Thursday, November 27, 2008

Maudlin moment

I should have done this weeks ago.

News in briefs

With the consoling thought that if the morning train hadn't been ten minutes late I wouldn't have seen the jack snipe erupt from the children's football pitch...

Richard Branson is threatening to set up a Virgin Health Centre in Manchester. If the service is anything like Virgin Media's Customer Support Service then we can expect the mortality rates to go back to 1840s levels.

"Yes sir, I appreciate that you've had a heart attack. Our doctor has rung the wrong number twice and you didn't answer, so we closed the call."

According to a poll by Swinton Insurance, drivers think they should be rewarded for keeping within the speed limit. This is a splendid idea and needs to be explored further. Perhaps we could give 'gangstas' fifty quid for not actually killing anybody this week. And the motorists could pass their rewards on to joyriders who haven't stolen their cars.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Film Fun

Launder & Gilliatt's chairsI thought I'd start an occasional series of posts dipping in and out of my movie collection. Not to show off the breadth and depth of my cinematic knowledge, which is questionable, but to have a quick revel in craftsmanship and wit that we are too often too dismissive about.

No multi-million dollar blockbusters, no CGI, and definitely no bollocks about the auteur theory: most of my favourite films may have stars but they're essentially ensemble pieces. Alistair Sim credits

Which brings me to the Belles of St. Trinian's. Cast your eye at the list of the people involved, making sure that you go down as far as "People viewing this page may also be..." This is pure quality. And the film? Oh yes, yes, I know you know all the cliches about teenagers in mini gymslips and stockings and all that. The truth is that the film is much more about the mob animal that is the younger girls and some of the more splendid cynicisms of the 1950s.

I'm just going to chuck a few into the pot to give you a flavour... I'll leave you to guess the contexts. (-:

"Pogo Williams is older than me, and what's more she's married."
"Not officially"

"What a girl! A real chip off the old block."
"Don't say that Benny, don't say that. It makes my blood run cold."

"If only I had the courage to give myself up..."
"You might as well do. The food would be better and so would the company."

"What on earth have you got on your hair?"
"Honey and flowers. Like it?"
"Would you please put your hat back on."

"No, your highness, that one's not on the books. She's an American journalist writing an article on the lure of the harem for the Saturday Post."

the girls

"I sent one of my best men down to the place to inspect it."
"Well, what did he report?"
"He never came back."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Disappeared completely."
"Well what did you do then?"
"I sent another man after him."
"And he brought him back."
"No, he disappeared, too."
"You mean to say that you sent two inspectors and never heard of either of them again?"
"Not a word."
"Well, why didn't you inform the police?"
"It's hardly the sort of thing the ministry wants to draw attention to. Besides, I knew they were all right: they kept drawing their pay. I put a stop to that in the end."

This last exchange is between Superintendent Sammy Kemp-Bird (Lloyd Lamble, who died earlier this year) and the Man from The Ministry, Manton Bassett (Richard Wattis, superb as ever). This scene typifies what is best of British comedy films of the fifties: two actors who usually played the straight man given a five minute scene jam-packed with one-liners: "a veritable crime wave ...poison pen letters""I'm surprised the little beasts can write."

cartoon: the schoolgirls have run over a mistress with the grounds roller

Most of the diabolical nature of the girls can only be hinted at: "Bessie, you will be careful with that nitroglycerine, won't you?" but the film censorship boards of the time wouldn't have been able to cope with the realities of Ronald Searle's original cartoons. If you get the chance to pick up one of the original collections in a second-hand bookshop, treat yourself. Great fun.
some little girl didn't hear me say unarmed combat

All this wordery and I haven't yet mentioned Alistair Sim. A bravura performance.

And perhaps the best hockey match on the silver screen. With Andree Melly in hockey shorts.

And finally, the music. Malcolm Arnold conducted by Muir Matheson. The lietmotifs work well, the best easily being that for Flash Harry (you can just imagine this music wearing a zoot suit and a dodgy trilby). The school song is superbly lush and was fleshed out into The St. Trinian's Battle Song for Blue Murder at St. Trinina's. Go on, have a sing-song!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


There are adverts all over Manchester for a "New Concept Store" in the Arndale. I am very excited by this.

"Hello, I'd like to buy a concept, please."

"Certainly, sir, what would you want?"

"I'd like something that pulled together metaphysical poetry, the city state model of Renaissance Italy and Superstring Theory."

"Of course, sir. With or without the revolt of Pisa and an overview of the Special Theory of Relativity?"

It turned out to be a clothes shop.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Think of the children!

This chap lives in South Wales. Which is the only explanation I can think of for it all.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thursday jukebox

It will surprise none of you that I've no idea what day it is.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nature corner

I've been growing peppers on the living room window again this year. I've had a couple off the Chocolate Bell plant this summer, which have been quite nice (they're a deep brown sweet pepper). The odd thing is that there's one fruit left and it's staying bright red with not a hint of brown. I can only think that the autumn sunlight's not intense enough to complete the transformation.

Peppers are good plants for the windowsill but they don't half attract aphids. And, being grown for food, I'm loathe to spray them with anything stronger than washing-up liquid. It comes as quite a relief that the leaves are dying back now. The pepper will overwinter perfectly well as a set of green sticks. And I can have a few months without having to constantly wipe the honeydew from that bit of the sofa. The spiders have been a bit remiss on this score. I think I'll import some tame ladybirds next year.

