Thursday, December 31, 2009


Dip Me in Gaiety and Throw Me To the Creationists

As the year closes, it seems appropriate to give a last hurrah to two great figures whose bicentennials have been celebrated in 2009: Charles Darwin, who changed the way we think about ourselves and opened the world to the wonders of evolution (and whose On the Origin of Species had its own one hundred and fiftieth anniversary); and William Ewart Gladstone, the Grand Old Man of British Liberalism, probably Britain’s greatest ever Prime Minister as well as perhaps the greatest polymath and possibly even the most insufferable human being – though with far greater competition – to hold that office.


People have written an enormous amount this year about Darwin and his work, and I’m not going to replicate it all. Not least because, like many other days this year, I’m tired, ill and grumpy, and I want to be nice to Richard before it turns midnight.

But I will say this. The theory of evolution is one of the greatest discoveries in human history. It’s sad that increasingly vociferous nutters still do their best to disbelieve all the evidence, but shocking that they pour money into teaching kids to stick their fingers in their ears and stop thinking. I’m aghast that these theocratic maniacs who think they know everything – and that everything was already known thousands of years ago – have been allowed by the Labour Government to peddle their lies in schools. And David Cameron’s wish to peddle out public services to dodgy “faith-based” clubs fills me with no more confidence. Schools should be places of enquiry; teaching the scientific method is teaching to question, and to look for evidence. Though polling evidence on how much the British public trust the evidence splits, as everything does, on how you ask the question (oh no! It’s a disaster! Oh, phew! It’s quite promising, except in the USA!), I know whose arguments I find more convincing: David Attenborough, or Sarah Palin?

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I’ll leave you with the above poster via Paul Belford, and many wise words from a certain elephant with a much better grasp of the science than I have.


When the rather fabulous Victorian werewolf story Tooth and Claw first aired as part of Doctor Who’s 2006 season, one of the many reasons I enjoyed it was that, contrary to my fears, Queen Victoria turned out to be a complete git. I’d recently read Roy Jenkins’ superb and startlingly readable biography of Mr Gladstone, and had strongly come to that conclusion about her myself; she didn’t like Mr Gladstone, understandably, but went to great lengths to frustrate him, undemocratically. She wasn’t a great one for listening to the People’s Will.
“The principle of Liberalism is trust in the people, qualified by prudence:
The principle of conservatism is mistrust of the people, qualified by fear.”
That’s probably Mr Gladstone’s best-known quotation, which I’ve seen recorded in several slightly different forms (for example, via the lovely Stephen Glenn) – I suspect the answer is that he uttered it several times. Despite Mr Gladstone being famous for his six-hour Budget speeches, I used the above version as one of a series of potential Tweets on what the Liberal Democrats stand for. Appropriately enough, I took it from the 1885 publication Why I Am A Liberal, via 1996’s Why I Am A Liberal Democrat. Perhaps more endearing is his account of his own personal evolution:
“I was brought up to hate and fear liberty. I came to love it. That is the secret of my whole career.”
I suspect that, were he Liberal Democrat Leader today, I’d be in constant conflict with him – though you never can tell, as not only did he believe in all his points of view with a zealous passion, he frequently changed them. It’s a sign of thinking about things that I can’t help admiring, though sometimes he’d think about them in public at such length that it makes me seem like I only ever communicate in txt spk. As his wife Catherine once put it:
“Oh, William dear, if you weren’t such a great man you would be a terrible bore.”
Mr Gladstone was born two hundred years ago this week, so here are a few of the best commemorations. Stephen Glenn refers us to several of his H2G2 articles; the marvellous Helen Duffett brings us the tail-end of the great man’s voice; and the Guardian an unusually to the point “In Praise of…” and a special comment piece. The most startling paeans, however, were found by Paul Walter in those most deeply Conservative periodicals, the Daily Mail – the paper that spits on dead people and refuses to apologise – and the Daily Torygraph. Like so many churches now shyly acceding to Darwin’s discoveries, it seems it takes a hundred years for Tory newspapers to recognise that Liberalism was the right choice after all.

My Night With Creationists (With Hilarious Results)

Finally, I thought you might be intrigued to learn that, despite going to a state-funded Catholic primary school, secondary school and sixth-form college, and attending two different churches – Catholic and Baptist – every Sunday until I was eighteen, and knowing much of the Bible very well indeed, picturebook-friendly Genesis more than most, I grew up not doubting for a moment that, with so much evidence in front of me, the theory of evolution was simply factual.

In part, I’m sure this was because I had two very religious and highly intelligent parents (my Dad in particular with an interest in science, having been a librarian back then and today working at Jodrell Bank). In part, it was that evolution was certainly presented as scientific fact even as early as primary school. And in part, of course, I learned to read on all those marvellous Target Doctor Who books, and Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters in particular made it very clear that the Earth had been around for a while, and humanity considerably less so. Later evolutionary fables Full Circle and Ghost Light were even clearer: there might have been old religious authorities that were blind to the truth back in the past sometime, but like any species that couldn’t adapt, they’d long since died out.

Now, bear in mind that at the time I was less familiar with US politics than I am now, and that the religious right was both less powerful and less barking mad – and that the idea of theocratic millionaire ideologues being able to take state funding to indoctrinate children in any old shit was something not even Mrs Thatcher was backing.

So how was it that I came by the revelation that creationists were still going in the UK?

Hilariously, it was only when I went for a university interview that this ever came up. Being quite some way away, they’d put me up for the night with three other young men come for interview, and in the dorm room that night the four of us got talking. I can’t remember how the subject came up, but it turned out that not one but two of the others – all four of us from very different places – were of the creationist view. You wait eighteen years for a loony, then two of them come along at once. You may not be surprised to learn that we didn’t exactly get on. You may be more surprised to find out just what I did that really, really wound them up.

I laughed.

I roared. I pissed myself. Given all my life history thus far, I immediately leapt to the only plausible conclusion: it was a practical joke. They’d met up earlier that day and decided on a prank together, like university students are expected to do. And, of course, the longer I treated them as if they were trying to pull my leg in the most absurd way, the more furious they became, because they thought I was mocking their most deeply held beliefs. Which I was, of course, but only because I didn’t realise anyone could possibly still be that stupid in the late Twentieth Century, and that it must be a wind-up.

As I was a little over a year into being quite politically motivated and out, too, I then mentioned that I was gay at an appropriate point in the conversation. Of course, they immediately assumed that I was now pulling their legs, as they’d never (cough – bollocks) met any who was gay before and, obviously, it was exactly what I’d be expected to do on thinking they’d been taking the piss. It didn’t help my credibility that I laughed all the more at their reactions to my latest challenge to their worldview, but once they started believing me, the real arguments started. Ahhh, to this day it’s still my second-favourite coming out in bed.

The fourth guy in the dorm literally just kept his head down. Under his pillow, in fact, by the end of it. Or maybe he wanted to get some sleep before his interview for some bizarre reason.

