Confessions of an expat – how not to get ripped off

The vast majority of travel blogs specialize in telling us how wonderful somewhere is, how lovely the people are and how good the food is. But that’s looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses, and Winding Road doesn’t do that. Sure, there are some great places in the world and good experiences are more commonplace than bad ones. But this is a realism zone where good and bad are recognized and acknowledged as such. So this article looks at a global phenomenon: ripping off foreigners.

taxi
That’s what we like to see: no haggling

In many tourist destinations, there are two tiers of pricing: one for the  ‘ordinary’ local, and the other for visitors and the (perceived) wealthy. There is the floating, infinitely variable price that isn’t written down anywhere and depends entirely on who the customer is. You know the kind of thing: an item that costs the person in front of you $10 is suddenly $25 when it’s your turn. I’m not sure if this is because people who look like tourists (even if they’re not) are assumed to have  more money than local customers, or if it is simply a form of bullying that can be carried out by anyone, regardless of age, size or physical strength. Tourists are ripped off all over the world by the very people who are described in the brochures as ‘friendly’.

You don’t have to be foreign, either. You just have to appear gullible or perhaps meek enough to accept your fate.

clint
“What can I do for you, Tex?” “It’s Arizona”

In the old Clint Eastwood film Coogan’s Bluff, the Arizona cop on a first visit to New York is conspicuous by his cowboy hat and boots. On his taxi journey from the airport he asks the driver: “How many stores are there named Bloomingdales?”

“One,” the driver tells him.

“We passed it twice,” says Clint.

It is best if you can appear to know what you’re doing, and without being confrontational, to get a price before you get in the car. That is difficult if you don’t know the going rate, but some airports have a map, broken down into areas, so you can see which sector your hotel is in and  show the driver you’re aware of what he can charge.

In Coogan’s Bluff the driver also charged him for luggage, meaning his small briefcase, and Clint didn’t start a fight about it. A man has a straight choice: you could try the macho approach, but it’s not generally advisable.

I’m a middle-aged white man and so are Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, so I am automatically placed in that category. I’m there to be exploited because I must be loaded like they are and anyway the likes of me have done plenty of exploiting in the past.

In the Caribbean region, my wife always gets a better deal than I do, because she is neither white nor male. Whether we’re getting a taxi or buying avocados, it is best if I hang around out of sight while she does the bargaining.

market
I give you special price: $10 each, two for $35

Not being able to speak the language and therefore being unable to argue is an obvious disadvantage.

There’s another kind of rip-off that is more straightforward and you know about it as soon as you enter the premises, or possibly even before that. It’s the kind of place where the prices are unashamedly astronomical and the proprietor’s answer would be ‘If you can’t afford it, don’t come in here.’ This is the kind of joint where you think, ‘At these prices I’m going to eat every single one of the free peanuts, even if it makes me sick. And I’ll have the little black tissue that serves as a coaster too.’ It’s where the Happy Hour is not all-encompassing and the drink you really fancy – even something as mundane as a bottle of beer – is not included in the scheme. It’s also the kind of place where the manageress is skilled at selling expensive things to people who can’t make up their mind.

So while your non-drinking, indecisive friend is mulling over the choice between a Coke and a Carib Light, this unscrupulous person is saying seductive things like ‘Pina Colada’.

waiter
Do you really want this? Or can I get you something more expensive?

‘Oh, it’s delicious, and our bartender makes a great one. No, it’s not strong, in fact I can ask her to put less rum in it if you like.’ The reduction in alcohol won’t be reflected in the cost, of course, because she’s doing you a favour. The way things are in this money-grabbing world, it’s a surprise if they don’t impose a penalty charge for what they would classify as a special order. You’re asking their highly trained drinks mixer to put only one shot of alcohol in instead of two. That means she has to think – it throws her off her stride.

Of course, if you have more than enough money in the bank to handle anything these people can throw at you, you might not even notice. But for those on a budget, who have been saving up for this occasion and can just about handle it, such upselling (as it’s known in the retail trade – where they regard it as a good thing) amounts to nothing less than abuse.

One particular technique that really is below the belt is probably, again, a skill they have learned. It’s when the server deals direct with the weaker prey on the table. In many parties, they know perfectly well who is going to be footing the bill, particularly when it’s a family. Mum or Dad, keen to get their offspring to acquire the simple social skill of ordering a drink or a meal, will nod at the youngster encouragingly to make up his or her mind and speak to the waiter. Then that waiter senses impressionability and proceeds to cut the bill-payer out of the conversation, forcing them to look like a tightwad or spoilsport if they intervene. So Junior ends up with the foie gras and truffles and a bottle of French sparkling water when he would have been perfectly happy with a lamb chop and a glass of lemonade.

