Tuesday, January 28, 2014

celebrity croakylikey of the day

So it's RIP Pete Seeger, folk pioneer, political campaigner, environmental activist and the late Kirsty MacColl's step-half-uncle. While he undoubtedly wrote some significant songs, I have to say I find that particular brand of folk music to be a bit off-putting in its wide-eyed earnestness and hearty all-join-in mateyness, and moreover I can't quite shake the mental picture of Keith (as played by Roger Sloman) from Nuts In May strumming his banjo and singing about going to the zoo.

So while Seeger's pioneering work paved the way for the folk revolution of the early 1960s of which Bob Dylan was the figurehead, it's easy to see why it was Dylan's looser, cleverer, more sardonic songs with their mix of traditional protest and personal and sexual politics which really struck a chord with the record-buying public. Add to that Dylan's willingness to experiment musically (in contrast to Seeger's traditionalism) and you have (to me at least) a much more interesting mix. Seeger's reaction to the key moment in Dylan's career, his going electric in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival, is the subject of some controversy, depending who you believe Seeger either lost his shit completely and tried to cut the cables with an axe or just protested the rotten sound quality which was preventing the audience from hearing Dylan's lyrics.

A bit like JJ Cale, a lot of Seeger's songs are better-known via other people's versions. Here's Peter, Paul and Mary's version of If I Had A Hammer, and here's the mighty Byrds with their electrified version of Turn! Turn! Turn! in 1965. Turn! Turn! Turn! was famously based on some Bible verses, specifically Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which you need to be careful not to confuse with Ezekiel 25:17 if you can possibly avoid it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

honey I whisky-ed the haggis

It was Burns Night again last night, so I concocted another haggis-based recipe. Why not just go for the traditional haggis, bashed neeps and clampit tatties, you might ask. Well, because it's deadly dull and bland, is why, plus none of it has any texture. Everything being squishy and amorphous so you can just spoon it in is great when you're eight months old, but as an adult I demand more interesting textures in my food, maybe even something that requires me to chew occasionally. I can do that, I have teeth, so let's push the envelope and use them a bit.

The haggis-stuffed-into-some-poultry theme from three years back is a good one, but that last dish suffered from being a bit dry (a problem it shares with the classic neeps and tatties version), so here's my solution to that problem: haggis-stuffed chicken in whisky sauce.

So basically you mash up the haggis - there's 60g or so per breast here, basically one double-pack of these MacSween's haggis slices, which seemed to be all there was available anywhere - with some whisky, slice open a couple of chicken breasts, stuff them, stick them in a baking dish with the cut edge facing upwards to stop everything falling out, pour the sauce over, and bake for about 40-45 minutes. The sauce went a little something like this:
  • most of a decent-sized glass of whisky* - use some of the rest to wet the haggis with before you mash it up, and drink the rest;
  • a small amount of vegetable stock;
  • a dessertspoon or so of Dijon mustard;
  • a couple of dessertspoons of honey - any sort will do, but I suppose if you wanted to be fanatically Scottish you'd use one of the heather-based ones;
  • a splash of lemon juice;
  • a dessertspoon or so of Philly cheese, or a dollop of cream, whichever fits best with your diet regime - note that this is best stirred in at the end.
Once the chicken is cooked, take it out and leave it for 5 minutes while you stir your creamifying agent of choice into the sauce, then slice up the chicken, arrange as artfully as you like on a plate, add some roasty potato wedges and some green veg, bish bosh, sorted. And very nice too.

You'll notice from the "after" photograph that we cooked some asparagus; just to provide a statistical data point for anyone who's interested I am in the (according to Wikipedia) 78% of the human population who don't notice their piss smelling of asparagus after eating it. My piss pretty much still just smells of piss.

[* - my secret whisky blend for this dish is as follows: one part Teacher's to two parts old-school Ledaig. No particular reason except that I only had a thimbleful of Teacher's left, so I needed to supplement it, and I thought something smoky might be more interesting.]