Once I got back up north to my parents, I remember relating this story in tones of sheer incredulity, and being told in an embarrassed way by my Dad that there were a handful of people at Church he thought were probably creationists, but they didn’t talk about it. Oh well. Look, they hadn’t done any damage to me, so that was all right.

Of course, Stockport Baptist Church then turned out to have a pretty major problem with my sexuality too, but that’s another story…

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Sunday, December 27, 2009


Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?

…How does Michael Howard have the bloody nerve to pose as the only person who’s ever opposed the BNP, when he ran the most anti-immigration General Election campaign by any major party for half a century? He’s even more responsible for legitimising the BNP by cashing in on their scapegoating bigotry than Labour’s disgusting race-baiting rhetoric and legislation. Who can forget Rory Bremner summarising the whole 2005 Tory banner under Mr Howard and his slyly deniable racism-pandering posters:
“Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”

“People have said my message is ‘Less tax, less blacks’. That’s quite wrong. It’s ‘Fewer blacks’.”
Michael Howard Is A Shameful Lying Hypocrite

Having a jolly Radio Four day of Doctor Who, even the lovely Shaun Ley (back with more Doctor Who of his own tomorrow afternoon) wasn’t able to stop today’s The World This Weekend leaving a bad taste in the mouth as he and the headlines uncritically picked up and swallowed Michael Howard’s odious self-serving hypocritical cant of an interview. He criticised every other party leader because, he said, only he had ever gone to Burnley and made a speech saying how nasty the BNP were. Big woop.

Michael Howard went to Burnley once, made a speech very few people heard, and in doing so gave himself the cloak of respectability for the racist campaign he ran every single day. Because of one day and one flying visit where he said, ‘They’re worse than me, so I must be nice’. What a shit. You do not defeat the BNP by saying how beastly they are one day a year, and agreeing with them in a slightly more polite way for the other 364 in order to hoover up racist votes.

It seems an appropriate time of year to remember that not being a bigot is not just for Christmas.

Not only was Mr Howard’s speech eye-wateringly cynical, but it didn’t cost him a thing. In Burnley, the Conservatives are the fourth party and had nothing to lose – whatever an hour or so’s faked-up moral platitudes, he was never going to go back there and do the hard slog of actually campaigning against the BNP. He was never going to really take them on so it would actually make a difference. That was left to the Liberal Democrats, who – instead of doing the political equivalent of ringing a bell and running away – knocked on doors week in, week out all year round until they defeated BNP councillors by persuading real people in Burnley, not a flown-in gaggle of Tory cheerleaders.

Some speeches are brave. Some make a difference. But very few – sadly, because I like making speeches, too – have the impact that the long hard slog of actual work on the ground does.

A Speech That Took A Real Risk – Because It Was Right

I can, though, remember one speech that was brave, and daring, and took on the sort of immigrant-bashing rhetoric on which the BNP thrives. Back in April 2000, during a hard-fought by-election campaign where the Liberal Democrats were striving to take Romsey, one of the safest Conservative seats in the country. The Liberal Democrat campaign could have played down our Liberalism, played it safe, stuck to ‘popular’ issues and only challenged the Tories where they were perceived as electorally ‘weak’. Instead, Charles Kennedy took the huge risk of facing down the Conservatives’ asylum policy, in a speech in Romsey, where conventional wisdom was that saying the right thing would lose us the seat. I’ve not found the speech itself online (how things change in a decade), but here’s what Charles wrote a few days later:
“The voters of Romsey were not beguiled by William Hague’s personal brand of politics – those based on fear and division. His is the Britain of the twitching curtain and the locked door, where every refugee is an economic migrant, every gay man a pervert waiting to prey on your children and every creak in the floorboards an intruder in your home. By concentrating on the negative, and pandering to the small-minded, he insulted the electorate.”
Like all those wards in Burnley which now elect Liberal Democrat councillors instead of BNP ones, Romsey still has a Liberal Democrat MP in place of a Conservative one to this day.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009


Boxes of Delights (Repost With Added Chocolate)

If you’ve not yet recovered from Christmas, you know the best cure – chocolate. So after posting this at the weekend, I’ve added plenty more, particularly about Thorntons. You can still catch up with Radio Four’s Doctor Who weekend on iPlayer, too: The Lost Episodes, On the Outside It Looked Like an Old-Fashioned Police Box and David Tennant’s Desert Island Discs. And if you saw the new Day of the Triffids, with beefed-up sauntering Eddie Izzard villainy and off-the-peg unresolved father-son tension and mysticism, why not see for free the closer-to-the-book 1981 adaptation, with a sexier lead and scarier plants? Both of them are more fun than Survivors, anyway, which is just the same story with nowhere near enough killer vegetation.

So, for a couple of days, this has travelled through time to midnight on the last day of the year before returning it to its original time and place. It’s Doctor Who, after all!

Having a replete Boxing Day? It’s a day for the most important things in life – TV and chocolate (and my beloved Richard). Richard’s chewed over last night’s Doctor Who, as have the lovely Jennie and Andy, and I’ve… scoffed many chocolates. So I’m sitting to watch Shakespeare, thinking of Christmas boxes. What are the best boxes from Thorntons? What’s the box set to buy for Doctor Who? What’s the most Christmassy box the BBC ever presented for us to wolf down? And are you looking out for Radio Four’s three Doctor Who programmes in the next day, starting tonight?

Of all this year’s Doctor Who DVD releases, look out in the sales for The Deadly Assassin (the greatest story of the lot, with the Master, Time Lords and Russell T Davies bigging it up on Confidential last night, as well he should), The War Games (another terrific story, also featured on the last Confidential, with the Time Lords – who are gits, and always have been – turning up at the end as the big bads to kill off the Doctor) and, especially if you can find the price knocked down a bit, The Key To Time boxed set. In Christmassy fashion, it’s a collection of six different stories, some of which may be more to your taste than others but which all form a delightful variety and I find quite delicious. In daytime TV style, as I’ve raved about The Key to Time before, I’ll turn to boxes of Thorntons later.

The Box of Delights
“If you will, there is something no other soul can do for me but you alone…”
Here’s an odd thing. The Key To Time boxed set was first released a couple of years ago as a limited edition, sold out fast and was deleted. At last re-released last month, perhaps because its semi-sequel The Black Guardian Trilogy came out this Summer, it’s one of the two best BBC DVD boxes I can think of to wrap for a Christmas present. So, obviously, the BBC’s now deleted the other ideal Christmas present – just in time for it’s twenty-fifth anniversary, The Box of Delights has been taken off the shelves. No, I don’t understand it either.

A quarter of a century ago this Christmas, the BBC made an adaptation of John Masefield’s children’s classic that was simply magical. Despite seven Doctor Who Christmas specials (most of them marvellous, and most of them made for Christmas), it’s delightfully old-fashioned and comforting, and still the most glorious piece of Christmas TV there’s ever been. In the 1930s, an old wandering magician entrusts a boy with his magical box to keep it safe against the wolfish minions of evil magic, and everyone makes the journeys along the way something very special.

