Saturday 29 September 2012

The Long Man of Wilmington is a prick


If I went out and broke my bloody back digging out a huge great big long man-shaped trough in a hillside and then filling it with limestone, frankly I'd expect the rozzers to catch me in the act and gently dissuade me from continuing by the means of a swift kick in the knackers. Even if I were able to finish it, I imagine that the National Trust or some other group of beardy people to say outraged things on the breakfast news and fix the damage to their hill - A HILL! - as soon as possible.

However, if I somehow managed to carve a 200-foot tall figure in the side of the hill and no-one kicked me in the spuds or noticed for about a thousand years, this piece of gibbering insanity becomes heritage and art and important. I understand this point of view. Heritage is a very important thing and should be protected.

This is not to say that the Long Man of Wilmington isn't a cunt. Because he is. I'll say it again. The Long Man of Wilmington is a cunt. Always has been and always will be. It hurts me to say it because Sussex Pride Should Never Be Denied. It's a bit of a stinger that the UK's finest county is also home to its lousiest hillside figure.

The Long Man of Wilmington: dreary

The UK, a global leader in heritage after all, only actually has two such human figures. To be honest, that's for the best. If there was shit drawn on every hill they'd start to lose their impact. There's the Long Man of Wilmington in East Sussex and the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset.

the Cerne Abbas Giant: hung

And therein lies the problem. Every day, a million conversations about the Long Man of Wilmington run thusly:

"I saw the Long Man of Wilmington yesterday."
"Oh yes?"
"Eh, you could have your eye out on that, eh? eh? Lads? Am I right? Cor."
"Ah no, that's the other one."
"No, the Long Man of Wilmington is the one who just stands there holding two walking sticks."
"Yeah, it's the Cerne Abbas Giant you're thinking of, with the knobbly club and the love truncheon and the face and the nipples and the awesome."
"Yeah. The Long Man of Wilmington is just a cunt."

Global heritage sites shouldn't be this disappointing. It'd be like finding out that the Taj Mahal is made of Lego. I'm clearly not the only person to have felt this way. On the night of 17th June 2010, someone painted a 20-foot high phallus on the Long Man. This is by turns a disgraceful act of vandalism and a desecration of a world-famous historical site but also a brilliant thing to do. Such acts of wanton brazenness should, of course, be frowned-upon and discouraged but when they are just done with the line marker from a sports stadium (as was the case) and no permanent damage was done, we should probably try to retain some sense of perspective and sense of humour about it. Heritage is only worth anything if it helps to shape and inform the present. Plus, it gave a million conversations a moment of blessed respite.

The Long Man of Wilmington, June 2010: like a baby's arm

"I saw the Long Man of Wilmington yesterday."
"Oh yes?"
"Eh, you could have your eye out on that, eh? eh? Lads? Am I right? Cor."
"Yes, some cunt's drawn a massive boner on it."
"God, what a cunt."
"Funny though."
"Shall we go and see it?"

Sunday 16 September 2012

The America Project - New Hampshire

New Hampshire (NH) size 9,350 sq.m population 1.3 million

Bordering states Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine (3)
State capital Concord
Most populous city Manchester
Other notable places Berlin, Claremont, Franklin, Rochester, Dover
Notable landmarks and natural features Presidential Range mountains, Canterbury Shaker Village, Lake Winnipesaukee, Strawbery Banke
Statehood 21st June 1788 (9th)

Ten famous Granite Staters
Brooke Astor (socialite and philanthropist; born Portsmouth, 1902-2007)
Dan Brown (author; born Exeter, 1964 -)
Eliza Coupe (actress; born Plymouth, 1981 -)
Paul Michael Levesque (aka Triple H) (professional wrestler; born Nashua, 1969 -)
Bode Miller (skiier; born Easton, 1977 -)
Mandy Moore (actress and singer; born Nashua, 1984 -)
Herman Webster Mudgett (aka Dr. H.H. Holmes) (serial killer; born Gilmanton, 1861-1896)
Franklin Pierce (politician, 14th President of the USA; born Hillsborough, 1804-1869)
Sarah Silverman (comedian and actress; born Bedford, 1970 -)
Earl Tupper (chemist and inventor; born Berlin, 1907-1983)

