No such thing as the perfect Christian – part 1 of 1,000

To be a Christian means one basic thing: to believe not only in God but in his son Jesus Christ – hence the name. It is not the only religion in the world, and that means there is an element of competition that is innate in human beings: the ‘my Dad is bigger than your Dad’ attitude. But if our way is supposed to be leading by example, we have to put aside the temptation to argue our opponents into agreement.

Yes, wars have been caused by religion, and not surprisingly when you look at the Old Testament, which is full of war, skullduggery and bloodshed. It is full of people doing their best within the limitations of their knowledge  and experience, and with the prevailing attitudes their time and place

History can teach us a lot in terms of  what works and what doesn’t, but it has to be filtered through more recent experience. There is a fundamental difference between ‘an eye for an eye’ and  ‘turn the other cheek’. The former is basic human instinct, the automatic decision to gain revenge, and it has been a key component of fiction and drama ever since our ancestors started writing stories. It is based on our need for self-respect, in which standing up for ourselves is fundamental.

It pervades politics, as the current race for the US  Presidency demonstrates. Donald Trump is Old Testament.

The ‘turn the other cheek’ viewpoint is much harder, not only to sell to other people but to carry out ourselves when it involves others. If someone attacks us and we choose not to fight back, that’s our problem. But if someone attacks people we care about, people who rely on us, how can we turn the other cheek then? Jesus was an utterly peaceful man, but he threw the mney-changers out of the temple.

In the US Presidential context, while Trump falls squarely into one category, it would be completely wrong to put Hillary Clinton in the other. Whoever is running a country cannot stand by and talk in platitudes – expressing thoughts that are easy to say and have been said countless times but never had any effect – bleating that in a perfect world there shouldn’t be this problem. Ours is not a perfect world and platitudes won’t get us anywhere.

The Labour party in the UK is in danger of splitting at the moment because of a leader who has the interests of the world at heart. Jeremy Corbyn knows all the theoretical answers and is in many ways the politician that this politically correct world has been breeding. He has been standing on the sidelines for decades, deploring the actions of those in power without having to get his own hands dirty. He says the right things, just as Donald Trump has a habit of saying the wrong things.

But if one of these people is your Dad, is he going to look after you in times of trouble or is he going to stand by and say nice, conciliatory things while your little world falls apart?

The vast majority of us – religious and non-religious – want peace and harmony. But while there are forces of evil in the world, we’re not going to get it without standing up for ourselves, which sometimes involves a fight. If we go along with that, does it make us Christians bad Christians?

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Bloke in the Kitchen. Simple seafood

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

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Seafood is one of nature’s delights. Much of it comes in little, bite-size pieces, cooks in no time and is endlessly versatile.

The exceptions to that are octopus and squid, so we will leave them out this time.

For this recipe we’re going to use prawns (shrimp if you’re speaking American) and scallops, if you can find some.

In restaurants nowadays you often find prawns with the tail shell still on, or even completely shell-on, and one reason for that is that they shrink and the shell helps them retain their size and shape.

But it’s a faff, as we say in the UK, taking the shells off when they’re hot and covered in oily sauce.

The alternative is to cook them very quickly. Just look at them: small and thin and fairly soft You can cook them in seconds, and that’s what we’re going to do

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Scallops with the roe…
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…and without

INGREDIENTS

Large shelled prawns /shrimp, raw or cooked, defrosted

Scallops (and don’t get rid of the orange part – it’s the roe, sometimes known as coral, and it’s fine to eat – very tasty.

One or two large fresh tomatoes

Fresh chilli pepper

Garlic

Chives

Fresh ginger

Lemon zest

Cilantro

METHOD

Heat a little butter in a good, heavy frying pan.

Add the chopped chili, grated garlic, chopped chives and grated ginger

Cut tomatoes in half and grate them (yes, grate them) into the pan

Just give this a minute on a fairly low heat. You’re not really cooking anything, but combining it and bringing out the flavour.

Add the scallops

Throw in the prawns, turn the heat up to medium and let them sizzle.

If they’re already cooked, all you want to do is warm them.

If they’re raw, give them a minute or so, until they lose their transparent look.

Grate in some lemon zest and squeeze in a little juice

When it’s hot, chop some cilantro or parsley and throw that in. It just gives some extra freshness to the dish.

Serve with rice, noodles or even spaghetti.