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

schortbach und zeidz und etwas für das Wochenende

Remember my local barber? The one just down the road bearing the punningly chucklesome name of Herr Kutz? Well, despite my fears for its commercial health and welfare, it seems still to be there, and I'm pretty sure I recall even seeing it with the shutters up and open for business a while back.

If they are struggling in the current grim financial climate where people are probably either growing their hair long to save a few bob or resorting to some hideously botched amateur DIY hair-cutting regime, then they should consider taking a leaf out of the book of the bloke who runs the identically named salon in Plymouth.

This guy (whose name is Anthony Braddon) is complaining that the makers of the latest computer gaming phenomenon Grand Theft Auto V have stolen his hairdressing concept. What he means by this is that somewhere in the astonishingly detailed GTAV universe, as you meander about fulfilling the terms of one of the complex missions, or just kick back and do a bit of exploring in between more important stuff like shooting people and beating up prostitutes, you can find a hairdresser's called Herr Kutz. Where you can probably go in and get a haircut if you want, or just mow down everyone inside with an AK-47 and/or incinerate them with a flamethrower, depending on your mood.

That's about where the similarity ends, though, although Mr. Braddon is most insistent that the fictional version displays a series of similarities with his real-life establishment that absolutely could not have arisen by chance. Like, for instance, the interior of the shop looks like the interior of a hairdresser's. And so does his! And there is a claim that the sign is written in "the same font". Is it, though?

So, basically, kudos to Mr. Braddon for dreaming up a cheap way of getting some publicity for his establishment, which I'm quite prepared to believe offers a veritable cornucopia of tonsorial delights of a splendidly high quality, with no accidental ear-severing, and not even the remotest possibility either of being the unwilling recipient of a Lionel Blair cut or ending up having your throat slashed and being made into a pie. It's somewhat implausible to me that - having presumably trawled the internet looking for stuff to get faux-offended by - Mr. Braddon didn't spot that there are at least three other establishments of the same name in the UK, not to mention one in Canada. With regard to the GTAV use of the name, apparently "he has consulted lawyers over alleged trademark infringement but was told they could not do anything". I'm impressed they managed to stop laughing for long enough to get such a coherent sentence out. Game creators Rockstar North are apparently "yet to comment on the accusations", so they're obviously still pissing themselves.

As always it's hard to work out which bits of this supremely lame non-story originated with Mr. Braddon himself, and which bits have been confabulated by the lazy drunken Daily Mail hack dispatched to suburban Plymouth, probably as a punishment for some misdemeanour - not hating immigrants enough or something. The one bright spot is that, buried in the midst of the article, the careful reader can find - finally! - an explanation for the shop's name. It's - wait for it - "a play on words". Ahhhhh, right.

the last book I read

Waiting For Sunrise by William Boyd.

It's 1913, and young actor Lysander Rief is, along with a whole host of other famous or soon-to-be-famous people, in Vienna. Lysander's presence is for perhaps less momentous reasons, in global terms anyway, though pretty momentous for him - he's consulting an English psychoanalyst, Dr. Bensimon, about an issue of a rather personal nature. Rather unusually for an otherwise healthy young man, Lysander has anorgasmia - so instead of finishing off in the prescribed manner, wiping the old chap on the curtains and bidding his lady friend good day with a jaunty tip of the hat he's hammering away joylessly for hours before eventually having to give up and go and have a cup of tea.

This unfortunate situation hasn't stopped him from still having something of an eye for the ladies, though, and he soon has a chance encounter in Dr. Bensimon's waiting room with Hettie Bull, artist's model and muse and fellow patient, though in exactly what capacity is never made clear. It's certainly not anything to do with a distaste for sex, because no sooner have she and Lysander struck up a conversation than she's inviting him over to her studio for a bit of nude modelling, a transparent ruse that pretty much inevitably ends up with the two of them going at it like knives.

