Friday, October 31, 2008

I'm stupid as hell, and I'm not going to hide it any more

Couple of brief follow-ups on the Granddaughtergate fiasco: Adrian Edmondson in the Independent seems to have a pretty sensible perspective on the whole thing. Not totally surprisingly, however, Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail sees it a bit differently.

At last, the secret people of England have spoken.

Apparently this is a clarion call for white conservative Middle England to rise up and drive the tofu-guzzling, sandal-wearing, paedocrime-sympathising racially miscegenated lesbocracy from this proud land for ever, at which point we should slam shut the iron gates across our borders with a resounding clang and sit in our miniature suburban kingdoms eating pie and mash, watching endless TV re-runs of the Coronation and the 1966 World Cup Final and masturbating bitterly. What a cunt.

Incidentally if Littlejohn is so keen to invoke the memory of Peter Finch in Network - "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!" - he might want to consider emulating Finch's character Howard Beale in that movie by being shot in the head, to death, on national television. If he did it on the BBC that would justify the licence fee all by itself in my book.

his eyes slid down the front of her dress

The unfortunate journalistic turn of phrase of the week award goes to the Independent's article about the Quantum Of Solace premiere in Leicester Square on Wednesday:

New Bond girl Olga Kurylenko arrived on the red carpet wearing a dramatic red dress which plunged to the floor. The Ukrainian born 28-year-old turned and waved coquettishly to the cameras.
Pretty cool just to turn and wave coquettishly when your dress has just plunged to the floor. Must have been a bit chilly too. I'm starting to wish I'd been there now.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I know naaaaathing......about my granddaughter's sex life

Hey, it's Mel again. This time she's having a bit of a rant about the entirely contrived non-story about Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand leaving sweary messages on Andrew Sachs' answerphone; the fall-out from which has now resulted in Brand resigning from his job at Radio 2.

God knows enough has been written about this already, most of it by the sort of Daily Mail reading Little Englander fuckwits whose idea of excitement and wild behaviour is an extra helping of roast beef on Sundays and maybe a bit of furtive joyless sex every other month, with the lights off, and their socks on.

There are a couple of things worth observing, however. Firstly that the BBC had had no more than a handful of complaints between the original show being broadcast and some armchair colonel in Tunbridge Wells hearing about it third hand a couple of weeks later and writing a letter of outrage to the Mail, and those were generally about the swearing rather than the specific nature of the prank. If it had stayed that way would Mark Thompson have had to make his craven apology to the "licence-payers"? Hardly. So now we're letting Daily Mail readers be the arbiters of what's acceptable and unacceptable in broadcasting, are we? Frankly I'd rather have Kim Jong-Il do it.

The other thing is - it's actually quite difficult to see what the outrage is about. I'm going to bet that 95% of the complaints were along the lines of: "how dare he suggest he's had sexual relations with the granddaughter of a national light entertainment institution. I mean, I've never met her, but I'm sure she's a delightful and fragrant blushing virginal type as befits someone carrying 25% of the genetic material of a bit-part actor famous for one role in a 12-episode sitcom broadcast 30 years ago in which his most demanding acting challenge was putting on a Spanish accent and being repeatedly hit on the head with a spoon".

So you would think that all those objections would fade away should it transpire, for instance, that the lady in question, Georgina Baillie, is a "burlesque dancer" who goes by the stage name Voluptua in the troupe The Satanic Sluts. And that, furthermore, Brand had fucked her. Three times, if the Sun is to be believed (a pretty big if, I'll grant you).

Let me make it very clear that I am in no way criticising Georgina Baillie's lifestyle choices, nor indeed Russell Brand's, for that matter - I think he's a pretty piss-poor comedian, but he's clearly having to beat the ladies off with a shitty stick, and good luck to him. In fact, that's the whole point - they're both adults, they got together, had some nice healthy cathartic sex, no-one got hurt, and no-one should have to feel guilty or ashamed about any of it.

