Right Over the Top

Oddly enough I’m a great fan of chillout electronic music — at least the types that remind me either of classical music or 70s/80s disco. I’ve got quite a number of compilations — mainly Ministry of Sound. It’s amazing how often this sort of music is heard as the backing for television programmes — ‘Hayling’ by FC Kahuna was on the Panorama programme about Battersea Dogs’ Home last night.

The French seem to do well in this sort of ambient electro-chillout music — Air, who’ve made some superb tracks like ‘All I Need’ and ‘La Femme d’Argent’ are perpetually played in the background on TV — usually in irritating ten second bursts.

One that’s grown on me quite a bit is a track called ‘Kilometer’ by the interesting French artist Sebastian Tellier. It’s off an album called ‘Sexuality’ and a quick look at the video for the track (see below) shows the name is no co-incidence. I found quite a strange interview with ‘cult Parisian composer/producer’  on the Time Out website in which he comes out with quotations like ‘I’m very happy to live in the sexual society! Ha ha ! Because I love to watch and I feel very okay with the naked body of a woman, and so I want to kind of say thank you to all the people for sex…Before, I did some ’70s-type records, but I don’t want to have ’70s sex. Too hairy.’

Kilometer is a fascinating video but the version of the track used is a bit slow and uninteresting compared with the faster 70s disco pastiche that is on the Ministry of Sound Chilled II compilation.

It’s very visually interesting as he looks as hairy as a Dulux dog himself in the video — a sort of French Demis Roussos with sunglasses. The video itself is so over the top it must be a complete parody of the idea of the French louche love god — Tellier is enjoying the company of many young ladies who are parading around in their underwear — there are ample shots of womens’ bottoms. It’s a The dancing hot dogs surely and the toothpaste mean it cannot be serious.

Flooding Out The Wombles?

I didn’t think much about Katie Melua when she first established herself as, what seemed to me, a fairly bland singer of twee songs, particularly the rather excruciating one about nine million bicycles in Beijing. She also had an association with the king of commercial bilge going back to the cheesy songs in Seaside Special in the 1970s and, of course, the Wombles – Mike Batt. I was surprised he was still around although I seem to remember him trying his hand at classical crossover music some time.

So I was amazed to hear ‘The Flood’ – Katie Melua’s recent single which seemed to have been designed preternaturally to include almost everything I like in a pop music track. The song is wonderful in just about every way imaginable – and credit is due largely to Melua’s new producer and writing collaborator on ‘The Flood’, William Orbit. I’ve liked Orbit’s work ever since I bought what was just about the first single he was involved with – ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ by Bass-O-Matic in the late 80s. He then went on to work on some of the most seminal music of the 90s – including the hypnotic ‘Pure Shores’ by All Saints and quite a bit of stuff with Madonna.

‘The Flood’ is an utterly schizophrenic track. The first couple of verses and choruses are a slow ballad sung over an adamant bass line and orchestral accompaniment. The chorus is fantastic: Katie Melua’s voice suddenly soars octaves above the chorus – demonstrating that she has far more than the few tones range of most pop singers. It’s slightly reminiscent of the sort of dramatic music that Kate Bush would make.

Then the song suddenly speeds up with the introduction of a folky-acoustic guitar into double time (something that The Beatles ‘A Day in the Life’ does for its final verse). For a glorious minute or so the track turns from something that could have been in a West End musical into a track one could imagine being played in one of these party-until-the-sun-comes-up Ibiza events. Everything in the production is used so economically and subtly – for example the distorted guitars and the muted brass backing the vocals from ‘turn up the light’ onwards. What’s most bizarre is the halting snare drum used on the off-beat to push the rhythm forward – very similar to the Beatles (again) in ‘Get Back’ –but also almost like a marching military band.

The vocals on the fast section are a complete contrast to what came before and comes afterwards. Katie Melua sings like some kind of cosmic oracle in (yet another Beatles echo) a vocal like John Lennon’s on ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.

The lyrics are full of imperatives too, which helps the effect, ‘Don’t trust your eyes…Know in your heart…Turn on the light and feel the ancient rhythm.’ I’m particularly taken by this as Katie Melua looks a bit to my mind like Sarah Brightman did in her Hot Gossip days when the classic ‘I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper’ was released in the late 70s and I can imagine her belting out this section like a female character in ‘Blake’s 7’ (Servalan anyone?).

