Monday, June 30, 2008

a tea discovery

The Taste of London festival also featured loads of food and drinks suppliers and manufacturers. In the Taste of China section I came across Chinalife’s stand and they were giving out tastes of their various teas.

I absolutely love everything about tea, it’s history, folklore, manufacture, its rituals – making it and drinking it. Although all tea is good, I generally prefer Chinese teas. The black teas from Yunnan are my current favourites.

I was completely bowled over by Chinalife’s white tea “Amber Mountain”. Apparently, this variety was reserved for the exclusive use of the Emeror. It’s pretty gorgeous. From their blurb:

”Highest grade rare tea produced in very small amounts. It creates a beautiful, glowing infusion that tastes like pure dew from an early Spring morning, with a subtle complexity of flavour that is intense and mesmerising.


White tea is made from new growth buds and young leaves and derives its name from the tiny, silver white hairs on the dried tea. White tea is a specialty of the Chinese province of Fujian. It can only be picked for a short time each year, making it rare and more expensive than other teas but connoisseurs love the pale colour, delicate, sweet flavour and silky finish. White tea is the closest to the natural state of the tea leaf and contains high amounts of anti-ageing antioxidants.”

The tea leaves are pretty amazing - unfurled in boiling water, they look like they've just been picked from the camellia sinensis bush.

So now I’m happy drinking like a Chinese Emperor! :-)

Unknown Knowns

“We pride ourselves for living in a society in which we freely decide about things that matter. However, we are constantly in the position of having to decide about matters that will fundamentally affect our lives, but without a proper foundation in knowledge. This is frustrating: although we know that it all depends on us, we cannot predict the consequences of our acts. We are not impotent but – quite the contrary – omnipotent, without being able to determine the scope of our powers. While we cannot gain full mastery over our biosphere, it is in our power to derail it, to disturb its balance so that it will run amok, swiping us away in the process.”

- Slavoj Zizek, The Observer 29th June

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Taste of London 2008

My flatmate asked if this entailed kebabs and dirty pavements, and my brother thought jellied eels would be a sure bet. However, Taste of London is a food festival in Regent’s Park showcasing the cream of London’s restaurants, each giving ‘tastes’ of three of their signature dishes to hoards of hungry punters. Well, not exactly giving – you have to pay to get in, and pay for the food too, with vouchers called crowns which you have to buy from the organizers as well.

Our tickets got lost in the post, so they had to provide replacements on the day. I had ordered an extra book of the vouchers, only to discover this had not been included after I had entered the fair. So back out again, fighting security all the way, fighting with the ticket office, blah blah blah. Eventually, fully ticketed up we entered into the fray inside.

The fun is diving from one restaurant to the next, snacking. I very much enjoyed a Parmesan custard with anchovy toasts from Le Café Anglais (I got a recipe card!) and an extraordinarily rich, flavoursome and foamy white tomato soup from Rhodes Twenty Four (Gary Rhodes himself was present on his stand to charm the public). My top tastes however were from Le Gavroche (Smoked chicken and foie gras terrine with lentils and truffle vinaigrette) and this extraordinarily pretty tiger prawns with wasabi mayonnaise alongside little cubes of mango and Thai Basil seed from Kai Mayfair:

As you can see from the above, you can easily ingest a huge variety of types and styles of foods very quickly. Luckily my stomach was able to take the pace.

Some restaurant staff appeared to get a bit competitive, shouting orders (over) loudly back and forth, especially if their neighbours were a bit slow. It was all quite fun and silly.

There was a separate section devoted to Chinese cuisine and food products. Harbin Beer had hired an ice sculptor to carve their logo lion, in really sparkly, glittery clear ice:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

summer sounds

I’ve been tagged by Boz! Thank you Boz for the shout and the challenge, which I hurry to complete.

The task:
"List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your seven songs."

I feel slightly hesitant, largely because I’ve just fallen in love with the new Coldplay album, and in my world there is not a single person who admits to liking them. I get an awful lot of stick about it. Someone surely must buy their records; apparently they are the biggest band in the known universe or something. Anyway, even I thought X&Y was dire, and they were on probation with me. Luckily, Vida la Vida is a vast improvement. I’m choosing the title track as my first song.

Radiohead’s In Rainbows precipitated a reassessment of their post-2000 oeuvre. Can’t live without it; am choosing Jigsaw Falling into Place as my second song.

I don’t get the Arctic Monkeys at all but Alex Turner’s side project The Age of the Understatement (by The Last Shadow Puppets) is a really refreshing listen; a retro sound created anew for today. I love the wistful last song The Time has Come Again.

Fourth up is Alison Moyet’s A Guy Like You from her excellent The Turn. Her voice is so amazing, and I’m loving the Yazoo revival this year. Pity I don’t have tickets.

Her Royal Madge-sty is next with Devil Wouldn’t Recognize You from Hard Candy. It’s one of the quieter songs from the (super) album, and somehow very cinematic in feeling.

Bleak, monumental, sublime – Portishead’s Third is really good when you need to turn the volume up loud and wallow in the misery. I choose The Rip.