Three important events

1. New England Hurricane, 21st September 1938

The first hurricane to strike New England in almost 70 years, the New England hurricane of 1938 was a category 3 storm by the time it made landfall in Long Island. Virtually every eastern seaboard State was affected by the storm, and whilst New Hampshire got off lightest in terms of total rainfall, the hurricane destroyed ten bridges in Peterborough and sparked several fires which burned out of control downtown as floodwater prevented firefighting efforts. In total, 13 people died in New Hampshire alone.

2. The Shaggs, 1968

In Fremont, NH there's not a lot going on, so when the mother of sisters Dot, Helen, Betty and Rachel Wiggin had a vision that her daughters were set for global stardom, their father Austin Wiggin knew exactly what to do. This represents the last stage in this story when anyone knew what to do, as the four sisters then formed an unforgettable pop group at Austin's insistence. With Austin's investment, the sisters wrote and played their own songs, culminating in the monumental studio album Philosophy of the World, released in March 1969. The band's unique approach to lyrical construction and sonic structure bewildered a world and the album proved to be their only record. The Shaggs continued to be a popular live act in New Hampshire until Austin's death in 1975 freed them, and everyone, to do other things with their time. Frank Zappa called The Shaggs "better than The Beatles", although thus far he is the only person to do so.

3. Old Man of the Mountain, 3rd May 2003

Like on my curtains, if you looked at Cannon Mountain in the New Hampshire White Mountains from a certain angle you could very clearly see a face in profile. This craggy old rock bastard became known as the Old Man of the Mountains and was quite the local and national celebrity. His image eventually appeared on coins and postage stamps. But as it always must to granite OAPs, death came to the Old Man of the Mountain in May 2003, as generations of freezing and thawing, wind, rain, sun and snow finally saw him collapse. Although he was in fact a big pile of rocks, floral tributes were left at the site. Which was a big pile of rocks.

Saturday 15 September 2012

My day in someone else's fake kitchen

I could literally watch the television channel Food Network UK all day. The reason I am able to make such a bold statement is that I have literally watched Food Network UK all day. It has crept onto the channels available on Freeview in the past year, first for only a few hours each evening and now, joyously, all day long. It is completely dominating my life and the people on it are filling my every thought.

As usual, I am probably reading too much into everything. There's certainly no need to try and impose some kind of narrative story onto these programmes, filled with hopes, dreams and broken promises. There's probably less CIA involvement than I am imagining. Far less lost love and bitterness. However, as the people who make cookery shows seem hell bent on turning them into aspirational vehicles to sell the virtues of the lifestyle of every new grub pedlar who appears on the TV, I think I'm probably justified in doing so nevertheless. Besides, who's to say that Nigella Lawson ISN'T building a jet camel?

As well as avidly watching some of the familiar names and faces who make daily appearances on the Food Network, I have also discovered three new TV cooks who have made me feel like a schmuck for missing out on their lives for so many years. Through gritted teeth, narrowed eyes and pursed anus, I watch them perform their culinary machinations and grow grimly, obsessively, fascinated by every part of their programmes and of their lives. By this stage, they can't even halve a lemon without me trying to figure out their voting intentions, judging by their words or mannerisms alone.

Guy Fieri is the smiley and ebullient face of the Food Network, albeit a face with an improbably distracting beard. He's a big name in US cookery shows, which makes it all the more unusual that he is so determined to pronounce it "Fietty" in spite of all evidence to the contrary. But for all his fame and success across the Atlantic, there's no ego here: Guy is perfectly happy to let his children, or his wife, or his parents, or his dogs join him on centre stage to make clams. This is unfortunate and one of those excellent, timely demonstrations of the importance of ego. Ego is unfairly maligned.