What this story is actually about is two things: firstly, Georgina Baillie's discomfiture at having her grandfather know certain things about her that, while true, she'd rather he didn't know. Understandable, I suppose, but hardly anyone's problem other than her own. And secondly, of course, the Daily Mail seizing an opportunity to impose its deeply repressive, backward, conservative agenda on the BBC, who should be in a uniquely privileged position with their royal charter and all to resist having to bend the knee to blitheringly insular and ill-informed public opinion. If I'd thought of it in time I would have prepared a statement for Mark Thompson to issue to the "licence payers" and the gathered press corps, and it would have gone something like this:

I'd like to address the concerns of the ten people who listened to Russell Brand's show and were genuinely offended by the language - can I suggest that you refrain from listening to that particular show in future. I mean, it's Russell Brand, for fuck's sake.

As for the remainder of you who acquired your sense of moral outrage only after reading an article in the Daily Mail, can I just say this: out here in the world beyond your suburban enclaves, we swear constantly, we drink and do drugs and sleep with each other in a variety of positions and with the lights on. Not only that, but we read books, watch films and listen to music that depicts and describes all these things in great detail. And yet somehow we manage to remain caring, generous, well-rounded, moral people who take a genuine pleasure and, most importantly, interest in the wide and wonderful world around us, instead of living in fear that someone, somewhere, is having more fun than us. Let me make it quite clear - we are having more fun than you. Come. Throw off your shackles. Join us.

In concluding I'd like to add: no action will be taken against either Mr. Brand or Mr. Ross. Anyone who feels that action should be taken can feel free to continue writing to the Daily Mail, or, alternatively, to go and fuck themselves.

That is all.

Now that would be a BBC to truly give me a bit of a swell of patriotic pride (if you know what I mean).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

I've started to get slightly paranoid about these; I think it must be the drugs. So I've thought of a couple over the course of the past month or two, but I've felt the need to check on the internet to see whether I'm being hopelessly unoriginal. And in a couple of cases the answer has been yes, I was being hopelessly unoriginal. Examples:

  • BBC journalist and current Strictly Come Dancing comic relief John Sargeant and comedienne Jo Brand - there's thousands of pages out there noting the uncanny resemblance; here's one.
  • Ex-French rugby player Richard Dourthe and actor and Mile High Club member Ralph Fiennes - a couple of people have already noticed this one as well. The Planet Rugby lookalikes section has some excellent other stuff as well - links are below the image in the previous link.
A couple of people may have noticed my next one already, but I'm going to take the precaution of not bothering to check, cos I've gone to the trouble of finding some pictures now. And they are:

Co-writer of Seinfeld and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm Larry David, and Scouse poet Roger McGough. So am I saying, essentially, that all balding grey-haired blokes in round glasses look the same? Yes. Yes I am.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

insert meat/chopper jokes here

Hazel's father's job means that he has contacts in the farming community, and occasionally the opportunity of getting hold of some locally-produced meat. So when we were offered the chance of a load of top-quality beef for the freezer, we naturally said, as you would, yes please.

Certain practical considerations presented themselves when we got it all home, however. Firstly that there was a hell of a lot of it (over 20 kilos in various forms, mince, stewing steak, joints etc.), though this wasn't such a problem as we have a biggish chest freezer that it just about all fitted in. Secondly, most of the big joints were frozen, and also they were, well, big. Far too big for two people, even when one of them is as greedy as me.

So we had a problem. How to separate a frozen joint of beef into two or more pieces, without having to thaw it out first (which would have precluded freezing it again afterwards). It turns out it can be done, though not without a certain amount of time and effort.

First, get some suitable tools together. This is (from left to right) my Dartmoor axe, a tenon saw, a hacksaw and a meat cleaver. It's the axe and the hacksaw that you'll find most useful. The other useful tool which I haven't pictured is a rubber-headed tent peg mallet.

It soon became clear that the hacksaw was the way to go - the cleaver (lethal with un-frozen meat) wasn't making much impression. So I grabbed a 2.4-kilo bit of silverside and away we went:

Be wary of stopping with the hacksaw in the meat like this - once you stop moving the blade the surrounding meat can re-freeze and you can find yourself with a hell of a job to try and free it without snapping the blade.