One of the challenges of the modern world for the innocent is to at least try to imagine what is going on in other people’s minds when, in their place, you would be trying to keep the customer satisfied. The French must be at least partly to blame for this, because they invented a word that makes innocence sound like a bad thing: naïve.

 

 

 

Ref! On potential glory

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

 Referee

Evening lads,

Another week, another option on the England front. Yes, Baz, Marcus Rashford. And bloody Wayne Rooney. Rashford? I think Hodgson will take him and hang onto him in case of emergencies. He’s not going to disturb the new twin kings, is he?  Kane and Vardy, separately or together, one or the other, either or both, that’s what we have to have in my humble opinion. Trust in the future.

The present, indeed, Dave, they’ve both done it in the Premier League and look comfortable at international level, so it’s no gamble to pin your hopes on them. What we don’t want is Roy going soft and playing Rooney through the middle with one or both of them on the flanks. Okay, the old boy scored a good one against Australia and looked  like the experienced campaigner he is. But it’s a new dawn and if anyone is going to standing back, letting the other boys play, it’s got to be him.

You’re right, Dave, it does get me agitated. And there’s nothing you or I can do about it, but it’s what being a fan is all about. We’re interested, we have  a certain amount of knowledge and we want to see the boss do the right thing. And the right thing right now is to give it to the youth. All of a sudden they’re queueing up, whereas some years there’s nobody knocking on the door. But you’ve got all the Spurs boys looking the part – all except Kyle Walker, Dave, I agree. He should be the reserve and we play Nathanial Clyne as first choice right back.

Cheers, Gary, I feel like a spirit. Some “fancy foreign muck”, as Baz would say. Well, you did, Baz, in that Italian restaurant where they had Juventus on the telly in the corner. What did we have that night? Grappa, that’s right. Like brandy strained through an old sock. I’ll have one of them, Gary. If they’ve got it, yes. Otherwise, whatever’s the dustiest on the top shelf.

My prediction? Too early to predict the tournament, but this time I reckon we’ll win the group at least. Well, no, that’s a lot bolder than I was two years ago with the World Cup, when I didn’t even think we’d get out of the group. And I was right, wasn’t I? We were rubbish. All changed now. All we need is for the centre backs to get their act together, and one good game could do that. Stones gets his confidence back and Roy gets either Cahill or Smalling going as the cool head, the voice of experience.

Joe Hart at the back. Somebody suddenly grows up and starts running the midfield – not Milner. I don’t know who, no, but there’s plenty of them there or thereabouts. You can’t predict, you can only hope. But I don’t know: I’ve just got a good feeling about this. And if the best team should win the tournament and we’re not that yet, well, we can grow into it. That’s what Hodgson’s good at. He picked Vardy when everybody thought he was just a flash in the pan, he’s made Kane feel like he owns the shirt – in a good way. I don’t know. I haven’t been this excited since 1990. In a football sense, Dave. For gawd’s sake don’t tell Jody I said that.

Cheers Gary. Down the hatch. Wallop! Yeah, grappa. Fancy foreign muck. Doesn’t half repeat on you too.

 

 

Is God a Liverpool fan?

miracle

The whole concept of faith involves belief in things that are unproven. While the chief argument of the atheist is that we can’t prove God exists, the counter argument is that they can’t prove he doesn’t.

In the modern age, educated people are more likely to believe in ghosts than in God (and incidentally, who has ever been killed or wounded by a ghost? If they do exist, why be afraid of them?)

The Holy Spirit used to be known as the Holy Ghost, but the word ‘spirit’ doesn’t have the same spooky connotations. Some people profess to be ‘spiritual’ but not religious, although because there is no definition of the word that they would all agree on, it may mean one thing to one and something different to another.

For the purpose of this little study, let’s say that people who call themselves ‘spiritual’ believe in a higher power – something or somebody not in human form but capable of influencing what happens in the human realm. They may or may not believe in ‘spiritualism’ as in the ability to communicate with the dead, as practised by someone known as a ‘medium’ but I don’t think that is what most really mean.

I think people who consider themselves spiritual are closer than they would like to think to believing in God, but just can’t bring themselves to do it, because it’s too complex and involves, as they see it, too many rules and regulations, dos and don’ts.

They will tell you that you don’t have to believe in God to be a good person: one who helps others and doesn’t knowingly do any damage in life – and in many cases I think they’re right.

I can only speak for Christians, and even then, only from my own experience. So not all Christians are good people, and not all non-Christians are good people – if we could all agree on what constitutes a good person. We do what we can within the limitations of our own flaws and weaknesses, and we try to fix our flaws and strengthen where there is weakness.

