Ref! On the Capital One Cup final

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

 Referee

Yes, Dave, of course I watched it. It’s a funny time of year to win a trophy and it’s the least important of the trophies, but, you know, it’s a cup final, isn’t it?

I wasn’t supporting either of them, actually. I don’t think any neutral really wants Manchester City to win anything, because they’re just not likeable. Same as Chelsea had to put up with for a few years; people were put off by the fact that it was all down to money.

You were supporting Liverpool, were you, Baz? I’ve got nothing against the club, mate, and it used to be good seeing them in Europe in their heyday, when they were exciting to watch, but now? No. It’s the fans, Baz. They’re unbearable. There’s no humility. They act like they’ve been on the top table all along, whereas they stopped being invited to the do years ago and they just sneak in the side door now and then.

Some decent players, certainly. Coutinho’s okay, isn’t he? He’s like one of the Chelsea boys, Hazard, Oscar and Willian, and Mata, of course. But poor old Coutinho’s all on his own. Not getting injured all the time like Sturridge, not blowing hot and cold like a lot of them. He does it week in, week out, but the rest of them let him down all the time.

I remember saying early in the season that they were top-heavy with strikers, but then the lad from Burnley, Danny Ings, got injured and Benteke didn’t impose himself on the scene. Sturridge comes back and drops out, comes back and drops out. And there’s Origi going “What about me? What about me?”

And they’ve got no consistency in the back four, plus Mignolet’s a bit sensitive for a goalie.

They can’t help it, I know. They’ve signed too many average players over the years. If Liverpool was a building you’d have to pull it down and start again from scratch.

Cheers, Gary, pint of cider, please. Why? Why not?

Funny questions that guy asks sometimes.

Anyway, not a bad game, was it? Something to do on a Sunday afternoon. Not that I’m short of action in that department at the moment, Dave, no. Had to get special dispensation, as it happens. Fortunately Jody does like sport so we watched it in bed.

The trouble is, as I said, when you don’t really want either side to win, it’s hard to enjoy it. So when City scored I thought “Oh, go on, then, let’s get it over with.”

Then Liverpool come back and you think, “Okay, let the poor sods have their day for once.” But it’s not the same as standing on the settee because you’re so excited.

I suppose penalties was the best bit, yes. You don’t like it when it’s your team, but when it’s somebody else’s problem, why not? And Caballero makes himself a hero for a day, which we can all get into. It sort of transcends sport.

Transcend, Baz, means… haven’t you got a dictionary on your phone? Well I have. Here…

 

 

 

 

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Bloke in the Kitchen. Cauliflower rice with mushrooms

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

DSCN0096

If you are not familiar with cauliflower rice, allow me to explain. It contains no rice. It just looks like rice. It is made from the dry, knobbly parts that make the ‘flower’ bit of cauliflower.

The fact that it can be used in place of real rice means that if you are avoiding carbohydrates (rice, pasta, potatoes) for weight reasons, there is a vegetable alternative. And the beauty of it is, cauliflower doesn’t have a strong flavor, which makes pretending even easier.

Here we are teaming it with a juicy, savoury mushroom dish and the result is cheap, easy and suitable for vegetarians.

First the ‘rice’. There are several ways of doing this, but they all start with turning the cauli into rice.

Cut all the stalk off the bottom, much more severely than you would for cauliflower cheese. Cut the whole thing in half and take a big spike-shaped chunk out of the middle, then work on the smaller bits. You want to be left with knobbly balls of the flowery bits – they’re called florets. These are dry, while the stalk contains moisture – and that is the last thing we need here.

Cut individual florets or break them off with your hands and then cut the mini stalks off.

What happens next depends on the quality and sophistication of your kitchen equipment. If you have a flashy food processor you can reduce this to rice easily.

With a less expensive, basic blender, put the florets in and blitz them. You may find yourself shaking the thing about or prodding the cauli with a wooden spoon to uncake it and expose it to the blades.

If this seems like hard work, think of it as a DIY job. Sometimes you have to wreck something before you can fix the situation.

