Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Pimp My Bouffant.

I was interested to note that Jack McConnell, Scottish First Minister, and widely acclaimed Old Labour political pygmy, has been off to New York to take tea and crumpets (or coffee and bagels) with the charming and urbane Donald Trump.

The United States seems to have a remarkable aptitude for producing multi billionaire tycoons who are complete and utter twats. The nerd like Bill Gates, and suburban homebody Warren Buffet, set the bar pretty high; but good old Trumpie manages to out jump them all with ease.

The man has the most remarkable comb over, the likes of which has not been seen in Britain since the heyday of the likes of Bobby Charlton and Arthur Scargill. Pathetic attempts to cover total male pattern baldness with a few scraped over strands of hair justifiably produced much enjoyment as onlookers yelled: “get a grip you bald twat, you look absolutely fucking ridiculous”.

Trump’s tonsure is even more remarkable as he manages to produce a bouffant effect, which can presumably only be kept in place by the liberal use of industrial strength hair spray. That this bouffant is ginger only adds to the amusement his appearance provokes.

Donald has been loudly proclaiming his Scottish ancestry (his mother was from the Isle of Lewis), and has informed Jack McConnell that he wishes to bring his entrepreneurial flair to the land of the kilt and caber. The poor bastard doesn’t know what he’s letting himself in for. Unlike our American cousins, Britons have a slightly disrespectful attitude towards extremely wealthy individuals. If his first step on Scottish soil is accompanied by a gust of wind which blows his bouffant into a vertical position, he can assured that he will be the recipient of a hearty and merciless piss taking.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Uma! Uma! Uma!

Those of you who peruse the articulate outpourings of the really rather excellent blogger, Tina, over at Cakesniffers Beware, will be aware that she holds the film star Uma Thurman in high esteem.

Tina’s appreciation of the gorgeous Uma is wholly understandable. Uma is indeed a demigod of modern Hollywood, and is fully deserving of her sex on a stick status. As a wielder of a samurai sword she knows few peers, and looks most toothsome as she prances around lopping off heads whilst clad in a fetching yellow jumpsuit.

I had considered posting a photo of Uma, but have decided not to. This is purely for Tina’s own good: there is strong possibility that an unexpected sight of Uma may cause a cerebral haemorrhage, or even the inadvertent spillage of coffee on her keyboard as she swoons over the delectable Thurman curves.

Instead, I bring you Lauren Bacall; Bogart muse, and all round top tottie from an earlier epoch. In many ways she was the Uma Thurman of her era: not quite conventionally beautiful, but oozing sex appeal from every pore.

Monday, October 24, 2005

"Allo Mrs Jones, 'ows yer Bert's lumbago?".

Of all the youth subcultures to emerge in the post war period, the Mods were probably the most distinctive. They epitomised the magpie like British habit of nicking the best influences from abroad and melding them to produce something distinct.

Their clothing was inspired by fifties Italian style: think Cary Grant in ‘Roman Holiday’. They took as their musical template not the smooth processed sound of Motown, but its rougher edged, bluesier, counterpart Stax. They adopted the credo: ‘clean living in difficult circumstances’.

They evolved naturally over the years, developing their own house bands the Who and the Small Faces. Their love of dancing led to the development of a separate soul music centred in the north of England: Northern Soul.

They were the first youth group to use drugs, pills usually; not the cannabis and hallucinogens favoured by their middle class counterparts. They took speed at the weekends to enable them to stay up dancing until 4 in the morning.

They were a short lived group, emerging in 1960 and more or less disappearing by 1967. Their influence has, however, proved remarkably resilient. There was a brief Mod revival in the early 1980’s which was, frankly, a bit sad. They were just slavishly imitating their predecessors, not trying to develop anything new.

The game looked to be over. Then a pair of monobrowed Mancunian gobshites, Oasis, popped up on the Chart Show. I remember thinking at the time: Christ….those are northern Mods. Blur appeared at the same time and were, to all intents and purposes, southern Mods.

The Britpop period was short lived, and produced more style than substance. I thought that was the end of it. Then, last year, a band called Franz Ferdinand appeared out of nowhere and looked like, you guessed it, Mods. You just can’t keep them down; the cheeky cunts.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Brass Monkeys.

