Miscellany and detritus, from the writer of Is This Mutton?com

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Put howling women singers out of their misery

If there's one thing guaranteed to set my teeth on edge, it's the shrieking, toneless caterwauling of the vast majority of women singers.

Very few women can sing well, in my opinion. Most women deliver a pitch that is nasal in the extreme, or, if they think they can sing (Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, even Lesley Garrett), they indulge in cheap vocal pyrotechnics and the kind of screeching that would do credit to a tom cat.

I have to change stations if "I will always love you" comes on. Or "Eternal Flame." Or, the latest horror, Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry." She's gone for that dreadful sob-trapped-in-the-throat sound originated by Michael Jackson which is copied relentlessly by singers including Beyonce and Britney and everyone on those tawdry TV talent shows. Do they think it covers the term "emotions?" Fergie has also perpetrated another crime which is trying to sound like a little girl.

Beverley Craven doesn't seem to have dealt with the most basic of vocal challenges, getting rid of the sound of gulping in breaths. And Madonna, well, nasal in the extreme.

Maybe I have overly sensitive ears. But the only women singers whose voices are harmonious and pleasant are Barbara Streisand, Julie Andrews, KD Lang and Karen Carpenter. As their best bodies of work were many years ago, you can see I don't rate any of today's women singers. What do you all think?

Friday, July 27, 2007

UK Inc is so depressing

At the time of the World Cup there was initially quite a lot of patriotic fervour about the England team and the nation as a whole. Flags suddenly appeared all over the place and the country was on a brief high, unified and optimistic.

It all ended in tears and the country went back to its normal brooding state of resentment and confusion. Unlike the US, France, Italy and Germany, the UK has no true sense of identity. Scotland, Wales and Ireland yes; England no. Until recently, it was bad to even display the flag of St George because it was owned by the fascist fringe.

I find myself pondering over England's sociological status and identity confusion. I made the decision this week to stop buying papers, except on Sunday. The reason is that every day, the papers are just full of doom and gloom about the UK. I'm not talking about terrorism, murders or any other crimes, but simply the cascade of stats everyday that paint the UK as one of the worst places in Europe.

Let's take yesterday as an example. Britain has the worst behaved teenagers in Europe. Earlier in the week, it was revealed that 15 year old girls drink more than boys their age, and get drunk on average once a week. Wonderful. A former boxer dies after challenging three yobs who were smoking. In Gloucester, flooded houses were looted and vandals and children have vandalised water bowsers. Other people meanwhile were marching in and taking far too much water with the "I'm all right Jack" selfish attitude that prevails these days.

Then there are depressingly regular reports about obese teenagers; teenagers armed with knives; bullying; Britain having the highest number of teenage mothers in Europe; Britain having the highest number of university dropouts in Europe.

That's just the youngsters. Then there is what I consider the hidden scandal of how the elderly are treated in care homes and by the NHS; the NHS in general (crippled) and poor public transport.

It all adds up to a picture of a thoroughly unpleasant, divided land. It's unlike other countries where the majority of people are principled, honest and caring. I despair of the mentality of people. What makes someone think it's OK to damage a waster bowser? Or loot someone's flooded house? Or for a gang of teenagers to choose a victim and knife him to death? It's as if millions of people have grown up among wild animals with only a will to survive but no psychological training on respect or self-esteem.

I wonder how we got to this state. A lot of commentators and the Daily Mail blame either "the government" (and I do believe the avaricious Thatcher years have a lot to do with it because the divide between rich and poor became too great) or lax parenting. I think it's a combination of the two plus a general resentment that although we're supposed to be one of the richest nations in Europe, our priorities are wrong and somehow a lot of our public services - the NHS, education to name two -are worse than those found in third world countries. We'll happily spend millions parading up and down with America in countries where we seem to think we have a God given right to "restore justice" based on flimsy evidence. We give great tax breaks to the super rich allowing them to have some sort of "domiciled" status that means they don't pay any income tax. We fail to uphold the family as the structure on which a successful country is based, but make it so attractive to be a single mother there is no incentive to work.

