I was diligently following a recipe called “How to make the perfect roast potatoes” Thinking, if I can achieve perfection Here in my kitchen That would be really quite major Offsetting all thoughts of career failure.
Like – alright, Macron You might have become President of France At the age of 39 And live in the elysee palace Rather than a 3 bed terrace But have you knocked out perfect roast potatoes Not just exceptional Not just blinding Perfect.
No. No, you haven’t.
So clear in my superiority I knuckled down and followed the recipe Par boiling to the second, Interspersing garlic among the King Edwards and as I sat there oven side, like a midwife I thought to myself I’m alright.
In terms of bread, is there a bread more bread-like, bringing more pure, unadulterated bread pleasure, than a bagel?
The answer is obvious, but as this is a blog let’s talk around the subject a bit before giving the answer about 400 words further down the page.
Numbers first. A normal, workaday roll comes in at a modest 133 calories. A bagel packs more than twice the calorific punch, coming in at an impressive 289 calories.
These raw, inarguable stats, are at the heart of the bagel’s appeal.
But the bagel isn’t just a heavyweight bread – it is also the most delightful to have and to hold.
As with all the best designs, the bagel’s perfect composition has a utilitarian purpose that would have the Bauhaus lads purring. The hole in the middle provides more surface to allow the thing to bake more quickly and has the added advantage…
Finally there is a chewing gum which accurately
reflects the British class system
a gum on which the professional can chew
safe in the knowledge it is way more distinguished
than Wrigleys spearmint or Juicy Fruit
I look forward to the other gums in the range
Orbit working class and Orbit immigrant
so every chew knows its place
and doesn’t find itself embarrassed
in the wrong class of face
I hope, one day, people will recognise Orbit
professional as a watershed moment, with
the government taking heed and ensuring everything
we buy comes with a strict traffic light
class guide alongside the nutritional advice
That way, you could know for certain
if Innocent Foods really are too posh
or if Chicago Town pizza is,
by your standards, a low class of nosh
In the meantime I, a middling civil servant,
can sit back with my Orbit, chewing and relaxing, happy…
Despite there being no evidence for this whatsoever, my predictive text seems to think that I constantly want to use the word ducking.
Perhaps I should write a formal letter,
I am writing to you, very politely, to say that as a small man and I am rarely, if ever, ducking.
Did napoleon duck the big issues?
No. And nor do I.
I do, however, occasionally get slightly irritated by some things (humans, etc) which occasionally gives me cause to colour my language. So when I hit the f, and follow it with, ucking, there is no mistake.
You know when you come up with an idea for a big project at work and you think:
“I’m over my head with this. I need buy in and sign off from someone senior. Like mad senior. Like crazy mad senior sign-off for this shit to fly like a motherfucker and shit.”
And, yeah, you may not have an internal monologue like an English white kid trying to act like an American black kid trying to act like a dick, but you get my drift. When I decided I wanted to write a blog about the highly important subject of Quorn Savoury Mini Eggs, I knew I couldn’t just go ahead, willy-nilly.
I needed to consult Average Food Blog founding father, chief rabbi and vegetarian king pin, Joshua Seigal. I went to his north west London abode to do just that.
I knocked on Joshua’s door. He greeted me civilly…
“You aren’t going to tell the truth, are you?”
“You were! You were, weren’t you? You were going to tell the truth!”
“The truth. Of all things.”
“I was just going to say…”
“I don’t want to hear it. If you can’t think of a decent lie, don’t say anything at all.”
