A message to Lady Jenkin from George Orwell

December 10, 2014 at 1:05 am (food, Jim D, literature, Orwell, Tory scum, truth, welfare)

Above: Orwell enjoying a nice cup of tea

Baroness Anne Jenkin, the Tory peer who has advised the poor to eat porridge instead of “sugary cereals” and to learn to cook, would do well to read some Orwell and learn some humanity – and humility:

“The miner’s family spend only ten pence a week on green vegetables and ten pence half-penny on milk (remember that one of them is a child less than three years old), and nothing on fruit; but they spend one and nine on sugar (about eight pounds of sugar, that is) and a shilling on tea. The half-crown spent on meat might represent a small joint and the materials for a stew; probably as often as not it would represent four or five tins of bully beef. The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes – an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t. […] When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll have a nice cup of tea. That is how your mind works when you are at the PAC level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don’t nourish you to any extent but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man’s opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread”  – from The Road To Wigan Pier, 1937

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The SWP crisis and Cliff family values

February 20, 2013 at 12:59 am (anti-semitism, AWL, food, Jim D, left, Marxism, philosophy, sectarianism, socialism, strange situations, SWP, trotskyism)

“Sunday’s meeting was a caucus to establish the political ground for the faction.  A vote on whether to open the meeting to comrades outside the faction upheld the original decision that this would not be helpful in allowing the faction to clarify its views. The CC had been informed of this in advance. It was, therefore, surprising that some supporters of the CC’s position since conference arrived at the caucus with the expectation they could attend.

“The discussion with these comrades was polite and they respected the decision of the faction that it was to be a closed caucus.”

The above is one of the the SWP opposition groups’ (the In Defence of Our Party faction [IDOP]) account of an incident at their meeting last Sunday.

Here’s another version, this time from Anna Gluckstein, daughter of SWP founder Tony Cliff and his partner Chanie Rosenberg (still alive and also involved in the incident):

“As you know I never do facebook, but today I feel compelled to. Today there was a faction meeting in central London. I went along with a couple of comrades and others and we were barred from entry! This was not only me, this was two CC members and two of our journalists. I had invited my mum to the meeting and then I had to tell her she wasn’t allowed to come. I understand that there will be organisational points that the comrades in the faction may wish to discuss and we would have left at that point, but they were having a five hour meeting in which general political perspectives were to be discussed. Chanie was very upset about this situation as we have never had closed political discussions from other members. We are all in the same organisation, how can this happen? where is the democracy in this?”

The Socialist Review / International Socialism group was always at least in part, a ‘friends and family’ outfit, centred around the Cliff/ Gluckstein/ Rosenburg family and their close personal associates. The fact that the present-day SWP leader, Professor Callinicos, has felt it necessary to draft in the remaining Cliff family in an obvious attempt boost the leadership and embarrass the opposition, is a sure sign of desperation.

Still, the Cliffs could be quite pleasant (up to a point) when they invited you round for dinner:

Above: Chanie and Tony, newly arrived in London, 1946

Dinner with the Cliffs By Mike Kyriazopoulos (1998)

I happened to meet Tony Cliff and his partner Chanie Rosenberg of the Socialist Workers Party recently and they invited me to dinner. Why? To recruit me to the SWP! I accepted. Dinner that is, not membership.

Cliff, ideological leader of the SWP, would I thought be worth a chat, and would provide a better argument than your average SWPer, who tends to be politically ill-educated and disablingly out of touch with the labour movement. I might learn something. Who knows, I might be able to put the old bugger straight on a couple of points.

I was to be disappointed. The food was fine; the politics, however, were indigestible. Cliff fleshed out and pressed home SWP policies with greater skill and subtlety than your average SWPer. He is wittier. But his politics are no better, nor his arguments noticeably more sophisticated.

Cliff’s central argument? We’re the biggest because we’re the best; we’re the best because we’re the biggest. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here…

He was little better on detail. No SWPer had tried to stop me selling papers on the train to the recent lobby of Labour Party Conference (where I’d met Cliff). Neither had the SWP (which really does have 10,000 members) tried to stop us selling Workers’ Liberty at their summer school. SWPers had never tried to smash up any Workers’ Liberty meetings or assaulted any of our comrades! But I have witnessed or been involved in such things. No I haven’t! “Bloody rubbish!”