And then sung against the incantatory vocal is a counterpoint line of backing vocals – and I love songs that suddenly pull together two simultaneous melodies. These backing vocals echo the first, slower part of the song (‘Nothing is to blame’) which creates a fantastic tension.

I like percussion in a track and always feel that it’s consciously very underrated but plays a huge role in subconscious appreciation of a piece of music. ‘The Flood’ suddenly seems to collapse under the weight of the above mentioned tension in a massive crash of cymbals and bass drum beats – slowing the fast beat like a juggernaut and re-instating the previous ballad for a climactic ending. It’s brilliant – like some of the best classical music it simultaneously unites a seeming cataclysm with a serene calm.

It’s one of the oddest and most original pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time – and I can listen to it repeatedly and still enjoy it enormously.

I bought the album ‘The House’ – which has taken a while to grow on me and is filled with material that’s more conventional Melua style – pleasant, whimsical meditations about aliens and red balloons. The album has also had the Rick Nowells treatment on a few tracks. He’s a producer who seems to provide a certain type of female singer with sure-fire hits – starting over 20 years ago with Belinda Carlisle, then moving on to Stevie Nicks, The Corrs, Dido (‘Here With Me’) and (I think) Madonna.

There’s a track on ‘The House’ that’s almost comically Nowells – which might end up as a single. It’s both lyrically and musically ludicrous – it’s called ‘Plague of Love’ – and has an incredibly catchy chorus.

I’ve almost done a complete reversal of opinion on Katie Melua. From thinking she was a bland, MOR vehicle for a past-it Svengali, I now think, if you look carefully enough you’ll find she’s incredibly original and quite odd – and one of the genuinely subversive type of artists I most respect.

Mysterious Purple Crop Unmasked

One attractive aspect of the Chilterns countryside is how the fields change colour — usually very imperceptibly from brown in the autumn, through to ever-deepening green in the winter (with autumn planted crops) through to spring and now they’re almost a bright straw-yellow, even the pastureland.

We’re also used to the sudden bright-yellow of the oilseed rape crop in mid-spring — after which the plants take on an untidy, wizzened green.

But in the last couple of years some fields have been turning a mysterious mauve colour. It’s very attractive but rather unsettling — what kind of crop is purple? While jogging along on the Wycombe Half Marathon yesterday I saw other people puzzling over a big field of the crop between Flackwell Heath and the M40.

The Mysterious Purple Crop Near Horsenden
The Mysterious Purple Crop Near Horsenden

I eventually found the answer after taking a walk through a field of these unknown plants between Horsenden and Bledlow. Seeing the plant close up it was apparent that colour comes from the plant’s bright blue flowers – the light catching the flower buds gives the purple appearance.

Bright Blue Borage Flowers
Bright Blue Borage Flowers

I knew it resembled something in my garden and I later managed to do a bit of researching on the web and happened to identify the crop as borage. This is a herb that can grown quite invasively in gardens and its leaves can be used in cooking. But what it’s grown for on a commercial scale is its oil. Borage seeds yield the highest concentration of Omega-6 oils of any plant – that’s the fatty acid that’s meant to be very healthy. Funny how the goodness of the Chiltern soil might be extracted and put into the little bottles that vitamin counter at Boots. There’s even a product that uses borage oil as an ingredient that is sold in Boots that is meant to increase female libido if it is smeared on the genital area — maybe a more interesting fate for a crop than being made into Weetabix?

A Summer ‘Tradition’ We Can Do Without

I’m sure John Major in his rather risible but memorable speech about warm beer, long shadows on cricket grounds and so on from the early 90s would have included Morris dancing in his wistful list of unchanging Englishness (see the photo below of the Towersey Morris and Aldbury Morris Men performing outside the Swan, Great Kimble on 7th July).

Towersey and Aldbury Morris Outside the Swan, Great Kimble
Towersey and Aldbury Morris Outside the Swan, Great Kimble

That speech is a particular bug bear as beer should NEVER be warm — the belief that real ale is best drunk tepid has allowed bad landlords to get away with serving undrinkable crap. It should be cellar temperature (about 10-12 C) and it’s sometimes so difficult to keep it that way in unrefrigerated cellars that even usually reliable pubs might be wisely avoided in temperatures of the upper 20s and even 30s C of the sort we experienced at the end of last week and this weekend.

