Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Oirish Stew.

The Irish theme pub is a ubiquitous international presence these days. The fact that they are about as authentically Irish as a purple, gay, dope smoking, leprechaun seems to escape most people.

Somewhere, in a soulless industrial estate, is a massive factory churning out ‘distressed’ wood tables and chairs. A fake patina of age, paint chosen to resemble a nicotine stained lung, and mirrors advertising Bushmills whiskey and Guinness are apparently all it takes to give that full on Oirish experience.

The whole thing is getting beyond a joke: even Ireland has Irish theme pubs. The current craze in Belfast seems to be ‘spirit grocers’. These were originally boozers that kept a separate counter selling dry and tinned foodstuffs so the man of the house could down a few beers and get in the provisions at the same time, thus ensuring that be didn’t receive a belting when he got home to the missus. Why anyone in this day and age would want to buy a packet of shredded wheat along with their slippery nipple cocktail is beyond me.

All Irish theme bars have Irish stew on the menu. The crap that they usually produce bears no resemblance to real Irish stew. It is a boil in the bag abomination that consists of a tasteless mush containing a few gobbets of fatty meat.

Real Irish stew is so simple to prepare that even a donkey shagging Canuck could master it in ten minutes. All you do is cut some neck (or shoulder) of lamb into chunks and brown it in a casserole. You then cut up some carrots, spuds, and onions into large pieces and chuck them in the casserole. Cover the lot with stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for two hours. Before serving, sprinkle with chopped parsley. It is a total piece of piss.

Some people claim that the Lancashire hotpot is a superior one pot dish. I say balls to that. If these northern types tasted a proper Irish stew they would give the hotpot the boot for all eternity.

Monday, January 30, 2006


The interesting thing about the above photo of Yankee mongs pigging out at Pizza Hut is that only one member of the party has opted for the (relatively) healthy salad bowl option.

No one can claim that Pizza Hut pizzas are a health food. The bases are pumped up with saturated fats in order to produce a pleasant mouth feel. Then there is the abomination that is the stuffed crust pizza; a method of further boosting the calorie count, while presumably making diners feel virtuous because they eat their crusts instead of leaving them on the side of their plate.

I have to admit to a shameful addiction to Pizza Hut buffet lunches. I walk along the street and gaze into bistro windows. I think to myself: “that toasted ciabatta with melted buffalo mozzarella, Parma ham, and baby plum tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar looks damn tasty”. I then turn on my heels, walk into Pizza Hut and demand a buffet lunch with salad bowl and a glass of Pepsi. I just can’t help it.

I’ve been attempting to divine the true source of my addiction, and I think I’ve nailed it. It’s not the pizza, which tastes the way a supermarket pizza would if cooked in a proper pizza oven. If I want an authentic thin crust pizza I go to an Italian Restaurant or a Pizza Express.

It’s not the salad either; it’s three specific components of the salad. These are, in order of importance: fake bacon crunchy bits, Thousand Island dressing, and the little cubes of pickled beetroot. I just adore the crunchy texture and the explosion of tangy flavours on my taste buds. This may have something to do with the desensitisation of my taste buds caused by years of smoking.

I’ve decided to go cold turkey on Pizza Hut buffet lunches. My methadone shall be substitute fake crunchy bacon bits, Thousand Island dressing, and pickled beetroot purchased from the supermarket. Hopefully I can wean myself off the hard stuff in this manner.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Lazy Arse Guide to Success and Prosperity.

I will be thirty nine years of age in three months time. This gradual encroachment of age and decrepitude has got me thinking.

I have worked for eighteen years of my adult life, and to be perfectly honest I think that is quite long enough. I have not had sufficient leisure time in which to exercise my chief talent in life: namely, mooching aboot in an aimless fashion. I have an aptitude for idleness secondary only to my aptitude for sleep. Something will have to be done if I am to display my true forte in life.