Does a non-religious person have a definition of the word “miracle”? The Bible contains lots of stories involving miracles, all powered by God, through a chosen few including, notably, Jesus. But what is a miracle? It’s something that happens that seemed highly unlikely but which we were desperate for. We couldn’t make it happen. So even non-religious people will “pray” for a miracle.

And who are they praying to? Are they directing it to God, just on the off-chance that  such a person or thing exists?

Modern-day “miracles” are often seen in a sporting context, so let’s look at one of those.

In 2005, Liverpool Football Club won the UEFA Champions league against AC Milan in the neutral city of Istanbul, Turkey. Liverpool weren’t, by common consent, the best team in Europe at that time. They weren’t even dominant in the English Premier League. And in the Champions League final they were 3-0 down at half time.

miracle 3
Cheer up, Stevie G. The fans around here think you’re God

How many Liverpool fans were “praying for a miracle” while they got the beers in or made a cup of tea? How many half-jokingly closed their eyes and begged some higher power to help them out?

And then it happened: in the second half they scored three goals, making it 3-3, so after 90 minutes came extra time. No change after the added 30 minutes, so it went to penalties. Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties.

The match has gone down in football history as The Miracle of Istanbul.

miracle 2
How did that happen? Are we brilliant or are we lucky?

But was God involved in that? Italy is probably a more Christian country than England, with the Catholic Church fundamental to its society. So millions of Milan fans must have been praying too.

Is God a Liverpool fan? Seriously, what do you think?

Prayer is a question of belief, of faith, but we have to be sensible about this. If you’re praying for your team and someone else is praying for theirs, how can a loving god give it to one rather than the other? God is the father, and even human fathers would not make such a decision between two of his children. We might try to make a decision based on who deserved it more, which team was playing better and who had been a good boy recently, but ultimately we can’t make that judgement.

The point is that in times of dire need, we realize we can’t do it on our own, so we reach out for help. But if we only ever consider the possibility that God exists when we need him, what message is that sending? How about a bit of gratefulness for the good things that have happened so far?

Nobody has all the answers – not even atheists.

Bloke in the Kitchen. Chakchouka: Moroccan tomato-poached eggs

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

Chakchouka: Moroccan tomato-poached eggs with (optional) flatbread

chakchouka 2
This is the kind of thing, but in this case you see it’s chopped fresh tomatoes.

This is usually used as a breakfast, but in many respects it is more like a dinner. It’s just that eggs are often seen as a morning thing, and here we’re basically making a spicy tomato sauce and poaching eggs in it.

Some people say this is a good hangover cure, and maybe it would help, but not so much because of what it contains. It may help your hangover if you’re the one making it because it is the only breakfast I know that makes you think and keeps you busy for half an hour, taking your mind off how you feel.

There’s a bit of flatbread-making involved, which takes a while but is not difficult even if you’ve never made bread before. It’s not like a loaf that contains yeast to make it rise: it’s just flour, oil and water, really. If you’re going to do that, it needs to be done (or at least the dough made and ready to cook) first. Alternatively you can use any kind of bread, from ordinary toast or French to naan, all of which will serve the purpose even if they’re not authentic.

COWBOY TIP

If you’re a complete novice at bread-making, have a go in private some time so you can make a few mistakes and it doesn’t matter. But really, it’s childsplay and you’ll get a kick out of it if it’s even half-decent.

IF YOU ARE GOING TO DO THE BREAD, HERE’S HOW. IF NOT, SKIP TO MAIN DISH

flatbread
The bread doesn’t have to be perfectly round. You’re going to rip it apart and use it to scoop up the sauce and eggs

INGREDIENTS (FOR THE FLATBREAD)

Plain flour

Olive oil

Water

Salt

METHOD (FOR THE FLATBREAD)

Put three good  handfuls of flour plus a pinch of table salt into a mixing bowl and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Mix it up so the oil is absorbed and the flour is not powdery. Add a cup of warm water and mix well with something like the handle of a wooden spoon.

COWBOY QUESTION 1

Q. Why use “something like the handle of a wooden spoon”?
A. Because once you add water, until you get the consistency right it’s going to be very sticky. If it is too wet and you use your hands it gets stuck between your fingers and is hard to get off and generally a pain in the artichoke.

When the dough is tamed and spongy but not wet, knead it thoroughly with your hands.

COWBOY QUESTION 2

Q. What does knead mean?
A. It is the process of squeezing, leaning, punching etc. that gets dough ready.

Keep the flour handy and use a little on the dough and your hands if it’s still sticky. When the dough springs back a bit when you press it, it’s ready.