Yes, Cliff conceded, in 1978, the SWP had ignored the fascists’ attempt to march down Bengali-inhabited Brick Lane, east London, in favour of building the Anti-Nazi League Carnival (a party) in Brockwell Park, prioritising building the ANL and SWP over stopping the fascists. So what? They were right!

Yes, in 1992, as the Tories closed the last pits, the SWP had raised the call for a general strike , suddenly, from nowhere, and then just as suddenly dropped it. That was, “completely right.” It went down well. It caught a mood. They sold a lot of papers. They didn’t mean it? Obviously. But so what?

Doesn’t the SWP expel anyone disagreeing with the leadership? “Bloody rubbish!” The SWP has expelled “maybe 50 people” in the last two decades, only for things like violence to other comrades. (Not for violence to members of other groups, though!) Most people claiming to have been expelled from the SWP haven’t really been expelled; they’re just, “making it up.” Pardon? “Bloody rubbish!”

Why was WL’s forerunner expelled from the International Socialists, forerunner of the SWP? Because they thought the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers’ state. They did, I said, but weren’t they expelled because they opposed the decision to join Little Englanders and Stalinists in opposition to Britain joining the EC? They said that in the choice between a bosses’ Britain and a bosses’ Europe workers should say in effect: Neither Westminster nor Brussels but International Socialism! “Bloody rubbish!”

Why not debate WL now , on the Middle East, for example? Because WL is “small”, “sectarian”, irrelevant”,  “nothing.” Straight to the heart of the political issues! In what way are we sectarian? We criticise the SWP! Oh… The problem is that WL, “sees the flea but not the elephant.” I’ll repeat that for less sophisticated readers: we see the flea but not the elephant.

And so it went on. The ANL/SWP alone prevented the rise of fascism in Britain. The SWP is “a big force” in the unions (and not just the white collar unions); it is “massive”, makes all the campaigning initiatives… Drawing on my experience as a union activist in a large workplace I tried to prick Cliff”s fantasy bubbles with the odd fact, but Cliff”s bubbles are made of tougher stuff than soap suds.

Finally we got to Israel-Palestine, and then the cutlery was drawn and the croutons really started to fly!

Why, I asked Cliff, a Palestinian Jew in origin, were the Israeli Jews the only national/communal group on earth who do not have the right to self-determination? He listed every real and alleged atrocity committed by Israel. I agreed to condemn many things about Israel. My sympathy is with the Palestinians. But what about Jewish-Arab working class unity? There can be no unity of Jewish and Palestinian workers, shouted Cliff, writing three million workers out of history, nor can there be a compromise giving national rights of both groups. In this portion of the Middle East class politics cannot apply. Ever? Never!

The SWP never used the phrase “smash Israel” but, Cliff agreed, their policy amounted to that. Any Jewish state in Palestine will inevitably oppress Arabs, and be a tool of US imperialism.

To advocate any kind of Jewish state in Palestine, he insisted, was to favour immigration controls. This was bizarre, coming from the man who in an autobiographical piece in Socialist Review (issue 100) said that, in retrospect, he felt he was wrong in 1938-9 not to have favoured immigration controls to keep Jews out of Palestine. Jews fleeing Europe, when the alternative was certain death, before and during the Holocaust!

“The Zionists” had used the Holocaust to brainwash Jews into advocating imperialism and oppression in the Middle East. I — Cliff had twigged that I am Jewish in background — had been brainwashed, though my conscience made me advocate “concessions” to the Palestinians. Cod-psychoanalysing me, while he himself argued more from emotion and distant personal experience, heatedly evading what I thought was a reasoned case, I felt Cliff revealed more about his own psychology than mine.

The row became increasingly charged. Isn’t the SWP’s a policy hostile to all Jews alive today? Yes, he said, with a candour that surprised me. But only because they have been brainwashed! Cliff was being a vicarious Arab chauvinist, I argued. And so it went on… Cliff, I had said, was objectively an anti-semite. He had attacked me as a pro-imperialist fruitcake.

