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Native Janner living in London UK). Curious about everything. Expect a wide range of topics and a few wood pigeons.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

In Memory of David Bowie

July 6 1972 was a significant date for a generation. David Bowie performed Starman on Top of the Pops, and our collective jaws fell open. Who was this fabulous creature?

I was only 11 but it made a huge impression on me. I cajoled my mum into buying Ziggy Stardust from her Freeman's catalogue for the princely sum of 10 pence a week from my pocket money. This was rigidly adhered to. We Baby Boomers knew the value of money and also hard work.

DB became a huge part of my life. I spent a fortune on acquiring all the different formats of music as they appeared: vinyl, cassettes, CDs and then iTunes and Spotify.

I bought the albums of his friends and associates. I ordered Iggy Pop's The Idiot by mail order, without ever having heard him, on the strength of their collaboration. It was waiting for me at home after a ghastly two night camping expedition for Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

I saw him three times: the first was the Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983.  I had passed my driving test just 3 weeks before so it was the first time I drove a long way  (Plymouth to Milton Keynes) on motorways and on my own.

It was a bittersweet experience. I couldn't get anyone to go with me and being a shy sort, didn't get talking to anyone. The support acts were Icehouse, The Beat and Madonna (!). After the concert, and boy was Bowie fantastic, it took me ages to find my car, the trusty Datsun 120Y.  I had a superb souvenir: one of the helium balloons that was released at the end, from a "man in the moon" shape by the side of the stage. But it was taken off me as I left the grounds.

The next day I found out that nearly everyone staying in my hotel, the Cock Inn at Stony Stratford, had gone to the same show because we were all wearing the t-shirt at breakfast. Sheepish grins all around.

The second time I saw him was at Wembley and the third in Birmingham, in 2003 - his last concert tour in the UK. Both times with great company.

The first time that my brother Robert went to London with me and my mum, we scuttled off to Camden to watch Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.  Mum thought she would have a nice snooze but was captivated by the action from the start  (someone being decapitated, I recall).

After the concert in 2003, we then had the long silence from DB: no albums, no interviews, hardly any TV appearances ("Extras" anyone?) until he dropped "The Next Day" on his birthday in 2013. I was having breakfast and BBC Breakfast News suddenly started talking about how a new album had mysteriously appeared from David Bowie on his birthday, and goodness knows how he'd managed to keep it quiet.  My jaw fell open (again).

And sadly it fell open again last Monday when, over breakfast, BBC Breakfast News told us that news was breaking of the death of David Bowie.  "Whaaat?" I yelled. Couldn't believe it.  I had long suspected he was ill:  there had been reports of heart problems following the last world tour. But just three days before, a new album Blackstar had appeared.  I have just listened to it for the first time since his death  (couldn't bear to, before).

What a superb way to go: so beautifully orchestrated, and dignified.  No funeral, which would have been a circus, sparing his wife and 15 year old daughter.  Immortalized forever by that album and the video, and the photos of him in a sharp suit laughing at death in the face.

I bought some roses (forefront, in black wrapping) and took them to the Bowie mural at Brixton, his place of birth. I wanted to thank him for all the pleasure he gave me over the years.

I've been slightly surprised by the volume of media attention and recollections.  I knew he was a huge star, a legend, an icon, but I was cynical that the world at large didn't realise. I know now this was wrong. And I've felt a bit jealous in a way with every man and his dog recounting how kind and special he was, and how he smiled at them or spoke to them. And how many people shared my "awakening day" of July 6 1972.

RIP our special Starman.

I'll be back tomorrow with my Spotify list of my favourite songs and albums. If you can wait :-)

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Dead Sirts and Blender Traumas

A huge bag of kale confronts me balefully when I open the fridge.  It's Jan 2 and the healthy eating programme has resumed.

photo: mediterrasian.com
I say "resumed" but unfortunately it was on hold for most of 2015 so a few pounds have crept on.

Just two and a half days into my programme, I have already lost the aches and pains and the "sugar face" that you get from eating too many chocolates. It really is amazing the difference that lots of fruit and veg, lean protein, low sugar and carbs can make.

I'm whipping up soups and adding a scoop of Nutri Shape & Shake flavourless protein powder to each serving. This makes it more filling and so I can survive on it until the next meal without climbing the walls. Soup is so nutritious, it's a great way of getting your five a day in one hit. Today I made a spinach and broccoli soup. I had sore misgivings but actually it was fine. Very important for a good soup:  use a decent stock. Those Oxo cubes and Marigold bouillon powders aren't great because they're full of salt.

The kale was bought along with some frozen fruit and berries because I planned to have a smoothie for breakfast. But I was traumatised last time I used the Nutribullet, the latest "white elephant" gadget to be consigned to the cupboard with all the other fads. I just can't face it. I can't be weaned off my daily poached eggs with one slice of seeded wholemeal toast.