The lower end of the scale, if you don’t have a blender, is to grate the florets by hand. With a bit of care, this may in fact be the most effective method of all.

Eventually you will have something white (ish) and grainy that looks a bit like rice but more like couscous.

DSCN0090
Ready for action. What’s the white stuff? Oh, it’s a sort of alternative rice.

METHOD (THE RICE)

You could simply put it in the microwave for a minute or two on high. That would cook it but it will probably be a bit mushy, clumpy.

You could put a thin (1cm) layer in a baking tray, mix in a little olive oil and bake it for 20 minutes on 200.

Or, and this is probably the best, take a big frying pan and dry fry it – i.e. no oil. Just get the pan nice and hot and give the cauli a fright for ten minutes, stirring and shaking to make sure it’s done evenly and doesn’t burn. You can tart it up later.

METHOD (THE MUSHROOMS)

Choose the tastiest variety you can find. The little white ones will do if there is nothing else, but brown ones have more flavor. The big ones the size of your hand are not really for this – they’re like substitute steaks.

Slice the mushrooms up quite thin, a quarter of a centimeter or so.

Chop some onions and garlic and fry them gently until the onions are soft. Add the mushrooms and cook them gently, sprinkling them with celery salt, ground black pepper and Worcestershire sauce. When the mushrooms are soft and succulent, splosh in a little red wine(just a glug), the same amount of water and half a vegetable stock cube. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another five minutes.

Serve the ‘rice’ in a pile with a dip in the middle, where you pile in the mushrooms.

So you’ve got vegetables, the appearance of rice, and some simple and delicious mushrooms with a tasty gravy.

 

The wisdom of pop songs – Going home

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts
ten years after
As Alvin Lee insisted for 15 minutes at Woodstock, he was going home to see his bay beh

If leaving home is the chief ambition for many young people, going home is another preoccupation when things don’t work out so well.

Paul Simon wrote Homeward Bound at a railway station in a small town in the north of England, and whether he really was feeling homesick or not we don’t know. It’s just a song and a skilled songwriter like him can knock out a lyric for its effectiveness and its ability to strike a chord with an audience. That is not to say that writers never tell you what they really feel, but sometimes they’re just creating stories and feelings, like a painter working on a picture.

In Homeward Bound the singer is disillusioned, doubting his own talent:

“But all my words come back to me
In shades of mediocrity
Like emptiness in harmony
I need someone to comfort me”

Looking at the basic problem and the relative costs involved, it sounds like a nice Lancashire girl could have eased his pain as much as a trip back to New Jersey.

country roads
Okay, but have you entered the destination in the satnav?

John Denver’s Country Roads, in which he urges the rural thoroughfares to take him home, is not so much a song of feeling sorry for himself as a wistful appraisal of the place he comes from.

“Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze”

Those of us who have never been there will just have to take his word for it.

Jack Johnson, on the other hand, seems more worried about the state of his property:

“I’ve gotta get home
There’s a garden to tend
All the fruit’s on the ground
The birds have all moved back into my attic,
Whistled in static
The young learn to fly
I will patch up the holes once again”

Can’t you get your Dad to pop round, mate? Or pay someone. You’re a pop star, after all, so money shouldn’t be a problem.

213522-A11-036A.psd
And the lawn needs mowing too, Jack

Mostly, though, it’s like an exercise in writing lyrics at a songwriting workshop. “You have 30 minutes to come up with three verses and a chorus on the subject of longing for home.”

Or, if you’re looking for an angle for a Christmas song, how about throwing in the idea of the one you love not being there, because on a less sentimental day of the year she dumped you? Step forward Don Henley of the Eagles for the all-encompassing “Please come home for Christmas”. And then he gives her a get-out clause:

“If not for Christmas, by New Year’s night”.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I put it to you that she’s not coming back because she never left. He was a songwriter trying to write a festive hit.

One song that makes no pretence of being autobiographical but hits home as a piece of fiction is Nick Cave’s Roaming. Here, the singer is  a no-good drifter who sounds boozed-up and maudlin, talking about all the good things he’s going to do when he gets home, seeing his mother and brother and how he’s going to “put things in order.”

