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

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Marathon Eve

Tomorrow sees the London Marathon and J will be running. It's his 24th marathon or something like that. He is excited by the weather forecast: mild with showers. I am less excited, remembering a marathon three or four years ago when it poured and the green dye from my raincoat soaked through to my skin. Umbrellas are too hazardous in such dense crowds.

I will be perched on my shooting stick in the elite runners' drinks station at 35k, opposite St Paul's Church at Shadwell church. It's a great spot because I get to see the runners twice, on both sides of the road. I'll be trying to spot the members of the Orion Harriers, John's running club, to take pictures as they whizz by.

I was reminded of an amusing story that I heard when I was working at BT International a few years ago. It was at a time when mobile phones were new, rare, and the size of bricks. Their battery life was about an hour. BT Cellnet, as they were called then, decided to give every London Marathon runner the opportunity to make a call to a loved one after finishing the race.

The problem was, they built a bank of kiosks housing the mobile phones which involved climbing some steps. Unfortunately most of the runners were too exhausted to make  it, and gave up before scaling all the steps.

It's a far cry from nowadays when many of the runners are speaking on their phone as they rush by, or taking pictures of the crowd.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Breakfast in America

I was at a big conference last year that I'd helped organise. Colleagues from all over Europe, Middle East & Africa were attending. It was fascinating to see everyone's breakfast choices. The lines of "multiculturality" (to quote the wonderful TV comedy Twenty Twelve) are not drawn with the breakfast buffet.

The French stick to their croissants and large hot chocolate or cafe;  (and never cafe au lait: only we Brits say that); the Germans pile up with cold meats and semmel rolls  (if they're Bavarian - the others don't eat semmels), and the Brits either go for cereal or, if someone else is paying, a fry up.
My scrapbook layout celebrating Eggs Benedict!
Last week an article in Marketing Week explored how various manufacturers are trying to introduce other cultures to different foodstuffs for breakfast. In Africa, the concept of cereal with milk is completely alien. To be honest, I can't say I approve of the drive by Weetabix to force their product into markets like Nigeria. It seems patronising and a bit authoritarian.

When Krispy Kreme launched in the UK, they debated trying to convince us to eat doughnuts for breakfast. But they realised this would not work. So instead they presented doughnuts as a sharing experience, to take a box to work, and introduced "office heroes" with a gift card.

This is a much more sympathetic approach.

When I go abroad, I try not to stick to the British breakfast. It's a real black mark for me if a hotel or restaurant offers a British breakfast. I love to gorge on Greek yoghurt, honey and fresh fruit. Cheese and meats in Germany is also perfectly acceptable. And breakfast in America is Eggs Benedict (as a treat) or what they call oatmeal with a side of scrambled egg. What's your favourite breakfast?


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cheeky Squirrel

Photo: John Hanlon

The bird feeders sustain a whole ecosystem in our garden: the birds (obviously), including a pigeon that hovers below waiting for dropped seeds; mice, who dash up the arbour in full view of the cat, and a squirrel. The squirrel destroyed our last feeder by managing to unscrew the lid and then dragging it away so that we didn't find it for ages. What a superbrain! Here he is on his latest mission.

Monday, April 09, 2012

A Visual Feast!

Stepping into the spacious galleries of the Royal Academy my breath was taken away. I was so overcome with the sheer vivacity and scale of what I saw that I had to blink away tears.

I'm talking about the exhibition David Hockney "A Bigger Picture," which ends today. J and I went on Saturday, our slot at 9am (very good slot to have ---- it gets progressively busier as more people linger and more arrive).

In the paintbrushes and ipad of Hockney, East Yorkshire becomes as colourful as Van Gogh's recollections of Arles.

We start with four massive paintings showing the same group of trees, each painting showing a different season.

This is the theme of the exhibition. Hockney is fascinated by the changes that the seasons make. It's clear from the output that he was a man possessed, waking early if weather conditions were right to take his easel into the countryside.

His virtuosity is in no doubt. Turning a corner into another gallery, we are confronted with a wall of 36 watercolours. There are exquisite charcoal sketches. And vast, vast canvases made of pictures stitched together by trickery with an ipad. He may be in his mid 70s but Hockney has consistently been an early adopter of technology, experimenting to create art.

J was very taken with a 20 minute video that showed the output of nine cameras that had been set up to record the same stretches of woodland throughout the year.

I loved the gallery devoted to the Arrival of Spring in East Yorkshire in 2011, including the explosion of hawthorn blossom for just a week in early May. Hockney calls it his "Action Week" when the blossom springs forth. "If this were Japan at a time like that, there would be thousands of cars driving around to take it all in: here we are lucky, we have it to ourselves," he says.

It's very special when art has an emotional connection with you. I felt this very deeply and how I wish I could afford some of these wonderful pictures!


Sunday, April 08, 2012

Easter is far nicer than Christmas

In my view anyway.

As someone said on Twitter this week, at Easter you get a relaxing holiday, chocolate and a faint air of melancholy.

Christmas has that awful "rolling thunder" that starts in September; the pressure to socialise; high expectations - "this year it will be perfect" - and the threat of bad weather as people set off on impossibly long journeys with cars stuffed full of.....nonsense.

The country grinds to a halt for far too long. Grizzly over-indulged children cry because they can't choose which present to play with.

And then there's the enemy lurking in the brined bath in the garden: the turkey. Waiting to trip up the average cook with its insatiable demand for accompaniments and its tendency to go dry.

As our US friends would say, "enough already!"

Easter on the other hand has chocolate eggs and hot cross buns; a harmless looking bunny, Easter bonnets and the first lamb of spring for lunch. And two days' holiday. For those of us who know/and or care about the religious festival, (a dwindling number) it's a more uplifting celebration, albeit more mystical and challenging than Christmas.

Here's to Easter Day - the shops are shut and it's raining, what could be better?
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