Tuesday, January 27, 2009

27 January 2009: You Wotte?

McDougal mentions it doesn't seem long ago we were sat in Clapham watching Saints lose the cup final and Claus somehow not get sent off in the first minute, and he asks what is there about the current Saints team that's different and distinctive, what gives us character?

That team from six years ago had two characteristics in particular - Bridge/Marsden combo on the left, either of whom would cross it in for fatboy to head home, which he did that season with astounding regularity (remember watching it more than once in New Zealand at 4am Sunday mornings); secondly Rory Delap's long throws, which were classed as lower-division rubbish but which we now long for. (As we are now lower-division rubbish). The only thing defining the team now is the financial crisis and Rupert the Bear-with-very-little-brain.

Latest is that Leon Crouch was there last Friday offering a deal that would "get rid of our overdraft" and saying "I wanted to put my money where my mouth was" but Lowe/Wilde said "nah, we're doing ok I think, let's appoint Wotte as manager." Story published today in the oh-so-reliable Daily Echo.

It's sad and scary all at the same time to think about it, but there's no denying: the whole thing could just all come tumbling down at any moment. The fact that the major creditor on the stadium is Barclays doesn't help.

Plan is to take nephew Matt to his first league game on Easter Monday - Saints v Palace. At this rate it'll be an empty stadium, hateful chants against the chairman and a Saints team (made up of people little older than Matt probably) being thrashed 5-0 by the Palace reserves. Matt last weekend went to see Salisbury narrowly lose to Stevenage, and frankly he might do as well to assign his loyalties to the Spire Boys.

Won't be too long before Saints go flying past them on the way down to oblivion.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

23 January 2009: Jan

Jan Poortvliet resigned as Saints boss tonight.

Saints are currently second-bottom of the Championship, having sold all the expensive players (except for Skacel, in whom nobody seems interested), having lost crowd numbers hand-over-fist and having a Chairman who owns less than 6% of the shares. And now they've lost their manager.

No surprise in some ways - he was seen by the fans as a puppet of Chairman Rupert, with Rupes even being rumoured to be picking the teams and attempting to take training. Whatever the truth of those rumours, it's been clear even all the way from Indiana that the players aren't as fit as they should be, nor is there any evidence of patterns of play. You can rely a little on the skill of your best players, but Surman alone isn't going to keep you up and Kelvin Davis can only perform so many brilliant saves in a match. Last season's manager-in-an-impossible-position, Nigel Pearson, managed to do a great deal better partly by having a pattern to the play, a sense of tactics. The word is that there's been little in the way of tactics or even formations the entire season.

There was a "big meeting" on Wednesday when Rupes went down to Staplewood and had a "clear the air" meeting with Jan, the coaches and the players, and afterwards Jan said "oh, ok, we're in a real fight, let's show some passion."

Now he resigned, and seems to be blaming the crowd anger that was displayed towards the end of last week's game. Erm, ok, so why not resign then? Or on Wednesday? Or...

Well, the rumours are that there's more to this than meets the eye. Not sure exactly what, but Leon Crouch (second-largest single shareholder and main anti-Rupert person) was seen hanging around St Mary's today (which is apparently highly unusual), and the rumour of heading into administration during the first week of February refuses to go away. There was some kind of unofficial shareholder meeting tonight I understand, and the Saintsweb forum folks are trying to organise an anti-Rupert march. I haven't fully perused the various discussion threads out there in webland yet tonight - we've been too busy introducing Delia's Sticky Toffee Pudding to some nice Indiana folks - but there's something more going on here than a sudden, random resignation.

One thing is interesting: Rupert has seen ten managers leave when he's been in charge (I think: Souness, Jones, Hoddle, Gray, Strachan, Wigley, Sturrock, 'Arry, then in his second tenure Pearson and now Poortvliet) and none have been "sacked". Whether it's "personal leave", resignations, contracts expiring and not being renewed or just the good old "mutual consent", Rupert has never officially admitted he sacked anyone. (Although Wigley and Sturrock I have no doubt would have words to say about that, were they not bound to non-disclosure agreements). And today he kept that record up. Amazing how he does that.

Of course, in any other business, it would imply everyone leaves because Rupert is a difficult person to work with. Anyway - we'll see what comes up (or in the case of the league table, goes down) and who knows what might happen.