In fact, on our trip on Saturday to the Black Country, I had more than one pint in usually exemplary pubs that, while by no means bad, that certainly weren’t on top form. It’s not a problem we’ve really had to worry about over the last couple of summers but, in hot weather, if the beer comes out as anything like ambient temperature you know you’re likely to be in trouble — whatever rubbish John Major came out with years ago.

Know-Nothing Idiots

This could be applied to the England players as well but is more appropriate to all the idiotic pundits whose collective self-loathing of themselves and the country immediately emerges after the sort of disaster that England suffered yesterday.

People are queuing up on phone-ins and message boards to come out with garbage along the lines of England produces inherently technically poor players who are only motivated by money. Total bollocks. Admittedly, Capello committed professional suicide by selecting some poor (Johnson, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Milner, Upson), underconfident (Green, Carrick, Heskey) and unfit (Rooney, King) players — and in the case of Barry a combination of all of those. Capello also made some idiotic team selections and substitutions.

Nevertheless, players like Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, Cashley Cole, Lennon and Terry (and perhaps some others) are the among the best players in teams that include players who have shone in the World Cup. Brazil and Argentina contain players who are good but not head and shoulders above those they have played with in the Premier League — Heinze, Tevez, Gilberto Silva — and some who weren’t even good enough for Man City — Elano, Ronaldinho.

To say England as a whole lack technical ability is rubbish. Everything about the performance was psychological. The players were mentally weak — capitulating easily because, for some reason, they lacked any confidence. The defence was nervous and panicky, sat way too deep and the midfield dropped back accordingly — leaving the two up front isolated. There was no organisation or leadership on the field and certain players have to be held personally responsible — Gerrard’s performance looked like panic personified — he hit about three shots from long range in total alarm at having the ball anywhere near the goal.

And anyone who thinks the appointment of that referee — who has past form for exactly the same ‘errors’ — was just unfortunate chance is either totally naive or, like almost all football journalists, part of a self-preserving conspiracy to maintain the illusion at all costs of results being determined solely by honest endeavour on the pitch.

England v Germany

Under an hour and a half away from England against Germany — yet again.

I watched the Slovenia match in the place where the rules of association football were drawn up — the Freemason’s Arms in Long Acre, Covent Garden. It seems a bit of a football venue anyway — about half a dozen screens all around the walls — sensibly high up to ensure everyone has a good view.

The place was heaving to the rafters with ‘laads’ — as packed as terracing used to be at real matches and the floor was like a beer lake by the end of the match.

I patriotically consumed Shepherd Neame Spitfire throughout the game — that would be rather appropriate for this afternoon’s fixture given the opposition.

I shall have to watch today’s match virtually sober as I need to drive into London to see who, IMHO, is the greatest cultural figure of the 20th century — bar no-one: Paul McCartney. Ordinarily this would be the highlight of the day — or week — and it’s been expensive enough to get the tickets. It’s in Hyde Park so I guess by turning up late and, unfortunately, missing Elvis Costello and Crowded House, I’ll see a tiny little figure several hundred yards away and I’ll no doubt be too far away to see the screens properly. Nevertheless, he’s 68 now and how long is he going to be able to keep this up for? Even if his voice isn’t what it was, it’s going to be a very rare experience to hear some of the greatest pieces of music ever written performed live by their composer.

But to the match — I’m rather annoyed with the USA that they scored in the last minute to prevent us from playing last night. Anyway, I thought England were pretty useless in the closing stages of the Slovenia match — once Rooney had gone off. However, they’ve defended pretty well. The only goal conceded has been the error from Green. I think the Germans will find it hard to score against us. We can’t play badly indefinitely and I think the occasion will bring the best out of Rooney (if fit), Gerrard, Terry and, who knows, perhaps even Fat Frank?

I’m going for 1-0 to England — scored in the first half by Rooney — and then a second half of the Dunkirk spirit. If it gets to penalties I’ll be listening in the car so that will be agony.

Best London Pubs?

