Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hold your breath for the Hermaphrodite!

Oh Horror! Oh Tragedy! Oh Unjust and Undeserved Irony! On the very same day that Ireland voted overwhelmingly for the legalisation of gay marriage (congrats, ye Emerald Islanders; Ah, if only you showed such backbone, stamina and wisdom in your referendums on EU diktats and ukases!)… Exactly on that happy day, then, a Swedish homophobe wins the European Song Contest in Vienna!!

Is it a sinister revenge of Male Pig Chauvinism? Is it Karma’s cynical way to compensate an unexpected swing of mankind’s moral pendulum? Was it perhaps a rigged election, paid for by the taxes of the Tea Party? I can hardly believe it. But truly mindboggling it is, dear reader! For the ESC is now famously a gay love feast, an agape of alternative lifestyles. Over the last 25 years or so, it has developed slowly but most surely into a party of the pansies, by the pansies and for the pansies – to use the charming, if somewhat anachronistic, idiom of my youth....

The juvenile fool in question, by the name of Mans Zelmerlow, declared during his participation in a cooking program on national Swedish television (certainly one of the most macho activities that we know of…!) that he considered homosexuality ‘unnatural’ and ‘an abnormality’ and added that gays really should not be allowed to adopt children or produce them by way of hired surrogate mothers… He then added that he had absolutely nothing against homosexuals; an assurance which he repeated ad nauseam during the following days when the scandal broke over his not too well endowed little head…

For yes, you surely can imagine the outcry, reader dear! All along the line, Gay Rights activists denounced the young hulk, and the entire confederacy of Song Festival Soothsayers predicted that this would cost him countless votes and, most probably, the Prize. Well, surprise surprise: they were wrong. Indeed it may have cost the fellow votes (and just imagine what a landslide he might have enjoyed without that lamentable faux pas!), but he did rise comfortably to the top of the chards in the end, and the immortal laurels of a European Song Context victory were his… Soon, I expect, he will repair the damage done to his PR by appearing in public with a notorious, elderly, outspoken homosexual – Elton John, say, or Liberace – and with a little luck we may hear him say that some of his best friends are fagg---…. gays!

Yet the damage is done, dear reader, and it cannot be allowed to remain that way! The ESC badly needs to reaffirm its Gay Credentials after this most unfortunate incident! And there is only one way to go about it: a new, original, even more daring and audacious example of Alternative Lifestyles must be allowed to compete and win Europe’s yearly bonfire of good taste and musical talent. Unfortunately that is no easy matter. A simply Gay or Lesbian performer will no longer do the trick. That has become common, blasé, jaded even. The new figurehead needs to be far more eye-catching, flamboyant, and undeniably symbolic for the Triumph of Tolerance in the Fight for Equal Rights. But where does one find such a figure, after the 1998 success of Israel’s Dana International, a transsexual, and last year’s coup by Conchita Wurst, the crooning Bearded Lady? How many more variations of mutated, intertwined gender biology are out there, ready to storm the stage?

Well, take it from an old man, who has seen many splendours of human creativity flower over a long lifetime. There are still two such specimen available, who will live up to the task, and of whom I hope to welcome at least one in the Sweden festival next year. The first is a functioning, certified Hermaphrodite. This would, as a matter of fact, be my first choice, since it is only one step up the ladder from the bearded lady we already enjoyed. Unfortunately, there is a catch to that. In order for the world to really see and believe that it is a singing Hermaphrodite it is watching on the telly, that person would have to, well… show the various assets openly; and this may of course run counter to European rules of media decency which of late are getting no more lenient.

Possible flashy outfit of the next ESC winner

So, possibly, we will have to settle for the next best thing still waiting in the wings: the pregnant man. No, don’t laugh! Don’t scoff at poor Alfred B Mittington! For this jewel of the surgeons’ art is already a reality. Back in the States a few years ago, a transsexual gentleman, who had made sure that the doctors, during the necessary interventions and operations, left the existing feminine reproductive organs in place, gave birth to a child (the first of several as it happens). And it was recently revealed (see here) that in Australia, which yesterday for the first time was allowed to participate and to vote in the European Song Contest, no fewer than 54 babies were born to men.

So: for the Good of Diversity and the dignity of next year’s European Song Contest, let’s just hope one of those happy antipodean Heila’s knows how to sing and dance… !

Saturday, May 9, 2015

What if the electoral system were proportional?

Well… The electoral circus is behind us, the nation has spoken, and Mr Cameron is standing on a shiny new pedestal with the noose of a promised EU-referendum dangling around his neck. I wish him well for the next five years – if five years they be…

But now that the true event is behind us, it is time to contemplate in perfect calm the wondrous system which brought the Tory leader his unexpected absolute majority. As everybody surely is aware, this is the winner-takes-all ‘first past the post’ voting arrangement, in which the party most voted in any of the 650 electoral boroughs gets the seat in parliament, never mind if that party only received a tenth - or even less – of the ballot.