Things take a downhill turn, though, when in quick succession Hettie announces that she is pregnant with Lysander's child and accuses him of rape. Lysander is thrown in prison, but manages to escape back to England with a bit of collusion from some slightly shady types at the British Embassy. Needless to say once Lysander is safely home and World War I has broken out, these shady types come calling on him to repay his debt by doing a favour for them.

This favour involves heading off to the shores of Lake Geneva to try to track down the recipient of some intercepted coded messages from England, and "persuade" this recipient to give up the code cipher that decodes them. Lysander turns out not only to be a master of disguise (putting his acting skills to good use) but also to have some aptitude for certain other espionage skills, like torture. He puts these to such good effect that he inadvertently kills the man he's interrogating, and in making good his escape is repeatedly shot by one of his Swiss contacts. So not a completely smooth operation, but Lysander does come away, in addition to being riddled with bullets, with the code cipher he was after.

Rather than gratefully allowing Lysander to retire from the spying business, though, his handlers want him to do another mission - this time to find the source of the now-decrypted messages in the War Office in London. The outcome of these investigations involves people rather closer to home - literally so in this case as the main suspect is an associate of Lysander's mother. This prompts some agonised weighing of family loyalty against patriotic duty, until, as usually happens in these circumstances, matters are taken out of the protagonist's hands and the stage is set for some climactic confrontations and revelations.

This is the fourth Boyd on this list and (leaving aside A Good Man In Africa which was an out-of-sequence dip into the back catalogue) follows on from Restless and Ordinary Thunderstorms in being quite thriller-y and from Restless in particular in concerning itself with the details of wartime espionage (though that was World War II). The plot here meanders about quite a lot and you get the impression that the various parts (Vienna, London, a brief trip to the French trenches, Geneva, London again) are just separate episodes linked together solely by featuring the same protagonist rather than being linked by a strong narrative thread.

Some of the characters' motivations are a bit thin as well - it's never entirely clear why Lysander's mother kills herself towards the end of the book, since she seems to have been cleared of any suspicion of involvement in the spying plot, and Lysander's own motives towards the various women he's involved with throughout are never very clear either. He has dalliances with old flame Blanche, Hettie, his co-star in Strindberg's Miss Julie, and an unrequited thing for Mme. Duchesne, his Swiss contact, even after she puts half-a-dozen bullets in him, but just when you think he's decided that Hettie is the woman he can't live without he ups and proposes to Blanche after unexpectedly meeting her outside a London theatre during a Zeppelin raid.

Lysander's original reason for being in Vienna - his anorgasmia - seems to be a transparent MacGuffin that Boyd couldn't be bothered continuing with once it had put Lysander where he needed to be for the story to get going. Once he hooks up with Hettie he's soon firing the porridge gun into a succession of willing partners with no problems whatsoever, thus finding himself cured perhaps a little more readily than actually happens in real life.

Europe in 1913 is a pretty rich source of fictional jumping-off points - eve of disaster, early 20th century decadence about to be rudely interrupted by war, the old certainties swept away, disastrous but also cleansing in the dismantling of old class hierarchies, yadda yadda yadda. Of books in this list The Shooting Party is set at around the same time, of books not in this list there are probably hundreds. Vienna is also one of the recurring themes in John Irving's fiction, though not, as far as I recall, in the one Irving on this list, Until I Find You.

So, anyway, it's rollickingly readable, well-written and entertaining, as all Boyds are, and if that sounds like I'm building up to a "but" it's only that I still think Brazzaville Beach and The Blue Afternoon are the best things he's written. You can't really go far wrong with any of them, though.

Friday, January 17, 2014

block WHACK block block WHACK

Just a quick follow-up to the Kallis post - I'll try and keep it brief, as the fraction of my already minuscule blog readership that has any interest in this stuff must be vanishingly small, indeed the odds are it's probably just me. But, hey, any complaints? Get your own blog.