I’m spending so much time in and around ‘That Big Place’ at the end of the railway line that I’ve even bought the last couple of editions of ‘Time Out’ — possibly regressing about 15 years when I used to have it delivered every week and used it for the TV listings (now I use the cheaper ‘Radio Times’).

This edition was worth buying as it lists their Top 20 London Bars and Pubs (note the word order, it says a lot about these metropolitan types). The article is really a puff for the new edition of their bar and pub guide book, which has 500 of them in.

But it’s interesting to see which pubs Time Out picked as worthy of inclusion in their top 20. Here are a few with my own observations.

One is the Rake near Borough Market. This is really just a place that people visit for curiosity value — an old greasy spoon building with a patio bigger than a drinking area — is it really a pub at all? It has quite a lot of interesting ‘world beers’ and a couple of real ales that people apparently rate highly — but on the couple of occasions I’ve been then they’ve not been out of this world.

The Old Brewery in Greenwich is Meantime Brewery’s pub. It’s the wrong side of London to me and I’ve always had mixed feelings about Meantime. I read an interview with someone involved with them who suggested they liked to export their beers to the US because Americans had better palates than the British and appreciated their beers more. I also view their packaging and labelling as ludicrously pretentious (and lazy — one label on a bottle I bought said the beer should be ‘refridgerated’) — and they’re expensive. Yet Meantime still have the CAMRA politburo purring over their supposed quality and championing of ‘lost’ beer styles. Maybe I’ll go there and see for myself.

The Sloaney Pony in Parson’s Green gets in there (White Horse) fairly predictably — along with a mention of the nectar of Thornbridge Jaipur IPA — any pub in London that sells this lovely beer is automatically in my Top 20.

Also included is the Charles Lamb in Islington — it’s a sort of trendy-ish gastro place by all accounts near Angel but I’d like to go there as it’s in the GBG 2010 (I think). Highest placed pub, and another I’d like to visit, is a place called Draft House in SW11 which apparently does 17 ‘unusual’ draft beers (not all of these are real ale, though). I took a look at the website and it’s suitably pretentious for the area (Battersea) but the beer list looks pretty good — and they do some interesting selections of thirds of pints.

Rabbits in the Headlights

Even the day afterwards, I’m stunned by the level of incompetence shown by England against Algeria. I’d watched the USA comeback against Slovenia and was encouraged that a win against Algeria and just a draw with Slovenia would ensure qualification provided Algeria could be beaten by two clear goals (more than they’d lost by to Slovenia).

I’d also thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the Hop Pole on Thursday night and watching the imploding France side being dismantled by Mexico. But England were even worse…

It’s difficult to think of a worse performance that I’ve seen by any team ever — even when non-league teams play Premiership teams in cup games or the champions of Andorra or Lichtenstein play in the qualifying stages of the Champions League.

For most of the match England could neither pass the ball nor retain it — countless times the Algerian players stepped in and dispossessed the likes of Heskey, Lennon, Lampard, Johnson and, worst of all, Rooney. There were also staggering displays of cowardice and loss of nerve — most particularly from Gerrard who a few times had the sort of opportunity that he regularly buries for Liverpool. Three of the team came from Liverpool — who’ve had their worst season in many years and lost a shocking number of matches. Surprisingly the right hand side of the defence was from Liverpool who conceded the third lowest number of goals last season and the left was from Chelsea, who shipped second least — Man Utd let in the lowest number which makes one wonder why Wes Brown was left behind. He couldn’t have been any worse than Carragher. Neither Carragher or Terry have any pace so they committed the classic England mistake of defending too deep and stretching the team. (How many offsides were there? Not many.) This leads to all sorts of sins, particularly defenders aimlessly hoofing the ball forward.

Barry played so deep as to be a sweeper so with Gerrard supposedly out left and Lennon isolated on the right we were left to Fat Frank to be the midfield — something that would be a challenge for him even in his Chelsea form. As it was, the game totally passed him by. He’s got to be dropped for the next match — accommodating this perpetual international level underachieved totally disrupts the team.

Rooney even said on television that he’d rather play as the only true forward and here was the proof he was right — Heskey was clueless — even popping up on the right wing at one point. Why? It’s typical of the media to try and build up Rooney as the villain of the piece for mouthing off about the fans. I tend to think fans should boo more, especially at England. They’re paying (a lot) to be entertained and the players should be reminded who pays for their over-lavish lifestyles — but at least Rooney was showing some frustration and anger. The likes of Fat Frank were just rabbits in the headlights. At least Gerrard admitted that England were crap.