Of course there are things to be said in favour of this system; the most significant argument being that it tends to give the government a working majority in the House of Commons, and avoids the muddled time-consuming coalition negotiations and horse deals inherent in a proportional system of voting (see for instance Belgium, which last time around was without a national government for some 400 days; a period when, incidentally and ironically, the country was not governed any worse than usual…)

However, what cannot be said in favour of the present system is that it is fair. It blatantly favours the biggest parties – usually two – and flushes down the electoral toilet a tremendous number of votes cast for smaller, often more idealistic parties, whose voters effectively find themselves unrepresented for the next five years. Just so that you be aware just how unfair the system is, dear reader, Alfred B. Mittington has fiddled around with the numbers a little (he is good at that!) and offers you below a comparison of the composition of the House of Commons under the First Past The Post system and the alternative proportional representation, based on yesterday’s results.

Just so you can check me: the total of the electorate stood at roughly 46,500,000 yesterday. Of these, 66 % turned out to vote. So under the proportional system, it would take slightly more than 47,000 votes to gain a seat in parliament (30,700,000 of votes cast divided by 650 seats). And these are the results:

Soc Dem & Lab

Now, the British nation famously appreciates fairness; and so I dare say that anyone with a head on his shoulder and a heart in his breast will admit that – no matter one’s personal political preference – the present system is ruthlessly unjust to parties like the Greens and UKIP, while favouring all at once the big parties and the locally chauvinistic ones. Most blatant of all is naturally that the third biggest party in the country finds itself with a single seat for 12,6 % of the national vote; while a negligible pigmy like the Social Democratic and Labour Party (anybody know what they stand for or where they live?) rakes in three seats on the basis of 0,3 % of the ballot.

Say what you will and by all means do disagree with Alfred B. Mittington if so you desire; but you must admit that under the present system it clearly matters less what you vote, than where you vote! That is an unfairness which really ought to be addressed. But anybody who looks at the above figures for the dominant parties, will surely see at a glance why that will never happen…

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Get my Goat!

I am, dear reader, no fan of goats. I almost like them as little as rabbits (and you gourmets who follow my cook blog know what I think of them nasty buggers, don’t you?). Goats are ugly, they stink, possess a most unpleasant personality, and excel in horrid dietary practises, stripping innocent trees of their green sprouts, and occasionally devouring newspapers and  - worse – the 11th volume of my Collected Works (‘Brief writings on natural history and the meaning of the universe’), as one particularly vile and ghastly billy goat dared to do back in the summer of 1963.

But… no matter how ugly, stinking, unpleasant and wolfing goats may be, they do not deserve to be treated as they used to be in Manganeses de la Polvorosa – a charming little town in Old Castile, the pompousness of whose name is only surpassed by the imbecility of the locals’ character. To put it in a nut shell: every years during the village festivities of St Vincent, the most Christian brotherhood of the local church tossed a live goat off the bell tower, to the applause of the congregated village plebeians below. The idea was to catch the animal in a life net, held up fireman-style between a number of village toughs; but as all participants were inevitably stoned drunk, this often went a little wrong… which only increased the fun, of course!

Needless to say, the European Union, which bravely stands up for all the oppressed in the world (human, animal, plant or mineral), which has Commissions to battle every Global Injustice from the racial discrimination of chess pieces to the human rights of deformed cucumbers, never did anything against such village feast practices, because, you see, such goings on are Art, High Culture and Valuable Folkloric Tradition; and as such the rights of animal abusers in half the European nations are protected in and under the admirable European Constitution. It took the courage of a local mayor to forbid – in 2002! - this yearly pass time of drunk boors and juveniles, and to replace the breathing victim with a giant stuffed teddy bear.

Unfortunately, local mayors of such courage are few and far between in Spain. Provincial governments are too busy robbing the till or running from prosecution to be overly concerned with innocent fiesta fun. And the central government – be they left wing or right wing, it makes no difference – deeply loves and believes in regional folkloric traditions and would never lift a finger in the name of civilisation.

And so – while the goat no longer drops in Manganeses – Spain is still home to hundreds upon hundreds of crude, cruel, distasteful, sadistic and brutish fiesta practices that nobody cares to do anything about.

Ah, and they say that goats stink…!

AnimAl B. Mittington

PS: I am planning to compose a list of cities, towns and villages that continue in their barbarous fiesta ways, so that people of true Taste, Sophistication, and Culture may shun those spots on their holidays and not throw good money after bad habits. Suggestions from my readers are, naturally, welcome.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cookbook: Colin Davies’s (F)owl au Vin

There are, dear reader, at large in this wayward and overcrowded world of ours, all sorts of very weird people. There are such who walk with a chip on their shoulder. There are those who wrap yellow ribbons around their neck to remember a loved one, or weave green willow boughs around their hats to spite one who has spurned them. Others yet again have bats in the belfry; buns in the oven; or walk around with a fried egg on their head (although, as the inimitable Ms Bette Midler observed: ‘The ladies with the fried eggs on their heads don’t generally come out until September or October…’)

Ah yes: it takes all kinds, and we really ought to be tolerant to every folly which the Good Lord has put onto this earth to amuse us…

It becomes, however, extraordinarily hard to muster the necessary lenience when such madness strikes a close friend, who deserves better, whom one would like to protect from his more irrational antics, and with whom one is regularly seen in public, with all the inevitable consequences for one’s own immaculate reputation.