The criticism of Kallis as a bit of a stodgy batsman and not the most exciting to watch is a bit harsh, given his huge value to the South African team in the role he was asked to perform, but contains a grain of truth. His overall career strike rate of a fraction under 46 (note to non-stats-buffs: this is the number of runs scored per 100 balls faced) is low compared with his contemporaries like Ricky Ponting (59), Sachin Tendulkar and Kumar Sangakkara (both around 54), though higher than the proper stonewallers like Atherton and Boycott (both mid-30s).

So it seems a bit paradoxical that Kallis ranks second on the six-hitting list, almost as if he had a bit of a split personality while batting and would occasionally go berserk and whack a couple into the stands before settling down to blocking everything again.

So I therefore propose a new statistical measure which compares the number of sixes hit by a batsman with his overall scoring rate. You can't just divide one by the other, though, goodness me no, as since the sixes count is cumulative that would disproportionately favour people who've had very long careers. A fairer way would be to weight the formula with the number of innings batted in, as follows:
VMSI = (number of sixes hit) / (overall strike rate x number of innings)
VMSI stands for Violent Mood Swing Index, which is what I'm calling it. I mean, what else would you call it?

As before, let's restrict it to people with over 3000 runs to get rid of some of the freaky statistical outliers. Here's the top 25:

NameMatchesInningsRunsStrike rateSixesVMSI
CL Cairns (NZ)62104332057.0987146.53
NS Sidhu (India)5178320244.3338109.90
CD McMillan (NZ)5591311654.9554107.99
A Flintoff (Eng/ICC)79130384562.0482101.67
Misbah-ul-Haq (Pak)4678308741.223299.53
MS Dhoni (India)81127434259.747598.85
Imran Khan (Pak)88126380747.525591.86
JR Reid (NZ)58108342833.843390.29
AC Gilchrist (Aus)96137557081.9510089.07
BJ Haddin (Aus)5491300758.614788.12
CH Gayle (WI)99174693359.909086.35
JH Kallis (ICC/SA)1662801328945.979775.36
ML Hayden (Aus)103184862560.108274.15
CG Greenidge (WI)108185755849.026773.88
KP Pietersen (Eng)104181818161.728172.51
CL Hooper (WI)102173576250.276372.44
CH Lloyd (WI)110175751557.777069.24
BB McCullum (NZ)82141468460.765968.87
IT Botham (Eng)102161520060.716768.55
IVA Richards (WI)121182854069.288466.62
WJ Cronje (SA)68111371444.633366.61
BC Lara (ICC/WI)1312321195360.518862.69
Mohammad Yousuf (Pak)90156753052.395162.40
V Sehwag (ICC/India)104180858682.239161.48
HH Gibbs (SA)90154616750.264760.72

A few things to note:
  • Chris Cairns is out in front by quite a startling margin, by virtue of his remarkable sixes per innings rate and his brisk but not startling strike rate.
  • Kallis comes in 12th, but note that he is first among batsmen with over 7000 runs, fourth among batsmen with over 4000 runs, and that of the people above him only Sidhu, Misbah and Gayle are full-time batsmen, all the others being all-rounders of one kind or another who typically batted at number 7 or lower and were given a bit more licence to swing the bat.
  • A few names you wouldn't expect pop up, like the late Hansie Cronje and Navjot Sidhu of India. Sidhu in particular was notorious for (among other things) periods of scrupulous defence punctuated by some furious smiting, generally of spinners. In fact if you follow that link you'll see the first line of the Cricinfo biography reads "Navjot Singh Sidhu's cricket had a schizophrenic touch to it". QED, I'd say, since that's pretty much exactly what this index is a measure of.
  • The men who do the breakneck scoring every day of the week, in particular the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Virender Sehwag, appear at 9th and 24th respectively in the list, undone by their high scoring rates.
  • The reason the list seems to favour relatively modern players (John Reid is the only man on the list to have played Tests before 1965) is mainly because stats like exact numbers of balls faced and boundaries hit are not reliably available for older matches. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

kallis? kallis? who the bleep is kallis?

