Monday, 31 January 2011

The Emperor has no clothes: peoples revolutions v special interests

Since 1989 and probably at selected times since 1840's Europe, the world's people have more and more taken the initiative in causing regime change in "sphere of influence" states of the great western and eastern powers. With the rise of educated comfortable middle and working classes that dare to aspire and the added advent of the internet, entire nations want to be like the countries that decide how others live.

First in Europe and now in North Africa, people want to be in a country where they have the right to decide their own course of action, the right to decide which orientation they will take in internal politics and what is good for them, without having to go through the filter of the best interest of the great Imperial powers like Russia, Britain, France, Germany, China and the USA, or their clients like Israel. Sadly, South Africa still dictates terms that are beneficial to itself over the interests of the ordinary Zimbabwean or Ivoreans, much the same way Great Britain and others used to protect their special interests. White men doing the same thing was wrong, and now black men doing this is still wrong, however you wrap it in rhetoric. While  some individual strongmen will continue to get away with murder literally, the age of plantation politics is coming to an end with the arrival in Africa of the flu that has kept Europe sporadically free for the last 200 years.

Cote D'ivoire was, until the meddling of some, getting rid of it's disgraced former leader, Robert Mugabe still effectively runs the country he has owned since nearly independence, despite people power. His regime and the regimes of countless other tin pot little African dictators, depend on a tolerance of other leaders equally afraid of the consequences of losing power. In the UK, Canada, Germany, leaders retire and write memoires, in Africa they are arrested or flee with the money. It's not a natural state of affairs that once a leader gets a grip on power that he or she must fear being rumbled for robbing the treasury and murdering the populace. Since the end of Communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe, most regimes have had free and fair multi party elections with changes in government following on peacefully and without incident. Is it the considered opinion of some African leaders and other western ones that Africans are not ready or capable of such a peaceful transition? South Sudan is an example of the extraordinary peaceful revolution and creation of a nation , some have waited for since 1955. Had the special interests of the world held sway, the result announced yesterday of 99.5% yes, could never have happened.  The fact the result was so emphatic is proof of the desire of the people to move towards an independent state so long denied them by a string of Governments in Cairo, Washington and London as well as regionally in Africa.

In my lifetime I have seen the imposition of right wing dictatorships on nations by the USA and Communist ones by China and Russia in the name of the great struggle for liberation of the global interests of those empires. What the locals wanted or thought, was of little importance, what happened to the locals , especially in places where mineral or other desired wealth was important to outside interests, mattered even less. A case in point was Kuwait, where oil and more oil were the deciding factor that drove the allies to come to the defence of the poor down trodden Kuwaiti people.but where similar fates were meted out to Kurds, Rwandans, Palestinians and Hungarians or  non Serbian Yugoslavs, it took ages if ever to react to the plight of these people.

In the last 40 years Soviets invaded Hungary, Czechoslovakia, caused a puppet regime to bring deadly martial law into Poland, created excuses to steal land from Georgia and other nations. And yet when the same people throw off the yoke of one kind of slavery or another, the west trips over itself to claim the moral high ground and credit for regime change. Since 1989 through to today, the influence of the US State department and other such players in the affairs of the world's liberated peoples has been nil to near tragicomic farce. There is a reason they are so ineffectual and gormless when it comes to these situations.  Having discouraged dissent and diversity in the first place, they are unaware of and not trusted by even the most well meaning of opposition movements. First fearing social-democratic secularism then the Islamists, the west and now even Russia play the game of preferring the devil you know over the one you don't.

The people of Egypt, given the chance to elect a new Parliament with multiple parties and ideologies will likely not elect a government that Mr Obama, Mr Putin or Mr Cameron will like, but it will be the government they want and that is representative of their desires and values. Hamas in the Gaza strip is an example of a radical party that if given the chance to rule, was going to do a perfectly adequate job, but like it's far more moderate predecessor, was attacked and destroyed from above and below by Israel and other international special interests. How are Palestinians, or any other people expected to grow into multi party democracy if they are not trusted by the paternalistic great powers to have their say? It is the height of hypocrisy to watch Washington, London and other capitals sit back and do nothing , then prop up the dictator, then call for his removal. What we are seeing is an attempt to impose a solution on Egypt that will pacify the people but preserve the status quo for several countries more interested in their own security than the freedom and democracy of Egyptians. ( or Algerians, or Yemenis, or Sudanese, or Saudis etc...). The citizens of those countries must be allowed to set the pace of reforms and the types of reforms they want in their own lands. As they are exposed to other ideas, the creation of hybrid political ideas and systems come into existence that represent the desires of those people. Sometimes simply taking a model that works in the UK or America is just not going to work. Afghanistan and several regions in West Africa have centuries old systems that had worked well, but were swept aside overnight and consequently could not be expected to succeed.

Democracy is in and of itself not a solution to all things. In Uganda gays are repressed by the state and local churches, in West Africa federalism has failed to stop resource based, religiously tinged conflicts from breaking out. In the Unites States, free universal national health care is still decades removed from what is accepted as normal in most European conservative circles, let alone the left. In Europe there is a rise of the extreme right in parliamentary elections. These examples point to the need of politicians to come to terms with the problems in a way that most can accept, or the cycle of stagnation, violence and mistrust will continue. In Europe and the rest of the West,  people, that is citizens, are trusted to sort out the mess, often of their own creation, but in other places we seem to think a paternalistic heavy hand is required should the result not quite suite our needs or personal political philosophies.

As a Pole living in the West, I appreciate the liberty I have had to influence my local, regional and national Government. I have treasured the ability to work and speak freely and I have wanted the same for others, even when it meant that maybe the Foreign Office or the American State Department or the Kremlin might not be best pleased. In parts of the world where the west has had to negotiate on level terms with new powers like India, Brazil and Indonesia, we have seen the spectacular failure on the part of the industrialized powers to take into account the desire of those countries peoples to climb up to at least as good a standard of living as ours BEFORE they start to sacrifice their monetary, ecological and agricultural policies for us. While it's important to bring to the table our level of concern and conviction regarding these issues, we cannot expect these new counterparts to respond in kind until such time as they themselves are not asked to make greater sacrifices than ourselves. This policy of having others suffer for our crimes is nothing new and should be replaced with the same basic philosophy as the Marshal plan had. Mainly to rebuild those parts of the world to their functioning selves before we can expect those parts of the world to play by the same rules as us.

China is inevitably lurching towards some kind of mixed economy socialist democracy and market system most Europeans would recognize, India, will likely be more chaotic, producing a string of reformist governments that will drag most of India kicking and screaming into the 20th century, while Mumbia gets on with inventing the 21st. Canadian PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau years ago worked for a North South dialogue that aimed at building the bridges between the emerging economies and the old established ones,  while reforms were made along with the necessary linking of those emerging economies to the solutions of very real problems like global warming, food shortages, debt, and educational/health standards. Since his departure from public life, the peace dividend has come and gone, western economic self interest continues and the powers that were on the outside looking in are still there but even stronger now.

How long will it take to embrace China as a full partner on monetary policy? How will it take for the Asia Pacific rim  and South American countries to finally crash the party so long reserved for the exclusive club that most European nations don't even belong to yet? Poland is right, Europe has to sit as a member at the G20, China and India need to be let in. But how can we expect this to happen  if even today we see the fish out of water  inept indecision of western powers trying to work a solution in Egypt that will at the end of the day have little to do with the protests of ordinary Egyptians except that they were the ones who forced the unwilling hands of  Washington, their clients and other countries with interests in how Egypt is run for their protection.  It is clear to anybody with eyes that the Army is waiting to crown an acceptable compromise that will please the middle classes, the middle east peace process, western interests and Israeli security. I doubt seriously this solution will come anywhere near satisfying the root problems of the Egyptian unrest and will only delay the inevitable final crumbling of the current regime.

