Spare Ribs and Fish Guts

29 04 2015

I’m reading a book at the moment that I bought in last year’s local Rotary Club book fair. It’s an anthology of some of Philip K Dick’s short stories. No less than 10 films have been spun from his stories, including Minority Report, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Adjustment Bureau and others. These stories obviously had merit enough to be spun up into full length films even though the original story might have only been a few pages long. Most of the stories in the anthology are a lot less spectacular. In fairness, most were written in the 50s and 60s and though tame (or lame) by modern standards, would still have been inspired and original back then.

One story is built around the concept that we all have our own world/reality. In it, everything goes just as it needs to, for our own benefit. Everything that happens – even the bad things – are ultimately for our benefit. Everyone else we encounter is basically there just for our amusement and aren’t really fully realised. They each have their own world where they are the focus and we are the bit players.

So I read this story today, and it got me thinking – as any worthy read should. I realised that the only reason I hadn’t written a more substantial “linking a few disparate ideas together” blog posting of late was basically because I hadn’t tried! I hadn’t looked for the links that are there for we pattern-seekers to find in any day we consciously experience. As humans we actually have to be careful to not find patterns and links where none actually exist. There’s a well documented phenomenon called pareidolia – one aspect of which is seeing human faces in inanimate objects or clouds, shadows, etc. I guess we’re so good at suppressing it that we forget to allow it to happen when we’re wanting a bit of creativity.

So today, we’re going to discuss spare ribs and fish guts. Hey – I never said the link couldn’t be tenuous!

I share an office and my colleague and I have known each other for many years. Since before I moved to Canada in fact. We know each other’s families well and rarely feel the need to be particularly discreet or guarded when speaking on the phone with our kith or kin. So today my colleague was speaking with his father about a recurring issue he has with a dislocated rib. Sounds painful, but apparently a bit of prodding and poking from a chiropractor (which I discovered is a North American witch doctor, but quite legal and covered by insurance despite being previously unknown to me in the Old Country) can rectify things. After the call, I was updated with the details and I jokingly suggested his father might have the troublesome rib removed. Indeed he could perhaps have it fashioned into a second wife. I think this quip surprised my devout friend because I am not known as being even slightly religious. This superficially seemed to confirm how deeply ingrained the judeo-christian traditions were within European society and how well known the biblical story of Adam’s rib was.

I then had to confess that the entire story was unknown to me until I was in college. I went to what then was an all-male college in Durham University – Grey College. It’s named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey of “The Duchess” fame. Tea too. Yes, that Earl Grey. Anyway, some time before I attended, there had been a motion passed that in addition to the usual dailies and several stoic publications like The Economist, the Junior Common Room would also subscribe to a publication called Spare Rib. If you’re not aware, this is a now-defunct UK feminist magazine. Pretty forward thinking for an all-male college really. Anyway, not being afraid to learn (I was after all purportedly at university for just that reason!) I had to ask what the name was all about, and someone or other set me straight about the biblical story regarding a rib, clay and whatnot.

Of course, I had to explain all this to my colleague and we quickly came across an early cover from 1972.

Wikipedia: Spare Rib 1972

Yes, that is John Cleese on the cover as “sleazy boss”. The headline reads “On the boss’s lap for Christmas – back under his thumb next year”. If you’d like to read the article on page 13 of this, the sixth edition, you can buy your very own copy for a mere £60 from Amazon.co.uk. Somewhat dearer than the original 17½p… even with inflation! I feel I must apologise that I could not ascertain the name of the young lady posed on Mr Cleese’s undeserving knee. If anyone can tell me, I’ll gladly add it to this piece. When I was a kid we actually had a mustard yellow rotary phone just like that on the table.

Today my day was pretty busy, trying to organise travel to Chicago, Connecticut and various European destinations. Also the UK, which is even now reluctant to admit it’s part of Europe. That 22 mile stretch of water has served the islands well over the millennia! Anyway, I found myself on LinkedIn trying to locate contact details of one of the clients I was to meet. Whilst trolling around various possible formats of his name and that of his company in vain, I noticed that I had received an invitation to link with someone and curiosity dragged me onwards.

The person desirous of my connection was a very northern European looking lady , but with a very Japanese name. Oh come on… you’d be curious too! I read on…

She was genuine as far as I could tell, and did indeed claim to speak Japanese, despite being a professor in a northern Icelandic university. The best bit though was her area of study. It was to do with the unexploited resources that are the byproducts of food processing. As well as vegetable trimmings (which just sounded a bit rude), my favourite was fish guts. It seems that there are useful antioxidants (and presumably other things) being discarded as part of our industrialised food creation.