As predicted, the accuracy and relevance of my statistical data-mining in the last cricket-related post have been rapidly overtaken by events, the specific event in question being the slightly unexpected retirement (or, if you insist, "retiral") of Jacques Kallis from Test cricket following the Boxing Day Test against India in Durban, a match in which he fittingly scored a century.

A lot of the tributes written after his retirement describe Kallis as being one of the most under-rated of great cricketers, and I think this is probably true, for a number of reasons. Firstly it's often forgotten that he was a great all-rounder, not just a batsman - he did bowl a lot less in the later stages of his career, but he still ended up fifth on the all-time wicket-taking list for South Africa with 292. Secondly, there was a perception that despite his awesome power he was a bit one-paced (and, by implication, selfish) as a batsman, too concerned with protecting his wicket and his average to be able to let himself go when the match situation demanded it. There's probably some truth in this, but it is also true that Kallis owns the fastest Test 50 ever scored, and is second on the all-time six-hitting list with 97, three behind Adam Gilchrist.

Anyway, the batting average progression table now looks like this:

Jacques Kallis201355.37
Garfield Sobers197457.78
Ken Barrington196858.67
Don Bradman194899.94

Break it down by country, keep the 3000-run minimum restriction, add one that says averages of over 40 only, and you get this:


Andrew Strauss201240.91
Michael Vaughan200841.44
Marcus Trescothick200643.79
Graham Thorpe200544.86
Geoff Boycott198247.72
Ted Dexter196847.89
Ken Barrington196858.67
Herbert Sutcliffe193560.73


Mike Hussey201351.52
Ricky Ponting201251.85
Greg Chappell198453.86
Don Bradman194899.94

South Africa

Jacques Kallis201355.37


Sachin Tendulkar201353.78


Mohammad Yousuf201052.29
Javed Miandad199352.57

Sri Lanka

Sanath Jayasuriya200740.07
Hashan Tillakaratne200442.87
Aravinda de Silva200242.97

New Zealand

Stephen Fleming200840.06
Mark Richardson200444.77
Martin Crowe199545.36

West Indies

Ramnaresh Sarwan201140.01
Brian Lara200651.88
Gary Sobers197457.78
Everton Weekes195858.61


Andy Flower200251.54

Bangladesh don't get a box as they have no-one meeting the entry criteria. Again, recall that for each entry in the list, no-one who has come later has finished with a higher average. There's an interesting contrast between the English and Australian lists, one that reflects the pitiful nature of England's performances (i.e. a desperate lack of runs) in the recently-concluded Ashes series. Note that no-one since Ken Barrington, 46 years ago, has finished a Test career for England with a career average of over 50, and that no-one since Geoff Boycott 32 years ago has finished with an average of over 45. Contrast that with the Australian list - the recent retirement of a couple of big cheeses has obliterated some detail from the list (note that Kallis and Tendulkar's retirements collapse their respective lists to a single entry), but a bit of research reveals that since 1982 there have been six batsmen finishing with a career average of over 50 (Chappell, Ponting, Hussey, Steve Waugh, Matthew Hayden and Allan Border) and a further five finishing with an average of over 45 (Gilchrist, Dean Jones, Damien Martyn, Justin Langer and Simon Katich).

Again, this could all change - Kevin Pietersen, Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott (doubts about his England future notwithstanding) and Ian Bell all currently average between 46 and 48, though their numbers have all headed south a bit during the recent Ashes debacle.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

it's a family affair

Hot on the heels of the revelations of my distant claim to the Stapledon millions comes even more exciting news: following an exchange of e-mails with my aunt (who is well into all this ancestry stuff) I can now reveal the full tangled web of family literary connections - here's an updated and expanded family tree:

Clickage will embiggen if it's all getting a bit difficult to read; obviously the bit I'm going to be suggesting you focus your attention on is the bit at the bottom right wherein it is revealed that your actual Jeffrey Flippin' Archer and me are fourth cousins once removed. If you have a look at the chart at the bottom of Archer's Wikipedia page you'll notice that it has his great-grandfather being called Robert Clibbett whereas I have him as Richard Clibbet (on my aunt's say-so). There are several variant spellings of Clibbet (for instance Olaf Stapledon's Wikipedia page renders it as Clibbert), but I can't account for the disagreement over the first name.