Abject poverty and deprivation breeds despair and fanaticism, as do prolonged dictatorships. If Egypt or "The Mother of the World" is as important to the region as the analysts and the regional leaders and peoples say it is, let the revolution come, let the free and fair reforms and elections happen NOW. If we wait, there is no knowing what the well educated youth bubble of middle class aspiring Arab men and women will do next. Letting the mainstream elements of Egypt  take over now, will usher in a new age similar to the optimism and good will  that followed the decade of dominoes falling in Central and Eastern Europe. As we speak, Khartoum, home of possibly the worst of the rogue nations in Africa is under pressure, Yemen, Algeria and Jordan as well. What happens in the next few days in Cairo will determine the course of African and Middle Eastern politics for decades to come. If the west wants to be able to say they did something, they should create the pressure, clearly and without reservation, that leads to genuine people approved reform. Then and only then will the west and America in particular not be so mistrusted and hated. This is the time to cut the fanatics off from the new recruits by showing they are wrong when they say it's just another Congress of Vienna, Paris accord or Yalta stitch up.

The people of Belarus, Iran  and Zimbabwe watch with eager anticipation to see if they can dream of unfettered revolution or if they are doomed to spill even more blood before they are as free as the average Pole or Brit. I can't help but feel the weight of history and share the excitement of Egypt as I watch the fall of a hated regime. Much like our struggle, it will hinge on small events and the intervention or lack of intervention of outsiders. It took us 10 years and in the end it was a vote of non confidence on the Sejm(parliament) that drove the last nail in the coffin. Egyptians might be able to keep it down to a week. Good luck, the world is watching and we are cheering you on. A word the Egyptian Army, make up your mind, move on the Government or your continued neutrality will be taken as cowardice in the face of indecision.The Army must embrace the Lotus revolution before they become as mistrusted as the regime and the police.

Since I wrote the above, the Army has released a statement stating it would not fire on the people and that they considered the demands of the protesters "legitimate".  One looks forward to the next 24 hours and the million man march planned for Cairo.

The Emperor has no clothes, the sooner the special interests realize this, the sooner the world will be a better place to live in.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

New Stig grows up, Sky lost some weight, and I learned some Danish

And on the 38th day new Stig  instructed his first star in a reasonably priced car. New Stig was finally allowed out of his cage after having eaten the raw meat Jezza had left for him. Amazing how quickly they grow up. As Clarkson remarked, he'll soon be old enough to present Countryfile.  Top Gear got stuck in with it's latest run of school boy humour and thinly disguised genuine consumer information. I for example know that my future all terrain vehicle should be a Skoda Yeti. I will however probably still go for a classic Land Rover or even a gentrified Toyota Hilux if I can. Not missing a beat, Top Gear presenters searched for new ways of poking humourless twats with a pointed stick. Funny Scouse man accused of stealing tyres, Stig elevated to the status of Jesus replacement,  Cap'n Slow made to look a div, wait that's not a crime, just a stated goal. Ironically, this is the same man who can tell you the most about the cars  should you care to ask. Richard "Hamster" Hammond  tries to prove the Porsche 911  is in fact the best car in the world and more than the sum of the parts of a Beetle from whence it came. I for one was convinced by his arguments, having been in several proper poor people bugs in my life for extended lengths of time. I think dropping a cheap car from a crane was hardly a fair test of speed was it? Besides maybe the Autobahn and dying, the only good thing Hitler ever did, the Volkswagen Beetle is hardly the model of reliability or comfort or technical advancement. The Porsche 911 on the other hand is still the only car I'd consider having that satisfies my inner douche bag and thrill seeker. While the Jag is in fact a car for somebody who can drive over small pets and garden beds, the Porsche will do it and not even try to apologize.   Why should it? It is a mechanical marvel that moves like a wild cat on the hunt. The noises it makes sound like what I thought a car should sound like when I was 8 years old. As a boy I aspired to a Porsche, as a man I now aspire to a Jag or maybe an Astin Martin, unlike some people, |I don't want to others to think I'm the kind of person who would drive a Porsche. Now if I could borrow the Stig's skin...

About that new Stig. He's still  white, drives even better than sacked Stig, seems to be more content and doesn't bite like the old one. I think perhaps this one's a keeper, he may even last longer that the last two put together. Just to be clear, whoever the new Stig is, he's now part of one of the oldest , most entertaining car magazines on telly ever. He will meet stars and drive fast cars and get paid for it presumably really well for as long as he wants to. If this one also does a diva, it may be time to bury the Stig once and for all. Seems some people are more interested in sudden piles of money over sustained respectable pay and loads of perks you won't get for being an ex-Stig.

New to our screens from BBC 2, Charlie Brooker's How TV ruined your life, a weekly look at how TV took a perfectly nice life and this week, has scared the hell out of us for 60 years. The point of the show was to demonstrate just how mad the paranoia and fear had gotten from public service spots that pointed out every danger lurking out there past your door and in your living room, to crime programmes that purported to show just how bad the the criminals were. If the news is to be believed , we are always on the brink of the final dissolution of humanity as we know it.  His pens catching fire parody was brilliant stopping just short of being repetitive and pointless. Breaking news used to mean something had happened, but with 24 hour news, we were treated to Gaza shouting "Moaty Moaty Moaty"  and explaining why he had brought fried chicken, lager and a fishing pole for his "old mate".  If I want to stay relaxed and fear free I try to watch BBC news only a few times a day and avoid the soul sucking misery of unending failure in the world. I know news is news, but it's not all bad news is it? South Sudan voted last week. We saw one day of nice peaceful story, then nothing for a week, then twice in as many days , some Northern nomads killed 30 people and the BBC war machine was in full gear. Thankfully for South Sudan it's remained for the most part a dull uneventful story.   Uneventful that is except for all those people getting on with their lives and building a new country without recourse to death and dismemberment. Perhaps if more watched less sensationalist filler, some of them would be less inclined to report Jeremy Clarkson to ofcom for crimes against alleged human decency. Some of you may recall that on the back of one complaint, decades after the song came out, you can't play Money for nothing in Canada, because of the "dirty little faggot" reference.  If you've ever heard the song, you are my age, if you are worshipping Ellie Goulding's murder of Elton's "Your song", you're probably wondering why anybody would ever say an offensive thing ever to anybody , even jest.  Watch the video, you'll see it's not even homophobic, just a good song. So when did one person's opinion mean we should all suffer? Where was I?  Charlie Brooker, yeah,  good show, watch it.

Speaking of offensive words on telly..... no I don't mean Kay Burley saying anything on any subject, Andy Gray (sacked) and Richard Keys (apologized and resigned), both now late of Sky Sports, landed in a cauldron of trouble over sexist remarks about lineswoman, Sian Massey 25,  (see also remarks about Theo Walcott) before the match even kicked off. It all got a bit sordid as a series of further of air remarks were found and broadcast to the delight of the people who disliked the the duo. Sky sports reacted well enough at first, but hardly seem to take this seriously at first , then went entirely the other way and sacked Andy Gray. Seems you're fine till you get caught out. A few simple truths in broadcasting. All mikes and cameras are to be treated as live at all times. Saves you a great deal of embarrassment. Never put down in writing just how big a twat you are. And lastly, you're only as good as your last good deed or rating and scandal of any kind will wipe the slate clean in entirely the wrong way. All lessons at least one of these men has not learned. While I do not applaud the creation of super cautious PC man, the death of Neanderthal footie man is long overdue. My wife loves football, it's a huge part of why we get along. She gets it, she understands the offside rule, well the one before the new one which confuses even the players and the officials now. You would be shocked to hear what she used to say about Arsenal and Chelsea supporters, would have made a Millwall fan seem,... no  too strong, ... a Leeds fan, seem realistic.  That said, the powers that be at Sky sport need to understand that women have been following football in droves for at least a decade now, gone are the times that every vagina in the room left at the sound of the pre game show.  I suspect the fancy fan who supported a side ONLY because [name of footballer] is fit,  is long dead or blended in with the male version more concerned with the run of play and the general direction and placement of ones team in the table. The hypocrisy of Sky speaks volumes however, when you compare the numerous times people like myself have called for the incredibly justifiable sacking of Kay Burley, and been ignored. This woman who claims to be a journalist has done enough to be sacked 10 times were she a man or even a gay Asian uni-legged agnostic hermaphroditic creature working at a real news channel. Where is the justice when caveman sports twit gets the sack  but Versace sledge hammer stays?

