Saturday, July 22, 2017

the last book I read

The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer.

Mehring (we never find out his first name, as far as I know) is a middle-aged South African industrialist, a sort of southern hemisphere version of Sherman McCoy from The Bonfire Of The Vanities. Bored of the usual round of parties and desultory sex with bored pampered middle-aged housewives, he impulsively buys a few hundred acres of farmland without any particular idea of what to do with it.

Fortunately the land comes with some native custodians who keep things ticking over on a day-to-day basis, leaving Mehring free to drop in at weekends, stride around his fields pointing at stuff like he owns the place (which of course he does), bring his mistresses along for a bit of adventure and generally play at being the gentleman farmer.

Reality intervenes one day when Jacobus, Mehring's farm foreman, discovers a mysterious dead body in one of the fields. A black man, pretty clearly murdered, but the authorities seem strangely reluctant to get involved, so Mehring and his men end up burying the body where it was found with minimal ceremony.

The timelines are a bit fractured here, so we get a few flashbacks to, among other things, Mehring's relationship with his son, Terry, a floppy-haired barefoot fop who Mehring regards with a mixture of disappointment and suspicion, Mehring's former relationship with Terry's mother, and Mehring's former relationship with a girlfriend whose radical views brought her into conflict with the authorities and resulted in her having to leave the country. It's probably worth pointing out at this point that the book was published in 1974 and therefore represents the old South African apartheid regime, something that seems unimaginably distant now in these Rainbow Nation days.

A series of natural disasters befalls the farm: firstly a drought resulting in some localised fires which destroy some crops, and then later sever flooding which wash away some of the topsoil in the fields and expose the remains of the murdered man buried there. As Mehring contemplates having to flee the country himself following an ill-advised encounter with a coloured woman (probably, we're invited to assume, a set-up), Jacobus and the other custodians of the farm give the un-named victim a more formal burial.

Like a few other books in this series, the fractured timeline, limited clues as to whose head we're occupying at any given time or when the events being described are supposed to have happened in the overall span of time covered by the book make some demands on the reader, and some might find that unpalatable. I certainly found the other Gordimer I've read, The House Gun, to be a much easier proposition in terms of keeping up with what was going on.

Gordimer can pretty much do what she likes (or rather could, since she died in , though, by virtue of receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991 and the Booker Prize for this book (in 1974, shared with Stanley Middleton's Holiday). A reasonably comprehensive list of Nobel winners featured on this blog can be found here. I would broadly agree with the opinion expressed here, which describes the book as "great writing, but not brilliant reading". It's quite tough going: the fractured narrative voice and timeline keep you working to keep up and as with any book whose narrative circles around in time there's a sense of not much conclusive happening: arguably, a couple of bits of severe weather resulting in some minor inconvenience and not much else.

Obviously the point of this is a meditation on 1970s South Africa, apartheid, and the role of the white man in despoiling the landscape and enslaving the native population. In that sense it's pretty effective, though I must say I enjoyed The House Gun, whose themes are much narrower and more personal, more. The fact that it's taken me over two months to read it should only partly be taken as a reflection of this: it's more a reflection of the limited time I have to read with our current childcare obligations. While having a shit and very occasionally in bed if the boy is asleep are the two main areas of opportunity at the moment, and neither of those allows for significant amounts of time.

The list of Booker-winning books featured here is still relatively small, and comprises (in no particular order, and with no guarantee of comprehensiveness) Midnight's Children, G., The Gathering, Hotel Du Lac, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and The Sea.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

goose versus cock

A coincidental (or IS IT?) follow-up to the second half of the last post: my wife, who knows my penchant for chilli products well, bought me this bottle of condiment the other day - it is, as you can see from the bottle, sriracha mayonnaise. They have, disappointingly, missed (or deliberately spurned) the opportunity to call it what it's clearly crying out to be called, i.e. "srirachanaise". Other manufacturers of similar products have seized the opportunity with both hands. I can confirm that it's good stuff, though, a slightly mellower experience than the regular stuff as you might expect but still with a bit of oomph to it as a dipping sauce for, well, just about anything.

You'll notice that this is the Flying Goose brand, the same as my original bottle of sriracha (a few other Flying Goose variations are apparently available). As it happens this bottle has recently been finished and my new one (also purchased by my wife, bless her) is a bottle of the original Huy Fong "Cock" brand. So I thought a taste test might be in order.