Turn the joint over and then have a go from the other side as well. Now you can (assuming it's not too thick) saw through the whole thing this way, but it's hard work. A better approach is probably to get about halfway through from a couple of directions and then put the joint on a hard surface (like, for instance, the ground), work the axe blade into the cut and then bash the back of the axe head in with the tent peg mallet.

The natural wedge shape of the axe head will force the two sides apart and eventually you'll be left with two smaller joints, ready to be bagged up and put back in the freezer.

Repeat for all the other joints and you'll be laughing. Eventually you'll be left with a big pile of sensibly-sized bagged up joints, as below.

You'll also be left with lots of tiny shredded bits of beef all over everything, which will rapidly thaw out. This is why it's a good idea to do this outside, and you'll need to clear up after yourself or it's very likely that you'll wake up the next day to a garden full of hyenas or vultures or something. At the very least it won't smell very nice.

Christ knows what the neighbours thought I was up to, though. I fully expect to be arrested for being some sort of cannibalistic serial killer any day now. And I seemed so normal!

I'm off to wash the mince out of my hair now. I've rewarded myself for my efforts by thawing out the rib joint that was in the box, so that will be granted the briefest acquaintance with the oven later before I gnaw its bloody flesh off the bone. Yum.

anoint my head, anointy nointy

It's neither big nor clever to mock the mentally ill, but it is sometimes quite amusing, so to my way of thinking that makes it all right to just go ahead and do it anyway.

And there seems to be little doubt that there is some very genuine mental illness responsible for the outpourings at Americaphile. I'm not a doctor, as you know, but I'd say some sort of paranoid schizophrenia tangled up with a nasty dose of religious mania. I don't know what all the DEBORAH ANOINTING stuff is about, but that's Aimee Semple McPherson in the picture, so I'm guessing it's not good.

Incidentally the mysterious PIAPS referred to throughout most of the posts appears to be Hillary Clinton, aka, hilariously, Hildabeast Shrillery Clintoon. Actually I'm pretty sure I can do better than that. How about Hilarity Clitoris? Or Vanilla-y Kryptonite?

so much for the diet then

We went to the Cowbridge Food and Drink Festival yesterday (that's my hand-stamp pictured on the left, which cost me the princely sum of £2.50). More stuff to get the ardent foodie salivating than you could shake a stick at, but here's a few things I either sampled or bought:

Some crazy green cheese from the Snowdonia Cheese Company. This is called Green Thunder and it's garlic and herb flavoured. Excellent for melting on top of things - I'm sure you can tuck into it in its raw form as well, but I'm unlikely to be doing so for reasons documented here.

Various chutneys and salad dressings from Gilly's Foods. We had some of their balsamic dressing/marinade from the food festival we went to in Cardiff Bay back in the summer, and it's very good.

Some organic mutton from Elan Valley Mutton. Don't be concerned by the references to long slow cooking on the website - I griddled the couple of leg steaks we bought for 5 minutes, tops, still pink in the middle and all, and they were tender and delicious.

After all that shopping I was gasping for a pint; luckily there was a handy beer stall run by the Warcop brewery close at hand where I was able to get a pint of Tanners Ale, and very nice too. The brewery is properly local, too; it's in St. Bride's Wentlooge, between Newport and Cardiff. I trust they don't get their water directly out of the Usk or the Severn Estuary, or at least not without sieving the dead dogs and poo out of it first.

Keep up with the exciting goings-on in Cowbridge by checking out their webcam. And remember: if you see anyone getting murdered, it's probably best to phone the police.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

all aboard the atheist bus; calling at Rationality Road, Clarity Close and Sanity Street

In a highly gratifying outbreak of rationality, the British Humanist Association's fundraising drive to finance some adverts on the side of London buses has been swamped with filthy godless cash. Their original target was £5,500 - when I slipped them a tenner for their trouble about half an hour ago they were up to over £73,000. In two days.