On the subject of genteel, better times when even the nut-cases were held to a certain standard of decorum and behaviour, Lark Rise to Candleford on Sunday was a treat. Dorcas has finally got some action going and Postman Thomas has his absolute shield of faith and somewhat too sure certainty punctured, revealing a very scared little man who seems to have finally had to deal with his own personal demons. The scene where he looses his religion was so sincere I had no idea where it was going from there. The use of the snake in paradise wasn't wasted or over the top in the least bit. Yet again, Larkrise shows that good writing is the key to wringing out truthful performances from these well trained actors and actresses. Stand out performance of the night had to be Curtis Brown (Thomas) in the faith story line with an equally strong performance from character actor Burn Gorman and former Torchwood regular, playing the trouble reverend. Oh and still no sign of Dawn French.

Yet again BBC4 wins a big fat nothing, yes you're watching the National Television Awards , the award show for text voting pond scum who haven't quite learned to spell yet. How else do you explain Qi v I'm a Celebrity? Oh well, every year I sit down an d think , maybe this year Stephen Fry will win something for his current work, but no. Benidorm and In Betweeners won which is ok as it's not about pretty people or unscripted, thank you both for making us laugh. And....big drum roll....... Top Gear has the love of geeks, intellects and the great unwashed, all rolled into to one. Despite being fact free for for 7 years now, Top Gear has entertained all levels of viewer and in so doing showing living proof you can be smart funny, un hip and still be a winner. Three middle age men falling over indeed , Congratulations, at least one or two of my shows made the grade! Sherlock, Ashes to Ashes, Doctor Who, Touch of Frost ?!! all in one category ! David Jason wins for Touch of Frost, and well deserving he is. At least this one they couldn't get wrong.  Lastly, Mr Show-business himself, Bruce Forsyth got the lifetime achievement award from last year's winner Stephen Fry. Brucie is an institution and anybody who thinks he's past his sell by date needs to have a quick look at what this man can do even  now. Sad but true, Louis Spence is no replacement for an all rounder comic, singer dancer actor go to guy who can handle any live situation.  Since I was little, Brucie has entertained out family in a bewildering array of programmes over the years. I hope he never stops, I suspect he'd be unsure what to do with a pipe and slippers, so Bruce, It's always nice to see you , to see you Nice! And Doctor Who fans.... we got zip this year, nothing nada, nil, nowt, but the opening sequence with Matt Smith and the Tardis was great.

Last word goes to Danish crime drama The killings on BBC4 is brilliant and completely engrossing , even if you don't speak Danish. Much like UK crime drama, yet a little less intense , it still arrives at the same destination that any crime drama wants, you care and you want to solve it before the DCI does. Good chance to learn yerself another language and have a decent rummage through your brain for solutions. My wife wept several times and it takes convincing acting and story to get her going like that. Something for the big softy and the amateur sleuth.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

BBC's Episodes and Michel Roux's Service hit our screens this week

This week  the BBC unleashed two programmes guaranteed to please or appal depending on who you are. Let's start with the one that pleased and appalled in equal measure.

Episodes, BBC2's comedy about a pair of happy award winning writers who find themselves in the nightmare scenario at least some of us aspire to.  The Americans like our show and would like a version of it for themselves. On the one hand there is the money and the holiday away from all the rain, on the other hand there are the Americans who will kill your baby with kindness and leave you wondering what the hell just happened and why the thing on the screen in no way resembles what you got awards for.  Episodes is not the first programme to explore this theme, nor will it be the last. But the first episode which opens on presumably the tail end of the 7th or 8th ep, certainly smells like a blow by blow account of the slow rape and subsequent destruction of a good idea, as seen from the perspective of the writer.  If you are not a writer , then you will or should find this funny, because it is. It's incredibly funny even, Steve Mangan most recently of Dirk Gently, and Tamsin Greig who plays his wife, face the barrage of the plastic dream factory that is LA. You have to see to believe the sequence when the actor playing the lead role in the UK version has to audition for the first time in years, for his own part, let alone any part.  And before you say they'd never do that, David ( you know Doctor Who)  Tenant had to audition in the US recently, as if there was any question he'd be somehow wrong for a part.  My wife and I watched with a mixture of dread, horror and amusement, as every story we had ever been told in private unfurled on screen.  As writers we knew this sort of thing happens, but to see it pretty much raw and uncensored, was educating, amusing and yet set off nervous ticks that caused one of us to throw something in the general direction of the telly at least once. If you ever wondered how The Office, Coupling, Life on Mars,  Man about the House or now Shameless translate poorly or well in the USA, watch the inside story as it unfolds in Episodes. 

Stand out performances by John Pankow as the horrid Merc who wants to "Have sex with your show", in an understated sort of way starts the slide into hell at the audition. Brilliantly taking the shine off Richard Griffiths's hilarious portrayal of a head master, by saying ..... but is he too British?  Even the the highly annoying Myra Light got under my skin so much I hated her before she uttered a word. These characters are real, I've some of them and I've had to listen over to phone to yet others as I was told what we were doing was too foreign and too insensitive to potential offence that might be caused to small fury creatures from Alpha Centauri. In addition to this, there is a long laundry list of what characters cannot do any more on American telly, smoking and drinking high on the list if you are making a cartoon aimed at people who might have children in the next room. For sheer comic deadpan... Lou Hirsch, long ago of  My Hero, plays the "by the book" gate keeper destined to be the star of many one liners best of lists. 

Episodes has the ring of truth that Yes Minister and Thick of it have, and still has the capacity to make me laugh when I'm not cringing at the sight of certain people. 

Speaking of cringing.... Michel Roux fronts Service on BBC Two, where he hopes to take up the do gooder torch of  Jamie Oliver and offer a group of 8 unfortunate youths the chance to get a real job and move up in the world. Much like the crowd at 15 so many years ago, these young people in some cases barely speak English, haven't had wine out of a bottle, don't recognize food that hasn't been microwaved and  have the manners of baboons in some cases. I kept expecting Col. Pickering to show up any minute to see how things were going. While I may have watched Master Chef Pro to learn the techniques and recipes and even to drink in some of the atmosphere you get from real food and the professionals who prepare it, this thing has all the appeal of Ladettes to Ladies. If this is the best they could find from thousands of applicants for the programme, it's little wonder that Britain has a marked deficit in home grown front of house staff. This lot seem to be allergic to work and logical thinking. Team work may come eventually , but would you let them loose in your restaurant for even a half hour? 

