Tuesday 27 December 2011

Boxing Day Hunt 2011

Certain subjects instantly  provoke a strong emotional response and hunting with dogs is one of them.  

A regular measure now of the support of the the public for hunting is the annual Boxing Day Meet whereby hunters put on a free show on a slow news day.  The Countryside Alliance has gradually coordinated this in to a carnival event.  Masters are expected to make sure that the best riders are neatly dressed outside a suitable pub, the dogs under control, and everybody gets to take photos.  This is about saying to the public "We hunt and we are part of the landscape" and crucially "So are you."

Over to Bedale then, where the fair weather this morning brought a large field of riders and viewers.  The main photographic event was outside the pub with the riders posing with stirrup cups, but just down by the church in a larger field were all the other riders and a crowd well on its way to a couple of hundred.

The dogs were cheekier than expected; one of them rushed in to the CoOp as if realising there was a handy supply of sausages, another lazy dog wriggled under a parked car and settled down for a snooze, hoping not to be seen while the others made the running.  When the pack set off a small wire haired terrier strained on its leash and whimpered pitifully to go with them, called by the ancient sense which even a chihuahua has, that deep in their DNA is still the string which connects them to a wolf.  

Although the hunting with dogs ban  is a nuisance, wasting police time and obliging people to perform legal dances, it hasn't had quite the effect which was feared.  In fact, what with hunt ball tickets selling fast, carol services, calendars of very well-stacked young ladies, sweat shirts, support events and the general opening of social channels, the idea of hunting has never been more popular.  It has thrown off some of its snottier and exclusive airs and has stepped in to a functional niche which used to be occupied by the Church of England.

Whether people mean to get on a horse is as irrelevant as whether they mean to drive an F1 car.  They don't care if someone else does, it is the excuse for the meetings. Hunting is cheap until you saddle up; you can do all the hanging around for a few pounds and that includes having a drink. Or, if you are feeling skint, bring a flask of tea.

For women, hunting has one huge advantage in that it is one of the few sports where a broad beam is regarded as acceptable. Since the riders are under no obligation to be stick insects, nobody else has to either. Hurrah, I'd like cream on that apple pie, thank you.

No doubt it will horrify the old guard and those who don't much care for the riff raff, but the Countryside Alliance has helped the hunts re-position the sport as a socially binding and inclusive activity.  The editorial slant of magazines such as The Field reflect this; articles which would be more at home in Country Living have crept in to justify the cover-price to an audience which, realistically, is not going to buy a gun, a horse or a sporting estate. But they might buy wellies or sportswear such as Dubarry

The pressure is gearing up, then, to get MPs to repeal the ban. So far, according to the Telegraph, the government has indicated that it doesn't want to talk about this subject, and you can see why. It's not a deal-breaker from a Conservative point of view. If you mean to vote for Cameron, this issue won't prevent that. However, it might alienate some floating voters, particularly urban women who are a crucial swing group for all parties. There are disputes about how widely supported the ban is, but if legislation were simply a numbers  game, then perhaps we'd be out of the EU and have the death penalty restored by next month.

Unhelpfully, a group of Conservatives - Conservatives Against Fox Hunting - have formed themselves in to a classic circular firing squad and are about to disrupt the current delicate balance by slagging-off their own voters. Turkeys may not vote for Christmas but they definitely campaign for it.  Their 'about' page says:
The Hunting Act 2004 is not about class issues, town versus country, civil liberties or  banning rural customs or traditions.
Yes it is. If it hadn't been, they'd have banned fishing, and even Labour wasn't quite that stupid.

For some reason, CAFH keep quoting Brian May of Queen as if being married to an ex-EastEnders actress and current Strictly contestant makes the science drop-out and popular banjo-plunker an authority on environmental conservation.

What matters is that people who live and work in the countryside - rather than invest in chunks of it from the sale of catchpenny choons - are not cruel, do not deserve to be insulted that way, and thoroughly understand what they are doing -  unlike CAFH.

Sunday 25 December 2011

The Kingdom of Raft

Where the salt water meets the sweet water there is a ramshackle landing stage against which leans an extraordinary craft which could, allegedly, go to sea. Not that anybody should be fool enough to try for the vessel is overgrown with cabins and chimneys, festooned with nets. An empty paddling pool is tethered to it, like a lilly pad in the stream, and on it sit the ducks, quacking insolently at the frustrated cat who lies on a tin roof chittering impotently. The ducks never fall for that old trick. The boat - for there is a boat under there - spreads herself against the bank and the landing stage like an old woman bathing her feet in the river, her skirts spread out and dipping in the water. This is the Raft, the current berth of the Raft family.

A Small Kingdom

Dadder Raft, being a scholar of maritime law, insisted that since time immemorial the land between the highwater mark and low water mark belonged to no one. The legal authority for this was cited as Miss Elizabeth the librarian at the harbour branch library. Since she worked for the council this was regarded as a definitive opinion.

Nana Raft (Mammer as she was then), when challenged to verify the opinion, said the librarian was an expert cable knitter and anyone who could read one of those seafaring patterns obviously knew what they were talking about.

Dadder had always fancied a country seat and reckoned that this gave him the means to acquire one in a certain sense. The river also had high and low water marks and, crucially, one crook in the river's bow was dug as an over-flow for the highest of tides. Most of the year it would not be used but just once or twice it filled with water. Unlike the sea shore, this was only flooded for a few days a year. He argued that this piece of land belonged to him as much as it did to anyone else. A tiny estate which was so prone to flooding that it vanished twice a year appealed to his sense of continuity. He said farmers on the Nile had sorted this out thousands of years earlier.

Squire Bragg who owned the adjoining farm land could probably have challenged this but as he would have had to pay the costs and neither of them fancied arguing with the water bailiffs who maintained they owned the river, yes, and the fish therein, he didn't bother. They agreed to differ so long as Dadder would keep the footpath clear and save Squire Bragg the burden. The bailiffs also reached an accommodation on the matter and Dadder was furnished with a rod licence; what for I know not. He was a tickling man.

Dadder therefore established his HQ which was part bothy, part elderberry bush, on the elbow of the river below the built-up bank. The footpath ran along the top of the bank so only people who really wanted to would make it down in to his Shangri-La. The soaring canes of the elderberry were lashed in to order, their leaves pointing outwards as far as possible. A seat was wedged between the stems, a very long seat that he could even lie down on. Beneath this was a long box with a few tools in it, dragged out when necessary for work. They were not over-worn.

When the foliage was pulled over you would not know there was someone in there at all, except if you heard him snoring or arguing a case with himself, invariably winning. A nearby willow wept silver tears at his eloquence. A rowan stood tall and measured his justice in its blood-red pannicles; it balanced perfectly. Summer passed into autumn and Dadder forsook his flowing realm for his leaning-place at the bar of the Harbour Lights.

It suddenly occurred to him that with the leaves falling he shouldn't leave the toolbox lying where anyone might find it. On an unseasonably warm afternoon with the sun beginning to slant long in the sky, he went back to the bothy only to find he had a squatter.

Madjy Fidjy

A sandy short-haired terrier gave a yip as Dadder came towards the bothy.  The elderberries which had temporarily given it a roof of purple tiles had gone, stripped off by the birds. A pair of smallish cuban-heeled boots wriggled out towards him, followed by a pastry of petticoats, none too clean, and eventually a small torso topped by a grey head wearing a stout hat shaped like cottage loaf.

The terrier rushed back until it was just in front of the petticoats and announced that it would have anyone, do you hear me, anyone, who wanted to make a fight of it.

Dadder was wondering how to approach the delicate matter of trespass when the woman stuck out her none-too clean hand and said: "Madjy Fidjy, house sitting at your service".
"I don't need no house sitting, Madam" replied Dadder, noticing that she didn't seem to be offering service so much as taking it.
"You do. Someone nearly had your tools away. I stopped them".

