Friday, September 26, 2008

26 September 2008: Sentamu

Meant to mention this earlier in the week (ie when it was news) but didn't have time given the pressures of creating training materials for URM, along with the continued excitement of Plymouth Argyle's winning streak (now standing at 2 (two) games) and my dad jeopardising his forthcoming visit to Kokomo by developing a kidney stone. Anyway, here it is now...

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, made a speech to a bunch of bankers telling them that the City was populated with "bank robbers and asset strippers". Naturally, the beardy one joined in with his own condemnation (also reported in that first link) and that was that, cat firmly among the pigeons.

The reactions were unsurprisingly unsurprising. The BBC did a 'Have Your Say' page about it where ordinary web folk largely called the C of E hypocritical when for hundreds of years it sold pew season tickets, 'prime' burial spots in the crypt and the like, and even now 'it' has lots of money (although remember, there's not much of an 'it', each church is technically independent and legally even the building is 'owned' by whomever happens to have the keys, usually the vicar). The Financial Times chimed in, saying the bishops don't know what they're talking about and that short selling is a darn fine thing, don't ya know. And so the debate raged for, ooo, minutes, until the media started talking about the bail-out thing over here in the US instead.

But the thing that interested me most was a statement Sentamu made towards the bottom of the article:

"One of the ironies about this financial crisis is that it makes action on poverty look utterly achievable. It would cost $5bn (£2.7bn) to save six million children's lives. World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they tell us that action for the poorest is too expensive?"


And while fiscal experts and free-market debaters continue to discuss the relative importance of a stable economic climate (the standard response to such a statement), Sentamu's stance rings true on two levels: firstly, at a 'mood of the people' level, average folks who aren't part of the system but who are currently struggling to buy rice or sell a house are going to say 'hm, he's got a point', even though their personal struggles will take priority; secondly, we remember events like Live8 and the ONE campaign when we learned that there is an issue out there of unpayable third-world debt, where those debts simply now serve as a means of controlling the poorest countries and building what still amounts to little more than slave labour. Governments talk the talk and walk a little walk often - the usual 'it's complex but tell ya what, we'll double our aid to fifteen quid a year' . But then this happens and you go 'oh, so they do have lots of money', and no matter how much debate comes up as to context, the figures that Sentamu gives just look flat-out awful.

Of course, I'm a little biased. John Sentamu was the Bishop of Stepney (technically the boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Islington) when I was living in London and doing the Anglican thing at various churches. From time to time he'd show up in his blue Beetle car, huge smile, and he'd thoroughly enjoy doing the bishopy-thing at any service where he was present. He'd jump in the air and stand on pews to ensure that people in the gallery would get sprinkled with the holy water shaker thing he had, and he'd preach sermons that were somehow both relevant and timeless. He was famous for putting his reputation where his mouth was - he had a major role in the Stephen Lawrence enquiry - and it was no surprise when he was promoted first to oversee Birmingham and then to the second-highest episcopal post in the country, Archbishop of York, from where he has the position to say what needs to be said without the 'need to please everyone' demand of the Canterbury position.

Most of all, I liked the fact that he actually remembered me whenever he'd show up - he'd ask about my forthcoming round-the-world trip or how the music was going. He expressed surprise once on seeing me at St Stephen's up in Canonbury, given that he'd previously known me from a couple of other churches down in Hoxton (where he'd often voice support for Len's work doing all those jumble sales). He always seemed to be a very genuine, passionate man who cared a lot about the people - and their issues - in a rough part of London.

And is he qualified to talk on big matters? Well, let's not forget he's actually Dr John Sentamu, holding three degrees including a PhD from Cambridge, and before that he was a High Court lawyer in his native Uganda, where he was imprisoned and beaten for being willing to stand up to Idi Amin, before fleeing to the UK. He was a parish vicar and canon - actually based in Brixton at the same time as my dad was running the Methodist church down there - and he's been willing to jump out of a plane at 13,000 ft to raise funds for soldiers injured in Afghanistan. So he's been around, and has a little wisdom to match the passion he likes to show, so at the very least he's worth a listen. Whether anything happens as a result is, of course, another question entirely.

