Ref! The final whistle

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.


Evening lads,

I see we’ve all woken up, then. From the snooze that was the England-Slovakia game, Baz. Load of rubbish, wasn’t it? And all the people who were talking Sam Allardyce up beforehand, about this system he had that the players could fall back on, well it didn’t look like they were particularly inspired, did it? And him sitting there like a face in the crowd.

No, I’m sorry, Dave, but I don’t reckon he’s up to it. I’m really sorry to be negative about it. Particularly as this is the last Ref! blog.

Why? Because the guy who writes this stuff is packing it in, that’s why. He says he’s been doing it for a year and has had a lot of fun, but he’s got other things to be getting on with. So that’s it.

He’d like to thank everyone for their support, blah blah blah, but what good’s that to the likes of us?

Cheers Gary, no drink thanks, I’m not in the mood. Rather sad actually, gents. It’s been a significant part of my life these last 12 months and I’ll miss it.

But all good things must come to an end and we’ve had the 90 minutes plus stoppage time on this. And all the other threads, Dave, yes. Our colleagues in the expat, pedant, film, pop music, food and religion departments – all the same bloke, as it happens – all packing it in.

So there we are. Nothing more to be said. Anybody wishing to contact the miserable git can use his email address:





Bloke in the Kitchen. Chemical assistance


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Degrees of cheating II

It sometimes seems as though the food purveyors of the 21st century are determined that we should all be overweight, with high blood pressure and blood sugar .

Those of us who like to eat a healthy diet without going down one of the extreme routes (raw, vegan, low-carb etc.) can see what appears to be a healthy option on a menu, but when it appears in front of us it’s been tampered with, spiked with things we don’t want but which the providers think we secretly do.

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Boiled eggs, green leaves, tomatoes, a bit of this, a bit of that and an oil and vinegar dressing. All your own work, no hidden bad stuff and a easy as pie (easier, in fact)

One of the best salads I have ever had was a mountain of green leaves served in what looked like a chamber pot. It was exactly what I was in the mood for (serving vessel excepted): the kind of meal that makes you feel good as you eat because you can imagine it doing you good.

Try that in a fast food restaurant and it will come with croutons (i.e. fried bread) and bacon bits (i.e. salt and fat), with a bottled dressing that tastes great but contains who-knows-what. This is a form of cheating that insults our intelligence. We have decided that we’re not going to have the burger and the bun and the fries and the ketchup or the fried chicken with the fat that runs up our sleeves. We know the result will be short on the sort of excitement, comfort or whatever people experience with a  load of hot fat and starch. But these people don’t take us seriously.  It’s like asking for an alcohol-free cocktail but receiving something with a little vodka and a splash of Grand Marnier because we can’t be permitted to miss out on the fun.

Help yourself to a mound of vegetables in a Chinese restaurant and you will more than likely be ingesting monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer that has bothered people since its introduction more than 100 years ago. While what we know simply as salt – sodium chloride – has the very well documented result of raising blood pressure (which in most cases is a bad thing), MSG is a bit of a mystery. On the plus side is its undeniable capacity to make things taste more appealing, adding a sort of savoury flavour that is known as umami, it also produces a wide array of symptoms in some people which others may experience to a lesser degree and just describe as generally “feeling a bit weird”.

As the cook in charge of our kitchen, it is our choice whether we use these things, in moderation or at all.

While it would be unreasonable in many cases to not use salt, it’s important to know what needs it (from a flavor point of view) and what doesn’t. A plate with a lot of vegetables, for example, needs a bit of help. If you want to enjoy a muscular dollop of spinach you will need to liven it up with a sprinkling of salt or a small chunk of butter.

Something that recently came out of the sea, on the other hand, needs no such assistance, so your grilled or lightly fried fillet of mackerel benefits just from a squeeze of lemon juice.

You may find that what you prepare doesn’t quite match up to what you are served in a restaurant, but if that is because it doesn’t contain the volume of salt, sugar or whatever, it’s your choice: go against your principles or serve it as you want it to be.

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Nip down the shops and get what? That won’t be necessary, friend.

As for bacon, while it is undeniably one of the stars of the breakfast plate, to throw it into every meaty dish you make is to throw in fat and salt, so it’s worth thinking about that. Similarly, if you add complexity to a stew or some other multi-ingredient dish (curry, chilli etc.) by adding Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, mustard or whatever fancy condiment caught your eye when you went shopping, bear in mind that they all contain salt, so you don’t need to automatically chuck a handful of that in too.

