Monday, 20 March 2017

Rock and Roll Shakespeare

Chuck Berry died on Saturday, 18 March, 2017.

Some twenty-five years ago on a Macintosh Plus, I created a HyperCard stack (remember those?) called Chuck's Intros. It was a little quiz in which the user had to identify recordings made by Chuck Berry, based on a few bars of his guitar intros. Not too many people seemed to care about Chuck Berry back then, but I enjoyed using the stack from time to time as a way of sharpening my own recognition of his wonderful intros.

I had been a Chuck Berry fan for a long time. I still am. I have no idea how I discovered him, but I knew him before the Rolling Stones released Come On back in the early 1960s. I expect I got to hear of Chuck because of my liking of Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and everything else Rock and Roll. Holly recorded Brown Eyed Handsome Man, of course, so that might have been my introduction, trying to figure out the intricate lyrics. What with witness stands, the Milo Venus and references to baseball, I was at a loss!

Arrested on charges of unemployment,
He was sitting in the witness stand

The judge's wife called up the district attorney

She said, "Free that brown eyed man.

If you want your job you better free that brown eyed man

."
Flying across the desert in a TWA,
I saw a woman walking 'cross the sand

She'd been walkin' thirty miles en route to Bombay

To meet a brown eyed handsome man

Her destination was a brown eyed handsome man


Way back in history, three thousand years,

In fact ever since the world began

There's been a whole lot of good women shedding tears

For a brown eyed handsome man

It’s a lot of trouble with a brown eyed handsome man


Beautiful daughter couldn't make up her mind

Between a doctor and a lawyer man

Her mother told her darlin’ go out and find yourself

A brown eyed handsome man

Just like your daddy—he’s a brown eyed handsome man


Milo Venus was a beautiful lass

She had the world in the palm of her hand

She lost both her arms in a wrestling match

To meet brown eyed handsome man

She fought and won herself a brown eyed handsome man


Two, three count with nobody on

He hit a high fly into the stand

Rounding third he was headed for home

It was a brown eyed handsome man

That won the game, it was a brown eyed handsome man

Chuck Berry was the Shakespeare of Rock 'n' Roll, the Bard of the Beat; no other songwriter was quite able to match Berry's masterful ability to summarise in a few verses and with brilliant phrasing the hopes and wishes of youth. Nobody wrote lyrics like him. And they just seemed to flow effortlessly, despite their clever rhymings, unusual settings, and occasional strange words.

Chuck's personal life might have been somewhat questionable (though much of tha allegations against him were very likely racially based), but his music was simply wonderful: Carol, Little Queenie, Sweet Little Sixteen, Memphis Tennessee, Roll Over Beethoven, School Day, No Particular Place To Go, You Never Can Tell, Brown Eyed Handsome ManJohnny B. Goode, Promised Land… and many, many more. I still have well over a hundred of his recordings in my iTunes library. (It is rather unfortunate, however, that he seems to be as much remembered for his one really rubbish number, My Ding-a-Ling, as he is for the rest of his catalogue. Still, he seemed to enjoy playing the number live, so who am I to judge?)

I read his autobiography shortly after it was published and enjoyed it greatly. If you're interested in his real story, you might wish to try to find a copy for yourself.

Above all, keep enjoying his music.

Friday, 3 February 2017

First the USA, now the world

There's a thing called the National Prayer Breakfast, held each year in Washington DC.

Now, the thing is, this event is really a gathering of religious leaders, who happen to be joined by high-ups in the business world and others from across the world that are invited. So it gives these fortunate individuals an opportunity to ponder over the fate of the millions of starving poor and homeless, while they stuff themselves in the luxury of the Washington Hilton.

Nothing could be more Christian.

The president of the USA attends the event, so this year Herr Trump was there and he gave one of his arm-exercise speeches.

Well, "speech" is perhaps too loose a term for the diatribe that poured forth from the orifice in Trump's orange face (that is, after he had asked his audience of so-called dignitaries, church-leaders, etc. to pray for Arnold Schwartzenegger).

Apparently the man is not satisfied with solving the problems of the USA, he is now also going to solve those of the rest of the world, as well. The language he used, the allusions he made, the lies (sorry, alternative facts) that he told, once again show the man to be dangerous.