According to the Met Office, there is a two out of three chance that this winter will be the coldest for forty years. Changing pressure patterns will, they believe, lead to prevailing winds emanating from Siberia with associated high levels of snow fall over the entire British Isles.

This will be very unpleasant for the elderly poor, who have trouble paying to heat their homes during normal, relatively mild winters. I suppose the government will increase winter fuel payments for those most in need.

I’m hoping for plenty of snow. I love the stuff, and there has been so little over the last few years that I can hardly remember what a snow covered landscape looks like. Most people assume that Scotland gets a lot of snow. This is not the case. The warming effect of the Gulf Stream keeps our temperatures at a level were high levels of snow fall are unlikely. When it does snow, it only stays for a couple of days before melting.

If we get lots of snow this year I will dig my skis out of the attic and head for the Anoch Mor ski centre outside Fort William. I might even have a go at snowboarding.

The photograph above was taken from my front window. It should give you a good indication of why I like snow.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Yer pays yer money, yer takes yer choice.

The days of boarding house signs displaying ‘no Jews, blacks, dogs or Irish’ are thankfully long behind us. A world were such open discrimination was so commonplace as to arouse neither notice nor comment belongs to what seems an antediluvian prehistory of prejudice and contempt for those of a different race, culture or background.

Only in one respect do such attitudes linger. There is still a widespread practise of bed and breakfasts and small hotels refusing to let double bedrooms to those of a homosexual persuasion.

A case of one homophobic bed and breakfast proprietor in the Scottish Highlands has aroused the attention of the national press. It is not his attitude which is any way unusual; it is the open manner in which he expresses his views. He responds to email enquiries from homosexuals by berating them for being “bloody poofters that aren’t welcome under my roof”.

His attitude has provoked the ire of the Scottish Tourist Board, which is attempting to portray Scotland as a gay friendly destination. They rightly point out that the ‘pink pound’ can make a highly valuable contribution to the tourist economy; and that enquiries from homosexuals should be welcomed.

They are of course entirely correct. The problem is that absolutely nothing can be done about it. B&B’s are private houses: there can be no legal obligation for the proprietors to accept bookings from any source. Personally, I think that it’s really a generational thing. I’m sure that such attitudes are in decline, and that such discrimination on grounds of sexual preference will soon be a thing of the past. Those who accept bookings will prosper, develop, and inevitably push the closet bigots to the margins.

I am involved in tourism, and to be honest, I don’t care what people get up to in the privacy of their rooms. As long as they pay up and don’t wreck the gaff, I am entirely sanguine. The only activity at which I would have to draw the line would be group sex involving chickens or migratory wildfowl. With a flu pandemic apparently in the offing that would be downright irresponsible.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Singalonga Garfer

Garfer’s going on a autumn holiday
No more blogging for a week or two
Fun and laughter on his autumn holiday
No more worries for me and you
For a week or two
He’s going where the rain falls shitely
He’s going where the kids sniff glue
We’ve seen it in the movies
Now let’s see if it’s true
Everybody has a autumn holiday
Doing things they always wanted to
So Garfer’s going on a autumn holiday
To make our dreams come true
For me and you

That’s right; I am off for a weeks break. The tourists who I have been pampering, and who’s every whim I have indulged, can go fuck ‘emselves. Now it’s my turn. I am in need of pampering.

Normal blogging service will be resumed next weekend. I suppose I could do a weeks worth of posting and pop into an internet café to update my vast readership (all three of them) on my adventures. Somehow I don’t think that’s gonna happen.


Friday, October 14, 2005

Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky

Patrick Hamilton is a sadly neglected figure in twentieth century British literature. In the inter war period he was regarded as one of the finest English novelists; laying bare the dark underbelly of depression era London.

Hamilton’s acknowledged masterpiece, ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky’,
was scandalously out of print until Vintage issued a paperback edition last year. The subsequent BBC dramatisation of the novel will hopefully have awakened some interest in this forgotten writer, and the world which he so memorably describes. A sensitive adaptation, it perfectly captures the seedy, commercial London of the early 1930’s.

