Sunday, 27 December 2009

Reasons to be glad for living

One of the strange things about this time of year is that most of the people I love have either died or have left (and by default taking their relations with them - I won't ask a family to take sides against its own). Don't feel sad, it's the inevitable consequence of a dangerous lifestyle! You can tell from this all passion spent* mood that I've got some time off and am on my own. This is very much a mixed blessing. It means that my health problems remain my own nemesis and not my and someone else's embarrassment. It means that I eat and drink what I want, I watch what I want and sleep when I want. It used to be read what I want, but I'm still humming and hawing as to where to put my new daylight lamp...

It's the "watch" what I want that makes me glad to be alive. Leaving aside the vast canon of cookery programmes that sustain me (and believe me, I need to coax myself into eating on occasion, so choice of word is not idle [appetite, not emotion]), there are a number of films that I still ration how often I watch them. Amazingly, there have been some recent ones which I have grown to love as much as old favourites:

Star Trek - J J Abrams' brilliant recreation of the essence of the feeling of the original series - quite, quite stunning. This is a film that has me out of my chair and punching the air and shouting YES! Such an affirmation of human values (even the Vulcan!)

GalaxyQuest - ever been to a science fiction or games con? Then watch it, it is on occasion so acute in observation it is painful, but it is also excruciatingly funny at times. The Klingon cameo in the bog is soooooo true, and I bet there are self-affirming prats like that still wondering about the cons. What is amazing is that you find yourself split on multiple levels. Hmmm - hard to explain; you suspend disbelief: it's a comedy in an area you know; you suspend it yet again as you get sucked into the interior plot and rejoice in the death of Saris. Brilliant!

The Core - the best saved from disaster movie ever made; mainly because the characters (and not coincidentally actors) make you suspend disbelief far more than the plot (unobtainium, anyone?). I've just watched this again and it is a real tour de force - you simply look up at the end and realise that something like two hours have gone by, there are tears in your eyes, a gladness in your heart. Not coincidentally Delroy Lindo is in it and he has been an actor I've looked out for ever since a brilliant performance in DS9. Fantastic cast.

Lord of the Rings - my best friend passed some years back and I'm still getting over it, and I know that there are very many who are still feeling the void, the loss of his wit, charm and arrogance. How I could do with his astringent humour at times. But he got to see this before he passed and we both rejoiced at how good it was. I know it's not the book, but you'd have to be made of stone not to cheer at first the appearance and then weep at the death of Haldir and the Elves at Helm's Deep. A creation of the Jacksons' that reflects the Elves' spirit of unending sacrifice to the land. I could go on for hours just on that passage. Needless to say this holiday I will be seeing the New Year in watching all three back to back.

Amelie - the ravishingly beautiful Audrey Tatou as the lead in this stunning Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. If you haven't seen it, please, please do. It is naive, funny, touching and beautifully filmed. It made me love Paris before ever I saw it. (I am a Francophile - there, I've said it.) It is so touchingly innocent and, if you analyse it (god forbid) it could so easily have lapsed into either sentimentality or mawkishness... also brilliant by most of the same cast (and giving a not inconsiderable insight into the effects of WWI on France, is A Very Long Engagement - Bingo Crepiscule is a name to conjure with!).

Etre et Avoir - This series of views into a small French village schoolhouse are quite, quite beautiful and touching; wouldn't you want to be a teacher in this environment? But it also reflects the way of life in the French countryside, which is still massively unmechanised and still entirely family oriented. Watch it, it will tell you more about the French than you will at first realise. (And yes, I do speak a bit of French... but not much.)

What have all these in common? The re-affirmation of the positive values of what it is to be a human being.

*(John Dos Passos, or if you're a science fiction fan look at the sort of fiction John W Campbell was publishing towards the end of his career - still venerated in America, rightly so as an editor, he rather put his glasses down when reading end of the universe stuff, particularly after Astounding morphed into Analog. His own writing was tedious.)

