Friday, January 25, 2008

Burns Night

A slightly updated version of the address.....
(c) E. K. Esq *
(with apologies to R. Burns)

The Chieftain o’ the puddin’ race,
In history now takes its place
Wi’ delicacies fondly kent,
Their tenure on our menus spent.
For Haggis has usurp-ed been
By Scotia’s ain nouvelle cuisine.
Our pallid, plooky faced complexion
owes much to this august confection.

It helps you work, and rest, and play,
“Aye, right!” the dieticians say.
So, anxious to resolve the matter,
We fry it in deep fat, wi’ batter.
For have we not, since we were weans,
attacked our arteries and veins
wi’ sweeties, crisps and all things fried?
Our hunger never satisfied,
we cry for seconds, even third yins,
despite the pleas of cardiac surgeons.

And pity we the fool who eats a…
saveloy or deep fried pizza,
when there amongst the pies and fish,
resplendent lies our National Dish.
As much a part of Caledonia
As midgies, rickets and pneumonia.

So all guid Scotsmen, spread the word,
Proclaim the carbohydrate turd.
And from the land of kilts & cabers,
go forth, evangelise your neighbours.
Cycle near and drive your cars far
All hail, the glorious Deep Fried Mars Bar!

* no reprinting without written permission
or yur heed's aff.


Monday, January 21, 2008

We have a problem, Texas

It's pre-Oscar, pre-Bafta and, er, post Golden Globes time! (you probably didn't notice the latter due to the writers strike) New delights! New movies! Yay!

Charlie Wilson's War, about the Congressman from the Second District of Texas is a January Joy (well, it only opened in the UK last week, so possibly a little more joyous over here than over there where Americans got to see it during the Holidays, before Christmas,)

Now what's not to like about Tom Hanks? Julia Roberts? Phillip Seymour Hoffman? All three and more (Emily Blunt near naked! Ned Beatty! [not naked], Ken Stott as an Israeli (ha!) and Dan Rather with a beard!) in this true fable about the roots of clandestine American support for the Mujahadeen fightback against the Russkies in Afghanistan, whose victory led to the almost immediate fall of Communism and ultimately the creation of Osama Bin Laden's ability to attack from a power base in Afghanistan. ("we fucked up the end game")

One of the best script-edited movies I've seen in a long time - great lines, zingers, jokes, pithy put downs, sexist one-liners, dated references to the Middle East that still resonate and a bottle of Talisker (whisky) that turns out to be bugged - all hail Aaron Sorkin, this gets a full Nationwide four stars. (Out of 5)

It is fabulous. And if you haven't seen it yet then go see it, but don't read the next paragraph because it'll just spoil it all for y'all.

So... let me get this story right (strokes chin and furrows brow). After the Russians invade Afghanistan and lay waste to it's population in the most callous way you can imagine (there's a scene of a helicopter gunship pilot discussing his private relationship while attacking the population of a yet another mountain village) we're supposed to believe that no-one, just no-one, in the CIA, the White House, Congress, and the "clandestine services" can do anything at all until a disconnected playboy congressman from a small district in Texas happens to see a Dan Rather report while in a jacuzzi in Vegas and the takes it upon himself to fight everyone in DC to defeat the Soviets. Why, forgive me folks, I thought that was the CIA's job. I thought they were supposed to be doing that (as the film proves they did quite handsomely - after the apparent intervention of Congressman Charlie).

In fact, if I was the CIA today, I'd fund a movie about what a brilliant job they did in Afghanistan, but being a covert organisation, I'd make it look as if someone else gets all the credit.


Now, from Lufkin to the Rio Grande may not be far geographically ('bout 800 miles across Texas) but cinematically you can't really get much furher, as the Coen Brothers have proved with No Country for Old Men, which has had rave previews for weeks now and yet only opened last week, to yet more rave reviews.

This is the Coen Brothers "back at their peak",the most oft repeated phrase I read last week, in among the rave reviews.

It's a tale of a drug deal gone wrong in West Texas, a chase after the money, and so on (I won't spoil it) fact I can't spoil it because I couldn't understand a frikkin word they were saying.

Now, the sound might have been "muddy" in the cinema (which has never bothered me before) but the truth is that every character speaks low and slow, no lip movement is allowed (despite the fact that I'm sure most of them move their lips while reading the sports pages).

