Sunday, 22 January 2012

do the bistro grind

You may have picked up a vague theme running through my ramblings over the last couple of years - yes, I'm into my third year of blogging, believe it or not - of a bit of an obssession with kitchen gadgetry. Well, here we are again.

I've always been quite clumsy.  To be perfectly honest had educationalists in the 1960s given a toss I would probably have been diagnosed as dyspraxic (as well as borderline Tourette's and slightly ocd) but then you were just considered as clumsy (and naughty and a bit odd for the other two conditions).  However, clumsy I am, indeed.

Several times over recent weeks the Pepper grinder we've been using - a Bart's if you must know - has fallen apart whilst I've been grinding pepper over my food.  This, of course, is hilarious to observers, especially my son.  I have to stress that this only ever happens to me. A while back it exploded over a joint of meat I was preparing.  Something had to be done.

Yesterday, whilst hobbling around Sainsbury's I noticed this rather fetching gadget.  It's called a Bistro Grind which sounds like some improbable dance craze like The Strand or Locomotive. Or even The Stanley for Stackridge fans.  Anyway, it's a remarkable improvement over the Bart's exploding pepperpot. The salt is kept at the top and the pepper is automatically ground by depressing the handle on the side.  A marvellous piece of kitchen kit which I've been proudly using at every possible occasion. No more dumping of whole a whole jar of peppercorns and wrecking my food anymore.

I'm currently nursing the start of a cold which is annoying as I only got rid of one a few days ago.  I assume working in a school is to blame with all those pesky kids being ill all over the place. Anyway, I took quick action and looked up a suitable way of getting rid of colds.  Or at least, a way of getting rid of them. It's called The Micheladas Cubana.

Equal measures - say half a glass each - of Clamato and dark beer mixed with 8 or so drops of Tabasco and a twist of lime juice. Yes, that's what I thought. But I made some anyway.  Or at least a version of it.

Clamato appears to be, believe it or not, a mixture of tomato juice and clam broth.  Obviously I couldn't find any so I used a spicy tomato juice called Big Tom which doesn't have clam broth in it.  Not to be deterred I duly poured some into a glass with some dark beer.  Now, I'm not sure if by dark beer they meant stout or not.  I used some Hobgoblin which is a ruby beer - darker than normal bitter. It's evidently the Tabasco and chillis that cut off the neurotransmitters that trigger headaches, whilst the chillis are supposed to help clear mucus from one's nose and lungs. I know it sounds disgusting, gentle reader but I am doing this so nobody else has to.

It is quite disgusting.  Almost foul.  Mind you I've never been a fan of tomato juice but I thought I should try it as it sounded ridiculous enough to work.  Perhaps I should have bought some clam broth too.  Maybe that's the magic ingredient. It's so horrible that I've had to open a can of Abbot Ale to take the taste away.

Ah well, I'll let you know if it works. But don't hold your breath.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

the tale of ale

Back in my halcyon days - the early seventies - we spent much of our time going to parties as young people are wont to do. Nowadays I spend most of my time trying to avoid them.  Generally I find parties quite awful affairs, I think I did back then too. Don't get me wrong, I'm a very sociable person and I love spontaneous get-togethers and, as one or two readers may be happy to agree, I'm in my element as mien host.  However, parties have always instilled some general feeling of misgiving, a feeling that I would be better off somewhere else.

Anyhow, I haven't been to a party for ages and will continue to try to wriggle out of one if it comes along.  So why mention them? Well, I'm sitting here next to a "mini cask" of Adnam's finest which I bought for Christmas and never got round to opening - well, until about half an hour ago, anyway. It is full of a flavoursome ale that I am enjoying as I write.  The quality is excellent.  But it is having a similar effect on me as Proust's Madelaines had on him. My mind has whizzed back to those awful angsty parties we used to gatecrash - actually, sometimes we were invited.