Which brought me back to my lunchtime reading of “vintage” science fiction. My colleague had noticed the book and mentioned he had enjoyed reading the similarly vintage “Stainless Steel Rat” series when he was younger. I’ve not read them myself, but was aware of them, and surprised him that I knew they were penned by Harry Harrison. I knew this because Harrison also wrote a book called Make Room! Make Room! I haven’t read this either, but would very much like to. It is the novel from which the 1973 classic Soylent Green was derived. And there we have it. Spare rib, fish guts and a side of Soylent Green.

Now if I could only parley that into a trip to Iceland, we’d be golden…





Sad Story: Durham Loses Its Innocence – BuzzFeed News

28 01 2015

Really sad to read on Buzzfeed about the deaths of three students at my old university over the space of 14 months.

I understand the point of one of the commentators regarding the apparent blame of the victims for their drownings due to excess alcohol. Any death is sad, especially during what should be the most exciting 3 or so years of a young person’s life. It’s easy to say “things were different back when…”, but maybe it’s true.

Obviously river safety should be a concern for the City of Durham as a whole, but I think the student body should look to itself rather than seeking to blame others. Compared to the local population it is relatively privileged and certainly celebrating life to its fullest. The temptations to over-indulge are there, and more intense in today’s culture than ever before.

Of course there’s a chance they might not have died if there were better barriers along the river. Of course the temptation is lower if the price of alcohol is higher and the availability curtailed (the pubs closed at 10:30 when I was an undergraduate there). As far as we can tell though, nobody forced them to drink to the extent they did. Students have always pushed the envelope, but they are supposed to have higher than average intelligence and better than average decision making.

These deaths were tragic accidents, but I feel every one of us needs to take responsibility for our actions and their potentially fatal consequences.

How The Drowning Of Three Students In 14 Months Caused Durham To Lose Its Innocence – BuzzFeed News.





Haggis it’s OK.

30 01 2013

Now, despite my proud ownership of a blue Canadian passport, it can’t be denied that I was born in England. Yorkshire to be exact (as Yorkshiremen often are in such emotive matters of origin). I went to university slightly further North, in Durham. Slightly further North still (at least in galactic terms) lies Scotland, or Écosse as the more trendy Jacobeans would have it. The recent Burns Night celebrations reminded me of my collage days back in the early ’80s. The local Woolworth’s in Durham used to sell fresh (I use the term loosely)  haggis.

Being at a collegiate university, there was no need to cook or otherwise fend for myself during my undergraduate years. This was a major godsend (or Darwinsend, I suppose) to the hapless teenager I was then. I later matured and developed into a full-grown hapless adult, but that’s another story. In any case I remember acquiring at least one haggis (hey – it was 30 years ago – memories fade! I couldn’t swear to the exact number)  and cooking it.

Wikipedia: Durham Cathedral and Mill-house

Now, if you’ve never “partaken” of haggis, you’re missing out on one of life’s great experiences. Great as in large. It’s a personal decision whether it’s also great as in good. Memorable either way. Suffice it to say at this juncture that boiling up a haggis is a somewhat, er, pungent affair. Popularity was never one of my goals at university, and haggis-cooking pretty well excluded popularity from the horizon for a while.

Fast forward to a few days ago, and a cheeky exchange I had at work with a Scottish colleague. He proudly flies a St. Andrew’s cross on his desk, and I engaged in light-hearted nationalistic jest. I asked if he’d received a discount for said flag, as most of the white, and all of the red was missing. We both shared a laugh, but had to explain to the blank-faced “proper” Canadians about the various component flags making up the Union Jack. Anyway, conversation came around to wee Rabbie, and the Scots capability of making up a drinking excuse out of pretty much anything. From there, I lamented my failure to find haggis in the 12 years I’ve lived in Canada. I did however have to qualify that by admitting that I hadn’t actually, in all honesty, looked!

Wikipedia: Flag of St. andrew

Wikipedia: Union Jack

So tonight (there is a point to all this – stick with me…) Mrs E told me she’d bought me a present. Now this in itself is a massive event, so I rushed home with my mind’s eye full of Lamborghinis and holiday cottages. On arrival, I was told it was in the fridge. Strange place to keep a sports car, but hey ho. I gave up looking in the end, having incorrectly guessed that several bags of frozen blueberries and a loaf of unsliced bread were the goal.

No – there, hiding timorously  in the bottom tray, unassuming and shy was… a haggis! Frozen obviously, but a haggis nonetheless. The brand is Goodricks from New Westminster, BC. Purveyors, the label assures me, of quality meat products since 1987.

38846_143416432354535_3753815_n(Not sure how good their meat was before 1987, but that’s not the point here really, is it?) The ingredients list on my new haggis is short and to the point. In this day and age that in itself is a rare thing not to be undervalued.