MSG? The simple answer is: don’t do it. Try harder in other ways. Better raw ingredients. Marinate it. Cook it longer. Cook it quicker, whatever it needs. There is nothing traditional about MSG. It’s a modern phenomenon that may eventually be discredited and abandoned.

Proper cooking means making things ourselves, rather than using ready-made dishes, is seen by some as making work for ourselves, and sometimes after a busy day it is a relief to stick a frozen pizza I he oven and switch off. But there is a lot of satisfaction to be had from doing it yourself. And if it doesn’t taste quite like a professional’s version, maybe that’s because they’re cheating and you’re not.



The wisdom of pop songs – The nature of love

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts

It’s all very well the world’s songwriters basing their work on being in love, but there is a rather basic matter to be sorted out beforehand. To quote Howard Jones, “What is lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ove anyway?” We can disregard the next bit, “Does anybody love anybody anyway?” because it’s a nice line and he had a song to finish.

But the first part is a question that has been asked many times, from Foreigner’s whingeing “I want to know what love is” to Haddaway’s Trinidadian-German inquiry that comes just before “Baby don’t hurt me”.

So we know that whatever love is, it’s potentially hazardous.

Michael Jackson pointed out the difference between falling in love and being in love on his 1979 album Off The Wall. He can’t take any credit for such an incisive thought, though, because It’s The Falling In Love was written by Carol Bayer Sayer and David Foster.  Bayer Sager was well qualified to express an opinion, having been married to a record producer, had a relationship with the composer Marvin Hamlisch and spent most of the 1980s married to Burt Bacharach before ending up with a former chairman of Warner Brothers. She’s a pretty nifty lyricist – or knows people who are – as we can see by her quirky solo hit You’re Moving Out Today, co-written by Bette Midler and Bruce Roberts. Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t it infuriating when you can’t tell who did what?

Meanwhile, back at the concept, what is love? Is it that intense longing that comes at the start or is that just a form of lust and therefore doesn’t count? It’s certainly a confusing element, as the Partridge Family’s David Cassidy  demonstrated via I Think I Love You. You think? You only think? Come back when you’re sure. In fact the singer is not trying to make progress into a girl’s clothing by this  cautious expression of emotion: he’s afraid of suffering “a love there is no cure for”. Or rather the songwriter Tony Romeo was. That was his big moment, although he wrote other hits including Lou Christie’s I’m Gonna Make You Mine.

The Detroit Spinners didn’t seem to be afraid in their 1973 hit Could It Be I’m Falling In Love, written by Melvin and Mervin Steals (unless someone is winding me up about those names). They were just The Spinners in their native America, but in the UK we had a famous folk group of that name, so they were obliged to amend theirs.

Falling in love is the easy bit, as anyone who has been around that particular block knows. Falling in love only takes a minute, to quote Tavares before the disgraced English pop jack-of-all-trades Jonathan King grabbed himself a local hit with his own version.

In 1967 Diana Ross and the Supremes had given voice to Holland-Dozier-Holland’s (keep falling) In and Out of Love, a sort of sung expression of the old saying that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.

It’s sustaining it that’s the hard part, staying in love while life goes on around you, and the young can’t write about that because they haven’t experienced it yet. Therefore it falls to a slightly older crowd to bring it to us. Country music is a good source of such ageing wisdom, as evidenced by Shania Twain’s 1997 crossover hit You’re Still The One, co-written by her husband and producer Mutt Lange. Sadly, he is probably not still the one in real life, because he screwed the whole thing up by having an affair with Twain’s best friend and they divorced in 2010.

Billie Jo Spears spoke for a generation of still-in-love and still lusty women with 1975’s Blanket on the Ground, in which she proposes sacrificing a some of her precious  bedding to have a nostalgic romp in the dirt with her husband. Didn’t they have sleeping bags in her one-horse town?

A very different take on the subject comes from Jamaican singer-producer Sean Paul, who is breathtakingly frank when he tells his lover:

Blessings loving from the start but you know we had to part
That’s the way I give my love
I’m still in love with you
But a man gotta do what a man gotta do

And he’s not talking about having to go off to war or some other mitigating circumstance. It’s a track from his second album Dutty Rock, dutty being the Caribbean form of dirty.

But we can’t leave the subject on that note, so let’s turn to Al Green, with his typically chirpy Still in Love With You and Thin Lizzy with a very different song of the same name.