I hear Dick Cheney needs a new job.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

15 January 2008: Cold

Driving to work today (as it's too cold, snowy and icy to cycle), the car told me it was two degrees outside.

As I drove, it changed its mind and told me it was actually minus five. By the time I got to work (about a five minute drive, depending on traffic lights), the car was getting depressed and told me it was minus six. Then I realised it was talking Farenheit, not Celcius. So we were actually talking minus 21 degrees Celcius.

Rick just came into the office and said the temperature was dropping and it's now eleven below. Farenheit. So that'll be minus twenty-four degrees Celcius then.

Weird thing is, the air is so dry and the sun is out, so it doesn't feel that cold unless the wind gets up. Until you're out there more than a couple of minutes...

Weirder thing (maybe) is this: today marks one year, exactly, since we emigrated. If I'd have known we were heading to -24 country, I might have opted to stay in the British January storms.

Postscript: Forecast for tonight is currently -16F. That's -27C. We're rapidly getting towards the point where F and C cross over each other and F numbers start getting bigger than C numbers again.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

13 January 2009: Fat

Nick wisely asks whether lard would not have been a healthier option than shortening. The answer is "probably, but sometimes it depends what we have in the cupboard" and sadly there was no lard in sight, and we haven't yet made it ourselves.

However, news reaches us from Salisbury that nephew Matt, continuing his tradition of taking things a little more literally than the rest of us, has started occasionally having a new side dish for school dinners. As our correspondent puts it:

"Matt has 'fat wedges' at school which are obviously potato but he thought they were literally wedges of fat. Yurg. Has Jamie Oliver done nothing to raise the health level of school dinners?"

Frankly it makes the deep fried bacon thing seem a good idea.

Monday, January 12, 2009

12 January 2009: Pasty

Despite the stomach, throat, nose and head bug that has been recycling around us for a couple of weeks, Gloria declared that Saturday would be Pasty Day.

And who would dare to disagree with such as fine suggestion?

The problem is that Ivor Dewdney's don't deliver to Kokomo, not even the "pasties by post". And Jungle Jim's insist on offering "pasties" in their frozen section that comprise such ingredients as cheese and chicken. So, as with the clotted cream and as will soon be with sausages (if we can find anyone selling belly pork), our 'Pasty Day' options were narrowed to:

1. Move back to England
2. Make it ourselves.

And as England is every bit as frozen as Indiana at the moment, option two was selected.

Dead simple really: the secret (such as there is one) is that the pasty must be sealed, aside from a slit in the top, due to the fact that in effect it's a little pressure cooker in there, as all the ingredients when they go on are raw. So, one of those rare cooking occasions where you don't brown the beef first.

And on the controversial aspects, I'll hereby state for the record the following choices were made:
1. Side crimp.
2. Shortcrust pastry.
3. No turnip/swede.

And I don't care if your long lost auntie did it different, that's the way it's going to be.

Ingredients: Chuck steak, which we ran through the coarse mincer rather than chopping by hand, some fairly finely-cubed potatoes, some onion and then salt and pepper to season. Pastry was made with a combination of margarine and shortening (if you're in the UK and wondering what 'shortening' is, think 'Trex' or that solid block of Crisp'N'Dry you can sometimes get.)

Roll out the pasty in about a eight or nine inch round and stick the mixture over half the circle. We layered it a bit - onion/potato, seasoning, then meat, more seasoning, then rest of potato - but frankly I think you could just mix it all up:

Wet the bottom edge with a small amount of water so that it'll stick when you crimp. Fold the top half over and gently crimp the two sides together so they're sealed. Place them on a baking tray that's either nicely greased or has that handy baking parchment stuff on it. Put a little milk on the top to help it brown, and cut a small slit in there to prevent too much pressure build-up.

Stick them in the oven for a bit. The instructions we followed were a little complex, you can probably just get away with 45-50 mins or so (depending on size) in a medium-hot oven.

When they come out, allow them to stand for a bit because they'll be a little on the warm side. This is the most difficult part because the smell by this stage is fantastic.

Finally, put it on your plate and eat it. Technically a pasty is not a fruit or vegetable and so cannot contribute much to your 'five a day', so make a nice smoothie to have with it, and then you can feel all righteous about what you're doing.

Bleddy marvleous.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

6 January 2008: Scrubs

Season 8 of Scrubs began on ABC tonight.

