Monthly Archives: January 2016

Good Eatin’: The End of August 2015

List Item: Try half of the combined 1001 food books

Okay, so the fact that I am able to write a post for 5-6 months in the future is making me think that I am going to start and do these 4 days a week. I will eventually catch-up, I know, but it is getting a bit stupid now.

Anyway, all of the food items here came from the latter half of August 2015. A lot of them in the final weekend when I stayed with my mum over the Bank Holiday weekend. The race for food #700 begins now.

Food item: Poutine

Thanks to some tracking down on Twitter I found out that there was a place called The Poutinerie that regularly sets up shop on Brick Lane. We already had plans to head back that way to buy some ‘thank you’ gifts for the wedding, so the stage was set to find my breakfast poutine.

The result? A gorgeous brunch. I was so prepared that hot crispy chips and cheese curds covered in a meat gravy could be disgusting. It was not. It was delicious and I am annoyed at how nice it was. I mean, I shared my poutine with the former-fiancée now-husband because I did not realise just how good it would be. I will know better for next time.

Food item: Wild Boar Sausages

Where did I find these? Iceland, of all the supermarkets. I’m not going to complain though as they were really good. Properly meaty and great in a cheap hot dog bun and a bit of mustard. I could not taste the apple in these, which made it easier to hone in on the meat. I wouldn’t say that the flavour was too different to pork, but there was something subtler at play compared to a standard pork sausage.

Food items: Black Tea and Maid of Honour

On a rather overcast Sunday at the end of August I went to Kew Gardens with my mum. Thanks to sheer chance, nearby was the Original Maids of Honour tea room – the home of the listed Maid of Honour tart.

So, of course we had to go for a full high tea in order to sample these tarts. I do enjoy tea every now and then. I choose not to drink it mainly because I would rather have a cold drink, but ’tis the season and this particular tea was flavoured with mallow flower.

As for the tarts, they tasted a lot like mini chess pies, but with a filo pastry bottom rather than shortcrust. They were pretty much like a type of custard tart, just super buttery and with a great history. Apparently these tarts trace their history back to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. How cool is that?

Food items: Biryani, Chicken Jalfrezi and Brinjal Bhaji 

So, even after an afternoon tea we managed to have space for a curry from the Maharani. First things first, I was shocked at just how good the brinjal bhaji is. Think of it as aubergine that has been cooked in a lot of oil, curry powder, chilli and a bunch of other spices. It was tender, lightly spiced and delicious.

The biryani and the chicken jalfrezi worked really well as a combination. Luckily for me, the jalfrezi that we got was more on the medium side than on the hot one. I know that, at some point, I need to try my hand at a vindaloo. This was not the time to do so. It was tomato and onion based curry that had a thick sauce that worked well with the more delicate spicing of the biryani. The biryani came with a vegetable curry of its own, but I preferred to have it with the jalfrezi.

Food item: Egg-in-the-hole

Okay, so this was one of those foods on the list that made little to no sense when I first saw it. Essentially, it is a slice of fried bread with a fried egg inside of a hole that you had earlier cut into it. There is nothing that sounds bad in this dish, apart from the whole cholesterol thing, which is a bit of a drag if you think about it for too long. It’s one of those quick and easy breakfasts that I am guessing is American – I am basing this solely on seeing it in American movies and never in a British production.

Food item: Roast Chicken

Since my partner does not like to eat poultry it is really hard to check these off. This is why time with my mum has the tendency to become a bit of a chickenfest. I mean, when she is putting the offer of a roast chicken on the table… well I can’t say no. The fact that she makes the best roast chicken just makes the pleasure all the greater.

So, 43 left until 700. Part of me would love to get there during our honeymoon in Japan – I guess I’ll just have to see if that happens.

Progress: 657/933

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XL Popcorn – High Noon / Little Caesar

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 454/1007Title: High Noon
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Year: 1952
Country: USA

Strange it is to see two films starring Gary Cooper through complete coincidence. The fact that Wings was one of his first film roles and today’s film, High Noon, is probably his most famous role makes this all the weirder.

It is useful though to be able to make such a direct comparison. Whilst I praised Wings for its groundbreaking nature I did feel there were some parts that didn’t quite gel work for me. His role in it was of vital importance even though he did not form part of the traditional love story (although the fraternal love story was by far the more tender of the two).