So I'm having eggs for breakfast, soup for lunch and for dinner a piece of lean protein (eg chicken breast) or prawns or fish with vegetables / salad and healthy grains like quinoa or spelt.  Plus a couple of satsumas as a snack and maybe a banana if I get desperate.  I'm also throwing in as many sirtfoods as possible - all the rage - but I haven't seen "lovage" yet in the supermarkets, which is on the list of dead sirts.

As for New Year's Resolutions, today I read that it's more helpful if you ask yourself a question rather than make a statement. For example:  "will I exercise more this year?" is more effective than "I will exercise more this year."  And the answer to my qustion is yes: I have signed up for the Great Newham 10k, which involves a couple of laps of the Olympic Park. I did a 5k last year but it was a bit of a struggle. So let's see.

Here's my recipe for my favourite soup, Carrot & Almond, which even J finds acceptable:

For 2 large servings:
4 teaspoons olive or rice bran oil 
3 large carrots
50g ground almonds
1 red onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 sticks of celery
Turmeric - doesn't add flavour but is a great anti-inflammatory
500ml stock  (the Essential chicken stock from Waitrose is excellent)
200ml water
Teaspoon ginger powder

In  a large pan gently sweat the chopped onion; add the garlic, celery and chopped carrots. Add the spices. Pour in the stock and water; season. Bring to boil then simmer for 25 mins. Blend; add the ground almonds and blend again. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

New Year traditions: from red knickers to dancing bears

The UK New Year celebration generally involves large quantities of alcohol, the ritual of Big Ben and fireworks at midnight and drunken renditions of Auld Lang Syne. In Scotland they like to party like it's 1999 and get an extra day's bank holiday on Jan 2 to recover.

Some of our EMEA chums have far more interesting traditions.

In Romania people put on bear costumes and furs and dance at different houses to keep evil at bay.

In Turkey they like to wear red underneath their New Year's party outfit. Stalls selling red lingerie appear over the festive period and sell out fast.
Image: Daily Telegraph

In Germany December 31st is the feast day of Saint Silvester and New Year's Eve is named after him. The Germans like to party and the big event at Brandenburger Tor in Berlin is famous worldwide.

For Silvester, lentil (or split pea) soup with wieners is very popular. People also share meat and cheese fondue with family and friends as the New Year feast. If the Germans are craving some TV, they might watch, for the umpteenth time, "Dinner for One."  This British curiosity about an elderly lady living alone, whose butler pretends to be different guests and gets progressively more drunk, is hugely popular. Yet hardly anyone in the UK has ever seen it.

Image: United Archives GmBH/Alamy 
Meanwhile in France, New Year's Eve is known as la Saint-Sylvestre. On this day they host a special New Year feast called le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre which consists of customary dishes like pancakes, foie gras and Champagne. On New Year's Day, day cruises have become popular. Paris has a fantastic two-day festival with thousands of performers,  singers, dancers and entertainers, marching through the streets.

Finally to Scandinavia. In Sweden, after Christmas spent with family, Swedes like to spend New Year's Eve - Gott Nytt Ar - with friends. After a lavish dinner everyone gathers to watch a live television broadcast from the Skansen Open-air museum in Stockholm, where the bells chime and a New Year verse is read to the nation: a Swedish translation of “Ring out wild bells” by the English poet Tennyson.

Friday, October 23, 2015

James Bond is Dead In The Water

The latest James Bond film Spectre has had largely positive reviews. But I think it unlikely we'll see another film in the genre.

Why? Killed off by its own stars, and the curse of political correctness.

James Bond the character and the novels are very much of their time with the first published in 1953. As we've seen from Mad Men, women were largely men's chattels. They didn't have bank accounts and married women had to leave work when they got pregnant  (this happened to my mother). It was a man's world, and the Bond films, even though the latest ones were not from the pen of Fleming, reflect this.

But rather than enjoy the films in the spirit of the historical period in which they were set, today's films are set in current times and therein lies the rub. Bond is described even by the actor who plays him, Daniel Craig, as a misogynist and uninspiring (source: The Verge).

Meanwhile, the actors who play "the Bond girls" were very quick to demand waspishly to be called women and actors, not Bond girls. Even Pussy Galore chipped in, actor Honor Blackman who appeared in one of the early films and is now in her 90s.

Gosh, how sensitive the luvvies are: anyone would think this was The Seagull or Hamlet, not just an entertaining couple of hours where a buff bloke in a tight suit goes around crashing cars, shooting people and using cliches to get women into bed!

But once you have Daniel Craig saying he'd rather "slash his own wrists than do another Bond film," you realise the franchise is probably Dead In The Water.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pigeon Post

It's been a while since I shared an update about our two lovely wood pigeons, Pidgie Pigeon (the male) and Leg Pigeon (female, limping pigeon). Pigeons mate for life and this pair has graced our garden for the last four years: maybe longer, because I only became aware of them after we chopped down their habitat, a Leylandii tree.

