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

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Give Ed a break

My personal preference was David, but what's really getting my goat is the vitriole aimed at Ed Milliband because he thwarted his brother's ambitions by standing for the Labour leadership in the first place.


Now with certain things - inheritances and the monarchy - the eldest son always gets priority. Some weird old feudal thing.

But I don't see why, if Ed made his career politics exactly as his brother did, he can't go for the top prize too.

Leaderships don't come round very often and particularly not when there are meglomaniacs like Mrs Thatcher and Tony Blair.

I'm sure the psychologists are going to have a field day. There was excited gossip on the Andrew Marr show today about how Ed always copied David. But here's the thing. (An expression I hate). David had his chance a couple of years ago when he made an attack on Gordon Brown, without naming his prey, but then backed off. He could have made his move then and maybe Labour wouldn't have lost the election. But we'll never know.

My only advice to Ed, following his appearance on the Marr show today, is that he doesn't want to sound like he supports the Coalition government. I know it's hard to find differences between the three leaders, all young, highly educated middle and upper class men as they are, but unless Ed finds a differentiator, we'll be stuck with Cameron and the gang for years.

Thank goodness for Harriet Harman is all I can say: the only senior woman politician and a good #2 to Ed. She is the only minister to have effected any real change for women in over 30 years, with the last being David Steel and his abortion act.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A great performance from Joaquin Phoenix

I find Joaquin Phoenix far more interesting and appealing than cute boys like Brad Pitt. He's edgy and enigmatic.

I just love the way he and Casey Affleck successfully pulled off a massive hoax, lasting for two years.

It started when Joaquin appeared on the David Letterman show and was virtually monosyllabic with wild hair (left). He was retiring from films and promoting his new career as a rapper. Letterman, in frustration, ended the interview "Joaquin Phoenix could not be with us today".

It was all part of him creating a character.

A "documentary" directed by Affleck shows the breakdown  of the star and his descent into drug taking. When "I'm Still Here" first came out, it seems a lot of people were fooled.

Even the Sunday Times was unsure if it was a spoof, but the writer, a couple of weeks ago, revealed that Phoenix had slipped into the cinema where a preview was being shown and was laughing at all the amusing bits and looking pleased with the reception the film got.

I'm relieved that it was all a stunt, and that Phoenix has been having a bit of fun. It was very brave of him and it's probably been one of his greatest roles.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Getting to know Raquel

Glam at 70

That's Raquel Welch, not Raquel Wolstenhulme.
I've just been reading her book "Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage". It's not exactly an autobiography: there's quite a lot of biography, but then it suddenly becomes a treatise for women with Raquel's views on all manner of things, plus a few chapters where Raquel gives her beauty and fashion tips.
I've always been a bit fascinated by Raquel Welch. As she says in her book, she's been fairly enigmatic without giving many interviews throughout her career. She's able to give a list of men including Richard Burton, Burt Bacharach, Burt Reynolds, Warren Beatty (it goes on) and teasingly asks us which one she had a relationship with. And we probably don't have a clue.
I find that she's even more of an enigma after reading the book.

The other Raquel (Wolstenhulme)

Made famous by that shot of her in a fur bikini, Welch apparently became very stroppy whenever directors expected her to take her clothes off. Maybe that's how she got the reputation she has for being difficult. Anyway, you have to admire her principles. It seems that she wanted to be a serious actress, and indeed, has always thought herself to be a serious actress, but because of that wretched photo, everyone treated her as a sex symbol. Very irritating.
In her beauty and fashion tips, she talks at length about plastic surgery and injectibles, but doesn't say whether or not she's had any of it. She does own up to using "Frownies," tiny bits of cardboard you stick on wrinkles at night. I think she's trying to kid us all that she's had nothing done. But you don't look like she does at 70 without a bit of help.
I did warm to her after she admitted to putting on 15 extra pounds during the writing of the book, because an injury meant she wasn't able to exercise. Phew, the woman is human! I was beginning to doubt it after she gave a example of her daily diet. You know the sort of thing: breakfast, egg white omelette. Lunch: salad. Dinner: steamed fish.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I don't care if Cheryl Cole endorses it, it's nonsense

Like most of us, I've fallen prey to the odd diet book in my time. Yes, always hoping that the latest book is going to give me all the foods I like combined with a sure fire way of losing weight. Without too much deprivation.

Over the years I have feasted (perhaps that's a little too strong a word in this context) on diet books including:
- The F Plan: remember that dreadful fibre filler you had to make every day? It was like eating sawdust. And pease pottage (not the service station) and Granny Ann biscuits, which probably made pemmican look tempting;
- Dr Perricone's Facelift in the Fridge (or something similar) which revolves around eating vast quantities of salmon, porridge, blueberries and turkey. I liked this diet for a while but now I can never face salmon;
- Atkins: oh yuk, the idea of all that meat and no vegetables or fruit! It's a sure fire recipe for standstill of the intestine.

