Thursday, 29 November 2012

And how to eat an artichoke!

Artichoke has much more to it than shown by chefs; it's one of the great messy starters.  The whole thing should have the whiskers removed from the bottom of the beast and the outermost leaves removed; boiled in salted water and then served with a small bowl or ramikin of Normandy salted butter; the dinner then peels the leaves one by one from the beast, dipping the base of the leave into the butter and stripping the gorgeous titbit of flesh away.  When you have used up the leaves which repay their dividend, then remove the rest of the useless flaccid small leaves and the wretched and aptly named choke, poor the remainder of the butter over the exposed and delectable heart and scoff!   You will end up with butter all over your chops and a huge pile of discarded, stripped leaves in the middle of the table/

As for Jerusalem artichokes... if you've ever had to spend a couple of days digging them out of someone's garden then you would not regard them with anything other than horror.  Double-digging in a wet and cold Spring to a depth of 2' over an entire garden and I'm pretty sure I did not get all of them; but after two days I was so tired and cold, I couldn't dig any further down. Ifor, the bloke whose garden it was kept saying what good topsoil it was...

Another light has gone out, and yet another

Just recently almost my last remaining really  close friend has died.  For the blog let's call him RJW. 

RJW as he was popularly known in the UK Diplomacy hobby was one of the founding fathers of the UK hobby, His 'zine, Mad Policy was one of the foundation and seminal zines of Diplomacy, first published in August 1972, he went on to publish more than 150 issues with a circulation which was international.
Mad Policy was also home of the Zine Poll for a lot of the time, eventually winning it, after a controversial change of rules in the eighties, which then resulted in RJW passing it on to John Piggott in 1986*. 
RJW was also one of the organisers for many years of Manorcon, which was an eminently successful games convention in the UK started in 1983 and still running. 

Richard was also instrumental in formulating the idea of the formation of the IDA/UK.  As Stephen Agar says: "...interest in Britain was focused on the Calhamer Awards which were organized by the IDA in the States. Thanks to some electioneering, British zines were nominated in 9 of the 11 categories and duly went on to win all 9 awards. This feat was accomplished by the fact that 75 of the 400 or so active UK players had voted in the poll, as opposed to a mere 50 votes from the 2,000 or so active US players. The US promptly changed the rules."  This coup was deliberately plotted it has to be said as a slightly nationalistic response to being patronised by some US players!  However, RJW remained good friends with people like Edi Birsan and Conrad von Metzke, in spite of some opprobrium.  It's worth saying that Richard loved to cock a snook at any kind of pomposity or pretension.

RJW also hated any kind of mawkish sentimentality, which rather showed itself in his spare, dry wit and prose.  He absolutely loved to puncture my innate tendency to pomposity.  Now, I shall have to resort to listening to what he would have said, like an additional internal critic.

His Imrryr by-line in Mad Policy was from Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone series, RJW was a very avid collector of Moorcock and read a lot of Science Fiction.  He was also a great fan of Star Trek, Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 and also particularly loved the film Excalibur.  Besides this he was a very great fan of early 60s UK female pop singers like Susan Maughan and Sandie Shore and collected rare songs and records by such until he died.  His collections, besides a mountain of SF, also included cigarette cards, which he turned into a semi-profitable hobby in his retirement.

On a personal level, Richard was my best friend.  His qualities were those of a true Englishman as both he and I saw them: honourable, decent, honest and loyal.  His passion as a one-time resident of Essex was for the county and England cricket teams, the latter which I shared with him, and he did so love to crow over the success of his team over mine in the county championship.  But Richard's real passion was for the football (soccer) team closest to him in his youth and to his heart throughout his life, which was West Ham.
One of the reasons why Richard became and was such a close friend of mine was that we both shared a passion for strategy board games that took a long time... Britannia, Civilization (the Hartland Trefoil game) were just two of these.  If you don’t get on with someone very well, spending many hours staring at each other over a board would have been intolerable.  He played to win and was a very careful strategist, hugely capable when it came to assessing probabilities.  Which was understandable as he had a gift for figures.  He started his working life as a statistician with British Aerospace before progressing on to a very senior position for BAe.  This involved supporting negotiations with the UK government providing statistical and financial information for BAe during these.  He said that his experience in playing Diplomacy was invaluable in achieving results at these meetings!

But I would not wish to give the idea of an earnest man, as those who have read Richard's press saga in this august zine, you will know or guess that RJW was witty, charming, creative and highly intelligent in print as well as in person.  A great conversationalist, some of our joint flights of fantasy and extemporisation got us into some strange situations!  You will have (or can) read of the spoof which he and I perpetrated on the UK hobby in launching my zine Gallimaufry under a pseudonym, as part of which he created Selena King, a femme fatale for the hobby, and then proceeded to torment Pete Birks with her for a while, by getting people to send cards from her from all over the world!

Let me finish with my recollection of one such piece of insanity, which occurred back in the late 1970s.  In those days there was an annual holiday get-together called Eurocon, typically taking place in France.  That year Richard and Claire had agreed to give me a lift down and back.  In France in those days, there was nearly always spare capacity in hotels so getting a couple of rooms was not too much of a problem.  Until on the way back we found one which, to our horror, only had one last room left above the kitchen.  So I said that I would sleep in the car, but Richard and Claire being lovely people, because the room had a cot bed, wouldn't hear of it.  So we went downstairs, Claire went out for a walk and left Richard and I to secure the room.  This caused some whispered conversations which we realised was caused by them thinking that Claire was une Belle de la Nuit and that we were going to enjoy a bit more than just the meal and a sleep.  Madame's son, who was our waiter, was terrified by the thoughts of what we might do later on and so we regaled him with little winks and whispered "Ménage a trois!".  We could not resist.  Needless to say we had a fitful night as the room was above the kitchen with all the pots and pans, but eventually we got to sleep!
He was my friend: decent, honest, charming, witty, loyal and funny besides being a great gamesplayer!  After 40 years of friendship I will very much miss him.

*I have just heard that John has also passed away, a couple of weekends ago, Sic Transit Gloria Rana...