This love business is a marathon, not a sprint.





Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Local Hero

Siobhan Kennedy-Clarke’s classic film reviews
Our fictitious reviewer Siobhan (KayCee) didn't have much of an education but she's passionate about films

Hero 1

This was written and directed in 1983 by Bill Forsyth, the same guy who did Gregory’s Girl and he is Scottish and likes to set his films in Scotland and use Scottish talent they’re very patriotic the Scots and if you’ve ever been there you will know there is a lot of beautiful unspoilt countryside and coast which is probably because of the climate it’s cold and wet a lot of the time so you can’t turn the coastline into a load of beach resorts.

That is kind of what the film is about there’s this rich American businessman Mr Happer (Burt Lancaster) who is the boss of the Knox Oil Company in Houston and he wants to build a refinery on the coast in northern Scotland because as you probably know there is a lot of oil and gas under the sea up there and oil rigs all over the place. He sends one of his young executives Mac McIntyre (Peter Riegert) to scout the place. Mac doesn’t see why he should have to actually spend time there because he could wrap the whole thing up with two or three telexes which was a sort of quick communication method before email and Whatsapp. I think.

Anyways he has to go and the Scottish guy who meets him over there and shows him around, Danny (Peter Capaldi the current Doctor Who) is  a quiet country lad and Mac is a stressed out city high flyer. They’re looking at a bay in a small village and its peaceful and lovely Danny is in love with this marine biologist played by Jenny Seagrove but she’s too sophisticated for him if you know what I mean.

Mac checks into a very small hotel run by Gordon (Denis Lawson) and his wife Stella (Jennifer Black) sorry about all these brackets and punctuation it gets on your tits don’t it? Gordon is quite similar to Mac in some ways but has lived a very different life and you can gradually see them both thinking that.

It’s the kind of small place where people sometimes have two jobs to make ends meet and Gordon is not just the hotelier but also the local accountant/business adviser.

The company really wants to buy the beach and a lot of the locals are willing to sell because they would become rich beyond their wildest dreams but the stumbling block is Ben Knox same name as the company see so there’s a link there. He’s played by Fulton Mackay who was famous as the prison warder Mr Mackay in Porridge TV comedy.

You can’t help being drawn into the peace and tranquility just like Mac is and he’s also very struck by Stella and Gordon knows but doesn’t mind funnily enough. Gordon even suggests one night when they’re both drunk that they should swap lives and Mac would have the hotel and Stella with it I don’t know if that’s romantic or pervy really but they don’t do it so I don’t suppose it matters.

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Big boss Happer eventually comes over partly because he is an astronomer and wants to see the Northern Lights those natural colours in the sky they get sometimes. What happens in the end well you’ll have to watch it yourself what would you like to happen in the end? It’s just a film that makes you feel good and you escape your life wherever that may be and live in a Scottish village by the beach for a while.




The English Pedant – The language of deception

One of the dangers of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is not having the time, not having the courage, or failing in some other way to correct a student’s enthusiastic misunderstanding of a potentially sensitive word.

I was recently challenged by a teenage girl on the meaning of the verb to  cheat. We were on the subject of school and she was telling me how a friend of hers had done much better than she had in a test because he had  smuggled a crib sheet in, placed it in his lap below the desk and was referring to it throughout.

“Cheating,” I said.

“No,” she responded with the smirking satisfaction of having outsmarted the teacher. “That means… you cheat on your boyfriend with another boy. Like you kiss somebody else or…”

She was right in that that word has come to mean what used to be called “being unfaithful”, a term too cumbersome and uncool for the TV  movie generation. It reached epidemic proportions in the US and then, like the grey squirrel, was introduced to other English-speaking areas including the UK and proceeded to take over, sweeping the local population aside.

My explanation that cheating meant generally taking an unfair advantage by devious means was received unwillingly; the student’s understanding of the word had been drummed into her through every dimwitted teenage vampire series and unhappy, unpleasant depiction of romantic liaisons that seeps like glucose into the systems of the young.

She couldn’t offer an alternative single word for the idea of cheating at cards or at school, because there isn’t one, but it was hard for her to accept that the term  could exist without sexual overtones.

If you examine it in that unfaithfulness context, it doesn’t really match the photofit, because the conventional idea of cheating is that the cheat is achieving success in an area where someone or several people are also trying to succeed.

