Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Iconic Images 9

As a child I didn't have a television, so I've had to learn a lot of the cultural references that many people of my age take for granted. One of these is the famous Levi Jeans advert staring Nick Kaman. My ignorance aside, though, this is an iconic (moving) image of the mid-eighties.



Monday, 30 August 2010

An epicurian weekend...

Unusually this weekend I've eaten out - not once, but twice. After 4 months in Bristol it was about time too, as up till now I've only been out just once!

Last night I went out for Thali. Originating in roadside restaurants in India, the name Thali actually refers to the metal serving dish, rather than the meal itself. Indeed in India Thali's vary from region to region along with local palettes and cuisines.

Served either in a dish with compartments, as pictured, or on a tray with a number of individual bowls, the main attraction - the curry - has a range of accompaniments. Mine was a chicken curry with rice, Tarka Dahl, pickled vegetables, mixed vegetables with coconut and a mango chutney. Taken together it created a wonderfully balanced meal with the heat of the curry offset by the sweetness of the pickled veg and the cooling coconut. Unlike many Indian restaurants, the portion size was, while filling, not excessive.

If you're in Bristol you can find Thali here!

Today I went to Carluccio's for lunch. This is chain cafe/deli trading on the name and reputation of Antonio Carluccio, the TV chef. As with any chain, the waitress was keen to upsell, but we were content with the fixed price menu!

For starters I had a lovely Chicken Liver pate which was so smooth it must have been pressed through a sieve - the resultant texture was luxurious and beautiful. My only slight criticism was that the butter seal was slightly too salty and detracted form the subtle taste of the pate itself. Having made pate myself in the past, I feel inspired to give it another go and see if I can achieve a similar result. I'll keep you posted on any developments if I do!

For my main course, I had the Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Sage Butter. This was surprisingly light with a beautiful clean taste coming from the sage. Sometimes you can't beat simple but well executed food and this was it.

So, after four months of settling in, I've finally made a start on a gastronomic tour of the restaurants of Bristol. There are many more to explore and future reviews may well appear!


Friday, 27 August 2010

How popular/common are you?

For some random reason today I was reminded of a website that was popular about 7-8 years ago that was able to tell you how many people share your name in the UK. Having done a quick google search I've found a site which still does this.

You can search your full name and see how many people share it - apparently there are 3,532 people with my name. By contrast one of my sisters only shares her name with 49 others!

Aside from this - and some random facts about Angry Squirrels - you can also search by just first name which will provide a breakdown by age of the popularity of that name. 50.68% of Andrew's are in the 35-44 age range. This compares to, for example, 41.34% of Stephen's and 13.79% of Wilfred's!

You can even rank names based on their first letter - Andrew is the most common name beginning with A! Suddenly, I'm feeling a bit less special...

Anyway, here's the link. Go and have a look, it's worth a short Internet detour.


Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Secret to Being Gay and Happy?!

Over on Digital Spy yesterday, the Gay Spy blog promoted the latest issue of Attitude - the 'Issues' issue. This is the cover:

So what jumps out at you about it? Is it the picture of Danny Miller? Or is it the headline to the left: "We've found the secret to being Gay and Happy". Really? I didn't know that the two were such elusive bedfellows. I know lots of people who are gay, sorted and reasonably well grounded. I know people who aren't gay and aren't happy.

Personally, I take offence. Though perhaps I'm being too sensitive. Or perhaps it's easy for me to take offence from a position of being at ease about my sexuality. I'd be interested in other people's take on the subject.

On a second look I realised that the text underneath belongs with the main headline and in full it reads:  
"We've found the secret to being Gay and Happy. A new way of thinking that could change your life." 
Is this better? Well,  slightly. I've always been intrigued by positive thinking strategies - although I'm not sure there's a need to tailor such strategies to any particular sexuality. Surely one of the first steps in positive thinking is to accept who you are regardless.

There's another reason I was less than impressed with the headline. But I'm going to rewind slightly in order to elaborate.