At the time, it was the most expensive children’s TV the BBC had ever made, full of great actors, animation and special effects – a little symbolic in the penultimate episode, but only to save up for explosions, a salmon-leaping boat and demons at the last – and a fabulous score by Roger Limb (arranging Victor Hely-Hutchinson for the gorgeous theme music). Devin Stanfield grounds it as the surprisingly together young hero, James Grout is an entertaining police inspector, and Patricia Quinn is astounding as the campest thing on screen, teacher, witch, and utter ruin for her lover (“My golden idol. My graven image!”), the brilliantly named Sylvia Daisy Pouncer.

It’s most worth watching, though, for the wise old magician and Punch and Judy man (and sometime pagan and medieval philosopher), Cole Hawlings, and his deadly opponent, ambitious, evil warlock and posing clergyman Abner Brown. They’re the two best roles, with the two most compelling actors – former Doctor Patrick Troughton in one of his last great roles, and Robert Stephens promising
“One last… Great wickedness before I go!”
As at the moment it’s bizarrely not available to buy, have a look at it on YouTube. All six episodes are available, under a slightly disguised name (presumably to prevent seizure by copyright lawyers, even though if you want the DVD you can’t get it) and broken up into lots of little chunks. Just half a dozen minutes into the first episode, Patrick gives one of his most husky-voiced and mesmerising performances – while the part five’s stolen outrageously by Mr Stephens with the most scenery-chewing piece of acting I’ve ever seen that still absolutely grips you. To get you started, here’s the opening episode, in three parts.

Doctor Who On Radio Four (and David Tennant – and John Simm, of course – everywhere)

If you’ve had a Merry Christmas at home, perhaps you’re now sitting down with David Tennant’s jolly Hamlet. John Barrowman must be wondering what’s gone wrong, when it’s the other Doctor Who star who’s omnipresent this Christmas (and John Simm’s gone to rather extreme lengths to beat him). On top of Doctor Who, Hamlet, Never Mind the Moroks (wasn’t Bernard Cribbins genius?), QI and others on TV, he’s doing quite a few radio shows, among them one of Radio 4’s three – yes, it’s his turn for Desert Island Discs tomorrow at 11.15am.

The two to really look forward to, though, are on tonight at eight (tune in 3pm, Monday, for an edited repeat), exploring the “lost” Doctor Who stories the BBC made in the ’60s and then junked, and a welcome repeat for their celebration of the Target books of the ’70s and ’80s at 1.30 tomorrow. Radio 4’s top Who fan Shaun Ley investigates Archive on 4: Doctor Who – The Lost Episodes tonight, including interviews I saw him making at a convention a month or two back, while Mark Gatiss hosts tomorrow’s On the Outside It Looked Like an Old Fashioned Police Box, which intriguingly features readings from Doctor Who novelisations that BBC Audio has released on CD – but read by different actors to the CD versions. That’s the BBC internal market for you.

That last bit was quite wrong, of course; I was mixing up having heard the original broadcast in the Summer with the fabulous Target Books special feature on The War Games DVD at about the same time. That On Target – Malcolm Hulke focused on perhaps the most revered of Target adaptors, so it was a BBC DVD rather than a radio programme that had to use different actors doing the readings to those BBC Audio produce – Peter Miles ironically offering the reptile people’s point of view from Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters, for example, rather than Caroline John in the CDs. The radio programme, made with just as much love, does indeed use BBC Audio’s versions, albeit adding sound effects and music from the TV series that (confusingly) the DVDs use but BBC Audio appears not to lack the rights for. These tend to be from ’70s stories, and though the Target books ran right through the ’80s as well, the vast majority of Mr Gatiss’ attention is on the ’70s, back when he was a boy. His love for Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in particular shines through; I have my reservations about him, but his Target books, at least, are smashing. One of the top moments to listen out for, appropriately, is marvellous artist Chris Achilleos relating how Pertwee asked Target to get him to portray his nose as less of a double-barrelled shotgun than it was in life – another is fab companion and now reader Anneke Wills asking of the BBC’s trashing her old stories (yes, tying in with the Shaun Ley programme):
“You have to wonder if there was anybody intelligent in charge!”
Top marks for selecting several excerpts from Tom Baker’s reading of Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars, probably the best of the CDs for me, and bringing to life one of Terrance Dicks’ most thoroughly fleshed-out novels. Terrance himself provides entertaining, informative and often self-deprecating commentary on the novel series for which he wrote almost as many books as everyone else put together, while current Who script editor Gary Russell pays praise to Malcolm Hulke, the author who most got inside the characters’ heads. Mark Gatiss, though, should pay more attention to the ’80s: aside from his Sarah Jane Adventures novelisation, Invasion of the Bane, the most recently made Who story Terrance novelised was 1986’s The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet. And that, of course, is the one that begins with the line he loves but can’t place:
“It was a graveyard in space.”
Four Thorntons Boxes For Christmas…

Last week I wrote about pies and sandwiches. Tonight it’s time for the hard stuff.

With so many boxes of chocolates about – and Hotel Chocolat’s too numerous and expensive for me to sample them all (I’m not wild about their pralines, but their fruit creations are uniquely tart and rather fantastic) – I thought I’d zoom in on Thorntons’ selections.

If you’ve happened to saunter past a Thorntons on the high street and just popped in for a moment – and if you’re reading this, you probably have – you’ll know that they have quite a selection of, er, selection boxes. Their most famous, justifiably, is the Continental: it’s been around for decades, with occasional changes, and is still a fabulous mix of creations, mixing milk, white and dark, truffle, mousse and praline. For me, the Viennese Truffle wins every time with its buttery filling and delicately sugared light casing. You might try the Continental White Collection for variety, which is a particularly good relatively recent variation – the Continental Dark Collection’s good, too.

Heretically, though many of their individual milk chocolates are marvellous, their milk chocolate mix itself is a little bland and sickly for me – not a patch on Dairy Milk (unbeatable for pigging in large quantities). So I wouldn’t bother with a bar of it, but confections covered in it are fine. Other hardy perennials include the Mint Collection, which is fine, but with a smaller number of choices and some rather bitter (the ribbed diamonds always taste of nettles to me), there are never enough of the delicious long minty batons or the delightfully knobbly Luxury Double Cream Mints, my favourites. The box I wouldn’t buy for myself from Thorntons is the Classics – although it sells well and is marketed as “The familiar flavours you remember from childhood,” when you find the same shape and taste of fudge, strawberry, coffee creams and so on as in every other chocolate selection, it’s apparent that they started making this box because people were coming in saying, ‘all these creative flavours are all very well, but can’t you be the same as everyone else?’ So it’s not bad, as such, but not in any way interesting. Not that I wouldn’t eat them, mind…

However, there are four fairly new boxes you might not have sampled yet, and – purely in a spirit of selfless experiment – I’ve given each of them a try.