This may or may not have been true, but Dadder was in no position to argue about it. "What brings you to my property, Madam?"
"Property, is it. Well, my pilgrimage takes me along the road to Walsingham and I'm resting a while. Here, have a cockleshell." She reached in to her apron pocket and handed Dadder a shell as it it were a ticket.  "I ain't got much but I'm not bound for charity. How much do you charge?"
"Charge for what?"
"For the roof, man."
Dadder went blank for a moment at the novelty of being offered money. Besides he had no idea what the going rate was for a night in a bush.  He looked at the booted bundle of rags in front of him. "No charge, so long as your dawg stops trespassers. I don't want people moving in".

Dadder went back to the Harbour Lights, an absentee landlord. He didn't expect to see much of Squire Bragg or the water bailiff this side of next spring so he couldn't see there was much difference if he or his agent - or steward as he thought of her - stood guard on the property.  She had her camp fire, her cooking pot, her shelter and her dog.  Once, when the high tides were expected, he went down and warned her to leave in case the elbow filled up.  That night Madjy Fidjy visited the raft and they had a State Banquet on board with dancing on the path. She read the fortunes of the Raft children, and they were all going to marry handsome princes. Even the boys. Mammer Raft told them not to mention this to the Vicar.

Madjy looked at Dadder's almanac which contained the tide tables, the moon phases and the great calendar which even gave the names of the future winners at Newmarket races.  She looked serious and made counting movements on her fingers, muttering to herself.  

It was the early morning of Christmas Eve when Mammer Raft told Dadder to check on Madjy, see if she wanted to come to Christmas Dinner. She had already stuffed duck feathers in to a pillow and the paddling pool floating in the river looked less full than it had earlier in the year. A wooden decoy sat there now, persuading migrating featherheads to come down for a free feed.

Dadder got up in the dark and trudged along the bank, hoping to run into Madjy at breakfast. The white marker stones of chalk ran along the bank like glimmering bubbles.  As he got to the bothy he realised that no dog was barking.  He scrambled towards the silent willow wands.  No boots, no smoke, no smell or sound of habitation. Not even a wisp of condensed breath escaping between the branches.  He thrust his head in to the bush, fearing to see a stiff figure like the marble effigies on the tombs in the church.

There was nothing. The space was as empty as the cockleshell which had stayed in his pocket.  Dadder watched the silver sun rise in its new position. It conveniently rose between the banks as they pointed north, as if somebody had built them perfectly to cup the rose crown which poured pale blood on the surface of the greysilk river.

Only, his wooden castle was not quite empty.  On his throne of old plank there was a heavy earthen-ware jar with a gut lid stretched over it, tied with brown twine.  An old bit of card poked out from under it and a childish hand had written in pencil stub:
Rowon Jeli 
Zuger, viniger, creb aples, rowen joose 
Thenk kew, gorn to Welsinam for the Birth.

Dadder carried the rowan jelly, the colour of the rising sun, back to the raft and gave it to Mammer.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Man Overboard - Tallbloke and AGW

The police have been dragged in to the Climate Debacle and have begun to confiscate computers at the behest of the US much to the delight of the University of East Anglia, who can't win their faulty argument any more than the Vatican could when it huffily excommunicated Galileo. The disgraced academics want to know who leaked/acquired the emails which showed them massaging data, suppressing dissent and obstructing FoI compliance.
A spokesman for the University of East Anglia said: "We are pleased to hear that the police are continuing to actively pursue the case following the release last month of a second tranche of hacked emails from the Climatic Research Unit. We hope this will result in the arrest of those responsible for the theft of the emails and for distorting the debate on the globally important issue of climate change." (Guardian 15 Dec 2011)
So no sense, then, that disagreeing with a deceitful propaganda exercise is not a criminal offence, despite the availability of the School of Law on campus to explain the niceties.

What matters is that it is in the public interest that the emails emerged purporting to show that the academics at UEA and other places had been cheating to shore up their preferred theory. But it was possible the CRU had a good explanation or that the emails had been misrepresented.  They have always maintained those are their emails which were supposed to be private, not that is is a set of hoax documents. It was possible the CRU had a good explanation for what they appeared to suggest. I settled down to wait for a way to tell whether these emails were private or, more sinisterly, secret.

The intimidation of Tallbloke by the state apparatus decides it for me: the whole AGW must be a fairy story and there may very well be a nasty plot afoot to protect somebody's financial interests in continuing that lie.

Tallbloke himself has been remarkably kind to the police and told the Guardian:

"I am happy to assist the police with their inquiries because I haven't been hiding anything important like some people have. I assisted them with their inquiries, which involved voluntarily answering some questions regarding computer use etc."
He generously over-looked the fact that they turned up with a warrant and didn't need to ask for his cooperation or permission, although they could have had either. He has stuck to the point: what have UEA been hiding?

If getting the science right was what mattered, UEA would have sacked half of its climatocracy pretending to be academics in order to protect the reputation of the university and to avoid all UEA degrees, even the law, medical and humanities ones - becoming a global laughing stock.  The Climate Research Unit is not the only outfit in that very large campus where, let us not forget, it is shortly going to cost over £50k all-in to get a student through a basic degree in geography or what ever. For that, parents will expect a brand which doesn't cause potential employers to fall over laughing.

Let's be clear: this is not for being wrong - scientists are allowed to be wrong if they say 'Hang on, that doesn't look right, are you getting the same results we did'?  It's for refusing to hand over the base data which, apparently, did exist but was left in Phil Jones' jeans and his mum put them in the washing machine. They should be sacked for the cover-up, not the incompetence.

Lord Monckton thinks that if you want to play the criminal law card, the thing to do is to follow the money and ask if there is fraud involved in perpetuating an AGW lie in order to receive money and influence. He wants the police to investigate not just what UEA might have done - which is an issue for robust academic debate - but why, because if it was to enrich themselves by deception, that is definitely within the scope of the criminal law.

UEA issued a load of reports last year, claiming they were independent and they ain't dun nuffink. Here is the index. 
I know what I think and decided it the moment the Inquisition rang Tallbloke's doorbell.

Wednesday 14 December 2011


The Guardian helpfully highlighted the current rates of prosecution of parents for allowing children to truant from school.
A total of 11,757 parents were prosecuted for failing to ensure their child's attendance at school.

Just over 9,000 were convicted, and nearly two-thirds of those were fined.

The highest fine imposed last year was £850, the longest jail sentence was 90 days.

7% of the school population persistently missed school in autumn 2010 and spring 2011.
It is important to clarify the terms here: education is compulsory, school is not. However, the wording around this subject is ambiguous and it is too easily assumed by even informed writers and Education Secretary Michael Gove that school itself is compulsory. As Education Otherwise constantly remind us, it is not.

It is the moral responsibility of the parent to secure an education for the child but the legal right is couched in terms of the right of the child to receive an education. Historically, it was understood from the beginning of publicly funded universal education that if the state tried to make attendance compulsory it would run in to huge resistance, particularly from non-conformist religious groups. The only sensible thing was to make it free and insist that nobody could be kept from an education. Even then, not everyone across the society had a high regard for education for its own sake.

There could be good grounds, then, for prosecuting a parent who is either negligent or obstructive, for example, a parent who refuses to let a girl learn to read, but the cases which seem to be picked up in the papers often involve parents who don't seem to be very good candidates for prosecution.

Here, for example, is Amanda Summers, benefits claimant of Burton. Her 14 year old daughter managed to get to school for about two days out of five. She was very often sent by cab, but wandered off in the afternoon, which is a separate registration period.

Ms Summers was handed a fixed penalty notice by the Education Welfare Officers which would have meant taking benefits money intended to keep her children and paying it back to the council. What was the point of that? All it does is penalize other children in the family for the indolence of the 14 year old. It isn't Ms Summers who keeps walking out of school. What exactly is Ms Summers supposed to do at that point? What is the school supposed to do? Neither of them have any legal right, as far as I can tell, to lock the girl in the classroom. While an EWO is a dab hand at demanding money, they don't appear to be around at lunchtimes in order to escort sulky missy to lunch and back to her class room.

Ms Summers didn't pay the fixed penalty notice, so Staffordshire County Council prosecuted her in the magistrate's court which will do wonders for her employability if an enhanced CRB check is done, just in case there is some outside chance of Ms Summers getting work as a care assistant or similar. So that's her chances of a job gone for a Burton.