You can see from the picture here that the Flying Goose sauce on the left is a bit darker and redder than the Cock sauce on the right. My initial taste impression was that the Goose brand is a bit richer, sweeter and fruitier while the Cock brand has slightly more of a chilli kick.

First impressions are that I prefer the Goose, but expect the Cock will grow on me (ooer) as I work my way through the bottle.

Monday, July 03, 2017

check out my monumental mason

I'm just about keeping my head above water blog-wise with the book reviews and the noting of notable things in the worlds of golfliterary death and people saying "cunt" on various broadcast media, but there's been a steep drop-off in the occurrence of blog posts dedicated to other, perhaps more frivolous, topics lately. There are a couple of reasons for this: firstly and most importantly we have a seven-month-old baby boy who occupies a substantial amount of our time, and secondly the ha-ha-here's-an-amusing-thought stuff and the hey-look-at-this-idiot-I-found-on-the-internet stuff tend to get posted on Twitter rather than here.

So here's an attempt at correcting that a bit, although it does involve some crossover with Twitter. Here's a tweet from the amusing Postcard From The Past account that I follow:


I was interested to know where the imposing building pictured was, and it turns out (via Google's clever image search facility) that it's the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Indianapolis, USA. Scottish Rite, it further turns out, is a branch of Freemasonry (splitters!) with, presumably, some key doctrinal differences in the rolled-up-trouser-leg, secret handshake and burying-your-tongue-on-a-beach areas. They also have an amusing and frankly baffling hierarchy of titles that can be attained, quite a few of which sound like slightly self-aggrandising euphemisms for one's Old Chap:
  • Secret Master
  • Intimate Secretary
  • Intendant of the Building
  • Knight of the Sword
  • Prince of Libanus
  • Chief of the Tabernacle
  • Knight of the Brazen Serpent
  • Commander of the Temple
I was intrigued as to why "Prince of Libanus" appeared to be named after a village in the Brecon Beacons, but it's more likely that it's a reference to the mountains in Lebanon from which the Welsh village also derives its name.

Anyway, join me as we dangerously train-surf from this train of thought onto another one travelling in a similar direction via Childish Sniggering Parkway towards Toilet Humour Central. Back in our university days my old mate Mario and I used to use the word "mason" as well as the word "como" as laboured euphemisms for the (itself inherently sniggersome) word "perineum", on the grounds that both can be preceded by the name "Perry". So one would arrive back at the hall of residence, throw oneself down in a chair and theatrically declare "phew, it's hot out there: my mason is awash" or "just been playing tennis; my como is in a right old two-and-eight". Indeed the perineum appears to be a particularly well-served area in terms of euphemisms; you wouldn't think people would need to refer to it directly that often, but evidently they do

I was reminded of all this the other day when browsing round the condiment aisle in Sainsbury's and discovering this product:


I don't know what sort of focus groups they fed the new name through, and I can see that there is a temptation to follow the existing convention of adding some product-specific prefix to the suffix "-naise" to indicate that you've stirred your product into some mayonnaise, but really it's hard to believe someone didn't raise an objection.

The inherent amusingness of the "peri" prefix in relation to Nando's is good comedy fodder elsewhere too, it seems.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

justin time for tee

Another major golf championship completed, and another round of 63 to report on. This one was at the US Open and was posted by Justin Thomas, a man with some previous form this year in posting super-low rounds after shooting 59 at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. That was in the first round of a tournament he went on to win, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills put him a shot off the lead going into Sunday, but he shot a disappointing 75 to finish in a tie for ninth, thereby making the score 24-7 in favour of a round of 63 in a major not yielding a win.

The US Open prides itself on its reputation as the hardest major to shoot low scores at; it's therefore slightly surprising that three of the first five 63s (Miller, Nicklaus, Weiskopf) were posted at that tournament. Since then, though, there have been two in thirty-seven years - Vijay Singh at Olympia Fields in 2003 and now Thomas.

Thomas' 63 was of the long-putt-on-the-last-green variety, rather than the missing-a-putt-for-a-62 variety, as he achieved it via the fairly extraordinary feat of eagling the last hole, which measured 667 yards. I don't know off the top of my head whether posting 63 by eagling the 18th is a unique feat; I strongly suspect that it is. Slightly surprisingly Greg Norman's 1986 feat of posting a 63 by bogeying the last hole is not unique; Mark Hayes in 1977 did the same thing.

