Amidst the unfortunately predictable reaction from extremists to the horrific attack in Woolwich yesterday (not necessarily helped by the way it was reported, but that’s a debate for another time), I can’t help but be reminded of George Orwell’s essay ‘Notes on Nationalism’ and his distinction between patriotism and nationalism. In brief, and I believe this is the most common understanding of his essay1 is that patriotism is a love of your country while nationalism is a hatred of other countries.
Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. [...] By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, NOT for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
That word defensive is interesting…
Post title lyric taken from The Beautiful South – Have You Ever Been Away?
- which means I’m not going to get into a debate with any scholars of Orwell, even though I was one in my university days [↩]
Brain Pickings, in Good Writing vs. Talented Writing, on Samuel Delany’s book About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, and Five Interviews:
One of his key observations is the crucial difference between “good writing” and “talented writing,” the former being largely the product of technique (and we know from H.P. Lovecraft that “no aspiring author should content himself with a mere acquisition of technical rules”), the other a matter of linguistic and aesthetic sensitivity.
I’ve often felt that the more I write and edit copy focused on making someone do something – what we call in the business a ‘call to action’ – the less I’m able to write beautifully.
There is a certain beauty, of course, to finely honed copy that has absolutely no fat on it and does exactly what it needs while still possessing the feel of the brand it’s representing it’s a kind of brutal beauty. Part of me looks back at my Londonist days, when I innocently wrote in a certain florid style with on the pigheaded basis that I didn’t want to patronise my readers by avoiding using multi-syllabic words (that’s words with more than one syllable), and cringes. Were I to write those articles again, I’d no doubt be more conscious of the need to optimise for search engines as well as stick to a more quotidian style, in order not to alienate readers or risk obscuring meaning.
So in the ‘good’ versus ‘talented’ dichotomy (have your own argument about whether it’s a false one or not), my day job is firmly on the side of good writing. Yet talented writing needn’t mean long-winded or over-wrought. As the Brain Pickings article points out, “In fact, the true potency of “talented writing,” Delany suggests, lies in its ability to compress subtle yet all-consuming sensation into an enormously efficient information packet.”
Vampire Weekend’s new album, Modern Vampires of the City, is on repeat play for me at the moment.
Having read the Guardian’s review, and after hearing the lead single, Diane Young, I was expecting a radical change in direction but that’s not the case. I don’t mean that they haven’t changed their sound – the African vibe from the guitars has pretty much disappeared – but to me it’s still recognisably Vampire Weekend.
That’s not a bad thing. One of the reasons I love Blur is their ability to change sound but retain the essence of the music. And so it goes with Modern Vampires of the City. Diane Young as a lead single was a bit of a red herring as far as I’m concerned, in that my reaction to the album on first listen was that it wasn’t as ‘bouncy’ as I expected after hearing Diane Young. The gentle album opener Obvious Bicycle is, dare I say it, not a million miles away from Coldplay with the piano and falsetto vocals but crucially, the song doesn’t crescendo into a stadium filling wall of noise and maintains admirable restraint. Having just listened to the track again, the backing ghostly choir vocals actually make me think that Stina Nordenstam’s Little Star is a more obvious relation.
Ya Hey, the video for which is above, is much more representative of the album for me. The keyboard motif you can hear in the background also traces a route right back to the first album, as does, rather more obviously I suppose, the beautifully melancholic melody delivered with immense soul by Ezra Koenig. Everlasting Arms and Finger Back are other tracks that are, for me, an obvious link to the ‘old’ Vampire Weekend.
All in all, I think Vampire Weekend have played a blinder. Their sound’s clearly moved on and they don’t appear beholden to their past sound, yet there’s enough on Modern Vampires of the City to comfort fans of the old sound while easing them into new territory. As I said before, I think Diane Young is fairly unrepresentative of the album, so if that’s put you off buying it, trust me when I say Ya Hey gives you a much better feel for the vibe.
I’ve been baking sourdough bread for over a year now. It’s fair to say that the majority of that year has seen variable quality in my bread, as I gained experience to the extent now that I’m at a stage where I feel like I’m in as much control as one can be when dealing with an live yeast culture. So after a year of literally hands-on experience as well as reading about sourdough, I’m pretty confident now that I can turn out a good sourdough loaf and with a level of control over the timing so that it fits in with my life without compromising on the quality of the finished loaf.