W H Auden described the 1930’s as “that low dishonest decade”. Mass unemployment, an ossified class structure, and the gathering clouds of European Fascism made this one of the darkest periods of British history. Real poverty was widespread, and many people lived lives of complete desperation, all their desires and aspirations utterly thwarted.

In the novel, Hamilton encapsulates this world in the lives of the staff and customers of the fictitious ‘Midnight Bell’ pub. The novel is actually a trilogy: the first book concentrating on genial bartender Bob, and his doomed love for the grasping, superficial, pretty prostitute Jenny. The second book concentrates on Jenny, and her descent into prostitution. The third book concentrates on Ella, her unspoken love for Bob, and the dreadful attentions of the repulsive Mr Eccles. The theme of the novel can be summarised as: Mr Eccles loves Ella, Ella loves Bob, Bob Loves Jenny, Jenny doesn’t love anybody; and is in fact incapable of love.

In his descriptions of London, Hamilton has been described as the missing link between Charles Dickens and Martin Amis. He immerses you in a world of Lyons Tea Houses, cheap cinemas, and seedy pubs.

What is truly remarkable about the novel is the fact that, despite its bleak subject matter, it is in no way depressing. He makes much use of comedy, and the indomitable optimism of the characters makes their predicament seem somehow bearable.

The ‘Midnight Bell’ was based on a real pub. Hamilton was a drinker of heroic proportions; apparently downing three bottles of black market whisky a day during the war. I’m sure the real pub is long gone, or if it still exists, has been transformed beyond all recognition. That’s a shame. I’d like to sit at the bar of ‘The Midnight Bell’ and order a large scotch, muse on the loves and fears of those people long dead, and raise my glass to the memory of Mr Patrick Hamilton.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

It Aint Monaco Y'know

I have always been prone to vices of one form or another, although I ditched all of the illegal substances years ago. Cannabis just made me paranoid and hungry, and having been around people on speed, I saw the consequences and steered well clear. I knew people who used hard drugs, and the consequences for them were so dreadful that I wasn’t remotely interested. The ciggies and booze, however, have remained; the booze in a lesser capacity than in the past, the nicotine with as firm a grip as ever.

The one vice that I have never been able to understand is gambling. I just can’t comprehend the kick that people get from fruit machines, poker, or betting on horses.
I suppose some people have a psychological quirk that gives them a buzz when they beat the odds and win. Frankly, it’s beyond me. So what if I win £200 on the horses, I know I’d only lose it if I kept on betting.

The saddest bunch of the lot are the fruit machine addicts. They stand in front of the winking lights like mesmerised zombies, pumping one pound coins into the slot for hours on end. They think that they can read the sequence of symbols, and bend down to peer at spools that are just out of direct sight. As far as I can see, anyone with a functioning brain cell should be aware that fruit machines have a 65% payout. I’m no mathematical genius, but even I can work out that in the long run this is a no win situation.

Plans are afoot to turn Blackpool into Britain’s answer to Las Vegas. This will be yet another reason not to visit the godforsaken place. The thought of reams of casinos, added to the gales blowing off the Irish Sea, and the miasma of foul odours from burger bars, is enough to put me off for life.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

20 T'ings Aboot Garfer

I am addicted to Tunnocks Teacakes.

I am addicted to kebabs (which are hard to come by where I live).

I was once a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (for two weeks).

I fall in love with inappropriate and unattainable women (see P J Harvey and Tracey Emin).

I am not in love with, nor have I been in love with, THE ROCK.

I once had a bag of laundry blown up by the bomb squad. I wouldn’t have minded, but they were my favourite Y fronts

I believe that eviscerating all caravanners would be an act of immense benefit to all humanity.

When pissed I leave fuckwit comments on blogs. I also do it when sober, but not as often.

I am convinced that Herge Smith has been abducted by aliens.

I like to have a bit of a swear on my blog. Cussing clears the nostrils in a much more effective manner than nasal decongestants.

I am a pathetic physical coward, but I would make quite a good sniper.

I am male, therefore I like lists.

