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 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…

Boredom and lavender

9 11 2012

So I’ve been grumpy of late. I used to be Doc, but the suit doesn’t fit any more, and I always thought Sneezy was a bit of a hypochondriac.

I had a drink with an old work colleague last night, and he shared the news that his wife is due to have a baby. As a father of three myself (“one of each” as I like to quip), I commiserated with him, and we had a pleasant evening “shooting the shit” as is the male preference on such occasions.

But in all seriousness, this was great news, and it made me realise how much I’ve been missing my old colleagues from my previous job. Not that my new colleagues are bad, you understand. I just haven’t reached that “depth” with them yet.

Luckily when I got home I was cheered up by my self-administered cure. I’d recently engaged in web-retail therapy, and my brand new “toy” had arrived. I was now the proud owner of my first red-lined Canon lens. Yup I own an L-series 100mm macro lens. So now what?

Well – like a kid with a new bag of marbles, I just had to start taking pictures. Of anything. Anything at all. Several times. Even if it complained. Or in the case of the dog – growled. As with any new lens, it’ll take me a while to get the best out of it. Well – the best I can get out of it that is!

For now, I used it as an excuse to get out my tripod, my remote release (no – that’s not a sex toy), and take photos of random detritus – a surprising amount of which seems to inhabit our house. And then I remembered the lavender tea my number two offspring had asked me to buy on our summer trip to Victoria. Mmm… I can almost smell it from the photo. Or maybe it’s on my fingers. Or in my head. I’m still on the hunt for things to photograph up close and personal. Perhaps a piece of Wedgewood next…

The downside became apparent as I looked through my “test images”. The dog! Her shed hair is EVERYWHERE, and at these resolutions you can see it in the most surprising places – like in a pine cone! Still getting used to the depth of field (as with any new lens), but here’s my first attempts…

Did I ever mention tea?

28 01 2012

Yeah, right! Like every other post maybe.

Tea can be taken in many forms, but as part of “Afternoon Tea” it takes on a kind of magic. Basically these days this is just a way of attempting to justify an astronomically inflated price for what is basically a cup of hot water with some toasted hedge clippings in it. But never the less, it’s magic. I’d like to draw two particular establishments to your attention, if I may. On either side of the Atlantic. Firstly, Betty’s tea shop in Harrogate.

Bettys of Harrogate

Bettys of Harrogate

The one in Ilkley is nice too, but the Harrogate one is special. Now I’m not saying it’s posh per se, but you might have to reserve a table for Afternoon Tea in the Harrogate or York locations if it’s been sunny for a few days. They serve from a selection of teas and bring a silver cake stand with posh-looking sarnies, scones, clotted cream (closely followed by clotted arteries!), the whole shebang. Glorious!

Bettys: Afternoon tea

Bettys: Afternoon tea

But that’s not all. As well as the “standard fare” for a posh tea, expected by all and sundry, Bettys also cater for the more discerning Yorkshire palette. (Stop laughing, you). They sell curd tart! My mouth is salivating at the very thought. But alas, I fear you do not share my excitement. Let me explain…

Basically it’s a bit like cheesecake. But not really. I’ve seen/tasted dodgy copies using cottage cheese, but proper curds are needed for the real McCoy. And it has currants. Bonus.

Bettys Yorkshire Curd Tart

Bettys Yorkshire Curd Tart

They don’t sell them online unfortunately, but the good ol’ BBC has thoughtfully posted a recipe so you can have a go at making them yourself, if you’re feeling adventurous!

Go on… you know you want to: BBC Good Food: Yorkshire Curd Tart

BBC Good Food: Yorkshire Curd Tart

BBC Good Food: Yorkshire Curd Tart

OK, so now I’m all drooling over the memory of curd tart, let’s move over the Atlantic and right across Canada, and then a bit further to Victoria on Vancouver Island. There we find the Fairmont Empress, opened in 1908 for the  Canadian Pacific Hotels.

Fairmont Empress

Fairmont Empress

The undisputed focus of Victoria itself, they too know how to over-charge for a pot of hot water with a few dead leaves floating in it. But in addition, they have easy access to Americans to fleece, so they add an extra zero to the end for good measure! For afternoon tea here, you’re likely going to have to book a week or two in advance, and expect to pay $60+ per person. And dress formally. But what scrumptious surroundings to sip your Earl Grey!

Afternoon Tea at the Empress

Afternoon Tea at the Empress

Well, that about wraps it up I think. I do believe I’ll go and have a cup of tea…

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…