It’s light and fresh-tasting, with the citrus and herbs sparkling along with the natural salty sea flavour.

seafood 1
And it should look something like this

 

The wisdom of pop songs – Boats and ships

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts

A couple of weeks ago we had a look at air travel through the eyes of the world’s songwriters and now it’s time to take to the water: boats.

Boating is not necessarily about long voyages; it can be about pleasure and relaxation. In 1961 a Scottish folk singer called Josh MacRae had a UK hit with a sleepy piece of whimsy called Messing About On The River, in which he extolled the virtues of taking it easy on the water. Josh wasn’t his real name – he borrowed it from  blues musician he liked. He was really Iain, and if this song is representative of his usual conversation, one can surmise that he loved his mother, went caravanning to the same loch-side location every year and sometimes treated himself to a naughty third glass of shandy. A Jack Daniels-swigging rebel he wasn’t, but what is called in the UK an anorak, as this couplet suggests:

There are tillers and rudders and anchors and cleats,
And ropes that are sometimes referred to as sheets.

Rock on, Iain. Or folk on, perhaps.

New Zealand being a former British territory, that song may well have been crooning through the speaker of the radio in the house of the young Tim Finn before he formed Split Enz and was subsequently eclipsed by his younger brother Neil, with Crowded House. Split Enz had great success with the wonderful Six Months in a Leaky Boat, a rollicking tale of life on the high seas.

The Beach Boys had already brought us Sloop John B, a folk song from the Bahamas that told of problems of drunkenness and ill health aboard the eponymous ship, leaving the narrator wanting to go home.

You don’t get this kind of thing with air travel, because it’s all over too quickly.

Many songs with boat or ship in the title actually have nothing to do with nautical matters: Bebop Deluxe’s Ships in the Night, for instance, is a figure of speech meaning two people who don’t really connect, while the Walker Brothers’ My Ship Is Coming In is another way of saying his fortunes are changing and “things are gonna be different now”.

One of this blog’s favourite songs on any subject is perfect here, though: Procol Harum’s A Salty Dog, a beautifully crafted story of British sailors thousands of miles from home and settling on a remote island. Lyricist Keith Reid put the words in Gary Brooker’s mouth – he also created the psychedelic strangeness of A Whiter Shade of Pale – and perhaps because he wasn’t singing them himself, he had a poetic flair and breadth of vision that is all too rare in pop music.

We fired the gun, and burned the mast, and rowed from ship to shore
The captain cried, we sailors wept: our tears were tears of joy
Now many moons and many Junes have passed since we made land
A salty dog, this seaman’s log: your witness my own hand

Rod Stewart’s massive hit Sailing, a song of love and loneliness, was written by Gavin Sutherland of the Sutherland Brothers, who enjoyed considerable success in their own right but are probably sick to death of the song, if not the royalties.

Christopher Cross’s song of the same name seems to tell of his love for being out on the water himself, forgetting his worldly cares because “the canvas can do miracles”.

Much less well known but equally brilliant are two songs by The Band. Rocking Chair, on their second album, the one with Up on Cripple Creek and Rag Mama Rag, features an ageing  man urging his friend Willie to join him in retiring from their seafaring life because they’re simply too old.

I spent my whole life at sea
And I’m pushing age 73
Now there’s only one place that was meant for me

Later came Evangeline, which sounds like a Canadian folk song but was actually written by guitarist Robbie Robertson just in time to be tacked onto the end of the film The Last Waltz. A tale of a riverboat gambler and his drowning  while his love watches, helpless, from a hilltop, it features the voices of Rick Danko and Levon Helm, with the girl portrayed by Emmylou Harris.

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary evokes a similar era, albeit far less dramatically.

A completely different angle comes from Elvis Costello with Shipbuilding, which was also a hit for Robert Wyatt. Set in the tough economic times of the early 1980s when the Falklands war was generating money for the north of England and Scotland because war ships needed to be built, it’s about as appealing as a politically-motivated song can be.

Is it worth it?
A new winter coat and shoes for the wife
And a bicycle on the boy’s birthday…

Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding

And on that somber note, The Wisdom of Pop Songs will see you next Friday.

Kaycee’s Klasic Films – Chinatown

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

chinatown 3

Chinatown is whats known as film noir that’s pronounced nwar its French for black and I think its called that because there is always a dark atmosphere not visual but dark mood you know nothing good ever happens. There was a lot of it around before my time stuff like Humphrey Bogart playing private detectives that get beaten up and stuff.