This year I've had a few causes for concern. Firstly there was a lone male pigeon who quickly realised I was feeding the two pigeons every morning and decided he would like to take over their pitch.

You can see he was one mean customer:

The Intruder
Pidgie Pigeon

We had pigeon handbags for a few days with the intruder repeatedly dive-bombing poor Leg. J got quite impatient with me wailing about the intruder. "The pigeons need to sort it out themselves," was his riposte. In the end, they did, protective of their patch.

You may think pigeons are a gregarious bunch, often seen pecking away in numbers. But our pigeons are very protective of their little circuit of gardens with feeders. They chase away any other pigeons who try to encroach.

The other cause for concern is, not to put too fine a point on it, they don't seem to be mating. I don't think we've had the patter of tiny pigeon claws this year.

Previously, I've seen them with twigs in their beaks, and they've exhibited typical mating behaviour.  This year they have been like an estranged couple, hardly ever flying together and Pidgie sometimes chasing Leg away. It might be their age: wood pigeons can live to age twenty and we have no idea how old this pair is.

Leg Pigeon (left), Pidgie Pigeon
 A small drama last week:  one of the pigeons got chased into the house by Molly the cat. I wasn't there so J didn't know which pigeon it was. J is an unreliable witness and to him both pigeons look the same.  I suspect it was Pidgie as Leg is a lot more flighty. Anyway, whichever pigeon it was sat shaking on the top of a cupboard. Fortunately, when J opened the double doors of the conservatory, it flew to safety and sat on the garage roof quaking.

There was a similar drama last year when Pidgie inadvertently hopped into the conservatory. He flew around desperately, banging into the windows, and then perched in terror. J gently wrapped him in my fleece and carried him out. He then staggered across the astroturf, looking stunned, just as Molly came gadding round the corner. We both screeched at Pidgie and he managed to summon enough energy to fly away.
I know people regard pigeons as pests but these two are pigeon role models. They don't leave any droppings in the garden (or house, on the two occasions they've been in) and they don't peck at my plums. I throw down a handful of seed for them in the morning and it's entertaining to watch them run towards me, as fast as their little legs can carry them.

So next time you see a couple of pigeons in your own garden, see if they return the same time tomorrow. They're very fixed in their patterns. Then you'll start to notice them and you'll get a lot of enjoyment from these delightful birds.

Who, us? We're on the fence 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Clematis Heaven

After days of watching the plump buds for signs of action, suddenly the explosion has happened. The two Clematis Montana - pink Rubens with dark green, purple flushed leaves and white Grandiflora - are flowering joyously, profusely.

Are there any more giving plants? They are thriving next to the dry, stony environs of the fence, in a north facing plot. The blooms have smothered the fence and give a wonderful feeling of intimacy to the garden.

I will prune them immediately after flowering: I was quite radical with Rubens last year because it was becoming rather too rampant, and it didn't do any harm. This year it's a case of training Grandiflora (in its first year) to mingle a bit more with Rubens, and to prevent them both taking over the obelisk where a honeysuckle tends to get overwhelmed by them.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Past its Sell By: theatre review "Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games"

    Ever since Riverdance exploded on the scene in the Eurovision song contest a few years ago, I've been wanting to see the show.  Last night we finally saw it at the Dominion Theatre in London. Unfortunately, I waited too long. The show is well past its sell-by.
    The theatre was only half full and the audience seemed to be mostly Irish which surprised me, as I thought Riverdance had become pretty mainstream.
     The ubiquitous Michael Flatley apparently appeared in this version last year at the London Palladium but he's now retired. He was still present however in a starting video and three holograms at the end.
    Where to begin? Firstly, I found the video surround too busy and frantic. I hoped that for some of the dances we might have scenery, like a ballet, but no, the video persisted for the entire show. The challenge was padding out the traditional "Riverdance" elements, so there was a rough theme of a battle between good and evil with macho dancers in studded black outfits stomping around one minute and girls in white floaty frocks with bucolic backgrounds the next.
    The dancing, when it going, showed occasional flashes of brilliance: the way the lead dancers trip so lightly across the stage with their feet moving unbelievably fast.  The classic "Lord of the Dance" routines, synchronised Irish dancing with the whole troupe, was superb. But a lot of the rest was very so-so, and looked tired and tatty with both the ghastly videos and the over blinged costumes. Every now and then a woman came on and sang, or a couple of girls in sequinned dresses played the fiddle. There was one dance where the girls shook their skinny backsides at the audience with just bra tops and tights on, which seemed gratuitous rather than sensual.
    Endless encores yet we were out by 9.30. This surprised the waiting taxi drivers: one of them had gone to empty the rubbish out of his cab and hadn't expected the audience to exit so soon.
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