Spread some flour on a flat surface (chopping board, worktop etc.), divide the dough into small handfuls and roll them one at a time in the flour, then dust the rolling pin with flour (again, to prevent sticking) and roll the dough out so it’s about the size of pitta bread but a bit thicker.

Heat a frying or griddle pan without oil so it’s pretty hot, and drop your bread in for five minutes or so. Keep an eye  on it and check underneath. When it’s a bit singed on one side, turn it (with just one in a pan you can flip it like a pancake, but easier).

INGREDIENTS – MAIN DISH (for two people)

One medium tin of chopped tomatoes (400 grams)

Green pepper (1)

Onion (1)

Garlic (1 clove)

Chilli (one, deseeded, chopped small) or chilli flakes (half a teaspoon)

Eggs (one or two each)

METHOD

Heat a good, heavy frying pan, big enough to keep the eggs apart while they cook but small enough that the tomato mixture is at least half an inch deep.

Chop the onion quite small and fry gently in a little olive oil until it is translucent.

Add the chopped green pepper and continue gently until that is soft.

Add the chopped or crushed garlic and the chopped chilli or chilli flakes and continue for two minutes.

Pour in the tinned tomatoes, add a little salt and pepper and let it bubble gently for 15 minutes.

Make small wells in the tomato mixture (push in a cup, small bowl, orange etc.) and crack an egg into each. Let them cook there for a few minutes until the whites are set.

Serve on dinner plates with a flatbread each.

I told you it was a bit labour-intensive, but with this process plus some juice,  coffee and tea, any hangover should be receding. If you started off with a clear head, good for you.

chakchouka 1

 

 

The wisdom of pop songs – Girl groups part 1

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts

The idea of looking at girl groups came about as a result of something blogged by my friend the anonymous lady of What’s It all About Alfie?, which can be found at https://jukeboxtimemachine.com. She  picks on  certain individual songs that send her off down memory lane, and a while ago she chose The Ronettes’ Be My Baby.

So that’s where we’re going to concentrate: the golden age of the girl group, the early 60s.

But first let’s quickly dip into the charts of 1954, when The Chordettes brought us Mr Sandman. This tightly-harmonied recording was very much from a different era, the rapidly-dying 1940s worlds of big bands and doo wop, and I’m including it here because although it’s slightly uncool – or would have appeared so to those brought up on a sexier brand of girl group – it has resurfaced from time to time and  has real charm – plus you have to admire a vocal group that doesn’t do the ascending opening “bom bom bom bom bom bom bom bom” all together but handles them individually, one bom each.

girls 5
The Chordettes: Tell him his lonely nights are over – as long as I’m home by 11 and he doesn’t try anything

Mr Sandman was written by a man, Pat Ballard, who put words in the girls’ mouths, as songwriters do, that sometimes are not ideal. In addition to the rather provocative assertion that the man Mr S is supposed to procure should be told “his lonesome nights are over”, he is to bring the girl someone with “lots of wavy hair like Liberace”. Ah, songwriters – pushed around by the needs of rhythm and rhyme.

The fact that the vast majority of girl group songs were written by men poses the question of authenticity: were the girls projecting an image imposed on them by men? And the answer to that – in the context of this blog – is this: if you want to argue about that sort of thing, please go elsewhere. Any song written by someone who didn’t write it is one person’s expression of the thoughts of another.  So if you or I sing Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind, do we really mean it? And that is to assume that Dylan meant every word. It is taken as a sort of protest song, but as the title itself tells us, there are questions to which there is no definitive answer. Thought-provoking stuff. Meanwhile, less intense men were supplying these women with lyrics, but do they not in the main deal with the basics of love and happiness, pain and loss and the general boy-girl obsession that is part of life for both males and females?

girls 4
The writing was on the wall for the boy who had been bothering the Angels

And on that note we jump the early rock’n’roll years and the subsequent relapse into cheesiness, and alight on the Phil Spector era. Currently doing a life sentence for shooting his girlfriend, Spector was an innovator whose “wall of sound” combined his own sonic building expertise with the talents of top session musicians. The girls were almost incidental, although he liked the lead singer of the Ronettes, Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett,  enough to marry her.

Anyone who digs out Spector’s Christmas album every December will know that it is sometimes hard to tell who’s singing, and that is because whether it says on the cover it is the Ronettes, Darlene Love or The Crystals, if he wasn’t happy with a vocal performance and the offending girl wasn’t around to do it again, he would get one of the others to do it. With the singers all strong in the same sort of range, plus the oceans of aural dressing that swamped the recordings, who was going to know?

So Spector groomed The Ronettes and with his team of songwriters, including Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, he gave them not just Be My Baby but Baby I Love You, Do I Love You, Walking In The Rain and lesser known diamonds such as How Does It Feel. Listening to a Ronettes greatest hits album is like working your way through spoonfuls of each of your twelve favourite flavours of ice cream.

