Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mr Oliver, Will You Offer Some More?

I know that people think they know what you're doing, Mr Jamie Oliver, and I'm pretty sure that you think think you know it too, but I'm not sure that you've ever sat to one side to think
about what you're doing with food and what you feed into the minds of people who follow you. Yesterday morning I saw you with a knob of celeriac in your hand. I believe you were making some kind of salad with it. You said (words to the effect) that it was too much bother to peel it finely, so you took a sharp knife to cut the skin off in slices, in the process leaving convex lenses of celeriac flesh lying on your work bench, all neatly coated with skin.

As a child, Mr Oliver, I can remember my mother opening the pedal bin to inspect the potato, apple and carrot peelings. Nothing was usually said, but if she found more than two or three  slitherets of vegetable flesh adhering to the skin, she would summon the scullery maid, and I have only a brief memory of one girl who made the same mistake twice. A shame, because she had such a lovely character.

We were brought up  to be very conscious of food waste, the value of food, and the efforts which people make to bring it to our table. Mr Oliver and his ilk however, seem to trivialise it, belittling the food which brings them light and life, thereby turning the entire subject into a comedy. He likes to whack it, bung it, wham it, sling it and then 'drizzle' oils and dressings over his creations. He draws twirls, twists and shapes it upon his plate and presents it more as a picture than a plate of honest tucker to fill you up and send you on your way.

Whether you want to hear it or not, he effuses about all the spices and flavours intermingling in his marinades, whereas in my day the judgment of the food was left to us. We were plate-fed dishes of food which we could spoon or fork into our mouths as we wished, at our own rate. As we ate our meal, cook would not also indoctrinate us with vacuous notions about what was going on within the dish before we ourselves had a chance to decide what we thought of the meal, and whether we wanted to know more. Satisfied silence gave her all the comfort she required.

Which would you rather have? To be presented with a dainty little picture on a plate and fed a lecture about what you might discover if you ate it, or given the meal to enjoy at your own rate, while cook stepped back to see if you were enjoying it? Supposing the eater were to show delight and end up asking you what had gone into it, and how you prepared it? Did you make the soup this morning, or did you do it the previous evening and left it all gel together in the fridge overnight? Did you fry the spices first and then grind them, or perhaps you ground them briefly before crushing them  between stones before frying? Perhaps you put them in a muslin cloth and twisted them like washing from a boiler tub, squeezing out the juices between the pores of the cloth? And if you did that, what did you do with the remaining pithy pulp?

    Mr Jamie and his kith and kin are young, too young perhaps, to remember hardship, scarcity and need. Yet as surely as the sun will rise upon the morrow morn, so also will those hard times visit us again. I wonder if Mr Oliver, with his slapdash sling-it, bung-it, whack it attitude, has made plans for those times, if not for his own sake, at least for the sake of others whom he feeds.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Who Vadis, Mr Rathbone?

Inherited Danger (The Dawning of Power, #2)Inherited Danger by Brian Rathbone

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I keep on thinking that there must be different ways to write a review Of late I've  been reading a slew of books, then taking a ½ day breather before moving onto the next one. Reading interests me much more than the chore of writing about what I've read and besides, I think a book's spell lasts better if you don't keep on about it too much. You want to bask and submit yourself without communicating it all. So I've been reading the first volume of trilogies, and then leaving them well alone. After a while I'll recap on what I've read before asking myself what I thought about it all in retrospect, and whether I want to read further.
One such first volume was The Call of the Herald by Brian Rathbone.

After The Call of The Herald had been finished I thought well yes, It's OKay. The question for me, of course, is will it stay in mind? And that is something which only time can tell. Sometimes you really enjoy a volume "at the time", but in retrospect it can go flat. Sometimes it does well in holding itself together as time progresses, and sometimes is grows and grows, until the ineluctable force pulls you back to itself again.

The Call of the Herald
didn't do that for me, but I did enjoy the character of Catrin, the dirty grubby farm-girl who got herself into trouble with the Mr Bumble of a teacher; a nasty boy makes trouble, and Catrin is blamed and expelled from school where she ends up getting herself into even more bother. Plastered in horse-shit, things are never Catrin's fault, but she always gets the blame. However her foot may always be planted in the squish of the barn yard, but her spirit connects with the stars when she finds that the presence of comets triggers magnificent powers within her being, slapping down injustice and righting wrongs.
In Inherited Danger, the story continues. It's taken new twists and turns and our fondness for most of the characters in the first volume usually deepens. One thing however which annoys me in Rathbone (or indeed any writer) is when a negative factor occurs at the beginning of a sentence and the problem is all wrapped up by the time it's reached the full stop. "He didn't appear happy about her outbursts, but he supported her nonetheless." is a good example of this. After all, at this stage we are used to wildcat Catrin's explosive bursts of temper, and we're used to the presence of moderating Benjin too. It could have been reworked a whole load better, I feel. Faux pas-ey things like "You're eyes are better than mine" show a sloppiness and lack of care, and I had the distinct feeling that the author was concentrating too much on the feedback from his audience and being wowed by people "liking" stuff than in attending to the material he was writing.
This, I feel, is the fork in the road for Mr Rathbone. To the left is the road which follows the fans, and to the right is the desire to devote himself to the characters in the story, and to let the narrative breathe through the pores of his skin. I feel the author has strolled a few yards into the left way and is being looked after well there. He's fed and rested and he has good company. On the other path the terrain is bleaker and full of loneliness if he selects the right-hand path, where the number of fickle fans has thinned out. This is where the ones remaining assess the situation, as they watch the writing mature and it's in this group that the author may have future supporters. The mettle of the readers is tested here, and the author needs to try to avoid sentences where a problem is introduced at the beginning and ended with the full stop. He also needs to develop some of his characters a little more before he throws them away, but I think and hope he can do it.