“Even a cheap one. A cleesh. A fucking, aliens abducted my fat arse and took me on a circuit round the earth and I saw it, I saw it all, darling, it was blue, the blue bits, they were blue, and the other bits, they were other colours, and the aliens they spoke like Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, they spoke like, “you’ll never believe who I had in my spaceship the other day.” “Who did you have, Pete?” “I’m glad you asked me that, Dud. I was in my spaceship.” “Right.” “I was in my spaceship, and who came and knocked on my door but Tony Bloody Blair.” “All bloody, was he, Pete?” “No, Dud, it’s just a turn of…” and they go on chatting and chatting like that, funny it was, at first at least, but bloody hell after you’ve had those two Pete and Dud aliens bantering for fourteen hours straight, you just want to get off the spaceship, that’s all you want to do is get off the spaceship and come back, in the morning, in the morning after you have spent the night abducted by aliens, all you want to do is come back, back to your wife.”
“That is – exactly – how it was.”
“That’s right. That’s how it wasn’t. And things that aren’t like that, aren’t going to happen again, are they?”
I have always viewed the Mercury Prize with suspicion. The most salient reason for my suspicion is that M People won the award in 1994 with their soul-sapping soul album, Elegant Slumming. If that is what it takes to win the thing, it raises the question, what were the judges looking for? An album to make children realise there is no hope?
Fortunately, things couldn’t get that bad again. Even in 2007, when the frankly shocking Klaxons won, the British people could rest easy in the knowledge they weren’t as bad as M People.
This year’s nominees have been picked with a caution appropriate to an award sponsored by Barclaycard. (Note to Sleaford Mods: stop being so working-class, and so angry, and you might have a chance.) However, the list of nominees is rather exciting. Yes, there is a fair amount of turgid rubbish – but at least it is turgid rubbish we can hate with some vigour. And there are four or five albums which are very good, two outrageously so.
I have waded through Spotify listening to this stuff, and here is my summary of the runners and riders:
Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Listening to this album is like watching Ryan Giggs play football over the past few years.* Damon’s a bit slower than he used to be, but still better than most, and occasionally spectacular. Here, he has assimilated his work on soundtracks, world music and even opera to potent, if restrained, effect on this sumptuous, sighing, swooning album.
*NB: Not like Ryan Giggs’s private life. That would have been a WHOLE different album, probably by Chris Brown. And R Kelly. And Goldie Lookin’ Chain.
Jungle – Jungle
The people in this group have named their band and their album Jungle, yet they do not produce jungle music. That’s a devious, deceitful moniker they’ve adopted, like opening a public school and only letting in rich people. In any case, their bland, superficially cool “soul” music sounds like something Huw Edwards would listen to while taking his mistress for a drive in the drop-top on a Sunday.
Anna Calvi – One Breath
Music for people who like Fleetwood Mac, and want to take a bold step into the future.
Royal Blood – Royal Blood
Murky thud-rock, the sound of a growly fart endlessly shuddering through your bowels. (I’m a vegetarian. I know.)
Despite this, it appears the record industry has decided Royal Blood are the rock band of choice for the next 6-12 months. Therefore, there is every likelihood we will see this witless duo prowling through the UK’s larger live venues, acting with all the subtlety and bonhomie of an underfed, undersexed invading army. Talking of which, I reckon this music would be hugely popular with the Russian army (although, on second thoughts they’re all probably listening to the new one from U2. Or, more likely, Living on a Prayer).
FKA Twigs – LP1
I don’t know what she’s singing about, and I don’t care. FKA Twigs sounds filthy, and weird, like Bjork has gone up to heaven and done an album with Aaliyah. Marvellous.
Nick Mulvey – First Mind
The kind of hellish folk music that makes me want to start a riot in Waitrose and set the Cotswolds on fire. I tolerated track one. On track two he rhymed “sadness” with “gladness”, at which point I switched off, fearing further provocation.
East India Youth – Total Strife Forever
Brilliant minimalist electro-folk. I don’t have anything witty to say about this. Simply a very good album, with a lovely mix between vocal and instrumental tracks. A proper reviewer might call this an unalloyed joy.