If it seems like favouritism,  that Spector was giving his wife’s group all the good stuff, The Crystals couldn’t complain when they got to record He’s A Rebel, Da Doo Ron Ron and And Then He Kissed Me.

Meanwhile, outside Spectorland, we had The Chiffons with He’s So Fine and One Fine Day and the Dixie Cups with the achingly innocent, wide-eyed Chapel of Love. And they also did the hypnotic, tribal-sounding, percussion-only Iko Iko.

The Shangri-Las were around with their haunting tale of death by motorcycle, Leader of the Pack.

girls 8
Hey buddy, just take the goddam picture will ya? My back is killing me

The Poni Tails had already been and gone with Born Too Late, and The Angels were talking tough with My Boyfriend’s Back, which detailed how the boyfriend was going to save her reputation by beating the cr*p out of a guy who had been pestering her and saying things that “weren’t very nice”.

The Shirelles chipped in with Foolish Little Girl and Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s Will You Love Me Tomorrow, and as line-ups changed often in these circles, Dionne Warwick was briefly a Shirelle.

The format of three or four young black women (usually, although The Angels were white) with big voices and big hair was phenomenally successful, but on the subject of the voices, notice how the backing singers often belt it out with a disarming lack of subtlety. They would have all that knocked out of them today, with light and shade and mic technique drummed into them at the expense of raw emotion.

Witness The Velvelettes giving  it a good go on Needle In A Haystack and the Marvelettes on Too Many Fish in the Sea.

girls 2
You were saying, girls? “Doodalang doodalang” or something? Oh, yes, sorry: “Bop bop shoobeedoowah.”

That is not to say that subtlety went completely out of the window, though. The Marvelettes’ version of Smokey Robinson’s The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game is a model of restraint.

And now we’re in Motown territory, and the careers get longer and the stars get bigger as The Supremes racked up smash after smash with Baby Love, Love Don’t Come Easy and Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone. Motown even found a way to get psychedelia in there, with a few synthesized squeaks and squawks on Reflections, before Diana Ross went solo and the group continued with Jean Terrell singing lead on the likes of Stoned Love, Up The Ladder To The Roof and Nathan Jones.

girls 6
The Supremes weren’t all Diana: there was also, at various times, Mary, Florence, Cindy and Jean. And Betty early on. And a couple of others later

The Supremes all but eclipsed the other girl groups of their era, but they were fought all the way by Martha and the Vandellas, with their insanely danceable Heatwave, the poignant Jimmy Mack and their  paean to love and marriage, Third Finger Left Hand.

Motown in those days was fed by male songwriters of the caliber of Robinson and Holland-Dozier-Holland, but, as we considered earlier, does that make girls sound girlier? Left to their own devices, would they have been singing about human rights and the Vietnam war?

For the sheer, naïve pleasure of it all, give me You Can’t Hurry Love any day.

Try this for youthful enthusiasm

Then come back for some pure sophistication:

Next Friday: the girls grow up (a bit).

 

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Mr Brooks

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

Brooks

If there was an award for the cleverest film of the year in 2007 it would of gone to Mr Brooks because as well as being well acted it has things cropping up all the time that change the way your thinking I don’t know if they did this on purpose but it happened.

It stars  Kevin Costner as this wealthy guy who made his money through making boxes which dosen’t sound very exciting does it but if it makes you a millionaire I don’t suppose you would complain. He’s just won Man of the Year in Portland, Oregon, and his picture is all over the media which turns out not to be such a good thing because he has this secret life he’s a serial killer who likes to shoot couples who are making love and the first time he does it after the award he dosen’t notice the curtains of their bedroom are open.

That matters because this couple have a habit of doing it with the lights on and the curtains open and a guy in the apartment block opposite watches them and takes photographs and the really weird thing about him is that he wants to be a killer himself so when he recognizes Mr Brooks he tracks him down and says he’s going to expose him if he dosen’t let him come along next time he’s out murdering.

Brooks has this alter ego they call it that’s another side of him like and in this film they show it as another guy completely Marshall (William Hurt who we looked at last week in Body Heat). Marshall is the bad side of Brooks the one who makes him kill and Brooks himself wants to stop it but Marshall wants him to carry on so he’s pleased when this weird guy who calls himself Mr Smith wants the fun to continue. You see I’m calling Smith weird but not Brooks and that’s because Brooks is a nice family man very neat and tidy and he cleans up the crime scenes and burns the clothes he was wearing and he’s good to his wife and loves his daughter.