Presiding magistrate Christine Warburton said: “She is causing you stress and costing you financially. This financial burden will only increase unless she attends school.”

Summers was fined £35, reduced from £50 for her early admission of failure to ensure a child attended school. She was also ordered to pay £50 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge. A total of £100, which is going to do even more wonders for her family at Christmas.

What presiding magistrate Christine Warburton failed to explain in her infinite wisdom, was what exactly is Ms Summers supposed to do? This is a 14 year old girl. Hell's teeth, have you ever tried shifting one of those if they don't want to move? Dynamite would weep.

Ms Summers isn't allowed to thrash her, can't chain her up or refuse her food. About the most she is allowed to do is either talk to her or refuse to talk to her, neither of which seem terribly effective. Maybe bribery would work. Or perhaps she could have a big blow-up row which would result in the police being called and all the younger Summers being taken in to care while young Ms Summers concentrates on getting pregnant by the nearest yob, then it will be the council's problem to find her a flat and people will stop talking about this tedious school business.

Amanda Summers could, perhaps, chuck her out on the street in order to prevent her causing any more financial damage to the family. She could ring the social services and say 'Here, you collect her, I'm not having anything more to do with her. If you are so clever, how come half your in-care children run away? Still, have it your own way - if you think you can get her to stay in school, good luck with that pal. Only, I bet they don't prosecute you for failing to do the impossible.'

Alternatively, instead of paying the wages and public sector pensions of a bunch of EWOs and lawyers to go gadding about the magistrate's court, make them do something useful and go to Ms Summer's house and teach the girl in her bedroom, if that's what it takes. If you really believe it is about education and not the compulsion by the state. Or we could think about funding more boarding school places, which has been known to work in the past. The MP David Lammy is blunt in that he believes this saved him from the fate which befell some of his cohort. You can fund a fair number of places if you spend it on school places rather than job-creation schemes for lawyers.

Researchers claim there is a steady rate of 7%-10% of education refusniks. The thing to do is to research the age at which the behaviour sets in. Despite evidence that there may be truancy at primary schools, I will bet you it is around age 14, an age hitherto accepted by most societies as being capable of holding down entry-level jobs. I don't believe passing any amount of legislation will change that. Unfortunately, it is also true that there are fewer and fewer of those jobs available.

Our best chance - and one which is being taken in small instances in some schools - is to recognize that for a number of students, school attendance after the age of 14 is not going to happen in a meaningful intellectual sense, not even if we nailed their feet to the classroom floor. We have been flogging that horse for about a hundred years; it is time to admit that it is dead.

What might just work is that between the ages of 11-14, they may be persuaded that it is in their interests to do just enough readin', writin' and 'rithmetic so that they can go in to a pre-arranged apprenticeship which will see them mostly out of school, except for day attendance.

It's a tall order considering the declining number of jobs - and firms - which are willing to take on fourteen year olds. The jobs are going to be of a fixed nature; it will be care work, catering, customer service, warehouse, ground work, cleaning, maintenance, beauty, fashion, animal care, maybe even some manufacturing if there is any left in the country.

The CRB system means that people in general don't want to work with minors - it is just too complex and fraught with the danger of malicious accusations - but there was a time when we weren't so paranoid so it must be possible to think this through again.

The alternative is to continue to sling Amanda Summers and others like her in to jail, which will only cost us a fortune in prison costs and foster care and still won't achieve the only thing which matters: getting Ms Summers Junior an appropriate education, in school or otherwise.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Fiery Monster

Kicking about on a delayed train at sunrise were a group of young passengers making urgent phone calls, trying to set up a rendezvous, unsure of where they were supposed to be working that day. What kind of a job is it where you don't even know where you are supposed to be?

As we drew in to a station there was a rip in time and we went past a steam train, its throat glowing like a waking dragon and the steam and smoke blowing out of its lungs, a glittering tail of dining coaches decked out in tinsel and sparkling glass.

The young people jumped up, calling "Hurrah, there she is" and "Everybody ready to work, let's go". Then they rushed across the platform to their train which had been held for them as they are the waiting staff on a time machine.

Forget being an air hostess - is there any more glamorous or romantic work than crewing on a time-warp?

Monday 28 November 2011

A Golden Age of Live Theatre

We are living in a golden age of live theatre. For the price of a dvd you can see an entire company produce magic in front of your very eyes. They are doing it in village halls, school halls, regional theatres , stately homes, cricket pavilions and pub courtyards. The Internet has helped enormously; the tiniest venues still rely on local papers and selling tickets through local shops, but any theatre which has an on-line booking system is immediately in a better position to fill the seats.

One of the reasons I don't bother with TV soaps is that it is painfully obvious that many of our so-called professionals are nothing of the sort. They could no more deliver a line than I can sing opera and the clunky direction gives them the fluidity of a call centre slave in India trying to scam you. Pause....click...Good evening Mam, am I speakin' to Mrs Raft? No, sorry, you are not.

You will experience more in a single evening spent watching a local company, which will show performances ranging from the competent to the breath-taking, than you will in a month of Shouty Cockerneys. There's something for everyone; companies are refusing to stick to the tried-and-tested popular productions and tackling new works written by company members. Obviously, that's going to be a mixed bag; there is always an element of lucky dip about a new work but who knows, one might see a little slice of theatre history being made. You hadda be there.

Beloved of all is a farce: these work best where the audience can see the actors sweating to bring the staging to the correct point to make the joke. Farce is the theatre magic where you have to see most of what the conjurer is doing because the audience is in cahoots with the company. The ignorant character, the one who is going to get the surprise, is on the stage, which reverses the traditional expectation that it is the audience who will receive the revelation when a secret escapes. Doing it on telly is cheating; we all know they can cut away and come back tomorrow - where's the panic in that?

Down in Paignton the Bijou Theatre Company is performing a pre-Christmas farce of impeccable pedigree "The Happiest Days of your Life" by John Dighton, which hinges around school inspections, disapproving parents and people's careers hanging by a thread. That should bring a groan of recognition to the throats of teachers everywhere, but it is still very funny (unlike real life).

Previewed by The Jolly Lion - who is in it - the production is at the Palace Theatre, Paignton and runs from
Wednesday 30th November - Saturday 3rd December 2011 - 7.30pm
Tickets cost £11 but concessions are available
Telephone Palace Theatre Box Office on
01803 665800

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Train Stupid - Please Phone First

British Transport Police have issued a report and photos of the crash caused when farmer John Henry Watkyn James could not be bothered to ring the signal box as required - using the phone supplied for the very purpose - nor to drive his tractor's trailer properly over the line.

Had he done so, the accident would not have happened. Rex Features have collated the photos.

Sergeant Steve Dawkins, officer in charge at BTP Swansea, said:

“The trailer was made of plate steel but due to the speed of the train and the force of impact, the trailer’s debris was spread over a large area.

“It is astounding that no one was seriously injured or killed in this incident. James’ actions not only put rail staff and passengers’ lives at risk but also caused extensive damage to the train, which could easily have resulted in derailment.

“Crossings are designed to keep people safe – and, when used correctly, that is exactly what they do.

Mr James pleaded guilty to a charge of endangering users of the railway but has been unwisely maundering on about 'bad luck', which suggests he was in the habit of doing this and regards it as jolly unfair that he has been held responsible this time.

Arriva Trains has given him an enormous bill for the damage to the train and the consequent loss. He thinks £167k is over-stating it. No, it's very modest and doesn't reflect all the consequent loss for people whose journeys were then disrupted. Whether his professional insurance - if he has any - will cover it is not stated.

He has no idea of how lucky he has been that the damage has been purely economic, that he isn't in prison, and that the court saw fit to give him only a suspended sentence and 200 hours worth of voluntary work.

The court appeared to accept his cock-and-bull story about the second gate swinging shut, trapping the trailer on the line, which sounds plausible until you see the video. Rather more likely is that he opened the first gate, drove over, knowingly parking the trailer on the line, then got out to open the second gate. This version of events is given in some accounts.

