Tuesday, December 31, 2013


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I dutifully drive up to Fnac this morning to try & find a copy of Julia Holter's Loud City Song. The Wire lists it as album of the year & I (generally) trust their judgment. In any case, as a teacher of literature & media I feel it's incumbent upon me to keep abreast of what's 'going down' in the world of off-piste music. 

I'd taken out Ekstasis some months ago but never found the time to give it a proper chance. However, listening to the first half of Loud City Song will change all that. Maybe it's the right moment (no teaching ... time to unwind ... late December sunlight ... the peculiar sense of endings & beginnings that New Years Eve entails ...) or simply the sheer quality of the music. Whatever - this is a terrific record. Sadly the little booklet is irritatingly printed with poor colour contrasts for track listing and information & the fold out lyrics are in a minuscule font & - to my eyes - blurred. Or perhaps this is the point & in keeping with the shifting layers & merging timbres of the compositions against & within which her disarmingly clear vocals move. 

Digging out the March 2012 feature in The Wire I discover - surprise! - that she has connections with Anne Carson (which explains the poetic nature of the lyrics, the sense of spacing, & the Greek mythological preoccupations). However, there's much more that goes beyond this one particular influence. To my ears, she has more than a little in common with Broadcast & Trish Keenan's writing methods & aesthetic. 

Anyway, I couldn't be happier finding a new voice to lead me in to 2014. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

No claims for authenticity on this recipe but here's tonight's dinner - a Jumbalaya.

1. Brown chicken thighs in olive oil in a large casserole. Remove when browned.

2. Add sliced pieces of chorizo & a thinly sliced onion.

3. Add sliced peppers (R, O, Y, G - as you prefer) & celery. Put the chicken back in.

4. Add garlic.

5. Add rice & coat in the other ingredients.

6. Squeeze in tomato concentrate.

7. Add chicken stock.

8. Add cayenne pepper (according to taste).

9. Bung in the oven at 170 degrees for 55 minutes.

10. Remove from oven. Add prawns (uncooked would be best). Return to oven. Give it another 5 minutes.

11. Remove & serve - you can sprinkle chopped parsley & spring onions for a bit of colour & zing.

12. A gutsy red (Aussie/ S. African) does it justice.

6/10 from E; 7.5 from L. Who cares - we'll eat the rest tomorrow!



Well we managed to get to GU46 & back despite the dire weather warnings for the South East of England. Were this a Shakespeare play, it would be all too obvious - the macrocosm of Nature reflecting the microcosm of human affairs & so how appropriate that 'Dave' should get an earful as he tries a caring photo op walking among the Common People who've not had any electricity since before Christmas. Power cuts - there's a resonant phrase. (Wait for the staggering profits & management bonuses to be announced later in the year by the electricity companies).

Listening to Radio 4 as we drove down to Folkestone there was a glimmering candle of hope as customer after customer complained about the inadequate information - try phoning the 'power provider' & you get either pre-recorded messages or an actual human being telling you they are not, in fact, the company responsible. etc. etc. The labyrinth of ownership & evasive responsibility starts to come into focus. Surely people are beginning to cotton on? (& this was a good one: a spokesperson stating that all the numbers were available in Yellow Pages - so, your phone line is down AND you're in pitch darkness ... now where is that copy of the phone book? ... oops! just fell over the chair ...).

The Big Society strikes again.