The evening, I thought, had been a social failure: I had missed my chance to join “the socialists”. I stood (or rather, sat) denounced as a murdering Zionist, Labourite, pro-imperialist, an idiot with the wrong idea about absolutely everything!

But no. Cliff and Chanie, their expressions softened, aren”t sectarians. I would be more than welcome, said Chanie warmly, producing a membership form, in the SWP!

Paul Foot somewhere calls Cliff the Philosopher in Stoke Newington. As I left Cliff”s house that night I knew for sure that Foot was half right. Tony Cliff does, indeed, live in Stoke Newington.

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Time for some horse-sense from Labour

February 18, 2013 at 7:36 pm (Champagne Charlie, Cuts, David Cameron, Europe, food, labour party, Tory scum)

Chris Riddell 17/02/2013

The present horsemeat scandal presents Miliband and Labour with what should be a simple, unanswerable case against the Tories: more – not less – regulation is the only answer to this and other basic issues of human health, safety and general wellbeing. As with the banking crisis, the politics, morality and efficiency of the unregulated free market has been shown to be grievously wanting.

The case for increased regulation been presented to Labour on a plate.

The Food Standards Agency has had its staff cut by nearly half and its powers of inspection and enforcement delegated to the local authorities, who themselves have suffered massive cuts (their food sampling budgets have been slashed by 70%) and simply cannot carry out these responsibilities.

This fiasco is the direct result of the present government’s attempts to deregulate the food industry. And the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson just happens to be a leading “scorched earth” deregulator.  As The Observer‘s not-terribly-left-wing Will Hutton commented:

“That everything Paterson believes in is so wrong is not just a crisis for him – it is a crisis for his party and for Britain’s centre-right media whose prejudices makes thinking straight in the Tory party impossible. A great country cannot be governed by politicians whose instincts and policies are at such odds with reality, so betraying the people, economy and society they govern. The horsemeat crisis is not confined to our food chain. It reveals the existential crisis in contemporary Conservatism.”

So why is it that (according to the polls), the public are not blaming the government, and seem to be accepting the ‘line’  being peddled by Cameron and Patterson: that it’s all the fault of the supermarkets and/or Johnny Foreigner?

We can only conclude that despite some effective interventions by the shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh, Miliband just doesn’t have his eye on the ball. Perhaps he’s too distracted by the useless “Blue Labour” vapourising of Jon Cruddas to seize the main chance when it’s staring him in the face.

And while we’re on the subject of the anti-EU poseur Cruddas, another issue arises as a result of the horse-crisis: as Hutton notes, “Geography means that Britain is inevitably part of the European supply chain. Our efforts at better regulation – and of catching wrongdoers – have to be matched by others for everyone’s sake, exactly what the EU was set up to do and is now doing.”

Yesterday’s Independent on Sunday reported:

It emerged yesterday that ministers are planning to abandon plans to opt out of new European Union regulations requiring producers and retailers to state exactly what is in their mincemeat.The Government had planned to request a derogation from labelling rules on “loose meat”, claiming that the move would limit regulation and cut costs for businesses. But ministers have laid plans for a u-turn after a parliamentary report on the horsemeat crisis said: ‘This is not the time for the Government to be proposing reducing the labelling standards applied to British food.”

An assessment of the opt-out plan, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), revealed that much of Britain’s mincemeat has too much “filler”, including fat and connective tissue. It warned that “a significant proportion of minced meat sold in the UK contains a greater proportion of collagen [connective tissue] than would be permitted” under the new rules.

“There are very sound reasons for proposing this derogation and we are consulting for views on it,” a senior source at Defra said last night. “However, we take the point that it would not be sensible to be talking about giving less information when the public are so concerned over what they don’t know about what might be in their food. I think this ‘preferred option’ will be redrawn, or even shelved, long before the consultation process is over.”

Time for Miliband to dump that posturing buffoon Cruddas, drop any suggestion of Euro-scepticism … and demonstrate some social democratic horse-sense.