But, like a lazy songwriter who rhymes happen with Clapham, common with forgotten and basement with engagement because they’re close enough if not exact (all these and more in Up The Junction by Squeeze), this one word has come to be accepted as describing the act of having sex with someone other than one’s partner.

Short, puny alcoholic

Coincidentally, other words concerning deception have crept into the language in recent years, by way of internet dating sites. Before the internet existed, dating or “matrimonial” agencies would describe clients in plain English, but since the advent of doing it ourselves, those who feel their physical attributes are not  what is required have become creative. Enter the word “curvaceous”, to describe a woman with an undulating landscape. In the real but unkind world, she is fat, but she’s not going to say that about herself, and there is no conventional adjective that sounds any less critical. Overweight? Negative. Obese? Do you want a slap?

So the choice is between calling your body shape “average” and watching the look on your date’s face when he sees the truth, or using the C word: curvaceous. That or the evocative but ridiculous “volumptious”, a hybrid of voluptuous and scrumptious.

The current favourite is the acronym BBW, which can mean big breasted woman, big beautiful woman or even big black woman. At least your date knows not to expect a stick insect. It’s just a shame that body weight should be an issue at all, but preferences are preferences.

Meanwhile, few men would ever describe themselves as short, so the world must be full of internet dating descriptions claiming “average height”.

And that, when you’re only a shade over 5ft. tall, is cheating. Actually, no – it’s an attempt at cheating through just plain lying.

Confessions of an expat – You’re listening to Radio Expat

media 3
Who’s the guy on stage? Oh, I thought I recognised him

There have been times when, in my capacity as a freelance journalist, I have found myself in press conferences where I knew nothing and nobody. Not long after we arrived in Suriname, there was just such an instance.

Picture the scene: a dark room like a small theatre, with rows of seats filled with local journos. The photographers and TV cameramen, for whom seats are not appropriate, are setting themselves up around the sides and at the back. Presumably they have been banned from the front, because otherwise that’s where they would be, hogging the spectacle at the expense of everyone else. You can hear them thinking, “You pen and notebook people can use your ears, but this camera needs to be fed.”

We are here because one of the political parties that made up the coalition has been ditched, accused of making trouble in the ranks. It leaves the government with a tiny majority with which to push through matters that come to a vote.

That is as much as I know as I go into the conference, and it’s as much as I know when I come out too, because, although I recently gained a diploma in Dutch at beginner  level, that means I know slightly more than someone who knows nothing at all. And since the proceedings are, understandably, conducted in the official language of Suriname, I am effectively deaf. What I do know is that my presence has been noted. Because I look different and he hasn’t seen me before, the MC glances at me as he welcomes the “international press”.

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TV reporters in the Caribbean (and elsewhere) tend to be female and pointedly, deliberately attractive. While the technicians and producers labour to keep up with technology, it is true of every small community that its visual presenters’ minimum requirement is to talk when prompted and not fall over. That’s how it is back home in the Channel Islands and it’s how it is here. You even find it on the less conspicuous parts of the BBC, CNN and so forth. The best people get the high-profile positions at home, while the others are parked in front of cameras  of departments transmitting to the rest of the world.

That means that enthusiastic young people who started off in the local media before getting lucky at an interview and being fast-tracked to the world stage  are doing their chirpy stuff out of context. It’s all very well being bright and breezy, emphasising every word to make the annual village flower festival sound interesting, but when you apply the same approach to more serious matters, it makes you look and sound like an airhead.

A  print journalist such as myself can get away with youthful incompetence because there is a barrage of people between your raw words and the finished article. There is probably a sub-editor, whose job is to make sure it reads okay, and perhaps a proofreader, whose obsession is with weeding out grammatical and spelling errors. Your 200 lamentable words don’t immediately find themselves exposed to the general public.

Radio is much the same everywhere: you can either do it or you can’t, “it” being to keep talking for as long as necessary. That might sound easy but in practice it quickly sorts out the men from the boys, the parrots from the budgies. The life and soul type who is loud and hearty in social situations can find himself powerless, like Samson after a haircut, when it is just him and a microphone, with no one to bounce off. He may end up as a newsreader – still a broadcaster and doing a worthy job,  but not one requiring much spontaneity or joie de vivre.