This includes seeing his little boy, and buying him a toy, and “he’s going to jump for joy”. But in the last verse he lets slip that it’s all just talk.

“When I get home, I’m gonna unpack my bags
When I get home, I’m gonna wash these dirty rags
When I get home, I’m gonna pack ’em up again
And I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go right back a-roaming”

home

Lynyrd Skynyrd wailed about a whole state in Sweet Home Alabama, throwing in such elements as the fact that Neil Young had had the audacity to criticise it, and using language as their dirt-poor, uneducated grandparents might have.

“Big wheels keep on turning
Carry me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the Southland
I miss Alabamy once again
And I think its a sin, yes”

But was it really any more than a way of guaranteeing extra record sales in their own region and a roof-raising finale at their next concert in Birmingham or Mobile? It wouldn’t be wise to suggest this to the band – or to Alamabans in general – when they were up to their eyes in Jack Daniels and it’s not a mark of disrespect, either; it’s just a song, that’s all. Just like the Star Spangled Banner or Rule Britannia.

Most of us see our home town through rose-coloured glasses, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of patriotism, but really, if you want to go home, be my guest. And see if you can find everything you need there. Remind us: why did you leave?

 

 

 

 

 

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Leaving Las Vegas

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

leaving

This was Nicholas Cage before he started going for the action-film big bucks and you got the feeling he was trying to be original and different. I don’t know maybe that’s just what he’s like he’s a strange guy a bit like Jack Nicholson in a way you could have fun with him but you wouldn’t necessarily want to invite him to your Mum’s for Christmas dinner in case he did something unperdictable.

This is a real grownup film it’s about him an alcoholic whose wife left him and he gets fired from his job with an advertising agency and he goes to Las Vegas to drink himself to death which is an interesting way to do it I suppose. There he meets Elizabeth Shue (the only roll I really know her in) and she’s a hooker and they get together he doesn’t shag her cos he’s too out of it all the time but they grow to like each other I guess what makes it work is he can’t complain about her being what she is because of what he is a bum out of his skull all the time and she can’t complain about him because she’s a prostitute which is nothing to be proud of. (Sorry girls if there’s any of you reading this no offence you know what I mean.)

leaving 2
This is either just before or just after a cop on a motorbike slows down alongside and looks in his car

So Nick and Elizabeth have a good time in their weird way and he makes her promise never to ask him to stop drinking. He’s really funny and he goes to this bar and a young girl hits on him it’s the dippy office girl from Becker the doctor TV comedy with Ted Danson Shawnee Smith her name is. Her boyfriend is there and he fights Nick and Elizabeth’s all loving and concerned when he gets home with blood all over his shirt.

There’s this line which I don’t think was in the script he made it up himself when he’s asked how he feels he says he’s “the kling klang king of the rim ram room”.

Then it’s the hookers turn to get in trouble she goes to a hotel room with a bunch of young guys and she’s cheeky to one of them and they all turn on her I won’t tell you what happened but she gets a taxi and the driver sees her walking awkward like and he says “What’s the matter? You get a back door delivery you weren’t expecting?”

Lots of good lines see I like a good script and the music’s good too sort of jazzy instrumentals and Michael McDonald singing an old rock’n’roll song Lonely Teardrops. This is not the sort of movie everyone will like but like I say it’s an adult film in more ways than one there’s no happy ending most directors would of made him give up drinking and her give up prozzying and they move to the suburbs and run a bed and breakfast but this director Mike Figgis he’s an English guy he’s like Cage he wants to do a proper film not just try to get a hit. I suppose if you make enough money and your more into your art or whatever than just being famous that’s a good way of doing it but not many people think like that.

 

The English Pedant – Death notice

The English Language

I was recently asked (by a Spanish-speaking teenager to whom I am teaching English) what “wanna” meant. It is symptomatic of the way the English language is going, now that the world and his wife (and their text-speaking kids) have the ability to communicate online without fear of being corrected or even challenged.