Guy Fieri: in Team Kale

Another thing that is unfairly maligned, in Guy's eyes at least, is kale. Does Guy ever love kale. Crispy kale. Boiled kale. Steamed kale. Baked kale. Sun-dried kale. Cannon-fired kale. I have never seen an episode of Guy's Big Bite or Guy's Big Bite: Backyard where his meal plan doesn't include at least one kale element. His devotion to kale is almost touching, until you remember that it's as likely as not the result of a deal with a major multinational kale concern. Kaleco Enterprises. A convoy of kale-packed 18-wheel lorries head towards his house every hour of the day or night containing all his gratis kale. His potassium levels must be such that his urine now reacts violently on contact with water. Kale, ladies and gentlemen.

I like Guy Fieri. I like his recipes and his general no-nonsense, flavour-first approach to cooking. I'm far less sold on Kelsey Nixon, the host of Kelsey's Essentials. In every episode of Kelsey's Essentials, our titular star - one of those people who seems to be simultaneously 8 years old and sixty - tells us all about the ESSENTIAL ingredients, tools and techniques that she has laying about her pretend kitchen. Kelsey was a front runner in a Food Network competition to find a new TV chef and so there's every chance that this programme represents the culmination of all her wildest dreams. This alone could express the slightly frenzied look in her eyes. She doesn't so much look at you as see all the cuts of meat marked on your body. Kelsey is magnificently excited to be cooking on television. It troubles me.

Kelsey Nixon: planning what to cook next

But it is at least a straightforward cookery show. Kelsey cooks. Kelsey eats. Kelsey goes home again. Barefoot Contessa is more like a magazine programme for a life you will never, ever have. Barefoot Contessa is presented by Ina Garten, the absurdly wealthy middle-aged wife of an absurdly wealthy unspecified business scion called Jeffrey. Ina lives in The Hamptons surrounded by frighteningly wealthy friends, many of whom pop by during the day to try out a new recipe, perhaps inspired by Ina's recent trip to HyperParis: the Paris that only rich people know about. Then she'll tootle off to a florists to give you some flower arranging tips, apropos of nothing, nothing at all.

Before you know it Ina (she introduces herself on her most recent programme, Barefoot Contessa - Back To Basics, as "I'm the Barefoot Contessa", an act simply bound to earn a chorus of "no you're not" from my end) has been hanging around the kitchen of one of New York's most insanely exclusive restaurants shooting the shit with the head chef and is now back to finish the three course meal inspired by the time she went to space for Jeffrey's tea. Jeffrey looks like a man who'd be happy with sardines on toast and a wank, so a full banquet is always likely to go down well. Until, that is, he realises that all of this gourmet indulgence has come at the expense of that wank.

Ina Garten: considerably richer than you

The thing that really bothers me about Barefoot Contessa is the theme tune. Here is a show where wealthy people with dream lives cook delicious things for other wealthy people with dream lives. The music should just be the opening titles from Duck Tales with maniacal laughter and the unmistakable sounds of unfettered glee. Instead, it is an oddly-threatening electric piano doodle, replete with a building dramatic tension entirely absent from the programme, the food or Geoffrey's post-prandial shit, which comes out like a buttered adder.

I'm completely obsessed with Barefoot Contessa. For weeks I saw it coming up in the schedules and avoided it. More fool me. Ina Garten is a hero for our times.