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Greece: potatoes and Stalinism

March 16, 2012 at 12:13 am (capitalist crisis, Cross-post, democracy, economics, Europe, food, Greece, sectarianism, stalinism, workers)

The stupidity and sectarianism of Stalinists never ceases to amaze, even after all these years.

By Theodora Polenta (via Workers Liberty)

Since the start of March, pictures of farmers in vans distributing potatoes to queues of people have dominated the Greek media.

Producers of potatoes in the Pieria region decided to get rid of the middleman and distribute their potatoes at €0.25 per kilo instead of €0.60.

Almost everybody across the political spectrum, including the government and the mainstream media, has endorsed this “potato movement”, though for different reasons.

The strident and significant exception is the strong though diehard-Stalinist Greek Communist Party (KKE).

The far-left coalition Antarsya, for example, has declared: “These movements show that the fat cat middlemen and capitalist bosses are not invincible… Getting rid of the middlemen is an important step so that the producers and the consumers can cope with the attacks of the [EU/ ECB/ IMF] Troika and the national unity government”.

“It is patronising to describe it as the potato movement. It is directly connected with the needs of both the producers and the people who are on the brink of starvation and social deprivation and destitution. It is connected with the future.

“It carries images from the future. It reveals the tremendous potential opened up when the producers and creators of society’s wealth take control over their products. All working class people can benefit by having access to cheap and good quality food”.

As Antarsya notes, the potato movement is connected and interlinked with the versatile, imaginative, and multiple forms of struggle developed during the last two years of Greek working-class struggle.

It is connected with the neighbourhood non-payment movement, first against road tariffs and bus fares, and lately against the new regressive property tax. It is connected with the movement of “indignant citizens”  in the city squares. It is connected with all the small and big struggles in workplaces across Greece.

Yet the KKE has printed virtually an article a day denouncing the potato movement.

KKE explains the obvious — that the potato movement is not socialist collective farming; it operates within the framework of the capitalist society; it will not solve food high prices overall, or meets all of society’s food needs.

Last week the KKE paper Rizospastis declared: “Pushed by the mainstream media and encouraged by the government, a propaganda campaign is developing that has as its aim to deceive working-class people and the small peasants… This propaganda is referred to as the potato movement

“The aim of the cheap-potatoes movement is identical to that of the ‘indignant citizens’ in the city squares. It is to try to mislead the poor peasants away from the agricultural unions, away from the fight against EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, away from the fight against the monopolies…

“The feeding of the people, the production of cheap and good quality agricultural products, is a very serious problem that cannot be solved via activism, voluntarism and sporadic internet orders [the farmers involved take orders over the internet]…

“There is indeed a big gap between the price at which producers sell products to the middlemen and the price at which these products are sold to the consumer.

“But as long as the laws of the markets and the profits prevail the above problem cannot be solved…

“As long as capitalist relationships are present, exploitation will operate at every level against the people, independent of their status, pensioners, workers, unemployed, producers, consumers…

“Under a planned economy, the process of production and distribution of agricultural products will guarantee a satisfactory income for all producers, to cover their needs, as well as cheap and healthy food for all people, as well as new  jobs. But that can only be achieved within the context of a workers’ and people’s government and economy”.

KKE’s hostile stance against the potato movement is in line with its stances against the students and youth rebellion movement of 2008 and against last summer’s movement in the city squares. It is in line with KKE’s sectarian policy of separate demonstrations and protests during the general strikes.

It is in line with KKE’s attempts to build separate neighbourhood movements, and its hostile stance towards any movement that is not politically and ideologically under the wing of the party. Deploying Stalinism and mechanistic conspiracy theory in classic form, the KKE declares that the potato movement is “directed by big capital, like the city squares movement”.

Recently KKE has backtracked a bit. Its secretary, Aleka Paparyga, has made a statement saying that there had been exaggerations in KKE’s response, but the main points had been right.

The movement initiated in Pieria has now spread all over Greece, gaining momentum every day, with councillors and mayors being involved to facilitate it. In some areas it has been extended to other products such as honey and oil.