And one such lamentable case unfortunately is mine…

My dear friend Colin Davies, born in Liverpool (need I say more?) but lately of the charming Spanish town of Pontevedra, a while ago fell victim to a serious ailment: columbidaephobia, that is: the subclass of ornithophobia in which one experiences a deep, murderous, blood-thirsty hatred of pigeons. Don’t ask me why. He can’t stand the sight of the beasts. He would tear them to pieces with his teeth… And of course they are all over his home town, so that one wonders why he ever decided to live in an old historical Spanish city full of decrepit stone buildings, which are a perfect breeding ground for these charming little birds. Why not move to the Kalahari Desert, where pigeons are rare, or the North Pole, where there are none? Oh well… To each his own, I say, with all the leniency I can muster.

A harmless pigeon

But worse than this innocuous loathing itself, is that the good man has decided to do something about it. You see, he next fell victim to the completely ludicrous conviction that one could scare pigeons away by sculptural means. Believe it or not, but the fellow started walking around the pleasant old town of Pontevedra, which never did him no harm, with a huge, shockingly painted, hollow plastic owl tugged in the hollow of his elbow, from café terrace to café terrace, from restaurant to classical concert, from doctor’s consultancy to modern art museum, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the depth of night… and only too often in my embarrassed company…

Did it work? What do you think? Just take a look at the picture on this here blog, and you will see for yourself how well a hideous plastic owl scares city pigeons away… The only result the polypropylene monstrosity effected was that passers-by stared at us weirdly, and whispered dank phrase at each other, followed by hilarious laughter… 

This is he.
The red face is the result of Albariño wine and Pontevedra sunshine.
The hideous colors on the owl are paint.

I have therefore declared War on Owls, dear reader. On all owls. Flesh and blood, feather and kapok, plastic, stone, wood and even celluloid. I want them gone. I want them out of this world. If, I say, we managed to exterminate the Dodo (which never did us no wrong either) and the Elephant (which is on the way out) and the Platypus (which will soon fall victim to its lack of looks and cuddliness…), then why can’t we do something about a vicious night stalker that plays parasite to small rodents and little kittens and babies left momentarily unattended in their prams by their smartphony mamas??

Yes, it is high time that something be done about it! And I shall start with the flesh & blood variety, as they are the origin of all the trouble. Therefore I have whipped up this delicious recipe, which is so very irresistible that soon house wives, caterers and restaurants will wish to serve nothing else; demand for dead food owls will surge like an eagle in the sky; and poachers will put a quick and efficient stop to the whole despicable breed!

So here we go with

Colin Davies’s (F)owl au Vin (for two people)

Get 1 plucked and cleaned bird.

The bird may be any class or species of owl, but preferably it should be a very young one. These tend to be more tender, and they have the tremendous additional advantage that – if only their neck is wrung early enough – they get no chance to procreate (which is the whole point of this delicious recipe, after all…)

If you have really tried hard, and got a categorical No from every supermarket, delicatessen, poulterer, zoo and volière in a 20 mile radius, you may also make this dish with a small free range spring chicken or cornish hen or whatever, as long you DO NOT use pigeon! Pigeons are a harmless, innocent symbol of peace that deserve to enjoy life and liberty until God calls them to His side!

Once you have your bird, pour yourself a sparkly glass of white wine, and enjoy the sight of that dead owl for a sweet, contemplative moment. Then flavour the bird with a mixture of salt, pepper, some curry and some mustard powder (if you can get it) and let it sit for at least an hour. 

Put a few drops of oil into a deep casserole, and fry a tiny slice of common lard until it is brown and shrivelled. Take the slice out of the pan and throw it away. We only need the fat, which lends this fried owl its particular aromatic flavour.

Toss a generous chunk of sweet butter into the casserole and allow it to melt over a slow fire. Make sure it does not burn.

Now fry the owl on all four sides as you would do with a normal chicken. Once it has turned golden brown, lower the fire to the minimum and let it simmer for 5 minutes more. In the meanwhile, warm up at least half a bottle of dry white wine in a saucepan. As this dish is dedicated to Colin Davies, I suggest a quality Albariño, of which he is fond.

Pour the wine into the casserole, and bring to a cautious boil. The Fowl au Vin will come out best if the entire bird is submerged in the liquid; but do not add water. Doing so spoils the taste.

Close the casserole and let the bird simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Then toss in a very tiny sprig of rosemary, a teaspoon of sugar, and – if you want to be adventurous – a spoonful of soft green peppers. Let it simmer a few minutes longer, and take the pan off the stove. It is a good idea to let it cool off just a little before carving and serving. Sprinkle some dry parsley on top, for the colourful effect.

Nota Bene: if the sauce comes out too greasy to the taste (which sometimes happens when you use too big a slice of lard), mix a spoonful of corn flour with some water, toss it in, and let the sauce simmer for another five minutes. This will absorb the grease, and the meat only comes out more tender.