I like to think I am not a particularly materialistic individual. This is, of course, self deception of the highest order. I like my cars, holidays, good food, and creature comforts. These require money, and if I am to reorient my work/life balance firmly towards the latter and maintain my standard of living, I need to find a sure fire money making scheme that does not preclude a high degree of mooching aboot.

I have decided that in the next two years or so, I will buy seven one and two bedroom flats in central Glasgow and let them out on a nightly and weekly basis to tourists and business people. The average rental should work out at £1500 per month per unit with loan repayments of £500. This will leave a monthly profit per unit of £1000. After deductions for cleaning, power, insurance, council tax etc the net profit should not be less than £600 per unit. This equates to a total annual profit of £46000.

Hopefully, with capital appreciation, there should be enough equity to purchase additional units every couple of years. There won’t be much work to do on a day to day basis, and the mooching aboot possibilities look extremely favourable. Hopefully, in ten years or so, I can flog all the properties and retire on the proceeds.

Of course, knowing my luck, the whole scheme will go tits up and I’ll end up bankrupt. That doesn’t overly worry me though. I rest safe in the knowledge that should the worst transpire, my vast, impossibly good looking, immensely intelligent, and unfailingly generous domestic and international readership will have a monthly whip round to ensure that I am kept in the manner to which I am accustomed.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Rain Town.

George Square – Glasgow.

A prestigious travel magazine recently named Glasgow as one of the top ten tourist destinations in the world.

I can see why the city has garnered this accolade. It has magnificent Victorian and Edwardian architecture, arranged on the only city grid system in Britain. The place possesses a vigour and brio that can make it seem like a miniature Chicago. Of all the major British cities, I think it is the only one that feels in no way provincial to London.

In terms of its wealth of art galleries and museums (most free of charge), it stands comparison with any city in Europe. In terms of popular culture it has a thriving music scene, much of it emanating from the Glasgow School of Art, an institution of international significance.

As a caveat to all the praise that I am heaping on the place, I think it’s only fair to point out a couple of downsides. The travel journalist responsible for Glasgow’s high rating presumably visited on a sunny day, and is unaware that the city’s high rainfall has earned it the soubriquet ‘rain town’. They have also clearly not taken a stroll along Sauchiehall Street at 2 am, when the clubs disgorge neds in their thousands to engage in their hobbies of copious vomiting and head butting. It ain’t a pretty sight.

I’m off to spend a few days there tomorrow. Perhaps I’ll take one of those open top bus tours. I can sit and shiver on the top deck as the rain drips down my collar, and inhale the exhaust fumes polluting the urban air.

Then again, I could just sit in the pub and work up an appetite for one of the marvellous kebabs for which the town is famous.

I will be back next Friday to inform you all about my adventures.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

License to Pimp.

As the oldest profession in the world, prostitution will always be with us. In response to public disquiet about prostitutes openly soliciting in residential areas, the Government has introduced legislation allowing two prostitutes to operate from one premises.

This is tantamount to allowing mini brothels. The logic behind this decision is that prostitutes will be able to operate out of public view, and they will also be safer. The inherent danger of violence, or even murder, faced by prostitutes walking the streets has been recognised for years.

The only problem with this legislation is that it assumes that prostitutes will operate independently. The more likely outcome is that pimps will seize the opportunity to establish chains of these mini brothels, hiding their criminality behind a façade of legality. How many east European prostitutes, I wonder, will end up in servitude and bondage as a result?

Edinburgh has effectively had full scale licensed brothels for years. They operate as saunas and are effectively invisible. They are regulated and inspected on a regular basis. I suppose it’s typical of Presbyterian Scotland to conceal what is distasteful from view. Even so, I think it’s a more sensible solution. Nobody has to tolerate prostitutes plying their trade on their doorstep, and the women are in a safe environment.

We can’t legislate away immorality; but at least we can ensure that it isn’t on flagrant display, and protect the women – often as a result of poverty and drug addiction – who are drawn into prostitution.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


The news that the British institution, Golden Wonder crisps, had been forced into administration produced many glum faces. The upstart Walkers crisps, part of the evil Nabisco food conglomerate, has used marketing muscle to do down the plucky British snack producer beloved of millions.