Most Irritating World Cup?

The World Cup is slowly building up after what everyone who’s not involved in commercially hyping it must admit was a pretty dire start. Mexico’s demolition of a totally useless French side was a joy to behold…and that number 14 for Mexico looked like a pretty nifty player — I wouldn’t mind having him in my team’s squad! £7m is beginning to look like a bargain.

However, two reasons for intense irritation remain even now the football has picked up. One is the famous vuvuzelas — it seems like some bright capitalist factory owner in South Africa has convinced FIFA and the media that these oversized plastic kazoos are some sort of traditional African heirloom that’s an indelible part of the culture there — and to criticise the terrible noise they make would clearly be culturally imperialist (no matter that they’re irritating the hell out of the billions of people who are watching this showcase for South Africa). I would suspect that going back a few years they were probably about as commonly played as bagpipes are in Scotland. Wikipedia suggests they weren’t in common use in South Africa until 2001.

But even worse is that on ITV we have the human equivalent of the vuvuzela drone in Adrian Chiles. What possessed them to poach him from the BBC for such a huge salary? For about the last 5 years it’s been almost impossible to turn on the television without seeing his pug-like features. I thought he was ok when he was doing business programmes and The Apprentice, You’re Fired and even on Match of the Day 2 — his downbeat, matter-of-factness didn’t seem to detract from the subject. But I  started to loathe his appearances on The One Show — a more blatantly incompetent autocue reader one would be hard pushed to find. When he wasn’t grimacing at the screen trying to read what to say next he was screwing his face up looking down at his notes. He gave the impression he was utterly incapable of having anything interesting to say whatsoever and, acknowledging this, avoided all eye contact with the viewer. He was also nauseatingly politically correct — playing the down-trodden, idiotic, simple, football obsessed modern bloke while genuflecting before every right-on cause.

Now we have to have him spoiling the football coverage. It’s the World Cup, yet you’d think he was still mumbling about the NASDAQ moving down 0.1% as he used to on ‘Working Lunch’. While ITV are often guilty of way too much hyperbole in their sports coverage, he’s so totally the other way it’s a joke. With a bit of luck he might fall asleep during the England match — him snoring his way through the analysis would probably be a marginal improvement. Or maybe ITV can repeat their monumental blunder of putting an advert on their HD transmission feed just as Gerrard scored England’s goal and we can all watch Hyundai ads instead of more interminable droning.

Washed Down With Lashings of Young’s Ordinary

On a similar theme to the quite famous Brooke Bar at the Pink and Lily (which is at Parslow’s Hillock, which is basically in the middle of the woods on the hills above Princes Risborough) that is dedicated to the poet Rupert Brooke, another local pub has also dedicated a room to a local writer. Unlike Brooke, who probably sold very few books in his lifetime (he died young during the First World War), Blyton is no doubt the biggest selling author from the local area — writing 800 books which sold a staggering 600 million copies.

Most of Enid Blyton’s books were written at Green Hedges, her house in Beaconsfield, which is very near the Red Lion at Knotty Green, about a mile out of the town on the road to Penn. The snug in the pub, on the right as you walk in, is now the Enid Blyton room. There are various pictures on the wall, lots of her books around (apparently donated by the Enid Blyton society) and a fair selection of her characters sit in corners around the room.

Enid Blyton’s works are famous for their forthright depictions of the mores and prejudices of the English upper-middle of the wartime era and just afterwards — something unforgettably sent up by the Comic Strip Presents in ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset’ broadcast on the opening night of Channel 4 in 1982, featuring French and Saunders, Robbie Coltrane and Adrian Edmonson. Apart from the second series of The Young Ones, none of them have probably worked on anything better since. The Famous Five, in particular, still seem to generate a lot of indignation from Guardian readers — and writers. Here’s an example from 2005 by Lucy Mangan.

Many modern editions of Blyton’s books seem to remove some of the more extreme racial, and even gender, references. Therefore, here is an attempt to rehabilitate Noddy and Big Ears as contemporary blokes — enjoying a pint of Young’s Ordinary.