By week 8 Michel Roux hopes to inflict these yobs on his dinners as some sort of final exam. From what we saw in episode one, this car crash belongs on BBC3 not BBC2 before Edwardian Farm. The only contestants with any appeal were the Gay black guy, two of the lads and..... and...  ermmm..   no not him ,  not her or her ... Put succinctly, I'm tired of ill educated charvs being paraded  on the screen like some victims of an African famine in need of our help. Most of them have the appeal of piles and sound like a bunch of drills screeching when they talk. Surely there must have been more deserving job seekers or waiters/waitresses who have just started out, that could have competed in this. As it is, Ifelt no sympathy for any of them and by the half hour wanted to shoot the lot of them. 

Lines worth remembering and that highlight just how unsuited these losers are for the job.. "Would you  like a glass of  prosciutto" ,may as well ask if the client wanted a bottle of kielbasa or chorizo. Yet another low point was when a girl was offered some anchovies, she screeched about how hairy they were and wouldn't try them. At least one of them  bravely tried foie gras , but wasn't able to swallow any as he was grossed out by the texture... What a group of whinging wastes of space. Not one of these people had ever eaten anything on the menu or seemed able to pronounce most of the words. The one saving grace was that they seemed too poor to afford fake tan. If Gordon Ramsay had been running this service boot camp, he'd have had to tuck into his reserve of swear words early.

I won't be giving this abomination another chance, the only reason to watch this is if you miss Big Brother. Steer well clear of this train wreck 

So what can I watch  instead of that I hear you ask???? I won't leave you without an alternative.  Tuesdays on BBC4 is brain night,  The Brain : A secret history, Michael Mosley  takes us on a disturbing voyage through the brain and the atrocities committed in the name of science. There will be other associated programmes to fill out an evening of deep thinky stuff, but Mosley is the star of the night. In fact stick with BBC4  and watch secret life of the Motorway,  or even Human Planet which is on now even as I type. There is no reason you need to punish yourself watching dreck  when there are so many wonderful choices out there.  Alternatively ITV  has the three part Kidnap and Ransom that I'll be reviewing soon as I get back in from a nice walk outside . 

Laters all. remember , if you can't watch good telly, then don't watch any at all.  Personally, there is a Sushi place near the house I haven't visited in a while and intend to correct that. 

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Zen and the return of Larkrise

Let me tell you what's annoying about BBC One's Zen before I tell you how terrific it is. To explain Zen  you need to know it's a detective drama about Italians,  the  two lead actresses who respectively play Zen's mam and  his seriously sexy girlfriend Tania, are Italian or speak with a credible Italian accent, which highlights the absurdity of the fact that all the actors are English, they speak with an English accent, some of them even look English. This wouldn't be a problem if the action took place in Manchester, London or that British hotbed of Italian people ...Cardiff (which often passes for London). However, the fact the sets suspiciously resemble the real Rome and surrounding countryside , complete with signs and Italian extras arguing in Italian, makes these actors, however good they are, stick out like sore thumbs. I suppose it's better than having a load of Londoners putting on embarrassingly bad Italian accents, but it still begs the question of why they couldn't at least get some people who spoke with an Italian accent.

That aside, you really do get sucked in to the story and hope Aurelio Zen and the lovely Tania eventually get to rip each other's clothes off and shag like sailors on shore leave. Given when it plays, we may even get to see some proper skin. Potential sex scenes for youtube aside, the story centers on the relationship of Aurelio Zen (Rufus Sewel) honest to a fault but practical cop and Amedeo Colonna (Ben Collins) corrupt meddling cabinet minister who issues him orders that contradict Zen's sense of propriety. The fact he manages to get the result that both pleases himself and the minister every time is hardly a surprise, as the films would be over pretty quickly if you got Zen demoted to traffic warden in episode one. Each time Zen succeeds he demands a price from the authorities who are appropriately grateful.  Prety handy if you want to use that kind of power to woo and keep a new lady as tasty looking as Caterina Murino. But just how long can he keep his sense of honour and morality intact before he has to choose between staying alive and happy or doing the right thing? I suspect the next instalment being the last for now, will tease and entertain us as much as the previous two have. 

As detective fiction it's pretty transparent stuff if you pay attention. In the first story the means of entry and egress were fairly clear and enticing as plot devices go. And the use of conveniently handy anonymous scapegoats has served the writers well. In the 2nd story the scapegoat neatly allows all parties to preserve pride and personal security without letting the other side knowing too much of anything harmful. I doubt tho, that this will last long as the building tension and layering of ever increasingly strange conspiracy theory plot lines, must inevitably lead to the clash of wills and principle we've so far avoided. In a system as allegedly corrupt as the one under the microscope here, it's never a good thing to be noticed by the people who really run the show, and eventually all the games will lead to the demise of Aurelio Zen's career and his love life. 

The acting by this cast of mostly familiar faces from previous crime drama on the BBC, is as good as it always is, and keeps you glued to the telly despite the fairly large elephant in the room. Add to that the exquisite clothing, incidental music and the style reminiscent of the great Italian films of the late 1960's and early '70s and you have a winning combination. Another way of seeing just how good the acting  (most of the time) seems to be, is the way the characters rise above the lush surroundings and pretty furniture all around them.  Even the bits that could have descended into caricature, seemed to retain their intended sense of jeopardy. 

If all you heard was that there was a casting call and no Italians showed up, don't let that keep you from watching.  See the first two on the iPlayer  and read about the series here

The far less glamorous or sexy but equally engaging Larkrise to Candleford returned this week. The entire cast short of Laura's father are all back and just as intoxicating. In fact I think it's the actresses who drive this entire programme.  Except for Thomas Brown postie and community spiritual guide, the men see to mostly react to what ever it is the women get up to. To be honest, it is about as representative of reality as any other aspect of the programme is. You may have been told that women of the era were powerless weak retiring creatures, but notwithstanding their status in law, they were by and large a fairly proactive bunch. This new series 4 promises to be just as exciting as the last three with the return of Dawn French from debtor's prison. Young Master Alf Arliss will have plenty on his hands what with his presumed wedding to the gormless but hard grafting Minnie. Laura and Daniel continue their road to wedded bliss while Dorcas cannot help but meddle even as she resolves to stop. 

Ep 1 of series 4 was a bit weak if you consider that the story of the new blacksmith is somewhat over the top even for Larkrise. Gabriel Cochrane is a troubled soul who seems a bit too unstable even for the period and hardly worthy of sympathy from even the most ardent do gooder. You'll see what I mean when  you watch it if you've yet to see it. As for the rest of the plot is more of the familiar stuff that speak to the little life lessons that happened to people then and even now. Young Edmund Timmins falls prey to the temptation of sudden windfall with all the doubt and confusion that occasions. At it's heart , the episode was about how the community will always hold together and give a man the benefit of the doubt and extend all the help they can  to those who appear to be most in need.

Will Dorcas find love at long last? Will Alf Arliss be thrown into a current too strong for him and Minnie when his mam comes home? Like any good soap, Larkrise to Candleford will get there eventually. One of the best bits in any episode are the long practised sports of jumping to conclusions,  imagining the worst, avoidance of dishonour and the always enjoyable reduction to tears/shock/extreme discomfort of at least one character, with luck , several times an ep. This time it's the turn of Ruby Pratt, yes Ruby is back, but I won't tell you why. As always, a most enjoyable hour spent far from the clutches of murderers ,thieves and baby swappers in modern soap land. Watch and read more here

2011 has been a bit slow to start, but so far the output on  ITV has been good enough to not give up all hope for the year being somewhat better than what was dished out over at ITV last year.  Downton Abbey was a step in the right direction and a welcome breath of fresh air from the network that made Katie Price.  Having said this, the hair styles were a mess, having do's from the late thirties and early 20's in 1913. Seems the hight priced actresses at ITV still haven't taken to historical accuracy for the sake of their art. The Downton Abbey women were largely seen without a single corset in sight, despite the corset not getting the heave ho till about 1923 and the older women will persist for some time longer. Then the small but important plot devices to move the story, are clumsily dropped in on top of a noble house structure that seems rough and crude. But if you enjoy the costumes and the tour of the rooms and furniture, it was a delight to behold. I sincerely hope when it comes back , the string of anachronisms is a thing of the past, as the cast is brilliant and the set so much living canvas, you want more. Next to Upstairs Downstairs, it suffers by comparison, but at least ITV is trying, and it may yet get it right.The numbers prove there is an audience for costume drama and class concious stories. One hopes both networks take note.