Polar Bear – In Each and Every One
A work of genius from start to finish. The only album on this list I would declare a masterpiece. However, to give some context: that is an electro-jazz masterpiece. Which means, if you like Bitches Brew, Detroit techno, and a bit of freak-rock, then this is right down your alley. If you like tasteful middle-of-the-road rock such as Anna Calvi, this might make you run for the Anderson shelter (and if you haven’t got one, gawd help you!).
Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow
Music I would be excited about if I hadn’t heard any other music.
Kate Tempest – Everybody Down
Kate Tempest picks up awards as regularly as I pick up houmous from Londis. That is, about three to five times a week. The woman, while being a poet and rapper with a rare gift for storytelling, has somehow been designated as having a higher purpose: to win awards. I tend to hear about awards because Kate Tempest has won them. I am therefore going to stick my neck out and say, as this is an award, and Kate Tempest has been nominated, she will win it.
There are good reasons for her winning. Her poetry feels urgent, visceral, and vaguely zeitgeisty. She has turned a marginal interest – poetry – into something which can be heard on Radio 1. This is good for everyone, including myself, in the spoken word scene.
Her show, Brand New Ancients, was the best thing I saw on stage last year. That said, I’m not quite such a big fan of this album. It is well above average, but the interplay between words and production is not as seamless as, say, Young Fathers (see below). Over here is the music. Over there is Kate. They are good, but separate. It is still a solid album, however, and, more than likely, an award-winning one.
Young Fathers – Dead
If OutKast were from Edinburgh they might sound like this. Young Fathers prove that the Scots are pound-for-pound the best songwriters on earth. This is dark, uncompromising rap music, yet always tuneful, musically fantastic, and often surprising. A welcome antidote to commercial UK rap. And only 34 minutes long.
There are two fundamental issues at the heart of the Scottish independence debate: Independence from what? And for what? The answers to both questions seem obvious. Independence for Scotland means independence from the UK, or, more specifically, from rule from London. And it would be independence for Scotland to pursue its own policies. Dig a little deeper, though, and we find that the answers are not nearly so straightforward.
The nationalists seem strangely reluctant truly to break away from Westminster. The SNP wants, for instance, to keep the British Queen as the head of state – a more potent symbol of an undemocratic system and of ‘London rule’ it would be hard to imagine. It wants also to keep sterling as its currency, a policy which would hand the Bank of England and the British Chancellor of Exchequer considerable control over the Scottish economy. For all the talk of breaking…
I am woken by the door bell being rung repeatedly, the same bell I had ignored on my first morning in Yerevan. Today, I scramble into t-shirt and trousers and answer the door, to find a small, severe, grey-haired woman, all handbags and narrow eyes, stood there. She speaks in tones equal to her appearance, first in Armenian, then in Russian, at which point I declare that I am English and, consequently, haven’t a clue.
She takes my lack of understanding as a ploy, and not a very good ploy, and we are both talking across each other, she jabbing her finger at me, me lifting my shoulders and showing the palms of my hands, Larry David-style, when an elderly gentleman appears from across the hall and asks, in English, if I am English.
“Yes,” I confirm.
He gives a wave of the hand, as if to say, leave all this to me, and picks up the thread with the old lady. After a few moments he reveals that she is a tax collector, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. If ever there was a woman who was purpose-built for scaring people into handing over their hard-earned, this was the woman. I give her a phone number, and she retreats down the stairs, displeased but, temporarily, defanged.
I turn to the old man, suntanned, baldheaded, charming, and after exchanging names and handshakes, he says, “I am leaving Armenia…I have a brother in California…the Russians, they are coming…I remember the Soviet days, not good…they want to build another empire, they are too strong…we cannot stop them.” I agree in a noncommittal way (just in case there are any Russians lurking on the stairwell, taking notes), before we return to our respective flats.
Later that day, the doorbell rings again, and once again I am woken by it, despite it being early afternoon. (I’d had a late breakfast, and subsequently gone to bed to read, and – would you credit it, I mean would you?? – dozed off.)
