While I walked down to the beach — New Order 2020

The first thing we did when we got to Miami was buy the drugs. By which I mean we walked past two very hopping clubs at 1:30am, complete with many people not wearing much in the way of clothing, and went straight for the 24-hour Walgreens with its bounty of NyQuil and VapoRub. It’s like a Northern Soul Revival if you squint hard enough, I swear.

(Although to be fair, the reviews for the clubs are…pretty terrible. Though I’m struggling to wrap my head around somebody spending $1500 (in cash!) on what’s clearly not a major or even that fancy club)

I’d like to say that we spent our one full day in Miami seeing all the sights that we could stuff into the 24 hours. What actually happened is that we got lunch in the Time Out Market, including some Bachour pastries, wandered aroun South Beach, and then we went back to the hotel where I laid in bed for the entire afternoon whilst Tammy worked out a concoction of cold medicines that would keep me up and running for the concert.

(let’s take a minute here to talk about The Fillmore Miami Beach. A wonderful art deco building that has surprisingly good sight lines even at the back of the venue, but the people running it seem to have absolutely no idea about how queues work or the chaos that results when you combine seating with general admission policies. Absolute madness ensued, and I’m still not entirely sure we sat in the right place)

New Order — fac 2020

If you were going to choose an era of New Order to see live, it’s likely that the post-2000 era is not going to be at the top of your list. Still, as I was barely a teenager when the 90s hiatus began, I can’t complain too much, and if I had to make a choice in this century, I’d definitely prefer seeing a lineup with Gillian Gilbert in it than one that doesn’t have her but does have Hook (cue my long-standing diatribe about how Gilbert has often got short shrift in fan circles over the years).

Anyway, the concert itself was good! Nothing on the scale of Taras Shevchenko, obviously, but a good fun mix of the hits people want to hear, new songs, songs that haven’t been played for a while, and even though they’ve been playing them for a while, the-still-surprising Joy Division songs (including Disorder, which they’ve only started playing again in the past couple of years). Was I disappointed that they didn’t play World In Motion despite 2020 being its 30 year anniversary? Sure, but I do appreciate that maybe Miami isn’t the ideal setting for an England World Cup song. And they played World (The Price of Love).

Also, whilst I will not be taking any questions at this time in response to my argument that the 12” version of Temptation is the only one that should be allowed to exist, the reworked Substance version they played did come with a strangely affecting nostalgia-heavy video including footage of BASF cassettes, ghetto blasters, radios, and even footage of OutRun. It’s still wrong, though.

A different concert experience than the rather Los Campesinos!-heavy ones I’ve had of late, but I have now seen New Order live and I’m very happy about having done so. And as always, many thanks to Tammy for managing to come up with a cocktail of cold remedies that kept me going all the way to the end of the concert before I collapsed back into a pile of snot. I have been ill every day of 2020 so far. I’m quite tired of it.

Ill Again

Last week, I was sick. This weekend, I’m also sick, though with something completely different and about as bad a bout since 2005 (though at least this time, I’m just wasting a weekend and not having to carry out an interview whilst trying to hold my insides together). I am hopeful that I’ll be better by next weekend, where I’ll be flying on three different planes and three airports for more chances to catch any bug that’s going around.

But! Miami! New Order! 26ºC! The total oddness of staying at South Beach! And who knows, by Monday, I may work up some needed enthusiasm for the trip. But right now, I’m lying on the couch in full ‘manflu’ repose. Helvetica is soaking up John Wick and given her interest in Casino last week, I’m a little concerned that my cat might be a little bit evil.

Oh! I also subjected an American to The Story of 1989. As a result of that, I discovered that Airwolf was not as popular here as it was back home. Multiple people in my age bracket did not remember it. I had to show the titles to indicate how exciting they were to a six-year-old that didn’t really care that, pilot aside (which I think was rated 15 in the UK?), only had the one plot and five different bits of stock helicopter footage.

As a result of that, I went down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and discovered that Donald Bellisario actually met Lee Harvey Oswald during the time when both of them where in the Marines, and those encounters made it into the Quantum Leap JFK episode. So there’s your surprising fact for the weekend. I will be hanging out here on the couch for the rest of it.

