Random facts gleaned from here and there:
- One of the two brothers who founded the Laphroaig distillery, Donald Johnston, died two days after falling into a vat of partially made Whisky.
- Stewardesses is the longest English word you can type with your left hand only, Lollipops the longest with solely your right.
- The male Duck Billed Platypus has a venomous spur on its hind leg
- The Human body on average contains ten trillion cells. In those ten trillion cells, there are seventy five trillion foreign cells. Yes that’s seven and a half times more cells of different creatures living in or on you right now. So how can you call yourself you? (from Weirdimals)
- Albert Einstein's last words were lost to posterity as the night nurse attending him did not speak German (from Time magazine, 1955)
Ten of the best films, in my opinion:
I could quite easily populate a top ten with just Hitchcock, predominantly, David Lynch and Kubrick films, so I have limited it to two films maximum per director:
1. Notorious: Hitchcock.
Ingrid Bergman plays a lush with a Nazi father, Cary Grant a hardhearted CIA man who 'runs' her. There is a love story, incredibly taut suspense, dark humour and some fantastic performances. A near perfect film.
2. Barry Lyndon: Kubrick.
This is the closest Kubrick came to his imagined Napoleon biopic. The cinematography is sumptuous to look at and the story, Thackeray's, is a bittersweet one.
3. 2001 - a space Odyssey: Kubrick.
I was going to choose Paths of Glory, but this film is almost unequalled in its scope and breadth. The entire evolution of human, artificial, and extraterrestrial intelligence is its plot and it is a marvellous cinematic spectacle with an enigmatic and profound message.
4. Ikiru: Kurosawa
A bureaucrat, after thirty years in the same stultifying job, learns he is dying of stomach Cancer and tries to find purpose in his life. A brilliant central performance, with moments of simple, delicate perfection: Moving, without sentimentality.
5. Jaws: Spielberg
There's a big shark and it's eating people. Terrifying monster movie genius.
6. Mulholland Drive: Lynch
An enigmatic and at times extremely beautiful film about (this is my reading, anyway) the truth and self-delusion. The Hollywood lie, the seedy reality, the unreal and the real. Exquisite.
7: My life as a dog: Hallestrom
A charming film about a young boy and his empathy and identification with the dog, Laika, who was sent into space. Really warm and sad and sweet.
8: Brazil: Gilliam
Dystopian bureaucracy and the yearning for humanity in an industrialised, Orwellian world. It is both funny and very wry, with a very British - yes, Pythonesque - wit.
9: North by Northwest: Hitchcock
Cary Grant again, this time caught up in a web of intrigue. A great romantic thriller.
10: The Elephant Man: Lynch
The film's dark gothic Victoriana looks incredible, and the performances including those from Hopkins and Hurt are brilliant. Overall, an extremely beautiful, emotional and tender experience.
If you are bored and fancy diversion I recommend spending a few moments perusing the world of lookalikes. Here you will find a range of people with either a passing resemblance to a person of note, or none whatsoever, but the get up and go needed to suceed. See for yourself.
Enjoy, there's more here
African Grey parrots are very intelligent birds.
This video shows one that swears and talks French.
The Robin that perches on the bench where I meditate at lunchtimes. In my stillness, it comes and watches me, and when I open my eyes it is there by my side. Head tilted, chest puffed. I have taken to leaving, in the colder weather, little morsels for it to eat.
One time, I stood up from the bench and looked back to see my shadow cast down on the ground by the persevering winter sun, and the Robin then flitted down from the bench into the shadow, to rest on the place where my heart would be. Having just come out of the serenity of meditation, this moment struck me as poignant, and has remained with me.
There are also a couple of squirrels. The squirrels, in my unthreatening stillness have been known to play with my shoes in their curiousity.
The sheer silent magic of night time falling snow on the quelled streets of Soho - normally bustling with noise and traffic, instead frozen into stillness as if enchanted. The thick white crunch of fluff beneath one's feet. The search lights of a theatre revealing in their sweeping beams the flurrying butterfly swarm of fat flakes.
When I was six and watching Top of the Pops, I saw him dressed as Pierrot walking in front of a bulldozer in the Ashes to Ashes video, and I was utterly mesmerised. It was like seeing another planet. Inspiring, otherworldly, weird, brilliance.
Poetry. There is lots of terrible poetry in the world, a little more thanks to my occasional efforts, but when poetry is written well, it is sublime. From the anonymous voices of the past who have left their experiences writ in dead languages to the modern age, poetry is the complexity of human experience conveyed in language. Or, to be reductive, the most apt words in the most pleasing form to convey the thoughts and feelings of the poet. Some of my favourite poets, and poems, are: ee cummings; Pablo Neruda; TS Eliot; WH Auden; Apollinaire
Live review: Joanna Newsom, Royal Albert Hall, 28 September 2007
When I was asked to go to this concert, I was trepidatious, even reluctant. I had heard her name mentioned before and I had attempted to listen to her earlier works, but her naif screechy voice had completely horrified me, if I am honest. I could not get beyond the broken glass voice that scraped and scratched against the pristine elegance of the harp. But I was convinced to go, nonetheless.
So, in the prestige of the second tier of the Royal Albert Hall, we took our seats, directly opposite the stage. We had opted to enjoy a meal rather than see Roy Harper, which may have been a mistake, it was a good meal, nonetheless, and I prepared to be aurally assaulted by screech owls for an hour.
She came onto the stage with a winsome humility, and she spoke in a friendly and unassuming way to the audience. And then, with a guitarist, a violinist and a drummer she began to play.