Winter Dessert Gallery

Just happening to pop into Thorntons one day last year – it was raining, and I wanted somewhere I could wipe my glasses – I came across this box, which unlike the others I’m reviewing isn’t new this season, but which I’ve tried again. A choice of seven chocolates, all modelled after well-known desserts, all looking very attractive in their (mostly milk chocolate) little cups. It’s a newer variation of their standard Dessert Gallery that’s been around for a few years; I have to admit, that’s the one I prefer. Some of the selection appear in both, but for the differences, the earlier box tends towards sharper flavours which are more to my taste (barring one that just isn’t me at all). It also has a stylish Art Deco box in white, while the Winter Dessert Gallery has a warm burgundy cover with no definite identity that’s appropriate to the comforting but slightly more forgettable chocolates within.

The Double Chocolate Mousse is the most intense, with a rich chocolate centre and plenty of little curls on top of a dark cup; at the other end of the scale, the Christmas Pudding is clearly the special Winter centrepiece, but tastes only vaguely of Christmas pudding, faintly of rum and brandy, though noticeably of raisin, and the white chocolate on top’s quite nice. Other survivors from the main Desert Gallery are worth tasting – the Tiramisu does taste a bit of tiramisu, with a whiff of coffee and brandy, while the Lemon Meringue’s my favourite, with the nearest you’ll find here to a bit of tartness in a deep well of lemon, with crunchy sweet meringue on top in a white cup – while the other new ones are all right, but not to the same standard. The Sherry Trifle is pretty good, with a custardy fondant, sticky jelly and tiny strips of chocolate on top that look pretty but are too small to taste; the Sticky Toffee Pudding sounds promising, but (small and sweet) simply doesn’t have enough toffee; and the Rhubarb Crumble… Well, I’m not a big rhubarb fan, but this is so vague you don’t taste it, or anything much bar the milk chocolate cup. None of these are unpleasant, but it’s difficult to overcome the impression that winter desserts are popular because they’re hot and comforting, so making them small and cold misses the point a bit.

Continental Paris Milk Collection

A new collection I noticed in Thorntons a month ago while taking a shortcut through it into a shopping centre, this starts off with the disadvantage that their milk chocolate’s a little bland, and the selection never really gets past that. As the name implies, they’re all French-inspired, mostly new, and quite delicate. It’s nice enough, though, and it has rather a pleasing look to the box – round, dusty blue, with a chocolate-brown lower half, rather like a hatbox.

You’ll not be altogether amazed to find that I loved the Mousse au Chocolat; it’s a light and rich mousse, exactly what it promises, and the best of them. The Caramel du Café’s pretty good, too – the coffee and caramel melt together very sweetly, both distinct, though (even if I don’t like coffee much) it could do with a bit more coffee to make it tart. The Praline Feuilletine, on the other hand, is very much the sort of confection that Hotel Chocolat often come up with. The praline’s so-so, but there are lovely crunchy feuilletine waffle pieces, and it’s an attractive design, long and large with dark patterning. The Hazelnut Croquant has another good crunch, but tastes basically just sweet and a bit chocolatey; the Ganache au Marc de Champagne is something all the top chocolatiers have been doing different versions of in the last few years, and it’s not tremendously distinctive – heavy milk chocolate, an aftertaste of champagne… I’d have said white chocolate would set the flavour off better. The most interesting of them is the Pain d’Épices, which doesn’t entirely work but gets your attention more than any of the others – there’s plenty of ginger overcoming the caramelised hazelnut pieces (though they have a good crunch). That leaves two that I suspect are intended as showpieces: the Parisian Truffle is rather good, a touch of brandy making it very Christmassy; Amour, on the other hand… A heart-shaped chocolate always looks promising, but this really depends on whether you like marzipan and orange liqueur – if you do, this is probably very nice. If not, it’s disgusting.

Continental Milan Dark Collection

The other new collection which I just happened to notice, accidentally buy and promptly consume purely to get out of the way when I nipped through a Thorntons last month has altogether more go to it. Based on Italian recipes, also mostly new, this set of eight are all in a much richer dark chocolate (far superior to their milk), again in a rather nice hatbox, this time with the top half in deep red. It looks great.

Now, I’ll confess that I really like a proper tart lemon, and the Lemon Mousse is easily the best here. Thorntons used to do a very similar chocolate in whole bags of them – sharp dark chocolate setting off a great tang of lemon in a light mousse. The Espresso is another strong flavour; again, I don’t even much like coffee, but this is dark and strong and very rich. The Amaretti, on the other hand, is a bit bland; I don’t care for amaretti, but if you do you’ll only get a hint of it here, and rather more honey. Similarly, the Milanese Truffle has a bit of liqueur, a bit of hazelnut and interesting textures, but you mainly just taste the chocolate. Fortunately, the others are more distinctive. The Tiramisu is excellent, with a soft filling and white chocolate top, beating the Dessert Collection’s recipe, the red-wrapped Crunchy Nougat Praline is rather fine (the tastiest bit of nougat I’ve had for years), and the Cannella is interesting, individual but not really a successful mix – another mousse, offering first a taste of lemon, lightly, then plunging into cinnamon, which is rather strange. It rounds off with a mild and creamy Panna Cotta that has quite a strong taste of vanilla, set off perfectly afterwards by the dark chocolate. Ironically, after both the dessert collections, this is the one that most instantly captures a childhood afters – it tastes remarkably like an old-style choc ice.

Metropolitan by Thorntons

I just popped into a Thorntons to ask the time a couple of weeks ago (you know that old saying: if you want to know the time, ask a chocolatier), and to make polite conversation chatted to the manager about chocolate. He said this was the best selection they’ve ever produced, and it’s rather fabulous, you know; it may not be quite their best ever, but it pips the Continental Milan Dark Collection for me as the best of this set. It’s got a lovely Art Nouveau box design, and – fond as I am of white chocolate – this works in just dark or milk. Better still, it’s a much fuller-flavoured milk than their standard mix, here taken from Ecuador, the dark from the Dominican Republic, building on their Single Origin collections. These come in multiples of squares, batons and swirled shells, with one exception…

Vanilla Heights is a square vanilla ganache, with almost a caramel flavour rather than vanilla; Cloudberry Hill is sweet but intriguing and faintly fruity, like the other square chocolate, the delightfully patterned Q Couture, another ganache with quince. The quince is slightly strange, but the dark chocolate stops it being too sweet (I’ll admit to not being too familiar with either quince or cloudberry, but they’re both worth trying). The Orange Garden baton may be based on a better-known fruit, but – flavoured with orange blossom – again it’s very sweet, more perfumy than ordinary orange, set off with quite a good sharp aftertaste. I prefer the other long chocolate, the crispy Praline Piazza, another light praline (a taste that rarely impresses me), but with a great texture of crunchy feuilletine waffle pieces. The two shells are both surprisingly solid: the Manhattan Melt is (rather good) milk chocolate through and through with a subtle aftertaste; Midnight Melt is rich and fruity and slightly bitter in its sweetness, an outstanding dark chocolate. Perhaps my favourite (though Richard didn’t care for it) is the odd one out, the Soho Caramel – sadly the smallest, with slight salt caramel in a thick dark chocolate sphere, it’s like a chocolate berry, oozing with flavour.

