Thursday, February 20, 2003

otter madness
Can't contain my glee! Gotta tell someone - wanted to tell my family, my friends, everybody - I was walking across that same broad stretch of prefab concrete I always talk about, that city-centre bathed bridge, and I was looking as usual at The Odd Couple. (Better explain I guess - there's a broken pipe that's just above water level, and for some reason there's always two mangy pigeons squatting in it, hiding from the seagulls; don't know if they're ever the same ones, but they're the odd couple.)
Anyway, then I noticed they were watching something in the water, a big stick. Then I look away for a second, and there's ripples spreading out from the stick, so I look back, and it's an otter! A genuine otter, that's just rolled over, and is looking at me not twenty feet away. He's got a fish clutched in his front paws, and as I watch he bites into it, and then rolls back under the water. I watch and I think I've lost him, and the he's back, still with the fish!
So I stand there for ten minutes watching, and now I'm the happiest man alive, click-heels, air-jump ecstatic. I've seen an otter; it feels like I've swum with a blue whale, or wrassled a moose.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

There's a oak tree somewhere, in distant memory. It's not an old oak, it's not even a royal oak. It's just an oak, and it stands just beneath the crest of a hill spreading its branches. It's roots go deep, not because the water-level's low, but because there's grass on the ground and shallow roots would choke it. Instead of bare earth a green carpet stretches right up to the base of the tree, mingling with the moss that's starting to climb its flanks.
Now I'm a lover of comic books and of computer games; I experience the same bloody pleasure from each; yet I'm a pacifist, and I have qualms about my loves. I've seen pictures of the effects of war, real faces in real deaths, and it disturbs me when I play games that replicate this so easily. Under that tree's kin I'll have read books where my kin are torn and mutilated, and my enjoyment of this make-believe is ebbing, not with guilt but with moral repugnance.
Now Dubya and his kin would have us go to a war. Knowing the death this would involved I cannot agree, not unless more lives were lost in the inaction than in the action. Granted I value happiness too, but the fact that we all have but one life to live and that life would end in 500,000 cases in terrible pain and misery under Bush's plan seems a horrendous weight against his argument from the start. The argument has not been made with great care anyway, and with his WASP/harvard/business/religious background every move he makes is suspect. Saddam is not a nice man; but there is a feeling that George would be worse if he could be. For this reason the world's boisterous stand against the man fills my heart like bubbled molasses, and I thank the obstinate types of this world dearly, like they care.
I used to have odd fancies when I was younger about how the world worked. Because I decided early on, probably too early if truth be told, that value systems are arbitrary and that you make your own point in life, I would concoct various ways of living that I'd think the ultimate and fall whole-heartedly into for a couple of motnths.
One of these was a questioning one, y'know, a dull everyday event would happen, in which I'd change a single person's day by an iota, and I'd find myself thinknig "Was that it? Was that what I'm here for?" Not in a religious way, because that's just a dull overworked idea, but more in a "being an element in another's dream" way.
Similarly, after reading a little too much of the end of A Tale of Two Cities and The Trial of Charles I I found myself falling again into the martyring (but purposeful) track of Sidney Carlton, thinking to myself which of my friends, family and acquaintances I'd be willing to die for. Odd chain of thought, as it leads to distinctly disturbing conclusions about the value of lives with regard to age, intelligence, and unquantifiable things like compassion; but then again we all develop our own private value systems, just that we refuse to admit them to ourselves. Or is that the fallacy of the universalised self again, am I thinking because I think this everybody thinks this, therefore this is right. Ah, it's too late, port has made me weary, and philosophy befuddles my aging brain. I'll bid you a jew, and raise you a shia.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Error. Click here for information.
Everything you ever wanted to know about crisps, but were too fat to ask.

Strap 25
I can't be arsed writing a strap. What follows is a boring story about... crisp! Yay! woo woo!

body 500

Two small babies. Eight bags of sugar. That's how much you, Joe Public, eat in crisps per year; a german eats twice that. A man in Texas once ate ten times that. And the list of delicious deep-fried statistics goes on. But one thing is for certain; we don't know as much about that fried lump of starch as we should.