I think Jaguar cars (proper old ones) are sexy.

People who squeeze toothpaste from the wrong end of the tube are wasteful tossers.

I once met Kirsty Wark. She was a dwarf: but quite sexy as dwarves go.

I once read ‘War and peace’. Not that I can remember fuck all about it.

I think that all politicians are vainglorious wankers.

I believe that people who advocate euthanasia should be shot.

I would legalise all hard drugs, including Buckfast and Benylin.

I am convinced that Wyndham the Triifid is suffering from a temporary bout of bloggers block. I feel that his stinger will soon be back at its most lethal.

You Said Something

As my admission of lustful feelings towards Tracey Emin produced many hoots of derision from my fellow bloggers, I have decided to make amends by drawing attention to a total babe.

The truly gorgeous P J Harvey is a definite one off; a leftfield rock diva that doesn’t make compromises in either her music or her appearance. The daughter of hippies who moved to the West Country in the early ‘70’s, she had a fairly bucolic upbringing. Her parents were artistic types, and she was steeped in the music of Dylan and Beefheart from an early age.

I can’t claim to be a huge fan of all her music; her output is too diverse for that. Sometimes she can seem completely inaccessible, attacking the world with a wail of distorted guitars and feedback. Then she can release 'To Bring You My Love', an album of swamp blues. Next thing you know, she’s recording ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’ in New
York and coming over all Patti Smithish. The most recent album ‘Uh Huh Her’ is an exercise in lacerating honesty.

So she’s gorgeous, she’s a rock star, and she doesn’t make compromises to achieve mainstream fame. That’s pretty perfect in my book. If Polly wants me to come down to Devon and discuss existential philosophy with her, I’ll be off like a shot.

Courtney Love is reported to have said that: “P J Harvey is the only rock star that makes me feel shit”. Very perceptive of Courtney that. NOW there is a total minger if ever there was one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Proper Caffs

The proper greasy spoon café is becoming an endangered species. I had a particular love of the cafes that were started up by Greek and Turkish Cypriots who emigrated to Britain after the war.

The beauty of these was that they covered the full range from the proper fry up, to Brit classics like steak and kidney pudding, and delish moussakas and kebabs. They were invariably dirt cheap, and although you couldn’t call it a fine dining experience, there was something pleasurable about sitting at a formica table with squeezey tomato and HP sauce bottles plonked in front of you.

The inexorable march of the fast food outlets has more or less killed them off. They will never be an acceptable substitute. Sitting on a plastic chair and eating out of a polystyrene container just doesn’t have the same appeal. The food in the greasy spoon probably wasn’t much healthier, but at least it was freshly cooked on the premises and tasted like proper food.

I suppose the second generation immigrants didn’t want to continue with the family business. The same thing’s happened with Greek restaurants, which used to be ubiquitous. Our high streets are already homogenised with chain stores, and it’s a shame to see the traditional caffs being squeezed out by the chains. How many Starbucks do we need for fuck’s sake?

Monday, October 10, 2005

I've been loving you since the miners strike.

The British miner’s strike of 1984/85 seems like ancient history today. The Britain of that period was a different country; heavy industry still employed hundreds of thousands, and the National Union of Mineworkers was regarded as the aristocracy of industrial labour.

Not being ‘a man of the left’, I had very little sympathy for the miners at the time. I regarded Arthur Scargill as a dangerous demagogue, wedded to a vision of class conflict that verged on the anti-democratic. He led the miners into a dispute with the government that they had no hope of winning. The Thatcher government was determined to face down the miners, and had ensured that coal was stockpiled at the power stations.

The bitterness of the dispute led to enmities in the close knit mining communities that linger to this day. The destruction of a staple industry left a generation to face mass unemployment and the loss of a proud way of life.

In 1990 I worked for an insurance company in South Wales. I travelled regularly to the valleys, visiting insurance brokers. The devastation caused by the collapse of mining was clearly evident in boarded up shop fronts and a general air of dereliction. The heart had literally been torn out of the mining villages.