Meantime Rob tells me he's started blogging again, and actually got his version of this story up a couple of days ago. Sigh. On the upside, it's meant I've discovered that Casting Crowns are going to put out a Christmas album and Ubuntu is the new Fedora. Now, what odds can I get on Rob becoming Archbishop of York one day...?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

21 September 2008: Irish

OK, so we're not really Irish. Still, the it was worth the trip down to Indy for their 13th Annual Irish Festival yesterday, just to get a little flavour of home-ish, and to see how many people in Indiana really do think they're Irish.

The idea is simple enough: it seems that plenty of people in Indiana are Irish (for this read: 'have Irish ancestry at some point if you go back a few generations'), so the town holds a festival every year to allow these folks to discover their roots a little through buying green tee-shirts, browsing family name history books and eating authentic Irish food provided by the town's Irish pubs (typical menu items yesterday included barbecue pork and burgers, with occasional yet honourable mentions of 'bangers and mash', 'Irish stew' (which was very nice) and 'scotch eggs' that did look, actually, like scotch eggs).

Of course, Guiness and even a little Bushmills (not single malt, just the regular blended stuff) was present for those enjoying a tipple, and there was even a demonstration by the Indianapolis Hurling team (which actually showed a little more skill than I remember seeing when I used to occasionally watch the stuff on Setanta back when it was known for showing GAA rather than poorly-audienced England games). There was a rugby tournament taking place somewhere, although we never found it, and naturally we found an importer man selling Rowntree's, Cadbury's and the like for two dollars a packet (standard price for Fruit Gums in the US import stores: $1.25). However, at least he was actually from Ireland.

The highlight of the day, of course, was the music. While there were many bands, all playing various reels and versions of 'Whiskey In The Jar' (not the Thin Lizzy version), our favourites were 'The Irish Airs', a four-piece led by a gentleman from Galway who kept asking us to shout out requests for songs, which he always responded by refusing to play for some reason or another. Still, the songs were authentic (apart from one Johnny Cash number towards the end, which I still can't work out) and everyone joined in.

At one point he asked "have we got any Irish people here today?"

About half the audience put there hands up.

The thunder arrived at 2.30pm. We left shortly after and within a short period the rain began lashing down. I don't know how the festival fared after this unexpected interruption, but I as the rain didn't last, I imagine it picked up again and carried on long into the night. We, meanwhile had other business to attend to.

And that business involved effectively closing the chapter of the book of our lives called "trying to locate things from the UK in or around Indiana". As you may have noticed, the vast majority of blogs this year have been about, to a greater or lesser extent, attempting to see what we can and can't find over here in the US. Texas was hit-and-miss, and the hits were generally at Central Market, which is a Texas-only establishment. Since arriving in Hoosier country, we've managed to locate a local supermarket selling British and Irish cheeses, another local supermarket with a small British section (Fruit Gums $1.25), a far-flung import store near Cincinnati selling everything including bacon (imported and frozen) and, as you'll know if you scroll down a couple of blogs, milk of sufficient goodness that you can make clotted cream out of it.

And yet, we were still slightly short on a few items. Our own particular favourite brand of Green Thai curry paste (Jungle Jim's carries a few, but not the one we used to like from Waitrose), good fresh naan bread, decent sausages (Lincolnshire if possible) and (and this one's proved very elusive) a cut of meat known as 'shoulder of lamb'.

Shoulder of lamb is recommended by both myself and Jamie Oliver as the best cut for roasting. Leg is nice, but often not as flavoursome and tender as you can get the shoulder, as it's not so fatty. But try telling that to the local meat suppliers in Kokomo - the couple that do carry lamb will not supply a whole shoulder, although they do sometimes supply it pre-cut into chops for you. The organic sheep farm somewhere in the region will do it, but not as a standard cut, and we haven't had the time or the money to investigate the possibility of buying an entire sheep from them as seems to be the approach you have to take in order to get an un-sliced shoulder.

