Tuesday, July 27, 2010

out in 30 back in 33, what a very special round for me

It seems a little churlish to criticise Louis Oosthuizen for making most of the last round of the Open Championship a bit of a triumphal procession, and therefore devoid of as much cut-and-thrust, excitement and tension as the non-partisan observer might have been wanting, especially since it was Oosthuizen’s own unexpected excellence and resilience that made it so (with a bit of help from his pursuers, Paul Casey in particular, who were unable to mount a serious charge). But it’s nonetheless true that it would have been more exciting had it been a bit closer, so I was obliged to muse on other golfing matters instead.

One of the things I was thinking about, after watching curly-topped 7-year-old Northern Irish golfing prodigy Rory McIlroy fight his way back up the leaderboard to finish in a tie for third, was how often people who’d shot 63 in a golfing major (as McIlroy did in the first round at St. Andrew’s) went on to win the tournament. And having done a bit of research I can now tell you: not as often as you might think. There have been 24 such rounds in major championship history – here’s a chronological summary:

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 FaldoOpen1993final2ndGreg 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

So there have been five winners out of 24, for a total of 20.8%; of the rest a further eleven finished inside the top ten, with the remaining eight trailing in lower down the field, with the lowest finisher being Michael Bradley in the 1995 USPGA, who followed his opening 63 with 73-73-74 to finish sixteen shots behind the winner in a tie for 54th place.

That’s the meat, now here’s a few bits of statistical garnish: the only people to appear twice on this list are Vijay Singh and Greg Norman, the course with the most 63s is Baltusrol with three (Nicklaus and Weiskopf in 1980 and Bjorn in 2005), the second round is the most popular time to shoot 63 with eight entries on the list, and Nicklaus and Weiskopf in 1980 and Faldo and Stewart in 1993 shot theirs on the same day. Also, the only man to shoot a 63 in the final round to come through and win the tournament was Johnny Miller at Oakmont in 1973, the very first entry on the list.

Monday, July 26, 2010

coincidence - OR IS IT?!? yes; yes it is

Here's a couple of things you might find spookily coincidental, if you were inclined to that sort of feeble-minded nonsense:

Andy and I were loitering round the kitchen area at work earlier having a cursory look at the bookshelf where we run a sort of half-hearted office swap-shop thing, and noticed that one of the books was a slim volume containing the screenplay to the classic 1971 film Get Carter. Among the inevitable appalling Michael Caine impressions and slagging off of the 2000 Sly Stallone remake that followed we were reminiscing about the famous scene where Carter throws Coronation Street's Alf Roberts off the top of a multi-storey car park (about 2 minutes into this amusingly-narrated trailer) and the furore that erupted among film nerds when the area in Gateshead it occupies in real life was scheduled for demolition. Well, it turns out that that demolition work commenced this very day. Spooky. Except that it isn't.

Next, many thanks to my Facebook buddies Gareth and Pippa, both of whom saw fit to send me this link to an amusing parody of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys' Empire State Of Mind, which substitutes - wait for it - "Newport" for "New York" throughout. Now I was going to pick them up for a bit of an inaccuracy in their assertion that you could "head over the water, on the Transporter", since it's been closed to the public since early 2008. But then I read this and this and it appears that following an extensive programme of renovation and repair the bridge will be restored to full working order at an opening ceremony this very Friday. Coincidence? Or is it perhaps something more? The answer.....is no.

Friday, July 23, 2010

don't rolf my chakras, man

Here's a couple of interesting links. Firstly this New York Times article which starts off as a discussion of the Dunning-Kruger effect (as previously mentioned here) and then segues into some fascinating musings on anosognosia and similar forms of cognitive impairment.

You'll be wanting a bit of light relief after that, so here's a post from the excellent Crispian Jago's blog which presents a periodic table of irrational nonsense. While that's amusing in itself, arguably even more so is the highly humorous humourlessness of some of the commenters when their particular blind spot is mocked: I was with you through ouija boards and Nostradamus, but how dare you criticise ear candling, etc., etc.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

headline of the day

From the Daily Mail again. Almost perfect; needs more sharks though.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

the last book I read

Paradise by Toni Morrison.
They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here. They are seventeen miles from a town which has ninety miles between it and any other. Hiding places will be plentiful in the Convent, but there is time and the day has just begun.
After that bracing in medias res opening we step back in time to answer the obvious who? where? why? questions: we are on the outskirts of Ruby, a town in Oklahoma founded by a group of black settlers in the 1950s (and with real-life forbears such as Langston, Oklahoma and Eatonville, Florida). Fiercely independent and self-sufficient, they have made a prosperous life for themselves and resent and reject any contact with outsiders, particularly white outsiders.