The words "delivering hay" do not properly convey the solidity of three circular bales of the stuff at that speed of impact.

H/T Ambush Predator

Sunday 20 November 2011

Basket Case

To Cambridge for Basket Case , the new rom com by Nick Fisher. A kitchen-sink comedy of middle class folk. Guy and Miranda are divorced, not on very good terms and now the family dog is ill. Miranda feels obliged to call Guy to let him know. It is, after all, Guy's dog.

The audience was unsettled to find that studded between the jokes Nick Fisher had left his trade-mark needle-sharp observations. Fisher has a wicked ear for the cadences of the John Lewis catalogue classes - to whom he sells cookery books - and Liz Ashcroft, the designer, realizes their vision on the stage. Yes, we all laughed but there is an unnerving thread of criticism. For example, Fisher allows the characters to use bad language and graphic sexual imagery. The audience came out muttering about it being "close to the knuckle" but it's not so much the f-word which bothers them but the way the conflicted children - whom we never meet - have turned out.

All the performances are competent - which is no less than you'd expect - and Nigel Havers is allowed to give throat to the frustrations of the successful white male. Because he is expected to put bums on seats, Havers has to soften the character slightly, which is a pity because Fisher has written it with the capacity to be a glittering monster instead of chap who gets things muddled.

It's a hard call for director Robin Lefevre; make this play as hard-hitting as it could be and it would be up there with the flinty social realism gang and the critics would love it. Unfortunately, the audience would hate it and throw boots at the stage; they like the John Lewis adverts and aren't paying good money to see themselves reflected unflatteringly.

Besides, Nick Fisher is no stranger to middle-England fatwahs and doesn't want another one - he once wrote a sex education guide for teenagers which nearly got him lynched. So a compromise is reached; you can read it as a light comedy or much more if you care to look at the references, such a Miranda being surrounded by thirty grand's-worth of kitchen in which she bakes two quid's worth of muffins and even then doesn't have the blueberries or pecans to make the cakes properly. Beautiful set dressing btw - right down to this-year's must-have, fluted, jug-handled mixing bowl.

Guy's costume is the one formulated by Paul Weller a million years ago and worn by Jeremy Clarkson ever since; denims and suit jacket with tassel loafers. He also delivers trade-mark motor-mouth tirades. Yes, Guy is popular and successful but if I were Jeremy Clarkson I'd be squirming in my seat; of course it isn't Clarkson, but as a portrait of a man skidding towards being old enough to be a grandad whilst having made a lot of money but arsed-up in key areas of life.....well, any resemblance is purely coincidental.

Although old smoothie-chops is there to provide male glamour, the one we've all really come to see is Graham Seed, late of Lower Loxley Hall in the county of Borsetshire. Wisely, Fisher doesn't move Seed, playing Martin the vet, too far from the audience's expectations and puts in a couple of pointed in-jokes. Fresh from being the nicest man in the world to be pushed off a stately home roof, he's now the nicest vet in the world who has to deal with the tantrums of the clients while being obviously much more attuned to the patients.

Although we are explicitly supposed to see Martin as in love with Miranda from a distance, this line isn't picked up and Martin is left with a hint of sexual ambiguity, an awkwardness. Because the play doesn't have much in the way of a plot - it's more of a character study - the supporting characters are there for contrast and to elaborate themes rather than do anything which twists the story round. He is therefore entrusted with illuminating what Fisher really wanted to portray; the enduring relationship of people and animals.

It turns out that there was a reason why Seed was able to make a clottish toff a favourite character for thirty years; He Can Act. Here he slides down the social scale a little, cautiously knocking some of the patrician accent off his most famous role but he's absolutely serious that there will be a vet on that stage. Seed's show reel gives a respectable selection from a certain type of character actor but it can't show what has happened to him in the past year; there is the potential for greater depth and conviction just waiting for a role.

Seed could play Richard III now and project all that rage, frustration and attraction which the historical character undoubtedly had - along with the ruthless determination to wear a crown. As the 2-i-c to Edward IV, Richard had spent a lifetime playing second fiddle to his brother, fighting wars on his behalf, administering the country and doing Edward's dirty work. Did anyone seriously expect him to do all that then hand it on to his brother's whelps, acting as the trustee for their estate? C'mon.

Let's hope someone gives Seed the chance to tackle the classical roles and get his name up there with Jacobi - they were both in I Claudius two thousand years ago - and the heavyweight actors of his generation.

In the meantime, catch the remainder of the run at:

Monday 21 – Saturday 26 November
CARDIFF New Theatre
Box Office 029 2087 8889

Monday 28 November – Saturday 3 December
CHICHESTER Festival Theatre
Box Office 01243 781312

Thursday 17 November 2011

TeleVision for the Environment - information

Biased BBC are looking at tve - Television for the Environment - which has removed its website.

This looks iffy, as if it or the BBC is trying to hide something but may be due to the fact that tve says in its annual report that it was looking for a new website provider as it wasn't satisfied with the old one. It could just be a coincidence. The issue is live due to it becoming apparent that some BBC output was produced free by the interest group and handed direct to the Corporation.

There is much to be said for the arguments put forward by Television for the Environment but if these are going out under the BBC brand name we need to know that the programmes have been produced by a campaigning film-maker, not presented as if it were neutrally investigated. Looking at the programme output - some of which I've seen in passing - the standards are high and the programmes were interesting.

I don't mind partisan features - I just want it shown clearly in both the opening and closing credits that the BBC is getting the material at negligible cost and that it has a particular viewpoint. After all, tobacco companies might want air-time on an equal basis if they pay for their own material.
tve is a collective name for:
Television for the Environment
Television Trust for the Environment.

Television for the Environment is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales, registered office:
21 Elizabeth Street, London SW1W 9RP,
company number 1811236
and a registered charity number 326585.

Television Trust for the Environment is a registered charity number 326539.
(My formatting).

There are three key pieces of information available now:

The company number, 1811236 can be used via the WebCHeck service at Companies House to get basic information and an index of the filings available for £1 each.

Because the search is dynamic, copy the company number 1811236 and go to the front page, then click on WebCHeck and put it in to the search box. (Can't be linked direct as it will time-out). This will bring up the basic information.

Clicking on the 'order information' box will take you to an index of the filings which can be ordered for £1 per document. Since the tve project began in 1984 there are many records to be bought but helpfully, some of the names involved are available on the order screen. I haven't looked at the commercial accounts.

The purpose of the registered charity number 326585, Television for the Environment lists in its summary of 20 September 2011 :
4. To enhance and develop the capacity to make an impact via the WorldWide Web
Which is going to be difficult without a website. It's a modest outfit with 10 employees and funding of £1.4, which doesn't go far these days. They've managed to produce a great deal of broadcast material for that, which makes you wonder why the BBC is so expensive. (OK, hanging around for months to get the fabulous footage for The Frozen Planet is worth it - I don't mind spending my licence fee on that).

The overview page for the charity Television for the Environment is here and if you click on the options on the left side-bar you can go through the information - including the accounts - in both summary and detail. This is a free search. The annual report summarizes the material it has produced in the year.

Turning then to the second charity, The Television Trust for the Environment, 326539, it is more or less the same again but potentially its costs outstrip its income, which can't go on for very long if there is no new source of income.

These sets of accounts are small compared to many international special interest groups, but it isn't clear why one film maker can describe themselves as a charity when others may not be allowed to. That's a secondary issue.

The primary issue here is that the BBC gave air-time to its favoured groups without warning the audience and without extending that possibility to organizations whose views the BBC does not endorse.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday 2011

We do not remember for Their sake alone
Although that would be enough.

Forgetfulness is the opiate justified for the immediately suffering
But not for us.

Remembrance is for our own sake.

Friday 11 November 2011

Armistice 2011

This year I was privileged to visit the churchyard of St Just in Roseland, Cornwall.

The churchyard is famous for its graves on a steep hill where the church lies in the cup of the surrounding paths in a sub-tropical garden with a tidal pool at the bottom. The sea coming and going and the exotic planting make the spot simultaneously unearthly but eccentrically English.