Bars, Baubles and Bags

Thorntons has also produced two new bars for Christmas, both milk chocolate and neither especially vibrant. Their Crème Brulee Bar is sugar-studded and coolly creamy (well, more milky) inside – nice, but you realise that it’s the crunch of hot, brittle caramel that makes a crème brulee, and the little strip of caramel-ish underlining isn’t good enough. I quite liked it, but you’re best off peeling off the wrapper and storing it somewhere so you forget the name: it’s absolutely not a patch on the proper dessert. The Winter Fruit Crumble Bar is less disappointing, but only because I expected less of it; the crumble pieces in the chocolate coating work, but the blackberry and blackcurrant (both fruits that really appeal to me) filling is very insipid. Despite proper bits of fruit, it’s more sickly than sharp. If you’re after their Continental-style bars, stick to the Sicilian Lemon and the Viennese Truffle, both of which are gorgeous.

They’ve probably sold out of their baubles to hang on the tree by now (like anyone’s going to wait… Oh, yeah, parents), but all three are rich and large enough to take a proper bite into. The Chocolate Truffle Bauble has a near-perfect filling, rich and sweet and strongly chocolatey, though it’s back to that rather bland milk chocolate outside. The Champagne Truffle Bauble works surprisingly well – you can feel the champagne at the back of your mouth. Then there’s the Praline Bauble, which is essentially their long-established Continental the Alpini, in a ball. It’s one of the few pralines I really rather like, with little crunchy pieces to it, too.

And so as not to miss out Hotel Chocolat altogether, one of their new chocolates that I’d recommend is the Eton Mess – soft strawberry mousse that would even get Peter Butterworth’s attention, bedded in milk chocolate and crunchy meringue, covered in thick white chocolate and topped with dried strawberry; a stunning mix of tastes and textures. You can get them in their own selector packs now: eat them by the bag.

So make that your New Year’s resolution. Pile up the chocolates, pile them into your mouth – er, I mean, offer them round your loved ones – and stick Doctor Who on the iPlayer, with a side order of Triffids (eat up your veg, or it will eat you!) and The Box of Delights for sweet. For a little nibble, though, there’s always the poor old Pet Shop Boys with their new EP: the ‘be careful what you wish for’ Christmas ghost-of-a-chance-of-getting-a-hit It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas. Not the best year to release that one, but give the other songs a listen – borrowing Madness, Tchiakovsky and Coldplay, each one of them sounds more like a single. Or there’s always fabulous Katie and December Will Be Mad As a Bucket of Frogs Again or, if you’re not a big fan of sparkly commercial Christmas, Timbuk 3 offer a first verse that’s got one of the best awful puns I’ve ever heard (needing an American accent, and with more than a bit of politics). You’ll have to buy Tom Robinson’s hilariously gloomy North By Northwest CD to get his Christmassy nuclear war epic Merrily Up On High, but I always stick mine on…

Update: and finally, the prize for most unlikely review of the year: Lawrence Miles. Given what he predicted for it (now vanished) before transmission – get it while it’s hot, as like most of his blog, it’s seasonal and goes off quickly!

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Monday, December 21, 2009


A Taste of Christmas (Don’t Worry, It’s With Real Pies)

Christmas Day races terrifyingly towards you, you’ve not finished your Christmas shopping and there’s a blizzard outside. The pavements are slippery to walk on, the trains are knackered and your car’s stuck in a snow drift. You’re wet and cold and miserable as you stagger about trying to fight your way through the queues of fewer shops than you’d thought you’d make in the time, so what could be more seasonal than stuffing your face to make up for it? But there’s another problem: which Christmas sarnies taste of Christmas dinner, and which of cheap cash-in? I’ve tried ’em all. Well, quite a few, anyway. Purely out of selfless dedication to consumer testing, you understand, and not because I’m a gutbucket (and watch out, if you’re picky, for festive spoilers at the bottom for an episode of Blake’s 7 that’s twenty-eight years old tonight).


Christmas Edition Sandwich

You’d expect the swishest end of the supermarkets to do something special. Well… It’s turkey with bacon, stuffing and cranberry sauce, like most of them, and only one element of it’s memorable. There’s quite a bit of turkey, but it’s piled up in incredibly thin slices and none of them taste of very much. The bacon’s all right, there’s quite a sweet bit of cranberry, but the only interesting bit’s the stuffing – pork, sage and onion in a moist and rather tasty paste (you wouldn’t object if it was a sauce). But mainly, the square, processed slices of turkey dominate it, and they’re just not wildly interesting.


Christmas Turkey and all the Trimmings Sandwich

It looks better than the Waitrose; slightly thicker turkey slices (though piled a lot lower) and big half-bits of sausage at a glance. One bite, though, and it’s not one you’d make yourself. The most anonymous turkey, a tiny bit of flavour in the sausage, some very bland malted bread; then there’s sage and onion stuffing in there, and cranberry sauce, but you wouldn’t notice – even the bacon tastes of nothing. This wins the prize for the least interesting taste and the one that screams (or mumbles) ‘mass-produced for the lowest price’. It’s no excuse, though, is it? Some of their sarnies are quite good – stick to the all-day breakfast.


Christmas Triple Sandwich

Because what could be more Christmassy than a selection box? Especially if two of them are a bit cheaper to make than the one you’re actually after? Cheese and Christmas Chutney: the chutney’s quite tasty – bit of a zing – but there’s not a lot of it, though, and the cheese is just cheese. Prawn Cocktail: oh, it’s quite pleasant, I suppose, but doesn’t taste of much (their buy-it-in-a-plastic-pot-and-spread-it-on-yourself sandwich filler’s much better), and it doesn’t sing ‘Christmassy’ to me. But then there’s the Christmas Lunch: turkey slices that resemble actual turkey, a little bit of cranberry, some leaves chucked in, rather uninteresting bacon, but some good stuffingish mayo. It’s the best of the supermarket ones.

Caffé Nero

Turkey and Cranberry Panini

This smells great, and the panini’s got a good taste and texture. But they’ve really skimped on what’s inside it – it’s the only one that blatantly has little wodges of turkey sticking temptingly out of the sides but not actually covering the inside. The cranberry doesn’t do a lot, though the pork, sage and onion stuffing and mayo are tasty in their tiny amounts, but I have to wonder if the other sandwiches would get a similar boost if they were toasted, too. Everything meaty tastes better hot, doesn’t it? Like the Tesco, it’s one to avoid: I think this was twice their price, and it’s nowhere near twice as interesting.

Pret A Manger

The Pret Christmas Lunch Sandwich

Everyone seems to be going for malted bread and sage and onion stuffing, sometimes with pork – come on, even chestnut would seem radical in this company – but for once this all actually tastes of something. Thank goodness that someone can make a sarnie that you remember eating. There are proper bits of turkey, a firm slice of pork, sage and onion stuffing with a good flavour, a splodge of cranberry (I can’t taste the port), leaf spinach (yes, that makes it a health food), but the real zing is the crispy onion mayo, with a bit of crunch to it, too. This is easily the best sarnie of the lot, with both flavour and texture. You don’t realise that all the others are one rather soft flat sensation until you bite into one where the different ingredients have different consistencies.
Their site, however, doesn’t give you what’s in it – just the dietary factoids. Oh dear. How to miss the point.