Noddy Enjoying Young's Ordinary
Noddy Enjoying Young's Ordinary

Another huge-selling author, though not in Blyton’s league in terms of volume, was brought up around the corner from the Red Lion — Terry Pratchett (of Discword fame). He comes from Forty Green a village just outside Beaconsfield which is home to another pub — the Royal Standard of England. This claims to be the oldest hostelry in the country.

Useless England Needed a Ginger Prince Not A Cauliflower King

So much for Capello instilling some purpose into England. After a qualifying campaign that saw them largely confident and purposeful they regressed into massive underachievement and paranoid nervousness last night.

I still can’t believe how bad some players were. The midfield was dreadful — Henry Winter has written in The Telegraph singing Gerrard’s praises but he must have filed his report after four minutes. Perhaps Gerrard was the best of a bad bunch and scored a good goal but hardly a hero. We also found again that Fat Frank Lampard seems to shrink to a point of insignificance when he put on an England shirt. It seemed like he was kicking that cauliflower around from the Tesco advert — or just maybe thinking he was in Tesco’s choosing a menu for Christine Bleakley. With two attacking wingers we needed two central midfield players who were both interested in the match and could be bothered to try and play together.

If there’s one sight that seems to suggest we’ll be lucky to even get to the quarter finals, it’s Jamie Carragher coming on to play in central defence, particularly as Johnson (the toilet seat hero) had such a brainless match — hoofing the ball aimlessly upfield in the second half. Seeing as Carragher was mainly cover for Johnson, we have the prospect of being stuck with both these lumps from a club whose defence was so poor they finished seventh in the league. Why didn’t Dawson or Upson come on instead? And Gary Neville or Wes Brown should have been in the squad. And Milner was a poor choice — you can’t haul every player off after they get booked so Capello must have realised he made a mistake. At least SWP had a go but if your midfield can’t supply the ball to the two wingers then it’s like playing with nine men.

At least Capello realised before the tournament that his midfield was lacking and it’s a shame he didn’t turn earlier to the best English midfield player of the last twenty five years — the Ginger Prince himself. At least he can pass the ball better than a cauliflower.

Official National Drinking Day?

If the police had been involved in scheduling the World Cup draw there’s no way they would have allowed England’s game on a Saturday to kick off at 7.30pm. They would have preferred it to be 7.30am (as would be the case with a World Cup in the Far East).

The next game is a Friday evening so most people won’t have been able to drink all day and the next one is 3pm on a Wednesday.

Should England win the group, we’ll have another all day drinking marathon as it will be 7.30pm on a Saturday again. Should they come second then it’s a 3pm Sunday kick off.

If we get to the quarter finals then drinking opportunities are lowered with either Friday evening or Saturday afternoon the options. The semis are mid-week evening kick offs so not much chance there.

Of course, should we get to the final — at 7.30pm on Sunday 11th July — that would be the cue for an Official National Drinking Weekend — the like of which has never been seen before.

Even if we don’t win the football World Cup this country is a world-beater in the drinking one.

Charlie’s World Cup Predictions

I was looking for a World Cup interactive fixture diagram (one that calculates the tables and predicts the next round) but couldn’t find one on the BBC or a newspaper website. I eventually found this one on a betting website. It downloads a template into Word.

I hope it works ok up to the quarter finals then I think it goes wrong. I’ve had to modify my draw below. I’ve entered some predictive scores based on my best guesses with a bit of randomness thrown in. These are the teams I had going through from the groups.

Winners: France, Argentina, England, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Brazil, Spain (no real surprises there)

Runners Up: South Africa, Nigeria, USA, Serbia, Denmark, Slovakia, Portugal, Switzerland

This leads to the following second round matches: France v Nigeria; England v Serbia; Germany v USA; Argentina v South Africa; Netherlands v Slovakia; Brazil v Switzerland; Italy v Denmark; Spain v Portugal.

I then predicted the quarter finals: Argentina v Germany; Netherlands v Brazil; England v France; Italy v Spain. Some corkers there.

Being patriotic I backed England all the way so ended up with semis of : Brazil v Spain; Argentina v England.

This led to a final of England v Spain.

So before a goal has been scored that’s the way I’m calling it. I predicted the opening match 0-0 by the way.

