An online shop only describable as ‘prepared for a nuclear winter’ has left us with a severe surplus of meat products. Rather fuzzy headed this morning, it seemed to me an excellent time for a bacon sandwich. Other Half didn’t get downstairs in time to intervene in my more experimental cooking tendencies, however, leading to me deciding that just yr regular meat and bread wasn’t sufficient for this level of fine dining.
Fortunately it turned out to be an excellent breakfast, so if you’re feeling the worse for the season tomorrow and the mere idea of what follows doesn’t make you boak perhaps it is a thing you would like to put in your mouth.
Sometimes I manage to get my unstoppable, disproportionate rage at the world and all its absurdity under control for awhile. At these times, I allow myself back onto the internet, which is of course how the self-perpetuating cycle of apoplexy continues.
The thing that’s most recently made me blow a gasket and resort to the online equivalent of actual violence (which is to say, borderline passive-aggressive facebook updates) is an apparently harmless list of “12 Extremely Disappointing Facts About Popular Music” on Buzzfeed. What the hell am I doing on Buzzfeed? Well, like every news source I now largely access it through the medium of salacious headlines Facebook informs me my friends are reading so as far as I’m concerned, it now carries roughly the same weighting in the likelihood of me bothering to read it as the Guardian. I am the very destruction of a generation.
Of course, no one’s forcing me to read anything but I’m afraid this particular list and the frequency with which people were posting it (apparently without irony) led to ‘Someone Is Wrong On The Internet’ syndrome and so it is without further ado that I need to explain the ‘facts’ in the most civil way I can still manage.
I am a great believer in seasonal music, from the laid-back summer beach track to the frenetic late-season club banger, giving way to the Winter Party Anthem. This last one is no doubt due to my feelings for the season but I doubt I’m the only person to find early dark and city lights and the crisp of frost in the air exciting- my favourite view is the lights down Penglais Hill to the storm-drenched seafront, salt freezing on the wind and smearing the lamps into streaks of brightness. This year Diwali seemed to indicate a final end to the overstretched summer, bypassing autumn entirely like some seasonal divination- the temperature finally dropped and my refusal to get my coat out before November seemed foolhardy for the first time*. Then the clocks went back, I was going to work in the dark and even if my scarf was making me sweat it was with some relish that I opened my music library to dig out the tracks designed for breathing slightly boozy clouds of condensation into your collar, waiting for the tube.
Some acts seem to “get” this- even if they don’t, there’s always a plethora of tracks that do. It’s just possible I’m imagining the season, picking up on tracks I like and projecting them onto the lights over Hammersmith bridge like an emotional batsign but it does seem to be that out of the darkness and mist comes something potent and palpable. If nothing else, a cynical attempt at being the track played at every new year’s party.
The important thing is that these tracks are in a cold climate- none of the summer sweaty closeness, although they’re quite intimate in a ‘piling into the warm’ way- but they aren’t unhappy. They might have a tinge of sadness in the way a lot of songs about going bonkers on the dancefloor do but they’re not unhappy (unlike Sad Songs In Snow which are a different, although equally wonderful, thing entirely) and they’re keen to be your friend.
I don’t really want my lettuce to have more frequent flier miles than me* and I’m not going to endorse slave labour on Spanish tomato farms. I think apples don’t necessarily need the Andean climate to develop and I don’t want them picked unripe and shipped from Peru. I don’t want mange tout cash crops in famine-stricken regions of Africa and I’m ok with paying a little bit more to not have the creeping feeling that my stir fry has already killed several people and may strike again. I don’t want my leeks to have a carbon footprint greater than Ceredigion’s, is what I’m saying.
I’m not the only one and like any idea with enough worried middle class people getting in on it (gluten, organic milk, effective tampons) supermarkets have identified a sales opportunity. Yes, along with the satsumas for kids (‘it has comic sans on this tag! They’ll love that’) and Finest Chilean Walnut Oil (thanks, Gordon Ramsey) there is now British Produce in supermarkets.
I approve of this- we have fields, we have farms, we shouldn’t be importing food from abroad when we could get it from Kent for crying out loud. And yet (and here is the nub of it) even saying that makes me feel a little.. UKIP.
In January HMV announced that, due to it and Waterstones collectively flailing around in a mire of doom, it’s going to close 60 stores this year. Gossiping with a bookseller last weekend I discovered Waterstones have had their ordering near-frozen -I’m not surprised, it was close to that when I worked for them nearly three years ago and it’s a bad sign. And now it transpires Waterstones might be sold to a Russian millionaire for less than a premiership striker.
Well good riddance then- corporate bookselling and corporate record chains that squeezed out the independents being killed off by even bigger corporate things. Awesome, now we can all ponce around pretending to buy things in idiot vanity projects like Lutyen and Rubenstein’s shop or whatever’s left of the independent record stores, whilst actually shuffling them all off Amazon. Brilliant, that sounds like exactly the sort of thing everyone can look forward to.
I can’t even avoid being sarcastic in the above three sentences of course. You know what’s going to really suck? Not having any bookshops in most small towns. Not having any record shops most likely, either. “Oh but it is all online, look at my oogly Kindle thing” you say- well, maybe, maybe, in ten years time but realistically it’s only now that physical music product is going and that’s a lot less tactile in its consumption anyway. Not to mention Amazon and Apple’s iBooks are hardly bastions of ethics for either the offer they extend to writers whose work they sell or the care they take for the books or their content.
