Thursday, 29 December 2011

On the fifth day of Christmas . . .

Salut les Copains box sets. Two volumes.

When I was young, really young, fifteen etc, my friend Mick Lee's sister who was eighteen and at Queen's Belfast was really into things French. And therefore so were we. We wore Newman cord jeans. And we read Salut les Copains magazine.

Years later, I discovered that Salut was the basis for The Face. At the time, though, we just thought it was a cool teen magazine.

It was only recently, though, that I learned that Salut les Copains was also a radio show. Someone pointed me in the direction of two four CD collections. I bought them. It's a fascinating world. French teenage 1960s pop, half-looking at the UK and the US, half-looking at its French self. So it's the echt Booker T and the MGs followed by a local version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight etc etc. Lots of Petula Clark. Lots of ye-ye. One of the sounds of my teenagehood. I file them next to my Rhino girl group collection which came in a hatbox - the campest thing ever manufactured.

PS When I looked up the hotlink for the box sets, I discovered that there is now a third set. So you know what to get me – and yourself – for next Christmas.

See you tomorrow . . .

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

On the fourth day of Christmas . . .

A train ride from Exeter to Totnes. It's the most wonderful journey, running down the Exe estuary then along the coast — right next to it, then up the Teign estuary. Less than thirty miles in all, I think. I'm entranced by it every time I take the train to (or from) Cornwall.

You start out in this wonderful calm, flat seaside place, then turn right on to a section where the train runs in and out of short tunnels, bang next to the sea, separating the towns/villages from the briny. In wet, wild weather, the waves break over the train. Finally, you head inland up through the most mild-mannered of riverscapes – a few bobbing boats, a wooded hillside on the far bank.

Everyone goes quiet for most of the journey.

Here is a small film of it. Warning: it's very amateur, far from the best film, with too many shots of the inside of the carriage and not including anything from the Exe estuary. It does, though, describe itself as a record of the second best rail journey in Britain. Which is the best, though, it doesn't say. Maybe St Erth to St Ives.

PS I also did a gorgeous train journey in Israel this year, taking the old, French-built line from Jerusalem down to the coast. The station is in some odd part of Jerusalem, the original station on the east (Palestinian) side of the old city having been closed for years. The first half hour of the journey is a slow meander down a narrow valley, crossing and recrossing the river. I guess it must have been the old historical route into the city. It's certainly not the quickest. On some of the corners, I reckon you could get out, pick some flowers and cut across in time to get back on the train again.

Till tomorrow . . .

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

On the third day of Christmas . . .

Bruce Davidson's Subway, a reissue of a 1986 original (by Steidl, reliably gorgeous photo and art books). A memory of a New York so different it's hard to realise it's only a couple of decades ago. Look at the graffitied subway cars and think: how come? well, how come and why did no-one remove it? it wasn't because they thought them beautiful . . . it was a kind of social stuckness, an inability to wrest control of the environment.

The more you look at the pictures, the more you realise how smart they are. Davidson is describing a world that he knows is terrifying. He got mugged doing it.

Like everyone else I know who knew the city in that time, it's hard not to feel, well, not nostalgia but a sense of change so sharp as to have its own pain. It was frightening, dirty, threatening, dysfunctional - particularly on the subway at 3.30 in the morning. Yet . . .

PS1 Below, you will find my interview with Davidson from earlier this year. You can download it as well as read it onscreen.

PS2 I also think it's highly likely that it will sell out, sooner rather than later, and therefore hold its value, maybe even increase. But more of investing in photobooks for fun and profit on another of the twelve days . . .
See you tomorrow . . . 


Monday, 26 December 2011

On the second day of Christmas . . . the partridge but not the tree

I know the bird thing is meant to be the first day of Christmas but somehow I got it in my head that the twelve days start on December 26. I was wrong, of course. 

(The truth - the embarrassing truth - is that I took that Boxing Day start from iTunes. That's when you start getting free stuff from iTunes that you might or might not want. Today is some Coldplay stuff. I've downloaded it and will listen to it, just as I listen to Coldplay stuff again and again - without ever being able to remember I've listened to it.)

So, let's say yesterday was the first of my twelve days and so I gave you a list of what I think you might want to listen to this season. And today . . .

That partridge. Pheasant, too. And woodcock even. Everyone should eat them. The perfect meal for these straightened times. Honestly. That's not just from a comfortable north London perspective.

