Wednesday, October 12, 2016

you better believe it

While in a lot of ways I think the religious-focused topics on In Our Time on Radio 4 are among the least interesting ones they do, there's always just the possibility that they'll set Melvyn Bragg off on one of his occasional tirades against "militant" atheism. He had just the suspicion of a moment during last week's programme about Lakshmi, but I think in the end either his heart wasn't really in it or he realised that he didn't really know where he was going to take it. I've gone to the trouble of listening to it back a few times and I think this is a pretty accurate transcript:
I mean, the thing about these, these stories is that we tend - some people, foolishly, foolish people, tend to, foolishly, belittle them, but they're - I think they're heroic, and they're very moving, again and again, whichever civilisation - these are people like us, without the tools of knowledge which we have, the caravan has not moved on and yet they're determined to make sense of the world, where they came from, what happens in every particular and they determinedly create these things, it's amazing to see; well, to read.
You could see where he was going with the first bit; it's the same complaint as he made a while back (while, entirely coincidentally, plugging his latest book), on that occasion with much more explicit reference to Richard Dawkins, always the go-to guy for people wishing to paint atheists as some sort of humourless secular Taliban. The accusation he was making is a huge straw man anyway: no-one "belittles" the stories as stories, or claims that as stories they are of no value or cultural interest. People do, however, point out that historically a lot of people have believed that these stories were literally true, and that this is of course nonsense.

The concern seems to be (and let's not forget, Bragg self-identifies as an atheist) that if you take all these charming and fascinating old stories - and they are charming and fascinating, from an anthropological and cultural perspective, as well as being intermittently ridiculous, bloodthirsty and horrific - and explicitly make the observation that they aren't actually factual re-tellings of events that actually took place (and, in this specific case, that Lakshmi doesn't actually exist), that will somehow suck all the air out of them like a punctured football and they will be drained of all value and interest. I actually don't think this is true, and in any case Bragg and his guests happily threw phrases like "creation myth" around, and most definitions of "myth" implicitly or explicitly include the idea of its describing something fictitious. And yet still there seemed to be the idea that if someone actually said: wait a minute, let's just be clear, none of this stuff about floating around on a lotus flower over an ocean of milk is actually true, is it? - that some precious fragile thing would be shattered and lost forever, and moreover that such an observation would be harsh or "disrespectful" in some way. I was put in mind of the old Monty Python sketch about building blocks of flats by hypnosis, and them being perfectly safe as long as the residents kept believing in them.

Monday, October 10, 2016

celebrity lookeylikeys of the day

I've got two for you today. Firstly, presenter of CBeebies science-y programme Do You Know? (one of Nia's current favourite things) Maddie Moate, and iconic 1980s teen movie star (and ex-niece-in-law of Angela Lansbury) Ally Sheedy.

Just as with the Sally Phillips/Martha Wainwright one, it's all about the smile. This particular smile involves flaring the nostrils and raising the top lip clear of the teeth before stretching it out into a straight line. They both have very slightly pointy chins as well.

Secondly, union leader and target of cartoonish tabloid hatred "Red Len" McCluskey, and legendary Who guitarist and occasional tabloid featuree Pete Townshend.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

custard's last stand

So my quest for the perfect use of my original fruity clafoutis recipe continues, with the expectation that eventually we'll hit on the ultimate one, at which point there'll be some sort of quantum singularity, the universe will fold in on itself and our current reality will be replaced with a new one featuring peace, harmony and a slightly differently-shaped gearstick on the Honda Civic.

This one may not be that recipe, but it's getting close. Or, alternatively, maybe it is, and the entire fabric of space-time has turned inside-out without my noticing. Then again I drive a Ford Mondeo and a Mini, so why would I notice?

So we've diverged from the original fruit-based recipes to a series of variations on what you might call bread-and-butter pudding. The plot twist this time was firstly to use a combination of diced-up Aldi vanilla brioche and McVitie's Jamaican Ginger Cake (two of them, actually) as the solid ingredients, and secondly to kick it up a notch by making some delicious toffee fudge sauce to go with it (as well as the obligatory ice cream). So the basic batter recipe is the same as for the pain au chocolat version, as follows:
  • 80g plain flour
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • 750ml milk
Zizz all that together in a blender and you're done. More interestingly, the toffee sauce, the recipe for which I basically nicked from here (with some adaptations), is ridiculously easy to make and even more ridiculously delicious, though of course not especially suitable for those on a calorie-controlled diet. You will need:
  • 300ml double cream (i.e. one standard-size pot)
  • 175g soft brown sugar
  • 175g butter
  • one standard-size Cadbury's Fudge bar (or approximately 4-5 fun-size ones)
Melt the butter and sugar, stir in the cream, chop up the Fudge bar(s) into small bits, throw them in, stir it around till everything's melted and it thickens up a bit, serve. This makes over half a litre, so you might want to scale the quantities down. My batch served six people last night and a couple more with some breakfast pancakes this morning and there's still a bit left.

lay off of my blue suede shoes

Seems like only yesterday that I was unpacking my brown Teva walking shoes from their Amazon box and trying them on for the first time. But time passes, and you have to accept that things get older, change happens, and eventually you have to acknowledge that, hey, these shoes, while still exceptionally comfortable, are completely fucked and starting to fall apart, which'll be why water pisses into them when I wear them out in the rain. At this point you have to set sentiment aside, buy a new pair, throw the old ones away and move on.