Gay Spy weren't the only people to take notice the magazine, one of the issues examined in the magazine is the level of mental illness amongst gay people and this instigated on the Today programme on Radio 4. Does being gay predispose someone to mental illness, or are higher than average rates of mental illness amongst gay people the result of societal pressures and expectations? I believe, of course, that this is not a chicken or egg question, and that the latter is the case.

This is a serious issue and it's good that it is receiving some attention. As such, it is disappointing that Attitude have chosen a headline which, in my opinion, undermines the seriousness of the issue, if not actually trivialises it. In addition, while positive thinking has its place, in the context of serious mental illness, it's akin to telling someone to pull themselves together.

While I appreciate that Attitude is in the business of selling magazines, it would have been good if they could have done more with the cover of the Issues issue rather than have it look like a cross between the News of the World magazine and Psychologies magazine.


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Blast from the Past (2)

Last night, I was watching Big Brother and the housemates gave an impromptu rendition of Perfect by Fairground Attraction. It is, of course a fantastic song - although perhaps a bit dated now - but I always prefered Find My Love:

And here's Eddi Reader as a solo artist with Patience of Angels. There were a number of candidates for inclusion here - you could do worse than search for Eddi's work on the video/music site of your choice. Enjoy:


P.S. You can find the video for Perfect here.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Something to get your teeth into...

One of the things that has surprised me most in the past year or so was how much I enjoyed True Blood, which is coming up to the finale of its third series in the States.

My love of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter aside, I've never really been interested in books or films in the Fantasy genre. I've still not read Dracula or seen any adaptations of it and, aside from a screening of Nosferatu, the only other vampire related thing I'd seen, until a couple of years ago, was Ultraviolet. This was a Channel 4 drama series from 1998 starring Jack Davenport. Aside from being a fantastic drama, the attraction was its modern and unconventional take on the vampire myth.

In the past couple of years, however, I've found vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beings have featured more heavily in my tellybox viewing. First came BBC 3's excellent Being Human, set here in Bristol, and then came True Blood.

Made by HBO, so not dependent on attracting advertisers, True Blood can afford to push the creative envelope. As such, it isn't afraid to shy away issues of sexuality and drug use or violence and nudity. Based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, the series has been created by Alan Ball, who wrote American Beauty and was the executive producer of Six Feet Under. 

Set in the deep south where vampires have come into the open and synthetic blood is sold in bars, the programme tells the story of Sookie - who can hear people's thoughts - and her relationship with Bill, a vampire who has forsworn real blood. It's not long , however, before Vampire politics asset themselves and Sookie finds herself being sucked into a world which still remains largely underground (no puns intended). 

Brilliantly evoking small town mores in the Deep South of the US, and the varying degrees of suspicion, hatred and acceptance which the Vampires (which could be considered proxies for Blacks or Homosexuals) are treated, True Blood features great performances from the newly married Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin and a great supporting cast.

And speaking of Mr and Mrs Moyer, here's the main reason for this post, from the cover of Rolling Stone magazine:


Sunday, 22 August 2010

My Reading Update

Since my last post on the subject, I'm afraid to say I'm still not much further forward in getting back up and running with my reading which in turn means a shortage of book reviews. Meanwhile, I've been happy to purchase more books!

I'm still determined to finish The Storm but need to somehow incentivise myself to make reading a regular part of my day again and to get through it. Here's hoping I'll be posting a review of it soon. Any ideas welcome!


Saturday, 21 August 2010


Thank you to Mr Stephen Fry and the Stephen Fry Daily for bringing this to my attention:


Friday, 20 August 2010

A Pretty Picture for Friday...

I don't follow sport just to look at sportsmen (as some people have been known to suggest) and as a general rule I don't find them attractive - although this important linguistic story on Stephen's blog about the Spanish inability to pronounce "ps" does feature a very nice Fernando Torres.

I also don't tend to use this blog to publish pictures of fit young men -there are plenty of other places on the internet for that sort of thing! But...

I've featured Andy Murray in previous posts and much as I admire him, I've never really found him that attractive. This picture from American Vogue, however, shows him in a completed new light... Enjoy!


Thursday, 19 August 2010

Comedy Gold!