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Hi, you’re listening to Radio Expat. And now… let’s go back in time with a bit of Donna Summer

All over the world the jingles, links and station ‘idents’ all sound like they were recorded in the same studio in Miami and issued like off-the-peg suits, with just the station name different. Radio ‘insert your name here’, such-and-such a number FM, the voice of ‘……’

It is important for the expat to catch a bit of local media in order to keep abreast with what’s going on in his or her new home, but radio is a hard way of doing it, even if they broadcast in English. Most stations have regular news bulletins, but what comes between them are inane pop songs, the same current ones over and over again or easy-listening blasts from the past, and home-made attempts at entertainment. On a Saturday afternoon in Paramaribo as you trail from shop to shop in one of the two malls, the radio that constitutes the aural ambience is occupied by a deep-voiced, intense man who covers every aspect of personal relationships, from awkward courtship and infidelity to divorce, but without any of the happy bits.

What qualifies him to pontificate in this way? To find that out I would have to concentrate, and quite frankly I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

Small media operations, particularly the broadcast variety, don’t have the luxury of specialists. Nor do they have the luxury of a big budget, which makes the viewer aware of how good the real pros are. The recent local coverage of the European football championships made me pine for the big broadcasters, with their privileged studios overlooking the pitch and their batteries of well-known experts, while the local boys seem to have been allocated a broom cupboard with some shiny plastic to hang as a backdrop that reflects the lights. In place of the high-profile ex-professional giving his expert opinions, the less fortunate outfits wheel out a guy who used to play at a reasonable level in their small part of the world and is now a taxi driver but has managed to get the afternoon off to be a pundit.

You’ve got to start somewhere, though, and there are obviously plenty of good, competent and talented people  at small stations working their way up or happy where they are. There’s a guy on CNN, now a respected business correspondent, who I remember hearing on BBC Guernsey in 1996, filling an afternoon with bits and pieces about the snow that had brought the island to a standstill (it doesn’t snow there often and always catches people out – oh, wot larks!) And there’s a female presenter on BBC Radio Four’s influential early-morning Today programme, who gritted her teeth through an apprenticeship that included  Channel Television, where she was regularly obliged to have a bit of banter with the station mascot, a soft toy called Oscar Puffin. If anything were ever needed to get her out of bed at two in the morning to go to work, that thought must surely do it.


Ref! On the farce that is Formula One

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee and all-round sports expert Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant


Evening lads,

Just for a change let’s talk about something other than football tonight, okay? Such as? What do you mean, such as, Dave? There are other subjects in the world. We just naturally talk about football because… yes, Baz, it’s what we do – very profound.

So how about Formula One? Very popular sport. A man’s sport, you could say, because it’s all blokes in here tonight and they’re all talking about it. Well I tell you what, I don’t see the appeal. I lost interest when it stopped being called motor racing. Now it’s Formula One or even F1. It’s lost its way, you know.  Too clever for its own good. I don’t even understand it half the time. Well, Baz, do you? You do? Because you are also a driver. Yes, you’re a lorry driver. You can call it a truck driver if you like but here in Britain you’re a lorry driver, mate. And it’s hardly the same thing, is it?

Okay, I’ll grant you that you and Lewis Hamilton both have to have a basic understanding of motor vehicles, but that hardly means you have a lot in common. Okay, I will test you. What was all this nonsense about tyre pressures on Sunday? And why did Hamilton have to start last? And if they’ve perfected a new head protector on the cars why aren’t they using it?

You see? None of it is about actually driving. It’s all technical stuff. No, Dave, I can see he’s trying to answer and I deliberately gave him three questions at once because the whole thing is confusing. They change their tyres two or three times during a race, they’ve made the engines quieter but some people think that spoils the fun. They could actually go faster than they do but there are restrictions on that. It’s cobblers, mate. Nonsense.

Cheers Gary, I’ll have a cocktail please. The most complicated thing they can make. I don’t care.

Look, if other sports did what F1 does there’d be an outcry. You pole vaulters can’t use those poles because they’re too good, so you’ll have to use an inferior one. Mo Farah, you’ll have to use soft spikes and stop halfway and put wet weather ones on. And you can use a headset to communicate with your coach, but you can only use it a certain number of times or they’ll penalize you.

Whatever happened to just getting in the fastest car your team can make and driving it as fast as you can? No, Baz, that isn’t what they do. There’s all this other stuff that gets in the way. You hear that Fernando Alonso is one of the fastest drivers and Jenson Button is a more naturally gifted driver than Hamilton, so why do they not win races anymore? It’s like saying Dave is a better singer than Pavarotti because he’s got a better microphone.