Well, let me qualify that. I’m confident I can turn out a good sourdough loaf made with white bread flour and shaped and proved in my oval banneton. The white sourdough loaf is my stock loaf and if you asked me (with at least 24 hours notice) to make you one, I know I could turn out a loaf that would be worth you paying for, without needing to consult anything for the recipe, techniques or cooking times. Ask me for a wholemeal, rye, spelt or other variety of loaf, though, and I’d be sweating a bit.
With the fact that I’m a one sourdough pony in mind, and the fact that it’s in my nature to be always wanting to absorb knowledge, especially from acknowledged experts, I signed up for the Sourdough masterclass with Dan Lepard at the Cookery School at Little Portland Street.
I signed up specifically because Dan Lepard was teaching it. Dan Lepard is one of those names that crops up in conversations between people I consider to be fairly serious about baking and cooking. His reputation, in my mind, is a clear example of how the quality of the word of mouth matters more than the quantity. Dan, on the other hand, while hardly being obscure, is mentioned less than people regularly on tv but when I do hear his name mentioned, it’s by people whose opinion on food I’m much more likely to take notice of.
In terms of the structure of the masterclass, the day started with coffee and a savoury breakfast muffin (cake is available, I think, if you’re into sweet stuff at breakfast, which I’m not). Dan is there, meeting and greeting, with his classroom assistant, David. Dan and David are both incredibly lovely people and even a chronically shy bloke like me couldn’t help but feel massively welcome and relaxed in their company.
In the morning, we made a white sourdough loaf and a focaccia (at the risk of patronising, that’s the focaccia you can see in the pictures above). All the while Dan gave the science behind the practice, so you knew why you were doing something in a certain way. For example, if you’ve been put off making your own bread because of the tedious 10-15 minutes of kneading required, you’ll be happy to know the Dan showed us how you don’t actually have to do much kneading at all and explained why not. Those of us who have been into the ‘stretch and fold’ technique know about this but – and this is an example of one of those things where I thought I knew something but didn’t really – even I was a little shocked at how little stretch-and-folding was needed (nope, I’m going to resist the temptation to do a ‘kneaded’ pun). All the while, Dan was ably assisted by David who interrupts at opportune moments to add to what Dan’s saying, to make him clarify something or to tell us to watch Dan do something completely before trying it ourselves.
Lunch was salad, pate and an excellent selection of cheeses. Oh, and bread, baked the previous day by Dan himself. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), the bread was excellent. I could have eaten ten times more than I did.
After lunch we turned out our sourdough loaves which had been left to rise while we were eating, and added the crucial slashes under Dan’s expert guidance before the loaves went into the oven. I have to admit I wasn’t all that pleased with how I’d slashed the loaf but when it came out of the oven, it looked brilliant. I consider it to be the best looking loaf I’ve ever baked, so much so I put a picture right at the top of this post, as well as the pictures below.
The rest of the afternoon was spent making a cake which incorporated some sourdough in the mix. It sounds weird but the cake tasted wonderful. I wasn’t expecting to make anything sweet so this was a huge bonus since it gave me a dessert to go with the two loaves I took home for my bread-based dinner.
P reckoned I wouldn’t learn anything from the masterclass because she thinks I’ve mastered sourdough baking, but that’s because she overestimates how good I am and, frankly, has lower standards than I have (by which I mean to say that my own standards are probably too high, not that P’s are too low). My philosophy when in a learning situation in a subject I think I know a bit about – not just confined to cookery – is to keep a really open mind. It’s easier said than done but if you don’t it’s all too easy to miss a crucial point that could lift you to a higher level.
I would say that if you were a confident baker but just getting into sourdough, that would be the sweet spot in terms of when to attend the course. That said, the class isn’t billed as being for any particular level of experience. Although there were quite a few people who had baked bread a lot, at least one person was new to sourdough and relatively new to bread baking. I think there was a fair spread of experience across the class. Speaking from experience, as a trainer, that’s a bit of a nightmare in terms of knowing how to pitch the training but everyone in the class seemed happy enough. It helped that there was a lot of time given over to Q&A at the end of the day. During the Q&A, everyone asked really great pertinent questions, which goes to show how well pitched the class was.