The Story of 1989 and Other Things

This is one of my favourite times of the year., when the BBC archive gets mined and either Mel or Sue narrates The Story of:, or “we’re about to show a lot of Top Of The Pops from this year, so we should probably put it into some context whilst we’re cutting out all the Mike Smith bits — _wait, is that Gary Glitter?_” Anyway, we’ve reached 1989. Soul II Soul, Happy Mondays, S’Express…and The Bunny That We Will Not Speak About. Oh, and The Reynolds Girls fleetingly glimpsed in the Fall of SAW montage, which is normally a cue for me to launch into a stirring defence of I’d Rather Jack. But it has been a long week and I’m alone on the couch shivering with a mild fever, so it’s more of a wistful watch as people talk about how 1989 seemed to be heralding a promise of a better world.

The President interrupts, threatening to bomb cultural sites and other war crimes.

And this is why I’m watching the first episode of Time Team. Escape to the past. Hence all the contemporary documentaries reporting on the Three Day Week and Militant, plus all the new (old) books lying about the house. There’s no way out, and no future except for what we can excavate from the past. A nice bit of flint and a regeneration programme for the masses. Against the classes.

But there’s also time for simple nostalgia:

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I seem to remember that there was a spearmint version. And that it was disgusting. But my mind might be playing tricks on me there…

Ten Years. TEN YEARS!

Firstly, let me just say that I was promised this:

Iron Man 2020

(though Marvel seems to be having a stab at trying to make Iron Man 2020 happen, perhaps without the part where he’s responsible for the destruction of Los Angeles)

Rounding out the decade, then. A partial list:

  • Got married in a Pac-Man costume
  • Moved to the US
  • Worked at Activison Blizzard HQ
  • Moved house more often than in the preceding 30 years
  • Bought two houses (but I sold one!)
  • Having moved 4000 miles, went 800 extra miles north
  • Became a US citizen
  • Heard another song that’ll mean something
  • Watched many, many TV shows from before I was born
  • Got divorced, though not in a Pac-Man costume (we missed a trick there)
  • Went to Alinea. And Next. And The Aviary
  • Saw many brutalist buildings
  • Went back to Manchester to see how things have changed
  • Wrote a book!
  • Made new friends that will hopefully be around for many years to come
  • Got increasingly insane planning desserts
  • Continued overcompensating for a small bedroom to the point where it now seems to be a complex
  • Obtained a black cat and outfitted her with batwings for Hallowe’en
  • Voted many times in two different countries. Can’t say I had much success, but maybe next year, eh?
  • Spoke at multiple conferences
  • Built up a bourbon bar that probably rivals most outside of Kentucky (and even some there). It’s…an issue
  • Gave Allo Darlin’ and the SHUX team chocolates
  • Participated in two DIY projects that didn’t involve me being sent away to make tea
  • Went to Singapore. Still not actually sure why I was sent to Singapore, but I went!
  • Reached the age where it is acceptable to be excited about ordering a chest freezer…and ordered one
  • Became a fan of board games…and it got out of hand…
  • Lost more hair
  • Gained more psoriasis (though the light therapy is helping!)
  • Went to San Francisco for the first time, and the second, and more
  • Saw Los Campesinos! enough times that I’ve actually lost count
  • Accidentally ordered 111 copies of an LC! album that saw me being rescued by Gareth
  • Obtained a complete collection of B.S. Johnson books
  • Watched so much Law & Order
  • Made chocolate from cocoa beans
  • Got to the point where I only curse the French once or twice whilst making macarons
  • Recycled so much cardboard
  • …and probably a lot more besides…

A rather interesting decade. Also, I’ve almost been writing on this blog for 20 years now. So, so old…but hopefully still much more to write.

Bourbon Round-Up 2019

Last year, I talked about my bourbon habit and how I wasn’t going too crazy with it. Checking back in at the end of this year…well, okay, things got a touch out of hand.

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Highlights of the past twelve months include:

  • Obtaining private selection picks of every single combination of Four Roses’s two mashbills and five yeast strains (ten bottles overall).

  • Finding not one, but two bottles of the MGP-sourced O.K.I. releases.

  • Getting hold of every special release that New Riff put out, including the Balboa Rye that sold out within hours. (You should find a New Riff Single Barrel Rye as quick as you can, by the way)

  • My first taste of ‘pre-fire’ Heaven Hill bourbon.

  • I now have a bottle of ‘Cheesy Gold Foil’ Wild Turkey to be opened on a very special occasion.