I was gratified to learn that a knight on shining armour is to ride to the rescue. Northern Irish crisp manufacturer, Tayto, is to take over the Golden Wonder factories and resume battle against the evil interloper.

Tayto have a secret weapon that has the potential to send Nabisco home with a bloody nose. That weapon is a secret recipe for cheese and onion crisp flavouring. I grew up eating Tayto cheese and onion crisps, and still suffer cravings every now and then. It’s not just the flavouring; the crisps have a unique texture and aroma.

Northern Ireland knows a few things about the humble spud and its uses. The standard spud used to produce Walkers crisps is a poor relation of the superior tuber used by Tayto.

Let battle commence. It’s about time a multi-national received a kick in the balls.

Monday, January 16, 2006

How I was cheated out of my inheritance.

My great uncle Cecil emigrated to Canada in the mid 1920’s. With the sublime sense of timing common in my family, he disembarked to hear the heartening news that Wall Street had crashed.

The land of opportunity that he had been expecting turned out to be a depression era disaster zone. He ended up penniless and homeless in Vancouver, picking up whatever scraps of work he could and living in a hostel for vagrants.

Luckily for him, a kind Canadian lady took pity on him and provided him with free board and lodging so he could get himself back on his feet. Eventually he found employment as a ship hand, and gradually worked his way up to the position of Captain on a cruise liner.

An astute individual, he invested in property in Vancouver. He ended up an extremely wealthy individual with a massive penthouse apartment overlooking Stanley Park.

He married a Canadian Indian, referred to as ‘the Squaw’ by my grandmother, who couldn’t abide the woman. They had no children, and when my great uncle died in 1990 she inherited his entire estate. She advised her relatives that when her time came we would all be left sums sufficient to set us up for life.

The Squaw died in 1995. When the estate was wound up, we found to our horror that the cow had sold the property portfolio and gambled the proceeds in casinos and on the gee gees. None of us got a cent.

Sometimes life just aint fair.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Great Chieftan 'o' the Puddin' Race!

As Burns Night approaches, the thoughts of Scottish expatriates everywhere will be turning to the national dish, haggis.

Haggis is a love it or loathe it food. Some people, quite understandably, find the idea of a sheep’s stomach stuffed with heart, lungs, and oatmeal positively revolting. I can see their point of view. I’m not overly fond of consuming the identifiable internal organs of animals. Flaccid pieces of liver swimming in blood make me want to heave, and kidneys have a slight tang of urine which I find rather off putting.

On the whole, my dinner plate is an offal free zone. I am prepared to make an exception only for steak and kidney pudding and haggis. Haggis is one of the great peasant dishes: a concoction of the cheapest possible ingredients that by some strange alchemy manages to be absolutely delicious.

Sourced from the best producers, haggis is a tasty delight that, when combined with neeps (mashed swede) and tatties (mashed potato), provides a nutritious meal. There is lot of crap mass produced haggis for sale that is pretty disgusting. What you want is the genuine article produced by MacSweens of Edinburgh, a spicy, aromatic haggis that has won many awards.

It is possible to buy vegetarian haggis. Some people think this is an abomination, but having tasted it, I think it’s very pleasant in its own way. I saw a tandoori haggis for sale once. Now that really is taking things too far. I’m all in favour of fusion cuisine, but that’s just sacrilege.

On Burns Night, a huge haggis will be carried to table, and sliced open as Burns poem ‘To a Haggis’ is recited. A steam of meaty vapours will be released into the room and a toast proposed to the immortal memory.

The Scots aren’t eccentric or anything; it’s just a good excuse for a piss up.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Food Pornography

Although fewer people than ever cook for themselves, preferring ready meals or takeaways, more and more television seems to be devoted to cookery. We even have a satellite TV channel, UK Food, devoted to the subject.