Brooks 2
The two sides of Mr Brooks: Costner and Hurt

The detective whose in charge of the case is Demi Moore who I’ve never really liked or even found that attractive but millions of men do so what do I know? She’s getting divorced so she’s got a lawyer now she is a good looking dame the lawyer that is played by Aisha Hinds she’s a well built black woman with a shaven head which might not sound  that cute but let me tell you she’s gorgeous.

But that’s by the by the cop is loaded she’s from a wealthy family so her husband is trying to get shedloads of money out of her in the divorce settlement.

Then Brooks’s daughter turns up she’s dropped out of college and she’s pregnant but that’s not the real reason but what is we have to wait to find out and Brooks and Marshall discuss it they talk to each other but no one else can hear them. William Hurt has this voice that can sound mad and creepy and he uses that here he’s always laughing like a lunatic well I suppose he is a lunatic or his character is.

Then some more cops turn up from the town the daughter was at college in and they want to talk to her about a murder that happened just before she left. So like father like daughter and Brooks is such a nice guy that he goes down there and kills somebody else in the same way the first one was done to make it look like the start of a series like his so it couldn’t be his daughter because she wasn’t there. See what I mean about it being clever well you may be thinking it could get on your nerves but it dosen’t it just keeps you on your toes thinking what’s going to happen next that’s my opinion anyways I love it it wasn’t fantastically popular when it come out but sometimes the public don’t get it for some reason I think it should of got awards left right and centre.

There’s much more to it but it’s got so much going on I ain’t got time to tell you more and if you seen it already you know anyhow and if you haven’t you’ll find out when you do so at least I ain’t given the game away.

 

 

The English Pedant – Why fun is not funny

Funny is a funny word, isn’t it? Funny haha or funny peculiar, that is the question. Or it’s one question, anyway: there is also the similar but not identical concept of fun.

Lots of things in life can be fun but don’t make us laugh. A trip to the zoo or a game of darts. Flying a kite. Having sex. These things are fun, but they don’t necessarily cause us to giggle, cackle or any of the other variants of laughter.

To the non-native English speaker, though, it’s not so much that the two words are interchangeable, but more that fun doesn’t exist, or doesn’t need to exist anymore. They experience something that is what we would call fun and they say it’s funny.

Anyone who has ever explained the difference will know the look of disbelief, pity, almost contempt, on their face. “I enjoyed it,” they’re thinking. “And English adjectives often end in y. Therefore it was not fun, it was funny. Fun is a noun.”

We can and do use it as a noun, in fact. That was fun. We had fun.

So it can be “that was fun” or equally well “that was funny”?

Well, you think, it’s funny you should say that, because I’ve been speaking English all my life and there has always been that difference.

So no. It was either fun or it wasn’t. Unless it caused hilarity, in which case it was funny.

And then there’s the “peculiar” meaning of funny. How did that come about? Probably simple misuse a few generations back, because it doesn’t mean hilarious or even mildly amusing. It means puzzling. The Pedant’s ancestors would have been hard at work, pointlessly pointing out that the King’s English was being corrupted. Or the Queen’s if it happened in Victorian times.

There’s another strain of the word, too, which is particularly prevalent in British English: meaning awkward, difficult, or argumentative. You find “I’m not being funny” or perhaps “I’m not trying to be funny” as a disclaimer before a question or statement criticizing something. “I’m not being funny, but are you going to wear that cap in court?” or “I’m not trying to be funny, but haven’t you got any decent CDs?”

It’s a losing battle, of course, just as resisting any language change is. Many Americans are now saying funny when they mean fun. You get swamped with it and start doing it yourself.

With the worldwide issue of immigration  as prominent as it is, we come to the question of whether people settling in a new country should be obliged not only to speak the language but to speak it properly.

And that, frankly, is unenforceable, because there are so many variants among the native population. When there are Scots asking “How?” when they mean “What?”, we haven’t got a leg to stand on.

When there are millions of African Americans saying “Ah ight” instead of “All right” how can we insist that Spanish speakers learn the difference between v and b, so they can differentiate between very and berry?

But shouldn’t we at least try? And shouldn’t newcomers at least listen to what we’re saying, just as we try to pronounce their language properly?

I once worked with a Polish woman, well-educated and highly intelligent, who insisted on pronouncing salmon as sal monn. And when I say she insisted, I mean I pointed out to her that it was one of the most common mistakes among non-native English speakers, and that it should sound something like sammen, but she said, “Well, you say it your way and I’ll say it mine.”

The cartoon Brit in France turns up at a campsite and is looking for the office. “Essa kerr – eel ee ah – ern byoroe eecee?” If he’s staying, should the French let him labour in this way or should they teach him how to say it correctly? Surely a polite and helpful demonstration would be better for all concerned.