I got pretty much what I expected and hoped for from the day, given my level of experience: confirmation of what I was doing right, confirmation that something I thought I was doing wrong wasn’t actually wrong, dispelling of incorrect thinking, new things to try and new knowledge. To take just one example: I took a bread baking course at Le Cordon Bleu a few years ago, and while I got a lot out of that, there was one crucial technique on shaping that wasn’t taught very well at all. Dan, on the other hand, gave the technique the attention it deserved and with absolute clarity. I know now that it wasn’t me being unable to execute the technique, just that I hadn’t been taught it properly. It’s not something I could have learned from reading about it or watching a video; seeing it in a classroom, though, means it’s now something I know I’ll never struggle with again. That 5 minute part of the masterclass alone was worth the admittance.
Finally finished treating the poxy fence in the garden. That’ll be the fence I first mentioned nearly two weeks ago. A combination of the glorious British summer (rain, wind), work, illness and the sheer horror of the thought of having to do the stupid thing has meant that we’ve had a two-tone garden fence for longer than I cared for. So instead of a lazy Sunday afternoon enjoying the unexpected sunsheeeine and warmth, I spent hours finishing off the fence.
What’s worse is that I’d been down in Brighton for lunch, meeting up with a couple of fellow RadMac listeners (who are also Chainees). and it would have been nice to have stayed down there a bit longer just taking in the sea air. Although to be fair, the weather was rubbish down there.
Post title lyric taken from R.E.M. – Gardening at Night
This dog is impossibly cute…
Two things about this:
- I admire the bloke who made the vid for bothering to persist with winding up the scammer.
- I can’t believe the scammer is spinning this out and doesn’t realise he’s being wound up. Although perhaps the sad truth is that some idiots really do fall for this kind of scam.
This blog post - American Apparel really know about that ”unisex” thing. Damn well. – is pretty horrific. American Apparel sells unisex clothing, which is pretty cool. (I’m not so politically correct that I think you can’t have different types of clothing for men and women, but there’s no reason why some stuff can’t be worn by either sex.) What’s not cool is how the clothing is modelled. Click through if you dare.
Post title lyric taken from Blur – Girls & Boys
I was out for the night on Monday, meeting up with old school friends. Somehow five of us have managed to meet on a regular basis, despite living in different parts of London (and, in my case, just outside of London). We’re creatures of habit – give us a break, we’re all approaching 40 – so always meet in the same place and sit at the same table and the waitress seems to recognise us now. This, I think, is all the more remarkable in a central London bar/restaurant. Remarkable for the fact that we’ve found a place we’re all happy with, remarkable for being busy yet still allowing us to sit in the same place every time, remarkable for retaining the same waitress despite being in a high turnover industry in a high turnover part of the world.
But this lovely status quo is under threat as my oldest friend is off to work in Rio. Mike’s literally the first friend I made at secondary school (I don’t have any current friends from before then). On the first day of school, while we were waiting to be sorted into our different forms, our mothers basically forced us to talk to each other. I liked him instantly and was really happy to find out we were going to be in the same class. We went to different universities but I visited a fair amount (there was no point in him visiting me in London!) and we kept in touch using the then nascent technology of email – proper green screen stuff in the library.
So anyway, since university my group of friends have worked and lived in various parts of the world so it’s not really a new experience for us to be in different countries, even continents, from each other. But somehow Mike going to Brazil now feels different, maybe because I’m at a stage of my life where I can’t easily just pop over to visit him. Or perhaps I’m just getting sentimental in my old age.
I am also just a tiny bit jealous that he’s going to be in Brazil during the World Cup and possibly the Olympics. Lucky bugger.
Post-title lyric taken from Wire – Brazil
Let’s assume we really have had a food revolution – what did it give us? A farming industry in great shape because farmers get a decent price for their produce? A butcher, a baker, a greengrocer, a fishmonger on every high street? A network of good restaurants across the country, so you can walk into pretty much any establishment and expect to be well fed, with food cooked from scratch by skilled chefs? Absolutely not.
Every single sentiment in Why Can’t We All Stop Talking About Food? is spot on.
Colonel Chris Hadfield handed over command of the International Space Station yesterday, and to mark the occasion posted a remarkable performance of David Bowie’s Space Oddity in which he and his guitar float around the space station in a most peculiar way.