So Chinatown (made in 1974) was a bit after that but done in the same style and they set it in the old days I’m not sure what decade but old fashioned cars and suits with flappy trousers and everybody wore hats you know. Often in these things the story is just an excuse to see the leading actors (watching Jack Nicholson being cool and Faye Dunaway being sexy) and what actually happens don’t really matter. In this case its about California when there was a water shortage and of course people being killed.

They usually start with a beautiful woman hiring the P.I. to investigate something and it turns out to be not as straightforward as it looks. Sure enough Evelyn Mulwray (Faye) turns up and asks Jake Gittes (Jack) to tail her husband. But later another woman also claiming to be Evelyn turns up and says she’s going to sue him. And the husband is found drowned.

It all gets complicated but if your me you just enjoy Jack and Faye and leave the eggheads to follow the plot. There is stuff about he was found in a fresh water reservoir but he had salt water in his lungs things like that. There’s missing glasses too that are important.

Jake gets his nose slashed with a knife up both nostrils and spends most of the film with a big bandage over it which isn’t a good look but he’s still Jack Nicholson so he’s still attractive.

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And there’s lots of peace and quiet in the film which makes a change you don’t want bang crash all the time do you well I don’t it’s all noise these days I suppose that’s why I like old stuff sometimes.

Funny enough I was looking at an old films channel the other day and there was a Bob Hope film where he plays the same  except he’s just pretending to be a private detective cos the real one is in the next office but he’s out of town and Dorothy Lamour gets him involved. That one’s a spoof which means it kind of takes the mickey and Bob was a comedian so he does it real well.

“Was it a legitimate business?”

“Better than legitimate, it was profitable.”

You know how clever those guys were. That was called My Favourite Brunette.

But I’m confusing you now – I’m confused myself but that don’t take much haha. Chinatown has a great atmosphere and some good lines and it has brilliant stars that’s what I like about it. There’s a serious bit when Faye has a girl she calls her sister but it turns out she’s not really I won’t spoil it let’s just say it’s not very nice.

They made a sequel in 1990, still starring Jack and he directed it instead of Roman Polanski who did the original but the same writer Robert Towne he did some great stuff but you don’t usually hear about the screenwriter just the director that’s funny ain’t it no script no film if you ask me but there you go. The sequel wasn’t as good of course they never are are they apart from people say the Godfather series is different but I don’t know you can have too much gangster stuff I reckon.

 

The English Pedant – Why is it so hard to say thank you?

Something most of us are taught as children is to say please and thank you. It’s a matter on which there can be no discussion, certainly  in the UK, and those of us brought up with it find it hard to understand why others don’t do it.

Even Americans, most of whom would consider themselves polite, will say to a bartender, “Gimme a Scotch,” while we wouldn’t dream of it. We’re the customer, so we’re in charge and if we want a Scotch, the guy would have to have a very good reason not to give it to us. And yet we will dress the request up with ingratiating words. “Could I have  Scotch please,” or “I’d like a Scotch, please.” Say “Gimme” in that way to a British bartender and you’re asking for trouble.

We can’t even say “I want,” because that is supposed to be rude. We have to say “I’d like”. In the UK there is a saying: I want doesn’t get. It’s hard to explain this to speakers of another language, for whom saying “I want…” is a simple statement of fact.

Some language students are grateful for this advice, while others are slightly offended that you should think so badly of them. But it has to be done.

It is even harder to convince them that when they decline an offer, they have to thank the offerer for thinking of it. Thus when someone asks, “Would you like a cup of tea?” they should say “No thank you.” To just say no is plain rude in our book, but not in theirs, and some will go along with it for a while, but stop doing it at some point. I have even been told, “You know I mean it politely, so do I have to do it every time? To you?”

Well I’m sorry (excessive British politeness there), but yes, you do.

At some point in the last 20 years, as formality has been steadily eroded, saying thank you has been left isolated, like a rock left exposed by the retreating tide. And it has made certain people uncomfortable, feeing like a sap for behaving in such an obsequious way.

This is particularly prevalent among 20-something British men, naturally programmed to show themselves as tough and not yet ready to accept that toughness is sometimes best expressed by humility.

These people can’t say “Thank you” for anything – not for ordinary things, anyway. They might summon the decency in the event of being saved from drowning, but in normal circumstances, no. And yet the voice of their mother is in their head. Be polite.