The haggis itself does seem to be in a traditional sheep’s stomach, though it’s hard to tell through the frost-coated plastic. Nice to know there’s still a role for traditional sheep. Modern sheep with their piercings and tattoos remind me of a great New Zealand comedy-horror. But enough frivolity. The ingredients, I am assured in writing, consist only of the following:

  • Lamb Pluck
  • Oats
  • Spices
  • Onions
  • Stock

“Spices” of course can hide a multitude of sins, but otherwise pretty innocuous. Hang on though… “lamb pluck”? What in the name of Jamie Oliver is lamb pluck when it’s at home? It sounds like belly button fluff.

Enter my good friend Google…

Lamb Pluck, it would seem, is esophagus, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys… all still connected.

Lamb Pluck

egullet: Lamb Pluck

Well I guess that’s OK then. I thought it might have been something unsavory for a moment. What can I say? Well – “waste not, want not” springs to mind. I guess it depends on your upbringing. I frequently ate and loved the taste of lambs kidneys and liver too as a kid. I think I’d have drawn the line at lungs or heart – even in onion gravy – though on my trip to Brazil, I enjoyed many chicken hearts from the grill. (They’re like almonds – you can’t just have one. You need at least a handful.) I have also eaten “duck entrails soup” in a newspaper press-hall in China which I guess has pretty much the same ingredients… just with a dash of soya sauce.

Anyway, the haggis is defrosting in the fridge, and no doubt there will be complaints from the neighbours once I start to cook it. That’s OK – I’ll offer them a slice. Then tell them what’s in it.

I can be like that sometimes…





A Collection of Connections

22 01 2012

A few years ago, I went to the local cinema to watch The Duchess, a film starring Keira Knightley as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. She was born a Spencer, and though I can’t be bothered to research it – I’d not be surprised if she was a distant rellie of Diana (yes Charles’ dead ex). As the film unfurled, I realised that more and more connections with my own life were being drawn.

IMDB: The Duchess

IMDB: The Duchess

No, it’s not that I’m a minor royal or anything. Nothing so grand. When I arrived, I just knew it was “The Duchess”. Of where was at that point a mystery (OK – I didn’t care is more truthful, it was a chick flick and I was only there because my good lady wanted to see it.) Anyway, it turned out she was the Duchess of Devonshire, married therefore to the Duke… of Devonshire. Now, being from Yorkshire (opposite end of the country from Devonshire,) you’d think this would be of little import. However, The Duke owned (to coin a Monty Python phrase) “huge tracts of land” in West Yorkshire. Specifically 30,000 acres around Bolton Abbey (which, just to keep you on your toes is nowhere near Bolton… which is in Lancashire. Still with me?) So there are a myriad of pubs, roads, and the like which owe their names to the Duke. To this day, there’s lovely hotel and spa by the name of The Devonshire Arms in the area. Now the Duke’s family name is Cavendish, which is commemorated in other names, such as Cavendish Street in nearby Keighley (the Keighleys married into the Cavendish’s a couple of hundred years earlier). All this just to point out that my formative years were spent in places all connected to the characters in this film.

So let’s move on… Georgiana has an affair with Charles Grey, later to become 2nd Earl Grey, or Chazza to his mates. OK – probably not, I made that bit up. He was a cautious type and by all accounts liked to keep his hand on his wallet, as can be seen in this Wikipedia image.

Wikipedia: Charles Grey

Wikipedia: Charles Grey

So plus or minus a bit of good natured philandering with married Duchesses, Charles was  a bit of a mover and shaker, ending up as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1830 and 1834. He lent his name to a tea blend now very well known as Earl Grey Tea, purportedly first sold by Jacksons of Piccadilly, and… you guessed it… drunk by the bucket (amongst other blends), by yours truly when Bunburying. But that’s not all. Being of Northumbrian stock, he was well known in the North East of England and as well as having a street named after him in Newcastle, he was also commemorated with a college at Durham University – Grey College, built in 1959. Guess which college I went to? Yup. Still have the scarf, though it’s a little moth-eaten now. And then, just to add one final strand to the web of connections, I went to watch “The Iron Lady” today. Again with my better half. Meryl Streep does an amazing job of getting Maggie’s voice perfectly. It’s pretty well done and manages to show Maggie’s determined single-mindedness counter-balanced with her undying love for husband Denis, and her later slide into dementia. Maggie was PM during my college years, and the miners’ strike, along with her crushing of the unions was a major backdrop to my further education in the mining area of Durham. (I’ll resist bringing Billy Elliott into the mix – it’d be overkill). It just seemed like a timely reminder to write down all the other strands and connections with the film of 2008. I think I’ll go and have a nice cup of tea now…