Maybe it’s a reaction to the mundane diet that Britons were forced to endure after the war, or perhaps it’s a reaction to the processed rubbish that was foisted on us by the food industry during the 1970’s and 1980’s. I’m sure anyone that can remember the Vesta curry, a vile concoction of dehydrated meat, vegetables, and sawdust spices, will shudder at the memory.

Most of us, in an attempt to emphasise our culinary credentials, will have cupboards crammed with esoteric cookery implements and electrical gadgets that have been used once, and will never see the light of day again. What the fuck is the point of an electric carving knife? Have we lost the ability to sharpen a proper carving knife?

Such is the demand for TV cookery programmes that we have begun importing them from abroad. The oddest that I have seen is a Canadian import called ‘Cook Like a Chef’. The cooking ‘action’ takes place in a high tech stainless steel kitchen in which chefs whisk, puree, and drool lasciviously over their creations. There is much cooing and lip smacking.

The chefs are surrounded by cameramen who swoop in for close ups of simmering pans. You actually get a full view of the cameramen poking their lenses as close to the action as they can manage. I find this rather disturbing. It looks uncannily like the culinary version of a porn movie.

Perhaps I should become an adviser to the porn industry. I think they are missing an important niche market here. I’m sure there are plenty of pervs that would get their rocks off watching sexual gymnasts whipping up a soufflé while simultaneously engaging in some hard core shagging.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Appearance and Reality.

I live in one of the richer and more developed nations in the world. Most people enjoy a level of affluence that would have been unthinkable fifty years ago.

I could invite visitors from America, Canada, and Japan and take them on a two week tour of ‘prime’ Scotland that would leave them with the impression that this country enjoyed a level of prosperity and quality of life comparable to Switzerland.

I wouldn’t be giving them a false impression, as most of Scotland stands comparison with most highly developed nations in terms of the indices of life expectancy, disposable income, and educational facilities.

That wouldn’t be telling the full story though. I could also take my visitors on a two week tour of benighted housing schemes, run down inner city districts, and despoiled landscapes. They would leave with the impression that Scotland was about as developed as Belarus or Romania.

Most of Scotland is wealthy. Salaries are at similar levels to the south east of England, but property (outside parts of Edinburgh) is a third of a price. Levels of disposable income are consequently high, a fact attested to by the slew of designer outlets in Glasgow and the Harvey Nichols store in Edinburgh. The streets are packed with BMW’s, Mercedes, and Jaguars. For most people life is, indeed, sweet.

Unfortunately, for all this prosperity, we have a stubborn 10% of the population completely dependent on welfare benefits for their subsistence. Glasgow has some of the starkest disparities of wealth of any city in Europe. Within ten minutes walk of the city centre it is possible to find yourself in the midst of run down districts where virtually nobody works. The pubs are no go areas for outsiders, and drugs and prostitution are rife.

The response of government to this malaise has been to throw money in the form of welfare at the problem. Housing isn’t bad, and the outward signs of what are in effect slums are not evident to the casual gaze.

The problem with welfare is that it just perpetuates the problem. Whole families lose the will to work, preferring to eke out an existence at the margins of society. In a way their behaviour is wholly rational. Why work for the minimum wage when you can get as much cash playing the welfare system?

This isn’t a problem that’s going to go away. Current policy is the equivalent of the Filipino government erecting fences to conceal the scavengers on the rubbish dumps from view whenever an important conference comes to town. Out of sight, out of mind seems to be the prevailing attitude. If we chuck enough cash at the underclass to keep them quiet and corralled in their ghettoes we can pretend that they don’t exist.

I don’t see why we should condemn another generation to a life of state subsidised squalor. These people need to be brought into the productive sector of the economy. This requires hard decisions to be made regarding the provision of welfare. It can’t be done overnight, but unless we do something the sore will continue to suppurate, albeit out of public view.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Slippery Devil.

Anyone who peruses this blog will be aware that I hold a fairly jaded view of politicians and their motives. It seems to me that most of them are self serving egoists who are more concerned with their own power and influence than the genuine wellbeing of the populace.