But perhaps he is more than just the devil incarnate. Perhaps he needs help. Is he suffering from megalomania? Could Trump be mentally unstable? Should he not be placed in a mental health establishment and treated for whatever ails him?

Really, if he is allowed to continue the way he is going, then we shall end up with a real-life enactment of Dr Strangelove, with Trump playing all the main rôles.


Monday, 30 January 2017

Herr Trump

Thank you, people of the USA for dumping Trump on the world.

He's been in office for just over a week and he has even managed to exceed our expectancies.

During the inauguration, he demonstrated what a boor he is in the way he treated his wife. Does the man have no manners, no gentlemanly traits? And apart from being downright rude to the woman, he clearly said something to her that turned her pretend smile into a very real look of fear.

His first week has been marked by lies, "alternative facts" (lies, in other words), numerous decrees, and what must have been a big disappointment for him during the first official visit of a foreign head of state.

Trump lied blatantly about the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration and found the subject so important, that he even had a enlargement made of a photograph showing the sparsely attended area in front of the White House and now has it hanging in that building (perhaps he thought that enlarging the photo would enlarge the number of people. He then lied about the vastly greater turnout for the Womens March, that took place not only in Washington, but around the world. Perhaps Trolland Dump has his own size issues…

So during his first ominous week he started or put in place processes with the following aims:

  • to end the semblance of decent health insurance that the people of the USA so desperately need;
  • to actually build his ridiculous Mexican wall and to insult that country's people by insisting that it will be built at their expense;
  • he has opened up the possibility of building huge nature-destroying pipelines across the USA (pipelines that will cross homelands of Native Americans, who really should build their own walls to stop the pipelines);
  • to prevent nationals of various foreign states from obtaining visa to enter the USA;
  • to suggest that Christians be allowed to enter the USA, but not Muslims (I'm an atheist, so where do I stand?)
  • to indicate that he is in favour of torture and, in particular, waterboarding.
The first foreign head of state to visit Dumpy Trumpy was the UK's Theresa May. Old Donald must have got himself very excited at the prospect of meeting her, as the White House had been tweeting and sending out memos informing about the upcoming visit between Trump and, as they called her, Teresa May (note the missing "h" in the given name). If Trump had Googled this, he'd have come up with someone looking like this:


For Teresa May is a soft porn star and "glamour" model.

Instead, he got this:


Now, all this lying, pontificating, and getting rather important details wrong may seem jolly amusing and I have come across a number of television and radio programmes that have a good old laugh at it all.

But there's a serious side to it, too.

If Trump can treat his wife the way he does, if Trump finds it important to lie about small matters, if Trumps advisors are incapable of getting the name of a visiting head of state right… then there is something deeply, deeply worrying about the presidency of the USA.

And, as if that were not enough, if the president of the USA is capable of such inhumanity, such disrespect of nature, such clear religious discrimination… then there is something deeply, deeply worrying about that man.

Not only worrying, but quite frightening.

Not since the 1930s and the lead-up to the Second World War, when a little man named Adolph Hitler stirred the German people into a frenzy of nationalism, xenophobia, and religious fanaticism, has a more dangerous person held such an important position.

Please, please, if you have a blog, if you have a newsletter, if you are on social media, then help fight the hate that Trump is fermenting. Write something.

Please.


Saturday, 14 January 2017

Bake some sandwiches

Huh? Bake some sandwiches?

Surely you don't bake sandwiches? After all, they're just a couple of slices of bread (and that's already baked) with something edible stuck between them. Indeed, look up "sandwich" in Wikipedia and you'll come across a long article describing that item in just that way, and including the following explanation as to the origin of the use of that word:
It was named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English aristocrat. It is said that he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, and others began to order "the same as Sandwich!" It is commonly said that Lord Sandwich was fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards, particularly cribbage [an excellent game, incidentally] , while eating, without using a fork, and without getting his cards greasy from eating meat with his bare hands.
Well, that's not what a sandwich is in Belgium!

There, that type of sandwich is called a boterham, whereas the word "sandwich" (with the "ch" pronounced more like "sh") refers to a soft, elongated bread roll, made from an enriched dough.

A Belgian sandwich is something like a Spanish medianoche, though, from the recipes I have found, seems to be rather richer, incorporating more eggs.