So far, so peachy: but absenting themselves from the obvious black/white racial conflict only allows other conflicts to come to the surface - rigid patriarchal control and sexism, corrosive and inflexible religiosity and a generational conflict with the young people of the town who want to engage with the race struggle in a more militant way, particularly after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 (the main action in the book occurs in the mid-1970s). There is also a more subtle social hierarchy at work, with those members of the small group of families who founded the town at the top, and a racial one too, based on subtle gradations of skin colour, with the "pure" blue-black negroes at the top and the coffee-coloured negroes at the bottom, tainted by unspoken suspicion of racial miscegenation (a sort of reverse one-drop rule).

Beyond the outskirts of Ruby sits the Convent, an old delapidated building occupied by a steadily-growing assortment of women, most of them refugees from some domestic disaster or other. We get a chapter loosely devoted to each of them: downtrodden Mavis, fleeing an abusive husband and the death of her twin children in New Jersey, matriarchal Connie, scarred by a doomed relationship with one of the town elders and taking refuge in the Convent's extensive wine cellar, shameless Gigi who sunbathes naked in the Convent grounds and has an unwise relationship with K.D., one of the young scions of a prominent Ruby family, and younger girls Seneca and Pallas.

The contrast between the chaotic life of the Convent women and the rigid constraints of town life are marked, and since there has to be some interaction between the two (the Convent women have to come into town for supplies, and the Convent owns some of the land which the Ruby residents farm) the chafing against the ordered social hierarchy and rules of Ruby becomes too much to bear. Rumours abound of strange goings on up at the Convent: witchcraft, abortions, kidnappings. Add these to the very real past indiscretions that some of the town elders would rather not have become public knowledge and you have a boil that eventually has to be lanced, which brings us back to where we came in.

I read Morrison's earlier novel Tar Baby a few years back, which also had interesting things to say about race and class and politics, but said them in a fairly linear and easy-to-follow way. Paradise, published in 1998, and Morrison's first published novel following her being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, is a different kettle of fish altogether; brutally stripped of anything resembling clear exposition, you're obliged to glean bits of history from conversations between people who already know all this background stuff and so don't need to mention it explicitly. Add to that the regular changes of viewpoint between chapters and the fractured timeline and it's a book that makes serious demands of the reader's ability to keep up and fill in the blanks. It's all done for a reason, though, for example when you get to the end of the book and the violent events of the opening chapter are replayed, you realise that you've spent most of a book in the company of the Convent women without ever being quite sure which one "the white girl" is. Clever.

So, to recap #1: it's dense and knotty stuff, but I enjoyed it very much. You need to keep your wits about you, though. To recap #2: they called it paradise, I don't know why; call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye.

Friday, July 16, 2010

the time is right for palace revolution

It's Friday, I'm a bit late getting to work, so it must be Desert Island Discs. This morning's guest was consultant forensic psychotherapist Dr. Gwen Adshead (no, me neither). I only had time to catch her first choice of tune, but top marks for selecting the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter, probably the absolute pinnacle of the Stones' late-60s sulphurous cloven-hoofed satanic majesty. So it's a great song, and the best bit is Keith Richards' sinuous and menacing guitar intro, which Dr. Gwen and Kirsty Young RUINED BY BLOODY TALKING OVER IT! Idiots.

While we're talking music, let me use the Gimme Shelter reference above to segue into a couple of incidental music spots: firstly the Stones' Street Fighting Man over the closing credits of V for Vendetta on the TV a couple of nights ago - a film I really want to like because of its admirable attempt to at least make some interesting political points, and also because it's got Natalie Portman in it (doing, to be fair, a halfway decent English accent), but ultimately can't get over the fact of its being, fundamentally, extremely silly. (Picture is from this amusing list of great movie masks).