PlayerTournamentYearRoundResultWinner
Johnny MillerUS Open1973finalWONJohnny Miller
Bruce CramptonUSPGA1975second2ndJack Nicklaus
Mark HayesOpen1977secondtied 9thTom Watson
Jack NicklausUS Open1980firstWONJack Nicklaus
Tom WeiskopfUS Open1980first37thJack Nicklaus
Isao AokiOpen1980thirdtied 12thTom Watson
Raymond FloydUSPGA1982firstWONRaymond Floyd
Gary PlayerUSPGA1984secondtied 2ndLee Trevino
Nick PriceMasters1986third5thJack Nicklaus
Greg NormanOpen1986secondWONGreg Norman
Paul BroadhurstOpen1990thirdtied 12thNick Faldo
Jodie MuddOpen1991finaltied 5thIan Baker-Finch
Nick FaldoOpen1993second2ndGreg Norman
Payne StewartOpen1993final12thGreg Norman
Vijay SinghUSPGA1993second4thPaul Azinger
Michael BradleyUSPGA1995firsttied 54thSteve Elkington
Brad FaxonUSPGA1995final5thSteve Elkington
Greg NormanMasters1996first2ndNick Faldo
Jose Maria OlazabalUSPGA2000thirdtied 4thTiger Woods
Mark O’MearaUSPGA2001secondtied 22ndDavid Toms
Vijay SinghUS Open2003secondtied 20thJim Furyk
Thomas BjornUSPGA2005thirdtied 2ndPhil Mickelson
Tiger WoodsUSPGA2007secondWONTiger Woods
Rory McIlroyOpen2010firsttied 3rdLouis Oosthuizen
Steve Stricker USPGA2011firsttied 12thKeegan Bradley
Jason Dufner USPGA2013secondWONJason Dufner
Hiroshi Iwata USPGA2015secondtied 21stJason Day
Phil MickelsonOpen2016first2ndHenrik Stenson
Henrik StensonOpen2016finalWONHenrik Stenson
Robert StrebUSPGA2016secondtied 7thJimmy Walker
Justin ThomasUS Open2017thirdtied 9thBrooks Koepka

A couple of vaguely contentious observations to finish with:
  • Erin Hills was the second new US Open course in three years. Now I know that Chambers Bay in 2015 copped quite a bit of criticism from everything from the quality of the greens (which were atrocious) to the unfairness of some of the run-off areas (criticism which could equally well be levelled at Augusta, but never is, because, you know, tradition and that). I think in general bringing new courses into the rota (which the USGA also did with Bethpage Black in 2002 and Torrey Pines in 2008) is a commendable thing to do, though, and something that the R&A could learn from with regard to the Open Championship. Course-wise the most revolutionary things they've done lately are to bring back some previously-used courses into the rota: Royal St. George's in 1981 (after a 32-year gap), Carnoustie in 1999 (after a 24-year gap) and Royal Liverpool aka Hoylake in 2006 (after a 39-year gap). They've done the same with Royal Portrush (after a 68-year gap since its only previous Open) for 2019, which I applaud, but what about introducing something new? Maybe an old traditional links course like Royal Porthcawl, or something a bit funkier like Kingsbarns? No choice would meet with universal approval but it would at least demonstrate the ability of the fusty old farts who comprise the R&A to think outside the box a bit. Some more food for thought here
  • Secondly, as magnificent as the two shots were that Justin Thomas hit to get on to the 18th green in two and give himself the eagle putt that he subsequently holed for a 63, it is somewhat ridiculous that he could go 3-wood, 3-wood, putt on a 667-yard hole. The discussion about golf equipment improvements and the constant increases in length that they bring is an old and hoary one and never seems to go anywhere, but most people seem to agree what the answer would be: specify some standard ball composition that all the pros have to use. Many people are wary of this, primarily as it might kill the golden goose of lucrative golf ball endorsements that the players currently make a fortune from, but, you know, they don't let Andy Murray bring his own balls to Wimbledon, he has to make do with what he's given. The obvious sporting precedent here is javelin-throwing, where numerous regulation changes regarding composition and aerodynamic properties of projectiles have been made over the last thirty years or so. Admittedly the consequences of doing nothing were rather more serious, involving members of the public being literally impaled in their seats, and the market of amateur javelinists wanting celebrity-endorsed products is rather smaller than it is for golf balls. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

election night special with david quimbleby

Hey, there was a general election recently. You might have missed it, so here are a couple of snippets. What I'm going to try and do is bring you a flavour of all the excitement solely through the medium of female journalists saying the c-word.