I know there are positives about the UK. Er.....well, the sense of humour and the beauty of the place are the two things that immediately spring to mind. But it's all far outweighed by what is wrong, and I try not to dwell on it because it's just too depressing.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The rise of the humble blackberry

There are very few good things in life that are free. Blackberries are one of them. I was interested to read today that demand for the fruit has grown by 15% in the last year. Sadly though the word blackberry has been hijacked by the accursed BlackBerry hand-held. And the innocent, delicious pastime of "blackberrying" has probably all but disappeared. I doubt if the young even realise you can help yourself to very fine blackberries in the wild rather than going to Sainsburys to buy cultivated punnets from countries like Mexico and Holland, for around £1.99.

But blackberrying can still be done, and a fine pastime it is.

When I grew up in Devon everyone was at it. My dad was an avid blackberryer, and even when emphysema had taken hold, he was still blackberrying, although one time he tripped into a bramble and was virtually held upside down while my mother ran screeching for help.

Where we live, in a leafy suburb of London, there are brambles everywhere. Look, I cry to John as we go out for a walk. Look at all those brambles! We must come back when they're ripe with suitable receptacles.

He humours me while dreading that I may mean it, because I get the impression that taking nature's bounty is not the done thing in this neck of the woods. Last year a piece of wasteground near the garage yielded an absolute bounty of the black beauties and I was in there, happy to get scratched, pushing my way through the brambles to get to the juicier specimens at the back of the bushes.

Unfortunately that was the first and only time because that little piece of wasteground then became a shrine to the car (someone else's) and was hastily stamped out.

And what delicious things were made from blackberries when I was young! Bramble seedless (jam without the pips); blackberry and apple pie; blackberry and apple crumble. Now I have them stewed on my breakfast cereal. I do buy them from Sainsburys but no matter where they come from, Mexico, France or UK, the cultivated ones don't taste anything like the wild blackberries.

So I'm looking forward to the time when they ripen, although I imagine the lack of sun is probably not helping. I'm not telling you all where the bushes are because if you've got any sense you'll be out there too with your Tupperware. Just don't try to pick them when they've gone over. A Devonshire saying is (and excuse me for this), if you leave them too long, the devil piddles on them.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The delicious irony of it all

I had to smile when I read the headlines generated by the Food Standards Agency's discovery that it's not only what the papers euphemistically call "low income families" who eat convenience foods high in fat and e numbers. What the Independent today calls "middle class families" (a bold step nowadays to refer to class!) are equally guilty. In fact, there is hardly any difference between what the two types put in their trolley, whether that trolley is being pushed around in Lidl, Asda or Waitrose.

What made me smile was the imagining of shrill rebuttals and disbelief in the middle class homes of the chattering classes. The people who pay through the nose for organic produce and sneer at "low income families" saying that their children are hyperactive and fat because they're fed a diet consisting of the McCains range, cheesy lunchables and the Colonel's bargain bucket. Their chocolate is by Green & Black, not Cadbury, their crisps by Kettle and not Walkers; they rarely pay less than a tenner for a bottle of wine, and they like to buy fresh herbs and whatever's trendy to stave off ageing, pomegranate, blueberries, etc.

Yet despite all their foody posturing, they still lack knowledge of nutrition and health. Or perhaps they have the knowledge but still succumb to the lure of the ready meal. As one commentator pointed out last week, actually we do all know about nutrition and what we should be doing (making meals from scratch, freezing them, eating five portions of fruit and veg a day) but the way of modern life is not to do this. It's all about ease and convenience.

Today at the gym for example, I saw a car searching for a space closest to the building. Everyone seems to do this, whether it's the gym or the superstore. It's no longer "normal" for children to walk to school, even when they can, or for anyone to walk to the shops, even if they're 10 minutes away. We've become use to this life of sloth and indolence. So we all pretend we're too busy, our lives too hectic, to possibly cook our own meals from scratch. But really we're just deluding ourselves.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Goodbye to the Beckhams

With much fanfare, pouting and posing, the Beckhams have finally gone to Los Angeles.
It doesn't mean that we won't be spared all the usual dross about Victoria's latest shock diet or David's latest haircut. As seen this week, whatever they do in America is instantly broadcast in blighty: for example, Victoria's ridiculous attempts to look sexy while draped over the bonnet of a car, and her appearance on the Jay Leno show. There she apparently criticised Eddie Murphy. Go girl go! That man is the lowest form of life and I'm glad to see that Girl Power is reintstaed following the Spice Girls reunion.

