Wednesday, 29 August 2012

London 2012

For years, London was a place I tried to avoid. I was going there only when I needed to, which typically involved either long-haul air travel or visits to embassies, consulates and other establishments bent on depriving you from money and will to live. The only time I was in the National Gallery was back in 1995, after four long hours spent in the American Embassy. Shudder.

It took me moving to Canaries to be able to appreciate London. (I can’t say “fully appreciate” or “truly appreciate”: for that, one has to live there for a while, and I am not sure if that is ever going to happen.) London was cleaner, friendlier, more exciting and more impressive than any other time I’ve been there. Also, even more expensive than just a year ago.

I’ve been there? This is the first real time I’ve been there. Till now, I’ve only been through London. Greenwich, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Tower Bridge, V&A — I’ve never been to any of these before. Well worth a return visit, and that says not-a-museum-goer. One day I’ll be back, please keep ’em open for me.

The fact that my stay in London coincided with the Olympics may be, well, just a coincidence. But my new appreciation for the city is probably not. I thought I could not care less about the Games. I was wrong. The Opening Ceremony (which I watched on the telly) was great, what with the Queen and James Bond and Sir Paul. But the bit that really made me — I am going to say now something I never expected to say — temporarily proud to be British was, of course, Mr Bean sketch.

More photos of London @ Shutterstock.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

by Paul Torday

A tragicomic story of one man’s crazy and wonderful dream, told as a series of e-mails, letters, diary entries, interviews and Hansard extracts. Although I do not agree with Sheikh Muhammad’s maxim that “faith comes before hope, and before love”, I do hope that there is still love in wait for Harriet and Fred. And where is love, there is hope.

Throughout the book, the comic relief is provided by Alastair Campbell Peter Maxwell, Tony Blair’s Jay Vent’s director of communications. In the excerpt below he is being interviewed by Boris Johnson Boris Johnson:

Peter Maxwell: It’s a long time since I had a proper holiday, Boris. My colleagues are always suggesting it, but I don’t think any of them have the faintest idea of what would happen if I wasn’t there to look after their interests. I did go to Ibiza, once, for a weekend, and I suppose I’d like to go back there again if ever I had the time.
Boris Johnson: And what about time off for a bit of exercise?
PM: Well, as you probably know, I’m a bit of a fitness freak so if I can take a few hours off, often it’s all about physical exercise. I think it’s well known I’m a keen salsa dancer. It’s probably less well known I got into the Islington area finals two or three years back. I’m not saying I’m any good at it, but I suppose I can’t be doing everything wrong, to nearly win the North London Salsa Cup.
BJ: Any other sports or recreational activities of that sort which appeal to you?
PM: I suppose the boss and I play tennis a bit...
BJ: The boss being the prime minister, I suppose?
PM: Exactly.
BJ: And who wins?
PM: Well, Boris, I think my job might be at risk if I told you that! Seriously though, it’s pretty even between us, which is great. I think when you have a fairly intense desk job — on the phone or watching the screen all the time — anything that gets you outside and takes your mind away from the daily pressures and stresses has to be good.
BJ: Mens sana in corpora sano — all that sort of thing, you mean?
PM: I’m not following you there again, Boris.
BJ: Any other interests outside work you can tell us about, Peter, apart from sports?
PM: I like music a lot. Of course I like salsa music, that goes without saying. But I also like the classics. The ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ is one of my absolute favourites. I think it is a fabulous piece, so evocative.
BJ: What exactly does it evoke for you?
PM: It always makes me think of that wonderful scene in Apocalypse Now when they play it from loudspeakers on the helicopter gunships while they napalm a Cong village. A really moving bit of cinema history, and the music to go with it.
BJ: We’ve moved on a bit from those days, Peter, haven’t we? I mean, napalming insurgent villages isn’t anything we would do nowadays, is it?
PM: Are we straying from the subject here, Boris?
BJ: Possibly. What about reading? Do you have any favourites?
PM: Hansard.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Montezuma’s Very Dark Chocolate

This is no ordinary chocolate. The quality of the organic beans from our friends in the Dominican Republic don’t just shine through it, it almost burns a hole in the carton! You get a full and balanced flavour without any overpowering bitterness. Don’t judge chocolate by cocoa content, judge it by flavour and consider the beans, climate, soil, weather and about another zillion things more important than the number.
Helen Pattinson, Co-founder

Although I agree with Ms Pattinson that numbers are not what chocolate is all about, one particular number won me over. Not 70, not 80, not even 75 per cent: precisely 73% cocoa. I never even heard about Montezuma’s Chocolates until yesterday’s trip to Waitrose, but I simply had to buy their organic 73% cocoa bar. Now my curiosity satisfied, my tastebuds crave... more Montezuma’s please!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Brave 3-D

a film by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

Finally, a Pixar/Disney film featuring a princess who does not need a prince charming. Stunning visuals (I wanted to say “as usual” but that would be a lie: even better than “usual” Pixar standard) and lovely Scottish voices. And our not-so-small-anymore children did not pooh-pooh the movie, they actually enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

a film by Christopher Nolan

My kids enjoyed this film. I can see why. To me, this was the most absurd, humourless, pompous, right-wing piece of cinematography I ever had to suffer. It lasts 165 minutes and is compounded by Hans Zimmer’s apocalyptic score. I’m glad we didn’t go for the IMAX experience.