Shouldn’t we accept we still have a lot to learn and keep trying?

Confessions of an expat – A Canadian welcome

greyhound
Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces. She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy

So the New York move didn’t work out too well, but while I was on that side of the Atlantic, there was always Canada. That’s the 27-year-old me, the aspiring rock star, transported across the ocean with my girlfriend to impose on her parents, the old man in Long Island and the mother, who probably liked me even less than her husband did, in Toronto. Didi, Mandy’s Mum, would probably seem like quite an attractive woman if I met her now, but the world wasn’t obsessed with “cougars” at that time. The older woman had yet to be elevated to the level of sexual fantasy on that scale, and if she saw anything interesting in me, she hid it pretty well. That’s got nothing to do with civility and getting along, of course, but if there is an undercurrent of that sort, it can help.

To get from NY to Toronto, the cheap option was also in a way the most appealing: a Greyhound bus. This was part of American folklore. Simon and Garfunkel had sung about them: “Kathy, I said, as we boarded the Greyhound in Pittsburgh…” They’re just buses, but they are famous.

There is something therapeutic about watching the world go by on a train or a bus. Getting there at high speed by plane has its advantages, but if you’re not in a hurry, there is great fascination to be had speeding past fields and factories and into grimy towns with grimier bus stations and seeing the human flotsam that gets on and off. Everyone has a story to tell and you’ll probably never hear it, but that just gives more rein to the imagination.

As an added bonus, we entered Canada via Niagara Falls, and even though it was dark, that was another little kick.

niagara
Niagara: not the highest falls in the world, but the most famous

Toronto itself has changed since then (the early 80s), my Vancouver friends tell me, but the difference from New York was glaring. In the Big Apple people wouldn’t give you the time of day, but in Toronto it took 10 minutes to get out of the supermarket because the checkout girl wanted to chat. The underground trains ran on time and were spotless. People were polite. It’s those sorts of things that lead Americans to make fun of Canadians.

It was cold, but that’s okay sometimes and  a bit of snow and ice just adds to the impression of cleanliness.

There was a village feeling about the city that made it easy to wander into record company offices and talk about my music and their needs. One of them wanted a Christmas song for a popular folk group, so I labored over one without quite cracking it.

By contrast, Bloor Street and Yonge Street were long beyond my imagination, so when I went looking for places on foot I found myself walking for hours and not really getting anywhere.

One night I went alone to El Mocambo, a famous club, and sat drinking bottles of Molson Golden while groups of people shared big jugs of beer which worked out much cheaper. The waitress ignored my request for one, perhaps fearing that I would turn into a traditional English lager lout, but we drink beer in pints in the UK and it’s what we’re used to.  Working your way through a load of small bottles just seems pointless. I eventually persuaded one of the girl’s colleagues to do me a favour and I sat there with my jug like a good boy.

toronto
Big city with a small-town feel: that’s how it was then but Toronto may have changed

The off-licences were odd, too. They were like betting shops or catalogue shops, with desks in the middle of the floor on which were displayed lists of drinks. You filled in a slip, gave it in at the counter, handed over some money, and the bottle of wine would come out from the back on a conveyor belt, in a brown paper bag. I got the feeling I was being watched and would one day be challenged: “Hey, you were in here last week and you ordered the same thing. We don’t want your sort here, buddy.” But of course they’re Canadian, so they wouldn’t have done that.

All too soon Didi tired of having me around and I was on a plane back to London, but my transatlantic trip had whetted my appetite, and although it would be many years before I went long-haul again with the intention of staying, it was always in the back of my mind.

 

 

Ref! On Euro hopes and dreams

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

 Referee

Evening lads,

England, Russia, Slovenia, Wales. Who’s going to win the Euros? England, Baz? Is that a considered answer or purely based on sentiment? Yes, of course I want England to win it, but only if they’re the best team. And are they? We’ve seen it all before, haven’t we? Excellent record in qualifying but when it comes to the real thing, we find that the world has moved on and while we’ve been admiring the development of  one or two promising players, other people have produced superstars.

So what have we got, Dave? Potential gold upfront, I agree. Gone are the days of hoping someone like Danny Welbeck can rise to the occasion and score at international level when he doesn’t do much for his club.

But Kane or Vardy? Both? I would like to agree with you, mate, but at the moment I reckon we’re in either/or territory. Because they haven’t really played together much, and even if Roy Hodgson does play them as a pair rather than having one out wide, it remains to be seen if they can accept being co-stars rather than undisputed kings, which is what they are at their clubs.