There is now talk of farmers directly distributing rice, flour, olive oil, beans, and lamb for Easter. The oil will be distributed at €3 per litre (€6 per litre in supermarkets), flour at €0.50 per kilo (€1 in supermarkets),  rice at €0.70 per kilo (€3 in supermarkets), beans at €3 per kilo (€8 in supermarkets), lamb at €7 per kilo (€13 in the butchers).

It all started a couple of months ago, when the producers of milk and fruit were protesting against the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy outside  parliament. Instead of throwing their products at the parliament and  ministry buildings, as customary in previous protests, they decided to distribute them free in Syntagma Square.

Their move gained overwhelming support, and all the products were distributed to the people within a space of a few hours.

With the economically active population earning monthly wages of €500 and €600, over one million unemployed, and 20,000 homeless people in Athens alone, of course distribution of  free or cheap agricultural products results in massive responses from the people.

Alongside the potato movement there are the not-so-publicised “alternative networks of product exchange” in which people are swapping possessions, and the “social kitchens” where people are sharing resources in cooking and offering food to the destitute and unemployed. Other unpredictable forms and ways of dealing with basic needs for foods and shelter will be developed by the movement.

The left should not underestimate the danger of these movements being incorporated by the establishment, as a peaceful charity appendix of the government’s cuts, or channelled into reformist ideas and illusions about building oases of freedoms within the capitalist system.

But these movements, with their massive appeal, also carry potential to be a first step towards a concentration of forces and the building of a massive working-class movement with radical characteristics.

For that, they need to be linked with the trade union movement and the workplace struggles, and with the neighbourhood community movements, and given clear political direction by the left.

• Redistribute the land owned by the church and the big farmers to the peasants

• Create agricultural cooperatives under peasant and social control, with  representatives elected, accountable to, and recallable by general meetings

• Nationalise the fertiliser and farm machine industries under workers’ social control

• Coordinate food policy and agricultural production on the basis of Greek society’s needs and respect for the environment.

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Amis on Drink: Mean Sod’s Guide

December 27, 2010 at 12:14 pm (beer, Christmas, expenses, food, Jim D, whisky, wine)

[At this time of austerity many of us neverthless feel obliged to hold a party. So here are some useful tips from Kingsley Amis, the master of mean-spirited parsimony and calculated vindictiveness at party-time]:

The point here is not simply to stint your guests on quality and quantity – any fool can pre-pour Moroccan red into burgundy bottles, or behave as if all knowledge of the existence of drink has been suddenly excised from his brain at 10 p.m. – but to screw them while seeming, at any rate to their wives, to have done them rather well. Note the limitation: your ideal objective is a quarrel on the way home between each husband and wife, he disparaging your hospitality, she saying you were very sweet and thoughtful and he is just a frustrated drunk. Points contributing to this end are marked *.

* 1. Strike at once by, on their arrival, presenting each lady with a rose and each gent with bugger-all. Rub this in by complimenting each lady on her appearance and saying in a stentorian undertone to the odd gent, “I heard you hadn’t been so well” (=pissed as a lizard every day) or “You’re looking much better than when I saw you last” (ie with that emperor-sized hangover).

2. Vital requirement: prepare pre- and post-dinner drinks in some undiscoverable pantry or broom-cupboard well away from the main scene. This will not only screen your niggardliness; it will also make the fetching of each successive round look like a slight burden, and *will cast an unfavourable limelight on any individual determined to wrest additional drinks out of you. Sit in a specially deep easy-chair, and practice getting out of it with a mild effort and, later in the evening, a just-audible groan, though beware of overdoing this.

3. As regards the pre-dinner period, procedures vary. The obvious one is to offer only one sort of drink, a “cup” or “punch” made of cheap red wine, soda water, a glass of cooking sherry if you can plunge that far, and a lot of fresh fruit to give an illusion of lavishness. Say you invented it and add menacingly that it has more of a kick than might be expected. Serve in small glasses.