I was reminded of this a few days ago. It's a clip from Peter Kay's Britain's got the Pop Factor... and Possibly a New Celebrity Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar Strictly on Ice, which is a genius parody of all the reality shows we know and love... or hate.

Part of its success was down to the attention to detail, with lots of nuanced observational comedy. Another factor is the participation of real-life reality TV stars - it's "presented" by Cat Deeley who plys her trade on So You Think You Can Dance in the States (and also the UK version) and judges included Dr Fox and Pete Waterman, former stars of Pop Idol. A host of guest stars also appeared including - somewhat incredibly - Sir Paul McCartney.

But the main element is Kay's creation, Geraldine. Partly based on Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus, Geraldine has a cracking back story - she used to be a man - and a surprisingly good singing voice. The winner's song - called "The Winner's Song" - is a pastiche of the type of song typical of such shows. Co-written by Gary Barlow, it was Kay's singing voice while recording it which inspired him to play a woman.

If you've never seen it, the DVD is available and I thoroughly recommend it. Here's a clip of Kay as his alter-ego, singing an unlikely medley of songs:


Damn You, Fopp

 I popped into Fopp yesterday to get this:

And ended up with these too...

Mind you, it only came to £10 in total!


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Simon's Cat is back!

...and I still love him!

Unfortunately, though, the option to embed the video is not available, so instead I'll point you in this direction.


Monday, 16 August 2010

The Re-emergence of a Democratic Deficit?

This post has been inspired by a Facebook conversation following a status update by a former colleague who is now an SNP councillor.

It all started innocuously enough with the following comment:
Interlocutor 1: So Nick Cleg [sic] has been left in charge... Does anybody else feel just that little bit scared!
No, I thought to myself, no I don't. In fact, I'm rather pleased at the plans to raise the profile of Liberal Democrat principles and policies, something I specifically mentioned a new members survey I completed at the weekend. So I responded in kind:
Me: Not as scared as when I visit home and realise Alex Salmond is in charge.
And because I couldn't let it lie, like any good Pedant would, I added:
Me: Oh and it's Clegg with two g's. :-)
At this point, my interlocutor decided to switch his attack from personality in order to question the legitimacy of the coalition:
Interlocutor 1: Ah but you see, Andrew, the general public actually elected Alex Salmond and he won the largest share of the vote in an election... Regardless of how many G's, Clegg didn't and his crazy ideas were rejected.
Ah, so that was it - an attack on the arrangement that brought stable government to the UK in the face of soaring debt levels. An attack on the coalition deal that cut out the Labour party, Plaid Cymru and the SNP and denied them the "rainbow coalition" mooted by, amongst others, Alex Salmond.

How to respond?, that was the question. Well, it struck me that the situation in Holyrood wasn't actually all that different to Westminster:
Me: Ehm... When last I checked Alex Salmond was leading a minority government...

...and in both cases the public elects a parliament not a government. There is no difference in the legitimacy of the arrangement at Westminster to the arrangement at Holyrood.
Indeed, it could be argued that the government at Westminster is more representative, given that 59.1% of the population voted for one of the parties. In Scotland the SNP govern on a mandate of a 32.9% share of the electorate. While this is absolutely legitimate under the Holyrood system - as would a minority Conservative government at Westminster - it does seem to be weak territory to stand on and question the legitimacy of other solutions to, essentially, the same problem. And of course, following the 2007 election, the SNP had also held coalition talks!

I think my interlocutor had taken my point and that could well have been the end of the political banter which had lightened my lunch break. A little later, however, a third person - let's call them Interlocutor 2 - entered the conversation.
Interlocutor 2: The legitimacy in Scotland is apparent when you consider the overwhelming majority of Scots voted for neither the Tories or the Lib Dems in May, giving neither party a mandate to govern in Scotland. The SNP Government may be a minority one but at least we actually received votes in Scotland!
At this point, I repaired to the BBC's election 2010 site to check the figures. A quick fact check later suggested the figures weren't as cut and dried as all that, particularly with reference to the SNP:
Me: Ehm, the SNP received just 1% more of the vote in Scotland in May and 5 fewer MPs than the LibDems, so the mandate was not clear in May - the mandate, such as it is, dates back to the last Scottish Parliament elections.