It's very easy to scoff at Jeffrey Archer, and I'm not necessarily saying you shouldn't - a serial liar, fantasist and philanderer, to be sure, and no-one would make any great claims of literary merit for the books - but for all that I did read and heartily enjoy some of his novels when I was in my teens, mainly the two big doorstops Kane And Abel and First Among Equals. Anyway, now I know we're related, watch yourself with the criticism, 'cause it's faaaaaahhhhmly, innit. You slaaaaag.

Friday, January 10, 2014

you're having olaf: is he having olaf?

Here, then, extremely belatedly, is the promised second footnote to the Last And First Men book review. This one is about Olaf Stapledon himself, rather than some inconsequential bollocks about imaginary faces on book covers.

As you can discover easily enough on Wikipedia, Olaf Stapledon was the son of William Clibbet Stapledon and Emmeline Miller. You'll have to trust me on the rest, though - here we go: William Clibbet Stapledon was the son of Elizabeth Clibbet and William Stapledon, and Elizabeth Clibbet was the daughter of William Clibbet, who in turn was the son of persons unknown (but who presumably went by the names Mr. & Mrs. Clibbet). So, if you're keeping up, you'll have already worked out that this Mr. X. Clibbet was Olaf Stapledon's great-great-grandfather.

Here's the good bit, though: this mystery Clibbet was also my great-great-great-great-grandfather. He also had a daughter called Susan Clibbet, who had a daughter called Blanche, who in turn had a daughter also called Blanche, who had a daughter called Edith, who had a daughter called Susan, who is my mother!

So Olaf Stapledon and I are distant cousins. Working out the exact relationship in this sort of situation gives some people a migraine, but it's actually fairly straightforward once you know the rules - the Wikipedia page explains it pretty well, and also has a cheeky chart if you can't be bothered to work it out yourself, or just want to check your results once you have. You'll be able to use the chart to verify that Olaf Stapledon and I are third cousins twice removed. Here's a sketched family tree (relevant parts only):

celebrity lookeylikey of the day

Actress and star (along with Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal) of 1987 film Throw Momma From The Train Anne Ramsey, and crime author (of The Talented Mr. Ripley, among others) Patricia Highsmith.

The cherry on the Bakewell here is that Throw Momma From The Train is a sort of meta-remake of the 1951 Alfred Hitchcock film Strangers On A Train, which in turn was based on an original novel by the very same Patricia Highsmith.

Well, most slightly batty old women look the same, you might argue, and perhaps you're right. As it happens, old photographs reveal Highsmith to have been startlingly attractive as a younger woman, if you like the dark intense types. If your SafeSearch settings are the same as mine, you may be as startled as I was to see what appears to be a topless photo about three rows down the Google image results page. This is apparently genuine (and needless to say probably NSFW), taken by photographer Rolf Tietgens in 1942 when Highsmith was 21. You don't get that with Agatha Christie.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

merry whiskmas

So here's another annual tradition - the post-Christmas whisky round-up. I'm pleased to say that my relatives and in-laws have now grasped the basic principles here, which are:
  • whisky as a Christmas present is great;
  • it really doesn't matter if two people end up both buying me a bottle of whisky, even if it ends up being the same brand;
  • just because you bought me a bottle last year doesn't mean that it would be inappropriate for you to buy me another one this year.
So this year's Christmas whisky haul was an encouraging four bottles, though only one was one I hadn't tried before. Fortunately I have three others of relatively recent acquisition in the cupboard to bulk out this post. I think it's often instructive to look at these in pairs, so here goes:

The first one is Strathisla. As I've said before, most Scottish distilleries lay claim to some sort of superlative, however esoteric, but Strathisla's is fairly simple: it is the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland. Needless to say there are a whole host of other distilleries (notably Glenturret and Bowmore) which make subtly different versions of the same claim, and no-one really seems to know the definitive answer.