Not enough was done to ameliorate the effects of the collapse of an industry: a proud people were left feeling as though they were an irrelevance, consigned to the scrap heap of history. Much of what the Thatcher government did was probably necessary, but much more could have been done to ease the trauma caused by industrial collapse.

Thankfully, we no longer live in a country dominated by class conflict. The age of mass industrial labour is over, and that is no loss to anyone. A crap job in a call centre may not be an attractive form of employment, but it sure as hell beats digging coal out of a hole in the ground.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Technological advance is a wonderful thing, but it brings with it the inevitability of obsolescence. This wasn’t such a problem in the past; you could buy a new TV or video recorder safe in the knowledge that your purchase would be good for five or so years. This is no longer the case. Whatever you buy these days will invariably be superseded within a year, or even less.

I am pissed off with Apple’s introduction of the Ipod Nano, just a couple of months after I purchased my Ipod Mini. Of course, it shouldn’t really matter; the Mini is perfectly adequate for my needs. It even has a greater storage capacity. That doesn’t make any difference though; I will have to get a Nano because it is cuter and has a colour screen. This is pathetic, but that’s just the way it is.

I’m sure that this ‘must have’ mentality towards new gadgets is mainly a male thing. Women are much more sensible about this sort of thing, and aren’t as easily seduced by manufacturers who introduce new products every five minutes.

Ebay will be swamped with Ipod Minis as we pathetic men upgrade to the new model.
Any female who fancies a decent product that performs just as well as the new one should log on to Ebay without delay. Our loss will be your gain.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Midwich Cuckoos

I am off down the pub to drown my sorrows over the imminent demise of the really rather wonderful, and much loved, angrychimp.

Herge Smith, creator general of the chimp will be much missed around these parts, and he will be a sad loss to the blogging community. I would try and persuade him to reconsider, but I fear that the die is cast, and that such efforts would prove of no avail.

I was planning a post on Scottish tinkers this evening. I was going to draw an analogy between the fear of outsiders in our society, and the alien intruders in 'The Midwich Cuckoos'. It then occurred to me that this would be treading on the toes of Wyndham the Triffid, acknowledged expert on all subjects Wyndhamesque. It just can’t be done. I couldn’t live with myself.

If Wyndham is passing by, perhaps he will consider a post on the book and film.

I’m orf for a booze.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Maybe I’m just weird. Come to think of it I am weird, as the few deluded readers of this piss poor blog will be well aware. To finally confirm this weirdness, I have decided to open up and reveal my most closely guarded and shameful secret. I think that Tracey Emin* is extremely attractive.

Not many people will agree with me, but I think that this woman has something. I can’t put my finger on it exactly; she just seems to exude some kind of inexplicable sexual charisma. Buck toothed and awkward, with difficult hair, she may be, but she also exudes warmth and good humour. She might be ‘mad Tracey from Margate’, but you just know that being around her would be exciting.

There is a category of people that can only be described as ugly/beautiful. They are enormously sexually successful, without possessing any of the physical attributes normally associated with attractiveness. The young Mick Jagger is an example; all ungainliness and blubber lips, yet with a strange androgyny and sensitivity. Then there are the women that are described as ‘handsome’; not beautiful, but extremely striking. Quite a lot of models fall into this category. I suppose it’s their very angularity that makes them suitable for the camera.

Unfortunately I’m more plug ugly than ugly/beautiful. No mad Tracey for me, mores the pity.

* Controversial British Artist

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Parallel Lines

The first record I ever bought was ‘Denis, Denis’ by Blondie. That’s what I tell anybody who asks. It’s a bare faced lie; the first record I ever bought was ‘Kisses for Me’, the seminal Eurovision Song Contest winner from Brotherhood of Man in 1977. It’s a little white lie; one that I think is perfectly justified because the first group who really mattered to me was Blondie.

They really had everything. A drop dead gorgeous lead singer (even if she was a quite elderly 32), and three black fringed, matchstick thin, New Yawk band mates. They had the perfect look, married with the ability to combine bubblegum pop music with hard edged, new wave, punk élan.