The high tide coincided with sunrise, so I was there to watch the church emerge from darkness. Because the natural form of the bay is a deep amphitheatre, the light produces extraordinary effects such as the church tower not having a top but carrying on up to heaven.

Looking around the graves there were several elegant War Grave headstones, particularly fine black ones which take a sharp cut and don't easily wear away. It was pleasing to find that volunteers have been photographing them and indexing them.

There are several searches one can do. This one was for war graves in St Just in Roseland.Link
Clicking on any of the returned names goes to a photograph of the individual gravestone with details which are known about the person.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Dick Turpin's Last Ride

A story that has been 306 years in the making.

No true blogger can resist this illumination of myth creation, that of the Dandy Highwayman. The writer (Daniel O'Brien) brings together three real figures to debate their approaches to Dick Turpin.

The three are contemporary historian Thomas Kyll, who was at the York assizes when Turpin was sentenced, the 18th century catch-penny biographer Richard Bayes who either knows rather a lot or is making it up, and the romantic novelist William Harrison Ainsworth who came along in the 19th century and filleted out the saleable story of the fabulous ride from London to York.

The beef which Kyll and Bayes have with imagineer Ainsworth is that his fiction is so good that it has swamped the real story and, moreover, his commercial success was based on leaving out the crucial relevant facts about Turpin: he was a thug with no redeeming features whatsoever, and there was no heroic ride.

When I told Nana Raft I was going to see a story about Dick Turpin, she said
"We've seen Black Bess's grave".
"Nana, I hate to tell you this, but there wasn't really a Black Bess"
"No? So you tell me what's down the hole, then - it's a huge gravestone" in that tone of voice when people use when they've got a knock-down argument. Ainsworth is correct - people want Black Bess to exist.

The disputants then re-animate Turpin to show the story from each viewpoint and to argue about the details and what this means for posterity. Is Ainsworth right when he says that Turpin paid for his crime at the end of a rope and that the story is an entirely separate issue? He is, after all, a romantic novelist, although he has certain views about his source material.

Director Abigail Anderson skilfully handles Jack Lord's performance as Turpin as he has to swing between graphic nastiness and the romantic highwayman of the story. Perhaps best of all, they invoke the real Turpin, the butcher-turned-thief who was not dramatic at all.

Richard Pepper as Kyll strikes the most sympathetic note with conscientious bloggers; that need to get the facts down at the time as far as possible, knowing that somebody else is going to spin them later. Julian Harries as Ainsworth portrays literary glamour, Morgan Philpott as Bayes is the everyman, the rough sort, and credibly claims to know what he is talking about. He is closer to either a tabloid journalist or someone who has had help with writing a memoir. Ainsworth speculates that there may be an explanation for how he got his information, and it's not the official explanation Bayes offers. Astute writing, that is, considering the current questions in the papers. How else do people suppose stories are verified if not by bending the law round corners?

All the performances are absorbing. However, if you are going to appear on a stage with the stunningly beautiful Loren O'Dair, who plays her fiddle, dances, sings, is an acrobat and portrays a mythical horse, then you have to accept that she's going to run away with the show.

The cast of five canter the story through a scaffold set, playing multiple parts and instruments, punctuating the story with music drawn by Pat Whymark from English folk songs - no, it's alright, not the ear-achy nasal ones - proper songs which are complex and melodious. The skill in the stage craft keeps the story moving; there are no disconcerting blackouts. The scenes are conjured by acting, minimal props and subtle lighting which helps keep the accounts separated.

There's just time to catch performances at Ipswich and Eastbourne.

Book: Dick Turpin - The myth of the English Highwayman
James Sharp, Profile Books, 2004
ISBN 1 861197 418 3

Update 1 Jan 2012:  An old story turned up in a search about e-fits. York Castle Museum used descriptions issued at the time by the Government and the London Gazette to create a modern e-fit of Turpin.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Church News

David Cameron, the Prime Minister who doesn't have a parliamentary majority with his own party, thinks that Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, speaks for the whole country.

Rowan Williams doesn't even speak for the whole Anglican communion in England, let alone the world. Please don't mention the g-word.

Mr Raft nails it:

"He isn't even the best drummer in the Beatles."



Church of England Accounts 2010

The Church Commissioners manage an investment fund of
£5.3 billion, held mainly in property and shares.

They have particular responsibility for generating a return sufficient to pay the pensions of the clergy. From page 7:-
"In addition, the banks, burnt by the very crisis they themselves caused, have restricted their lending."
No sense there of any understanding that at no time did the church suggest that people should not be borrowing money; indeed, they are very happy to process credit card payments at their gift shops and the shopping centres they invest in.

"The Church Commissioners' commercial property portfolio consists of a diverse range of Retail (including High Street, Shopping Centre and Warehouse Parks), Industrial, and Office properties, located throughout the UK and is currently valued at £321 million.

Notable investments in the portfolio include the MetroCentre, Europe's largest (and recently voted Britain's Best) shopping centre. The Centre is managed by Capital Shopping Centres but the Commissioners receive 10% of the net rents."

The congregation will rise and sing hymn number 666

Saturday 22 October 2011

Trafalgar Pudding

Captain Haddock bids us raise a glass to Freedom and the Men who fought for it at the Battle of Trafalgar- and won - on 21 October 1805.

I wonder what the cook did on the night before the battle. The fire will have to be doused. Do you reserve some food for the battle but use the rest of the stores as far as possible? If men might see only one more sunrise there's no point denying them what comfort there is. On the other hand, what if you win? People would want something to keep them going on the way home.

One thing I am clear about. The youngest crew member, Thomas Twitchett aged 12 - the same age at which Nelson went to sea - should not have faced battle without a sweet to eat, even if it meant stealing somebody else's treacle. This is the night to remind the purser that we do not bind the mouth of the beast which treads the corn.

The general pudding was duff, which might have meant anything from a boiled rich pudding with dried fruits, suet, spices and treacle, to a dough of stale biscuit with currants to disguise the insects.

On land, then, an interpretation of plum duff which cheats by using buttermilk which they certainly wouldn't have had for more than a day or two out of port, and a controllable oven, but cooking in a basin of water to simulate a steamed pudding sitting on the great iron range on the galley.

This plum duff uses plums because they are English - the finest cooking plum being Kea plums which grow along the Fal estuary in Cornwall - and dates in remembrance of Nelson's earlier 1798 victory at the Battle of the Nile. History is full of dates. The date palm is properly called Phoenix Dactylifera - the Phoenix tree which bears fruits like little fingers. I prefer to believe this is a reference to the Immortal Egyptian Fire Bird rather than any of the other explanations for how the Phoenix name was chosen for these palms.


You will need a large pudding basin or two smaller ones to speed up the cooking time . The pudding rises so don't fill them much more than half-way.

2oz dried plums, chopped. Kea plums already made in to jam would also work and produce a sweeter pudding rather than the sherbet-sharp finish.
2oz dates, stoned and chopped. These are Halawi dates so do your own puns.
Soak the fruits together in a good gill of rum and the juice of half a lemon.
Add about a teaspoon full of mixed spice to taste. I'm using nutmeg and cinnamon.
A"good gill" is as much rum as suffices to wet and swell the fruit. When the fruit - but not the cook - has soaked up the liquor, continue:

Butter a large pudding basin well and cover the bottom with a layer of the fruit mix, reserving the most of it. Put the liquor in the bottom to make a syrup, if there is any.

Cream together 2oz butter and 2 oz sugar.
On the ship this would be salted butter and possibly treacle, but I'm using unsalted butter and plain granulated sugar.
Add 1 egg, beat in well, and stir in 4oz of self-raising flour. Many recipies use half-flour and half-breadcrumbs so this is a way to use up crusts.
Add buttermilk until the mix is soft like a sponge and almost ready to drop off the spoon. Use plain yoghurt if you can't lay your hands on butter milk. This helps to raise the pudding.
Stir in the reserved fruit - it may loosen the mixture slightly, so don't go mad with the buttermilk. You can always add a drop more.