Time for me to make supper, see you next time as the frequency of posts  gets back to something approaching normal again . 

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Southern Sudan at long last is one step closer to reality

The world as we know it is about to end, in a vote that the Egyptians and the Northern Sudanese and by extension the The United States probably won't like, the sovereign , natural and long deserved country of Southern Sudan will in effect be born in about 7 days. US foreign policy has long held that anything this is bad for Egypt is bad for the USA, consequently the long oppressed and marginalized South had to watch for 25 years plus as Khartoum bombed them and IGGAD, ostensibly a water sharing inter government organisation, talked peace. All the while the United States and Kahrtoum did everything to encourage the continued captor-hostage relationship of the current Sudanese state. Not for the first time or the last time, has a peaceful essentially harmless population in Africa or some other part of the world, been held in thrall by the self interest of the United States or some or other large power.

For those of you reading this wondering why the justification of yet another country, even one as large as France or Germany. It can be resumed in a simple paragraph.... In 1956 two parts of Sudan separated for over 150 years by a border, with no commercial, political or cultural links were thrown together and told to get along. In the short term, the relationship with Khartoum was clarified and hadn't changed much until recently. The North proceeded to insure the sesame crops, sisal and other natural resources did not compete with more expensive Northern goods, and of course the war to arabize, empty and destabilize the region did even more damage. Lets not forget the active slave trade that some say was ongoing  until even very recently, in which children were taken North and sold as slaves and sometimes ransomed back to their villages. The discovery of oil a few years ago did not help the situation either, insuring even more political and military interference in the region. This one oil field, the one that will feed the treasury of the new state, continues to be a bone of contention that could yet trigger a war in which the rump State of Sudan will try to grab once and for all the land they have coveted from the day oil was found. 

What you may ask  is the big deal if the South goes it alone?  According to Cairo, the South will claim the waters of the Lower Nile as their own and cut off the Egyptians. It was patently ridiculous when I worked for RASS/SSIM  and it is so today. The fact it took so long for this referendum to ever see the light of day  is testament to the great weight of pressure brought to bear by successive Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington.  When the final IGGAD and Abuja  peace proposals were adopted , the intolerably long 6 year cooling off period was forced on the people in the hopes they might be persuaded to relinquish the dream of independence. Looks like after even 6 years, the most one sided referendum in the history of Africa is about to confirm what I knew in 1992. Jenubin will vote in proportions so high the BBC has stated flatly the result cannot be stolen. All freedom loving people will welcome this newest state in the world as a child that should have been born on January 1st 1956. Better late than never I suppose, but it still means I had to attend countless house meetings with the Jenubine diaspora telling them of news from home, almost always about how many died this time, this week , this day.

At one point in Canada, where I worked for RASS ( Relief Association for Southern Sudan), we had apx 4000 Southern Sudanese for several thousand more Northeners who were staying in the country. Those were hard years trying to kept refugees abreast of news from home, organize pro independence , self determination meetings and try to create small relief projects.  We were so few,strung out over such a vast territory. It was not helped that we had near monthly visits from the latest RCMP officer charged with the Sudan refugee desk who was without a clue. Our own people, ,Nuer or Equutorian and even the Nuba, were spied on while the spies from the dictatorial rogue regime roamed free to harass and threaten people outside of Sudan. What truly was the most disheartening part of the job was surely the brick wall of officialdom we faced. Not just RASS but the relief wing of the SPLA/SPLM. Repeatedly we were told Canada could do nothing directly, it had to distrubute aid with the knowledge of the North and was working with third parties like Oxfam  but could not work with us on the ground, even in areas where the SSIM or SPLA were in control. It was ok for big NGOs to hire freedom fighters in Loki to guide them in , but the likes of Oxfam could never admit that indigenous organizations could get the job done or that we knew what had to be done.

CIDA or the Canadian International Development Agency , always said we can only act bilaterally, and as long as there was no Government of the South for the South to talk to, they had to go through official Northern channels. This of course led to travesties like the Oxfam Canada project to test a Canadian vitamin supplement on Dinka cattle but not feed the herdsmen and their families. We told them that if every cow died in Bhar El Ghazal it would be tragic, but that cows can be replaced, whereas if every Dinka died, it would be the end of that people and culture. They of course proceeded with the cow vitamins which led to the bizzarest of situations, hungry herdsmen with healthy cows, under attack from poachers and Northern soldiers alike..Meanwhile in areas where a shot had not been fired in anger in 10 years, we could not get them to spend a thin dime on fishing equipment.  And of course there was the corralling of thousands of people in easy to bomb places so that hard tack biscuits that cost too much could be dropped, but emptied entire villages and regions. Much to the satisfaction of the Northern Government, places where people had been self sufficient and stubbornly holding on, were conveniently cleansed of people. This is a microcosm of the South Sudan problem , where for years the people and the region was treated as little more than an excuse and training ground for religious and international NGOs to cover themselves in glory while people died. In a private meeting we were told point blank at one point by a Oxfam Quebec director.."NGOs die..." . An organisation that spoke for the people, made up of it's people was considered an inconvenience to the big box charities. Mayhap that the new government will be as well.  While we worked week in week out to keep the community connected and informed, Amnesty International sent us weekly bags of nasty letters accusing us of being war criminals. It's this kind of blind hypocrasy that saw us strugle for years against the odds.

But now in about a week, all those people who believed in Self Determination, all the Jenubine and their supporters who went to countless , meetings , parties and church services will be able to turn the tables on these people who used the South for their own narrow political and organizational needs. Even John Garang the great believer in federalism, fought a rear guard action within the SPLA/SPLM against Independence, but failed most emphatically. The fact that despite his best efforts, the final round of talks had to include an interim Southern State and a definitive date for a referendum is proof of just how strong the idea and the need for it is. My then boss, Chairman and Commander in Chief  Dr. Riek Machar worked hard, never giving up on Self Determination for a second. Our  fortnightly or monthly phone meeting with HQ were always refreshing and however difficult the news, we knew that all those of Chairman Riek Machar in Nairobi and inside, were doing what they could with what they had. We were of course not alone in this work, there were those of the Dinka organizations in Ontario and in North Dakota who also beat the drums for the cause. One year when several of the leadership came to Washington for direct talks with the Americans, the Southern Sudanese delegation under severe financial hardship , still managed to make a few points with the big American NGOs.  Our London, Frankfurt and Nairobi Offices often talked and faxed in the days before the internet and cheap long distance. It's hard to imagine for those who have skype, msn and e-mail what it was like trying to operate a movement on a shoestring in those days.