If you look back through history at the great strike partnerships, it hasn’t been like that. Lineker and Beardsley? That was very much Lineker as the hit man and Beardsley buzzing around creating chances. Alan Shearer? Whoever played with him was always going to be second fiddle. Go right back to the year of our Lord  1966 and in the final it was Geoff Hurst and Roger Hunt but I sometimes struggle to remember Hunt was even there. And if Jimmy Greaves been fit in earlier matches, you’d have had him up there, and there was a lone wolf if ever there was one.

Cheers Gary. Get us a Campari and orange juice, will you? Because it’s what I fancy, that’s why.

Midfield, lads? Full of promise but not too much proven experience. I agree, Baz, I like Ross Barkley, but he’s got to stamp his authority on the squad. Dele Alli’s on a wave of youthful enthusiasm and confidence, so let’s hope that bubble doesn’t burst. Other than them you’ve got Fabian Delph, who’s shellshocked after Villa’s nightmare. Lallana, Drinkwater, Henderson, Dier. Where’s the commanding influence, the guy who takes over when the going gets tough? Yes, I suppose that was an illusion much of the time, but at least with Lampard and Gerrard and Beckham you felt it was a possibility.Maybe Jack Wilshere, yes, it’s like pre-season for him so at least he’s going to be fresh.  Where’s Bryan Robson when you need him?

And at the back, well, unconvincing is the word that springs to mind, don’t you think?

I wouldn’t be surprised if Chelsea replaced Gary Cahill this summer, and yet he’s the captain of England. In the absence of Rooney, yes, and there’s the key. I know I’ve been vocal in my wish for Rooney to quietly fade away, but that was from the strikers. If he can play deeper, which he’s been doing lately, then fine, and he has the experience, which we need.

Also at the back, John Stones needs to rediscover his composure and the full backs, well, they don’t have to be world-beaters, just solid. Disciplined. Leave the fancy stuff to others.

And as the boss said in Mike Bassett: England Manager, we’re going to play four four f***ing two.

Cheers, Gary. Let’s enjoy it while we can, eh?

 

 

 

 

Bloke in the Kitchen. Gazpacho

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

There are people – even some intelligent people whom I know and like – who dismiss gazpacho as cold tomato soup. Well guess what: it is a kind of cold tomato soup. But it’s not just tomato soup that’s gone cold: it’s special.

And – the two vital considerations for Bloke in the Kitchen – it’s delicious and it’s easy.

It’s a starter really, but can be your whole lunch if you like.

gazpacho

The concept of chilled soup is alien to many, because in the cool countries we’re brought up with the idea of soup as a meal to warm us up on a cold day. But just turn that on its head: in a hot country or on a hot day, soup can be something that helps cool you down.

And it’s all raw vegetables; think of the vitamins and minerals you’re getting.

It takes about ten minutes to make and then it needs to sit in the fridge for a couple of hours to get really cold. Some people put ice in it, but remember, ice is water and water dilutes flavours. So just give it plenty of time to chill.

This is a starter really, but could be your whole lunch if you like.

Juicing a bucketload of tomatoes would take a long time, but you don’t have to do that. We’re going to use V8, which is tomato juice with other vegetables – beets, celery, carrots, lettuce, parsley, watercress and  spinach.  And it is already liquid, so all we have to do is open it. Then we add cucumber (just the flesh – peel it and scrape out the seeds, keeping the juice if you can) and some spices to enrich the flavor.

This recipe has a kick at the back of the throat, partly from the hot pepper but also the garlic.

INGREDIENTS

Large bottle of  V8 vegetable  juice.

Cucumber (a six-inch piece is about right for two people, peeled, deseeded)

Salt

Garlic (one clove, crushed)

Ground black pepper

Celery salt

Cumin powder

Jalapeno or cayenne powder

Lime juice

Olive oil

Worcestershire sauce

COWBOY TIP

If you want to make this really spicy with the sort of kick that will stop the cynics in their tracks, use a fresh chilli, but be careful to taste the soup and make sure your guests can handle it. And warn them. If it’s too hot, all you can do is add some more of everything else to spread out the heat.

METHOD

Shake the juice and pour into a blender.

Peel and deseed the cucumber, cut into three-inch pieces.

Crush the garlic and add to the mixture

Add a little celery salt and some table salt, plus ground black pepper, a dash of cumin and a little shake of the hot powder. Squeeze in a dash of lime or lemon juice and give it a splash of Worcestershire sauce and a slight glug of olive oil. Take it easy with all of these. You can add more later but you can’t take them out.

Blend it until the cucumber has disappeared.

Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Pour into a large bowl, such as a salad bowl.

Chill it for at least two hours. If time is short, put it in the freezer for a while, but don’t forget it.

Serve in soup bowls or pasta bowls, each with a cilantro or parsley leaf floating on top – just for garnish.

Eat with some fresh, crisp French bread and butter.