Anyway, Strathisla's main claim to fame today is that it is the major constituent of the Chivas Regal blend, probably the second-most-famous blended whisky in the world after Johnnie Walker (the other claim is that the distillery complex is one of the most-photographed in Scotland). The single malt hasn't historically been that easy to get hold of, but as of recently they seem to be making a bit of a push into the supermarket sector by updating the packaging  from the old flat brown medicine bottles to some brighter clean white packaging. As far as I can gather the composition of the whisky hasn't changed, though.

Let's try a bit. It smells great - buttery, nutty, quite sweet, with the usual Speyside almonds and magic markers. To be honest what follows (i.e. taste-wise) is a slight disappointment - it's nice and biscuity and slightly less sweet then you'd expect, but it's not as rich and interesting as the initial sniff would suggest, and it doesn't hang about much in terms of aftertaste either.

Secondly, The Singleton Of Dufftown. Now I'm naturally inclined to be ill-disposed towards this one, as the silliness of the naming annoys me somewhat. What this is is a 12-year-old single malt from the Dufftown distillery, located in the town of the same name which is the spiritual (pun sort of intended) home of Speyside whisky and home to half-a-dozen active distilleries, most notably Glenfiddich. So why couldn't they just call it "Dufftown 12"? Well, mostly because the distillery is owned by Diageo, and they wanted a way of sexing up some of the products from their lesser-known distilleries like Dufftown, Glendullan and Glen Ord under a single "brand".

Despite that annoyance, though, this is really quite good. It's very inoffensive, as befits something clearly designed to compete with the standard 12-year-old versions of the Speyside behemoths like Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, but none the worse for that. It's slightly lighter and fudgier (and perhaps less interesting) than the Strathisla when you have a sniff, but there's more going on when you actually get to drinking it. Nothing massively startling, mind you, but just nice a sweet biscuity whisky that doesn't die away after a couple of seconds like the Strathisla does. If you're viewing it in the light of its obvious competitors I can't speak for the Glenlivet but I'd say it's more interesting than the standard Glenfiddich.

The second pairing is a couple of slightly more hairy-chested brutes - firstly Talisker Dark Storm. I'm very fond of the standard Talisker, and this one is supposedly a darker, smokier version of that, matured in heavily charred casks. It's currently only available in airport duty-free outlets which is where my father picked up a bottle for me on his travels a few months back.

It's been a while since I sampled the bog-standard 10-year-old Talisker, but this one certainly does seem very dark and smoky, perhaps veering towards the rich dark smoky Islay malts like Bowmore and Lagavulin compared to the standard Talisker which is more salty and peppery. It's tremendously rich and sweet to drink, perhaps slightly overpoweringly so, a bit like the Lagavulin. I don't usually, but this is one (particularly at 45.8% ABV) that might benefit from a dash of water. If pressed I'd probably have to say that the standard bottling is a better all-round whisky.

Next we head south of the border. We've done this before, of course, but this time we're off to Norfolk to sample the delights of the only proper distillery in England. The imaginatively-named English Whisky Company produce a number of products, Chapter 9 being their peated expression. They've only been going for a few years, so there aren't any really aged stocks, as you can see by the colour - very pale and straw-coloured, like healthy well-hydrated piss (the Talisker, by contrast, representing the morning after a night on the Guinness and vindaloo). There's plenty of peat, though, which combined with the paleness of the whisky makes it seem like some of the younger Ardbegs, without being quite so much like drinking an ashtray. It tastes young - quite hot, quite raw, a bit like the Penderyn, but without being off-putting.

If we're considering all this as a preamble to a pair of verdicts in the head-to-head contests, then I suppose the winners would be the Dufftown and the Talisker. That won't stop me drinking all of them in due course, though.