And in a last-minute addition to round out 2019, I also got my first-ever limited edition Four Roses edition, which I amazingly managed to find at retail in the UK. So yes, things got a little out of hand. On the bright side, I now have all the ‘unicorn’ bottles I’ve been looking for, so 2020 should be a much lighter year (I completely ignore anything from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection; it’s good bourbon, but I’m not paying $1000 a bottle (at least) for any of it). In fact, I’m only looking forward so far to three releases next year:

  • Wild Turkey Rye Rare Breed — should be fairly common in shops and on the basis of their single barrel ryes and Cornerstone, it’ll be something special.

  • New Riff 6-Year — This is still only a rumour at the moment, but as their first barrels will be six years old in 2020, we’re hoping for an older bottling as their stocks come into their prime.

  • Wild Turkey Master’s Keep TBA — there’s talk that there’s going to be a final showing of the company’s remaining old bourbon barrels in 2020. While the other two are likely to be released widely, this will be rather hard to come by, given how popular ‘dusty’ Wild Turkey has become.

  • Oh, and I’ll probably pick up a bottle or two while visiting Japan next year as well!

It’ll be a calmer year. Mainly because I don’t want to buy another set of shelves for the bar…

And Then A Flood

Somehow, I managed to get two blisters on one toe. I’m still a little confused how my feet got covered in them during the trip home. Yes, I did walk seven miles on Friday, but I often do that in airports. Maybe they got freaked out when my original flight to Charlotte got delayed enough that I’d have missed my connecting flight to Heathrow. Instead, I got put on a last-minute flight to Philadelphia and a stand-by seat on a British Airways 747 (which I didn’t realize they were still flying). Which I almost missed because they said that they’d call me…and they didn’t, so if I hadn’t overcome my natural British reticence to ask follow-up questions, I might still be in Philidelphia.

But anyway, I am home! And I have seen Rise of The Skywalker, which I’d sum up as exactly what you’d expect from a Star Wars film by JJ Abrams except somehow more bereft of any new ideas and more predictable than the second hand of a clock. I know a lot of people hated The Last Jedi, but at least it tried, as opposed to “look! Five seconds of Ewoks and a space battle that seemed to comprise of 5 X-Wings, three B-Wings, 2 Y-Wings, and an A-Wing piloted by the bloke from Heroes”.

(The best Disney Star Wars film remains Rogue One)

Meanwhile, I’ve very lucky to have Tammy and Robert working on my house this weekend after discovering that the master bathroom has been flooding into the garage. It’s a nice house. But it does give me a headache at times.

The Crushing Sense of Reality Will Make You Cry

Hah, so when I wrote “I’ll be back to writing next time”, I forgot just how much a total and utter defeat tends to reduce the inclination to do anything except wallow in misery. Or, if you’re part of the Labour Party, wallow and join the massive circular firing squad. It’s what we do so well. Aside from losing elections apparently.

I’m still too depressed to talk about it too much; the worst part is that I had priced in a Labour defeat months ago. But this week, with my Twitter bubble in full effect, with people like Owen Jones (who I keep on my follow list mainly to get annoyed every time he retweets a cherry-picked poll from an obscure outfit that says Sanders will win Texas or something) talking up about how something was changing on the ground…only for less than 24 hours later for them to come clean on how Corbyn kept on coming up negatively on the doorstep. I honestly find that maddening.

Almost as maddening as the centre-right, charging in with “I told you so! What…no, we still don’t have any ideas except for a reheated pot of Blairism that hasn’t worked since 2005…” It pisses me off that after, what almost five years in the ‘wilderness’, the right wing of the Labour Party has yet to do…anything except carp from the sidelines (possible exception here for Stephen Kinnock, who at least did some digging) and hope that David Miliband will come back and save them. I would not class myself as a Corbyn fanboy by any means, but I mean at least he had the guts to stand and be counted, not run away in a huff to another continent and deliver a massive blow to his brother’s new leadership literally as it just began.