Watched two back-to-back episodes. Laughed only when Neil Flynn (Janitor) was on screen, although it was a surprise when he was fired by that one out of Friends.

Kind of sad, because it looks the same, the funny sounds between scenes are the same, the actors are the same. But it's rather like Asterix after Goscinny died: same characters, but kind of like they all had amnesia about how they used to be. Even Doctor Cox isn't funny any more. Ted the lawyer remains worth the money, but really... the story progression isn't there, the character progression is soap-ish, even if you view it as a series of stand-alone sketches it fails because they're flat-out not funny. (Hint: end of second episode - shot of rooftop toilet would have been nice touch).

Hold on, I hear you say.

(Go on, say it.)

You continue: isn't that the case with almost everything called 'comedy' on TV these days?

Yes. But the problem is this: Scrubs used to be better. It used to be really, really good - funny and poignant all at the same time, and instantly able to switch from one to the other. It used to have episodes like that one where it began with the statistic "one in three patients entering the hospital die", followed three patients through and at the end, they all died. (OK, it was good when they did it in the show). Or the TCW one. Or that one with Jill Tracy singing "Waiting for my real life to begin" at the end. Or the one where Jordan's brother dies. Or... well, you get the point.

So, this will be the final season. And, sorry to say, it's probably already gone on too long. Just give the Janitor a load more screen time, ok?

Postscript: Was that really an out-take they showed during the closing credits? Wow. Taking the best ideas out of Rush Hour III, huh?

Monday, January 05, 2009

4 January 2008: Who

Who is Matt Smith.

(That's a statement, not a question.)

Presumably it's not the same Matt Smith who sometimes says football cliches on ITV?

As for the reaction? Generally mixed, but what everyone needs to remember is that the most important replacement is not Matt Smith coming in for David Tennant, but Steven Moffat coming in for Russell T Davis. How anyone can have doubts when the writer of 'Silence in the Library', 'Blink' and 'The Empty Child' is coming in amazes me, and here's why: Doctor Who is always about the writing.

Tom Baker was the best partly because of his scarf, partly because of his overacting but mainly because he had writers of the likes of Douglas Adams, Robert Holmes, Bob Baker/Dave Martin and of course Terry Nation doing the Daleks. Colin Baker was universally panned because he didn't have a single story that was at all interesting or, in the case of the 'Trial of a Timelord' series, comprehensible. (Side note: 'The Two Doctors' was Colin Baker's best story, and that's because it was written by Robert Holmes and based on his initial ideas for 'The Five Doctors' from some time previously).

Sylvestor McCoy, conversely, suffered from poor scripts right up until his final series in 1989, when then-script editor Andrew Cartmel suddenly added layers and dimensions to the story arcs that made it the best season in ten years, and led to renewed intrigue and darkness concerning who The Doctor really was. Same actors as the previous two series, same cheap production values and poor sets, but suddenly there was an incredible depth and back-story coming through.

Sadly, though, the BBC had already decided to cancel it and put that series on Monday nights up against Coronation Street on ITV. Shame, because it was really good. Dialogue included the following:

Davros: In the end, Doctor, you are just another Time Lord.
Doctor: Oh Davros… I am far more than just another Time Lord.

Of course, when they decided to cut the series, they also cut those two lines, because they couldn't follow through with the rest of the story arc, where the Doctor was to be revealed as having a very interesting, fragmented, re-woven past. But on reflection, over the years, and as novels and audio plays continued to be produced, the final 1989 series seems to rank up there among the best they ever made, even in the heydays of Pertwee and Baker (T). And it's all because of the writing.

So, David Tennant will have his farewell tour this year, and Steven Moffat can take over in 2010, and Matt Smith shouldn't have to worry about whether the writing is up to scratch or not. He'll do fine.

Frankly, with Moffat at the helm, I could probably do the job myself.

Postscript: Let's not get into the football. Argyle played with a bit of pride but forgot to come out for the first four minutes of the second half; Saints meanwhile were pretty dreadful. Only thing to say on that one is that it's a shame the referee didn't allow a game of football to take place. Man United should be good enough to beat Saints without incorrect sendings off, incorrect offside decisions and incorrect penalty decisions. So why did the referee choose to do that all stuff? Of all the things in football that frustrate me, consistently one-sided refereeing is the greatest.