“Wanna,” I explained, ”is not really a word at all. It is the way want to sounds when we don’t pronounce it properly” (which for most of us is most of the time). Almost everybody says wanna and gonna and woulda and shoulda and coulda.

What happened with woulda, shoulda, and coulda is that they evolved via would’ve, should’ve and could’ve, all of which are happily accepted as correct.

The question is, then, if we are prepared to write would’ve etc. without feeling we’re letting the language-loving side down, should we allow wanna and gonna into the legitimate world?

This brings into question the whole evolution of language, because if, as we have seen many times before in this blog, the dictionaries are just waving these words through like a Customs officer who wants to go home because he’s been on duty all night, sooner or later those dictionaries will in effect be written by people with no qualifications, no interest in what they are doing and no awareness of what they are doing.

That is why blogs like this exist – because we care.

Does it matter if a generation of internet-addicted young people use gonna without knowing or thinking about what it is and where it came from? Does it matter if people whose first language is English think there is a word upmost, which the rest of us know is really utmost? These people know what it means – they just get the spelling and pronunciation wrong. Something about up makes it sound right: up is good (and therefore down is downright bad), so if they’re doing their upmost to speak properly, that fits, doesn’t it?

Sooner or later the world is gonna wanna kinda dictionary (no, too long, let’s call it a dicsh) that telz it like it is. None of this old-fashioned correctness. If people can learn to drive on their own, do they also have to be subject to the rules of the road? Or is that like saying they can learn about sex from internet pornography (sorry, porn) and need no information or encouragement about how the physical acts can benefit by being accompanied by emotions such as love and affection?

Readers, I would like your opinions on this.

Do teachers still have a responsibility to point out right and wrong, develop skills, instill good habits?

In many countries society is less judgmental than it used to be. In some areas there is no such thing as failing a test – you just get a score of 0 out of 100, but that doesn’t reflect badly on you.

When a 14-year-old who is in the middle of a decent education reads me a passage with complete disregard for punctuation, running one clause, one sentence and one paragraph into another, do I have a responsibility to teach her what commas and full stops mean and why they are there? Or shall we give up the struggle?

 

Confessions of an expat – automotive madness

traffic
Too many cars in the world? Errm, yes, actually

There was a small black Toyota driving around Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, for a few months last year that was highly distinctive. From the back it looked perfectly normal. It was a bit dirty, but when you looked at the front you could see why no one had bothered to wash it lately.

It had been restyled. By a bus. You know: one of those smallish buses with pictures and slogans all over it that performs a public service. And owns the road. Took the front layer off the car in the middle of the automotive madhouse that is central Paramaribo. He did it so neatly that the front was all pushed up and he ripped the number plate off, but no one was hurt (traumatized, yes, but not physically harmed) and it still goes.

It’s a strange feeling driving a visibly damaged vehicle. People can’t help looking at it, and then at the driver, to see if he or she looks like the kind of maniac who could be expected to have crashes, or perhaps the sort of person who can afford to have them. So you get either a flash of pity and sympathy or a look that says “You had it coming to you. How dare you drive around in a nice, fairly new car, when I can’t afford one?”

This scrutiny happened every day down by the central market, where the traffic is always at a standstill and the pedestrians are as arrogant as the motorists. One of the many things I don’t understand is why, in some countries including this one, crossing zones for pedestrians are marked with white stripes for all to see, yet the person walking has no rights. When you step onto one, the traffic doesn’t stop and let you cross, so what is the point? It’s a waste of paint. And it results in people crossing the street wherever they like, because one place is no less dangerous than another.

Maybe in the distant past the painted crossings did have to be observed, but more and more people ignored them until the power of the steel box versus tender flesh and bones won the day and it became advisable to forget the whole thing. As it is, the crossings are at best unworkable and at worst misleading and hazardous.