I'd like to do a short list of those whom I had the honour of working with, and apologies to those I will omit, as I cannot recall all of your names. When we stayed with you, you were perfect hosts, you made us feel at home and as if we were in the safe hands of family. In my own life I have never before or since felt as accepted as one of the family as when I travelled the length and breadth of Eastern Canada in the cause of the Dinka, Nuer, Equatorian and Nuba of Southern Sudan.   First I must mention my immediate superior Paul Odiong, who as a boy, was forced to watch as his own father executed by Northern soldiers, his commitment and hard graft cannot be questioned and his service should not be forgotten. All those of Francis Apollo, Jenaro Lwal Ater, Dr Dominic Funda who stayed with me, Peter Pal Jola and so many others. Then there is the entire leadership of SSIM with whom I had the honour of working and of the course the late lamented Emma who we lost to a car crash in 1993. The Catholic priests from Torit and Loki, The people who we worked with on the dossier of the stranded Southern Sudanese students in Cuba and all the groups of young men living in crowded flats in Ottawa, Toronto, Kitchener and other points, who made us welcome despite their own poverty and overcame their own divisions to become more than people of a single tribe and embraced the Southern Sudanese identity. They rose above petty provincial differences and laid the ground work for the new Government that will stand for all Jenubine.  So many have died , gone into exile or suffered cruelly for the cause, but their work should not be forgotten or wasted.

I would be remiss if I did not thank all the wonderful people who know who they are, Marc Lalonde surely by now ex of CIDA, Gerry Barr of the Steelworkers fund, All those of HAPG ( Horn of Africa Policy Group) and the Ed Broadbent Centre. Without whom we could not have done half the work we did. Again there are many more I could have mentioned, but I simply cannot recall al those names after this much time and my records are scattered in many boxes. As Southern Sudan moves into it's newest and hopefully best period, it is important that the new Government remember who it's friends were and who gave them a hard time. Now is not the time to roll over and settle for every offer of assistance proffered by the NGO's and movie stars who's only aim is to justify their existence and popularity. I was particularly offended to see George Clooney on the BBC claiming to be ther to monitor the vote. We don't need pampered actors to monitor things thank you very much, but to every anonymous career aid worker,  diplomat and political person who is there to insure a proper and democratic result, a very large thank you.

I wish I could be there myself In Juba , Abwei , Wau , Torit, Kapoeta, Rumbek, Malakal, Yei, Gogrial, all the places I could only ever hope to visit, but never did because .... until now it had been too dangerous and unlike the big Hollywood stars who drop in for a day or a week, I cannot afford to just pick up and go. But I am there, everywhere at least in spirit and wish you all a very peaceful, safe vote that leads to the mother of all birthday parties. If it's like the the evenings we had back in the day, I know the dancing will go on long into the week after the official result is announced. 

I like most reasonable people am happy there is a referendum, am confident it will go well and that the political developments in the South are good augers for a healthy polity that will insure long. fair and democratic rule. But I am not blind to the danger signs that even now threaten the security and the stability of the new nation. But if the solid wall of proud Southern Sudanese who are as varied as they are familiar with each other continues in the near unanimity they currently maintain, the future cannot help but be a good one.

Last word for now is a simple call to all people who are friends of Southern Sudan. Please set aside who did what to whom during the dark years of war, If the the parties who will constitute the new State's ruling structures and civil service can get on, so can you.  If you wish to donate, give, give generously , but give to the organizations on the ground run by Southern Sudanese, give to the regional and federal governments in Southern Sudan. Let Oxfam and the others who have used Southern Sudan to test experimental vitamins or dictate to locals against their own best interest,  find new poster children for poverty elsewhere. The days where patriarchal outsiders determine what's best for locals should be a thing of the past. Always question how the money will be spent and how many locals have been asked how best the job should be done. Assume that any initiative that includes local authorities is not immediately doomed to failure. Southern Sudan will rebuild and find the prosperity and peace it so richly deserved in 1956 but never got. I sincerely hope it becomes a beacon of hope for African governments looking for an example of how it's done.

A useful link to an FAQ on all you could ever want to know about the referendum. A link to the GoSS

Good Luck in the vote, and if any of my now scattered old friends wish to get in touch, just e-mail the blog. Again my sincerest congratulations on a great campaign and an imminent result some of us have been waiting for, for quite some time. It has been in some cases far to long since I spoke to some of you. Take care and we shall surely speak soon.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Boys will be boys or the BBC in winter

If there is one theme running through the programming I've watched this Christmas and New Years season, it's Boys will be Boys.  Never more than during the long doldrums of December and early January has the telly and particularly the BBC shown that while they still want us to learn something, they have chosen to do so by give us a few lads on the lash, sometimes literally. I don't object to this for a second, as a man I love the idea that I can have fun doing something uplifting, if you're a woman watching this stuff you wonder how come Clare Balding has to be so damn serious all the time. Even when she's serene and happy it's a self satisfied sigh rather than the sheer joy of being alive you get from the lads outings. Even the most introspective of the road trips and lads shows, THE TRIP, was a series of late suppers where two grown men mugged and japed their way through impressions and every conversation I've ever had since I was 12. Frankly I have loved every second of it. I can't wait till I'm famous enough to get paid to take a week off with some mates and "discover" the sights sounds and flavours of wherever.

What made TheTrip so compelling was that it was clear from the outset that both men were using the occasion to have all those talks they normally don't get to have, what with their big schedules. Every massive question in their lives got touched on. Why are we friends, are you really happy in your work, what would you do in your absolutely no holds bar  programme, and of course solve the age old dispute, how to do a proper Michael Caine impression.  It took my wife a few eps to get into it, but once she understood it was a long conversation between two artists, comedians and actors, it clicked to her that it wasn't just two in between commissions personalities wasting time. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are allegedly reviewing restaurants and on the surface are, but what really is happening is the all time best bigger dick contest you'll ever see on telly. If you have the pull and the contacts, try hosting  2 or more comedians, writers, musicians, and sit back and watch. The show you see is the kind of thing that hardly ever gets seen on stage, on screen or on air. A pity really as it's the bare bones of why these people got into show business in the first place. If you ever wondered how something gets written and where some of the best ideas come from, watch this as and when it's repeated.

The next entry in this category of  testosterone fuelled one upmanship and three amigosness is Top Gear.  Captain Slow, The Hamster and Jezza take a road trip through the Eastern United States then a few days later travel through the Holy Land. The magic of the Top Gear road trips is simple, three best mates have something to prove to each other and the producers. Along the way we get to see a few incredibly childish men bicker over who is in fact the biggest baby, and yet it's far from that simple. These are three genuinely close friends who trust each others enough to let down any pretence or defensive barriers they would hold up to any body else. I could tell you all the cool stuff I learnt about the cars, and I did learn plenty, I could prattle on about the merits of one car over the other , but I won't. But I will tell you that these three truly are, reliable deeply committed friends and don't take to being betrayed at all. Former Stig Ben Collins, probably had no idea what kind of hornets nest of anger he's unleashed with his book. He could have gone on for years collecting a tidy pay, being famous, in a manner of speaking, and collaborating with three of the best friends he could have had ever. Instead, he's jumped ship to FIVE's Fifth Gear, where frankly no one will watch. There will be a new STIG and |Ben Collins won't be allowed near another A list star in this lifetime. Oh but I am rambling on a bit. The highlight of the high jinx during the US road trip show was the burning, shooting , decapitation, peeing on and generally abusing of the former Stig by Clarkson, May and Hammond. Not to worry dear reader, I'm sure there is a new Stig in the works, we even saw the baby Stig in Jerusalem, a purer more loyal one for sure.