And to end on a lighter note, I Hear a Symphony by The Supremes. I’ve just bought their complete hits album at the V&A. It’s accompanying the exhibition of their stage clothes and an excited shop assistant told me the CD is exclusive to the V&A. Well, as exclusive as a Supremes greatest hits album can be, anyway. Uplifting.

Well, that’s me done. I’m amazed I left out Arcade Fire, easily my best discovery of the last year.

I’m throwing this open to everyone now – what are your seven favourite songs of the moment?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

V&A update

Yesterday I popped into the V&A’s Blood on Paper exhibition again – it ends this weekend. It’s quite terrific, on a subject I would have thought potentially could be quite dull:
“This exhibition examines what happens when major artists of today and the recent past consider the meaning of books.

Books do more than transmit texts and images. They proclaim authority, permanence or ‘culture’. They give out messages as we approach them, and as we open or hold them. Their physical presence alone has the power to stimulate memories, to reveal a particular universe of thought or to provoke a dialogue.”
The exhibition is a work of art in itself – lighting, projection, space and wall colour are used to amazing effect but never overwhelming the artworks on display, which are clearly and informatively laid out. Most are traditional artist’s limited edition books, but the likes of Anselm Kiefer, Anish Kapoor and Damien Hirst have created quite monumental, sculptural presences, and the Estate of Francis Bacon has produced a limited-edition facsimile of a suitcase containing items from the deceased artist’s studio. It’s a completely absorbing, fascinating show and well worth catching.

Also beautifully designed and mounted, China Design Now gives a handy introduction to the design work emanating from the rapidly developing new China. The confidence and aesthetic daring of China’s patrons are well attested by the spectacular architectural commissions in Beijing for the up-coming Olympics; however a quiet little building “Father’s House” by Ma Quinyun was quite outstanding in its happy assimilation of traditional and international modernist styles and its use of local river-washed pebbles.

Graphically, I enjoyed Lam Hung’s “Peace of Mind” poster which portrayed the Chinese ‘xin’ character in pop-art dots which only coalesced at a certain viewing distance from the poster. I would have loved to buy a copy in the shop; however they didn’t have any.

They did have t-shirts marked down to £10 – however, at the till I was told the shirt I had chosen wasn’t marked down, even though the sign was on top of it. Very naughty of the V&A to pull this hoariest of old retail tricks.

Monday, June 23, 2008

three cheers for Democracy

I followed my own advice and wrote to my MP, Kate Hoey, about the Government's dastardly attack on civil rights. Quite excited to get a reply!I've only recently become exercised about this, so I didn't know she has been very consistent in her approach to this issue. Nice to know. Great work Kate!

Friday, June 13, 2008

frankly evil

I'm as puzzled as everyone as to why David Davis has seen fit to resign and refight his seat, but putting his political career at stake surely shows he means this on principle.

Very much unlike our own dear Prime Minister who should know better and all the Labour hacks who voted for this appalling measure against their consciences. It's a sad day when a Prime Minister wrecks our constitutional safeguards for the sake of a few points temporary advantage in the polls.

Bravo and Good Luck to Mr Davis and all the brave Labour rebels, including Clapham's MP, Kate Hoey. Let us hope this issue returns to shame the government.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


What do The Sound of Music and Michael Frayn’s new play, Afterlife, have in common? – They both are set in Leopoldskron, a prince-archbishop’s Baroque palace in Salzburg. Also, both stories feature 1930s Austrian theatrical luminaries fleeing Nazi oppression. Alas, Afterlife doesn’t have Julie Andrews, cute singing kiddies togged up in curtains, or even a lonely goatherd.

Leopoldskron was owned by the legendary theatrical impresario and founder of the Salzburg Festival, Max Reinhardt. His signature production was a revival of the Medieval morality play Everyman. Frayn cleverly conjoins the play with the life, creating a sort of grown-up metaphysical version of Noises Off. The best bits are when the 1930s characters suddenly start speaking in a pastiche of morality verse, or when Max (Roger Allam, excellent) addresses the audience directly or directs the ‘real’ action. I wish this had been explored more, because the notorious weaknesses of the two genres, their relentless predictablity – the biographical and the morality – just build on each other and overwhelm Frayn’s wit.

The relentless rhyming rhythm of the morality verse becomes tiresome quickly, and the biography loops from A, and then to B, and then years pass, and then to C, and then years pass and pass. Unfortunately, the character most responsible for explaining years passing, Gusti Adler, is played by Selina Griffiths in a strident one-note sort of way, which certainly gives the impression of years passing. Otherwise, one can’t fault the acting. David Burke as the Archbishop is especially enjoyable. One suspects that this was Frayn’s favourite character to write.

I wonder to what extent the set lets down Frayn’s play. Wonderfully, we can compare and contrast with Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s current London production of The Sound of Music, whose set also references Leopoldskron. I’ve never seen the actual building, but based on these two sets it must have a trio (at least) of very large arched French windows opening onto a terrace. Lloyd Webber’s version, as I recall, is a pastelly rococo dream, set on a revolving stage so the audience gets varying views of it. The National Theatre’s is monolithically hard-core h e a v y Baroque – relentlessly frontal, symmetrical and drearily putty coloured. Flatly lit, mostly. It has very few tricks up its sleeve – it just trundles ponderously backwards and forwards, up and down. It emphasizes all the text’s structural weaknesses.