    Having read volumes I and II for free, I'm very happy to go to pay for the third because I want to find out what happens through the actions of our heroine  Catrin and I could easily fall in love with the newly-named spirit called Prios; whether her impulses land her back in horse manure she grew up shovelling, or if the same dung will be used to make enough bio-gas to mount her on her steed and gallop with authority into the fray remains to be seen.

NB: Under the old system, this book might have acquired four stars. Under the new it's three, and it's just about clambered up to that position. The reason for this is that it's been cast into shadow by another book, in the same genre which whispered its way onto my reading device, which towers like a colossus over my life. The more I enter its world, the more two-dimensional the present one seems to be. The Dawning of Power series needs to look to its laurels.

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

My First Dip into Dame Stella

Rip Tide (Liz Carlyle, #6)Rip Tide by Stella Rimington

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

74% of the way through.
It’s a thriller.
It’s crisply and reasonably well-written, if not brilliant. However, the main thing is that it’s holding my interest. It’s held me most of the way, but it did go slightly soggy at about the 60% mark. However, if this were a cake, the middle would be ever-so-slightly soft. It had faint memories of being allowed to scrape one’s finger round the inside of Mum’s mixing bowl before the placed the cake in the oven. In the days when it was OK to do that, even though you were dutifully told not to do it because it might give you worms. Things never were the same after Edwina Currie told us we were no longer allowed to enjoy eating our soft-boiled eggs.
At three quarters of the way through, Miss Rimington’s cake is packed with interest, soft fruit on the inside, yet the almonds are baked to perfection.

If this story were a real cake, or even a good meal, I’d be thinking that I could happily go on doing this for ever, so it’s 5-stars up to here, for no particular reason which is usually the best reason I can give for enjoying anything. Unfortunately though, novels like cakes and tuck-in meals can leave you with the feeling that you never want it to darken your doorstep again.

I’d been putting off the reading of this because I have always felt that Ms Rimington is far too big for her boots, but I now feel that her boots may have grown. Her cake has the contrasts in it which I like. Sweet and sour, savoury and mellow, and it manages to achieve this without adding to much fat, so it’s great for my figure too. By this I mean the tensions between Liz Carlyle and the MI6 man Geoffrey Fane, whom I could quite happily floor even when I’m in a good mood. The Muslim—Western tensions work well for me too because there’s also a good dollop of affection, love and admiration.

It’s time to stop now, and read the book to the end now that I’ve taken my breather. After finishing it I’ll look back to see if my thoughts are still the same. Ms Rimington’s four stars are assured. I wonder whether she can hold on to her five?

24/05/12   06:18:10 AM

     It’s finished. Certainly it was very exciting, and it held my interest pretty well. It only went slightly gooey in the centre and I was nowhere near in any danger of getting bogged down (For example, I’ve been stuck somewhere in the middle of Wilkie Collins’ The Black Robe for far longer than I care to remember.) For sure this is not Victorian Stodge where people worry themselves sick purportedly over the issue of conversion to Roman Catholicism. Certainly I feel I’ve become re-attached to reading a good thriller.
     I can’t stand straggly loose ends to a story, and for sure Ms Rimington has done a good job of tidying up the narrative with string, knots and ribbons, and that for me is where I slightly whinge the other way. It’s all a bit too neat and tidy, parcelled up and packed away and somehow I really can’t buy such a pretty ending when the plot involves al-Qaeda.

About 80% through any novel I begin to feel sad that the world in which I’d made my home is coming to an end. It’s here that I begin to cast my eye around to see what’s going to be next.  I’ve picked on one of those books which gives a warning that if I read it it will change my life forever. I could say the same thing about reaching the end of any day.

But to return to Rip Tide: yes, it’s certainly enjoyable, even if a bit tidy and prissy. It didn’t quite live up to to my expectations, but there again, most books don’t. It’s OK, and I’d always be ready to dive into another of Liz Carlyle’s adventures.

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