Also, and slightly more incongruously, the intro to Television's late-70s art-rock-punk-new-wave classic Marquee Moon during the final episode of Junior Most Awful And Least Self-Aware Person In Britain (or, if you prefer, Junior Apprentice). The sensible thing to do then would have been to fade out the show and play the full 10-minute-plus guitarstravaganza, but they chose to do it the other way round, an editorial decision I can't honestly say I'm in full agreement with.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

headlines of the day

Here's a good one from the inimitable Daily Mail:

If you can get to the end of that and have any clear idea who "him" and "her" are after the head-spinning first half of the sentence then I salute you. I've read the original article and I'm still not sure who was sleeping with whom.

Here's a couple of other crackers: this one is originally from the Irish Herald:

And this one is from the Daily Telegraph a few weeks back:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

pie are squared

You'll recall my life-enhancing musings on the heat-retention capacities of food back in the early days of this blog; here's another example. On the rare occasions when I indulge in the delicious lard-based products sold by Gregg's the bakers (of which there is a branch only a short drive from the office), and on the still rarer occasions when one pie just doesn't seem like it'll be enough (in my defence I'm playing golf tonight so I won't be eating again until late), I have the opportunity to sample the Chicken Bake and the Steak Bake at the same time. And, without exception, by the time I get to eat them, the chicken one is just a bit less warm than one would ideally like, while the steak one remains hotter than the sun.

Now obviously there are a few potential confounding factors here, so I've repeated the experiment three or four times over the past couple of years and got the same results every time. So what's the explanation? The external pastry covering is pretty much the same for both, they're stored in the same keep-stuff-warm glass cabinet thingy before being sold, and they were presumably cooked under similar conditions (i.e. in a hot oven). Maybe it's something to do with the colour of the gravy?

Monday, July 12, 2010

2010: a shed odyssey

One of the main selling points of our new house, to me at least, was the shed out in the back garden. And not any normal jerry-built flat-packed wooden shed, either, this is a proper concrete outhouse with a proper roof and everything, and a pretty decent size, too. Not only that, but it's got mains electricity and it's wired into the alarm system as well.

Which is not to say it's perfect - my predecessor was evidently a bit of a handyman, and consequently there's a lot of workbench area, probably more then I need. So the plan is to get rid of most of it, leaving a small area up one end for occasional DIY purposes, and the rest for accommodating the gym equipment, the punchbag and assorted junk and bicycles.

Before I can impose my own will on the place, though, there's a bit of clearing up to be done after my predecessor. Here's a few things I found during my preliminary sweep of the place:

A mysterious electrical gizmo that I can only assume from a cursory inspection (and also reading the writing on it) is a power pack for a Hornby Scalextric.

A jar of Asda peanuts. Mmmmmm, peanuts.

Oh, no, wait, it's the rendered remains of a Roswell-style space alien.

Well, to be fair, perhaps it's Swarfega or something similar.

A pair of sunglasses.

A whole range of products from the same manufacturer (this one) which appear to form some sort of furniture care regime. There are some cryptic instructions as to their preferred mode of use, but quite frankly the chances of me ever using them are pretty minimal. So instead let's glean some cheap amusement from the names of the products:

"Antisilicone" is presumably some sort of formulation designed to repel the advances of women with massive breasts; as for "Deforming agent", "Hardener" and "Retarder" I suggest you make up your own jokes. For the record I think "Deforming agent" is probably a mistyping or mistranslation of "Defoaming agent".

A calling card from a Soka Gakkai Buddhist organisation. I must say I hadn't marked my predecessor down as a potential mantra-chanter, but you never can tell. Celebrity adherents of this particular brand of woolly-minded claptrap include footballer Roberto Baggio, actor Orlando Bloom, jazz saxophonist and former member of Weather Report Wayne Shorter and comic actor and star of Big Train, Lee & Herring, Black Books, Nighty Night and Look Around You Kevin Eldon.

All good advice. If something keeps getting in the way of my dismantling the workbenches in the next week or two I'll be sure and check it's not my emergent Buddha-nature.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

a local pub for local people

One of the purposes of all the pub-related stuff a few posts ago was to drop in a reference to our finally having checked out one of our local pubs, a rather shameful four weeks or so (we've been busy!) after moving into the new house. But by the time I'd dug up a few amusing links for the Scottish stuff I'd forgotten about it, so here it is.