It is the suave old man from across the hall. He invites himself in and sits down delicately on the sofa.
“You are tired, maybe?” he asks, and I deny it, although I can feel that my face is red and blotchy from sleep. I sit up, cross-legged on a chair and look attentively at him, in his old man summertime clobber of polo shirt, khaki trousers and tennis shoes.
“Perhaps you would like some work…smuggling?” he says to me, enquiringly. “My friend has an Iranian passport and it is very easy.”
I look at him as if he is a character in a Graham Greene novel, which, given his vintage, isn’t impossible.
“I am on holiday,” I say, which he ignores.
He proceeds to talk in a casual, elegant, if mildly intimidating fashion about The Russians, Iran, the Twin Towers, The Russians again, Edward Snowden and British spies of yesteryear, the Taliban, a forthcoming terrorist attack in London, which will happen, very soon, The Russians yet again, before waving his hand and summarising with, “these things, they are connected.”
I wonder if I should ask some questions about the type of smuggling he had in mind, and what the pay might be, but think better of it as it might encourage him, or, worse, make me laugh. Either way, I keep quiet.
Eventually, he asks, “Why are you in Yerevan?”
“I am on holiday,” I say again. “I might go to the museums and galleries.”
“Museumgallery, yes you might go,” he says, dismissing this as implausible. “And what is it you do?”
“I work in PR.”
“Public relations?” He muses upon this for a while. “Well, if you want to earn some money, you know where I am.”
And with that, the elderly gentleman rises, shakes my hand, and leaves the flat.
I was shopping in HMV in Hastings on Thursday looking for some pre-death bargains. Trouble was, even with the last rites having been read, the bargains were still not that good. It was only 25% off some stickered items, which shows they are continuing their unrealistic pricing policy to the very last. But I wanted to buy something, for the souvenir carrier bag if nothing else, so I picked up two books for a tenner.
I’m glad I did so because my last purchase from HMV might well be one of my best. In fact, I’d be prepared to say that this purchase was second only to buying the GZA’s Liquid Swords back in the 90s. Because one of those two books was Grow Up by Ben Brooks.
I was attracted by the pleasingly mordant front cover, and the quote on the inside sleeve from comedian / poet Tim Key who says Grow Up is “sickeningly good. So confident, so stylish. An unacceptably witty and confident debut.”
That was good enough for me. And if that’s not good enough to persuade you to pick up this book as soon as possible, I hope the rest of this blog will be. Because for the rest of this blog I will mostly quote little bits of the book and tell you to read Grow Up by Ben Brooks.
Grow Up, would you believe, is about growing up. There isn’t what you’d call a plot, just a series of incidents involving the main character and narrator, Jasper Wolf, who is a teenager who likes taking drugs and having sex and does not like revising for exams. He also does not like his step-dad, who he thinks did a few murders and is going to kill his mum.
Here follows some quotations from the book. You will notice Ben Brooks is really good at writing.
The comedown from mephedrone is my least favourite type of skiing.
Jasper on his counsellor: Sugar is pouring out of her lips. Sugar is only good when it is in tea. It is not good when it is coming out of the mouths of overpaid women in suits who think that they are emotionally shampooing me.
The shipping forecast is an extremely comfortable duvet.
Jonah’s mum has watched the news every day since her husband died in Afghanistan. She is just looking for someone to swear at. She swears indiscriminately. I have witnessed it often. She swears at Trevor McDonald, Hannah Montana and Gok Wan. She calls them all cunts.
The first Harry Potter film is playing on the television. A flock of bright boats are shifting over black water. I have seen this film more times than I have had sex. That is a statistic I need to reverse. I will begin by not watching it again.
Read Grow Up by Ben Brooks. It’s on Canongate Press. You can probably get it in a dying HMV branch, or if you care little for the fate of the High Street you can get it on Amazon. I’m ambivalent about where you source your copy. The main thing is you read it.