Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't Let's be Beastly to the Germans

Don't let's be beastly to the Germans
When the age of peace and plenty has begun.
We must send them steel and oil and coal and everything they need
For their peaceable intentions can be always guaranteed.
Let's employ with them a sort of 'strength through joy' with them,
They're better than us at honest manly fun.
Let's let them feel they're swell again and bomb us all to hell again,
But don't let's be beastly to the Hun.

Noel Coward

Jurgen the German is back in force this year. The whole country is groaning under the weight of panzer division BMW's driven by Evas and Hermans, the morning air redolent with bratwurst and sauerkraut.

I pride myself on my ability to spot a German from twenty paces. They have a very particular smart casual style, the emphasis clearly on the smart with well pressed denims and immaculate mountain jackets in lurid colours. They also all wear expensive spectacles, which I take to be a particular German fetish. It's probably a displacement for lederhosen.

Germany's somewhere we don't tend to holiday. I don't know why; it has beautiful countryside, cities with magnificent culture and architecture, and damn fine beer. I don't think it's got much to do with the war any more. We don't have to suffer the cringe factor of being the poor neighbours, and we can't use the excuse of not speaking the lingo as most Germans speak English.

I think it's probably because the Germans are too much like us. Worse than that, they're better at being us than we are: better at football, better beer drinkers, better sausage eaters, better at building cars.

Perhaps we should just declare ourselves a province of Germany. Things could only get better, and we wouldn't have to suffer being governed by Scotsmen.

It's worth a thought.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Louis MacNeice - The Sunlight on the Garden

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

Warm, innit?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Gasteruption jaculator (Linnaeus, 1758)

Gasteruption jaculator is a name to conjure with: intimations of coitus interruptus abound; a hint of premature ejaculation colours the picture; indigestion raises its hand. I do like a bit of Latin me. Although not much versed in the classics, I do think that as archaic languages go it's pretty hard to beat for scientific classification purposes.

Gaster, as I will henceforth refer to this beastie, is conclusive proof that nature adores a practical joke. Just imagine that you are a giant wood wasp who has just gone to the trouble of inserting your ovipositor in a pine tree trunk. The strain, the grunting exertion leading to the deposit of a mini me larva who will dine on pine tree for up to five years before emerging to indulge in giant wood wasp whoopee fills you with satisfaction.

Along comes Gaster to spoil your party. Her ovipositir laughs in the face of your puny proboscis. She listens for juniors cheerful munching and then inserts her larva in juniors to thoroughly ruin his day. The muncher has become a munchee.

Life's a bitch, unless you're Bill Oddie.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Tingle in Your Dingle

Pain and pleasure are closely linked sensations; how else can we explain the delightful burning sensation produced by the chilli pepper? It burns, it makes your eyes water, you sweat profusely, you suffer the dreaded 'ring sting' the next morning: why do you do it?

I am a chilli addict. The things are addictive, that irresistible curry craving that overcomes me is down to the humble little birds eye chillies lurking in the balti gloop. Apparently it's all down to the body's release of endorphins, a natural opiate that has a calming effect. Feeling stressed and flushed my dear? Have a vindaloo; it may heat you up, but it'll soon cool you down.

Rather like a heroin addict, the chilli head develops resistance. Intake occurs with increasing frequency, the level of tolerable burn on an inexorable upward path. Before long you find yourself casting lustful gazes at the big daddy of the chilli universe: the Scotch Bonnet.

It's a pretty name for a malevolent bastard with enough ooomph to power a moon rocket. It looks innocuous enough, a plump little fellow that deceives the unwary into a foolish complacency. It squats in the sauce like a satisfied little toad, waiting patiently to release its evil on the taste buds.

If you really, really hate someone the best thing to do is secrete one in their sandwich or their undergarments. You will reflect on their tormented screams with pleasure for years.

A point to bear in mind is that chillies and genitalia do not make happy bedfellows. A high concentration of nerve endings jangling excruciatingly as they respond to a gentle chilli embrace is a somewhat less than pleasant experience, a pain only alleviated by dousing the effected organ with milk or yoghurt. This is unlikely to appeal to most people, unless they're Max Mosley (who isn't even slightly a Nazi at all).

Have you ever had a tingle in your dingle? I'd love to know.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Steak Frites

Being an unrepentant carnivore I take considerable delight in a nice well aged piece of rump or sirloin cooked rare and served with bernaise sauce and some frites. Being as frites are a froggy invention I should really steer clear, but I do have to admit that these crunchy matchstick chips have to be the best accompaniment to steak. The British chip cooked to perfection is a glorious beast, but in this case it must play second fiddle to the French interloper.

There's steak and there's steak: plastic packed anaemic supermarket beef; the under aged stuff from economy class butchers; and the truly glorious well marbled and aged article. If you ain't got the right stuff to begin with your steak frites won't dance the light fandango baby.

Frites (AND CHIPS) must be cut from dry, floury potatoes. Using waxy or 'all purpose' varieties is the perfect recipe for a droopy frite. The finest potato is the King Edward, although the Maris Piper makes a perfectly acceptable substitute.