Of course, when you go to a party you are expected to take along a bottle of something or some cans of beer.  This is only polite.  What we did was to take along a Watney's Party Seven. I think we bought one for one of our own parties (obviously ours were the exceptions to the awful parties we endured) but somehow never opened it. Now, young men and a large amount of beer, why on earth had we not opened it? Well, for the simple reason that it was disgusting. To be perfectly honest, its very existence probably single-handedly kick-started the CAMRA movement.

Basically, we kept it hanging around for months on end purely just to take to parties.  Normally you would leave the booze you took to a party at the host's house, it is simply the polite thing to do.  Well, except in the case of  a Watney's Party 7.  The hosts usually asked you to take it away with you - its reputation was that poor!

Eventually, we tired of lugging this rather large tin of beer that nobody wanted around with us so we decided to get rid of it.  Now this all happened getting on for forty years ago so my memory is a little hazy on the particulars. What I do remember is that after a discussion about it we decided to get rid of it forever. No we didn't just leave it at someone's house and let them deal with it.  Oh no. That would have been far too simple. No, we took it outside of whoever's house we were partying at and buried it in the garden.  A far better idea.  A sort of buried time capsule if you like.

So at some stage, some poor sod was digging the garden with a garden fork and most likely pierced the said can and was sprayed with stale 1970s beer.  That must have caused a few scratched heads wondering how that got there. 

So, apologies to whoever that poor soul was.  They probably still wonder about it to this day . . .

Confession over.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

is this all there is?

I really don't understand how people can become moist of eye and feel nostalgic for such an awful time as the sixties. I mean just think of all those long hot summer days when we had to sit around with nothing to do because nobody had bothered to invent mobile phones yet. All we had to do was go out and play with our friends.  Blimey, I even had to walk round to my friend Graeme's house to see if he was in and wanted to come out to play. All that energy expended when I should have been able to just text him instead.  Then we needn't have bothered going anywhere, we could have then gone onto Facebook and written messages to each other in our pidgin English and not actually have spoken at all.  That's if someone had bothered to invent computers, an internet system and a social networking site.

I used to have to sit around my bedroom just looking at all those boxes of Hornby railways, Minic road system (I didn't have Scalextric), Airfix soldiers and models, Action Men and clothes, books, original Marvel and DC first edition comics, Corgi cars, Britain's farm and zoo animals and (more) soldiers and knights on horseback. If Graeme or someone else came round we had to get all that stuff out and play with it.  If he didn't I would, out of sheer boredom, set up a whole made up warzone of railway, cars, models scenery and plan and fight huge battles on the scale of Ragnorak.  Sometimes these battles would last for days.  That's how bored I was.

Sometimes I would get so bored I would cycle off around the villages surrounding Stevenage for hours. And, of course, because nobody had invented iPhones yet I couldn't be contacted by my parents.  They had no idea where I was.  Obviously I am the product of a dysfunctional family.  Social Services never came round once to check on me and see how little I was cared for.  I had to look after myself for hours - right up until teatime, of course.  My parents were unaware that I was off re-fighting the First World War in the trenches that now lie under Grace Way, or building tree houses in the Bluebell Woods, setting fire to ants with my magnifying glass.  Or just birdwatching with only an I-Spy book and a jam sandwich for company.  Or even that I was regularly being beaten up by the bully boys that lived around Whitesmead Road. Oh for Asbos to be invented!

Just myself for company sometimes! I could wander far and wide and barely see a soul - certainly hardly ever a car - and just enjoy my own company.  Much as I still do today, actually.  I'm more than happy to go off on long walks alone.  My lousy childhood did that to me.  Because of the times we lived in, we weren't allowed iPhones, MP3s et al, so we had to make do with humming to ourselves - remembering words to songs to keep ourselves cheerful.  Which brings me to another thing, music.  I didn't really get into music until 1969 by which time I had to listen to Progressive Music as it was called then.  That means that I was thirteen before I had any choice over what I listened to - on vinyl of course. 