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Having been a good boy (mostly) all year I got several interesting presents which should take me well into the New Year:

A collection of essays on Agnes Martin (plus what seem to be good reproductions of notoriously difficult-to-reproduce paintings)
Robert Motherwell Early Collages ('Mallarme's Swan' has to be a key work)
A fat box of Jonas Mekas films on DVD (includes 'Walden')

I had also ordered in advance:

The Practice of Poetry, ed. Behn & Twichell (I particularly like the idea of a 100 card pack 'Universe')
Geoffrey Hill Collected Critical Writings (forbiddingly heavy - in both senses - & probably best to read at intervals to allow time to follow up the names & works each essay throws up in its wake)
Daniel Mendelsohn Waiting for the Barbarians (part of the ongoing modern essay research)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (read this straight through between 10am and 2pm on Christmas Eve. I like it a lot - might even put it on the IB Lang & Lit syllabus)

& picked up a secondhand copy of another Amelie Nothomb - The Character of Rain

& just as I was thinking I'd not had the ritual food-porn Christmas cookery book to salivate over, Mrs Waffle chucks me a copy of Nigel Slater's new volume from her suitcase ("you better have it now as you'd only order it later on Amazon ...") ...



... as usual plenty of useful & straightforward recipes. This time, the very format of the book is part of the pleasure - a squat volume with a pleasing sweet potato orange wrap-round cover. I also like the minimalist three-letter word title in bold lower case. Nice job.

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& while on the topic of food ... we managed another speedy visit to Bob's Seafood caravan on the harbour at Folkestone. No lobster at this time of year but we did get some crab & coquilles St Jacques  & cockles for knock-down prices. Delicious. (Supplies depending on "weather conditions and hangovers" I noticed this time on the side of the shop).

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013




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STOP PRESS: 

Miley Cyrus to play Snow White 
 at the Whitby Pavilion Theatre

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Wishing You All 
Much Merriment 
for 
Christmas 
 & 
The New Year

(let's face it - we need it ...) 

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Friday, December 06, 2013



Renault Clio IV

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So ... pretty much the first time I'm able to see the new car in daylight & here's a picture (suitably cropped to exclude the licence plate which has - sadly - neither an F nor a Z in it. You can't have everything).

Given I have read many reviews of this car before ordering it & since - some of which were useful & others downright misleading - here are my thoughts having driven it for two days. (I'll plagiarise the typical car mag categories). You never know someone might happen by & appreciate another opinion - while certain friends & family might be amused at me (of all people) showing an interest in cars. 

Exterior

I saw this car first in the much-hyped 'Flame Red' along the road from E's piano teacher & it was undeniably eye-catching. I'd never noticed a car with the concealed rear door handle - not that I had noticed much about cars full stop. Neat (& intriguing). I also admired the overall design - the 'sculpted' claims of the brochure are not too far-fetched. Talking things over with the dealer, we reckoned that the full-on red would be a little too mid-life crisis, the yellow & blue better for the South of France, while the black looks great in the showroom but gets dirty the moment it's on the road. Therefore ... good old sober & restrained middle-age grey ("Gris Cassiopeia" sounds so much more enchanting don't you think?).

The hub cap mystery is partially solved - for some reason the factory decided to put on Paradis 15" that belong to the Clio IV Estate rather than the standard Expression options. A bit different & for no extra cost - fine by me. The chrome 'flash' is a surprise - by my reckoning this would have required a further 200 euros as a 'personalisation' choice. Someone was feeling generous over there in Flins. 

At the front you get the big diamond logo (which I like) & the thin beads of LED daylights which give a certain style in addition to security (good combination) while the back is squat & predatory with the small rear window. 

I reckon it looks bloody good. 

Interior

When I took one out on a test drive back in October, I wasn't so impressed with the glossy black door panels & trims. Again, in the catalogue being modelled by glamorous young Parisians it all looks rather chic whereas I have to think more in terms of grubby little fingers, half-eaten sweets & school bags. The sheen would disappear pretty quick. Thus, standard Expression option interior - matt grey - & I don't regret it at all. (To be honest, the higher spec Dynamique tips towards bling.) I bought some Clio mats yesterday & they give it all a lift. So save yourself 500 euros (or more) & play it simple. Less is more, etc.. The seats - also standard - are fine & more stylish & comfortable than photographs suggest. Again, the colour options look tempting but would wear badly I fear. 