So what comes out is “Cheers”. This is the British greeting uttered when we are given an alcoholic drink. We raise the glass and say “Cheers”.

So the young man who can’t bring himself to use the proper words can say “Cheers’ without losing face, without showing weakness in front of his peers.

“Cheers for that,” he will say.

Don’t mention it, mate. Thank you for having the guts to say even that.

Confessions of an expat – Homesick

Homesickness can be a serious problem for some people. Longing for familiar surroundings, sights and sounds can make them restless and unable to settle anywhere other than where they come from.
tea
Miss this? It’s nice, but you can arrange it almost anywhere

This is less of a problem for the expat whose career is what takes him or her to a different place than for what is termed the “trailing spouse”, the partner who goes along because it’s either that or effectively not have a significant other at all. The spouse doesn’t have new challenges to keep him or her busy and that can lead to having too much time to think, with the thoughts being negative ones.

I’ve never suffered from this affliction. Coming from an island with a population of 60,000 (nowadays, but considerably less in the past), one might be expected to miss home more than someone from a big city, but for me that just isn’t true.

My first venture away from Guernsey was to college in Portsmouth. Geographically that’s not far, but it is across the water and it is a city rather than an island. But for a student aged 19, it also represented freedom. There was more to do, more to see. There were rock bands playing on South Parade Pier; big names who would never go to Guernsey because it didn’t make economic sense.

I got lonely at first, because it took a while to make friends, and that’s not a nice feeling, but is not to be confused with homesickness. I grabbed the first people who would talk to me and made a little group with them, but being with the wrong people, with whom you feel no bond, is worse than nothing at all. I had to let them go and gradually find some kindred spirits.

From my new base on the south coast there was also the possibility of exploring the rest of Great Britain. Many of my friends were at colleges and universities from Bristol and London to Birmingham and Glasgow. In those rather safer (or certainly more innocent) times, it was a common practice to save on travel expenses by hitch-hiking: standing on the outskirts with a bored but optimistic thumb dangling in the hope that some kind soul would take me at least part of the way to my destination. It meant long days out in the elements with no guarantee of reaching shelter before nightfall, but youth doesn’t worry about that so much. You will get there in the end.

And along the way you meet people whom you otherwise wouldn’t. You see towns you didn’t intend to visit and learn about human nature.

I was once given a meal and a settee for the night in a small town in the west country by a couple who thought I was absent without leave from the nearby Army base.

In this day and age you can’t recommend young people  putting themselves at the mercy of strangers, but many of us did it regularly and came to no harm.

So that was a bit of travelling , going around the UK when I should have been studying.

beach port soif
Miss this? Sure, but there are beaches in places other than Guernsey

Later came trips around Europe, again by thumb, with pea-brained ideas about working in Gibraltar because it was British, only to be turned away at the border because we had no money. “But that’s the whole point,” we argued with the official. “We’re here to work and earn some money.”  These people, these stupid grownups with their blinkered ideas and inflexible attitudes. Hadn’t they ever heard that line from The Beatles’ Abbey Road album: “But oh that magic feeling, nowhere to go.” It made perfect sense to me at the time.

And the night I slept in a graveyard in a small French town, I wasn’t pining for my bedroom back home. Quite the contrary. I was the one living the life of Riley, while the rest were stuck back there with their homes and jobs. I saw nothing positive in that.

Later in life, with a career and a marriage behind me I was once more back on the road, this time with a wife from South America, so we had two homelands to consider. Fortunately she thinks as I do about where is the right place to be. Home is where we are, both of us. It helps if that is somewhere enjoyable, safe and where you can have a good lifestyle. It is hard to be homesick when you’re lying on a Caribbean beach with a decent place to live and (just about) enough money in your pocket.

We bounced around the Caribbean region and ended up in Suriname. And before the economic crisis hit the country, that was okay. No beaches, but many of the other Caribbean characteristics. Heat, humidity, mango trees, banana trees…

There’s been a lot going on in the UK recently, with Brexit and changes in leadership and even a heatwave, but the pang of homesickness that hit me last week had nothing to do with those things.

I was sitting on the balcony (which sounds more glamorous than it is) and it was a hot as hell as usual. And it wasn’t the butterflies that were doing their fluttering art installation. It wasn’t the sudden realization that bananas grow upwards, not curving down as we usually see them. It wasn’t the BBC news I was reading on my phone.