Sunday 9 September 2012

The America Project - Nevada

Nevada (NV) size 110,567 sq.m population 2.7 million

Bordering states California, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Arizona (5)
State capital Carson City
Most populous city Las Vegas
Other notable places Henderson, Reno, Sunrise Manor, Paradise
Notable landmarks and natural features Las Vegas Strip, Area 51, Mojave Desert, Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe, The Hoover Dam
Statehood 31st October 1864 (36th)

Ten famous Nevadans
Andre Agassi (tennis player; born Las Vegas, 1970 -)
M├Ądchen Amick (actress; born Sparks, 1970 -)
Kurt Busch (racing driver; born Vas Vegas, 1978 -)
Glen Charles (TV writer and producer; born Las Vegas, 1943 -)
Brad Dexter (actor; born Goldfield, 1917-2002)
Brandon Flowers (musician; born Henderson, 1981 -)
Jenna Jameson (actress; born Las Vegas, 1974 -)
Jack Kramer (tennis player; born Las Vegas, 1921-2009)
Patricia Nixon (former First Lady and Second Lady of the USA; born Ely, 1912-1993)
Amanda Righetti (actress; born St. George, Utah (raised in Las Vegas); 1983 -)

Three important events

1. Comstock Lode, 1859

The making of Nevada was the discovery of Comstock Lode, the largest deposit of silver ore in the United States. Discovered by enterprising miners with one of their number, Henry T. P. Comstock, lending it his name, it sparked a predictably frenzied silver rush all across the United States. With the surface pickings quickly exhausted, deep cast mining quickly followed. By 1880, nearly 7 million tons of gold and silver had been extracted from the site, making the State wealthier and more desirable than its largely unfarmable and unpromising dusty surroundings  - Nevada is the driest of the fifty States - would immediately suggest.

2. The Northern Club, 1931

Quite contrary to the self-flagellation which gripped the United States following the stock market crash of 1929, Nevada instead looked to mankind's many delicious vices as a guaranteed source of income.  With unemployment skyrocketing and Prohibition still in place, Nevada legalised gambling in 1931. The first licensed "gaming" venue was Northern Club casino in Las Vegas, guaranteeing financial ruin for generations to come. Nevada has never since gone back on its decision, although gambling remains taboo across much of the country to this day - Nevada remains the only State where casino-based gambling is legal throughout - and the gaming industry accounts for over a third of the Nevada's income. A further boost to Nevada's liberal reputation and its coffers is that it is also the only State with legalised prostitution.

3. The shooting of Tupac Shakur, 7th September 1996

A hugely successful and influential figure in the Hip-Hop music scene, Tupac Shakur was also a key player in the East coast - West coast rap wars of the 1990s, during which the United Kingdom remained neutral. Shakur was from New York City but in Nevada for the Mike Tyson - Bruce Sheldon heavyweight boxing match in Las Vegas. Upon leaving the MGM Grand, Shakur was shot four times in a drive-by assault. He was taken to hospital with mortal wounds to his internal organs. He died 6 days later. When his body was cremated, some of the ashes were mixed with marijuana and smoked by Shakur's group, The Outlawz. Which is the way Chelsea Pensioners do it.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Take you to liver school

Last year I first watched Man v. Food and frankly it changed the way that I thought about eating everything in the entire world. Back then it was still something of an underground hit. Now, everyone in Britain has seen MvF and it is changing the entire country's cholesterol level.

Not least because, off the back of it, I am starting to see pubs and restaurants instituting EATING CHALLENGES of their own. This is terribly exciting stuff. It's taken longer than most American cultural staples to make its journey across the Atlantic, possibly because we still had food rationing from the end of the second world war up until 1998. But now it is here, what will become of us? Best case scenario: we all get hugely fat and happy. Worst case scenario: we become laughing stocks.

Because, frankly, we're very much beginners at this sort of thing and I worry that our efforts will be quaint at best. American tourists will have to start ordering the eating challenges just to get a portion size akin to that of their ordinary breakfast. We'd be literally a side of coleslaw away from a pat on the head and a friendly-if-patronising chuck under the chin.

I find this prospect quite unappealing. After all, the British Empire is the Empire that taught the world all about excess and self-loathing, so our failing to out-eat the colonies would be a humiliating backslide. However, there is still one area in which us plucky Brits can still compete with the best in the world.