In High Noon, Gary Cooper is front and centre. He plays the recently married Marshall about to leave town with his new bride (a stunning Grace Kelly whose beauty and youth make it very clear that there is a substantial age gap between the two actors) who has to fight an enemy from his past.

I say has to. He is on his way out of town with his new bride and turns back to face them. Why? He says it is because they would hunt him and his new bride down, but the real answer lays somewhere in the region of pride, honour and obligation. By the end of the film it is pretty clear that whilst the first two hold water (although I hate pride as character motivation) he no longer needs to feel any hint of obligation.

Considering the number of places where I have seen High Noon being referenced there was always going to be a chance that it would never live up to the expectation. Once Upon A Time In The West is one of those films that suffered is fate. To be honest, Hjigh Noon was probably not as good as I expected (The Ox Bow Incident still wears the crown for favourite western) it was still a great watch.

I think the thing that got me most is the fact that it is told in real time. I mean sure, there are some brilliant characters including the Marshall, his former deputy Harvey and local saloon owner Ramirez (a very strong female character), but it is the use of real time that stuck out. It just created the sense of urgency that was needed.

This urgency, however, was continually undermined by the music. Now whilst I understand every Western of that era had a repeating motif, but did it have to appear everywhere? No, it did not. It’s difficult to have a moment of tension when you use the same piece of music as during a hopeful scene. It’s a real pity.

Still, it was a great western. One that would be a good introduction to the genre since it is a little light on a lot of the typical western fare. Although, if I am being honest, I would still use Rio Bravo as a film if only for the surprisingly great turn by Dean Martin.

Title: Little Caesar
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Year: 1931
Country: USA

A shorter write-up for this movie, mainly because there was a whole lot less for me to chew over after watching it. Yes, it is a notable example of an early talkie gangster film. In fact, due to its level of success this is possibly one of the THE most influential gangster movies.

The thing is, it is so very clear that this was an early-ish talkie movie since it used a lot of things that would become pretty much extinct within the next decade. The lingering focus on bar signs and menus to denote a change of settings and the use of intertitles instead of a narrator were two of these relics.

Little Caesar is a short film which is the films main weakness – it is hard to believe that the central character of Rico (aka Little Caesar) would have had such a meteoric rise. It feels too fast, too easy and he’s just not that good at what he does. It was an interesting watch, but not as good as High Noon.

Oscar Bait – Wings

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 79/88Title: Wings
Director: William A. Wellman
Year: 1927
Country: USA

Wings was the first film to win a Best Picture (or equivalent) at the Oscars. In the ceremony two such awards were given out; the other going to Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. 

Set in 1917, Wings is centred around three Americans from the same town who go to war. Two of them (Jack and David) go to fight as pilots whilst Mary follows the man she loves and takes on the role as an ambulance driver.

Thing is, that is not what makes Wings a really interesting film to watch. In fact, it is one of those films that should really be on the 1001 list, and here is why.

Firstly, the battle sequences are astonishing. Considering the fact that this is 1927 and that pretty much all of the fights were done using actual planes and pilots it was a joy to watch the acrobatics. I mean, I have seen quite a few battle sequences in silent movies (some of the best were in Intolerance), but these aerial battles were another thing.

And then, there is the scene from the picture that I chose to represent this film. Wings depicts two men kissing. Granted it is a kiss of friendship as a way to deal with one of them dying, but it is far more loving and tender than any of the other ‘romantic’ scenes. It was beautifully done and there is no doubt that it is all completely platonic – or at least it is love but not in that way.

This film was ground-breaking and whilst a lot of the battle scenes run a bit too long it is remarkably honest and arresting for a silent film.

Acclaimed Albums – The Joshua Tree & Achtung Baby by U2

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 87/250

Achtung_Baby
Title: The Joshua Tree
Artist: U2
Year: 1987
Position: #39
Title: Achtung Baby
Artist: U2
Year: 1991
Position: #80

There are certain musicians where I find it hard to separate how much of an arse I think they are from their musical talent (Kanye West and The Gallagher Brothers being the main examples), but somehow Bono has escaped this. Songs like ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’, ‘Beautiful Day’ and ‘With Or Without You’ rank fairly high on my personal favourites.

The last of those three songs leads me neatly onto the first album of this post – The Joshua Tree. 