But yesterday, in we went to Whole Foods down there in Indy, and asked the man if he had a shoulder of lamb.

Sure, he said, and brought it out.

I blinked a couple of times as he weighed it and charged far more money than you'd normally be willing to pay for a shoulder of lamb. Still, you can get it, and that's the point.

Then we walked around the rest of the shop and found our favourite Green Thai curry paste, fresh naan bread, a variety of international cheeses and, as usual amidst the cheese, the legendary imported UHT Clotted Cream, previously only seen at Central Market. At $7.99 for the jar though, it seems substantially cheaper to make it, especially as this Whole Foods also stocked not only Traders Point Creamery fresh milk, but also some locally-produced organic 'heavy whipping cream', which together will make a far better version of clotted cream at less of a price, and still leave milk left over.

So, sausages apart, that closes the book. Our Irish importer dude from the festival did claim to be about to start importing good quality Irish sausages ("five to the pound" and he's talking weight not currency), but frankly given the amount of lamb I just ate for lunch I could probably do without the cholesterol impact of sausages.

The point is this, however: we may indeed be a long way from Waitrose and Uptons, but one way or another, if we really really need something, we can get it.

And that's a comfort. Now, on with our lives...

Monday, September 15, 2008

15 September 2008: The Great Gig In The Sky

Pink Floyd founder member Richard Wright has died, aged 65.

He played at Live8 three years ago, although he was very subdued that day, presumably because Roger Waters was back (they didn't like each other much) and he didn't get a microphone. Still, he went touring with Dave Gilmour a lot in the last few years and always had some interesting chord changes up his sleeve. His earlier stuff - probably most famously 'The Great Gig In The Sky' from Dark Side of the Moon - was always musically very interesting and atmospheric, almost descriptive at times. His more recent output often featured two or three sets of voices singing at once, melding it all to create atmosphere. As much as Gilmour's guitar solos were all about shape, Wright's keyboard, organ, piano and general songwriting were about creating an atmosphere, a landscape on which the others (mainly Gilmour) could paint the foreground. He did some collaboration with Waters, judging by the sleeve notes, but not often and Roger was obviously the better, more talented songwriter. Wright was probably more of a composer.

Anyway, so two years after Syd departs, now Rick heads off to his gig in the sky. I liked his stuff more than I realised for a long time - kind of like George Harrison's stuff with the Beatles, although without the Buddhist overtones. And his collaborations with Gilmour on The Division Bell are still, in my opinion, highly underrated.

Hmm, maybe I can find that old Nurofen advert on YouTube...

Postscript: Found it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

13 September 2008: Clotted

Doesn't feel like Devon here really. Possibly because it isn't.

The TV is on the 'Weather Channel' right now, as they continue their thoroughly excited coverage of hurricane Ike, complete with flashy graphics and waterproofed-up meteorologists getting blown over in Houston. The projected track of Ike, interestingly, has it turning north-eastward fairly rapidly and making a beeline for Kokomo, where it's expected to arrive sometime Sunday evening. Of course,by that stage it'll be little more than a heavy shower, having been tracking across Missouri and Illinois for several hours and become thoroughly bored in the process. Probably won't even match the thunderstorm we had last night.

Still, it's different from Devon. Saturday morning here, yet only an hour (from when I write this) until Plymouth Argyle are playing. And that means, give or take the somewhat immediate need to return the rental car, that I'll be heading to the Pasoti chat room to keep up with the Norwich game and find out how the new players are doing. And, of course, discuss with other Plymouth exiles (usually located in Ottawa, North Carolina and New Zealand) the fact that you can't get decent pasties and clotted cream in such places, unless you go to Texas and visit Central Market. And so, you have to make these things yourself.

As readers with bovine interests might recall, earlier this year we discovered a local-ish farm that specialises in Swiss dairy cows, feeding them nothing but organic grass and allowing anyone to view the entire process, from grazing through to buying the cream-rich minimally-pasteurized and, importantly, non-homogenized milk in their shop. So, Gloria dropped in there and got about four pints.

And then we (well, to be precise, Gloria did almost all of it...) made clotted cream.