Spoon the mixture on top of the fruit already in the basin. Put a cover of foil on it to stop the top getting wet.

Place the basin in a bigger pan of hot water - a deep baking tin, for example - so that the water rises half-way up the basin. Set the pair in a medium-hot oven, about gas mark 6, although you could simmer it on the hob if you prefer.

Keep the water topped up for two hours, then check if the pudding is done by taking off the foil carefully and sliding a knife it to see if it comes out clean. If it needs longer, and perhaps to dry out, then take the foil off.

Of course, if you are spreading this over two smaller pudding basins it will set faster, best check after an hour.

When a knife comes out clean, run a knife round the sides of the pudding, wait about five minutes for it to be less likely to split, turn out without burning your fingers, and serve.

On land we can use custard or cream but unless someone had managed to hide Daisy the milk cow aboard as well as Henny Penny who laid the egg, you will have to improvise with a dressing of butter, rum and sugar. The pudding is rich because of the butter and buttermilk so it is not essential to put anything else on.

Plum and Date Rum Duff

Note: if you used a lot of rum it may not all convert in the cooking. Therefore be aware that it might not be suitable for a modern 12 year old, or if driving or operating machinery.

All Seeing Eye invites anyone in Gibraltar to the Trafalgar Cemetery at 12 noon on Sunday 23 October, where there will be an act of remembrance. The Immortal Memory

Those in the East of England might like to visit Nelson's birthplace, Burnham Thorpe, which is still substantially as Nelson saw it.

Monday 17 October 2011

English Ethnic Dress (1)

This is English Fancy Dress rather than ethnic dress but it is based on real clothes. It is the coming thing for the age of austerity, combining craft and practicality. The male dress is interesting because it allows a display of individuality we haven't seen for many years.

Elements: boots, cord or plain trousers tied at the knee with twine. There's a terrible fear in all English male dress of attacks via the knees: adders, eels, mice, the devil, ferrets (never sure if the string is to keep them out or in) so trousers have to be bound there. Straw looks good; string if not. Not that horrible bright pink plastic twine - the green or brown hairy hemp is fine.

Shirts are of small checks, preferably smudgy ones where the colours are barely differentiated. Bright, high-contrast checks are not the thing. Neckerchief is optional but very useful so most men will have them. You cannot really beat the cotton, red and white spotted neckerchief and they are so useful that there should be spare ones in the pockets of the capacious jacket.

The jacket is not tailored in the sense of fitting. It's tailored in the sense that it might fit somebody and will come and find that person. It will be made of good wool of the tweedy variety and here the customizing comes in. Strips of fabric and maybe feathers are lightly sewn on in rows to create padded contours and crests which emphasize movement and protect the jacket if you have to shove something with your shoulder, perhaps a car or a gate. It isn't necessary to cover the entire jacket although some people like to. Pads can be replaced if they get oily.

The hat is either a tweedy trilby or some favour canvas and leather versions of stockman hats. The trilby is neat, can easily be re-dressed with new feathers and blends in. The overall look should be owlish, not like a peacock. A flat hat, if worn, should not get over-large or it looks like it escaped from Top Of The Pops in 1973.

Accessories are whatever you think best in your pockets, plus a broom. This is not so much for sweeping as beating time like the tap dancers in Stomp do.

The Lincolnshire Poacher look is practical without being reminiscent of hospital scrubs or pyjamas, and suggests one has been up since sunrise conducting delicate business which one is not at liberty to discuss.

Female ethnic dress will be discussed later.

Friday 14 October 2011

Apple Day 2011

There are events all over the country this month for Apple Day. The festival is a modern marketing creation but it has been well-attended as there are few things more beautiful than orchards. The loveliest tree of all is the golden pear, the quince, which reigns like a queen over the other trees, decked in magnificence.

Magic quince tree, Corpus Christi, Oxford

A little quince is good for flavouring but they take a lot of processing. It is much easier to eat apples and you can make many more things with them. Plus, you get cider from apples and that's what I'm hoping to be testing on Saturday. If I'm lucky with the weather I'll be wandering around in an absurd haze of bonhomie with a pie in one hand and a beaker of hot spiced cider punch in the other, laughing at the wolf winter which is loping towards us. If I'm not lucky with the weather I shall do just the same but pull the hood of my mac over the cider punch so the rain doesn't get in it.

Toffee Apple Cake.

Heat the oven to medium-hot, about gas mark 5
Have 2 x 1lb loaf tins or your choice of bakeware handy. I use the paper liners but I understand that silicon bakeware is very popular these days.

Fruit compote:
4 smallish apples, cored and sliced and cubed
A lemon, squeezed, to stop them oxidising
About 2 good tablespoons of honey
Cinnamon - some, how much you like, if you like like it. I'm having at least two good teaspoonsful.
Cook briefly together to soften them, leave to cool. The cubes of apple should now be covered in a syrup like toffee so don't burn them or they'll taste bitter. The need to cool down or they'll coagulate the cake mixture when they go in.

Cake batter of:
8oz self-raising flour
4oz unsalted butter or margarine
2 eggs
2 oz sugar, brown if you have it but any is fine.
A little milk if the batter is too stiff, but it probably won't be when you add the fruit.

Mix up the batter using any protocol you like, including the one where you separate the eggs, whip up the whites, then fold them in to the rest of the mixture later. This is a lot of mucking about but it does give puffier results. However, I'm doing sugar and butter, then eggs, then flour. The batter is stiff, more like a scone, but it will soften as you put the apple in. It is easier to do this by pouring the cool syrup in first.

Stir the apples in to the cake mixture which will be like rich cream - not hard but not runny - and cook in a medium-hot oven, around gas mark 5. If you are using two loaf tins this will take about 50 mins, longer if you use a deep tin, less if you are wise and spread the mixture in a wider tin. At any rate, cook until a knife-blade slides out cleanly and not covered in raw cake mix. The oven needs to be hot to get the reaction going and puff up the cake, but it can burn the top. Turn the oven down and leave it longer if it is a problem getting the centres to set. This happens with cakes using fresh fruit.

Cool on wire rack. The cake should not be over-sweet. Fresh fruit cakes count as health food if the council sends a spy round to 'test' your buns. You need to eat them quicker than other cakes because they only have a limited shelf life of a few days. This should not be a problem.

Aha! Found some spare cream. Yes, this all works.

If you enjoyed the apples, save the pips from the cores and shove them in the ground somewhere. Who knows, but one day there may be tree. All the instructions are in there.

A note on honey: this cake used rapeflower honey. Be aware that rapeflower honey is bland which makes it adaptable for cooking but that - in my opinion - it lacks the depth of flavour you might like in a table honey.

Cluck cluck CL*CK

That's what the noise was about.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Sunday 9 October 2011

Harvest Home 2011

The moon nearest the Autumn equinox (around September 23) is known as the Harvest Moon, but that was back on 12 September. The coming moon on October 11 is known as the Hunter's Moon although it can be called the Harvest Moon if the moon phase falls closest to the equinox in a given year.

It didn't this year but never mind; the harvest comes in from August onwards and is still going on, so this was a good weekend for a Harvest festival. Given the burst of hot days last week it worked out well. Besides, the children have been back at school for just over a month so they've had time to do projects on Where Our Food Comes From.

The modern consumer parade of seasonal food doesn't catch what we know is the deeper psychological truth; there isn't going to be any food made for months. People want, profoundly, to store life against the depths of the winter, near the solstice, when we will need captive sunshine. Maybe there should be more tinned food in the displays, or more exhibitions of salting, drying and preserving in sugar. It is one thing to produce food, quite another to be able to shift it forward, each jar a tiny time capsule.

The bees do it best with their immortal honey and beautiful wax but they are in great danger and nobody knows quite why their numbers are dropping and colonies are crashing. The British Beekeeper's Association asks that in the meantime, please could everyone put in bee-friendly plants, especially for May and June where the bees need all the help they can get.