That'll buy quite a lot of adverts. If you want to help finance a few more, click here. Couple of notes on the links in the first couple of lines above - the BBC article contains some rich tangy irony with one of the nutters from Christian Voice complaining about people being "preached at" (no, really), and the Guardian one contains (at the point I visited) 1587 comments. If you're wondering how many comments were left before someone invoked Pascal's Wager, the answer is: eight.

Monday, October 20, 2008

the last book I read

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The 1920s - it wasn't all cocktails, yachting, jazz and doing the Charleston on the verandah, you know. There was driving off gaily in your Hispano-Suiza, getting your scarf caught in the wire wheels and strangling yourself as well. Not to mention the Wall Street Crash and all that sort of stuff.

Yale graduate Nick Carraway is renting a modest house near Long Island. His near neighbours include Daisy and Tom Buchanan, whom he vaguely knows via some tenuous family connections, and also the mysterious Jay Gatsby, whose enormous mansion is the venue for a series of lavish parties featuring a large and varied cast of characters. Eventually Nick finds himself invited to one, and he and Gatsby (who turns out to be of similar age) strike up a friendship.

But all is not as it seems. For starters, Jay Gatsby is in fact James Gatz, child of a modest working-class background in the mid-West. It's also far from clear where his money has come from, though the local rumour-mill has plenty of theories. Also, most significantly, Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan knew each other back before World War I (the novel is set around 1922), and it transpires that Gatsby has designs on rekindling their relationship - indeed it soon becomes clear that this is the sole purpose of his acquiring the mansion across the bay from the Buchanans. Gatsby persuades Nick to engineer a meeting with Daisy, and events start down the inevitable road towards disaster.

At various points while reading this I was strongly reminded of other books - Gatsby's hopeless yearning to turn back time and return to some imagined idyllic and innocent past is very reminiscent of Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes, a book I was obliged to plough through in the original French when I was about 16 (needless to say I cheated and bought the English translation as well). Slightly more tangentially, the bit with the star-crossed lovers finally being presented with a chance at happiness after many years only for a bloody and violent car accident to spoil things irredeemably is duplicated in Barbara Vine's The Brimstone Wedding.

I hardly need to point out that this is a classic of 20th-century literature and you should read it. In fact my copy is in the Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics series, just in case you were in any doubt. These tend to have lavish annotations, and this one is no exception; in fact the 50-page introductory analysis and the index and footnotes at the end make the novel look longer than it is - a scant 165 pages or so. Another one for my short novels series, perhaps, and as if to confirm my related theory it's been filmed no less than four times.

It also ends with what I think is one of the most perfect last lines of any novel. I won't spoil it for you here, but inevitably I'm not the first person to notice this; here's a list of what American Book Review thinks are the best 100 - Gatsby is number 3.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Melanie Phillips: I didn't know they stacked shit that high

Mad Mel surpasses even her own usual level of bug-eyed slavering insanity in The Spectator this week with the shock revelation that the current global financial crisis is the fault of those who don't believe in God. No, seriously. Selected highlights include the usual conflating of religious belief with morality (because all us atheists conduct an exhausting schedule of stabbing old ladies and raping small children, being as we are devoid of the fear of retribution after we die, which is of course the ONLY reason keeping us all from crucifying our neighbours and cutting their lips off with a pair of secateurs) - actually that should be the conflating of Judeo-Christian religious belief with morality, as of course other religious beliefs as practised by those suspect brown-skinned bearded people in unsuitable headgear don't count.

Even better than that is the assertion that one of the effects of atheism is:
....the destruction of truth and objectivity and a corresponding rise in credulousness
If I didn't know Melanie Phillips' output fairly well, I'd have to invoke Poe's Law at this point, i.e. I'd assume she was taking the piss. The only other rational response is sitting there with your mouth opening and closing like a goldfish, but no words coming out (erm, again, like a goldfish).