Max all too frequently protests his adoration of his house. To this viewer, not credibly on this set. And call me a flint-hearted cynic, but surely – on the scale of Nazi atrocities, fleeing Austria for Los Angeles and then New York with one’s family, friends, staff and luggage intact can hardly register. Even the Von Trapp family suffered more. They had to climb a mountain. Singing.

Yes, he lost his house. But he spent the whole play verging on defaulting on his mortgage through his radical financial fecklessness, so realistically, how sorry can one expect an audience to be?

But my biggest bugbear was the repetition of the first words of Everyman again and again and again, emphasized by their own theme music played on trumpets. By the end I was digging my fingernails into my seat and clenching my jaw to avoid screaming.

Thank goodness for gin and tonics in the NT bar. Thank God for gin and tonic.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sex and the City

Two sex posts in a row – almost becoming a sex blog (!)

Finally caught the movie last night, in the company of the flower of Clapham womanhood: Clapham Picturehouse was packed with 20-30 somethings of the female persuasion, many of them clutching cosmopolitans (the cinema is offering 2 for £10!) This two weeks after the movie came out.

Apparently, Sex and the City is beating Indiana Jones at the box office, so props to Sarah Jessica Parker and her team.

I suppose it’s a clichĂ© to say if you liked the tv series, you’ll love the film – but it’s true. They have made the step-up to the big screen in a most assured manner. Amusing to see some macho reviewers complaining of a ‘lack of plot’: obviously some knuckleheads feel only a car bowing up or someone getting shot counts as plot development.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

sex exploring with Rupert

Clearly, Rupert Everett speaks his mind very fluently, if not wisely – he’s in all sorts of trouble for his off-the-cuff comments about the contemporary British army’s will to fight. Oops.

Watched his Channel 4 documentary on the “Victorian sex explorer” Sir Richard Burton last night. It was actually great – very well written and presented, taking full advantage of the strange way Roops’ fruity accent rendered quite salacious material relatively ‘safe’. Me, I was gagging for more detail – filthy minds want to know – but although Sir Richard went ‘native’ he remained discreet enough not to tell all, so there is still plenty of room for conjecture. Of course, his Catholic wife destroyed lots of his papers, so we will never know. Richard’s career went ker-ash after a British Army secret mission to investigate the male brothels servicemen were patronizing in India. Apparently, Sir Richard investigated them all too enthusiastically, raising queries over his sexuality that have never gone away.

Rupert got into character, channeling Sir Richard with a studly no.1 crop and fiercely trimmed beard. He showed a lot of well-maintained torso and biceps, and the camera-man did him proud; he looked pretty gorgeous in all sorts of beautifully lit exotic locations. It was cute seeing him flirt with Hirjas (extremely radical Indian transsexuals); nuns; an Egyptian masseur who offered ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ sexual extras to his male clients; an elderly Indian lady fan at Bombay docks, etc etc etc.

Monday, June 09, 2008

a big week . . .

. . for our historic civil liberties, coming up.

Henry Porter, in The Observer:
"This is not about Gordon Brown. However, reading his article in the Times last week, I was struck by the disturbing echo of Blair's 2002 WMD dossier. He may be sincere, but his conjuring of nightmares, the many hypotheticals followed by solemn avowals of principle and statesmanship, was exactly the formula which took us into Iraq. He is still talking in the language of the war on terror, a campaign that turned out to be as much against the rule of law as terrorism and which has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of people, enabled torture in Guantanamo and, as the Guardian revealed last week, the unlawful detention of suspects in nightmarish prison ships.

The proposal to hold people for six weeks without charge, or even giving them a reason, is part of that desperate, panicky convulsion which has seen the end of so many liberties in Britain."

Labour MPs need every encouragement to vote against this draconian measure which will alter the nature of British democracy forever, very much for the worse. Write to your MP today!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

the lure of the east

I was feeling a bit blah about Tate Britain’s Orientalist exhibition, but actually it’s an extremely enjoyable show on a number of levels.

I have to confess I succumbed to the very un-PC chocolate-boxy exoticism of the largely Victorian imagery on display (although the exhibition does make the point that westerners were fascinated from the 17th century on – fantastic portraits of Charles I’s ambassador to Persia and his wife in “oriental” costume kick off the show).

But in a highly imaginative stroke (or perhaps in an effort to cover their backs ideologically), the Tate has invited Islamic scholars to comment on the paintings on display and their commentary is affixed next to the paintings along with the provenance labels. This is great, because a lot of it is very contentious and partisan stuff and definitely widens the scope of the exhibition.

Designer add-ons include a magnificent Islamic patterned fretwork screen running across the gallery containing ‘harem’ pics, and a large projected animated map showing the history of the region.

I thoroughly enjoyed this show, and will hopefully go again one quiet Sunday morning to have another look.

The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting
4 June – 31 August 2008
Tate Britain