It’s like making cricket bats with holes in them to stop the great batsmen scoring so many runs.

Absolute nonsense, mate, the world’s gone mad and Bernie Ecclestone and the rest of them  are out of their heads on money, intoxicated by cash. Cheers Gary, what the bloody hell’s this?



Just a song

In 1969 short-lived supergroup Blind Faith released their first and only album. Keyboards and vocals: Steve Winwood, formerly of Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group. Unique voice, very soulful but liable to crack and skid off the note. He would later become the organist of a parish church in England when he wasn’t busy touring and recording. Guitarist: Eric Clapton, still with years of drug and alcohol problems ahead of him, not to mention a hugely successful solo career. He wrote this song. Drummer: Ginger Baker. Like Clapton, he was formerly in Cream, and is my favourite rock drummer. Bass: Ric Grech, formerly of Family. I don’t know why they called themselves Blind Faith or how they managed to smuggle such an obviously Christian song onto an album of blistering rock and soul. I certainly didn’t think about it at the time.

Like many addicts, Clapton’s search for the something-missing took him down a variety of blind alleys and it wasn’t until he cleaned up for good in 1987 that he became serious about God. Although he doesn’t make a big thing of it in public, he has been quoted as saying this:

I had found a place to turn to… From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life and, most of all, for my sobriety. I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray, and with my ego, this is the most I can do.

The Blind Faith album cover was controversial and was prohibited in the US. According to the art director who came up with the idea, there was not supposed to be anything erotic or suggestive about it, but they certainly wouldn’t get away with it now.

Bloke in the Kitchen. Degrees of cheating


Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Regular readers will know that this blog is not about fine food and intricate recipes. It’s about being able to put a decent meal on the table for yourself, your family and your friends. It’s really a branch of the do-it-yourself advice which shows you how to wire a plug, fix a dripping tap or put up some curtain poles. It’s about not being reliant on other people to provide basic services.

With food, though, there is any number of shortcuts, a huge array of ready-made options in the shops, takeaway Chinese and Indian food, pizzas, chip shops, fried chicken places and so on.

So why bother to do it yourself? Three reasons.

  1. It’s cheaper
  2. If you made it, you know what’s in it
  3. It’s the natural thing to do and there is a feeling of satisfaction about it.

In all the recipes we have looked at over the last year or so, not one has contained anything expensive, not one has been difficult and not one has been time-consuming.

They don’t contain hidden quantities of salt, fat or chemical additives that might be tomorrow’s health-scare headlines.

It amazes me that the best customers of the takeaway food joints seem to be low-income families. It astounds me that you see unhealthy-looking physical specimens adding to their woes by the crap they’re eating (and washing it down with sugary fizzy drinks).

It saddens me to hear people almost proudly saying they can’t cook. It makes me wonder what other elementary human skills they have yet to master and in fact have no intention of mastering.

And yet it is they who need the help most, so today we’re going to look at ways to make their life easier.

One thing that even professional chefs will grant the rest of us is permission to use ready-made pastry. That means we’re going to be making pies and suchlike, which are often synonymous with excessive calories and salt, but if it gets someone in the kitchen like a novice with a self-assembly wardrobe because he is clearly not going to be making his own from scratch, then fine.

Similarly, there are jars of pasta sauce, so all you have to do is boil the pasta, heat this stuff and pour it on.

The world is full of curry powder and paste, so all you have to do is supply some cooked meat or defrosted prawns and, again, apply heat, mix and serve – once you’ve mastered the art of boiling some rice, that is.

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This one even lists the ingredients, so why not make it yourself?

This is the one that gets my goat, as it happens. What could be easier than throwing a few spices into a pan yourself and creating a taste over which you have some control?

When I lived in Tobago, little sister island of Trinidad, I was writing some features for a tourist magazine and one of the subjects I was given was a local speciality, curry crab (they don’t say “curried”).

There’s a place by a popular beach with a cluster of curry crab cabins, so I went there and found a legendary woman who had been making this for decades, as did her mother before her and so on. I asked her what the main ingredients were. “Well, curry powder,” she began, and I missed the rest of it because I was so disappointed that she was not really doing it herself after all.

Perhaps I was 100 years too late and really needed to have gone there before mass production and ease of distribution made it so easy to be lazy.