The latest one that befell me is "Eat right for your blood type," which has the cover endorsement "I believe in it 100%", Cheryl Cole.

I was hoping that as a blood group O, there would be plenty of meat and seafood for me to hunt down.  The book is big on cave man metaphors. But the bad news is that I am not supposed to eat any wheat, ever; hardly any dairy (including eggs), no blackberries and no lentils, soya beans or anything remotely pickled. That's just for starters. Now if I really fancy a slice of bread, I am told to go for "essene bread."

Having never heard of it I googled it and found it's some strange raw bread made from sprouting wheat, which you leave out in the sun all day to "cook."  Here's a  a recipe: http://debbietookrawforlife.blogspot.com/2008/04/wheat-part-ii-how-to-make-essene-bread.html

A day's menu for weight loss looks like this: breakfast - slice of essene bread (toasted: is that possible? Does it ever achieve the form needed to go into a toaster?) with low sugar fruit spread (but not jam); lunch - organic roast beef, 2- 4 oz, with nothing else; dinner - steamed artichoke with lemon juice. Plus a couple of snacks of sliced carrots, celery sticks and two rice cakes with a dribble of maple syrup.

I can see how Cheryl stays so slim on a diet like this! It even manages to make the F Plan look tasty. I didn't read all the pseudo science that goes with it because for starters, an O like me is supposed to be a martyr to my stomach and victim of food intolerances. Nonsense: I am not intolerant of anything, food-wise, and have no allergies or inflammation. Nor have I ever suffered from eczema, diabetes, heart burn, indigestion, trench foot, etc etc.

This is one diet book that is now going back on Amazon. Anyone want to make an offer?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Twittering Inanities

One of the attractions of Twitter was its sprinkling of celebrities, many with thousands of followers. Thrill to the antics of Demi Moore and Ashton Kuchter! Hear the inner thoughts of Russell Brand, Stephen Fry and Lily Allen! Enjoy nuggets of business intelligence from Duncan Bannatyne, Peter Jones and Lord Sugar!

But what Twitter teaches us is the utter banality of the written word. Very few have mastered the succinct soundbite demanded by the word restrictions.

Last night four harpies of the medium, Times' writers India Knight and Caitlin Moran, Channel 4 presenter and posh bird Kirstie Allsopp and Grazia's editor Jane Bruton, were all watching the Labour leadership candidates on Question Time and furiously tweeting to each other.

Were we supposed to kill ourselves laughing at their wit and rapartee, and thank our lucky stars that these doyennes of writing and broadcasting were sprinkling their gems among we plebs?

I merely thought that the four of them should retire to private instant messaging, but I doubt if their egos would allow that.

Duncan Bannatyne, meanwhile, gives us blow-by-blow accounts of the Amazon book charts, to remind us that he has a book out; occasionally tells us what the weather is like where his holiday home is and sometimes has a go at fellow Dragon James Caan.

Lord Sugar only started a month ago but is already lost in the celebrity egotism of Twitter, exhorting ever more people to follow him so he can reach thirty thousand.

Here are his most recent tweets:

I will be doing a live Q & A on Twitter for the Mirror serialisation on Monday at 6 pm


From Monday, it all kicks off with my book. Buy the Mirror next week for exclusive serialisation (book out on 30th)
I think that says it all.
Many tweets are from people promoting something. Websites, blogs, books, links, forthcoming appearances. Most of it is drivel about what people are doing. And then a tiny, tiny percentage are witty and make you laugh out loud. Precious few of those are from celebrities, it has to be said.  The only celebs I'm following who can truly use the medium properly are Richard Madeley (@richardm56) and Graham Linehan (Father Ted writer), @glinner. They're there frequently, unlike some celebs who only post occasionally to remind us they're alive, and they give us provoking thoughts, trivia, amusement.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Let down by The Stig

The recent unmasking of Top Gear's The Stig, by none other than The Stig himself, has made me quite irritable.

Why couldn't an investigative journalist have revealed the identity of the hit TV show's mysterious racing driver?

But instead, as if the hefty £££s involved in being a driver to the BBC weren't enough, The Stig - former Formula 3 driver Ben Collins - has to write a book about his Top Gear years, to ruthlessly fleece his employer.

Former employer, probably, as the BBC doesn't like its Stigs to be known  (there have been two so far.) The BBC even tried to tried Collins to court, but as the Sunday Times' 10 page Stig Special today shows, they were unsuccessful.

I'm not falling over myself to read the revelations. I daresay The Stig was the most talented driver of his generation but somehow thwarted from making the step to Formula 1. There's probably some sob story about injury or not being in the right place at the right time, but ending up having the last laugh by competing against celebs like Cameron Diaz and former racing drivers like Damon Hill (whom we all hoped was The Stig.)

I hope Collins enjoys his cash.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Extreme Car Cleaning

If, like me, you thought that car washing involves a bucket of water, some turtle wax and maybe a chamois, think again.