And now, thanks to reading this blog, so can you. Here's how you do it:

  1. Go to Traderspoint and buy some cream-rich milk. OK, you may not be living near Indianapolis. Umm... well, if you're in the UK, go to Sainsbury or Waitrose etc and buy some Gold Top milk. All the biggies stock it. Of course, they also all stock clotted cream, but that's beside the point. Otherwise, just get the best, richest milk you can. It's hard in the US to find milk that hasn't been homogenized, but look hard and try the organic shops. Jersey or Guernsey cow milk is traditionally the best, however we found that Swiss cow milk is very good too.
  2. Also buy - and here's part of the key - some cream. Double cream in the UK, heavy whipping cream in the US. Again, get the best you can, but cream isn't homogenized so it's less of an issue. This boosts the cream amount of the mix, and keeps the price down.
  3. Put the milk in a bowl. Add the cream. How much? Well, we used roughly a 1:4 ratio of cream:milk, but with better, richer milk you probably need less cream.
  4. Put the bowl the fridge for 12 hours. We did this bit overnight. Then...
  5. Several ways to do the next bit, but here's what we did and it worked: put the milk bowl over a pot containing warm water. The water must be warm but not boiling - our hob involved putting it on a setting between 'low' and '2' (doesn't have a '1', just like TV channels over here - I guess they don't like that number in this country). The milk must get warm but not boil.
  6. After about an hour and a half, the top will get crusty and, in our case, slightly cracked. This is because the cream is being pushed to the top by the heat. To me, it seemed a little thin, but then we got much more cream than I thought we would so don't worry if it seems very little. The longer you leave it, the better: we did three or four hours in the end for this stage.
  7. When you're bored with the waiting, prepare a tray of ice water. Cold cold cold. Put the milk bowl into the ice water. Leave it for a couple of minutes, so it cools. Then, as soon as it's cool enough, put the bowl back in the fridge. As before, leave it for a while - a few hours was sufficient for us.
  8. Skim off the clotted cream from the top using a big spoon. Put it in a bowl (see photo at top of page). If a little liquid comes with it, that's good, it will be soaked up into the cream. Bowl into fridge again, just to firm up, then make your scones, get out the triple berry jam and off you go.

So that's it - you can make your own clotted cream. It's a little expensive because of the quality of the milk you need, but it's still - generally - cheaper than buying it, even in the UK, because of the amount you get (we got the equivalent of one of those big tubs from Langage and that was just using two pints of milk).

And what to do with the whey - the left-over milk in the bowl? Well, whatever you want: effectively, what you've now got is reasonably skimmed milk. So, have it on your cereal, cook with it, whatever you like. The Rodda people dry it and sell it as skim-milk powder: in fact, I read that the majority of skim-milk powder in the UK comes from clotted cream production.

And the key question: was it any good? Oh yes!

Now, let's see how Argyle are going to do today...

Postscript: Let's not see how Argyle did today.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

11 September 2008: Theo

Becky requests more blogs.


Actually, the issue tends to be a lack of desire to hunker down over a keyboard at the beginning or end of an on-site day. And there have been several of those recently - indeed I write this from a hotel in Cincinnati, coming to the end of another couple of weeks in Ohio. But partly as a result of Becky's request, and partly as a result of the result against Croatia, it's time to blog again. And hopefully - and I make no higher commitment than that - it will be able to become a regular item again.

So what to talk about? There's the US election, which continues to bemuse me although I'm getting pretty bored of it all (it's rapidly turning into a sports fan contest). Still, there's a blog in there about the relative and absolute political spectra: a wise professor at Southampton Uni once told me, as a long-haired (ha!) politics undergrad, that the UK Conservative party exists at about the same place on the political spectrum as the US Democratic party. Yes, you read that correctly. Listen to some of Obama's policies: Cameron, Major and in many cases even Thatcher would approve. It's interesting, to say the least.

Or how about the latest Argyle signings? A Belgian international?! Mpenza will make his debut against Norwich on the weekend and by the sounds of it, season ticket sales have re-taken off despite the season already being underway. Let's hope it's not another Rufus Brevett moment. Or Taribo West. Or (gulp) Peter Swan.