That Middle East Special was typical Top Gear, but somehow lacked the punch and danger of the Bolivia or North Pole specials. Still a great bit of fun showing the truth behind the myths of several insecure places and the peaceful nature of whole areas we just assumed were " like the rest of the place". Besides the usual and highly entertaining modifications and course changes, the Middle East special  also took careful aim at the more insane "realities" of travelling into Israel from other countries. Not withstanding the actual people of Israel, it would seem the regulations bar you if you've been to "enemy" countries, so they had to avoid the fans they surprisingly ( or not so surprisingly ) have in Syria.  If you know how to decode Top Gear road trip films, they will focus on things if they are sufficiently worthy of pointing out. In the case of the great wall of peace Israel is building, Top Gear made damn sure we had time to look at it and wonder why it's ok to do that but not ok in Berlin. Top Gear is not political , but always takes pains to make sure we are aware that when they travel trough an area, they don't just happily  pass through and ignore the reality on the ground, especially if that reality is not always the most complimentary to the host country. Unlike some programmes, Top Gear does not wish us to stick our fingers in our ears and sing ting a ling a loo.

David Suchet on  the Orient Express, was a trip of a different sort . His voyage from London to Prague was only possible with the reopening of the old European travel corridors closed for decades by war and dictatorship. The trip of a lifetime for Suchet included the chance to drive the train and visit part of the cars you'd normally never get to see. I think he was spared the need to participate in some horrid murder mystery  dinner theatre silliness with tourists, but sign autographs for fans was a small price to pay to ride what can only be described as the celebrity a plus plus first class voyage. One day I too will be able to ride this train, but I doubt I'll be able to get the sort of treatment Hercule Poirot received.

While David Suchet was more small boy in awe Oz and Hugh Raise the Bar is more two grown men trying to catch each other out in a quest to get the best drinks for their side of the bar. The sense of cricket fair play in a series of sometimes frankly silly challenges makes this two man pub crawl both informative and mouth watering. The most awe inspire prize had to be the honour of not having to empty the chemical toilet. Despite these games or perhaps because of them, I suspect the small breweries and speciality stops will have a much appreciated bump in sales and appreciation they had hither too only dreamed off. It's nice to see Oz  when he looses so gracefully and reacts more annoyed than gutted reminds of a big brother who feels he has to at least try to seem like he's lost something fairly important to the buzzing fly that is Hugh. Best bit is the seemingly endless stream of strange recipes designed to cure hangovers or prove you are a man. I personally would love to have the special brew mead and the Northernmost wine in England seem like lovely easy to resupply tipple. If you've been watching both this and Three men go to Scotland, you'll know there may have been a race to visit the most isolated pub in Britain. I suspect the note from the three men is funnier than the fact I told you who got there first. The consolation however is that Hugh and Oz go to the smallest pub in the world at least, run by a slightly barmy priest if I recall correctly, it was worth the visit.

Three men go to Scotland starring best mates Griff Rhys-Jones (master sailor), Rory McGrath  ( whiskey expert) and Dara O Briain really smart man with a freakishly large head.  During their trek to do a backwards Johnson, visit of the Hebrides, and spend a lot of time doing feats of strength and trying not to be too much trouble to sea captains. Highlights include the humiliation of a young Scotsman in a row boat race, Rory getting quiet adept at popping open whiskey kegs and Dara staying well clear of trouble. Drink, sailing , caber tossing and outdoor survival with three funny best mates proved yet again an irresistible combination. This formula works because unlike most of us who only now ever just walk up the street with our mates, these lads ( grown men) set of on an adventure and do the sorts of things we always wanted to do but couldn't  as our children, wives, sedentary mates are too soft, to easily scared or just more interested in staying in and watching more telly or playing a video game. I don't know what sorts of adventures women dream of, but I'm sure if a series were put together where three ladies with time on their hands was made, it would be equally good to people  with purses.

Not forgetting the always versatile Dara, he next turns up in three nights of astronomy. Stargazing live, which continues tonight. Let me say right from the top that a framed photo of Sir Patrick Moore somehow does not seem enough when you assemble the best minds in Astronomy currently working in the field. That said, "sexy" Proff. Cox ( that's my wife talking there) and the hitherto unknown, smart Dara O Briain, are a brilliant hosting combo from the first night. What struck me as funny was realizing that after 60 years of science on the BBC, we are full circle and have returned to paper mache models on stick and Dara's freakishly large head standing in for Earth. And you knew it was LIVE didn't you? Several brilliant moments of stumbling on words followed by cloudy skies and last night the poor sod stood outside missing a meteorite falling when he had his back turned. Not sure if If share the faith the strange man had for noises from the Sun. Like all things and movements, there are reactions, and disturbances in the matter around the moving matter, but to say that there is a noise in space is bollocks. Jonathan Woss stands in for all the divs out there who are too thick or too easily distracted. During his segments Wossy helps fill a few minutes while real science is tested and checked before they go live on air. Liz Bonnin, the only girl on the show as far as I can tell, reminds me of our weather lass on Look North Newcastle, always up for a trek onto a cold mountain or the lip of a volcano she'll even brave mixing with a bunch of geeks with hand assembled telescopes. That I knew about the apparently rare and seldom mentioned double quasar must mean I'm more of a geek than I thought, but that's a good thing I think. Proff Brian Cox had a few made for youtube moments, when he was given the chance to flog his own upcoming specials , he had the good taste to seem mildly embarrassed, how very English of him. Then he sits down to explain the rotation of planets and gravity.... by resorting to the highly scientific mancentric salt shakers and sugar bowls approach of explaining the off side rule, when it was still possible to explain the off side rule. THe segment on sci fi films and the later bit where we discussed using the gravitational pull pull of planets  had me among thosands thinking...Captain Kirk did that  in...Hope the Gallifreyans make the broadcast tonight. I am LOVING IT. Stargazing live  is the sort of geek fest in primetime the BBC should be applauded for. More please, don't stop now.

A break now to list the canny bits of telly we should all have watched.... Qi Xl where HarryPotter is decapitated,  Hercule Poirot in the dark but well made Murder on the Orient Express, Countryfile winter special, John Sargeant's Railway journeys, Upstairs Downstairs, Down town Abbey, Doctor Who Crimbo special, and.....

Eric and Ernie and all things Morcambe and Wise, was a tasty treat for any comedy fan over the age of 30. I grew up on these two and other comedians of their ilk, nice to know they had the force of nature called Saide "Ernest Wiseman's Mum" working for them.  Yet another Jew who made the world laugh and in so doing, made the world a better place to be. The big lesson of course was twofold, Northern humour is just fine, and trust your material if it got you as far as it had that they wanted you on telly. Watching back some of the things like the 1977 Christmas special was a bit of a time capsule, and the jokes  while of the distinctly old fashioned variety, were still funny. It's the light hearted sarcasm and fatalism my family has engaged in since I was  sperm and perfectly normal to me.  The even better, less filtered stuff that made Morcambe and Wise so Northern is the very soul of ethnic, Polish, Jewish, Irish  etc... humour. It let's you know that no one, no matter how high born or skilled or handicapped, is free of the scrutiny only friends and family can give you.

Would have had this up sooner but had to stop to watch the Ashes live. To those of you who think it's dull and watching paint dry is more fun, I'll never convince you, for the rest of you, Collingwood has lost his touch, Alistair Cook and Bell excelled and Prior is hopefully going the same way. Shameful the way they tried to cheat Cook early in his batting, as for Bell's not out, I'll stick to the final call being correct. Some of the sporting spirit seems a bit in short supply on the Oz team but  the fans of both sides embraced the pink theme for a good cause.  A few more nights of little or no sleep and barring a disaster, we will have won the series. 

Did I miss anything else????? Hogmanay was mostly watching films off the iPlayer and taking chances on things I'd missed first time around.... In fact in  Crooked House, the BBC's deserved flavour of the year Mark Gatiss, fronts this scary trio of stories that made my wife want to crawl under her duvet and may have reduced her to a shivering ball of jello, I am by marital obligation and being honourable, barred from revealing more. If you like a good scary story, catch this one before it goes boo off the iPlayer.

