting 24 hours as I spent the afternoon in the Tate Britain at the Gothic Nightmares exhibition which is a very odd warm up for watching boxing.)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Prophetic and Violent Masterpiece

I'm drawn to Theodore Dalrymple, the nom de plume so far as I can tell, of a recently retired prison doctor.

Here, in an appreciation of ' A Clockwork Orange' he heralds 'Burgess’s creation of a completely convincing new argot more or less ex nihilo' as an extraordinary achievement. I tried to write some updated Nadsat last year and I think that I pulled it off. You can see it here.

Dalrymple's brutal evaluation of contemporary mores strkes a chord with me. He puts the boot into the youth who "persuaded that they already know all that is necessary, are disabused about everything, for fear of appearing naive".

It applies to more than youth, but not - I hope - to me any more.

Friday, March 03, 2006


I see that Dubya is not the only North American wooing India. According to the BBC, Will Smith has met with Bollywood producers, directors and actors and visited film studios.

I was particularly intrigued to read that "the actor said he had been "blown away" by the performance of Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan - also known as Big B - in the film Sarkar".

I'm a big Bachchan fan myself, as my rant last year when his movie Black didn't get an Oscar nomination demonstrates, so I was keen to find out more about Sarkar.

It turns out that Sarkar is an Indian version (I choose the word carefully) of Coppola's 'The Godfather'. This is very exciting when I think of how much I love 'The Godfather' and how much I loved Kaante - in which the Big B also featured - and which I celebrated as an exuberant version of three different American movies plus, at one remove, a Hong Kong film.

The notion that Indian films are ever copies of foreign efforts that may have inspired them is nonsense in my view. I think that there is an exuberance about Indian film that carries all before it rather in the manner of Elizabethan drama (another genre that was not too exercised about original storylines).

It certainly seems that Sarkar is inspired as much by the baleful influence of Bal Thackery (with whom I am familiar from Mehta's wonderful Maximum City) on modern Mumbai as it is by the saga of Don Corleone.

Sarkar is available on Amazon, but it costs £21.99. If I can't pick it up somewhere between here and Tooting for less than that I will be very surprised.

(Though - credit where it is due to Amazon and thinking of yesterday's post - you can pick up a DVD of On the Waterfront there for less than a fiver. You can't buy a cinema ticket for that.)

Thursday, March 02, 2006


I'm going to have to cancel my plans for brunch at Lundun's on Sunday as I've realised that I'll be staying up - or maybe getting up - for the Joe Calzaghe v Jeff Lacy fight at 2 o'clock that morning so the rest of the a.m. will need to be slow.

Pondering this super middleweight clash definitively to settle who is the best 12 stone fighter in the world has reminded me just how light all non heavyweight boxers are. Even with my recent weight loss I only moved down from heavyweight to cruiserweight on 25 October last year, and I won't step down from cruiserweight to light heavyweight unless I get a little below my target of 80kg.

Looking at the light heavyweight range of 168 to 175 lb (79.4 kg) in the boxing weight classes entry in wikipedia, I was transported to one of he most famous scenes in film history from one of my favourite movies.

What do you weigh these days, slugger?

...eight-seven, eighty-eight.
What's it to you?

Gee, when you tipped one seventy-five
you were beautiful. You should've
been another Billy Conn. That skunk I
got to manage you brought you along too fast.

It wasn't him!
(years of abuse crying out in him)
It was you, Charley. You and Johnny. Like the
night the two of youse come in the dressing
room and says, "Kid, this ain't your night— we're
going for the price on Wilson." It ain't my night.
I'd of taken Wilson apart that night! I was ready—
remember the early rounds throwing them combinations.
So what happens— This bum Wilson
he gets the title shot— outdoors in the ballpark!
– and what do I get— a couple of bucks and
a one-way ticket to Palookaville.
(more and more aroused as he relives it)
It was you, Charley. You was
my brother. You should of looked out for me.
Instead of making me take them dives for the
short-end money.

I always had a bet down for
you. You saw some money.

See! You don't understand!

I tried to keep you in good with Johnny.

You don't understand! I could've been a
contender. I could've had class and been somebody.
Real class.
Instead of a bum, let's face it,
which is what I am. It was you, Charley.
(That is slightly different from the actual words that Brando and Steiger actually say in 'On the Waterfront'. I think it is from Budd Schulberg's shooting script, but it is interesting how little improvisation there actually is in the scene as filmed.)

I'm very tempted to lower my target 0.6kg to 175lb now in tribute.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

The Valerie Plame investigation while massive in the States doesn't really have that high a profile in the UK, nevertheless this profile - from the Feb 2006 issue of Vanity Fair - of Patrick Fitzgerald the tireless attorney who is running it lodged in my mind because of the extraordinary paragraph below.

The face he showed that day looked a bit banged up, as if he'd just come out of a rugby game, though in fact it reflected only sleeplessness. There was a kind of wide-eyed, youthful sweetness to it. One easily understood why, when Fitzgerald and Andrew McCarthy, a fellow Irish-American, had prosecuted Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman in a Manhattan terror bombing and assassination conspiracy a decade ago, defense lawyers petitioned for a recess on Ash Wednesday: the blackened foreheads of the prosecutors would only accentuate their maddening altar-boy images. (The judge, incidentally, granted the request.)
The defence for an Egyptian Muslim cleric got an adjournment on Ash Wednesday so that the court wouldn't be swayed by the crosses of ashes sported by the Irish American Catholic prosecuters a a sign of penitence and mortality! I'm astounded. You wouldn't believe it in a novel or a film

St. David's Day

Gracious of Google to slide a daffodil into their logo for St. David's day. It doesn't seem to be a good day for them though.

Set the controls

I realise that it may seem a tad narcissistic always to be going on about my exercise programme and resultant weight loss here but there is something in the action of pressing Blogger's "Publish Post" button that seems to add an appropriate - but not overbearing formality and finality - to observations and even commitments. (I'm pretty sure that Chris has locked in to the same discipline with his teachblog.)

So let it be known that I enter March 2006 at precisely 84kg ( around 13 stone 3) and that I am committed to entering April 2006 weighing less than 13 stone (82.5kg).

Gordon - who is training me now - mentioned the other day that, in his opinion, I would be at a sound, fit weight once I lost another nine or ten pounds. I was delighted with this at it really does correspond with the 80kg target that I plucked out of the air all that time ago.

Thus, I am determined that by the end of May this year I will weigh under 80kg - around 3 stone less than I weighed at the same point in 2005.

I'm bearing witness to it here because I am convinced that the reason I got fat in the first place was that I lost awareness of how much poundage I had actually gained. Once I get below 80kg I am not going over again. (Cool that I have lost the first 30 pounds of this without going on a diet at all.)