Well, I guess I tempted fate when I said “I always, but always, read the many comments on the Guardian’s Doctor Who series blog after each episode, so I know it’s not comments per se that I have an issue with,” because it appears that even that once-happy place has been taken over by the trolls. Or maybe the people who made the comments worth reading have left the Guardian and the trolls are just more prominent. Either way, it appears that the people who want to discuss plotlines and theories about the story arc of Doctor Who have gone to ‘the other place’. That’s not me being melodramatic – it’s referred to as ‘the other place’ by people in the know.
Anyway, I for one have enjoyed the last couple of episodes of Doctor Who and think the acting of the guest stars in particular have been outstanding. Rachael Stirling’s turn as the wronged daughter in The Crimson Horror was heartbreaking and Warwick Davis as Porridge in Nightmare in Silver was a masterclass in pathos. Loved the stories of both, too. Apparently a lot of people who consider themselves to be experts in Who lore aren’t so impressed, though, and happy to let people know it.
I just don’t get the mentality of people who spend energy pissing on people’s parades. I’m not saying you can’t have an opinion but why go out of your way to bring happy people down?
That said, I’m seeing less and less of the ‘[reality show] is shit’-type tweets/Facebook updates nowadays. I don’t know if that’s because I just have a more finely honed Twitter follow list and Facebook friend list or it’s just a reflection of the reduced popularity of the rage-inducing programmes, but I’m going to choose to believe that it’s because people are mature enough to realise that that kind of comment, even in the social media world designed to be full of vacuous pointless comments, is pointless.
I don’t claim to be immune from making those kinds of comments myself but I do apply the ‘Don’t be a [nasty person]‘1 test to myself, which I suspect it more than a lot of people do. One of the aspects of not being a nasty person is that I shouldn’t say or write something an outcome of which could be to make someone feel bad; about themselves, about the things they enjoy doing, about anything, really. Essentially, it’s ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it all, at least not if it’s for public consumption’. Most of the time I catch myself if I’m on the edge of saying something catty and manage to apply the test before the event, but sometimes I fail the test. In my defence at least I know I’ve failed it.2
Thing is, I don’t think it’s a new phenomenon that people express dislike and distaste of tv programmes, music or people. It’s just that what used to be private mutterings only heard within the confines of the living room has now got an outlet. The internet and social media doesn’t create ignorance or stupidity or nastiness – it just amplifies it.
And just as our brains have evolved to be able to pick out the sound we want to hear against a background cacophony (you know, like being able to hold a conversation in a noisy pub), they’ll need to adapt to be able to filter out the nastiness that’s more visible. I don’t think it’ll necessarily take that long either – look how quickly we seem to have adapted to be able to filter out old school banner ads to the extent that they’re having to become ever more intrusive to be effective (cf Facebook inserting adverts directly into news feeds rather than on the side).
Post title lyric is taken from The Smiths – I Know It’s Over
Today marks the start of Real Bread Maker Week.
Launched by the Real Bread Campaign in 2009, Real Bread Maker Week is Britain’s biggest annual, national celebration of Real Bread and its makers.
Its aim is to encourage people to get baking Real Bread or buying it from independent bakeries to support their local communities.
As a sourdough saddo I’m obviously all in favour of this although I can’t say I’ve seen much by way of publicity for this around my way. I was having a rant only the other day (in fact, two rants on two separate days recently) about the horrific plastic substance made via the Chorleywood bread process that forms the bulk of what people think is bread and how inferior it is to bread that’s given proper time to rise and develop flavour as well as retain health benefits. The ‘baked on premises’ stuff is highly suspect, too, since a lot of it is delivered to store frozen and just happens to be finished off in the oven. So yeah, technically, ‘baked’ there but still ‘manufactured’ elsewhere.
And while I’m ranting again, what is it with Tesco ‘baking’ baguettes in their stores that you still have to finish off in the oven at home?!
Next time you post your phone number in a public place, think again. This is a collection of text messages I’ve exchanged with people who have done just that.
‘Friday funny’ suggests this is going to be a regular occurrence. I don’t think it will be but I’ve spent pretty much the whole day in bed trying to kill off this cold and you’ll have to excuse me if my brain is somewhat addled.