Hurricane Ike? About to hit Texas, it's become enormous (700 miles wide) rather than powerful, which is a good thing if you live in Galveston but less good if you live in the wider vicinity. Still, oil prices are still hovering around a hundred dollars a barrel without spiking, and the dollar continues to strengthen against the pound... the dollar-converter says 1.7559, down from two dollars about six weeks ago. Which is good news for me and bad news for anyone reading this in the UK who wants to come and visit our ridiculous apartment.

And then there's clotted cream, Willow Creek, Saints continuing to hemorrhage a million a month and Lance Armstrong coming out of retirement to raise cancer awareness. So many choices (unlike the number of TV channels offered by the hotel of the week) but there's only one word I need to mention, really.


If you don't know who Theo is, read this. Actually, if you don't know who Theo is, that probably won't mean much to you either. Sufficed to say, many commentators are today offering variations on the following statement:
"Well, that's the end of David Beckham's international career."

First saw Theo for the Saints reserves against Eastleigh in pre-season over four years ago. He came on during the second half, around the time that Neil McCan't and Kenwyne Jones (playing in midfield, of course!) were tiring. This little fifteen-year-old came on to the pitch, playing right wing, immensely quick and keen to run the Eastleigh defence ragged (Eastleigh keeper Wayne Shaw was too busy being chubby to notice). The buzz went around the small crowd: "Who is this guy?" He's too small to be Nathan Dyer." "Theo Who?" "Well, he's quicker than Telfer."

Saints went down that season, and Theo didn't play. Come the following season, first game of the year, he was in the team against Wolves (I think it was Wolves? Kev - correct me if I'm wrong). And he was quick, he was skillful, but we've seen that before: Nathan Dyer was already doing that and was two years older. Plenty of pointless wingers have come and gone and we've barely noticed, and that's because they did the following:

Get ball on halfway line from lazy right-back. Run very fast at opposition left-back. Fake inside, go outside. Head towards corner flag. Have opposition left-back and central defender rapidly close in. Attempt skillful Cruyff-type move. End up on ground or, frequently, in row AA.

Saw it coming a mile off with Theo. He got the ball, ran wildly at the opposition defence, headed for the corner flag, in came not two but three defenders, big crush in the corner... and suddenly, brilliantly, out came Theo from the melee with the ball, which he proceeded to cross in for Leon Best or someone to hopelessly screw up a relatively good chance.

Buzz around the ground: "Didn't know he could do that." "Better than Prutton." "Saw him play at Eastleigh once, you know."

Over the weeks that followed, Theo started scoring, continued to run defences ragged and sometimes produced fairly crazy bits of skill that made people wonder not whether he would make it as a professional, but which Premiership giant would come in and snap him up, and how much Saints would get for him. Saw him against Plymouth Argyle with Gloria and my mum present and I remember pointing him out in the warm-up and saying "the little guy there is the best young player I've ever seen in twenty-odd years of watching football. He's even better than Garry Monk. He'll play for England, no question."

So, Arsenal bought him, and I think I remember a news story about Saints recently re-negotiating the deal for cash-now-and-fewer-appearance-based-fees-later. Still, twelve-point-five-million looks pretty much a bargain for a player who is now the youngest ever player to score a hat-trick for England. He's good - the comparison generally given is Thierry Henry, although I think Theo may be a more natural finisher - and he's getting better.

And it's pretty sudden: he played on Saturday (saw it on the internet, and he did pretty well) but at the full-time whistle yesterday I did a Google news search on 'Theo Walcott' and came up with about three thousand hits. As I write this - 24 hours later - I do the same search and the number is 7, 257.

So, whether he has the skill and ability to prove that his game is more than just pace (Tony Daley never quite became what he should have become, did he?) is a question that can only be answered by time. But it's fair to say he's energised the England football world rather like Sarah Palin (who?) seems to be shaking up the election over here.

Difference is, she's not scored a hat-trick for Alaska, has she?