Things back to normal service now, I'm feeling much better and the The TV Guide even has decent offering from ITV, so take care what you watch , but there is plenty out there. Laters all, time to put some more funny stuff on while I help my wife bake.  ( we are down to our last crust of bread )

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Is it over yet? Ah Good Morning or Hello or whatever it's 2011

Yes more Whiskey please.... Drink, Feck, Arse!

Time for some resolutions, this year I will not say Glake, mong or eedjit..... unless of course I'm provoked.

I will avoid temptation and not watch anything with Katie Price, James Corden or Amanda Holden.... As I already do that and it's good common sense it's hardly a resolution....

I will drop a few pounds ... by buying some shit I don't need on the internet...

Lastly and most importantly... I will not allow myself to be broken hearted by a football team this year. We'll see how long that one lasts.

I include this bit, as the response is worthy of reprinting elsewhere. To explain if you've just stumbled on this. In my year end review I and apparently several other reviews, ripped Gilles and Sue take the Piss a new arsehole, Yer Kieth Telly Topping pointed out that maybe we were being too sensitive. What follows is my response.

On a less flippant note... the conceit of the good life may in fact be a huge conceit on the part of some. In fact I can point the fickle finger of falseness at many I personally know, but the reason I may be somewhat sensitive to this is that We as a family have taken a concious decision some 5 years ago to stop the waste and cut out as much of the so called necessities people seem  to have got addicted to. Our kitchen is prety much gadget free, only a few plug in, and as and when we get a garden space even a quarter as small as on the Good Life, we're planting our own veg at least part of the time. As I mention in my last thing, cutting oneself off from the world like some Amish ( I can insult the Amish as they can't see this and won't send a letter to ofcom) is stupid, Cromagnan man survived by trade while Neanderthals died out cold and alone in caves near Gib. Adapt and change I agree , but the need to recognize that we have gone too far in some regards needs to be respected. Far too many people I know think the automatic dish washer is a right and that all veg comes flash frozen & precut in a zapable bag. These people don't even cook. We don't need four wheel drive tanks to go from home to the mall and back, our larders are empty of great foods we used to eat just a 40 or 50 years ago. That's why I got excited. Plus Sue seemed to just give up a lot far too early so she can dig in her bag of jokes. Oh My I've become a Presbyterian do gooder Well maybe not a bad thing all the time. Ian Hislop proved that these people were a good counter weight to the absolute excess and abandon of the people on the opposite side of the house.

Speaking of compost and veg and horrid people.... Did anybody watch the Nigel Slater bio pic Toast? I never thought Helena Bonham Carter could be that ....common. Thank G-d my gran never cooked by boiling tins in a pot is all I'll say. If she had, I might have grown up gay and resentful. Here EAT the Lemon meringue pie you Bitch! MY ROAST SUCKLING PIG is better than yours! And the Harlequin romance moment when he kissed the guy in the apple orchard was too much. As my wife said, the actual event must have been far too painfully embarrassing to recount.  PRESS HERE FOR APOLOGY if it really happened that way. (To all and sundry in general, generally speaking, I generally apologise for my less than stellar behaviour. There have been reasons, but then again everyone has them...generally. My light and general drivel should in no way be interpreted as a lack of remorse on my part. Sorry - truly I am. )

My head head hurts and I'm tired ......

Apparently my spell check thinks arsehole isn't a word, so I asked it to tell me how I SHOULD spell it. Seems it's spelled Arsenal.

I suppose now is as good a time and excuse to have another cookery related post. I hear you saying Mietek just what do I need for a complete pantry ?  How can I get past the salt and pepper and bacon simili? A good question and one that deserves an honest answer.

The short version is that you need as many spices and liquids as you can lay hands on to make Thai, Chinese, Asian, general Northern European fare and Italian. Here's a nice simple list, if you have what it takes to make a Garam Masala at home, you have a pretty good spice rack. Everything else should be dictated by your own cultural peculiarities. Being Polish, we have a thing for honey, vanilla, saffron, allspice and nutmeg. You'll need several cooking and drinking wines, spirits, vinegars and things like fish sauce or sesame oil. Also dried things like wild mushrooms and the lovely Chinese ones. Other stuff you need to get cooking are replacements for butter when doing kosher or halal . Chief among them are Ghee and of course Crisco. When baking or doing puddings, don't be afraid of the fruits and nuts and earthy spices. Get honey, almonds, walnuts and assorted raisins, prunes and figs.

Ask yourself where your family comes from, and if the answer is not reflected in the food you eat today, get busy rediscovering your culinary roots. Do you live in Cornwall or Northumbria? Try some regional dishes, there's a reason they became popular where you live, I can assure you they are all wonderful and at least as interesting as whatever deeply foreign food you have been eating because its cool. The tragedy that local foods have disappeared almost entirely in some places is down to people being afraid of eating something gross or boring.  Try something fresh from the market instead of the big box frozen place, you'll be surprised at just good it's supposed to taste.

And listen up you modern vegetarians who have taken up the cause but aren't Buddhist or something, try some fresh locally sourced meat that was properly butchered. It's lovely, it tastes great, it's rich in flavours and will blow you away. The rest of you, try mutton, veal, goat or rabbit. All meats that used to have huge favour in the population. They haven't stopped being good, you just don't know how to cook it anymore. Ask your Nan, read a recipe book, ask the butcher at the farmer's market. Too good to eat offal? try some tripe, it won't kill you.

Then there's seafood we don't touch because we're too good for that sort of thing. The UK is full of shellfish, regular fish and other sea sourced edibles that are routinely send en masse shipped to Spain and France.The limited palette of the average person compared to the bad old days of boiled everything and all,  makes the provincial ancestor look like a connoisseur of fine foods. Stop codling yourself and your children and try something gross and icky for a change, like maybe strong or runny cheeses, St Aubin, Charles the 7th, Limberger. Real Cheddar, the strong stuff , not the cheese product wrapped in plastic.Take the £20 you were going to waste on crisps chocies and other assorted things and just this once go to the cheese shop, walk past the bouzouki player and ask the man proudly for some Wensleydale, Red Leicester or Caboc, he may even be able to suggest some other things that go with it.

Then of course you have your drinks section, beer is canny to cook with and even bake with, try a variety, buy some scrumpy, and do try the fruit syrups in water, it's tens times better than any cheap soda you'll find in market. All of these things can be found in ethnic shops and proper markets.

Did I mention baking? Make your own bread, biscuits and cakes, it's not all easy , but it's hardly as difficult as you think it is.  I suspect every library worthy of the name, has a baking section  with any number of recipes that will start you off on a long life of filling your home with the smell of hot fresh bread. Too busy you say?  Not too busy to take 5 or ten minutes at a time spread over two hours to make a loaf or three. You still have time for facebook, telly, a walk. Enough with the excuses, just try it, you'll see how you can suddenly live without the video games or zoning out on rubbish telly designed for the lowest common denominator.

If you only do one thing this year, open your kitchen and your mouth to the world of flavours you may have been missing out on. Your taste buds will thank you and your children will stop being fussy. 90 % of all allergies and food conditions are bollocks, they are just an excuse and crutch used by lazy people to avoid eating anything they find odd, a modern form of hypochondria. For example a lactose intolerant Chinese person is normal, as milk and cheeses in particular are foreign to their diet, a Southern Hindu who hasn't eaten meat of any kind in several centuries understandably has a hard time with beef, but a European who claims peanut, milk and gluten allergies when we have eaten these foods since before Roman times, is complete insanity. Stop making excuses and start eating already, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

And on that note, I'm off to finish the the cheese and meatballs we didn't eat last night. Slange , bonne apetit, na zdrowie, enjoy the day off and maybe tomorrow you cook, yes?