I did opt for a leather steering wheel (the basic plastic one looked ugly). It was a good choice - this wheel feels good to the hands, is pleasing to the eye & the black gloss fill is just enough to liven things up. 

Knobs & things

Everything seems to work (hooray!) but I do notice a certain plasticky quality (but then what do you expect - it's not a Bentley). Electric windows require continuous push, the indicator feels a bit stiff but does have a nifty one tap for overtaking. Heating/air conditioning is pretty much standard issue - and efficient. What for some might be a fault for me is a plus: it's all very simple & minimal. 

Music (the really important stuff)

No CD player seemed a major drawback at first & then I realised that you can connect an iPod or use a USB stick. Yes, it means a bit of a hassle transferring files but it does save CD boxes jammed in the door pockets. Sound quality is very good - I don't care what some people are saying about "barely adequate". I've been playing Zappa's 'Guitar' at mid volume & there's no need to go higher. The 'bass reflex' system works for me. 

It's all housed in a central console (again - simple, minimal) & works like an iPad by touch screen. Within the options there's also the Sat Nav which is much better than some reviews suggest. The mobile phone link is fun rather than essential for me - I don't make calls much. The Bluetooth connection is reliable & seems to connect pretty quickly when you get back in. Of course, there's the upmarket option of R-Link but I can't think why I'd be e-mailing or using Apps in a car. Surely you're meant to watch what's on the road ...

The money that might have gone into the decor I put into the Europe maps for the Sat Nav (here in Belgium you just get Benelux). 

Driving

It purrs ... a really nice throaty kind of engine sound. It feels so much more car-like (for want of a better word) than the C3. The much-talked about TCe 3-cylinder petrol engine is more than adequate for what I want - it accelerates well away from the lights & on the Ring was hitting 120 km/h with ease. Again, I don't know why there are some snide comments from reviewers. I can't speak about fuel consumption yet - but I'm sure it will be superior to what I've been used to & it's about as eco-friendly as you can manage short of a hybrid or electric car. Handling, torque, under or over-steer I leave to the petrol heads. Put it this way, the Clio feels good to drive. Correction: really good. 

Yes, reversing is a bit of an issue - the price paid for the stylish design means the back window and moulding give limited visibility. The solution - aside from looking even more carefully - is the extra reversing alert. Money well-spent.

Final verdict 

I love it. Frankly I never thought I would ever own or drive such a thing. For me the combination of the design & performance are just right. Cheaper & you'd notice it. More expensive & I think I'd feel embarrassed. I don't really approve of cars (an issue going right back to my twenties) but I'll make a real exception in this case - much as I did with the Citroen C3 of ten years ago. Laurens van den Acker has done a good job in shaping these bits of metal. Of its kind, it is a sculpture. Five stars then from me. 









Wednesday, December 04, 2013

A red letter day.

The car has been delivered - a good week or so earlier than anticipated. Saint Nicolas must think I have been a good boy (despite everything).

I can see the Clio parked outside the garage as I say good bye to the old Citroen. Immediately I notice that the side panel has the chrome flash (not ordered) and wheels that are far from the brochure standard issue (also not ordered). A mistake? No, le garagiste confirms that's yours - and even better than I'd imagined. Extraordinary. If it wasn't so dark I'd attach a photo but as it is that will have to wait until tomorrow.

To say I am as pleased as Punch is an understatement.

Va-va-voom!

Sunday, December 01, 2013



 
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Sunday morning asemics

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As Roland Barthes might say, here it is not only the juxtaposition of structures and materials (cathedral architecture/car/tree; stone/metal/vegetable) but also the cumulative metonymy (cobbled street, bistro 'au coin', tables & chairs, the light shining through the door pane, carte des vins = Paris) that fascinates

In short, just about everything is right with the image except that ... I am not there ... 

Then ... Monday evening ... . . . Dweezil Zappa at the Bozar . A really impressive performance - two hour...