Strictly speaking the nearest pub to the house is the Cross Hands which is literally just across the road - not the most welcoming-looking place, though, I have to say. I'm sure we'll get round to dropping in one day, but it does have the look of the sort of place where the bar and tabletops are covered in formica, just to make it easier for the tattooed barmaid to wipe the blood off them at the end of the evening. Don't judge a book by its cover, though, and it may well be perfectly lovely. Just down the road towards the M4 is the Man Of Gwent, which looks like a pretty generic Harvester/Toby/Brewsters pub-in-a-box chicken-in-a-basket sort of place, despite the dire reviews in that link.

Anyway, being refined and sensitive types prone to clutching our pearls and swooning at the sight of blokes in vests drinking Carling we thought we'd start our local pub odyssey by avoiding all those coarse plebeian places and head for the more genteel and rural surroundings of the Greyhound in Christchurch (photo courtesy of Google Street View, which makes it sound like I've asked their permission, which of course I haven't).

The eastern end of Newport where we now live is hemmed in quite tightly by the M4 to the north and the new-ish A48 ring road to the south and east. What this means is that if you walk north-ish and head over the M4 you're in quite rural surroundings less than a mile after leaving the house, which is nice (Google Maps reckons the Greyhound is 1.2 miles from the house, though the first bit is up quite a steep hill so it seems further; all helps to work up a thirst, though). So by the time you get to Christchurch it's all quite countrified and villagey-feeling, and the Greyhound has a correspondingly nice village-pub feel to it - local, but not too local, if you follow me. It also has quite a nice rear garden and pretty good London Pride, so I deem that to be a success. We'll be back.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

nevis say nevis again

Just to contradict myself with regard to my confident assertion that I'd done all the blog posts relating to the Scotland trip, here's the definitely definitively final loose end to tidy up: whisky. It had been our original intention to do a couple of distilleries during our visit, the second one being the Tobermory distillery, but once we checked out the price of tickets on the Mull ferry and discovered that CalMac were planning to charge us about 80 quid for the privilege we had a bit of a rethink and decided not to bother.

So we were left with the Ben Nevis distillery, on the north-eastern outskirts of Fort William. Strangely, despite Fort William being a huge centre for outdoor activity, and the distillery being one of the oldest in Scotland (founded in 1825), Ben Nevis whisky is not particularly widely known or celebrated. None of which stopped us from booking in for a distillery tour for the very reasonable price of four quid. Your tour ticket gets you a pretty basic tour of the distillery, a look around the warehouse and a discount off a bottle of their ten-year-old single malt, which of course we cashed in.

What you immediately notice on the way round, as well as in the shop, is that not much time or money has been spent on updating the decor since about, oooh, 1973. You can see the same thing when you look at the bottle in the picture - check out the faux-leather effect on the box, and the beige and faded landscape picture effect on the bottle. Ben Nevis are owned by Japanese company Nikka, whose priorities obviously don't include marketing. It's quite a contrast with places like Glengoyne which have really embraced the whole commercial thing.

Clearly, though, your lavishly appointed gift emporium and funky modern labelling don't count for a hill of beans in this crazy world if your whisky is undrinkable; conversely it shouldn't matter if your distillery shop is peopled by sub-human trolls and wallpapered with the rack-stretched skin of cruelly slaughtered babies if the whisky is good. And so it proves.

The nearest distillery to Ben Nevis is Oban, and sure enough that's the whisky this is most similar to: nice and sweet and toasty, but with just a gentle smoky punch in the throat at the end. The Oban is slightly more rubbery and sulphurous than this, though (but in a good way); imagine a cross between the Oban and something a bit more sherried like the Dalmore or the Aberlour and you wouldn't be far off. It's bottled at a beefy 46%, but unlike the Bruichladdich or the Penderyn you'd never know it.

So what we've learnt here is this: this is really good whisky, better than many cooked up in places with much larger budgets for things like advertising, emulsion paint and Polyfilla. I do think if Nikka expended a bit of effort into at least funking up the bottles and packaging a bit they could raise the profile and sales considerably, but I guess they feel they're ticking over nicely and don't need to bother.

momentous news II

I feel obliged to re-use the title I used for the blog post I wrote just after passing my driving test a couple of years ago; this isn't perhaps quite so obviously life-changing, but it's a weight off the shoulders nonetheless.