Furthermore, the combined share of the vote of the Lib Dems and Tories in Scotland was actually 35.6% compared with the 19.9% achieved by the SNP.

I come back to my previous point - within the terms of their respective parliaments, both the Westminster and Holyrood governments are legitimate - and in the case of Westminster that is as true in Edinburgh and Cardiff as London.
So it seems that in May, the coalition parties in Scotland trumped the SNP in both seats and vote share. It could also be noted that this 35.6% share of the vote figure remarkable similar to the 32.9% share that the SNP feel gives them a mandate at Holyrood.

Of course, on one level, none of this matters - it was all a bit of banter amongst friends. On another it very much does. The SNP will play this card again and again next year at the Scottish Parliament elections and in 2015 during the Westminster campaign. They will do their best to make the allegation stick. The Scottish Liberal Democrats will need to be prepared to fight it. At least the facts are on their side.


P.S. Twenty years ago this would have all have mattered much more, of course. The advent of devolution, albeit in rather imperfect form, means that such arguments are redundant.

Must be the Music

As most people know, I'm a bit of a fan of reality TV shows, although I don't watch them indiscriminately. With most, a healthy dose of cynicism is required. There's always an element of pantomime in such shows, and hyperbole is rife.

Last night, Sky's new talent show "Must be the Music" started. Heavily billed (as was Five's lacklustre "Don't Stop Believing") as being a different type of talent show which was less about the judges and all about the acts, it had a lot of it's own hype to live up to. Did it succeed?

Yes, I think it did. The programme's unique selling point is that it is open to Singer-Songwriters, Bands and  Musicians irrespective of age or genre. Artists can perform a cover version or their own material. In fact, unlike singing contests such as The X Factor, original material is positively encouraged. After the acts perform the votes judges' decisions are announced before with the feedback following rather than having a long drawn out section during which the judges comment and then vote.

The biggest difference, though, is that although the show isn't about the judges in a sense it is. All the publicity material has featured pictures of the three judges - Dizzee Rascal, Jamie Cullum and Sharleen Spiteri. All three have reached the top as Singer-Songwriters and Performance and been rewarded with both commercial and critical success - including (variously) the Mercury prize, Brits and Ivor Novello awards. As such, their feedback carries more weight than it would if they were, say, a pop artist and is more empathetic than that of a producer who is interested in the commercial potential.

Having high profile judges is also a reason to watch the show. Without the involvement of Spiteri, I think this would have passed me by. As it happens I'm glad I didn't. Earlier this year Sky has a big success with Got to Dance - with Must be the Music they've done it again.


P.S. Don't get me wrong, when The X Factor recommences next Saturday, I'll be cheering and booing along with the best of them!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Jawdropping (3)

I'm not normally a fan of Porsches, but this is no ordinary Porsche. I'm ambivalent about Hybrids, but this is no ordinary Hybrid.

The 918 Spyder can do 0-62mph in just 3.2 seconds but can also achieve at least 78mpg (although I've also seen the figure of 94.1!)


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Dark August

I've gone for a seasonal poem as the latest addition to my anthology. Over the past few days it's been a bit wet - although now the weather has turned nice again, at least here in Bristol - this doesn't seem quite so appropriate as it did. You can't win them all, though...

Dark August by Derek Walcott
So much rain, so much life like the swollen sky
of this black August. My sister, the sun,
broods in her yellow room and won't come out.

Everything goes to hell; the mountains fume
like a kettle, rivers overrun; still,
she will not rise and turn off the rain.

She is in her room, fondling old things,
my poems, turning her album. Even if thunder falls
like a crash of plates from the sky,

she does not come out.
Don't you know I love you but am hopeless
at fixing the rain ? But I am learning slowly

to love the dark days, the steaming hills,
the air with gossiping mosquitoes,
and to sip the medicine of bitterness,

so that when you emerge, my sister,
parting the beads of the rain,
with your forehead of flowers and eyes of forgiveness,

all with not be as it was, but it will be true
(you see they will not let me love
as I want), because, my sister, then

I would have learnt to love black days like bright ones,
The black rain, the white hills, when once
I loved only my happiness and you.