Firstly, in the grand tradition of many journalists who have gone before her, including Naughtie and Marr but many others as well, here's BBC reporter Ellie Price calling Jeremy Hunt a cunt.


And here's the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg mangling the word "re-count". To be fair to her it was nearly 3am, about the time I was switching off and retiring to bed.



Tuesday, June 06, 2017

if only I could have dunmore to help

Generally, Electric Halibut is fair and proportionate and equitable in his dealing out of death - the last five literary victims of the ongoing Curse Of Electric Halibut have all been over 80 - but just occasionally he likes to pluck someone younger to his icy bosom just pour encourager les autres. Don't get complacent, younger novelists. he says, this could happen to you.

Sure enough the latest victim, Helen Dunmore, was a fairly youthful 64, which makes her the third-youngest novelist on this grim list (Iain Banks at 59 is the youngest), and one of only five under 80 of the seventeen that are now on the list. Here's the latest list:

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
Beryl Bainbridge 14th May 2008 2nd July 2010 77 2y 50d
Russell Hoban 23rd August 2010 13th December 2011 86 1y 113d
Richard Matheson 7th September 2011 23rd June 2013 87 1y 291d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 6y 218d
Doris Lessing 8th May 2007 17th November 2013 94 6y 196d
Gabriel García Márquez 10th July 2007 17th April 2014 87 6y 284d
Ruth Rendell 23rd December 2009 2nd May 2015 85 5y 132d
James Salter 4th February 2014 19th June 2015 90 1y 136d
Henning Mankell 6th May 2013 5th October 2015 67 2y 152d
Umberto Eco 30th June 2012 19th February 2016 84 3y 234d
Anita Brookner 15th July 2011 10th March 2016 87 4y 240d
William Trevor 29th May 2010 20th November 2016 88 6y 177d
John Berger 10th November 2009 2nd January 2017 90 7y 55d
Nicholas Mosley 24th September 2011 28th February 2017 93 5y 159d
Helen Dunmore 10th March 2008 5th June 2017 64 9y 89d

You'll notice that Dunmore's curse was the longest to take effect of all, it being a little over nine years since the solitary book review, Talking To The Dead in March 2008. Your Blue-Eyed Boy remains the only other novel of hers that I've read.

She is also the third victim this year, which matches the three in each of 2015 and 2016, though of course the year is only half-gone, so it could be a massacre by December. 2013 is the deadliest complete year so far with four victims. Of course as time goes on and more new authors appear on the list the pool of potential victims increases, assuming that my acquisition of new authors to read books by outstrips the rate of their subsequent demise.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

celebrity lookeylikey of the day - junior non-celebrity edition

My two daughters are quite similar in lots of ways: both gorgeous (obviously), both fearsomely bright and articulate, both charmingly devoted to their little brother, both quite partial to my spicy Korean noodles. Equally, they are different in many ways as well. Some of these differences are probably the inevitable consequence of the order of their birth - Alys is probably slightly more shouty and assertive as befits someone who never had her parents' sole undivided attention and has always had to compete with her older sister.

It's fair to say that Alys is a bit more physically imposing than her sister as well - at two years old Alys is two inches taller than Nia was at the same age, and she's already only six or seven pounds lighter than her sister despite the three-year age gap. Nia is the graceful athletic willowy type, whereas Alys looks like she'll be more suited to the strength events like weightlifting or Graeco-Roman wrestling. Actually, a bit of research reveals that there is a type of central Asian wrestling called Alysh, so maybe that's the one she should go for.

So when they both dressed up in some fairy outfits that a friend of Hazel's had bought for them and posed for a photo I was immediately put in mind of Alys' resemblance to Mavis Cruet, the slightly rotund fairy from the classic early-1980s BBC series Willo The Wisp. This was broadcast in the classic 5:35 - 5:40 slot just before the evening news (which, in turn, was just before Nationwide) - the slot previously occupied by classics like The Magic Roundabout and The Clangers, as well as some more esoteric fare like Ludwig.