Now, this really is an album you can fill stadiums with. The first three tracks on this album are all classics. ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ starts off really quiet, to the point where I was beginning to wonder if the sound on my laptop was working. Leading into ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, which is where the grandeur truly begins, and I began to realise that I would probably enjoy this album a whole lot more than How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.

This then goes into the peak of the album, ‘With or Without You’. I know it’s one of those songs that gets a lot of attention, but it does so for good reason. It’s an emotional tour de force and the rest of the album falls just below the level. The problem if you start an album with the three strongest tracks. Still, in terms of stadium albums this is really good and, apparently, perfect to glue LEGO models to.

Now, compare this to Achtung Baby and you have a really different group. Where on The Joshua Tree they were a lot more serious on this album you find more flippant lyrics such as ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’. Also, instead of populating a song with ‘worthy’political topics, as one would expect from U2, it looks more inward (such as ‘Ultraviolet’).

In terms of genre Achtung Baby is a lot closer to music that I would choose to listen to. I really enjoy the introduction of more electronic and experimental elements into the songs (just see ‘The Fly’ for what you mean), same goes for the greater sense of fun. The thing that lets it down, for me, is that there is no big stand-out track for me.

Hold on, wasn’t ‘One’ meant to be the big stand-out track? Yes, yes it is. I just don’t get why it is such a big deal. It’s a good song, but it is no ‘With Or Without You’. I prefer a lot of the other tracks on this album to ‘One’; ‘Mysterious Ways’ and ‘Even Better Than The Real Thing’ being just two examples. I don’t actively seek out contrarianism – it just finds me.

So, that’s U2 looked at for this Top 250. Next time, I am finally going to write up Bjork. I know those albums like the back of my hand so why not just do them?

Oscar Bait – Hamlet

List Item: Watch all Best Picture Winners (to date)
Progress: 78/88Title: Hamlet
Director: Laurence Olivier
Year: 1948
Country: UK

No, just no. In this year, the following films all saw a release: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Rope, The Snake Pit, The Red ShoesBicycle Thieves and Letter From An Unknown Woman. Yet, Hamlet won the Best Film awards at the Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTA, the Bodils and the Venice Film Festival. To be fair, Bicycle Thieves won the BAFTA a year later – but my point stands.

This is a place of honesty, I fell asleep during this film twice.

It is not that I am against slow paced films, period dramas or adaptations of Shakespeare plays. I have got a lot of examples of films that I have enjoyed that match any or all of these criteria. It’s just that this film did not work for me at all.

I’m not even sure that it was because Laurence Olivier being twice the age of the actress playing his mother was part of this. I am aware that this was a conscious choice to up the Oedipal nature of the text, so that’s fine. Odd, but fine.

What gets me, I guess, is how Olivier cut out half of the play and yet the full four hour version of Hamlet by Kenneth Branagh felt more interesting and better paced. I mean, how can you have an adaptation of Hamlet without Rosencrantz and Guildenstern? You can’t.

This 1948 version just felt needlessly decadent, overly vain and just bad. I know that this is probably me showing myself as a troglotite to a lot of people – but if I can sit and be gripped by a 4 hour silent movie about Napoleon, then something is just wrong here.

Still, at least this wasn’t as bad as Cimmaron.

XL Popcorn – Wake In Fright

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 452/1007Title: Wake In Fright
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Year: 1971
Country: Australia

Having sat through films like Salo, Irreversible and Audition it has come to pass that it takes a lot to truly shock me in the world of film making. Wake in Fright managed to come close to this in the, rather infamous, kangeroo hunting scene. I’ll leave this for now and will touch on this later in the write-up.

Wake In Fright goes to prove a number of things I have taken to be true. Many teachers are trapped and are looking for a way out, get a large group of guys together and bad things happen and that machismo is fucking awful.

I would like to think that this depiction of an isolated outback town is an exaggeration. That this excessive gambling and feeling of affront that accompanies the refusal of being bought a beer is just fiction. Who are we actually kidding though.

In many ways, Wake in Fright is a horror movie in the same way that Deliverance is also a horror movie. It is a deeply disturbing trek into the psyche of isolated men who pretty much have carte blanche and a lot of cheap beer.