Friday, 25 December 2009

Season's Greetings

This is just a quick post to anyone who might be mad enough (like me) to do some blogging. Enjoy your holiday, however long and here are some tips from the Sage of Aylesbury (that's the bear, not me):

* Remember that a relationship is built up over time and it is easy to let undue expectations at this time of year destroy it; if you're partner gets p****d and insults your mother, it is not the end of the world! He/she's still the same person you hooked up with!

Lesser ones:
  • Don't eat or drink more than you would normally do when celebrating an event during the rest of the year - this is your time as well, and tomorrow is a day you'll want to enjoy as much as today!
  • Ignore the traditions you don't like - if that involves other people, try and create new ones which involve everyone!
  • If you want a kip during the day, lie down on the bed and have a proper kip for 20-40 minutes - don't kip in a chair! You'll walk around looking at the wall otherwise.
  • If you're the cook, write down the timings for everything that you need to do. Don't try and keep all the timings and processes in your head; booze, interruptions, rugrats and other events will conspire to make you miss something. It's a bit late if you're doing a massive bird for Lunch, but you should still have time if it's Dinner.
  • If you don't like a present, fall back on praising an aspect of it - avoid "Oh... how interesting..." (which makes it sound like you've found a snail), and if all else fails and you want to give a hint that you don't want anything like that next year "I'm sure that will be really useful". Sadly, you will receive presents, like the horse's head in the godfather, which you cannot refuse; if they're something you can take and lose on holiday, wait until then and give them to a charity shop (in my case, this year, the route to the shop was instantaneous - unwrap, black bin bag, into a canister for friends' relatives in Zimbabwe, where they will appreciate it). Failing that, put them in the loft, wait til you move house and leave them there. :-))
  • If you get criticism of a present you've given, tell the recipient you're sorry and that you won't commit the social solecism of giving them any further presents. If they're a child, they might (as I did) be upset, but they'll learn some manners!
  • For next year, unless you are very, very certain, do not imagine you know someone else's taste is. Viz said instant charity shop present, I cannot believe the giver would use anything so hideous themselves, so why imagine my taste is worse! This is a serial offender who fortunately doesn't visit, who I don't want to upset, but god I wish she'd stop. However she does give me some cracking bottles of wine!

Enjoy the holiday, whatever religion, race or persuasion you are.

I've already done my spuds, parsnips and carrots - now I have the onerous task of opening a bottle and considering whether it's sprouts today or whether I'll do the Cauli Cheese today! (Tomorrow will be cold ham, bubble and squeak and pickles and chutneys)

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Genius behind the beards

As I wait in the office for a race against time for the delivery men to beat the oncoming snow (a long story about a meeting room table), I thought I'd apologise for the long hiatus in blogging. Part of this is just sheer pressure of work allied with lack of energy. So apart from the usual chores, I've rather been collapsing in front of the TV, sticking in a DVD.

And what have I been watching? Two series: Eating in the Sun - Nadia Sawalha and The Hairy Bikers' Food Tour of Britain. What both have in common are amateur cooks going into professional kitchens and the huge courage that that needs; Nadia's has the benefit of some stunning sunshine, her lovely smile and some great chefs.

The former is brilliant and very enjoyable, but it simply isn't as good as the Hairy Bikers FToB. I'm so glad I recorded it, because it is so long (30 x 45 minutes is such a lot of programming) I really can't see it ever being released on DVD - it's 22.5 hours of recording and was something of a labour of love recording it (done because it was on at a time I couldn't watch it) and then burning the DVDs - not a quick process!

Someone in reviewing it said it was a bit formulaic - that may be true, as each episode starts with about 15-20 minutes of searching for the special dish of a particular county, and cooking it for the denizens, and the remainder in a chef's challenge against one of the best chefs in each county (including the great and beloved Nigel Haworth). But there is no repetition, unlike MasterChef. And what is really, really good is not only the sheer fun of it, but also the genuine exploration of each county's food products and their incorporation into the challenge dishes. This is like Rick Stein's Food Heroes, but far more of it. Absolutely cheers me up, whatever mood I'm in. I could rave on about how good they are for hours!

But suffice it to say that they remind me a lot of two other food heroines of mine, the two fat ladies!