Coming home each night this past fortnight I've found a woodlouse waiting at the same place on the porch. I check on my way out: it isn't there. On arrival back, there it is. I'm not sure what to make of it. Is it waiting for me faithfully, elated at my return? Or is it acting as lookout for some troupe of arthropod scallywags ("cavie boys! he's back!"). In either case it's not especially demonstrative. Not so much as a grunt, so I can't say that it's adolescent growing pains.

hazel leaves by streetlightFinally, a picture from my own garden. I was taken by the effect of the street light through the leaves on the hazel bush in the front garden and thought I'd have a go at capturing it.

Almost did it (hand-held one second exposure at f5.6 for those who need to know it).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thursday jukebox

You may want to make sure that there are no dogs in the room. Especially into the third minute, trust me on that.

P.S. I have this record, and it isn't the one in my collection that embarasses me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Salami di fichi

My tiny niece amuses me once more. Sat at her breakfast table she suddenly announced:

"Oh I am fed up of this. I need something delicious."

Bearing this in mind, and with an eye on Chrimbo, I have been making some salami di fichi. Now's the time to do it if you want them for the forthcoming hostilities. You'll need:
  • Some dried figs
  • Some rice paper
  • A mixer or mincer
  • Soap, water and a towel
  • An air-tight container
  • An absence of small children, unless they are going to be active particpants
  • A complete absence of small, furry animals

You might also want to either leave the front door open or resolve that you're closed to all men until the job's done and dusted. There is a point in the proceedings when you'll be like the tar baby.

  • Chuck the dried figs into the mixer. Chop them to bits until it becomes a fine paste. You might need to stop it every so often to persuade the paste not to hide under the blades.
  • Wash your hands again. You've picked your nose since the last time.
  • Take the figgy past and roll it out into a sausage, same as you did with Plasticene at school. You want it to be about a couple of inches in diameter. If there's lots of figgy paste you may want to make two or more sausages.
  • Wrap each sausage in rice paper.
  • Wash your hands again. You know why.
  • Place them all in the container. Put it somewhere safe for a month or two.

When you retrieve your salami and unwrap each you'll find that you've got a rich, brown, sticky mess that makes you giggle childishly. Don't serve it like this! Cut the sausage into coin-thick slices (you chose which coin). Now eat one. You'll find it tastes rather good: sweet, rich and quite a bit decadent, with the seeds popping in your mouth as you chew.

This is the absolute simplest version of the recipe. If you've got some other dried fruit - apricots, raisins, or whatever - chuck them in. Generally speaking, I'd make sure that at least 60% of the fruit is fig because it makes such a good binding agent. Don't use dried pineapple: that does funny things to the binding. Dried cranberries work surprisingly well and are suitably festive.

You can also add chopped nuts (fresh walnuts are good, toasted hazelnuts are splendid) and orange or lemon peel. Be sure to put them in right at the beginning to make sure they get blended in properly.

I know from experience that these will keep for months. But your tooth might be sweeter than mine!

Hello Hazel

I hadn't realised that Hazel Blears was one of my readers (hello me duck!). It's a nice surprise that amongst the exoticalia that makes up my readership I can now include a North of England fillum star. I'm amused that we have both come to the conclusion that career politicians are a corrosive blight on the body politic.

And gratified that her strictures against political bloggers are not aimed at me: as the member of the government in charge of local government she knows that it is still illegal for the likes of me to voice political opinions anywhere beyond the domestic hearth.

Remembrance Sunday

There went a phase in the seventies and eighties where Remembrance Sundays were regarded as anathemae of The Left as they Glorified War. In this, as in so many things, I was out of step with the comrades who now steal the last pennies from the pockets of the common man. I have always seen Remembrance Sunday as a commemoration of the far-too-many poor ordinary blokes who lost lives, limbs or reason in the awfulness of war. And some type of public consolation to their families and friends.

It is moving and disturbing to see the war memorials in even the smallest of villages, each and every one with long rolls of the names of the local fallen. The breadth and extent of the losses are astonishing. I cannot help wondering what type of world it would have been had they survived.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Indoor fireworks

We got to talking about indoor fireworks the other day. I don't know if they're still available as I don't visit the fly-by-night fireworks shops that pop up in mid-summer to make our lives hell. Between chemistry A-level and early drinking habits I've had enough bangs, crashes and flashes of unearthly lights to do me for a couple more decades yet. But we got talking about them anyway. Yet another of the blighted disappointments of childhood...

All agog with our Tizer we'd toddle over to the house next-door-but-one, drawn by the rumour that "they've got indoor fireworks!" The thrill of anticipation! The gleeful speculation of marvels to come! The excitement mounted!

Number one: The Hissing Cobra.
Strike. Fizz. Fizz Fizz Fizz. Oh look: a dog turd made out of ashes.

Number two: Tutankhamen's Doo-dah.
Strike. Fizz. Fizzzzzzzzzzz. Splut. Oh look: a dog turd made out of ashes.

Number three: The Mighty Python
Strike. Fizz. Fhshpluttttt! Oh look: a dog turd made out of ashes.

You get the drift. The Magic Carpet. The Sorceror's Apprentice. The Poison Cloud. The Olympian Torch. Dog turds made out of ashes, the lot of them.

I know we have to learn life's lessons at some time but couldn't they have been more gentle about it?

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Having a drink and a chat in the Monkey's with Ken Barmy I accidentally knocked over my drink (I was telling him a story that appears in another place). As I tidied up Ken said to the barmaid:

"Please excuse my friend, he thinks he's Ralph Bellamy."

Bastard. I've been saving that quote for a special occasion for twenty years.