And then there’s the Left, who have decided that in lieu of any introspection, they’re going to blame everybody else. My favourite group is the exact same people who take potshots at you if you point out that voting third-party in the US is a bad idea for progressive causes dishing out metric tons of vitriol towards the Liberal Democrats. I’m not saying it’s not deserved (especially in the case of Kensington, where Grenfell was used as a cudgel to turn the seat back into Tory hands by the LDs, which they should not be allowed to forget in a hurry), but these people were quite happy to see Clinton fail to feed their accelerationist urges. And maybe, just maybe, don’t write a manifesto that is tailor-made for juxtaposing with 1983. Seems a bad omen, and if you’d had cut it down to just “a shedload of money for the NHS and we’ll nationalize the railways”, you’d have started the push back to the left whilst also not throwing out 500 policies all at once. And I still get people defending Chris Williamson. Still.

And then there’s the Americans, who of course have to make it all about them. Look, I’m not voting for Sanders, but there’s a subtle difference between him and Corbyn in that he’s regularly ten points above the President in current polling, and Labour have almost always polled below the Tories. People got excited last week about a poll that only had Labour 5% down, for goodness sake! (oh, that’s another thing about the supporters: just because YouGov is run by a Tory…maybe it’s not a great idea to dismiss every poll out of hand because of some magic ‘unskewing’ you could apply to their model. Just maybe) The situation here is different to back home, though maybe we could look at the way moderate Democratic candidates broke through in 2018 and feel that it’s not quite as simple as ‘offer them Medicare For All and everybody will vote Democratic1’.

So to sum up: everybody is wrong and I am right. Excellent.

(I’ll admit that that my preference for going all in on Remain does seem to have been the wrong option, but the 2018 Euro Elections indicated that Labour would have got massacred in London if they’d gone hard Leave, so I’m not sure if there was ever a good choice here)

Anyway, I’m coming home this Friday to the first solid Tory Government since I was 13 years old. Hurrah.

  1. I actually support the concept of Medicare For All because the American health system is completely insane, but the Sanders bill/litmus test is potentially highly damaging. Firstly, by banning private insurance, it hands the GOP an incredibly effective attack line before the battle to pass the damn thing even starts, and secondly, there aren’t 50 votes in the Senate for it, so what are you going to do if you get in and you can’t pass it? Warren is being pilloried by the left here for her suggestion of passing a public option and then moving on to Medicare For All towards the end of her first term, but better that people are helped by an imperfect fix rather than have them die or suffer but we maintain our ideological purity, right? Right? Is this why I get called a centrist melt on some forums? [return]

A 7ft Yellow Bird In A Suit Will Make You Cry

It’s been a long hard week, and I think I’ll be back to writing again next time.

For now, just Caroll Spinney.

Three Days of Eating and The Mountain of Food is Slowly Diminishing

72 eggs. 4kg of flour. A quantity of sugar that has been suppressed under the Thirty Year Rule. A very filling Thanksgiving was had, and I remain very thankful for great friends and a very understanding family.

Bring on the pictures!

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After the madness of Thursday, Friday and Saturday were much more sedate affairs (though somehow even after cutting our order to the bone, we still managed to leave Grace of India with leftovers), even including a cozy watch of A Matter of Life and Death on a dreary, cold Saturday afternoon - definitely the appropriate environment for it. Yes, you can feel some of the damp!

And now, only three week until I’m back home again…

Dessert Insanity

At the time of writing, the dessert count for next week currently stands at 17. Some might cry “lunacy!”, but I’m idly wondering if I can make it an even 20. I cannot be stopped. I probably should be stopped.

However, if nothing else, this weekend has shown me the mystical ways of the induction cooktop. I’ve always been somewhat sceptical. On Saturday, I cooked a sugar solution to 115ºC in under two minutes. So fast that I was completely unprepared and had to scramble to get my hazelnuts out of the oven.1 It’s amazing, and may change my frequency of caramel making up here in the frozen North (it takes over an hour to make a caramel on the electric stovetop I have under normal circumstances).

After the first day of baking, I have pâte sucrée, oreo dough, gingerbread, praline paste, two rounds of croissant dough (two sets of chocolate croissants, but one set will go straight into bread pudding…), toffee with pecan-smoked almonds, a second batch of toffee with a recipe that actually worked, cookie dough, graham cracker-flavoured ice cream…,and tomato-chili jam for the bacon naan rolls we’ll be having for breakfast on Thursday (shamelessly stolen from Dishoom).

I have no non-cooking news. Everything is now baking until the end of Friday. Or until my feet give out again.

  1. For homemade Nutella. Everything is totally over-the-top. Have I mentioned the Black Forest Gateau that I added to the menu a few days ago and now has as many layers as the Heston one? Except they’re all different? [return]