As if that were not bad enough, she then launches into a spirited defence of moose-slaughtering, newspaper-avoiding, contraception-shunning, evolution-denying, power-abusing Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, mainly on the grounds that Palin opposes abortion (which Mel cutely calls "infanticide" - nice work). Other people's concerns, like for instance her being a pigshit-thick airhead fundamentalist lunatic, are dismissed as "profoundly irrational".

It's not just me and the rest of the non-American western world, though. Now she (i.e. Palin) has incurred the wrath of the Bonj. I may forgive, but the Jovester does not.

Also, if you are wondering what a Palin presidency would be like (and the odds are high that we would get one at some point if the Republicans win, what with McCain's age and health problems), take a look at this. Keep opening the door on the left, but on no account answer the red phone.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

look at the tumps on that

I was at a loose end this afternoon so I thought I'd go out and enjoy the sunshine for a bit. A quick glance at the map revealed some sites of possible interest off over the other side of junction 27, so I headed off in the car to have a look.

Firstly, Twmbarlwm, up north of Risca and Rogerstone. This is another Iron Age hill fort, a bit like the one we visited a couple of weeks ago in Tredegar Park, but this one is considerably more impressive, largely because there are no trees obscuring the contours, and also because of the distinctive "tump" which makes the man-made nature of the whole thing unmistakable. Much to my delight there was a trig point on top, so I snapped another shot for the collection. This one is at 419 metres, or 1375 feet if you prefer. A couple of tips if you want to visit: the last section of the road up from Rogerstone is single-track and really quite narrow, so be prepared for a bit of reversing back to find a gateway or a lay-by if you meet anyone, also the climb up to the hill fort is surprisingly steep, and finally the paths round the area seem to be a popular spot for trail bikers (check out the maze of tracks at the top of this aerial view), so keep your eyes peeled. Here's a link to the Twmbarlwm page at The Modern Antiquarian, just in case anyone was wondering "what's Julian Cope up to these days?".

On the way back through Rogerstone I spotted a sign for the Fourteen Locks Canal Centre, so I swerved dangerously off the main road to go and have a look. It turns out this is not quite the multimedia industrial-historical extravaganza I'd been imagining, more a small building where tea can be purchased. If I'd looked at their website first the endearing amateurishness of the whole thing might have been a bit of a giveaway. However, the canal section itself is quite interesting, even though the lock flight has long since been abandoned and is full of various wildlife - the gradient the whole thing covers is quite startling, particularly when you get down towards where the M4 passes over the canal. A couple of the websites linked above talk of "restoration programmes" and the like, but I assume no-one's found the money yet as I saw no evidence of any work going on. But...they managed to get the Caen Hill flight working again, so who knows.

Anyway, I took a few photos, which can be found here.

the last book I read

The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies.

Dr. Jonathan Hullah is a practitioner of holistic medicine in Toronto and a renowned diagnostician (the "cunning man" of the title, in fact). As the novel opens he's being interviewed by his late godson's widow Esme (who also happens to be a journalist) about some matters relating to the death of the local vicar; Hullah is reluctant to be drawn on the details (for reasons that become clear much later) and instead launches into a series of reminiscences taking us back to his childhood in Sioux Lookout and his later life in Toronto, including the setting-up of his medical practice and the array of intriguing and amusing characters presenting themselves for treatment.

Many of the anecdotes revolve around the local church, St. Aidan's (apparently a thinly fictionalised version of a real Toronto church), its clergy (including Hullah's old friend Charlie) and those who live nearby, including Hullah's landladies, a couple of genteel artistic lesbians. Hullah himself is involved for much of the book in an affair with Nuala, the wife of another old friend, Brocky, and the mother of Connor (husband of Esme) who is murdered in circumstances never fully explained.

Like a lot of books structured in this way (including a couple of previous entries in this series of posts) a lot of diverting anecdotal reminiscence doesn't add up to much in the way of what you'd call a plot, but that doesn't really matter when it's as entertainingly written as this. Davies' writing wears its erudition pretty lightly, but there are all manner of throwaway literary and cultural anecdotes, much entertaining sparring between Hullah and Charlie about the conflict between science and religion, and a few deaths at the end just to tie up a few loose plot strands.