Plants I've found are robust and take hardly any looking-after are foxgloves, hollyhocks, lavender and thyme. They might need a trim when the bees are finished with them but otherwise they just get on with it. As the hollyhock flowers tend to drop off and lay around on the path it's best to plant them at the back of the border where you don't have to sweep them up.

The Anglo-Saxons had a charm for bees and St Benedict had a Catholic prayer for them. As we are largely dependent on the bees for pollination or there won't be a next harvest, it is urgent to discover what is causing the colonies to collapse. A prayer on the side never does any harm, though. Other practical advice from the British Bee Keepers Association.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Desserts - Michel Roux

Inland to Toppings Bookshop in Ely for the book launch of Michel Roux's latest work, Desserts.

A gust of oestrogen knocked me over as I walked in to the hall they were using for the event. You can keep your interfering hyper-active bully-boys with their pukka pasta. If you want to see a babe-magnet in operation and grown women going giggly - and I'm talking about from 18 year olds to 80 year olds - Michel is your exemplar.

He doesn't appear immediately as there is a lunch first. Substantial quiches, salads, wine or elderflower presse are balanced on knees while people pre-buy books and browse through a selection of his other titles. Roux has a regular editorial team, including his wife who does the proof reading, and they are all credited. He produces books with the same values with which he cooks - just as he wouldn't ask someone to eat food he wouldn't eat himself, so the book has to satisfy him as an object, as a work in its own right. Later he emphasizes that he knows every page number for every recipe - it's his book, his name is on the cover.

Eventually Mr Topping - who has been toting boxes for days now and is nearly melting in the lunchtime sunshine - stands up and begins to tell of his joy at hearing someone say the bookshop was 'just like the one in Notting Hill'. Ha! That means he is equivalent to Hugh Grant. However, the bookshop in Notting Hill has just closed, as have dozens of others.

Toppings in Bath and Ely has bucked that trend by adding value as a retailer. They hold a book club each month and well-organized events where the authors are expected to turn up and perform. They also offer you fresh tea or coffee - for free - and don't mind browsers, so it's rare that you get out of there without something you didn't know you wanted. The lunch is to develop a trading relationship with the customers, so for £15 you get lunch, a literary cabaret, and a signed copy of the book.

Then comes the treat. The ladies come in with trays of desserts made by Michel's very own hand. On each white plate is a slice of chocolate raspberry roulade (roule marquis, page 168) and a shot-glass sized fig and honey pannacotta (page 76). There is cat-like purr of five dozen women simultaneously licking vanilla ambrosia and forgetting there is a world outside.

The audience is now as pliable as a sheet of soaked gelatin and the star comes out of his kitchen to great applause.

Time has been kind to Michel Roux. It's been more than kind; he is a Frenchman with a big nose and he's 70 so it isn't fair that he looks better now than he did twenty four years ago when he and his older brother Albert bickered their way across the nation's TV screens to challenge the worthy approaches of the kitchen divas such as Delia Smith. Michel remains slim and obviously active, no stoop, tanned, with white teeth and blue eyes. Even his hair has swept itself back in to a chic silver bardic mane which he certainly didn't have in 1988. I have the picture here - in those days he had to make do with an ordinary mousey fuzz of a barnett.

Being French he feels there is an obligation to show Italian men how It Is Done. There has to be a quality of casual effortless grace which leaves the Italians looking over-polished and fussy. "'Ow to understand a woman?" he shrugs Gallically, and the Italians would seethe because they know he does. The Brits nod sagely, interpreting it as a shared take-my-wife joke. There, right there, you have Europe on a plate.

There are barely a handful of men at the launch, which is strange when you consider how Roux's work is either neutral or masculine, grounded in the professional kitchen and the concepts of aristocratic food, not peasant pottage. It can't only be women who manage to get away from the office or the home at lunchtime.

Michel opens with a cautionary tale. He had hoped to show the signature fruit meringues he is proud of but they turn out to be very sensitive to air humidity and the quality of the oven. He waves one, explaining how disappointed he was with the texture and uneven quality. The encouraging moral is: even Michel Roux has disasters. None the less, he urges us to give plum meringue, page 150, a whirl. "Plums are cheap, you must dry them well, meringues are cheap if you have just made something with egg yokes".

Considering his name is linked with expensive food and he's obviously not short of a bob or two being domiciled now in Switzerland, it is surprising how many times he refers to the cost of food. It is preying on his mind - but then, being born in 1941 and growing up in the austerity years after the war with an unreliable father, he must have experienced what it means to be worried about food and its price. Perhaps that's why he cares so much about every mouthful; the ghost haunting him is not bad food, but no food.

He advises not starting with the book, but to go to a market, find what's cheap, then go back and look up a way to cook it. There's nothing special about that advice but it cuts through the marketing nonsense about wandering round a supermarket with the recipe their celebrity chef has suggested which just so happens to require five of their premium pre-packed ingredients.

The advice goes on. An omelette takes between 1 minute and 90 seconds. He advises scrambled eggs with a scoop of cream, Albert says two scoops. If you use milk the eggs will be a little wet but that may be the best way for you, if you don't want to use cream. Do not mix spices in desserts - stick to only one - two if you must - to avoid confusing the flavour. Fresh fish is a live food and very good for you. Meat is already very dead and if you cook it wrong, it can be twice as dead. A Christmas pudding is a wonderful thing and he believes that his own are the best in the world. (Although it doesn't appear to have made it in to this book). Don't use more than about six ingredients in a dish, unless you have a special reason - it is too much, too confusing. A cook must have a glass of wine while working, or at least water if you are not a wine drinker. Despite this being a book about desserts and therefore not without calories, the use of fruit and a reduced quantity of sugar and fat has been recommended . The trend is for lighter desserts, he says.

There is a lively exchange of views about the storage of eggs resulting in Michel being exasperated about too-low storage temperatures and the lack of larders in the modern house due to the EU. It's not clear to me precisely how they are responsible for that but sometimes his French accent is still hard to understand, even after all these years. "I'm in favour of the common market" he said, echoing so many people over the years "but not this EU".

Neither I nor any other lady there cares tuppence about understanding every word - he can read out the phone book as far as we are concerned, and it will still sound like ginger creme brulee (page 75), but it brings an interesting thought about the book. Roux writes in French because he says it is still quicker for him. The translator, Sally Somers, then puts this in to crystal-clear English, but in doing so it is impossible to avoid rinsing out some of the warmth and poetry of his Franglais phrasing.

One day he should write a book with the French on one page and the translation opposite, perhaps a considered guide to shopping and stocking a kitchen without over-spending or wastage, but getting value for money. If that's where good cookery starts, it is time he addressed the subject directly in his own signature grammar.

Sunday 4 September 2011

Second prize....

Alistair Darling has his book out: One Thousand and One Nights, the steamy tales told by an intelligent but unlucky courtesan who found herself married to an irascible knife-throwing sultan in the days of the Scottish Raj.

It features the laugh-a-minute bawdy escapade "It Started in America" and the x-rated erotic thriller "The Thief, The Prime Minister, His Lover and Their Banker".

Despite flirting with literary agent Eddie Bell at Bell Lomax Moreton the entrancing minx with intense eye-brows over-came his reluctance to kiss'n'tell, and signed to Maggie McKernan at her own outfit, the McKernan Agency, who acted with Capel & Land to take the book to publisher Atlantic (Toby Mundy).

The book was originally going to be called "My old job and how I expect to get paid twice" but McKernan is thought to have suggested that something sexier would go better in the run-up-to-Christmas market. Possibly something with cats on the cover, such as a white Persian being stroked by a podgy male hand.

Do not miss Alistair performing live the Dance of the Seven Veils, various venues all round the country. You would not belieeeve the tattoos.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Galliano, Galliano, Galliano let me go-oh-oh-oh

John Galliano is a gifted designer of frocks who, if we had any commercial sense, would be doing business here - like he once was - and helping to make us rich, rather than having to go to Paris to get the world recognition he deserves and generating all the money for LVMH. He'd be living in a small castle in the Cotswolds, have an atelier in Kensington and a factory in East Anglia which would put Paris couture to shame.