Besides (and this is the big point) you might say “oh yes but this will lead to a rise of independent book/record sellers, The Man has fallen” but guys, no it won’t. If a big chain with big corporate credit can’t afford to keep a store open in your town, how is someone going to do it alone? The existing ones may stay open but there isn’t going to suddenly be a big surge towards them, anymore than there was when Borders closed. Even more fundamentally, if Waterstones/HMV group goes under then publishers will have to stop printing a great number of books; whether that number will be big enough that they have to stop entirely is a scary question and one I don’t want to see the grand experimental answer to. Kindle is coming but not that fast.
Lentils. There they are, in one of those giant bags no one can honestly ever hope to use the whole of on their own- I used to get through one a week when I was cooking for four or more most nights but really, it turns out there is a limit to the amount of dhal one woman can eat. Huge great bags of orange or yellow or black lentils, satisfyingly coloured, especially once you’ve transferred them into empty jars so you feel like you’re some sort of domestic superhero for ten minutes before the simmering bastards overboil and you end up picking grotty pulse-foam out of the hob again.
Oh yes, look at them. Look at the shiny gorgeousness of the orange ones, the grim shrivelling of lentilles vertes so that you’re never quite sure if they’ve atrophied in the bag or whether they’re still ok to eat and do you really want to find out? I nearly made this post a Cheap Food We Love because lentils most certainly are ideal if you’re on a budget- £2.49 I paid for my giant bag of orange ones and have I got halfway down it in three months? Have I hell. Do I love them, though? Well… they’re always there. And they’re good if you need to make a big thing and can’t be bothered to think beyond chucking some stock and spices together but is that …good? Let alone loveable?
We’re big fans of Busted here at FreakyTrigger; speculative futurism, analysis of authority in the education system, asking people to dance at the disco and Thunderbirds are all highly relevant to our interests and I’m confident that if Charlie hadn’t thrown a strop to go and attempt to gain that elusive approval from Biffy Clyro that seems to be the prize on the X Factor these days then I’m confident their third album would’ve contained a song about the long egg continuum.
A few weeks ago, the Guardian published this (very lovely) piece on the work of botanists at the Herbarium in Kew Gardens: “Plants are not just beautiful, they help us to survive.”
It is a good piece and it discusses a field that is often overlooked, frequently patronised and generally treated as an irrelevantly twee “soft option,” largely confined to colonial-era eccentrics. This article, in the same week, highlighted that Botany has disappeared as an A-Level subject and only ten of the 115 universities in the UK offer any qualification in Plant Science. This is partly because Botany is not well-suited to universities, of course; it requires large, specialist facilities and preferably gardens like those at Kew. It needs funding to undertake huge trips across the world and although it has wide applications (medicinal science, agriculture) it doesn’t always commercialise them very well. It happens in buildings called ‘the herbarium’ or ‘the nursery’ or ‘glasshouse number nine.’ It is sometimes a little ‘hullo clouds, hullo sky.’ And if I’d told my parents I wanted to do botany at university I can’t think they would have had a reaction better than confusion; “Hazel is continuing her study of the False Banana” is hardly the stuff of round robins, that great whistle test for academic respect. So in defiance of all that an article arguing that plants are not just beautiful or twee, they help us to survive is a very good thing.
Then I think that I should perhaps put the gin down and go to bed. Good news this week, then, when The Financial Times published this quote with regards to the current financial situation:
The situation is akin to the mosh pit at a rock concert, warns regulatory consultant Barbara Matthews. “Everyone shares the same goal amid a frenzy, but any co-ordination that occurs is coincidental, and along the way people can get hurt,” she says. “Folks in a mosh pit have fun until they get hurt. Regulators have fun using their muscle … until something comes back to bite them.”
I like to browse charity shops in search of amazing books. As I’m a bookseller if not by trade anymore then by something possibly stronger than genetics or space-time, this is not necessarily just a case of being pleased to find an unproofed review copy of the new China Mieville six weeks before it’s meant to come out, since the YMCA clearly don’t check that sort of thing. No, it is not just good books that I am interested in. In fact, I think I’ve possibly passed some sort of event horizon where I no longer care about “good” books because all books are part of the whole sort of general bookish thing and so it’s beyond an investment in my own literary pleasure into an investment in this whole sort of general bookish thing. All books, especially the waifs and strays, are relevant to my interests. Especially, sometimes, the really, really bad ones.*
Which is how I found myself in the aforementioned YMCA shop, West Ealing, idly browsing the racks and happened across a spine that immediately set my ‘this is unlikely to have been nominated for the Booker prize’ senses tingling. ‘TYRANNOSAUR CANYON,’ t’was. I know, with the ambiguous quote at the top of this entry, you’re probably thinking that this book doesn’t sound very amazing at all. After all, if John Grisham wrote Jurassic Park there’d probably be a lot of courtroom drama regarding the massive number of personal injury claims possible if you’ve had your legs ripped off by a velociraptor and it wasn’t your fault and then some coffee-drinking. That, though, is because I’ve deprived you of the rest of the blurb, as in actual fact the book contains-