[Just to pick up on one of the literary anecdotes as an example: it's true that W.B. Yeats had an operation late in life to try and restore his sexual vigour - but while it's referred to as "the Voronoff operation" in the book (which would imply some sort of monkey gland graft) most information I could find suggests it was the more mundane Steinach operation, i.e. a vasectomy.]

Incidentally this is the second book in this series to feature the city of Toronto as a major character - Michael Ondaatje's In The Skin Of A Lion being the other.

me in the Buff!!

One last Lakeland anecdote: we were in a couple of camping and outdoor shops at the weekend (of which there are many in Keswick, as you might imagine) and a couple of them were selling some interesting items of head and neckwear called Buffs. Basically it's a sort of seamless polyester microfibre tube which you can stretch, twist and knot into a variety of shapes, for a variety of uses. Check out the demo videos here.

The picture on the left is me modelling the pirate bandana look, or, if you prefer, looking buff, in a Buff. Though mercifully not in the buff.

Friday, October 10, 2008

up north. not grim. who knew?

Just a few notes from our long weekend in the Lake District.

Despite the torrential rain on the M6 on the way up on Saturday, Sunday was gloriously sunny, so we headed off to the village of Braithwaite to walk the Coledale Round, one of Wainwright's favourite Lakeland walks, or so the the book from which this extract is taken would have you believe. And very good it was too - we deviated from old Alf's preferred route slightly, largely at my instigation, because it seemed a shame to skirt within a mile or so of the highest peak in the area and not visit the summit. So we sacrificed a visit to Hopegill Head and instead detoured west at the head of the valley to visit Grasmoor (2791 feet) before rejoining the designated route on the ascent of Eel Crag. From there it's downhill all the way to the Coledale Inn where we made short work of a couple of pints of Thirst Ascent from the local Keswick Brewery.

On Monday we went for a shorter walk up the old railway line from Keswick to Threlkeld, where we visited the excellent Horse & Farrier pub. This one had several beers by the mighty Jennings Brewery of Cockermouth, which were equally well received. On the way back we stopped off at the Castlerigg Stone Circle for the obligatory mystical druidic chanting and nude virgin sacrifice and defilement. Later in the afternoon we visited the Twa Dogs Inn for another couple of pints of Jennings, and a look at their impressive stuffed bogart that in no way whatsoever resembles half a badger badly Araldited to half a fox. Judge for yourself....

Anyway, some photos (mainly of the Coledale expedition) can be found here.

incidental music spot of the day

Queens Of The Stone Age's thunderous You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire in a trailer for the Vin Diesel action flick xXx which seems to be coming up on Dave in the near future, despite being by all accounts a pretty terrible film (although it does feature Asia Argento, who is well fit innit).

The song is available as the opening track on QoTSA's album Songs For The Deaf, as well as the xXx soundtrack. It features a couple of classic rock tricks: the quiet intro that makes you think your stereo volume needs turning up, only for the song to kick in properly as you do so and claw your face off, and the couple of false endings where the song stops dead for a beat or two and then roars back in and sucks your lungs out through your ears. Plus some top quality screaming from bassist Nick Oliveri.

Palin joke of the day

The Sarah Palin debate flowchart.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

incidental music spot of the day

Spirit's 1968 single I Got A Line On You in the trailer to the new Coen Brothers movie Burn After Reading. Spirit's classic 1970 album Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus, without which no self-respecting album collection is complete, is probably the one to get, though some excellent and comprehensive compilations are also available.

On an unconnected musical topic, I wonder if anyone else heard Adele's new single To Make You Feel My Love on the radio and mis-heard the warm sentiments of the first verse, which goes like this:

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

My initial hearing of this was as a rather more practical offer of a Zimmer frame or pair of polio-sufferer's leg calipers, as follows:

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a walking brace
To make you feel my love

No? Just me then.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


My last two (unrelated) blog posts magically linked. Almost like my mind is....controlling events in some way. Unfortunately, no-one can be told what the blogosphere is. You have to see it for yourself.