Instead, after years of boiling his brain to meet the cut-throat promotions schedule of international fashion houses and the rip-off merchants of mass fashion, including the vampires on all the magazines who rely on him to generate their images and having not a thousandth part of his talent, Galliano hit the bottle and began to mouth-off at gawpers in bars and, allegedly, physically attacked at least one woman. (This charge does not appear to have been pressed).

Where were the friends, the entourage, hangers-on who are supposed to at least pay court to the gifted? What was he doing huddled alone in the corner of a bar, trying to make a home of it? No law against that and where better than Paris for an artist to have a drink and collect the vibe of the streets as it comes up to inform haute couture. Even so, a designer with that much potential wealth creation in his knobbly skull should have had a permanent walker if Dior had cared about its talent. Leaving it to the chauffeur to call a lawyer wasn't the close protection he needed.

Obviously the artistically driven can be difficult to love even when they are sober - and that's putting it mildly - but somebody should have been there to scoop him in to a clinic. John, love, let's go home, let's have another drink, don't talk to them, the taxi is here. It's just another blood-sucker who wants to sell a story about you, lalalala, yes, that's right, let's have a sing-song.

That Dior had to dismiss him after the fracas was inevitable for brand-protection. If you are flogging expensive perfume, cosmetics and diffusion ranges, you really cannot have people who get in to fights with the potential customers. As Simon Doonan points out:
Without the passionate and genuine support of style-obsessed Dior-loving Jewesses, Galliano might be stitching frocks for City Girl Jennifer.
What Galliano said was racially offensive and the judges will be ruling on precisely where those statements stand in French law. But in the general sense, millions of offensive things are said every day. In some mouths it matters, but in Galliano's irrelevant gob it was only significant in that it betrayed that the wicked old idea is still blowing round the French fashion industry. Like we didn't know. People like John don't sit around crafting insults; they copy them from their mates. You might as well blame a weather-cock for the wind.

He could as easily have told the unwelcome strangers to get lost but the half-Spic Gibraltarian from Sarf Lunnon (so not even a proper Cockerney, the mischling) had been in France for so long he forgot he wasn't French, just like he temporarily forgot he was gay and where the iconography of the pink triangle comes from.

What he was aiming for was offensively hip with a hint of Parisian Fuque-vous , a la Sex Pistols 1976, which he might have remembered from when he was a teenager. This is difficult to pull-off when sober, which is probably why it is usually only attempted by the bladdered. They are normally protected by incoherence. Sadly, Galliano had not quite reached that level of inebriation so it was still possible to make out what he was saying.

Note that the video provided via the Sun (who must have paid a pretty penny for it) is not of the incident which the court is ruling on, but an earlier ear-bashing he gave to an Italian pair of women. If it is his usual behaviour, he used English but in a cod French accent, following the convention set by Croft and Perry in 'Allo 'Allo. That's how drenched he got; his mouth spoke English and his brain heard French. Good Moaning.

Ask yourself: if you meet a drunk, do you insist on asking them questions and video it, or do you go away to get on with something more rewarding. I suppose it depends on if you think the poor bastard is good for a bob or two, or if you can sell the pictures.

In the bar-room squabble at issue in court, Galliano acted as if he owned the bar. The bar owner, in deference to a good customer, asked the other customer to change seats, just leave the pissed Brit alone. The customer declined - althought she also didn't own the bar - and instead engaged in a 45 minute slanging-match which ended with Geraldine Bloch being told she had "low-end thighs" (ouch) and her manfriend Philippe Virgitti offering to re-arrange Galliano's head with a bar-stool. Charming, the lot of 'em.

This week they are having another go at humiliating Galliano in court. Bloch wants want one symbolic Euro and an apology printed in the world's leading fashion titles (presumably saying that her derriere is second only to Pippa Middleton's) , while Virgitti, having been all matey earlier on, has now decided that his feelings are so terribly hurt that only money, lots of it, can assuage his flustered honour. A third person is also claiming to have been hurt, but this may be a more complex charge and possibly out of time due to limitations on delay for bringing a complaint. They've already had him sacked and made him grovel. He already apologised, weeks ago. Here, luv, have a Euro from me. Mind you don't spend it all at once, there are Greeks desperate for that much money.

A de-toxed Galliano presented himself to court to show respect rather than sending a sick-note via his lawyer, but wisely determined not to speak French (surely he must have picked up a few words by now) and used an interpreter to make sure that what ever he said this time, it wouldn't upset any one. Vogue is covering the trial, although you'd think they'd take better fashion notes than he was "dressed conservatively". The best trial coverage to date comes via the Daily Beast on Powerwall.

Obviously, there's a great deal of crow pie to be eaten. Never mind the dodgier statements; the French prosecutor has suggested that in France it is a crime amounting to assault to criticise the size of a woman's thighs and the condition of her hair. A damn serious offence, if you ask me. This could be the greater problem for Galliano because the citizens of Planet Fashion don't really care or understand about race or religion but they mind very much indeed if they are accused of having a big fat bum.

For proof of this, look at Cecil Beaton. David Noh recounts that Beaton was being a frightful lovey in 1938 and thought he was pulling off a wizard jape when he included in a sketch in microscopic writing:
"Mr. R. Andrew's ball at the El Morocco brought out all the damned kikes in town."
The editor warned him to remove it, but he threw a hissy fit and somehow it made it in to print, in to the pages of Vogue. But Beaton had enemies and they made sure that journalist Walter Winchell was tipped-off to examine the illustration with a magnifying glass. In the resulting row Beaton was forced to resign. Explanations for his behaviour don't really stack up and he doesn't appear to have made the obvious defence that this merely held up a mirror to what people, fashionistas, were saying when they got together. Despite his public school and Cambridge background, he was gifted artistically rather than intellectually and failed to see that a fashion mag can never risk portraying its customers in anything other than a pool of golden light.

Despite the lull Beaton's career went in to, he emerged triumphant later when he produced the costumes for "My Fair Lady". Beaton collected a CBE in 1956, was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1960 and was knighted in 1972. He didn't get those by calling the gentry a bunch of lardy old trout, which would definitely have seen him skinned. He survived his publishing faux pas because it was only about politics, dahlink.

Politically Galliano can recover if he stays away from subjects he doesn't comprehend and off substances which overwhelm him. He already has a CBE and is a member of the Legion of Honour, so if he stacks up 20 years more of solid job creation over here, he could end up as Sir John of Streatham. Artistically, it may be harder to find his way back to the effortless distillations which mark out his creations at their very best, but I hope he'll try. The reports of his closing collections were sympathetic - there was nothing wrong with the quality of his artistic vision. I hope he sends me a ticket for his show.

Update 28 June: Vogue have published the account of a witness who is claims to have seen the whole argument unfold. Felicitas Michel's telling of it does not involve anti-semitic opinions. The French court allowed the video in evidence which refers to separate event and is NOT the subject of the complaint.

Some commenters on the fashion blogs have pointed out that the rant tape was not saleable or perhaps even useable under French law, which currently takes a wider view of privacy than English law does (or did until recently). The complaint to the police made it possible for News International to risk publishing the video clip.


Update 10 September 2011

John Galliano appeared in court in Paris, which imposed a suspended sentence of a fine of £5,300 on a conviction for "casting public insults based on origin, religious affiliation or ethnicity". This establishes that the bar-room exchange was in what has now been defined as a public place for these purposes.

Galliano was also ordered to pay a symbolic 1 Euro compensation to his victims. Make of that what you will under French law. In English terms it means the judges accept the complaints and that the State has made its case, and mean him to apologise, but don't think much of the complainants. Note, however, that this was precisely what one of the complainants asked for.

The court rejected Galliano's denial that he had said any such thing , although other witnesses backed his version of events.

The Sun - on behalf of News International which paid out for the video of a previous beasting where a pissed Galliano was goaded in to forgetting that he wasn't French and wasn't an edgy intellectual - said, in its print editorial:

"So much for France's pious grandstanding as the champion of decency and human rights"

Les Rosbifs never miss a chance to rag the Frogs, but if that doesn't make you laugh you must have had your funny bone surgically removed.