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See? They curl upwards as they grow

But there was a cricket match going on in Manchester, England vs Pakistan. And reading about it was fine – I’m a cricket fan and was a pretty decent player when I was young. But I read about it all the time and it’s enjoyable but no more than that. But then I came to the part that said “Listen online abroad”. With most British broadcasts, legal restrictions mean you can’t tune in, and the satellite TV reception in this house makes it impossible.

I clicked on the three magic words and suddenly they were talking to me from the Second Test Match at Old Trafford. England were doing fine – batting well and making piles of runs. And I wanted to be there. As a kid I used to take a radio to the beach and listen to the test match between swims, so maybe it’s that. Whatever it was, I wanted to be listening to it in the UK. Not necessarily at the ground, but listening to it or watching it on TV on home soil.

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Miss this? Absolutely. It’s England’s current star batsman, Joe Root, and I’ve never really watched him play.

Bloody homesick. At my age. Yes, maybe age has something to do with it. I wanted to get back there and follow it while Joe Root is at his peak, and before test matches cease to exist – which is a sad possibility in the not-too-distant future.

The feeling passed, but I’m about to stop writing and go and do it again.

Ref! On Allardyce and a grim future

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

 Referee

Hey,Baz, there’s a bloke asking for you up by the bar. I don’t know, he’s from the FA, I think, wants to offer you a job. No, the Allardyce thing was all an elaborate joke and it’s you they want for England manager.

Well, I mean come on, Sam Allardyce? How desperate has this country become? Never mind him being at unfashionable clubs – Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were at Derby and Notts Forest, but they actually won things. They transformed clubs and won the league and the European Cup. All Big Sam’s done is make Bolton and Blackburn unpleasant places to go on the dreaded, legendary “wet Wednesday in November”.

Dreaded because you were going to be assaulted, Dave, that’s right. He can talk all he likes about the great football his teams played, but how come nobody else thinks so? If he’d turned Bolton into Barcelona I think we might have noticed.

And at West Ham the fans couldn’t wait to get rid of him because the team didn’t play “the West Ham way”, which might be a myth going back to the 1960s, but you can see their point. Allardyce got back into his element at Sunderland, because they were in a relegation dogfight, and that’s what his teams are good at: scrapping.

No, no, Dave, I agree, we shouldn’t bury him before he’s lived in the England job. But what points do you want to make in his defence? His name?

Yes, I agree, it’s unfortunate that he sounds like a character in Last of the Summer Wine, a dyed-in-the-wool northerner with ferrets down his trousers. It makes him sound like an unsubtle dinosaur. They used to say the opposite about Tim Henman, like he’d have been a more powerful and successful player if his name was Tom Bulman, just because it sounds meatier. So yes, if Allardyce had been called Simon Alan Dyson, we might have given him a bit of credit.

And if he’s looked less like a thug and more like a thinker, but he can’t help that either. I don’t disagree with you, mate.

Cheers, Gary, what’s the guest ale this week? Big Sam? Seriously? I’ll have a pint of that, mate. In a reinforced glass, just in case.

So what we’re saying is that Sam Allardyce needs a makeover. I’m sure the FA’s PR department is working on that. Lose some weight, get rid of the coaliminer’s haircut and make him look more like Philip Seymour Hoffman. There is a resemblance, you know.

But no, we’ll see. But it’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it, when the press are asking people like Jose Mourinho what he thinks and Mourinho’s going, “Yes, Good appointment.” He must have laughed himself silly when he heard the news.

Seriously, gentlemen, we shall see, but from here it looks ludicrous, doesn’t it? If the English candidates were Allardyce and Steve Bruce – who’s a very nice guy, by the way – then we’re in trouble. I just hope the way the situation has been laid bare will show the club owners the folly of appointing foreign managers. Except the owners are all foreign too, Dave, exactly.

So maybe we need to fast forward to 50 years’ time, when the bubble has burst and football in England is a part-time game and the Shetland Islands are world champions because of their zero-tax laws and untold riches.

And our grandchildren will be sitting here – Baz’s won’t, because they’ll be in prison – talking about the good old days when England used to occasionally qualify for a tournament before getting knocked out by Andorra.

 

Terrible secrets of the songwriters

Believing in God is so unfashionable that sometimes it is hard to discover if someone does or doesn’t, because they cover it up. In the 1960s, pop stars would go to great lengths to conceal the fact that they were married or even that they had a serious girlfriend – or if they were gay.