The baddy, the goody, the Sheriff and the others (even Kelly MacDonald who's frikkin Scottish in real life!) all speak in an unhurried Coen Brothers drawl, which is normally fine.

"The Man Who Wasn't There" was on Saturday night TV with a Black and White Billy Bob Thornton muttering at half speed in a Southern drawl and that is a Coen favourite hereabouts!

Tommy Lee Jones - a movie star who seems to have been at his peak for over a decade now - likes the odd mutter - his asides in MIB were priceless - but his entire script must have been marked "sotto vocce" this time.

Only Woody Harrelson's brief appearancec benefitted from clarity. I understood his every word.

No, a second viewing is required for this "brilliant return to form", although I fear the worst. Despite loving the Coen Brothers - really, really, I do, I quote from the Big Lebowski fervently and will never forget either Barton Fink or Albert Finney's hat in Miller's Crossing - I do remember watching Fargo for the first time and being the only person in the cinema who didn't adore it.......


Friday, January 11, 2008

Steppin on the Gas

Zouad floored the pedal and we shot off the top of the sand dune, landing with a bone juddering bang on the steep downward slope, half turning over before he accelerated the four wheel drive monster whose door straps we were clinging onto for dear life and raced skywards again. The French sailors in the car may be used to life on le ocean wave but sand dunes taken at speed were clearly a different matter.
Zouad raced up a steep slope again and zoomed down the other, defying gravity and various other laws of physics. He can do whatever he wants, partly because gas in the Gulf is still only 25p a litre - which they regard as expensive - and partly because he was having fun. And "not showing off". Ha!
I asked Zouad how many times he'd rolled the vehicle - he could just hear me above the sound of French squeaking - and he thought for a moment, counting, before saying "none", laughing out loud and accelerating up another dune.

Top fun, a ziggin and a zaggin across the desert towards base camp where coffee and the shisha would be very welcome. The other trucks were trying to keep up but failing as we rose and fell, slid and sprayed the soft sand in our wake. The camels on the farm stared motionless as we shot through, aiming for the firelight in the distance. It grew larger, brighter, warmer. We won. We got the first coffees and the freshest kebabs. Huzzah!


Last night's shisha was grape, tonight's (in the desert) would be apple. I discovered some time later that while I was puffing away a man was stabbing his wife to death just a few hundred yards away but none of us knew. We were in one of the scruffiest towns in the region where rents are low(ish) and immigrant workers like nothing better than to sit outside and talk over a smoke, a strong coffee and watch some TV. The screen, about twelve foot high, was rolled down the wall from it's cover. A young 'technician' on the roof (twelve floors up) threw down a cable which he'd attached to one of the many satellite dishes up there and we were off, scrolling through a list of stations that defies comprehension and all, ahem, for free. Apparently they watch football most nights (the European Champions League being a particular favourite) when the place is packed but tonight it was Morrocan music and dance. A little more sedate but very good all the same, relaxing and - save for the nearby domestic unfolding without our knowledge - all was at peace in a world where money is a rare commodity. The shisha was free, as was the TV, and the coffee, medium strong Turkish with sugar, was pennies. Starbucks will never be the same again.


I sweat and boil in the Middle East, always seeking aircon and drinking gallons of slightly hard bottled water. Not this time. Cool breezes, warm mornings and chilly evenings (a scarf!) are just the ticket. My friends who live here describe it as "cold" so I try to tell them about London in January. They're not listening and in London everyone hates me anyway because they think I'm in sweltering heat.
The only offnote is the arrival of George Bush. Good luck Dubya, trying to say all the right things to everyone. The Gulf News splashed an open letter across the top of Page One laying into him for his record on human rights, his warmongering and his stalwart defence of Israel. Others were more moderate in their critique as everyone wants peace and nobody wants to stem the flow of goodwill towards it.
But it is slightly embarrassing as a westerner to watch the Prez of the USA step up to the mike, where the translation system isn't working, and in response to a joke about doing it in Arabic, crack that he couldn't even talk in English properly, as if he's now laughing at his own caricature. It wasn't funny, it wasn't an ice breaker, it was just plain idiotic.
All together now, "He's got the whole world, in his hands, he's got the whole..."
No, on second thoughts, don't bother.