It’s a similar story in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a relatively unspoilt group south of the Bahamas. Their speciality? If, like me, you were hoping for something exotic involving their legendary big pink-shelled seafood, conch,  or coconuts or some root vegetable we’ve never heard of, you would have been as dismayed as I was. The national dish is macaroni cheese. And not even home-made, but shop-bought packet garbage. For a special occasion, eating out, many would go for fried chicken.

It is the reverse of the old Crocodile Dundee line, where the veteran bushman is extolling the virtues of eating a certain type of beetle. “You can live on it. But it tastes like sh*t.” In this case it would be, “It tastes great. No nutritional value, but the carbohydrates might just keep you alive.”

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So here, for the benefit of the absolute novice who is almost too lazy to breathe and doesn’t really want to go to the trouble of chewing food, is this week’s recipe. Buy a packet of dried noodles, the type with some “flavor” already in them. Boil some water and soak the noodles in it until they’re soft.

Slurp it down and collapse into your armchair with a bright green soft drink. And good luck to you.


The wisdom of pop songs – Fire

Pop music being about youth and excitement a lot of the time, it’s not surprising that fire crops up. Not in the literal sense, that is, but as an indication of emotion.

One that did purport to be about the real thing was 1968’s Fire by  The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, a rabble-rouser if ever there was one, and appealing to teenagers even now. Sadly for Arthur, he burned brightly for a very short time and that was his only hit, although he has recorded plenty of music over the years and is apparently still at it. Incidentally, his band originally contained keyboardist Vincent Crane, who went on to form Atomic Rooster, into which drummer Carl Palmer later followed him before becoming part of Emerson Lake and Palmer.

Brown toured with Jimi Hendrix and managed to get thrown off the tour for safety reasons, in spite of Hendrix’s own predilection for squirting lighter fluid on his guitar and setting fire to it. And of course Hendrix had his own song called Fire, in which he urged the object of his affections to let him stand next to her “fire”. A figure of speech, no doubt.

Jerry Lee Lewis’s contribution to the theme came merely as part of an exclamation, goodness gracious, Great Balls of Fire, again as a result of an incendiary woman.

The Rolling Stones were also just playing with words when they wrote and recorded Play With Fire, a warning by the singer to a girl not to mess with him.

Deep Purple’s perennial favourite, Smoke on the Water, was about a real incident when Montreux Casino burned down after a concert by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. As the song tells us, “some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground”. This mattered to Deep Purple because, for whatever reason, they had intended to record an album in the casino, using the Rolling Stones’s mobile recording equipment.

And so was born a guitar riff that sounds easier to play than it really is, as fledgling rockers have been finding out for almost 50 years.

Many years later, Saturday Night Fever included Disco Inferno, in which the writers (no, not the BeeGees) imagined a blaze, so hot was the atmosphere in this particular palais de dance.

The Pointer Sisters, during their 1980s heyday, claimed to burst into flames courtesy of a kiss, although science has for centuries failed to prove or disprove the phenomenon of spontaneous combustion.

Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire is supposedly an attempt to absolve his rock’n’roll generation of the blame for the world’s ills – although it sounds more as if he’s just enjoying a bit of a reminisce and trying to make it sound like a rock song.

Possibly the most gentle fire song is Jose Feliciano’s acoustic guitar-powered version of Light My Fire, which was written by the Doors and recorded by them with a rampant organ… err, a  driving, organ-based accompaniment.

Self-indulgent as ever, I must mention The Fire by one of New York’s new wave bands of the 70s, Television. A dead-slow, basically nonsensical but emotional-sounding piece of poignant fantasy, I won’t bother you with a track to listen to, but if you ever come across their second album, Adventure, it’s on there. And tell them I sent you.

One that has always made me quite angry is The Prodigy’s firestarter, a vile and puerile piece of vitriol that makes me want to go round their house and lob a Molotov cocktail into the shed, if they think it’s so damn funny. It’s only a pop song, of course, but does this add to the beauty of human existence?

Current world favourite Adele mixed her metaphors with reckless abandon on Set Fire To The Rain, but then she could sing the Koran  in Greek and it would be a hit.

On one final note of self-indulgence, I give you Etta James (real name Jamesetta Hawkins – that’s what it says on Wikipedia, anyway), perpetual   bridesmaid in the pantheon of female soul singers. Well known in certain circles in the 1960s with songs such as I Just Want To Make Love To You, she faded badly before re-emerging in 1986 with an album called Seven Year Itch, on which she breaks your heart one minute and rocks like a bitch the next on tracks like Jump Into My  Fire.