Declaring that you are a Christian, then, is a bit like “coming out”.

But let’s face it, putting the word God in a song title is a bit of a giveaway if it is done in a positive way. So when I happened to think of the old Coldplay song God Put a Smile On Your Face I had to dig quite deep into lyricist Chris Martin’s biographical details to reach the reference to his religious beliefs. And what it amounted to is that he believed in “a” God, but he wasn’t sure if it was the Christian one or not. “I don’t know if it’s Allah or Jesus or Mohammed or Zeus. But I’d go for Zeus,” he said, in a frankly PR-orientated attempt to stay cool and not alienate anyone.

Okay, Chris, your secret is safe with us. At least you’re looking in the right general direction.

And then there’s Russ Ballard, a songwriter still best known for his time with Argent in the late 60s/early 70s, and who wrote God Gave Rock’n’Roll To You. The trouble with checking him out is that firstly there is an American religious person of the same name, and secondly the musician Russ Ballard isn’t all that famous in his own right, so there is less written about him. But it’s a fact: God did give rock’n’roll to us. He also gave us reggae and country music. And rap, so there’s something for everyone.

Anyway, this is great song and was even covered by Kiss, if that gives it credibility in your book. I like the Argent version:

Bloke in the Kitchen. Chilled cucumber soup

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

There is a question that has not troubled many of the world’s intellectuals but which I am going to address here: what is soup?  Dictionary definitions tell us that a soup is a liquid food made by boiling meat and/or vegetables, and of course that is usually the case.

But why do we have to involve heat in this?  At the risk of putting a curse on the hot summer the UK has been experiencing, the last thing you need when the weather is like that is something to warm you up, which is one of soup’s traditional roles. Why shouldn’t we make soup without heat?

It’s like saying that making a salad is not cooking; we associate cooking with heat that changes the natural state of something. But to prepare a combination of vegetables and olives, peppers and so on is to make a meal, and that is the object of the exercise.

Chilled soups are called chilled rather than cold because chilled sounds more appetizing than cold. We looked at a quick and easy tomato-based gazpacho a few weeks ago, and today it is the turn of that other salad staple, the cucumber.

To describe this recipe as simple is like saying Marilyn Monroe was quite attractive or The Beatles were fairly good. This recipe is a piece of cake. As long as you have the right ingredients and an electric blender, you can do it.

One great thing about soup is that it feels like it’s doing you good, and it probably is. When using raw ingredients as we are here, it’s doubly good. Vitamins, minerals, hydration: it’s like an injection of liquid good health.

Cucumber soup

INGREDIENTS

Cucumber (half a large one per person)

Yellow pepper

Spring onion

Stock cube (vegetable or chicken)

Lemon juice

METHOD

Peel your cucumber(s) and scrape the seeds out. If there is plenty of juice with the seeds, see if you can strain that out to use. Chop the cucumber into two-inch pieces and put it in the blender. Crumble the stock cube in. It is important to use a dry cube. If it’s a sticky one, you’ll have to dissolve it in hot water first and cool it, which is okay but takes time. The powdered stuff called boullion is a good option.

Add as much water as you need, bearing in mind that a lot of it needs more cucumber and stock. A few ice cubes would be good too.

Blitz it until the cucumber is liquid.

Chop a yellow pepper into small cubes. Chop the green part of the spring onion into small pieces. Slice some more cucumber thinly for decoration.

If you have time, chill this in the fridge for a while so it’s really cold.

Pour the soup into big bowls and float the cucumber slices. Sprinkle the pepper and spring onions on top.

Serve with nice crusty bread, French or otherwise, and butter.

The peppers are like croutons, something crunchy in the liquid, and the spring onions add a touch of bite to the flavor.

Add some freshly ground black pepper, but no salt, because there will be enough in the stock.

COWBOY TIP/OPTIONS

If you can only get red peppers, that’s fine, but green ones might be a little bitter. If no spring onions, chives would be good. If you have some radishes, you could cube them and they will add a bit more peppery crunch.

This is not the only cucumber soup. You could use melon, prepared like the cucumber, but then you’re in sweet, fruity territory, so don’t use the spring onion. Maybe use cubed apple instead of the peppers.

 

The wisdom of pop songs – Sing a song of Britain

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts

 

Songs about British towns

In spite of having an international reputation for arrogance, the British are a very self-effacing lot. We routinely make fun of our own limitations: the food is no good, the weather is awful, the football teams haven’t won a major tournament since England had Sir Walter Raleigh in goal.