I always liked to eat game but it's only recently that I realised just how cheap it is.  I was buying a couple of pheasants in the local farmers market (please, no correspondence about the absence of an apostrophe in farmers - that solution is as good as any). I saw I was only paying six quid or so for a brace - as we gamers choose to refer to a couple/pair/two. That is certainly cheaper than a decent chicken. I'm not talking organic, that's so much hogwash. But I am talking about a bird that hasn't been subjected to extreme rendition and then kept, for its thankfully all too short life, in avian Guantanamo.

Partridge are little pricier and woodcock even more. But still  . . . these are bargains. (Though not if you buy them in, say, St John's Wood High St where they stick the arm in and price them up to six quid each. My guess is they make in the region of four pounds fifty profit a bird. Nice region, to paraphrase De Niro in Midnight Run - or rather George Gallo who wrote the movie.)

So . . . high-protein, low-fat, free-range and cheap. To the purchaser, anyway. A friend of mine who 'shoots' tells me the 'real' cost of these birds is maybe thirty quid. That is what it costs 'guns' in 'syndicates' - love the gangster language, don't you.

Again then . . . not just good for you and the bird and cheap but also subsidised by the rich and gun-happy among us. Not just a trifecta but a quadrafecta. A quintafecta, if you reckon game tastes as great as I do. Even if you don't like game, you could always consider eating it as an act of class revenge. Take that, you wanker banker, you could say, as you slice off some nice rare pheasant breast or scoop some lentils out with your junipery partridge.

So, as Swift was kind of on the right track when he proposed eating children as a solution to the Irish famine, if he were around now I think he'd join me in suggesting a resolution to the current unemployment and obesity thing. Another paraphrase: qu'ils mangent du perdrix. 

Oh and sprats, too. You can feed a family of five on a kilo of those.

But, I hear you say, I don't know how to cook game. Here's the secret. There is no secret. You put the birds in a hot oven for half an hour. You take them out. Sure, you can do other stuff. Add salt and pepper and some herbage. Protect the breast with bacon or foil. Leave them to sit for five minutes. But that'll do. Heat, eat.

With? Lentils or barley. Same thing. Boil and drain will do. Add salt, pepper, fried onion, diced carrots/celery, thyme or other herbs, stock - even better. 

Sprats? Dust in flour. Fry in oil. Take out. Eat. Add lemon juice, paprika or dip in mayonnaise.

Food and recipes, that's  just what you need today of all days, right?

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Songs for the day

Here are this year's seasonal songs — Hannukah as well as Xmas. If you are on my emailing list you will have received a link to download all the tracks from my Dropbox folder. If not, post a comment with your email address and I'll send you a link.

There will also be sleeve notes posted here sometime between now and the new year.

1 Silver Bells Doris Day

2 Frosty The Snowman Jan Garber Orchestra
3 Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo Billy May
4 On The Rooftop Gentleman Auction House
5 Must Be Santa Brave Combo
6 Merry Christmas Polka The Andrews Sisters
7 Boogie-Woogie Santa Claus Mabel Scott with Les Welch
8 Hey Santa Claus The Platters
9 Back Door Santa Clarence Carter
10 Please Come Home For Christmas Charles Brown
11 I Saw Three Ships Don Dixon
12 Silent Night The Miracles
13 Cold Dark Night Sam Phillips
14 Joy to the World Kate Rusby
15 Happy New Year Beverley
16 New Year's Eve Tom Waits
17 Last Christmas minuteman
18 The Chanukah Song Neil Diamond
19 Jesus was a Dreidel Spinner Jill Sobule
20 All I Want To Do Is Shag For Christmas The BellRays feat. Lisa Kekaula, Tony Fate and Bob Vennum
21 Jingle Bells Bing Crosby

PS If you want more Xmas etc songs, go here. My friend — well, friendly acquaintance — Bill Adler has done an Xmas CD (and before that, a tape) for years now. As a New York Jew, it was his way of making sense of his wife's mid-Western family Xmas celebration. This year, I'm particularly taken by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires' Winter Wonderland Reggay and Reuben Anderson's Christmas Time Again, both mid-1960s Jamaican. The second is on a wonderful green and yellow label — a proto Island Records one, I think.

Next up Starting tomorrow, Boxing Day, I will, as promised, be posting my twelve days of Christmas. Stuff I like. Presents I would have bought myself. Etc etc. First up, yes, that partridge in the song . . .