The current political glamour boy, David Cameron, strikes me as slightly creepy in a vaguely Blairish way. Perhaps he sees himself as a mini me to the great charlatan, and hopes to fill his boots by aping New Labour policies and political presentation.

Cameron has recently been pontificating on education. I find two of his statements frankly mystifying:

1) He believes that anyone who feels that they would benefit from higher education should have access to it. By this, I presume he means that innumerate dullards with the literacy skills of a twelve year old should be entitled to rack up £15K debts in pursuit of a useless qualification for which they are not intellectually equipped in the first place.

Maybe I’m missing something, but this strikes me as not only counterproductive, but also profoundly immoral.

2) He has ruled out any form of selection, and will not allow the establishment of any new Grammar schools. Fair enough, no one believes that a return to dividing children into academic successes and failures at the age of eleven is appropriate, but some form of selection (perhaps from the age of 14) is vital if the most able children are to be academically challenged.

If all a Tory leader is capable of doing is imitating New Labour policies in the hope of electoral success, then frankly he isn’t worth a vote. He either has no political principles, or has a hidden agenda that he is concealing from the electorate.

To crown it all, he looks like the kind of slippery devil that has his wife rub him down with baby oil before he gets into his jim jams.

Not my cup of tea at all.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Malchy the Alchy.

Malchy was a highly principled individual who regarded people that drank alone as saddos who deserved to be regarded with contempt. The problem was that hard earned welfare benefits, spent over the bar, tend not to stretch very far; thus resulting in a rapid depletion of funds before the weekend.

Any sensible individual on benefits would have bought 2 litre bottles of 8% Diamond White cider and got sozzled in the privacy of their own home during the week, thus ensuring that sufficient funds remained for a proper blow out at the weekend.

Malchy’s principles would not permit this, and one Friday night he found himself penniless at the bar, the usually indulgent landlord unwilling to extend his terms of credit until existing debts had been erased. Malchy was thus presented with the prospect of a boozeless Friday night.

This was obviously an unacceptable state of affairs, so Malchy resolved to break into the local Costcutter store and restore himself to solvency. He gained entry through the storeroom at the back. The average alchy, when presented with shelves groaning with wines and spirits would have yelled ‘whoopee’ and stocked up. Not Malchy, he ignored this cornucopia of free booze, and elected to steal the charity box on the counter instead.

He arrived at the bar some time later, his pockets straining under the weight of vast quantities of small change which he counted out on the bar to pay for his drinks for the rest of the night.

When the theft was discovered next day the sterling detective work of the local constabulary soon identified the culprit, who made a full confession. The shop owner was highly amused, and the police decided not to press charges.

Not exactly the Moriarty of crime, our Malchy.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

I just wasn't made for these times.

Winston Churchill, during the darkest days of the Second World War, imbibed at least one bottle of champagne and half a bottle of brandy daily.

His iron constitution was legendary, but this intake seems inconceivable given the vital importance of decisions that he was required to make on a daily basis. I have a suspicion that the power naps with which he rejuvenated himself may have been supplemented with a little chemical assistance from the good doctors of Harley Street.

The media was less intrusive in those days, and had the general public been aware of the general sozzledness of their political masters I am sure that there would have been riots in protest.

John F Kennedy was kept functioning by an ungodly combination of steroids and amphetamines: his legendary sexual incontinence possibly augmented by these substances. It didn’t prevent him acting with cool resolve during the Cuban missile crisis, or responding to the clamour for civil rights in the American South.

Charles Kennedy is a figure of much less significance, but I very much doubt if alcoholic impairment is the main cause of his political demise. His excessive consumption of alcohol has been an open secret for years. In reality, the Liberal Democrats have ditched him because they are shit scared of losing their seats to a rejuvenated Tory Party.

Charles is my MP, and is a man whose fundamental decency is unquestioned. He has a high media profile, and will no doubt retain his position in the public eye. If I was Charles, I would reassure myself that my political comrades would probably have nailed me for smoking twenty a day if they had failed to decapitate me with a dram glass.