Turkey and Cranberry Sandwich

Very dull. Actually, it’s a good bit of turkey – the slices have clearly been done by hand rather than on a conveyor belt into processed squares, but there’s just not enough to make it tasty, despite the cranberry, in a very plain sandwich. And stuffing a few rocket leaves in doesn’t make it go. At least the malted bread’s a lot nicer than Tesco’s… Fortunately, they have another go.

Christmas Full Works Sandwich

Now, this one’s a lot better. It’s a white bloomer (unique among these sandwiches in not coming in the regulation triangular packet), softer than any of the others – satisfying to sink your teeth deep into – with proper thick slices of turkey, the ubiquitous sage and onion stuffing, cranberry, mayo, mixed leaf (hey ho), and ham, which wins points for adding something different, even if it’s not that special. This is my runner-up – chunky and comforting, it has the most home-made feel, though the taste and texture lacks the kick of the Pret.

Christmas Pie – Turkey and Stuffing

A hot pie, looking good – an impressive size, round and high enough that even I can’t get it all in my mouth at once – with a generous blob of cranberry on top. It smells great; bite or cut into this pie, and it’s crammed full, too. And I’ll tell you, the turkey’s very tasty, with a touch of bacon, sausage and sauce to make it a lovely little bit of meat. This is sounding like a great pie, isn’t it? So what could possibly go wrong? Only this. That some insane person decided to make it turned inside out, so that succulent morsel’s a tiny nodule of meat surrounded by a vast mass of dry, crumbly sage and onion stuffing that it’s impossible to swallow. Someone must have said, ‘You know how people always do meat with a little bit of stuffing on the inside? Wouldn’t it be really imaginative to do it the other way round, so there’s a tiny bit of meat to set off our amazing stuffing that’s the same flavour as everyone else’s but drier and the size of a castle?’ No. It would make a potentially gorgeous pie into an utter disaster.

I’ve not gone round trying all the veggie options, because there are only so many hours in the day, pounds in the wallet and stone I can put on, but I did give them a second chance and got their Christmas Honey-roast Parsnip and Chestnut Pie as well: it tastes very leeky (baby onions, apparently), quite rich, moist, lots of cheese, tasty parsnips and above all a relief from bloody sage and onion (look, I quite like that combination sparingly, but there are limits). So that one was rather good.

Square Pie

Xmas (yes, I know) Pie

I don’t often write about food, but when I do, I’m quite likely to mention Square Pie. They are fab, always with good pastry – moist and firm, not at all bland or flaky – and always with something interesting in their monthly special pies. Their Christmas special tries the hardest of any of the Christmas-dinner-on-the-move offerings I’ve sampled, boasting “prime turkey, mini roast potatoes, sprouts, chipolatas, stuffing and gravy all wrapped up in a pie”. And though some of theirs have been better (and I still vote for their evergreen Lamb and Rosemary Pie), this works. It’s got a pastry star on the top, sweetly, and mixes both turkey breast and dark meat – a winner for me, as I prefer it. Hot and soaked in gravy sets off the flavour no end, too, and in that mix even the startling wodge of sprout is juicy and rather tasty (Richard still hated it, though). The downside to so many ingredients in a good-sized but not gigantic pie is that what you get in each individual one is something of a lottery; I can’t tell you about the “mini roast potatoes,” as there weren’t any in mine, and the chipolatas don’t really work (everything else is enriched by gravy, but a sausage just goes droopy). Still, on the whole it gives you what you expect to taste and more, and it’s warming and filling. Ideal if you’ve staggered into the shop from a blizzard. Just a shame about the Eat pie that might have beaten it, but went mad.

So, if you’re caught in a storm and fancy a Christmas savoury to pretend you’re at home in front of the fire, look for a Pret A Manger or Square Pie, or failing that an Eat – providing you take a note of which of their recipes work and which are dry and dull – or even ASDA (the Marks and Spencer sandwich was pretty good, too, but I had that before I started making notes, so I’m afraid after a few weeks I can’t remember what distinguished it). And don’t go anywhere near Tesco or Caffé Nero.

Victoria Wood and Blake’s 7

…Meanwhile, we’ve been enjoying the seasonal spectacular that is Ann Widdecombe On Ice (you’re not that fussed?) as part of BBC2’s Victoria Wood Night. I still remember Victoria Wood As Seen On TV being one of the very first things I video-recorded, and then being surprised when I started to go out in Manchester slightly later in my teens and found that every other gayer in the city also adored her. Tonight’s rather fabulous documentary Victoria Wood: Seen On TV – stolen by a Roger Moore anecdote – suggested that my experience was not a completely unique one.

And finally, what could be more festive than to celebrate the anniversary of a Christmassy TV finale from slightly earlier in the ’80s? This was the night that writer Chris Boucher was forever labelled “The man who killed Christmas,” for finishing off the heroic / gittish freedom fighters / terrorists of Blake’s 7 in a hail of fire that killed off the entire cast. And, unlike the infamous Dynasty ‘massacre’ that briefly appeared just as satisfying but which turned out only to have killed the slightly darker-skinned woman in a relationship with a white man and the gay man in a relationship with a man whose sexuality was frequently rewritten – yes, it was an American TV show, how could you tell? – they’re all still dead, a uniquely and brilliantly bleak ending.

(If you want something less bleak, hurrah for the other Gareth Thomas!)

So, as a festive treat, here are three Blake’s 7 trailers from YouTube. The first two are each for that final episode, Blake, both making superb use of CGI from DVD releases (though not necessarily Blake’s 7 ones): this one is in the style of Doctor Who “Next Time…” trailers, complete with Who music, which chooses a great dramatic closing line then an equally effective slightly less dramatic extra ending; while this one is in a self-consciously epic Hollywood style, looking and sounding (thanks to a Batman score) terrific, particularly with Servalan’s added sashay. My favourite Blake’s 7 trailer, though, still remains the official one for the second series on DVD, set to the gorgeous theme from Doctor Who spin-off Shakedown and with a nicely judged sense of irony… Even if I’d have cut it after Travis’ perfect
“Oh, yes. I’m a hero too.”

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Sunday, December 06, 2009


Armstrong and Millais

How do you cheer up when immensely grumpy? Usually I stuff my face and watch Doctor Who, but – astoundingly – there’s been lots of new comedy on that’s actually funny. Though not on ITV, obviously. My many tediously grumpilating health problems include a dodgy right arm (neck, shoulder, wrist, hand, thumb…), which has been much worse than usual for a month and more, making typing painful and texting practically non-existent. So my blogging’s collapsed and I’ve been more socially rubbish than ever. Thanks in particular to the cheerifying if ironically named Armstrong and Miller Show and to Beautiful People, then, the second series of each of which made a fabulous Friday night double bill (though the former finished last week, so assume I’m writing about the repeats or the DVD).

