Out Now!

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Graves, lakes and Agatha Christie

I am sick of graves. We had the opportunity of seeing William Wordsworth’s grave recently, and I thought, what’s the point? Seen one, you’ve seen them all. I mean, I’ve seen King John’s grave, that of St Thomas Beckett. I’ve seen George Washington’s grave, Benjamin Disraeli’s grave, the Duke of Marlbrough’s grave, my old headmaster’s grave. After a bit it becomes something akin to stamp collecting. William Wordsworth was, I’m afraid, one stamp to far. My tongue was dry, the stamp book full.

Apart from that, the Lake District was beautiful. Avoid the honeypots selling fudge and cream teas. Start climbing the hills.

We stayed at the Pheasant Inn on Lake Bassenthwaite, the most northern of the lakes. The Pheasant is well worth going to. 

Our last visit was thirty-four years ago—you don’t rush these things—and when I say it had barely changed in thirty years that is very much a compliment. The food is magnificent, (my stomach is an important part of who I am) and we were blessed by two excellent waiters from Lyon—a young couple, who added much to the meal. Whenever I chose something from the menu, he’d murmur ‘perfect’. You have no idea how good that made me feel— eating and passing an exam at the same time.

But the best part of the Pheasant, apart from a beautifully stocked bar, are the two lounges, a log fire in both. The armchairs and couches are faded and comfortable. You sink into them and drift off imagining all sorts of things. I imagined, for example, that I was in ‘Agatha Christie world.’ (A bit like ‘Westworld’ but more genteel) Everyone there looked like Agatha Christie characters. Presumably we did too. Sobering thought. I mean it’s all very well speculating as to who will be killed on any given night, but what if on one night it’s you? At least there’d be no bill to be paid.

Fortunately or unfortunately we lived to pay the bill and nobody died whilst we were there. Maybe the murderer was holding back until we had gone.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Sing those blues away


I read this week that we don’t wash our hands long enough. I was mortified. I always wash my hands though sometimes, I confess, briskly in a burst of cold water and a quick rub of the towel. It seems the whole Keyton household should have gone down with the plague decades ago and more than once.

But helpful pundits have once more saved the day—a simple rule for the simple-minded. We should all wash our hands to the tune of two verses of the national anthem, and if you don’t know the national anthem ie the very simple-minded, two verses of Happy Birthday sung slowly.

I love it. Not only are my hands gleaming clean my ego is too. It’s so self-affirming:
Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me.
Happy Birthday dear Michael,
Happy Birthday to me.
Personally, I think twice is not enough, though I get very strange looks on leaving the bathroom.
Then again, if I was to get to the second verse of our anthem:
O Lord our God arise
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall.
Confound their politics
Frustrate their knavish tricks
On Thee our hopes we fix
God save us all.

I’d wash my hands with even more gusto and probably get locked away.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Sanctimonious drivel

Recently we have been subjected to the most sanctimonious drivel about the glorious impartiality of English law. The case in question was that of the High Court’s decision that Brexit could not be set in motion without the prior agreement of Parliament. I’m not concerned with the legalities here. I am concerned that to dare question the Judge’s impartiality is to verge on secular blasphemy. Somehow we are expected to believe that these same judges who have European interests and sympathies become judicial deities when they put on their wigs.

Law is a fine thing and beautifully expressed in Robert Bolt’s play: A Man for all Seasons.
When asked whether he would give the Devil the benefit of the law, Sir Thomas More answers in the affirmative, asking his son-in-law whether he would cut a great road through the law to get at Satan. William Roper has no doubt about the matter. He would cut down every law in England to do so.
Thomas More responds thus:

“And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and you cut them down . . . d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”

It’s a fine speech, one of a whole canon that sanctifies English law. I also believe the principle applies equally well to nation states. They too in their traditions and variety stand as bulwarks against the tyranny of empires from—Napoleon to Brussels. The same might also reflect the tension between perceived States’ rights Vs Washington in America. Levelling flat —however grand the motive—is a dangerous game.

But we are talking about law and there is more than a hint of hypocrisy in all this. In fact it exemplifies the Hans Christian Anderson story of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes,’for it is not only the law we are expected to worship, but those who interpret the law; and judges for all their robes and long wigs are not even emperors, though some would demur.

Marx hit the nail on the head when he diagnosed all law as essentially class based, developed in the interests of the ruling class. It might, as a byproduct, defend the property rights of the poor, but it is the rich who benefit the most or the dominant power in the establishment at any given time.