Wenlock and Mandeville

First posting in well over a week…the election must have used up all my blogging energy…but what has happened in the intervening time. Well, last week the Olympics organisers (whoever they are) unveiled their teletubby style mascots who we’ll no doubt get heartily sick of by 2012. I was intrigued by their names — and one seems to have a good real ale pedigree.

Wenlock is one of the duo and I wondered whether his/her/its naming was anything to do with the famous Wenlock Arms — a famous CAMRA haunt and archetypical back-street boozer within which lurks a row of tempting handpumps. The Beer In The Evening reviews of the place have been quite mixed recently. There seems to be a general consensus that standards have declined in certain areas but whether this detracts from the beer drinking experience seems a moot point. I’m somewhat ambivalent. The beer I’ve had there has been pretty good and the place is pretty dog-eared but I’ve never had any trouble in there — although I’ve only tended to visit when it’s been quiet.

I guess the Wenlock Arms says a lot about CAMRA. It’s the holy grail to many CAMRA die-hards: no-nonsense, warts-and-all boozer with no pretensions except to serve good beer. On the other hand, many of the people that CAMRA is trying to broaden its appeal to reach will be mystified at its attraction. I don’t want to appear sexist but it’s probably not controversial to say that women tend to notice aspects like cleanliness and decor more than men do (especially CAMRA type men) and aspects such as the state of the toilets are of more than marginal importance. I’ve obviously not been in the ladies at the Wenlock and the gents have always seemed tolerable to me but some of the BITE comments are not favourable to the Wenlock in this department.

As an aside, the gents in the newly refurbished George and Dragon in Princes Risborough are some of the most impressive I’ve seen — the whole refurbishment is pretty good but often when pubs are done up the budget seems to not to stretch to the toilets. There’s even a poster in there advertising a whisky branded by a long-lost brewery in my hometown of Rochdale.

Rochdale and Manor Whisky
Rochdale and Manor Whisky

The other Olympic mascot is curiously named Mandeville — after Stoke Mandeville — a village that’s lucky enough to have three pubs including the remarkably quickly rebuilt Woolpack gastrohouse and the splendidly traditional Bull.

Haggis and Kangaroo Crisps for Tickers?

Seems like Walker’s Crisps have learned something from many microbreweries — give the same old product a new, gimmicky name and people will queue up to buy it for the novelty value.

For the World Cup Walker’s has introduced a national range of crisps based on World Cup qualifying nations (mostly!). They are listen on Wikipedia but also listed below:

  • England-Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
  • America-Cheeseburger
  • Argentinean-Flame Grilled Streak
  • Australia-BBQ Kangaroo
  • Brazil-Salsa
  • Dutch-Edam Cheese
  • France-Garlic Bread
  • Germany-Bratwurst Sausage
  • Ireland-Stew
  • Italy-Spaghetti Bolognese
  • Japan-Teriyaki Chicken
  • Scotland-Haggis
  • South Africa-Sweet Chutney
  • Spain-Chicken Paella
  • Wales-Rarebit
  • While these flavours may be completely honed to resemble their inspiration dishes, there’s a certain similarity between various ingredients — a few cheese (Rarebit, Edam, the cheeseburger, etc,). Also the meaty flavours: English Roast beef, Flame-Grilled Steak, Spaghetti Bolognese, Haggis, Kangaroo and so on aren’t probably very different from each other.

    It reminds me of the microbreweries that produce a differently named brew every month which are so beloved of the CAMRA ticker tendency. Surely their beers are not that radically different from each other once around half a dozen styles have been covered. I’ve never understood why the novelty seekers are so easily taken in by a gimmicky name or pump clip design. If I drink a decent beer I’d like to be able to go out and find it again — not for it to disappear into the oblivion of a few tickers’ notebooks.

    It might be a good business opportunity for Walker’s to get the kind of multiple hand pump pubs beloved of tickers to stock the full range of these crisps — perhaps rotating them through the run up to the World Cup — and see if the beer lovers start ticking them off too.

    Talking of beer that’s worth seeking out again, ‘Trashy Blonde’ from Brewdog was on at ‘The Angel’ — a Wetherspoons opposite the eponymous tube station in Islington. I would have had a pint but I’d already ordered a ‘Dark Rider’ from Kelham Island — which was strong and rather nice so I had another pint.