Step forward my new television programme idea: Man v. Booze.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Serial killers, day 6: J.R.H. Christie

EDIT: lawks, lots of new visitors today. Hello. Just a reminder that there'll be a new one of these every weekday morning until 9th October.

Monday 3 September 2012

Serial killers, day 5: The Rostov Ripper

EDIT: lawks, lots of new visitors today. Hello. Just a reminder that there'll be a new one of these every weekday morning until 9th October.

Sunday 2 September 2012

Match of the Day problems

There's been far too many blogs and podcasts beating up on Match of the Day in the last few years that it feels like it would be wrong of me to join the chorus. However, I'm going to have to. It was a toss up between that and just going mad and ranting with a recursive impotence at the television every weekend. However, I am pretty good, so I have in fact managed to do both.

I'm not going to focus on some of the problems that other football correspondents and commentators have levelled at the BBC's venerable old football show. Yes, considering the advances in TV technology and social media, the football highlights show has started to feel a bit anachronistic, lumpen and omni-directional. But it does the job and it is, lest we forget, a television institution. We Brits like those. My problem is with the cast of characters.

Back in the day, all you needed to present a football show was a magnificently patterned terylene shirt, a desk with an oddly redundant telephone atop it. Brian Moore would tell us who was playing, then probably also be the commentator on the highlights before popping back to the studio and giving a succinct summary of events without editorialising. The reason that Match of the Day appears so dated is not that it fundamentally follows the same structure that football highlights programmes have always done, but that they felt the need to tart it up. Extra guests, prolonged tactical analysis and needless graphics packages when really all we need is the games and Jimmy Hill.

This blunderbuss of opinion and flapdoodle that BBC1 fires into my face every Saturday night and Sunday morning has left me resigned to the adoption of a number of coping mechanisms. Namely, I have turned it into a soap opera. Every single one of the regular cast are a character, all with their own problems, struggles and burdens. And like their EastEnders counterparts all cramming into the Queen Vic, they are not entirely always in control of whose company they will be in as their storylines develop. Sparks can and will fly.

Gary Lineker is the landlord. He's contractually obliged to be there every week, no matter how bad a seven days it has been or how odious that night's punters are. His strategy is to damn his enemies with faint praise and low-level jibes about their past, but mostly he just farts strangely odour-free platitudes and half-puns into the air where no-one in particular will hear them or care.

Alan Hansen is the most long-standing patron. His seniority means that few will cross him or even make a helpful suggestion about his skincare and moisturisation regime which would stop him from looking like a smoky bacon flavour tortoise. He remembers every single failure and mistake that all of his friends, colleagues and acquaintances have suffered (except for the number of times Alan Shearer kicked someone in the head, oddly) and this makes him a distinctly dangerous competitor.

Mark Lawrenson is the drunk old aunt propped up in the corner, leftover from a wake that took place some time around lunchtime. He's fed up with everything, wishing it could have been him that they had put in the ground but still happy enough to complain endlessly to anyone who will listen, until that great day finally comes. The fact that no-one is listening any more is of supreme disinterest to him as he just runs through his well worn sherry-scented monologue day in, day out.

New blood comes in the form of Lee Dixon and Alan Shearer. There's a little friction between them too, which is always exciting. Alan Shearer is basically Benny from Crossroads, a bungling but largely aimiable village idiot. It's impossible to get too upset by Alan Shearer unless you forget yourself and start to attach any credence to whatever he's spouting. But the sheer amount that he shovels out makes it more and more likely that this will happen, just due to the laws of probability. And this bothers Lee Dixon, who has probably the freshest ideas of the bunch but finds it hardest to get a word in edgewise. Force of personality, rather than intelligence of opinion, is what always prevails in this particular soap opera, which is what makes it so compelling.

That and the ever-present possibility that Alan Shearer might kick someone in the head.


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