The cold-weather varient of this – same sort of wine, water, small glass of cooking brandy heated in a saucepan, pinch of nutmeg on top of each glass or mug – is more trouble, but it has two great advantages. One is that you can turn the trouble to positive account by spending nearly all your time either at the cooker, conscientiously making sure the stuff goes on being hot enough, or walking from the cooker – much more time than you spend actually giving people drinks. The other gain is that after a couple of doses your guests will be pouring with sweat and largely unable to take any more. (Bank up the fire or turn up the heating to aid this effect, remembering to reduce the temperature well before the kicking-out stage approaches.)

If, faced with either of these, any old-stager insists on, say, Scotch, go to your pantry and read the paper for a few minutes before filling the order. * Hand the glass over with plenty of emphasis, perhaps bawling as you do so, “One large Scotch whisky delivered as ordered, sah!”

Should you feel, as you would have reason to, that this approach is getting a little shiny with use, set your teeth and give everybody a more or less proper drink. You can salve your pocket, however, by adding a tremendous lot of ice to fill up the glass (troublesome, but cheaper than alcohol), or, in the case of martinis, by dropping in an olive the size of a baby’s fist (see Thunderball, by Ian Fleming, chapter 14). Cheat on later drinks as follows: in preparing a gin and tonic, for instance, put the tonic and ice and thick slice of lemon in first and pour on them a timbleful of gin over the back of a spoon, so that it will linger near the surface and give a strong-tasting first sip, which is the one that counts. A friend of mine, whose mother-in-law gets a little excited after a couple of drinks, goes one better in preparing her third by pouring tonic on ice, wetting a fingertip with gin and passing it round the rim of the glass, but victims of this procedure must be selected with extreme care. Martinis should be as cold as before, but with plenty of melted ice. Whiskies are more difficult. Use the back-of-the-spoon technique with coloured glasses, or use then darkest brand you can find. Water the sherries.

4. Arrange dinner early, and see that the food is plentiful, however cheap it is. You can get away with not serving wine with the first course, no matter what it may be. When the main course is on the table, “suddenly realise” you have not opened the wine, and proceed to do so with a lot of cork-popping. The wine itself will not, of course, be French or German; let us call it Ruritanian Gold Label. Pour it with ceremony, explaining that you and your wife (*especially she) “fell in love with it” on holiday there and will be “interested” in people’s reactions. When these turn out to consist of polite, or barely polite, silence, either say nostalgically that to appreciate it perhaps you have to have drunk a lot of it with that marvellous local food under the sun, etc., or announce bluffly, “Doesn’t travel well, does it? Doesn’t travel.” Judge your audience.

5. Sit over the remains of dinner as long as you dare or can bear to, then take the company off to the drawing-room and make  great play with doling out coffee. By this stage (a vague, prolonged one anyhow), a good half-hour of abrupt and total forgetfulness about the very idea of drink can profitably be risked. At its end “suddenly realize” you have imposed a drought and offer brandy, explaining a good deal less than half apologetically that you have no cognac, only a “rather exceptional” Armagnac. This, of course, produced with due slowness from your pantry, is a watered-down cooking brandy from remote parts of France or from South Africa – a just-potable that will already, did they but know it, be familiar to those of your guests who have drunk “Armagnac” at the average London restaurant. * Ask the ladies if they would care to try a glass of Strelsauvada, a “rather obscure” Ruritanian liqueur made from rotten figs with almond-skin flavouring which admittedly can “play you up” if you are not used to it. They will all say no and think highly of you for the offer.

6. Play out time with groan-preceded, tardily-produced, ice-crammed Scotches, remembering the recourse of saying loudly, * “I find myself that a glass of cold beer [out of the cheapest quart bottles from the pub] is the best thing at this time of night.”

7. Along the lines of sticking more fruit than any sane person could want in the pre-dinner “punch” or “cup”, put out a lot of pseudo-luxuries like flood-damaged truncheon-sized cigars, bulk-bought * after-dinner mints, bankrupt-stock * vari-coloured cigarettes, etc.