So here, just to remind you, is the photo that accompanied the transition from my equally venerable, well-loved and constantly-worn Salomons to the Tevas, back in January 2010, and below it is a photo marking a similar transition from the Tevas (which, as you can see, have frayed and collapsed in on themselves over six-and-a-half years in a very similar way to Michel Houellebecq's face) to my jazzy new blue Karrimors, acquired at a bargain £31 online from Sports Direct.

I'm not sure I expect the Karrimors to last six-and-a-half years, but in a way they don't have to as they were less than half the price of the Tevas. In fact they were so cheap as to be three pounds cheaper than the latest pair of shoes we've bought for Alys, which, especially when you consider the quantities of materials involved, is a bit farcical.

Obviously it's the construction rather than the materials you're paying for. You'll recall my plaintive reference to "hilariously expensive tiny shoes" in this old whisky review, well here they are.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

runners and ryders

It's time to grit our teeth and look, bleary-eyed, through the bitter salty tears of defeat and frustration at the revised Ryder Cup cumulative scores analysis.

Year Foursomes Fourballs Doubles Singles Overall
1979 3 5 11 17
1981 2 6 10½ 4 8 18½
1983 4 4 4 4 8 8 13½ 14½
1985 4 4 5 3 9 7 16½ 11½
1987 6 2 10½ 15 13
1989 3 5 6 2 9 7 5 7 14 14
1991 2 6 6 2 8 8 13½ 14½
1993 5 3 13 15
1995 5 3 2 6 7 9 14½ 13½
1997 5 3 10½ 4 8 14½ 13½
1999 10 6 13½ 14½
2002 8 8 15½ 12½
2004 6 2 5 3 11 5 18½
2006 5 3 5 3 10 6 18½
2008 7 9 11½ 16½
2010 5 3 5 7 14½ 13½
2012 3 5 3 5 6 10 14½ 13½
2014 7 1 3 5 10 6 16½ 11½
2016 4 4 11 17
Totals 78½ 73½ 83 69 161½ 142½ 107½ 120½ 269 263

A couple of statterrific nuggets for you, in some cases referencing some observations in earlier posts:

Obviously the USA's convincing 17-11 victory at Hazeltine has brought the aggregate scores a bit closer; if you divvy up the aggregates between the 19 contests there have been since the format was expanded to incorporate Europe in 1979 you find that the "average" match score is now 14.16-13.84 to Europe. The equivalent figure prior to the 2016 contest was 14.33-13.66, so if you round to the nearest half-point that means we've gone from, on average, a narrow 14½-13½ win for Europe to a 14-14 draw.

For the first time (slightly surprisingly) in this format of the competition the US team won all three days: Friday 5-3, Saturday 4½-3½ and Sunday 7½-4½. Even the thumping US wins in 1979 and 1981 involved the loss of a day (Saturday and Friday respectively). Europe have won all three days three times: in 2004, 2006 and 2014.

Davis Love III last played in a Ryder Cup in 2004, while Darren Clarke last played, famously, in 2006. This bucks the general recent trend of the contest being won by the captain with the more recent playing experience.

Four of the European team (Fitzpatrick, Sullivan, Westwood, Willett) contributed zero points (by contrast, every single US player contributed something). This is exceptional even by the standards of previous heavy European defeats in 1979, 1981 and 2008, where the pointless players numbered two, two and zero respectively.

It's too easy to blame this on the large number of rookies in the team, of course, although six is quite a lot. Only once in modern Ryder Cup history has a European team included more: 1999, when there were seven and Europe were narrowly defeated. By contrast, there were also six in 2010 and Europe came away with a narrow victory, and five in 2004, 1997 and 1991: thumping win, narrow win and narrow defeat respectively.

I did see a bit of live TV coverage on Friday evening, briefly on Saturday afternoon and then when the match was already pretty much tied up on Sunday night. Most of my listening to the singles contest was via Radio 5 Live during a drive back from Derby. Now, imagine the raw visceral excitement of live radio golf commentary. It's not as good as seeing it, but it's pretty good. Now imagine that same commentary being hooted into a bowl of soup through a snorkel by an asthmatic walrus with Tourette's, with the associated wild swings in levels of volume, intrusive farty noises and general comprehensibility. What I'm saying here is that AM radio sucks and Radio 5 Live not being on FM is a major pain in the arse, unless you happen to own a car with a DAB radio.

Here are some reasons for optimism next time: the match turned on small margins this time despite the scoreline - remember Lee Westwood butchered two winning positions in the Saturday fourballs and the Sunday singles to lose both matches. Reverse those and the outcome of either of McIlroy or Rose's very close singles matches and it's 14-14. Away wins are still very difficult; the Americans have two in nine attempts: 1981 and 1993. To put it another way, by the time 2018 rolls around it'll be a quarter of a century since they won a Ryder Cup contest on European soil. Europe are in a transitional period at the moment with a generation of Ryder Cup stalwarts coming to the end of their careers: Westwood, Donald, Harrington and Poulter for instance. Those who made their debuts this time will be better and tougher in two years' time.

One major reason for pessimism: the Americans are finally taking the Ryder Cup seriously and we'll never win one again. Oh well, we've had a good innings.