It seems there is a whole "car detailing", or extreme car cleaning, movement on the web, where, for example, the cleansing properties of detergent are discussed in minute detail.

J was mysterious about the big box that arrived for him this week. "It's my stash" he muttered. "Stash" is usually used in reference to my crafting supplies.

Anyway, here are the contents of the box: everything he needs to clean a car.

Assorted mitts and soft towels (one with pockets: who knows why); sprays; unguents and suds. A hose pipe and a power cleaner are essential. Buckets are not de rigeur.  

My car was then put through its paces with J administering something called "snow foam" which is left for a few minutes and is then rinsed off, leaving the vehicle pristine.

My car under the snow foam
It seems a harmless enough hobby, albeit expensive: his box of stash cost £160. I will never have to face the bare knuckle ride that is the car wash ever again (will the heater thing lift up in time or will it crash through the windscreen?).

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Epping Forest Festival

Itr's Groundhog Day again: the annual Epping Forest Festival. We strolled over after lunch and it seemed even busier than usual, even though the sky was cloudy. It's a fair that showcases the forest at work and at leisure, and all the groups who are attached to the forest: conservationists, woodland burial grounds (!), J's running club The Orion Harriers, horse riding schools and so on. One omission this year was the jousting. I wonder why?
There was falconry

Plenty of woodland crafts

Tractor rides

J visits the Orion Harriers
Horse rides


Saturday, September 04, 2010

Our favourite cookery books

I love looking at cookery books although I don't often cook from them. I tend to follow recipes only from magazines or cookery cards. Funny that. Anyway, a newspaper columnist recounted yesterday how she has been having a clear out and a lot of cookery books were binned or given away. She found herself keeping the Nigella books but getting rid of Gordon Ramsay and Antonio Carlucci.

Marguerite Patten
My "keepers" would also nclude some of Nigella's books: I love Feast and Christmas with her gorgeous Ebay collected reindeer crockery. I'd also keep two really old, and food spattered (always a good sign) books that I used a lot years ago. One is "The Dairy Cookery Collection," which was a book sold by the milkman (!) and the other is Marguerite Patten's Everyday Cookbook. Marguerite is still seen on TV occasionally. I think she's marvellous. She was a home economist during the war and advised how to make recipes from food rations. Gary Rhodes has developed recipes with her help.

I have a couple of Delia Smith's and I would keep those. If in doubt, look it up in Delia.

I would get rid of my Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls, my one Gordon Ramsay amd my Claudia Roden. The latter looks beautiful but I'm never going to try the recipes.  I don't have any books by Julia Child or Elizabeth David, which a lot of chefs use as benchmarks.

It's ironic perhaps that the cookery books most of us love are by cooks, not chefs, who give us unpretentious recipes that deliver good results. Which books would you keep and which would you get rid of?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Opera on The Green

You could have knocked me down with a feather when I found a whole page in the Sunday Times Culture magazine about opera singer William Shimell.

When I was at BBC Radio Devon, I had to interview him. I got him to sing for me and his voice was so powerful I had to stand outside the room to stop the needle on my Uher going into the red.

He was very good looking and charming, and lived fairly locally in Kingsand. Kingsand is just "across the water" from Plymouth in Cornwall and to my mind, one of the last undiscovered gems. A lot of the houses in the windy streets are second homes, which is sad but inevitable, but it's a pretty little place and untarnished with the usual "emmet" spoils of Cornish tourism.

My mum Giz and I usually go to Kingsand and its sister village Cawsand once a year. We always wander up to The Green, where passers-by can occasionally thrill to Bill giving an impromptu recital. We're not opera buffs by any means. We went to see Carmen in the Theatre Royal and Giz fell asleep and had her programme snatched from her lap. Never again!

After my interview, I looked out for mentions of Bill in every opera review, but never found any. The Sunday Times article explains why. He is very famous internationally and has been one of the defining dons of his age, performing Don Giovanni and Don Alfonso many times. But for some reason he was not asked to do the roles in his home country.

Now he is appearing in a film, aged 57, for the first time ever. "Certified Copy" with Oscar winner Juliette Binoche and William Shimell is out on Friday. It sounds intriguing, and nothing to do with opera. Shimell doesn't get to sing one note.  Here's a review from the Cannes film festival from The Guardian. I will look out for this with interest.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Ghost Cars

We happened to be in one of the car dealers at the weekend (a new car is firmly back in J's "circle" - see http://chat1960vintage.blogspot.com/2010/08/circle.html) and I was intrigued to see the cars shrouded with sheets (right). New cars: we could see the "60" on their numberplates. Someone's pride and joy, waiting to be driven proudly out of the showroom today.

I will be driving home my own new pride and joy today. I only get a new car once every four years so it's an exciting day, twinged with sadness. I never name my cars or personalise them, but I do get quite attached to them in that we drive many miles in four years and spend many hours twiddling our respective thumbs and gear stick on the M25. As Gary Numan rightly said, "here in my car I feel safest of all".
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