December 28, 2006 § Leave a Comment
This year Christmas falls five days short of our wedding. After solemnly promising myself that I would not spend the Christmas week eating and drinking, I’ve spent it… eating and drinking!
Oh well. On the other hand though, and if I recall correctly, one shady day a few months ago I decided to set up this blog with the intention of writing about food and wine. I can now attempt to justify my excesses in the face of a rapidley approaching wedding that this festive period has at least given me something to write about. Other than the fact I went out yesterday and purchased one of my favourite ever films on dvd: ‘star trek 2 – the wrath of Kahn’. I always want to rise out of my chair and give Kirk and co a hand when Kahn, bloodsoaked, in a wrecked ship shrieks “From hell’s heart I stab at thee!”.
So Christmas day. I was very much pleased to discover that the turkey we had purchased was in fact a Kelly-Bronze one, apparently a good breed according to Hugh and Delia. I buy purely on the prinicipal of whether or not an assurance is forthcoming that the Turkey has not lived in miserable, intense-farming conditions. I remember once watching a Rich Stein food heroes programme where he did a blind-fold taste of an organic free range turkey, pitted against a typical supermarket specimen. Unfortunately Rick got it wrong. Anyhow, the Turkey we had was delicious, incredibly tasty, and had an ambundance of meat, as our creaking fridge will testify.
Our Kelly Bronze.
Accompanying this meal, were some bottles of wine we had been saving. I had ensured their safely during my stag night, and here they are safe and sound:
On the left is a Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru, which in all honesty we didn’t drink – but it was there perched and ready! It will be there for another day (actually, it would benefit from us leaving it for a while). On the right flank is a Corton Pougets Grand Cru, and taking the central position is a half bottle of Chateau Yquem, the best pudding wine in the world.
After toasting the day with a Moet, eventually we made our way to the Corton. I can genuinely say I loved this bottle. I found it immediately distinguishes itself on colour. It possesses a purplely-red tinge to it, still retaining a transparency I’ve come to associate with pinot noirs. Along with the powerful aroma the taste was fantastic, full bodied. At best, I can explain it by saying it had a rich berry flavour with a little plummyness, and with a hint of liquorice. Mmmmm. I may have to go back to Burgundy and get some more. It costs me thirty-five quid a bottle out there, I’ve no idea what you would expect to pick it up for in the UK.
Next was a Christmas present given to us – the Yquem. Surprising light, a little orangey, possessing a delicate sourness, it was lovely. Perfect way to round off a fantastic day. Happy Christmas!
December 22, 2006 § Leave a Comment
December 20, 2006 § Leave a Comment
I haven’t been able to shake a musing recently. It must be a couple of years ago since I read Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ futuristic sci-fi novel. The premise of the story is that a mathematician (Harry Seldon) predicts the demise of the galactic empire. He then sets up a plan to minimize the duration of the ‘barbarism’ following on from this and so a great epic begins.
Oswald Spengler in the 1920’s wrote about the ‘Decline of the West’, which is believed to have loosely inspired Asimov’s Foundation series. Spengler writes about the notion that cultures are born, flourish and decline in a predictable fashion. He says history is littered with examples, Rome being a prominent one. Recently, I’ve started to ponder if we are in the decline stage of this theoretical cycle.
A key component of a declining culture is the breakdown of the economy. In the UK I believe we have some present-day examples of own economy going haywire. For example, in Euro 2004, Portugal built seven football stadiums for 333 million pounds. Our single national stadium costs nearly a billion, not to mention the massive delays incurred. The new NHS computer system, originally due to cost around 6.2 billion, is looking like a possible 40 billion. The 2012 olympics has risen 900 million pounds already but it’s still early days. How terrifying for London council tax payers? The national ID scheme, looking like a 20 billion pound project, already has been fundamentally redesigned wasting tens of millions in the process. Given the track record of over-budget IT projects, it’s wild guess at what that will eventually cost. The Trident nuclear submarines; we’re building three instead of four to cut costs. Apparently, we live in as much a dangerous time as that of the cold war. I’m not keen on spending billions on a nuclear deterrent, but if we’re going to go ahead with it, why not do it properly? Is this another sign of the deterioration of our times? There are examples everywhere. The London cross-rail link project. The government, probably reeling from it’s terrible past experiences doesn’t seem to want to start it, worrying over the budget. I remember going to Kaohsiung in Taiwan. It’s not stopping them, they’re digging up roads in the centre of the sprawling city to make way for a new subway. In fact, they’re doing it right now in Amsterdam. In India too they are building new highways left, right and centre.
Spengler cites the ‘concentration of wealth’ in individuals as factor leading to the end of mature democracies. There are certainly signs of this, look at this year’s bonus handouts in the capital. As the rich get richer and property prices soar the rest of us are put at a severe disadvantage. With money becoming less and less available to the masses, important things like education being to suffer. With universities unsuccessfully reaching out to the government for cash the emphasis is put on the students to stump up instead. Now students are coming out with huge debts, and receiving diminishing returns in education.
As in the deterioration of Asimov’s galactic empire, evidence of the transition is in abundance. We have our own warning signs. Poor Beagle 2, the lost British space probe to Mars. It’s the best the British could manage, and although I dearly wanted to see the probe touch down, let’s be honest it’s a damning reflection of our nation’s capability in space exploration. Even in being nearly twice over budget at 42 million, the people involved at the end said it should never really have been built. In our current state, we haven’t the means or infrastructure to consider such challenges as travelling to Mars.
Our transport system is grinding to a halt yet becoming ever more expensive. As our population grows putting more and more cars on the road, everyone greets the transport mahem with a grim resignation. The NHS is in a just as bad, if not in a worse state of affairs, even if the government says it isn’t. My experience of the NHS is that even though it takes months to see a specialist, the chances are if it’s not something trivial you’ll be bounced around all over the place. I talked to one guy on the phone who’s considering flying out the US to get treatment for RSI – this is after spending two and half years visiting x amount of UK ‘specialists’. Scarcely believable considering the costs involved of him doing so. It costs upwards of 750 pounds in the UK to get an MRI, compared to around 300 pounds in Norway, and in India I picked one up for 80. Why so much in this country? Not to mention that gravely, we can’t afford to give people the drugs they need.
We have a government intensely focussed on partisan politics. If only they spent as much time thinking out policies instead of bickering. It seems to be consultants that run the country, leaving our fearless leaders to get on with the job of attacking the opposition for riding bicycles, starting wars we can’t afford that make little sense, attacking political correctness yet being politically correct, and researching the Artic Monkeys.
Meanwhile after decades of dithering over whether or not global warming is real or not, we’re finally all up for doing something about it. It’s just a shame the local councils won’t let us install wind turbines on our roofs, even if they probably don’t help much anyway. Personally I don’t know why we just don’t ban normal lightbulbs, given that it would probably save us from constructing a multi billion pound nuclear power plant.
It’s tough worrying about all these things leading up to the end of our civilisation. Perhaps we need our own Harry Seldon to steer us through the challenges ahead.