That in turn creates antagonism between pedestrian and motorist, but along with the nervousness of many pedestrians comes, in others, a certain arrogance. There is a growing trend for people to walk in front of you and point at you in a way that combines recommending that you don’t kill them with commanding you to stop. Maybe they get it from the front seat passengers who do it when their macho driver is pushing his way into the traffic. It’s a dangerous environment when common sense and skill are challenged by battles of will and ego. You have to wonder about the mental state of some people out there. What it says to me is “Let me do this, because I’m not a rational person and you’ll have to be extra sensible to compensate.”

A prime example of this was the long-limbed, dreadlocked, carefree cyclist I saw going round in wobbly circles in the middle of the traffic in one of the very busiest areas. If someone knocks him off his bike, who gets in trouble?

To many people the car is a status symbol, and Suriname is no exception. Those of us who just want something of reasonable quality, comfortable and okay-looking are outnumbered by those who feel the need to have their ego boosted by a big vehicular statement.

On the other hand, the macho culture around here can make it a good idea to drive a bit of a beast. I have a friend, a 30-something Dutch girl, fair-haired and feminine but not glamorous, and she drives a big, black, diesel-engined pickup truck. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect a pest-controller to turn up in if you lived in the jungle.

And why does my friend drive this monster? Because she was tired of being pushed around on the roads by ugly, aggressive men. While a gentleman might treat a young lady in her cute car with courtesy, the sort of ape who has to prove his masculinity by driving in a tough manner just sees her as an easy target.

So she got this inappropriate pickup. It’s not even shiny and trimmed with chrome. It’s matt black with no frills. And it has tinted windows, so the morons can’t see who they’re dealing with. They just assume it’s someone like them, not to be messed with.

flood
And the heavens opened, for it was the Long Rainy Season (there is also a short one) and a deluge descended onto the streets of Paramaribo, and guess what – they don’t have proper drains

The mean-looking pickup does have practical advantages, though. In a city where the roads are patchy at the best of times, all it takes is half an hour of rain and you’re driving through a river, and the macho pickup keeps you above it.

 

Ref! It’s a man’s game

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

 Referee

Fixture congestion, Dave. You’re right, there were a lot of people moaning about it at the weekend. Steve Bruce at Hull City, Pellegrini at Manchester City. No, I don’t think he was right to put out a weakened team to protect some of his stars for the Champions league in midweek. And his team of kids got stuffed 5-1, didn’t they?

No, you can’t do that. It’s a man’s game. Well, the men’s game is a man’s game, but I think you’ll find the principle applies to women’s football too. That’s not a bunch of Daisies and Tallulahs dancing around, frightened to get their knees dirty. They mean business, just like the men. They might not use the same expression, but they would express the same sentiment. It’s their job. And if it gets extra difficult at times because they have to play more often, they just have to get on with it.

Which brings us, Baz, as you say, to the whole issue of women’s sport. You see what looks like a football story in the paper or online but you don’t recognize the names. And that’s because it’s about Arsenal Ladies or England women.

You don’t think it’s right, then, giving equal importance to the women’s game when the standard is a lot lower. I’m inclined to agree with you, but for God’s sake don’t tell Jody I said that. Yes, that’s if you ever meet her. No, I’m not keeping her under wraps exactly, but I’m not bringing her down here on a Monday night, am I? It’s a blokes’ night, and the way to keep the peace at home is to make it clear that’s what it is. We don’t sit here looking at the totty and we certainly don’t go looking for it. But as soon as Dave goes home and says to Stephanie, “Oh, Col’s new girlfriend was there, she’s really nice,” we’re all in trouble. Either they’re going to be suspicious of our motives or they’re going to want to come along.

We can do all that socializing in the summer when we’re having barbecues rained off.

Cheers, Gary, I’ll have a spritzer. A spritzer, mate. Dry white wine topped up with soda water. Well, it’s alcohol, isn’t it? Just hasn’t got the calories of a pint of Guinness. Yes, she introduced me to it. And if it was good enough for George Best when had anti-alcohol implants, it’s good enough for me. Yes, they were supposed to make him violently ill if he drank alcohol, but he found he could slip a few spritzers through with no trouble, and bingo! Paved the way to his early death.