The French do steak frites best, but similar can be found in New York and London if you know where to look.

Beats lentils and brown rice any time. Sorry George, I ain't ready to join the vegan sandalist brigade just yet

Monday, July 21, 2008

Old Lived in Face

The world of newspaper journalism used to be full of Lunchtime O'Boozes, their shabby suits sporting stains of indeterminate origin, their breath reeking of scotch and chicken vindaloo. Alas, their kind is extinct, killed off by the vicissitudes of Thatcher and the evil digger Rupert Murdoch.

I knew one of the old school in Bristol. He had raised bedraggledness to an art form and drove an ancient Ford Granada dangerously. Sobriety was not his strong suit, nor were morals as he would happily have shafted his grandmother for a story. I spent many an entertaining evening in the pub with him as he reminisced about serving with the Gloucesters in Korea, or shagging Sue Lawley in Cardiff.

The long liquid lunch survived for a long time after the Thatcherite enema had supposedly purged the country of such inefficiency. The weekend began at 12.30 on a Friday, the only sign that work took place in many offices a jacket draped on an empty chair.

On the whole I preferred that world; the country may have been a bit of a dump, but at least it was a good laugh as long as the beer kept flowing.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Great White North

Canada is one of those places that is mind blowingly (or should that be numbingly?) big. Most of it is of course uninhabitable wilderness, home to the grizzly bear and the odd coonskin hat wearing maniac who regards temperatures of -30 as pleasantly bracing. The Canucks all live within a hundred miles of the American border. This may suggest a communal huddle of warmth and conviviality, but I suspect that the sheer distance between their cities suggests that they really don't like each other very much at all.

Canada tends to slip beneath the radar. Ask anyone over here who their Prime Minister is and you will receive a blank look. Even I'm not entirely sure what he looks like. There was a nondescript looking sort of bloke at the last G8 summit who might have been him; then again, it might have been a gardener who had stumbled in on affairs inadvertently.

SPOT THE HARPER No prizes awarded for identifying George (I've got one growing out of my head) Bush.

The beaver squealers are having one of their interminable recruitment drives over here at the moment. Why they should have the right to nick our brightest and best is beyond me. Oh well, I suppose we shouldn't be too hard on them as they do tend to turn up on time for wars (unlike some I could mention) and are obviously in need of a few elocution lessons.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"For you Tommy ze war is over"!

The decline in unionist sentiment in Scotland since the 1970's has less to do with oil and general Jock chippiness than the disappearance of Commando comic from the newsagent shelves. Small boys lack tales of British martial derring do to gird their loins against the Hun and hoist the stout shield of Britannia.

The really good thing about Commando was that the Americans always played a secondary role to the brave Tommy with his sten gun. Quite right to, as the chewing gum masticating oiks from Milwaukee never tire of reminding us that 'we saved you guys Limey asses'. This is obviously tosh as they didn't turn up until brave Blighty fought off the squareheads with little more than bits of old string and stripy mint humbugs.

I don't know why we bother with ASBO's and Community Service Orders. What we really need is conscription for twelve year olds to toughen the pampered little scrotes up a bit. More time spent reading back issues of Commando and less playing girly games on the Wii and posturing on Bebo would do much to reduce delinquency.

Give them guns and divide them into warring Buckfast Brigade and Tamazepam Terrier factions and let them fight it out to the death. That would give the survivors a taste for good literature and reduce youth unemployment at a stroke.

I really should stand for Parliament.

Pass the straitjacket Petunia.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Losing It

It is estimated that 750,000 people in this country suffer from dementia, principally Alzheimer's, but also its less well known but equally hideous variants. It's an ailment we prefer to shove into the background, the elephant in the living room.

My mother has Pick's Syndrome. Medical students memorize it for their exams as "Pick's disease picks off the frontal or temporal lobes but leaves the rest alone". The person I love most in the world is living a hideous inverted childhood, retreating into a mute presence, all her innate vitality vanishing into a black hopeless vacuum. Thankfully, as she is over 70 the progression is slow. Unfortunately it is also inexorable.

Empathy: a simple word for the most complex and rarely achievable human quality. My mother had it in spades and it was the solace I reached for at many times. She kept my black dog at bay and was a light that I could reach for when at my most wretched. Today, if I was killed in a car crash she wouldn't notice.

I have become a part time carer. The care I provide is subsidized by the State with the princely sum of £58 pounds per week. I have money, so that level of support isn't a problem, but as a level of payment for people of more limited means it is an utter disgrace. The cost of a care home is in excess of £500 per week, so our Government is effectively relying on familial love to prevent a burden on the State.

I do apologize if this blog sometimes seems cynical and flippant. The only thing I can offer in my defence is the netherworld that is a constant backdrop to my life. My father is elderly and the strain is killing him.

The only good aspect of the whole business is that I have finally had to become responsible, with inevitable lapses. . I can't say I like it much, but it is teaching me a few lessons that I should have learned years ago.