They were quite an odd outfit, emerging from a specific time and place. Debbie Harry was a veteran of the sleazy Andy Warhol/Lou Reed New York rock underworld. They debuted at the CBGB club to hoots of derision. The ultra hip coterie of purists was more used to the likes of The Ramones and The Patti Smith Group. They saw Blondie as pop lightweights, and regarded a blonde bimbo lead singer as utterly risible.

They were missing the point. Blondie were capturing the spirit of the best of disposable ‘60’s pop, and spinning it with tight guitars and staccato drums. They rattled off hits like the early Beatles: ‘Denis’, ‘Call Me’, ‘Hanging on the telephone’, and ‘Picture This’ followed in quick succession. They were perfectly crafted examples of the fresh, exhilarating, three minute pop song.

Blondie weren’t around for long, but they produced more in a short period than probably anyone since. I still think ‘Touched by Your Presence Dear’ is one of the finest pop songs ever recorded.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

That joke isn't funny anymore.

I hate jokes. When I say jokes, I mean the interminable ones that drawl on and on, only to finish with a punch line that is completely lame or just wasn’t worth the effort of the build up.

Only incredibly boring people tell this type of joke. They usually have an infinite store of them, and are completely oblivious to the fact that they are boring the tits off everyone they encounter. Perhaps that’s why I don’t go to the pub much these days; there’s bound to be at least one twat that thinks he’s Dave Allen.

The problem is that you have to be polite to them. You’ve just been having a nice chat about quantum physics or whatever when suddenly, without warning, they launch into a joke about a polecat and a tambourine. You can’t really tell them to fuck off, and walk away: anyway, it might be their round. It’s best to give the impression that you are listening intently, and chuckle vigorously when they stop speaking.

I much prefer people who use one liners; the likes of Seinfeld say. The storytellers who go off on tangents are ok too. These types of joke are best left to the professionals, the rest of us are lucky if we come up with a few genuine witticisms in the course of a lifetime.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Heaven and Hell

I have always had difficulty with the concept of Heaven for the simple reason that what constitutes heaven for me must inevitably constitute Hell for somebody else. In any case, what each of us regards as ideal can only be a fairly nebulous concept: we may find that the realisation of this ideal is not what we actually wanted at all. As the old saying goes; ‘be careful what you wish for, it just might come true’.

The concept of Hell is much easier to envisage. All you need to do is think of the thing which you like least, and imagine having to endure it for eternity. The idea of being chased around and tormented by devils isn’t really necessary: in any case, it would be quite exciting to rush around trying to avoid red hot pokers; at least you wouldn’t get bored.

For me, Hell would entail an eternity doing ironing. The thought of a little room containing an iron, ironing board, and an infinite quantity of laundry fills be with abject horror. I cannot imagine any other activity which is so mind numbingly tedious. I have been known to only iron shirt fronts and collars as the rest is concealed by a jacket. I know that there are some rather disturbed individuals out there who actually find ironing ‘therapeutic’. Well, each to their own I say. Nutters.

It’s quite interesting to consider what would constitute an eternity of Hell for popular historical figures and celebrities. I can think of a few:-

  • Adolf Hitler: watching Mel Brooks ‘The Producers’, alone in a cinema.

  • Mick Jagger: having to perform ‘Satisfaction’ for free.

  • Margaret Thatcher: working as a coal miner.

  • Bill Clinton: working as a marriage guidance counsellor.

  • Cakesniffer: responding in a calm and reasonable manner to anon commenters.

  • Elvis Presley: subsisting on a diet of mung beans and alfalfa.

  • Bob Dylan: performing as a stand up comedian.

  • Paul McCartney: listening to a school choir perform ‘The Frog’s Chorus’.

  • Jeffrey Archer: telling the truth.

  • Herge Smith: commenting on blogs.

  • Bruce Willis: using deodorant.

I can think of plenty of others, but you’re probably bored to death by now. Just take away the thought that whoever you despise will probably experience a Hell personally tailored for them. That’s a comforting thought.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Knee Tremblers.

The Quakers are an odd bunch. Of all the protestant sects that thrived during the nineteenth century, they have proved the most resilient; holding true to their core values to this day. The likes of the ‘Shakers’ have disappeared into oblivion, the only remnants of their culture the simple homespun furniture that is so fashionable today. The Mennonites are still thriving in the United States, but are a closed culture which has had no influence on mainstream society.