8. Your own drinks. These must obviously not be allowed to fall below any kind of accustomed level, however cruel the deprivations you force on your guests. You will naturally refresh yourself with periodic nips in your pantry, but going thither at all often may make undesirable shags think, even say, that you ought to be bringing thence a drink for them. So either choose between a darkly tinted glass (“an old friend of mine in Venice gave it me – apparently it’s rather valuable, ha, ha, ha”) and a silver cup of some sort (“actually it’s my christening-mug from T.S. Eliot-believe it or not, ha, ha,ha,”) which you stick  inseperably to and can undetectably fill with neat whisky, or boldly use a plain glass containing one of those light-coloured blends known, at any rate in the U.S.A., as a “husband’s Scotch” – “Why, hell, Mamie, just take a look; you can see it’s near as damn pure water,” and hell, Jim, Jack, Joe and the rest of the crowd.

9. If you think that all or most of the above is mere satirical fantasy, you cannot have been around much yet.

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Happy birthday, Frank Parr: the Gaffer!

May 30, 2008 at 10:58 pm (food, jazz, Jim D, whisky, wild man)

The patron saint of this blog, Frank Parr, is eighty on 1st June. We must get hold of him, and have an “event” (ie: piss-up), because he is/was The Master. Never mind amateurs like these: Parr is The Gaffer!

We’ve previously quoted the late George Melly on Frank Parr (jazz trombonist and Lancashire wicket-keeper), but the following is just great:

“It might…appear extraordinary that, far from playing cricket for England, the following summer saw Frank touring with a jazz band. The reason had nothing to do with Frank’s wicket-keeping, but it had a lot to do with Frank. From what I can gather, although the ‘gentlemen’ and ‘players’ labels have disappeared, the attitude of the cricketing establishment remains firmly entrenched. The professional cricketer is not just a man who plays cricket for money. He has a social role. He is expected to behave within certain defined limits. He can be a ‘rough diamond’, even ‘a bit of a character’, but he must know his place. If he smells of sweat, it must be fresh sweat. He must dress neatly and acceptably. His drinking must be under control. He must know when to say ‘sir’.

“Frank, we were soon to discover, had none of these qualifications. He was an extreme social risk, a complicated rebel whose world swarmed with demons and Jack O’Lanterns, and was treacherous with bogs and quicksands. He concealed a formidable and well-read intelligence behind a stylised oafishness. He used every weapon to alienate acceptance. Even within the jazz world, that natural refuge for the anti-social, Frank stood out as an exception. We never knew the reason for his quarrel with the captain of Lancashire, but after a month or two in his company we realised it must have been inevitable…

“Food and drink were the other weapons in Frank’s armoury. He was extremely limited in what he would eat for a start. Fried food, especially bacon and eggs, headed the list;; then came cold meat and salad, and that was about the lot. Any other food, soup for instance or cheese, came under the heading of ‘pretentious bollocks’, but even in the case of food he did like, his attitude was decidedly odd. He would crouch over his plate, knife and fork at the ready in his clenched fists, and glare down at the harmless egg and inoffesive bacon, enunciating, as though it were part of some barbarous and sadistic ritual, the words ‘ I’ll murder it.’ What followed, a mixture of jabbing, tearing, stuffing, grinding and gulping, was a distressing spectacle.

“In relation to drink he was more victim than murderer. He drank either gin and tonic or whisky and, once past the point of no return, would throw doubles into himself with astonishing rapidity, banging the empty glass down on the counter and immediately ordering another with a prolonged hiss on the word ‘please’. He passed through the classic stages of drunkenness in record time, wild humour, self pity, and unconsciousness, all well-seasoned with the famous Parr grimaces. His actual fall had a monumental simplicity. One moment he was perpendicular, the next horizontal. The only warning we had of his collapse was that, just before it happened, Frank announced that he was ‘only fit for the human scrap heap’ and this allowed us time to move any glasses, tables, chairs or instruments out of the way. 

“Frank’s spectacular raves didn’t stop him looking censorious when anyone else  was ‘going a bit’ – he used the same phrase for socks or drunkenness – but then we were all like that.

“If I think of him I can see certain gestures; his habit of rapidly shifting his cigarette around between his fingers, his slow tiger-like pacing, his manner of playing feet apart, body leaning stiffly backwards to balance the weight of his instrument.