I hear what you’re saying, Dave. Is it wrong to only watch women’s football or cricket just to look at the women? Well what do you think they do when they watch men’s sport? If you’ve got a good knowledge of the terminology you can even comment on it without sounding sexist, so when your missus talks about how elegant Ross Barkley is when he’s shaping for a shot, she is disguising the fact that she’s imagining him shaping for a shot at her, bent over the sofa.

Sorry, Dave, not your missus specifically. You know what I’m saying. You watch a female midfielder pulling off a sliding a tackle in the mud and you can’t help imagining that she’d be quite good fun in the sack, can you? No, I mean it. You reckon it’s just me? Come on… Baz? Not you as well. I mean be honest.

 

 

Bloke in the Kitchen. Lancelot Salad: vegetarian with artichokes and pasta

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

lettuce
Yes, we’re using this. Lettuce. Mr Clean. Mr Bland. But we’re giving him a makeover. We’re giving him muscles, wit, power.

The very mention of the word ‘salad’ might suggest that it would be suitable for vegetarians, but that’s just not true. In some places (fast food outlets, for instance) they are quite likely to put bacon bits in there just so you don’t get away with eating healthily. If you think of a salad as something that contains lettuce, that’s just the classic plateful. Salads are usually cold, but can involve cooked vegetables. They can be warm, too – nothing technically wrong with that.

The one we’re looking at here is a vegetarian version of a tuna one we did a few months ago. It’s got lettuce and cold pasta, but if you take out the tuna, that’s all the protein gone. We are going to replace that with eggs. And we’re going to liven it up with artichokes and walnuts. If you never thought you would end up using artichokes – those spiky, weird things that look like medieval weapons and seem barely edible, be grateful to the people who cut them, prepare them and put them in jars.

The dish is a balance of vegetables, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and pasta, which gives it carbohydrates and bulk. But if you think of a meal of just pasta and lettuce, it’s like a film with no action, so we’re packing it with grenades of flavor.

penne
Get some of these down you, lettuce boy.
artichokes
And these: artichokes. You feeling tough yet?

IMPORTANT

Make more than enough. It’s not hugely filling and if you make a good one, people may well want seconds.

The choice of leaves is crucial, too, as some of the common types can be bitter. The very floppy green ones are just a bit too 1960s, when the world thought lettuce was lettuce and that was it. Iceberg is crunchy and easy to use but lacks flavor.

COWBOY TIP

If you’re not sure, buy a bag of mixed leaves. That will save you having to clean and chop them anyway, although unless it says on the bag that they’re washed and ready to eat, give them a rinse in a colander and a good shake to get rid of the water.

INGREDIENTS

Penne (or farfalle (bowties) or fusilli or rotini (the twisted ones)

Lettuce (cos or romaine)

Soft boiled eggs (one per person)

Artichokes (a jar or two, ready to use)

Walnuts (a bag or two, shelled and ready. Pecans would do)

Olive oil

Fresh lemons

walnuts
Walnuts. Do you know how much Vitamin C they contain? A lot, that’s how much

METHOD

Boil the pasta, drain it, return it to the pan, fill the pan with cold water and repeat until the pasta is cool. Make sure it ends up dry.

Boil the eggs (see below), cool them in the same way and shell them carefully.

Unless you have your own tried and tested way, try this: Put the eggs in the saucepan, cover them with cold water by about half an inch (1cm), bring to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer and give them four minutes. Then get them into cold water so they don’t cook any further.

Put the pasta in a big salad bowl and add about the same quantity of leaves. Add the artichokes (drained, but a little of the liquid won’t hurt, because it has flavour). Sprinkle in the walnuts. Drizzle with olive oil and squeeze on half a lemon for two people, more for more people.

Mix it up (with your hands is best, or use salad utensils).

Serve in big bowls if you have some, big plates if you don’t, and place the egg halves on top. Make sure there is salt and pepper on the table.

eggs
Boiled eggs. Just enough to set them. Don’t boil them to death, but you don’t want them bleeding all over the place either