It is quite difficult to find a decent recipe for sandwiches, even with the amazing search-and-find capabilities of the Internet. And even if you find a recipe, it is very likely to be written in Dutch (the majority of Belgians speak Dutch), which is a tad difficult to follow if you are not able to read that language.

I have, however, come across a couple of recipes, and by far the best is provided by a Belgian television chef by the name of Roger van Damme here. See what I mean about the Dutch?

But never fear! Here's a translation.

Ingredients for 15 sandwiches (I had a couple more)
500g strong flour
225g milk
35g fresh yeast (or 12g dried yeast)
3 egg yolks
50g sugar
10g salt (I used less, so suit your taste)
80g unsalted butter + a little extra in order to grease the baking tray

Method

(I prepared my dough in a mixer, so have adapted the method here). Place the flour in the mixing bowl and add the milk, yeast and 2 of the egg yolks. Mix with the dough attachment on a medium speed until everything is incorporated. Add the sugar and salt, followed by the butter, which should be cut into small cubes and added gradually.

Allow the machine to continue kneading at a medium speed until the dough is smooth and supple (the time will depend on your mixer, but reckon on about ten minutes).

Empty the dough out of the bowl and, if necessary, complete the kneading by hand. Make a ball of the dough, place in a bowl and cover with cling-film and a clean kitchen towel. Leave to rest for 35 minutes.

Knock the dough back and cut into portions of 50 grams, forming these into balls. Place these bottom-side up, cover with cling-film and allow to rest for ten minutes.

Press each ball flat and then roll the dough back onto itself to form the long sandwich shape. Grease a baking tray (I used two) with a little butter (I didn't do this, to no ill effect) and place the sandwiches on it, leaving sufficient space between them (they will rise a lot). Cover with cling-film (I used a clean kitchen towel) and allow to rise for 60 minutes.

Beat the remaining egg yolk (actually, I used a couple of quail eggs, including the whites) and carefully brush the tops of the sandwiches (this will provide the typical glazed finish).

Bake in an oven preheated to 230ºC for 8 minutes.


You should end up with some deliciously soft rolls, which are good to eat with either savoury or sweet fillings.

Enjoy them, or, as we say in Belgium, "Smakelijk!"

(If you wish to see Roger van Damme preparing the sandwiches by hand, a video is available here. Roger speaks Dutch, of course, but at least you can see what he does, and particularly how to roll the sandwiches.)

Here are the ones that I made:



Friday, 13 January 2017

Sublime, ridiculous

Barack Obama's farewell speech as president of the good old USA on 10 January was just excellent.

He was his usual controlled, gentlemanly, presidential self and wowed his enthusiastic audience with a summing up of the achievements realised during his terms in office.

(Not least of these is the achievement to offer the citizens of the USA at least some type of social security in the form of the so-called Obamacare, a health insurance system that a supposedly developed nation should have provided its people with long, long ago.)

I'm not one for political speeches, nor for politics, nor for politicians—can't really give them the time of day, but I followed Obama's speech from beginning to end and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As my late Auntie Ruth would have said, "Sublime personified."

What a contrast to the theatricals of buffoon Donald Trump a few hours later, when he gave his first press conference as president elect. The man is clearly incapable of normal activity and how such a juvenile-minded individual (as evidenced in his "tweets") can still be considered suitable to occupy the most important seat in the USA quite simply beggars belief.

Trump's reaction to a CNN reporter's request for a question was that of a spoilt 10-year-old brat. And, unfortunately, this reaction was only one instance of such juvenile tendencies.

Some days earlier, Meryl Streep made a speech in which she chided Trump, especially for his imitation of a disabled reporter. Trump's come-back was a series of "tweets" in which he first declared that Streep was an "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood."

Now that's very strange, for in 2015, during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, when asked if there were any actresses he liked,Trump answered, “Julia Roberts is terrific, and many others. Meryl Streep is excellent; she’s a fine person, too.”

As for imitating a disabled reporter, Trump then tweeted a denial, stating, "For the 100th time, I never "mocked" a disabled reporter (would never do that)…"

Well, Donald, that's a downright lie, for you mocked that reporter on 24 November, 2016, during a campaign speech at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and your actions were filmed.

Trump, lad, you lied.


Either that, or you don't know what you are doing for a great part of your waking existence.