I DO think that David is flushing his career down the toilet. It seems to me that a few months ago when he wasn't being selected for England or Real Madrid he was probably desperate for a new challenge and a megabucks contract in LA probably seemed the perfect solution.

Of course then he got recalled for England but the die was cast. He's gone out there five years too early in his career and he won't be playing for England in a year's time because he won't be good enough. The slow pace of US football won't be sufficient.

Will he succeed in converting Americans to soccer? I doubt it. Others have tried, including Pele. Beckham has the glamour factor, but soccer just won't be fast or furious enough for the Americans.

I wonder how it will all turn out. Will the Beckhams get swept into Scientology, a fate that seems to befall anyone who gets in with Tom Cruise? Will Victoria ever be able to dress down, or will dressing down continue to mean her own brand of jeans with vertigious high heels, huge bag, full slap, immaculate highlights etc.

They are such determined icons that you have to give them some respect. They give hope to chavs and wannabees everywhere.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Back from Cyprus

Yes we're back from Cyprus after two blissful weeks. It was hot and sunny throughout, and on a couple of days quite uncomfortably hot in the early 90s. Quite a shock to get back to Stansted and see the rain and grey skies.

We stayed in a resort called Hotel Nausicaa (also known as Blue Village) where we were pretty much the only Brits among literally hundreds of Scandinavians. This had its advantages: they seem to be role model parents and their children, always beautifully dressed with sun hats, rarely cried or screamed like their British counterparts. In restaurants they sat smiling and eating the same food as their parents. How do they do it?

The hotel stands in beautiful grounds with the loungers arranged on grassy terraces. There were two swimming pools or you could walk to steps leading to the sea. The water was very clear and a stunnihng turquoise.

We were in a town called Protaras which is on the SE coast, about 8km from Ayia Napa. We went to Ayia Napa for dinner one night. I was amazed at how it has changed since I was last there in 1991. Then, it was just one street and a church. Now it's a sprawling development with a new harbour. It was indeed full of Brits, and after a pleasant dinner overlooking the harbour (delicious kalamari) we had a couple of drinks in the "Queen Vic" pub where the staff are mostly British and the beers are draught.

Eating out in Protaras is a hit-and-miss affair. It's a town developed only for tourists and offers a range of different dining experiences. What we found is that a restaurant can be excellent on one night, but terrible the next. For example, we sought out Anemos after seeing it was recommended in the AA Guide to Cyprus. The first visit was excellent: we both had fresh sea bream and it was wonderful, as was the Kyperounda chardonnay (a more expensive local wine at Cyprus £9.25). The restaurant wasn't too busy that time and the service was excellent. The second time, we decided to go for a meze (18 courses). It started off very well with the dips, grilled halloumi and garlic mushrooms. But chips were brought before the final plate of meat, so we had nothing to accompany the pork souvla, spit roasted chicken and sausage. The meat was either dry or fatty, and it was disappointing there was no fish course. This time the restaurant was very busy and the service was bad.

The most consistent restaurant was the Nicolai Tavern. We went there four times and had a good experience every time, more or less (John's pork souvla was a bit dry). Their house wines were unusually good, and the kalamari stifado was excellent. But the puddings were disappointing: just crepes or ice cream.

Our last night was reserved for Parko, a hotel restaurant with better than average service where we'd enjoyed an excellent tornedos Rossini on a previous visit. But, such is life: on our last night, not only were we sat next to some smoking Brits on the left and a screaming toddler on the right, the food was terrible too. John's tornedos Rossini was rare rather than the medium he requested, and my sea bream was dry and bony.

If you've never visited Cyprus I'd recommend going to the northern (Turkish) side which is prettier and more undeveloped. It's a long time since I was last in the Greek side (1991) and it's been developed hugely since then. It's a wonderful placew for sightseeing and variety.
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