And to my beloved Richard, of course, poor thing, who’s been ever so lovely and looking nervously as if it’s his fault as I glower in all directions and have given up in pain each time I’ve tried to do the usual and express my anger in blogging form (well, mostly). And him with a sprained ankle that’s getting no better, too.

The Smith and Lester Show The Armstrong and Miller Show

You can still see Alexander Armstrong on a Friday afternoon in The Sarah Jane Adventures, though, as even though that series has finished too (sorry), they’re repeating earlier episodes in the same Thursday and Friday slots. Yay! And by “see” I mean “hear”. I hope that’s clear. Anyway, that’s why The Armstrong and Miller Show is known in our flat as The Smith and Lester Show. If you manage to catch their second BBC series, whatever you choose to call it, try to start with the first episode: although many running gags are great fun, the Blue Peter completely unidentifiable children’s show apologies and what teachers get up to while invigilating only appeared in the opening edition, and they were a scream. Other sketches to look out for include the “Sportsfest 2010” logos (episode 2), the increasingly desperate vicar with his glowering silent deacon (episode 5 – ‘she’ may perhaps be related to the League of Gentlemen’s Bernice) and the final episode’s stunning extended fugue on what happens if you listen to bank tellers.

If you’ve seen any of their shows, you’ll probably be familiar with recurring sketches like the posh RAF fliers with the unexpectedly street vocabulary, the ’70s-style public safety films, but my pratfalling favourites this year were the editions of “Enlightenment” with Dennis Lincoln-Park – a disaster-prone art historian where half the fun comes in working out just what sort of hideous destruction will befall the priceless treasure he’s viewing. It’s like Casualty, but with the added bonus that you can play ‘spot the horrible accident’ and get the pay-off within two minutes rather than have to watch it for an hour.

Beautiful People

Meanwhile, Beautiful People is the campest thing on TV, and utterly brilliant – mainly set in Reading in the ’90s, with a fabulous family including the growing-up-gay Simon (nasty hair this season), the dishy dad, the blind Asian “auntie” and the, er, forthright mum, it’s all held together by the grown up Simon, both framing the stories and brilliantly narrating it all. He’s played by Samuel Barnett, who you may have seen in Desperate Romantics earlier this year. His John Everett Millais was, I thought, the least shaggable interesting of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in that, but he steals Beautiful People from under even such a superb cast (Doctor Who listeners may remember him from The Beast of Orlok). Last week’s (part three) has probably been the best of this series so far, though nothing’s given me so much guilty laughter as the opening episode’s “Orinoco Ho”…

Incidentally, embarrassment based on telling all your friends you’re going somewhere glamorous abroad but actually staying home in secret (‘with hilarious results’), which you may remember from many ’70s sitcoms, is clearly everyone’s favourite comedy device this week. It was the downfall of Malcolm Tucker in last night’s The Thick of It – yes, that’s quite funny too, but every political blogger’s writing about that so I won’t – as well as Friday’s Beautiful People, and last Monday’s Miranda, too.

You Should Watch Miranda As Well, But My Arm’s Getting More Painful Despite the Ibuprofen, So This’ll Have To Be A Headline Without A Proper Review-ette

Miranda Hart’s brilliant, Patricia Hodge is very funny too, Tom Ellis is funny and cute, Peter Davison was funny and naughty in the second episode, but you can’t beat the escalating wedding fear from the first… Look, just watch it, OK? Richard spotted straight away that – aside from us identifying with Miranda because she’s a large, dorky fantasist in her thirties, no relation – its genius is that she plays a sit-com like stand-up. Like Beautiful People, you can still catch all the episodes on BBC iPlayer.

Sorry, I’ve Got No Head (I Thought It Was My Arm?)

Combining Fridays’ much-better-than-‘adult’-TV-for-kids and surprisingly funny comedy, incidentally, you should try and catch sketch show Sorry, I’ve Got No Head, too. Like Miranda, we caught up with it on iPlayer – our PS3 has recently had an exciting upgrade which lets it play iPlayer full-screen onto our humungous telly, which looks fab and which Richard’s been playing with even more than I have. Ironically, given that it’s only from the CBBC channel (we discovered it thanks to adverts either side of The Sarah Jane Adventures, harrumble), Sorry, I’ve Got No Head has an incredibly good streaming picture even on a great big screen, while Miranda is distinctly made of blurry Lego at times. And to think BBC2 was once the cutting-edge colour channel. I suspect the higher online quality is because kids are more demanding…

Anyway, what’s in it? Some brilliant running gags: the towering Jasmine and Prudith, who thinking everything costs “a thousand pounds”; the proud parents who reward their son’s every achievement with a night out – for them, bastardishly leaving him at home; the snowman demanding his rights, a guilty pleasure for me; the narrator always getting Tammy into trouble, a bizarrely postmodern concept that cracks me up; Marcus Brigstocke’s overgrown French exchange student (not only featuring a Dalek, but sending up his own Excuse My French); the Witchfinder General who has anyone who winds him up even slightly, usually in a queue, carried off as a witch (a curious mixture of evil witch-hunt and, er, consumer champion)… Obviously, one of the few recurring sketches that doesn’t do much for me – the ‘Backstage Access’ to what computer game characters do when they’re not playing for you – is the one to be picked up as a forthcoming sitcom, Game Over. Oh well.

I’ve been particularly enjoying Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s weary doctor diagnosing extravagant complaints – an arch-enemy a couple of weeks ago, and on Friday, the highly contagious “Clumsy Virus”. This was underlined by the way that, as the sketch finished, the alarm went off to say that Richard’s shaver should have charged. I picked it up to unplug it, and – fumbling – accidentally switched it on. Then, trying to find the button to switch it off again, I managed to hit the wrong one, flicked the blades open and showered myself with a cloud of tiny little bristles. Seriously. I laugh at the “trained bees,” too, though looking at last week’s, where all the sit-coms are doing ‘holiday at home’, every sketch show is now doing Spooks. There have been other Spooks-inspired running gags in the latest series of The Armstrong and Miller Show and That Mitchell and Webb Look, and funnily enough, you’ll have seen some of the most talented of the Sorry, I’ve Got No Head team in those, too – look out for the brilliant David Armand and James Bachman. James was, of course, also a mainstay of Mark Evans’ fantastic Bleak Expectations, the third volume of which has just finished on Radio 4, but, ow, my shoulder, so I won’t write about that just now…

Other Channels Are Also Available (But Don’t Bother If It’s Not On the BBC Unless It’s Misfits)

All that top new comedy has, of course, been on the BBC, but ITV isn’t entirely devoid of laughs – they’ve just appointed a former Tory MP as their new chairman in a desperate attempt to butter up what they think will be the new government even though the Conservatives have already become a wholly owned subsidiary of their competitor Mr Murdoch, for a start. And they did schedule Don’t Look Now opposite Children In Need a couple of weeks ago, which was very funny, with Channel 4 getting in on the joke by putting up The Children’s Hour.