And from the first bars of music, 'Bridges and Balloons', the sound swelled up and around the vast hall and I found that I was crying. Not out of sadness, but because of how utterly - overwhelmingly - beautiful the merging sounds and lyrics were. In the living, breathing, soaring music was something that I had missed, there was an honesty and a fragility that was so compelling that it was impossible to not feel it. And from that point on I was completely mesmerised. I think that when she played Sawdust and Diamonds I felt that I had actually travelled to a forgotten land. It was, in the end, one of the most memorable, beautiful and suprising concerts I have ever had the good fortune to attend.
I expected to be assaulted by screech owls, but instead I was lifted from the ground by a fleet of a hundred rainbow plumed parrots, and flown to a beautiful place.
Jaque Verges is a smirking, cigar wielding, French lawyer who has defended and been involved with a range of characters who can be described as 'colourful' in the same way as a gunshot wound can be.
He has represented a rogue's gallery or hall of fame, depending on your viewpoint, of extremists, terrorists, nazis, murderers, freedom fighters and assassins, from the right and the left. He counts among his friends Carlos 'the Jackal', Swiss nazi benefactor Francois Genoud and Pol Pot, under whose leadership an estimated 1.4 million people died.
Berbet Schroeder's film, which documents Verges extraordinary life, offers a tantalising insight into the man, including speculation over the 8 years in which he 'disappeared' from public life. Was he with Pol Pot? Was he a secret agent? Was he living a simple life in Paris?
At first it is possible to believe the notion he spins of himself - a man driven by principle, drawn to the struggle of the Algerian freedom fighters in his youth and defending bombers from the death penalty.
But then, through his proceeding career and his associations, the line of principle becomes untenable.
He defended Klaus Barbie, the former Gestapo chief, for example, justifying his position by posturing about establishment hypocrisy. In spite of his efforts, the Nazi war criminal was found guilty on 341 counts, including one incident where 44 children were rounded up from a farmhouse east of Lyon, at Izieu, and sent to their deaths.
In the second half of the film the introduction of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez or Carlos 'the jackal' somewhat overshadows Verges, this man whom a compatriot describes as a 'psychopath' struts an intriguing figure across Verges' life, as do many of the characters, including Algerian bomber Djamila Bouhired (the first deathrow woman he rescues and falls for) and the deadpan Magdalena Kopp (the second) or the repentant Hans Klein.
An extraordinary story is unfolded, and this is a stunning film, with exceptional access to the people involved and a wide reaching overview of this man's questionable but astonishing life.
By the end of this fascinating film, you are left with an enigmatic figure in Verges, with whom it is not possible to sympathise. Was he simply driven by ego? or something darker?
It is essential, for the law to be just, that everyone be defended.
But I found myself asking, who can defend Verges?
4 out of 5
Are you tired of standing absolutely motionless in the middle of a heaving carnival, pop concert or religious reverie?
Well stand still no more!
Someone has helpfully provided the following instructions for you:
Being a vegetarian is in some ways commendable, the reduced Carbon footprint for instance. But the downside is - no meat.
Whether you are herbivore or carnivore, fire is dangerous, okay? But the combination of meat and fire, well hats off to the furry and primitive Blumenthal who came up with that one.
Buen Ayre is found at 50 Broadway Market in hackney. It's a small place where they put fire and meat together. It's a little expensive for what it is, but the meat is fantastic. Great slabs of Argentinian beef blushing pink from modesty at how delicious it is. The wine list is good too.
The sort of place a cro magnon man or a gourmet would both be happy. I recommend it.
Total = 7.25
This is a great - if somewhat counterintuitive way - to cook a whole fish. I got the idea from Hugh Fearnley Whatsisface, though it is a very old traditional way to cook a fish.
1 large (750g to 1kg) line caught wild sea bass
2 garlic cloves
500kg rock salt, 500kg fine table salt
1 sprig rosemary or lemon thyme
Dill, marjoram, black pepper, lime juice.
Place the rock salt into a bowl and add a few table spoons of water, continue to add water until the salt is easy to mold. Then lay a base of salt, slightly larger than the fish in a baking tray, sprinkle black pepper and finely chopped garlic and lay bay leaves and/or lemon thyme on the salt, lay the fish on the salt.
The next time I make this, I am going to try not using only water to bind the salt, but to use lime and lemon juice in water, to see how this affects the flavour.
In the cavity of the fish, put a couple more bay leaves, and also a sprig of rosemary. The thing to note here is that whatever flavours you put in the cavity of the fish will permeate the flesh, so you need to be careful to not overpower the fish, but you can also take advantage of this. You could put a couple of slices of lemon, or garlic, or ginger, but really, the flavour of the fish is good enough to not augment too much.
An important thing to note is that you need to tuck the belly of the fish closed, so that the salt doesn't get in and ruin everything.
Now, dampen some table salt in a bowl and add slightly more than an equal amount of rock salt and mound a complete case of salt around the fish, leaving only the head and tail uncovered.
Then put it in the preheated oven at 220C or gas mark 7, for 35 minutes.
As an accompaniment you can boil some new potatoes for 15-17 minutes, and then when they are done, drain the water and add to them some finely chopped dill, marjoram and butter and make a simple salad of torn lettuce leaves and cherry tomatoes, dressed with olive oil and lime juice .
Serve the fish whole in the salt and then crack the hard salt case, peeling away the skin of the fish with the hard salt to reveal the white flesh. You can cleave the fillets from the bone - they should slide away with ease.
The salt case gives the fish a smokey flavour of its own, and of course you shouldn't add any salt to any other aspect of the dish, though I put a couple of drops of soy on the salad.
You can make a variation of the salad dressing for the fish, with the dill, marjoram, olive oil and lime juice and pepper and maybe a few chopped capers, but it is not really necessary as the fish if cooked properly is delicious unaccompanied.
How sustainable is this dish?