Another thing that was denied to us in those days was decent television.  We only had two channels until BBC2 came along.  And, what is more, we could only really watch anything that we might be interested in from about 4:30 pm until about 6:00pm.  No all day tv stations, no satellites, no nuffing.  What on Earth did we do? I was fourteen before I got a guitar.  Okay, it was impossible to tune and had strings like cheesewire but it looked good propped up in the corner of my room.  It was a few years before I could afford to get one that didn't make me cry when I tried to push a string down onto the fretboard. Not for us the immediate gratification of a beautiful Yamaha or Squire electric guitar for barely a hundred quid and devices that make you sound instantly like your guitar hero for mere pocket money.

What sort of a world were we entering? One where people only ever dreamt of owning a computer that you could carry around in your pocket, communicate with anyone anywhere in the world, sit and watch films all day and all night, type endlessly to our (virtual) friends, play games with people we'll never meet.  Even pornography was just a few photos found in a tatty old copy of Parade magazine.  Unusually, always found in a hedge.  Not sure why.  No wonder we responded in droves to such adverts as this one found in an old copy of Eagle comic.  What an exciting world that offered us.  A golden future definitely.

Unfortunately we were sold down the river and now we find ourselves living in a science fiction world.  The sort of world we were promised by those cheery souls at Eagle.  And now we can, at last, sit around doing all of those things denied to us all those years ago.

Yes, when I mentioned the other day in a class of twelve year olds that we didn't have these things one of them blurted out, "Omigod! I'd die!"  I agree because I wasted so much of my youth sitting around waiting for someone to invent all these wonderful devices because I just had nothing to do.  "What on earth did you do?" they cry.  I just think back to those times and realise how unfortunate we were.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

exit wound

there are things that I don't want to talk about
things I don't want to say

It is with great sadness that I report the death of Jackie Leven. What was really shocking is that I only found out yesterday in the February 2012 issue of Uncut.  The self-confessed extremely violent man passed away on November 14th 2011 from cancer.  Ian Rankin was quoted in the article as being shocked that Leven had only been given 24 hours to live.  Rankin had Rebus listen to Leven in one of the novels.  He had also made an album and toured with Leven a year or so back.  The album was called Jackie Leven Said which is a pun on a Van Morrison track.  Leven was often compared to Morrison mostly for metaphysical lyrics or somesuch. He was a large man - one of those "larger than life" types.  Read the obituaries in the quality press, but read the Uncut piece by Graham Thompson for a more enlightened view.

I said in my post on Single Father that I haven't really listened to him that much over recent years.  That isn't quite true, songs from the two or three album I have by him regularly come up on my iPod. Ironically enough, I Think I'll Move to Paris, a duet with David Thomas has just come on as I type.

I learned of the writing of the American poet Robert Bly from Leven.  This led me to reading Bly's Iron John which was essentially about trying to re-masculinise American men (or something).  A few years back a student wanted to study Fight Club which I have always found to be a difficult film text to work with.  He was a bright student and after having read the original novel he wanted to discuss the film in detail.  I pointed him in the direction of Bly's book, which to his credit, he read.  I am reminded here of my own attempts to educate myself whilst at school.  Fearing I was basically hopeless at Maths but not a totally hopeless case, my teacher Doug Ross, leant me a copy of Titus Groan.  I gained far more from that than I ever did from attempting to study Maths.  Hopefully my student will one day be able to show that some wider reading has helped him have a deeper understanding of a film than just some ridiculous postmodernist veneer that the film seems covered in. Evidently the rise in Men's Clubs in America were a direct response to Bly's book - or both were part of a general zeitgeist, perhaps.

Anyway, in a roundabout way, Jackie Leven helped me help a student by passing on something that I had learned.

I don't really believe in life after death - we live on in other's thoughts and memories.  So I don't really envisage Jackie Leven joining some "choir invisible".  So I'll just raise a glass of whatever I'm drinking (Adnam's Gunhill at this point in time I'll perhaps raise a glass of Jura tonight.  Much more in keeping) and just say cheers.  Thanks for some excellent music and some poignant songs. Your life seemed to be a restless one. Rest in peace, finally.

it says your journey's over
it's time to sail away