Perhaps the only thing we will claim in our favour is that when it comes to pop music we wrote the book. From the Beatles to Ed Sheeran and Adele, we are the champions.

And yet even in that there is one perceived weakness: our place names don’t work in songs. While Americans love to sing about their home town, be it New York or Baton Rouge, the British can’t do it with the same aplomb.

But I beg to differ. And here, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present documentary, recorded evidence.

Starting at the biggest, the capital has been celebrated in song many times. From ELO’s Last Train to London to Blur’s London Loves, from the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset to Ian Dury’s Billericay Dickie and Plaistow Patricia, not forgetting Morrissey’s Dagenham Dave, our metropolitan placenames are scattered through our music like double decker buses in a blizzard.

It is tempting to think of Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning as being written during an early trip to civilization, but unfortunately there is an area of that name in New York, and she lived there at the time. Similarly, any reference to the Chelsea Hotel  means the famous one in New York, where, among other things, Arthur C Clarke wrote 2001: A space odyssey, Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon to death and Leonard Cohen reputedly received oral favours from Janis Joplin. How do we know that? Because he wrote about it in a song called Chelsea Hotel.

But it’s not just London. South coast, anyone? The Beatles’ Ballad of John and Yoko starts with “Standing on the docks at Southampton.”

The New Vaudeville Band’s Winchester Cathedral might not be rock’s finest hour, but it was a typically witty celebration of Britishness.

Liverpool? Home of the Beatles, and they celebrated places within it, such as Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields.

Then there’s Kimberley Rew’s brilliant contribution to The Bangles’  repertoire, Going Down to Liverpool.

Gerry and the Pacemakers, Liverpool lads that they were, sang about the local river in Ferry Cross the Mersey.

Blackburn? John Lennon in A Day in the Life: four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire.

And Blackburn’s big neighbor, Manchester, home of the Hollies, Stone Roses and the Smiths: the latter acknowledged the dark side of the city  in Morrissey’s song about the Moors Murders, Dig a Shallow Grave. “Oh Manchester, so much to answer for…”

Up to Scotland, and in addition to such patriotic fervor as The Proclaimers’ Sunshine on Leith, no less a force than Abba gave it a mention in Supertrouper, their song about the loneliness of touring.

I was sick and tired of everything
When I called you last night from Glasgow

Paul McCartney had happier memories of the city in Helen Wheels.

Glasgow town never brought me down
When I was heading out on the road

As for Newcastle, where the population is as regionally self-aware as any in the country, although the town itself doesn’t seem to lend itself to lyrical status, proud Geordie Jimmy Nail sang about the Tyne in Big River, while Lindisfarne had used the city and even its accent to their advantage in Fog On The Tyne.

Also in that part of the world, The Shadows had a song in the early 60s called Stars Fell on Stockton, which probably sounds more glamorous to those who have never been there than to a Teessider.

Paul McCartney ticks off another couple of towns in Old Siam Sir

She waited round in Walthamstow
Skated round in Scarborough

And talking of the Yorkshire coastal resort, Simon and Garfunkel did a tremendous job on the old folk song Scarborough Fair.

Yorkshire singer-songwriter Michael Chapman’s postcards of Scarborough wasn’t just a song but an album title.

The most famous northern resort of them all has been referred to several times, from Jethro Tull’s Going up the ‘Pool to Graham Nash’s mention of his birth and early childhood in Military Madness:

In an upstairs room in Blackpool
By the side of the Northern Sea
The army had my father
And my mother was having me

Back down south, Athlete sang fondly about Dungeness, a town more famous for its power station than anything else, while Blur’s Damon Albarn sang about throwing yourself off a national landmark in Clover Over Dover. And in Tracy Jacks he had the hero getting on “the first train to Walton”, which could be several places but is probably Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex.

And finally, my own beautiful little lump in the English Channel, Guernsey, might not be an obvious contender here, but check out Steely Dan’s Showbiz Kids (first line after the intro):

After closing time
At the Guernsey Fair
I detect the El Supremo
In the room at the top of the stair

Probably a Stateside Guernsey, but still… Jersey is constantly being name checked when what people really mean is New Jersey, old stomping ground of, among others, Bruce Springsteen.

The list must go on and one, but you get my point, I’m sure. Engerland swings like a pendulum do, as an American once observed.