More properly known as The Society of Friends, the Quakers were founded by George Fox in England during the seventeenth century. They rejected all forms of religious hierarchy, insisting that all were equal. They did not hold religious services in the accepted sense, but met in groups at Friends Meeting Houses. Any one attending was free to speak as ‘the spirit moved them’.

They were much persecuted during the early years of their movement, but were gradually accepted by mainstream culture. Their reverence for education, hard work, and charity, soon became apparent. They were enormously successful in business; espousing a doctrine of welfare towards their employees which was in stark contrast to the prevailing capitalist ethos of the day. The names of the chocolate manufacturers Fry and Cadbury were synonymous with good working conditions and educational opportunity.

Today they are mostly associated with pacifism. They can seem slightly eccentric, affecting a plain mode of dress and lifestyle. A hand knitted cardigan and sandals, and a penchant for eating beans, are not uncommon.

Friends Meeting Houses are still to be found all over Britain and Ireland, and in the United States and Canada. There are also many independent Quaker schools, one of which I attended, although I am not personally from a Quaker background.

They are definitely odd, but odd in a good way. We need someone to remind us that there is more to life than shallow consumerism.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Beef about Beef

I am a committed carnivore. Some people may believe that meat is murder, but as far as I’m concerned they are missing out on the finest foodstuffs that this country produces. Quorn just doesn’t cut it, and a student diet of lentils has put me off the stuff for life (apart from a proper dahl).

For health reasons, I don’t eat as much red meat as I used to, but I still insist on the proper belt and buckles roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings. The best cut for roasting is a double rib of beef on the bone. It cooks to a meltingly unctuous tenderness, and should be eaten slightly pink. Truly gorgeous stuff. The Frenchies may mock us by calling us ‘les rostbifs’, but we have the last laugh in having as our national dish one of the finest meals in the world.

There is a major problem though. The drive to produce cheap food has led the supermarkets to sell beef which hasn’t been properly matured. The meat follows a course of Monday: abattoir; Tuesday: delivery truck; Wednesday: supermarket shelf.

I regard this as nothing short of a national scandal. As far as I am concerned, there should be a law that beef has to be matured for 28 days before it can be sold to the public. When beef matures the enzymes in the meat tenderise and enhance flavour.

British, and particularly Scottish, beef is regarded as the best in the world. If the French had a product like this they would revere it, and take action to ensure that standards of production were maintained. We treat it with contempt, just more fuel to shovel into ourselves cheaply. It is a disgrace.

If you can find a good traditional butcher who hangs his meat, you should buy from him. It will cost more, but quality never comes cheap.

I buy my beef from the internet butcher Donald Russell. They supply the best hotels in the country, and chefs rave about the quality of their beef. It is expensive, but in my opinion worth every penny.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


I’ve only ever suffered one serious depression in my life: one severe enough to have me fearing for my sanity, and wondering whether life was worth living.

It resulted from the break up of a relationship. When you lose someone you love, the consequent pain is akin to that following bereavement in its intensity and longevity. Perhaps it is even worse, as you have to live with the knowledge of the existence of a happy, smiling individual who now regards you with utter indifference.

I tried the usual booze induced oblivion as a panacea. It wasn’t particularly effective, resulting more in vomit than resolution. What really helped me sort myself out was the album ‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell. It sounds a bit pathetic I know; a booze soaked loser lying on a sofa, trying to cheer himself up by listening to the keening of a singer-songwriter, and knocking back neat Scotch from the bottle.

‘Blue’ is a truly magnificent collection of songs. As an expression of emotional pain and loss it is probably without peer. Joni Mitchell uses her voice as an instrument, and the whole album has a haunting, melancholy quality.

I don’t know why music about pain has a healing quality for the listener. Whether it’s blues or Leonard Cohen (in his less lachrymose moments), it just seems to do the trick.

I won’t go as far as to say that Joni Mitchell saved my life; but she helped me through a very dark time, and I am eternally grateful.