Monday, 9 August 2010

Iconic Images 8

I spotted this in the background of a scene on Sherlock last night. Reminds me of going swimming as a kid, before I knew what "petting" was!

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Sunday, 8 August 2010

Inception - A high-concept heist film

I went to see Christopher Nolan's Inception this afternoon. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this is set in a world where the US military has developed a technology for sharing dreams. Initially this meant that service personnel could engage in close combat without concern of death as while pain in dreams is real - death would only cause the subject to wake up. This  technology has been adapted outside the military and is being used for, amongst other things, industrial sabotage.

DiCaprio plays a former "architect" - the term given to those who create the dream worlds to be utilised - who is haunted by personal tragedy and is unable to return to the States to be with his children. Engaged as an "extractor" to steal commercial secrets, he is then offered a contract for which payment would be entry to the US. All he has to do is plant a thought into the subject's subconscious - the "inception" of the title. The only problem is that this is something which is believed to be impossible or at least extremely difficult.

He accepts the assignment and puts together a team, and a plan, to achieve the objective. Will things go to plan? Will he escape the dreams that haunt him? In this world of reality and dreams, what is truly real?

Nolan succeeds in creating a world where this technology is taken for granted and doesn't labour this in the set-up of the plot. He also interweaves the backstory of DiCaprio such that the film is not merely an all-action blockbuster. This is an action thriller with an intriguing concept at it's heart - as such is in the mould of The Matrix.

DiCaprio is very good as the troubled architect-turned-extractor and the cast includes Ellen Page as a brilliant young architect and Tom Hardy as a forger with the ability to change his appearance in the subconscious world. Indeed, the whole cast - complete with cameos from Michael Caine - turn in enjoyable performances.

I really enjoyed the film, and although the start is frenetic and confusing, by the mid-way point things are relatively clear. While some elements may be predictable, the film still has a suitably ambiguous ending. My only real criticism is that the Hans Zimmer soundtrack was a but a bit overwhelming in places. If you've not already seen it, Inception would definitely be a film I recommend heartily.


Thursday, 5 August 2010

5 on the 5th - August

It's that time of the month again - Stephen's 5 on the 5th. This month the nominated theme was "On The Road". Here are my contributions:

(Nothing) On The Road Street

On In The Road

(Cones) On The Road

On Under The Road

On Over The Road


P.S. Make sure you visit Stephen's blog, and remember you're always welcome to contribute to 5 on the 5th!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Hey Ayatollah!

Yesterday I read this interesting blog about the banning of music in Iran. By coincidence yesterday evening, I heard an interview from last friday's Today programme with Blurred Vision. They have produced a version of Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall featuring the line "Hey Ayatollah, leave those kids alone."

The band is fronted by two Iranian Canadians and they have produced the song, with the blessing of Roger Waters, to raise awareness of the oppression of democracy in Iran. Known only by their first names - to avoid reprisals to relatives - they have harnessed the power of You Tube to achieve worldwide media attention.

Here's the song:

You can find out more about them on their facebook page, and the Radio 4 interview with them can be found here (probably only available in the UK and I'm not sure how long for).


Monday, 2 August 2010

Roll of Honour 2

A year ago, I wrote this blog in which I trumpeted the achievements of the British Athletics team at the World Championships in Berlin. Yesterday in Barcelona, this years European Championships came to an end.

The target for the team was 15 medals; the result was 19 (6 gold, 7 silver and 6 bronze) and a third place position behind Russia and France.

My congratulations go to the whole team for their efforts and to all our medalists and those that set personal bests. Here's a gallery of our Gold Medalists:

Mo Farah - 5,000m and 10,000m

Jessica Ennis - Heptathelon

Phillips Idowu - Triple Jump

Dai Greene - 400m Hurdles

Andy Turner - 110m Hurdles

Roll on the Commonwealth Games, 2011 World Championships, 2012 European Championships... oh, and the small matter of the London Olympics in 2012...


Sunday, 1 August 2010

Back with a Bang

Here are some photos of last night's fireworks at Bristol's Harbour Festival.