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

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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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In Praise of.....Madonna

Here's a strange one. I never thought I would be writing a post praising Madonna. She's always been in my peripheral vision: I was never a fan of her music but gave her kudos for making such a huge career out of a fairly small talent. I saw her when she was a lowly support act on David Bowie's Serious Moonlight Tour and wasn't that impressed.

But as the years go by, I admire Madonna for her kick ass attitude.

Society would prefer middle-aged women to disappear, like they used to. To lose their voice, their appeal, their vivacity. To take early retirement because surely they're past it.

Women in their 50s and 60s nowadays are unsung heroes. They're managing grown-up children who like to stay in the iPadded comfort of the family home and have their washing done plus elderly parents who need help. Sometimes they're expected to become babysitters for their grandchildren. They're usually doing all this plus a job. They are a powerhouse of small business invention when callous firms make them redundant.

And, shock horror, we look OK! Hell, a lot of us are fitter than we were in our 20s. And definitely fitter and healthier than most young people. As a demographic, the Baby Boomer is the single most powerful force in the UK today. We won't be patronised and ignored. We're starting to ignore the harpies in magazines who write those articles about "what not to wear in your 50s."

Nobody personifies all this better than Madonna. It takes sheer dedication and will-power to look the way she does at 56. She will never stop kicking ass and being seen and heard. Good on her!

Every time she makes her presence felt - yesterday grabbing some rapper and kissing him passionately - the papers make snide remarks implying she's over-the-hill and these are desperate attempts to get publicity. Well she succeeds, doesn't she? I don't see her grabbing "Drake" was any worse than John Travolta throwing a sleazy arm around Scarlett Johansson recently. Thanks to Madonna, I've now heard of him. Maybe Drake could have been a little more chivalrous with his response because Madonna is still hot. As are plenty of older women:  Helen Mirren, Robin Wright, Dawn French, Carol Vorderman, Julianne Moore, Jane Fonda, Raquel Welch.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Spring Garden

The garden is a riot of yellow. The laburnum hedge is exuberant and the daffodils are gradually unfurling. I went overboard on the daffodils and narcissus this time thinking that I wouldn't need to replace them every year as I do with tulips. So in the front and back garden I planted four varieties, all supposed to flower at roughly the same time: King Alfred, Delibes, Tahiti and Yellow Cheerfulness. I couldn't resist a few tulips in the back garden, purple Negrita and Purple Prince. I complemented the daffs at the front with lots of forget-me-nots and muscari.

My piéce de resistance was a crocus bowl.

I searched endlessly for a large terracotta bowl and eventually found one online. I planted it full of crocus and iris Reticulata. Unfortunately some of the bulbs got pulled out by the critters and the crocuses chose to flower at different times. But the overall effect was pleasing.
Daffodil King Alfred, forget-me-nots
In the front rose bed I refreshed the annual hyacinth display and planted a few more, the purple varieties Kronos and Peter Stuyvesant. Hyacinths seem to love the gravelly soil and south facing aspect.

The daffodils have been less successful than I expected. The King Alfreds and Delibes are all out but quite a few of the others are still in tight bud. Delibes is stunning with the orange centre but it droops and hangs its head. Quite a few of the daffodils from previous years are "blind" - plenty of foliage but no flowers. They may yet surprise me, as the Pheasant Eye narcissus did last year, by suddenly flowering in May.

Meanwhile the forget-me-nots, bought from a garden centre rather than grown from seed as I normally do, struggled. They seemed to have some mildewy problem and I had to get rid of a few.

Elsewhere in the garden, I've planted five hollyhocks, double pink and salmon, and two purple foxgloves. I experimented with holly hocks last year and they were a stunning success. The main challenge is keeping the slugs and snails at bay. They haven't been noticeable yet but I took the advice of Pippa Greenwood and started my slug control on Valentine's Day. This year I'm unleashing the entire battery: organic pellets, copper rings, egg shells and nematodes. Be gone you ghastly molluscs!

I'll report back on how that goes.

My mystery hedge (I think it's Laburnum)


Daffodil Delibes 


Sunday, March 08, 2015

Let It Be: theatre review

We didn't know what to expect from the fairly new production of "Let It Be" at the Garrick Theatre in London. It hasn't had much publicity.  There were no posters in the underground.

"Sore misgivings," muttered J. But, as I predicted, The Beatles don't need publicity. The theatre was full. The demographic was strictly grey haired, except for the young couple next to us (and me, of course).

The usual announcement at the start, about mobile phones and recording the performance, was turned on its head when we were invited to take photos and videos. How refreshing.

The show is basically The Beatles' hits, performed by an excellent bootleg band. The first half shows footage on overhead screens of the adulation the band inspired - screaming girls aplenty - and the songs seemed chronological.  To start with, my heart sank when I thought the band didn't look anything like the Fab Four. We started off in The Cavern for a few of the early screamers  (Twist and Shout, Please Please Me).  Then after some deft rearrangements, we were at the Royal Variety Performance. The "those in the posh seats, rattle your jewellery" performance.  And amazingly, the acoustics changed. I don't know how they did that.

By now the band was in its stride, we had seen several costume changes, and Sgt Pepper's elaborate arrangements brought out the best in these talented musicians. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Strawberry Fields" were very surreal with waxy lights and haziness and dry ice. Having aged in the process, the band was looking more like the Beatles. "Paul" in particular had a real touch of the McCartneys in his vocals. His delivery of Yesterday, with just an acoustic guitar, was moving.  John too, by the time he had donned outlandish clothes and glasses, and was seated behind a piano, looked uncannily like Lennon.

George, however, could never pass as the late Harrison. But did it matter, with such fantastic guitar playing? This was showcased in "While my Guitar Gently Weeps."

During the interval, I reckoned that Magical Mystery Tour and Abbey Road were next. But no, the chronological order somewhat fell by the wayside when Magical Mystery Tour was followed by Penny Lane.

The second half lacked the story telling and there was no mention of the end of the group, which came about after the famous rooftop performance of Let It Be.

But the songs! Sublime. And the dancing. Such fun!

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