“His music was aimed beyond his technique. Sometimes a very beautiful idea came off, more often you were aware of a beautiful idea which existed in Frank’s head. In an article on Mick (Mick Mulligan: Melly’s and Parr’s bandleader in the 1950’s -JD) in the Sunday Times, Frank was quoted as saying: ‘All jazzmen are kicking against something, and it comes out when they blow.”

“This was a remarkably open statement for Frank who, during a wagon discussion on our personal mental quirks and peculiarities, had once told us that he was the only normal person in the band.

“This gained him his nickname, ‘Mr Norm’, and any exceptionally Parr-like behaviour would provoke the conductor (ie: bandleader Mick Mulligan – JD) into saying: ‘Hello Frank. Feeling normal then?'”

George Melly – “Owning Up

Anyway: happy 80th, Frank. And keep on being normal!

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A Meal and a Half

April 29, 2008 at 6:53 pm (food, voltairespriest, wine)

And now for a completely different subject. Here’s another random recipe, this time from Martin Blunos. Sure beats the crap out of spam casserole. Having recently been learning about new ingredients, I’m told the secret’s in the wild garlic leaves…

Roast best end of lamb with garlic fritters and a wild garlic cream sauce

Serves 4

Preparation time 30 mins to 1 hour

Cooking time 1 to 2 hours

21 small cloves of garlic, skins on
a little water and a little milk to cover garlic in a pan
sprig of thyme
a pinch of sugar
250ml/8fl oz chicken stock
250ml/8fl oz lamb stock
50ml/2fl oz quality white wine
double cream, approximately 100ml/6½tbsp
salt and pepper
1 lemon, juice only (to taste)
4 portions of best ends of spring lamb, trimmed and prepared
a little oil and butter (preferably clarified) to seal the lamb
flour for dusting
300ml/½ pint beer batter (see below)
enough oil to deep-fry the garlic
a handful of fresh wild garlic leaves, central stems cut out (or enough wild garlic to taste as it is is a pungent herb)
Beer Batter
180g/6oz plain flour
30g/1½oz fresh yeast
5-10ml/1-2tsp white wine vinegar
a pinch each of salt and sugar

1. Place 20 cloves of garlic in a pan and cover with half cold water and half full fat milk. Add a pinch of salt and sugar and the sprig of thyme.
2. Cut a round of greaseproof paper the size of the pan and butter one side. Place the round, butter side down in the pan to cover the garlic.
3. Place the pan on a high heat, bring to the boil and then reduce heat and simmer gently until the garlic is cooked through.
4. Remove the paper, strain off the liquid and allow the garlic to steam dry. When cool, peel off the outer skin of the garlic and cut out the germ of the garlic clove. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
5. Make the batter by mixing all batter ingredients together. Allow to stand for 20 minutes. Meanwhile to make the sauce: in another pan, add the white wine and the remaining garlic clove, crushed. Bring to the boil to remove the alcohol, then add the lamb stock and chicken stock. Bring back to the boil and let the liquid reduce by a third.
6. Add the double cream and bring back to a gentle simmer, reduce to a rich and creamy consistency. Adjust the seasoning and finish with a little lemon juice. Pass through a fine strainer or muslin into a clean pan and keep warm until required.
7. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
8. Heat a little oil and (clarified) butter in a pan. Season the lamb and then seal in pan on all sides.
9. Once sealed, place in a hot oven to roast for about 7-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with foil and leave to rest in a hot place, like above the stove, for at least 20 minutes.
10. To make the garlic fritters: heat the oil for deep-frying in a pan. Dust the garlic cloves in a little flour and shake off the excess. Dip them into the beer batter and deep fry until golden and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and drizzle with a little lemon juice and season with salt.
11. Cut the wild garlic leaves into squares and stir into the prepared sauce. Let the leaves wilt in the heat of the sauce.
12. Spoon the sauce onto plates spreading the garlic leaves evenly.
13. Cut the best ends into cutlets and lay cut side up on top of the sauce. Place five garlic fritters around the lamb and serve with seasonal vegetables of your choice.

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