While the last new comedy pilot I saw on Channel 4 was total rubbish, though, I will say in their favour that their comedy-drama mash-up of Skins and Heroes, Misfits, is shaping up very well. It’s clever, it overturns expectations – I love that, having been set up as a traditional Fantastic Four-style origin story with a tight-knit team caught in an incredibly localised event, it’s becoming clear that almost everyone we meet has also developed often useless superpowers – and while I wasn’t remotely impressed by the week before last playing down the rapist (all rather Barbara Ellen), last Thursday’s was a moving, exciting and hugely intelligent time travel story with an astounding lead performance by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. Lauren Socha as the young woman who’s grown telepathy and decks anyone who thinks she’s a chav is going to be a star, too.

Aaaaanyway, nearly finally, my neck and shoulder are giving me enormous pain, my wrist needs constant massaging, my hand is seizing up and my thumb hurts, so despite spending several days writing bits of this, it’s not worked. At least after four or five trips up north to the dentist in the last three months I’ve now got my hopefully permanent shiny new Cyber-tooth, so the bruised mouth will fade soon. Though, as you’ll have gathered, it’s not been a good month or two: in fact, the whole of 2009’s just been one damned thing after another, but the arm’s more difficult to put up with than any of the other health problems. Time for a chocolate bath to relax it, though as you’ll see in a moment, even soap is driving me up the wall today.

Sorry, then, for the dozens of articles I’ve thought of but not written on here, the many comments I’ve ignored and, especially, my apologies to anyone reading who’s been e-mailing or otherwise getting in touch with me, for the hundreds of messages I’ve not replied to. Maybe a few more by Christmas.

Now back to being grumpy, particularly as Richard’s just watched this morning’s Mr Marrmite, despite my telling him it’s got that totally, totally useless tosser on it (Richard guessed his identity just from that. Can you, boys and girls?), then shouted a lot at The Politics Show. This week, the Tories were definitely far more punchable than Labour, who were merely rubbish.

What Have They Done To Pears Soap?!

I’ve just opened a new Pears soap, and they’ve slightly changed the shape after thirty-odd years of using it. Bah, humbug, it’s an outrage, etc. Then I washed my hands with it – and the smell’s suddenly become much stronger, sharper and rather medicinal.

Right, so you’ve got a 200-year-old brand that only appeals to people who’ve been using it for ever like me – yes, I am a bizarre mix of extremely traditional and conservative and extremely the other way, never somewhere in between; don’t act like you’re surprised – and you decide to change it completely? There’d be riots in the streets if the sort of fogeys who use Pears weren’t the sort who sit at home and grumble into their cardigans instead (OK, so I’m a naturist rather than a cardiganite, but my point still stands). Millais painted the “Bubbles” Pears have often used over the years, incidentally, just to provide a daytime TV link to the earlier part of this piece (you know: the one the rest of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood fell about with anachronistic laughter over because it was “shit”).

It’s like New Coke all over again. I assume. I don’t like either Coke, anyway. And I’ve got this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left-hand side…

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Noblesse Oblige Makes It OK For Me To Be A Tax Dodger, You Oiks!

In today’s ‘You couldn’t make it up’ news, multi-millionaire Conservative candidate tax-dodger Zac Goldsmith has furiously defended his “non-domicile” tax status… Because he gives away some of his tax-dodged wealth.

As he nearly said,
‘How dare you criticise me, you plebs, just because you get taxed for working hard for a living and I dodge tax on my unearned millions! I spend all my money how I like, and if I’m bountiful enough to drop a few coppers to paupers, they should be jolly grateful, so I’m jolly cross they don’t doff their bally caps. Let them eat environmentally-friendly cake!’
Thanks to Paul Walter for this latest eye-boggling story of aloof Tory arrogance. Liberal Democrat Voice also have a comprehensive round-up of newspaper and blogger comment on Mr Goldsmith’s tax-dodging. Even that well-known far left rag the Financial Times thinks he’s a bit out of line with his tax avoidance. Uncannily, only Tories seem to think he’s done nothing wrong. Fancy!

It’s not yet known whether Mr Goldsmith has been defended by billionaire tax exile Tory bankroller Lord Ashcroft – perhaps he’s too busy buying the next election – but, apparently, millionaire Tory bloggers have backed him. Bless.

Every time the Tories delight in putting the boot into the poor with shrill accusations about ‘benefit scroungers’, I wonder just how many thousands of actual rather than rhetorical benefit cheats they’d have to find to save the same money they’re happy for just one mega-rich Tory donor to pocket as bonuses from the taxpayer for dodging their taxes (good news, though: the tax authorities may yet catch up with Mr Goldsmith, whose tax-dodging may not be as clever as he thought it was).

Tax Fairness From the Lib Dems

In unrelated news, the Liberal Democrats yesterday launched our new tax policy, aiming to reverse the disgusting situation where the richest in Britain pay a smaller proportion of their income in tax than the poorest. Under Lib Dem proposals, income tax allowances will be raised so that no-one earning under ten thousand pounds a year will pay a penny in income tax, paid for by green taxes, cutting tax giveaways for the very rich and putting a very modest 1% tax on mansions worth over two million pounds.

Of course, we won’t be able to tax all of Mr Goldsmith’s inherited mansions, because some of them are in other countries. I wonder why, while refusing to back the Lib Dems’ plans to cut income tax for everyone on low and middle incomes, the Tories are so keen on giving handouts to the spoilt children of millionaires in inheritance tax…?

And now my arm’s got very painful, so I’d best stop typing for a bit…

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I was also linked to (that I know of) here, here, here (snarkily) and here (which is very worth reading). Corks!

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The SNP – A Sorry Set of Smears

Last time I blogged – a month ago, whoops, various uncomfortable reasons – I excoriated nasty Labour and Tory smears. This morning, I must apologise. In the interests of political balance, I regret that I omitted to mention any SNP smears. Fortunately, to celebrate Alex Salmond’s hijacking of a Scottish national holiday to announce his delusional plans for absolute power despite winning only a third of the vote (just like Labour at Westminster), Andrew Reeves brings news of an SNP hatchet man who, while being paid by the public, ran a vicious anonymous smear website (just like Labour’s Damian McBride).

I’m sorry, I must apologise again. It’s not quite true to say that the SNP is as bad as Labour.

The SNP, of course, are demanding to get everything absolutely their own way on slightly less than a third of the vote; Labour does the same on slightly more than a third of the vote (though, to be fair to Alex Salmond, at least he put himself before the Scottish people as potential First Minister in the election. Gordon Brown, of course, wasn’t the Leader of the Labour Party at the last General Election. And, er, the Labour Party didn’t get to vote for him either. Good job he’s turned out so well).

And I’m sorry, I must apologise yet again. It’s not quite true to say that the SNP is as bad as Labour over the smear, either.

Gordon Brown’s hatchet man Damien McBride was caught out before he managed to launch his anonymous smear website.

Alex Salmond’s hatchet man Mark MacLachlan has been running his anonymous smear, hate and bullying blog for two years, while paid by the Scottish taxpayer to run the office of Mike Russell… The senior SNP minister we’ve all seen in the news in the last week in charge of getting them absolute power. Trustworthy guy, eh?

Alex Salmond, of course, has not said sorry.

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