This brings me to the hunting scene. I mean,  what can I say about this incredible barbaric and very much real scene depicting the slaughter of kangaroos. It was horrible knowing this all actually happened, and that there were kangaroos that were shot and managed to bound away with their intestines hanging out. Humans suck. Like really and truly suck. And yet I probably cringed more at Blood of the Beasts… which goes to how bad that film actually was.

This film is not for the faint-hearted. The depiction of a teacher being sucked into the underbelly makes for a really interesting picture. Same for how the machismo and gambling losses just ruin people. I just wish so many kangaroos didn’t have to die in order for this point to be made…

Acclaimed Albums – Led Zeppelin II & IV

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 85/250

Title: Led Zeppelin II
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Year: 
1969
Position:
#74
Title: Led Zeppelin IV
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Year: 1971
Position: #28

So my Kindle died on me this morning, currently on volume 3 of Clarissa for the book list, so I figured that I would try and get some albums in. Since, as of writing, the 2015 update of the Acclaimed Albums list was not out I figure that I might as well mine some of the safer entries for listens.

A while has passed since I listened Led ZeppelinPart of me thought that I would come back to it in the year afterwards, but it just didn’t happen. My distaste for too many guitar solos on one record probably kept me away.

Still, I have been thinking about a return to the later albums, if only for the iconic ‘Stairway to Heaven’. It’s one of those songs that everyone heard, if not heard of. I still find it amazing that it was able to gain so much traction despite not being released as a single. Where I am musically, I can pretty much take or leave it to be honest. In fact, whilst I definitely see how Led Zeppelin IV is better than their first album it was Led Zeppelin II that I enjoyed a whole lot more.

Maybe it was because the opening track, ‘Whole Lotta Love’, made me think of those Friday nights as a boy watching Top of the Pops. I certainly don’t think it is because of a love of that kind of hard rock music, because that is not true, there is just something about the album that was far more attention-grabbing and could then keep hold of it. It even provided a good backdrop for some of the more tedious office work.

So yes, it appears that with Led Zeppelin II  I have found an album by led Zeppelin that I enjoy. Led Zeppelin IV? Not as much.

It’s Good To Share & It’s Good To Win

Full disclosure, I was going to do another album write-up (it has been a month after all), but here I am in mid-August and the 2015 of the albums list is yet to materialise. Instead I’m still cleaning out the back catalogue of bucket list cross-offs with something more positive than my recent teaching post.


List item: Share something you love with someone else
Status: Completed

Okay, so this is a bit of a easy one. Still, it’s one of those things that I probably should do more often and I acutally got proof of it this time!

I think I have mentioned before that I love Sufjan Stevens. This also means that when it is Christmas time I tend to play his Songs for Christmas albums ad nauseum. If you are in the mood for a strange Christmas metaphor that ends in a festive cover of Joy Division, then ‘Christmas Unicorn’ really is the song for you.

As a Sufjanatic I guess I feel it is my duty to share his music…

 

List item: Win an award
Status: Completed

Okay, so this happened a while ago now but I am still super proud of this. I know some people think work awards are a bit lame, and I would normally agree if I had not won one, but this felt like all the extra work I had been putting in had been noticed.

I didn’t accept this gracefully either. Where everyone else sheepishly got up on stage, accepted the award and then walked back down… I went a bit further. Like, holding it above my head and nodding my head as if I was some faded rockstar receiving a lifetime achievement award. It got some cheers from the back, though.

Professional behaviour kinda flies out of the window when I am super-psyched.

The thing is, I had an all day meeting that day. My line manager (thanks to advance warning) got me to come over thinking it was something properly mandatory and business-like and there it was, divisional awards.

Okay, I’m lame. But as someone who doesn’t win things this was a major deal :).

1001 Songs – 1934 – 1940

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Mal hombre – Lydia Mendoza (1934)

What strikes me most here is that it is just her and her guitar. A simple but very heartfelt song about a titular ‘Bad Man’. I guess it’s on here because it was the start of the popularity of Mexican-Americans in the charts. Proof that girl power was around in music even back in 1934

Hula Girl – Sol Hoopii (1934)

Hawaiian music that apparently inspired a dance craze. Nowadays it feels more like music you would hear in Spongebob Squarepants. In fact, it might have been… might have to check that out. In any case, it is fun, toe-tapping and feels very much from the thirties. The twang is very proto-country, which is just strange to think that country musicians are unknowlingly playing guitars the Polynesian way.

Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By) – The Carter Family (1935)

Talking of country music, here is one of the other big influences on country music guitar playing. The song itself is about a funeral of a family member (a very country music topic) and features close harmonies by the then-current members of the Carter family. This is definitely before country and americana music split into the more distinct genres that we know of today.

Cross Road Blues – Robert Johnson (1936)

Sadly this is a rather poor recording from the man who supposedly sold his soul to the devil to become a better blues musician (thanks Coen Brothers that that nugget of information). A blues song about hitching a ride and all the associated troubles…

Hellhound on My Trail – Robert Johnson (1937)

…now this is a better recording. Feels like a continuation of the myth that Johnson perpetuated about his relationship with the ‘darkness’ and hell hounds. Listening to these it’s rather clear that he grew up in a rather fire and brimstone Christian area. Might be why those outside the area misconstrued these references for the so-called contract.

Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday (1939)

The first truly iconic songs encountered on this list so far. The imagery of lynched African Americans as the titular ‘Strange Fruit’ made this a harrowing poem. Add a subdued backing track to the arresting vocals of Billie Holiday – well it makes you stop what you are doing and listen. Many songs in these days pulled their punches, but this certainly did not. The vivid describtions of bulging eyes and twisted mouths interwoven with what we would think of when seeing a tree ripe with fruit is astonishing. It’s sickening to think that things are still like this in some places. I just hope that this song forms part of the curriculum in the US because sometimes it is essential to remember things like this.

Over the Rainbow – Judy Garland (1939)

A nice antidote to ‘Strange Fruit’. Where the last song was despair and protest, ‘Over The Rainbow’ is all hope and dreams for the future. Whilst it is hopeful it is also distinctly bittersweet. At the end is the question of why can the singer not reach the rainbow when others can. Recovery had happened in America after the Great Depression, but this was still the era of the Dust Bowl where many Americans were struggling to fulfill the American Dream as promised to them. Thinking historically, it makes as much sense for them to be singing this whilst trying to comfort those who are descending into hopelessness.

The Gallis Pole – Lead Belly (1939)

After the previous two iconic offerings the next one was always going to fall a bit flat. The song itself, later covered by Led Zepplin as ‘Gallows Pole’ is interesting lyrically, but on the recording it is rather hard to discern what he is saying a lot of the time. This may be on the list becase Lead Belly is one of those big influences, but in terms of the song this is the first one where I am struggling for things to say.

Mbube – Solomon Linda & The Evening Birds (1939)

Most of us will know this song under the title of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. My ears perked up when this started because to hear something so familiar was rather unexpected. The fact that this song was stolen, became a huge success and the writer died pretty much penniless is appalling. I will not be able to watch that scene in The Lion King in the same way again.

Java Jive – The Ink Spots (1940)

This is a love song about coffee. After the more philosophical songs about death, hope and colonialism it is a refreshing way to end this batch of songs. There is no other layer to this song, it’s just about wanting a cup of coffee. This is something that really should have been the unofficial theme song of Gilmore Girls.

Progress: 20/1021

XL Popcorn – Mad Max

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 451/1007Title: Mad Max
Director: George Miller
Year: 1979
Country: Australia

With the release of Mad Max: Fury Road and all the media surrounding it I was, weirdly, ill prepared for the original Mad Max movie. I expected weird outfits, constant carnage and tripped-out vehicles. It was nothing like that.

Knowing that there have been three films since the first entry in the Mad Max franchise I see more of what this was meant to be: the origin story. The thing is, that back then that would not have been so clear. That this is the film where Max gains his ‘mad’ designation after losing all that is dear to him.

If this was a stand alone film it would probably not play as well as it does now. The acting of the motorcycle gang is a little ‘chewing the scenery’ at times, the sound is inconsistent to the point that I had to alter the volume every scene and for the first 20 minutes I wasn’t entirely sure what was happening since a victim and a bike gang member looked so similar.

That being said, the chase scenes were brilliant and the director knew exactly how to up the tension. As someone who has seen a lot of films, the fates of a number of characters were pretty obvious. Still, you felt genuine fear for them.

Also, this film did something that is going to make me look like an arsehole for praising – they killed the child. I don’t want to see films full of dead children, but so many just chicken out of doing something that would hit so hard. For that alone, I have to tip my hat to the director.