In its crudest form this is best illustrated by the career of the notorious Judge Jeffries, the ‘hanging judge’ and champion of King James II. Jeffries was made Chief Justice after convicting one of the king’s opponents, Lord Russell, despite a previous judge having serious doubts about his guilt. The solution then – and now – was to replace the judge. After the 1685 Monmouth rebellion against James, Judge Jeffries hung hundreds, often in batches, and transported hundreds others to the West Indies. A grateful king elevated Jeffries still further, making him Lord Chancellor.

The right interpretation will get you far in the British establishment, but when the establishment changes . . .?
In the so-called ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, the Catholic James was deposed and replaced by a Protestant Dutchman, William III. Jeffries was arrested and died in the tower of London a year later. His interpretation of the law was not to taste of the new regime.

The Americans, though less brutal, recognise the reality of politics and justice when it comes to the composition of the Supreme Court. There, political balance or lack of it is openly debated.

 In Britain 7% of us are privately educated as opposed to 75% of senior judges. And yet we cling on to the fiction that judges are socially, culturally and politically impartial, and that this impartiality can never be questioned

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The burnt pan refurbished

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

The same applies to pans

Friday, 4 November 2016

Learning the hard way

We have just come back from the Lake District, but that’s a different story. Three days before we went I stewed some apples, took my eyes from the ball, and ended up burning the pan. The apples tasted quite nice actually, nutty and toffee flavoured. The pan was something else. A thick black crust looked back at me, as to to say, ‘Come on big boy, do your worst.’

It was clearly a case for Dr. Google, and I scanned sites, British and American, on the best way of dealing with a badly burned pan. Each one assured me they had the answer, that this method or another would deal with the problem in no time at all. Certainly nothing so horrid as scraping.

In order then:

Leave it overnight soaking in Coca Cola—Rubbish.
Leave it overnight soaking in vinegar and baking powder. That looked promising, gave off a nice fizz at least. Verdict? Rubbish.
Soak it in washing powder. Again: Rubbish.
Some suggested boiling with said concoctions beforehand. I tried that, too.
I finally admitted defeat and set to it with a great ball of wire-wool and elbow grease. This is how far I’ve got so far. I think it makes quite a pretty pattern, a fantasy archipelago but not the pan I started out with before burning the apples.

At last I tried the final cure-all. Boil a dishwasher tablet in some water and leave overnight. I did better than that. I left it soaking while we went of to the Lakes. And came back to find this:

A fresh ball of wire wool and elbow grease it is then, with no quarter given and no further truck with quackeries. No stewed apples for a time either.

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Thursday, 27 October 2016

Welsh whisky and labial entanglement

For those more used to brief ‘wine notes'  like 'vanilla undertones'  etc, try this on for size. You might find it easier to read the transcript below.

"Welsh whiskey is the most wonderful whisky that ever drove the skeleton from the feast, or painted landscapes in the brain of man. It is the mingled souls of peat and barley washed white with the waters of Tryweryn
In it you will find the sunshine and shadow that chased each other over the billowy fields, the breath of June, the carol of the lark, the dew of the night, the wealth of summer and autumn’s rich content—all golden with imprisoned light. Drink it, and you will hear the voices of men and maidens singing the ‘Harvest Home,’ mingled with the laughter of children. Drink it, and you will feel within your blood the startled dawn, the dreamy tawny dusks of perfect days. Drink it, and within your soul will burn the bardic fire of the Cymri, and their law-abiding earnestness. For many years this liquid joy has been within staves of oak, longing to touch the lips of man, nor will its prototype from the Sherry Casks disdain the more dulcet labial entanglement with any New or Old Woman."

Doesn't this create a craving where none existed before? Especially if you're a 'new' or 'old' women.' 

It was my brother-in-law's birthday treat, and we duly set of to the foothills of the Brecon Beacons where the wonderful Penderyn Distillery is hidden.

It's stylish but not much to look at from the outside. Inside, magic is born. 

Before the tour of the distillery actually begins you whet your appetite in a small but informative ‘museum’ where the history of welsh whiskey – from the ice-age to the present day is portrayed. From the ice-age? Were Neanderthal’s drinking Welsh whiskey? Not quite. It was from that period the aquifers beneath the distillery came into being. So many fascinating snippets. Welsh whisky was being produced from the start of the C19th until the damnable Temperance Movement put it out of business. 

The Penderyn Distillery was conceived in the minds of three drinkers who spent most of their time in the pub just down the road. They knew of the aquifer, had the vision but no money. No problem. By 2000 production had started and now they are going from strength to strength (in terms of alcohol content literally) and picking up award after award.

And then the distillery itself. The pictures can tell most of the story. For technical details should you want to make a lego version at home, this site is useful and this

                                           Some are matured in bourbon casks
                                           others in madeira casks. It tells in the taste.

                                                       And now for the tasting