We went and played golf after work today at Woodlands on the outskirts of Bristol; as I alluded to here I'd never broken 90 on a "proper" course before today. Well, no longer: I went round in 87 today. Very much a game of two halves; I went out in a scarcely credible three-over-par 38 which would have been even better had I not taken six on the par-three ninth, and came back in a more typical 49 which included a desperately nervy quadruple-bogey eight on the 18th. Lucky I had a few shots in hand.

Conditions were a bit of a mixed blessing: very dry fairways so you could take an iron off most tees (I didn't get a wooden club out of the bag once during the round) but also quite windy, in your face for most of the back nine.

Here's the scorecard (that's me in column B):

Just for info, normal circles denote pars, squiggly circles denote birdies. For the record the distribution in my round was: 3 birdies, 5 pars, 5 bogeys, 1 double bogey, 3 triple bogeys and one quadruple bogey. So there's still plenty of room for improvement.

Monday, July 05, 2010

don't mention the massacre; I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it

I have a couple of life-enriching snippets of mainly pub-related information to pass on to you, so here they are:
  • This was all prompted by seeing the Independent's list of the 50 Best Country Pubs and noticing the Clachaig Inn at number 25 - note that they're in no particular order as far as I can tell. The Clachaig is in Glencoe (here, in fact) and we went there a couple of times during our recent trip to Scotland to rehydrate after a day's climbing nearby.
  • Not strictly pub-related, but just to save having to do another Scottish post: here's where we stayed, or if you prefer here's where it is on a map.
  • Note the amusing plaque (reproduced below) on the reception desk at the Clachaig: people in Glencoe have long memories, it appears. As it happens I have some Campbell ancestry, but I felt it best to keep it under my hat just in case this seemingly humorous sign turned out to be serious, and thereby compromised my chances of getting a drink (far more important than upholding family loyalty I'm sure you'll agree). I duly went on to brutally MASSACRE a couple of pints and a couple of pork chops.

  • The Clachaig seems to be affiliated in some way with the Grog & Gruel alehouse in Fort William, which we also visited. Both places do good food and have an excellent range of local real ales - the An Teallach Brewhouse Special is particularly good.
  • Rather shamefully I've only been to two of the pubs on the Indy's list, the other one being the excellent Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel, handily located at the bottom of the Llanberis pass, right at the foot of Snowdon. Another excellent spot for post-mountaineering refreshment; they usually have pretty good draught Bass, not to mention a pair of Sir Edmund Hillary's boots in a glass case above the bar.
  • I would note also that it seems to me to be a travesty that the legendary Square and Compass in Worth Matravers doesn't make the list. I also used to have a bit of a soft spot for the Bell in Aldworth, back when I used to live in Newbury.
  • The Clachaig also have a blog, the latest entry in which is an acknowledgement of their own appearance in the list. And so the wheel comes full circle, etc. etc.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

next week: cindy crawford cooks crawfish

A couple of observations after catching The Delicious Miss Dahl on the TV this morning:
  • Firstly, it seems richly ironic that Sophie Dahl, lovely as she is, seems to have magically become an expert on food shortly after the point in her life when she stopped actually eating any of it.
  • Secondly, what is it with this notion that there's something problematic about cooking rice? Sophie, in common with most TV chefs, has some magical method, in her case involving lots of rinsing, three parts water to two parts rice, foil over the top of the pan, magical incantations, goat sacrifice, et tediously cetera. It's just rice, for fuck's sake; staple diet of half the population of the world. If it was that bloody tricky they'd have given up and started eating something else. Just throw it in a big pan of boiling water, boil it for ten minutes (or more if it's that crazy tree-hugging hippy brown stuff), tip it into a sieve, run some hot water through it, serve. No more complicated than cooking pasta.
  • Finally, what is the problem with the word "turmeric"? In common with (in my experience at least) well over 50% of the western world, Sophie pronounces it "TYOO-MERIC". Why would you do that? It's "TUR-MERIC", just as it's spelt, including the "R" that's right there in the middle, clear as day. I'm starting to think people do it just to annoy me.
  • The rice and turmeric things were in the middle of a segment whereby Sophie Dahl cooked a dal; hahahahaha, ooh no stop it.