Only connect.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cheesy Wotsits

Everybody has guilty pleasures, secret indulgences which are kept strictly under wraps lest howls of public derision lead to complete embarassment. I'm not referring to secret sexual proclivities and fetishes here, although I'm sure MJ has a few, but to the private enjoyment of the saccharine and superficial.

I have a few of my own which I am happy to reveal in the blogosphere as nobody can point at me in public and laugh uproariously.

* Pizza Hut buffet lunches

It's pizza Gianni, but not as we know it. The average Neapolitan would projectile vomit if forced to ingest a Pizza Hut pepperoni, the very idea of a deep crust fill them with existential angst. For me it's the sheer blandness that appeals, that and the salad bowl with crunchy bacon bits drenched in thousand island dressing.

* Lees' Macaroon Bars

A sugar hit to beat all sugar hits, even Kendal mint cake. Unbelievably unhealthy but undeniably scrumptious.

* Girl Groups

There have been non cheesy girl groups like the Supremes, but for me it has to be the likes of Bananarama. The less musical talent the better, it's the jiggling and pouting that cuts the mustard.

* Popcorn Films

Independence Day, Eight Legged Freaks, Slither, et al. They have to be mindless with wooden acting and over the top effects. Art house is all very well, but a body can only take so much sub titled thought provoking artfully shot ruminations on the human condition.

* The Carpenters

I happen to believe that Karen Carpenter had one of the great soul voices and I will challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to a fist fight. This is deliciously cheesy and definitely one for the desert island.

Anyway, I'm off to read some Dostoevsky and brush up my Hegelian dialectics. If anybody has a cheesy secret pleasure please feel free to share, I'll try not to laugh.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

This being the holiday season most right thinking folk have buggered off to diego land or the far east in order to improve their skin cancer prospects. Only the poor saps like me involved in the domestic tourist trade have to stay in drizzly Blighty and attend to the whims and peccadilloes of moaning tourists.

I watch them from my living room window, departing for another days jolly while I face the dispiriting prospect of mowing their lawns. I suppose I can't complain too much as their cash is germinating in my pockets, waiting to sprout vigorously in the winter when travel and accommodation is at its cheapest.

I'm getting the wanderlust bad at the moment, and am indulging in my favourite pastime: deciding where I shall go next. This is highly pleasurable as everybody knows that the most enjoyable part of travel is the planning and anticipation.

I would like to ask you to advise where I should bugger off to next. It will be for a month, or possibly six weeks, so it ain't gonna be a long weekend in Riga or Bratislava. I've narrowed the contenders down to three seductive prospects, but being torn as to which I should allow to ravish me can't make my mind up.


No Costas. Eating cooked breakfasts with lame and halt Mancunians (no offence KAZ) in Fuengirola doesn't appeal. I'm thinking mini cruise from Portsmouth to Bilbao for a mooch about the Guggenheim and some top Basque nosh. Then it would be a leisurely peregrination around Madrid, Seville, Granada, Valencia, and Barcelona - possibly with some Balearics thrown in should time permit.


Three weeks in an apartment in Venice sounds good; nice and misty and romantic with loads of stuff to explore and no bloody tourists in St Marks Square. I quite fancy myself as a Doge. Then Genoa, Bologna and Florence. Nifty.


This one is definitely a strong contender. My bollocks might get frozen off, but Prague, Budapest, and Cracow would make up for it with their beer and dumplings. A bit of faded Austro Hungarian elegance appeals, and I relish the prospect of scoffing sachertorte in a grand hotel haunted by the ghost of the Emperor Franz Josef.

Over to you.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bugger Bognor

I'm fed up with newspaper travel supplements waxing lyrical on the delights of Caribbean and Pacific idylls where cocktails are sipped on bleached wood balconies as azure seas glimmer seductively.

All very well and good I suppose, if you can afford it; which I can't unless I decide to liquidate my rapidly depreciating UK property assets. Actually, that might not be such a bad idea as I'm increasingly of the view that hoarding assets to fund a sybaritic retirement is a fools game. What's the point? I'll just end up a decrepit old crumbly leering pointlessly at nineteen year old lovelies and imagining what it would be like to bounce 50 pence coins off their firm young stomachs (among other things). Either that or I'll get dementia and they'll wheel me off to a old folks home that smells of boiled cabbage and wee. Then they'll steal all my money to pay for the indignity of dribbling in a high chair and being forced to participate in cumpulsory 'Heigh Ho Silver Lining' singalongs.

Unfortunately I'm not brave enough to say 'fuck it' and squander all my readies on jet set travel and louche living. Maybe I should emulate campervanman and spend six weeks touring the British coastline. I have already indicated my love of British seaside resorts, so this cheap and cheerful escapade definitely appeals.

I'm sure I could produce an interesting tour guide, complete with evocative descriptions of furtive couplings beneath disused piers and alcoholic cider swilling vagrants raving at seagulls. I would complete my tour at Sanna Bay, the most splendid sweep of beach and dunes in Britain. There is nothing tawdry there to tempt the tourist, just the swell of the atlantic and sunsets filtered through the clear northern light.