Railway tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt would've; he was famed for his fastidious tastes, back in 1853. Native American chef George Crum would've too; he was king of his thick fries. After Vanderbilt had sent his too-fat chips back to Crum's kitchen for the umpteenth time, Crum blew his top, and shredded the chips into deep-fried slivers. Vanderbilt loved them and Crum's invention rapidly spread. So in conflict was the humble potato chip born.

Of course we Brits are justly famed for our crisp-love; we might only consume 8.5 million packs ourselves, but Walkers sends 4.5 billion round the world. Our little romance with this mandolined tuber started long ago. History says that Walter Raleigh brought the potato back from the Americas and presented it to Good Queen Bess back in 1570. Making a salad out of the leaves didn't prove as popular, and Raleigh was forced to explain (ever with the axe hanging over him) that the root was the edible bit.

The first proper British crisps were made back in 1913, by Mr Carter (like the best English food after the French fashion.) Since then of course we've gone from strength to strength, proliferating styles and flavours like only the most pernickety nation on earth could do. They stretch from the humble Smith's Square to the grotesque moreishness of Monster Munch to Proctor and Gamble's reformed pizza sized behemoth (two foot across, and on show in a US museum.)

Crisps invade every walk of life; they appear on the telly, they're turned into loveable cartoon characters, and they're endorsed by celebrities. Giant Haystacks was a Skips fan; Derek Nimmo loved his Space Invaders; and Gary Lineker is infamous for his endorsement of Walker's, getting paid £100,000 every time he gets a mention in. Even Yasser Arafat has his own brand, available in tasteful intifada colour schemes with a tenth of a cent going to his cause from every pack sold.

Whither the crisps of the future? It looks like the crisp market may split, with the esoteric potato forms and flavours spinning off up their own wotsit, and the 'real crisp' advocates taking the organic products back to basic. As Barney Rooney, an online organics expert says "The new crisps are tasty but for a bit of rough, they've ideas above their station. What's next? Powdered, tenderised encrusted pork scratchings sprinkled with sea salt?"

Two pints of lager and...
strap - we investigate the perfect potato-based accompaniments, whatever your taste.

The working man's drink needs some gritty crisps to go with it, something both filling and meaty in flavour. It has to be Lamb Monster Munch; each lump is hand-crafted from baked potatoes and mutton in the hills surrounding Aberstywyth, and dragged to the packing plan by rough ex-miners, who then stun the snack-beasts with welsh cheese before manhandling their struggling forms into the bags.

This southern drink really needs a cherry on the top, and a brolly on the side. Failing that we recommend Takeaway's Chinese Cracker crisps; delicate flutes of rehabilitated potato soaked in more E (numbers) than a rave, and more moorish than Granada. (The town, not the channel.) Try them with Takeaway's Deep Fried Blowfish for a true taste explosion.

Something for the lady
If it's sugary, highly alcoholic and ridiculously expensive then there's one counterbalance that might just save the evening (and stop her nicking your chips); pork crackling. Give 'er a bag of that, and every time she reaches for your bag, you slap her hand away, and point to her untouched scratchings. She'll start weeping at the horror of fat+ hair as a culinary treat, at which point you engulf her sobbing form in a manly hug, whilst moving your crisps carefully out of reach.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

Bought poetry today. Last night speaking plain (primogenitor: red wine) caused me problems (Sorry Mr Gillen!) so, upon remembering a desire for Auden and Eliot, I thought softening the betoothed tongue with dulcet vocab a "good thing." Went out and wasted money (what am I to spend it on - candles, wine and books?) on a pile of cheap books, to add to the embiggened collection spread cross my floor. As per usual, a nice girl at the counter flirted away (thought I was from Prague apparently), and I was too terrified to respond. As per usual came back and kicked myself. Arse. There goes sweete vesperes oth vocabe, back comes Anglo-Saxon. Arse.