Saturday, January 30, 2010

Apart from all being songs of a certain vintage, what could be the link between these?
The lyrics are all by the same chap, and him from Omagh, and a TCD guy, all into the same package. Until Lennon and McCartney came along, his name had been on more US "hits" than any other British song-writer

This is how that intelligence came to Malcolm:
  • Malcolm was imbibing at London's Irish Club;
  • he fell into conversation with a decent Ulsterman;
  • Malcolm mentioned his visits to Castlerock (where the Lady in Malcolm's life has a close friend);
  • both parties to the conversation raved about the view of the sun setting over Inishowen;
  • the decent Ulsterman mentioned just that view had provoked Red Sails in the Sunset;
  • the rest involves corroboration via Google. The footnote there links to
... James Kennedy wrote the words to this song after watching a sunset with his artist sister in Donegal, Ireland. The music was composed by Will Grosz (who was better known as Hugh Williams).

Red Sails In The Sunset was a big hit in the USA in 1935, topping Your Hit Parade for four weeks and selling more than a million copies of the sheet music; many recordings were made, including by Louis Armstrong and Paul Anka, but most notably by Bing Crosby.

The boat which inspired the song was called Kitty Of Coleraine (poetically the boat is itself named after a song), and it actually had white sails, it was only the sunset that made them appear red. A ten foot tall fishing boat was sculpted and a plaque erected in honor of the song, and the original boat was restored and put on public display in Portstewart Harbour.
Wilhelm Grosz is himself interesting. He fled Vienna, where he had an established reputation as a classical composer, for London in 1934. He adopted various pseudonyms: apart from "Hugh Williams" he was also "André Milos" and others, so that his music could be played in Nazi Germany, free of any "Jewish" origin. Grosz moved to Hollywood, which killed him of a heart attack in his mid-40s.

The best version, for Malcolm, of Red Sails in the Sunset is Nat King Cole's. Moreover, Malcolm reckons Patti Page in this clip is not, definitely not, dressed for Castlerock or Portstewart (where, too, the waves move) on 350+ evenings in the year:

Malcolm got as much personal delight in ferretting through that little lot, as he did in never fully comprehending the Schleswig-Holstein Question. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Plumbing the bottom of the gene pool

There was this thread running on Slugger O'Toole, where the repartition of Northern Ireland was debated.

One contributor thoughtfully suggested an article from Free Life, A Journal of Classical Liberal and Libertarian Thought. So Malcolm casually downloaded the .pdf. It sat there, on the edge of the screen for a few hours, until Malcolm opened it. And he hasn't stopped pshawing ever since.

Page one is a reproduced wood-cut (right) of a really juicy and instructive hanging and disembowelling, with the caption:
How very convenient for this Government
that it has abolished the death penalty for treason
And how "Classical Liberal".

That, presumably, is preface to "Doctor" Sean Gabb's treatise on Jack Straw, Corruption, and the New World Order. For the record, "Doctor" Gabb's first degree is in History. His published "academic" writings (both of them) are on truancy. Somehow, Malcolm feels that Gabb on the "New World Order" might be a trifle too intellectually challenged challenging for the moment.

But, lo and behold! Who is this, also listed in A Note on Contributors?
Paul Delaire Staines runs a hedge fund in Tokyo. His hobbies are watching the sun rise over Mount Fuji and chasing women [sic]
Can it be? Surely it is! Our one and only Guido!

Now, to be fair, Staines, a.k.a. Delaire Staines, a.k.a. de Laire Staines, a.k.a. "Guido" has already been done over several times. This, then may be gratuitous. But deserved. And fun.

So here, in case all those Fawkes-followers (and Tim Ireland) have not encountered this personal account by Mr Staines & c., & c., of his favourite topic (himself), here it begins:
My parents sold the former family home recently and asked me, not unreasonably, to clear out my books from their attic. I found my copy of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, from Plato to Marx, inside the cover my name was scrawled together with the date 1980. I date my conversion to Libertarianism from the day I put down that book.

I joined the Young Conservatives because they were the only people around who were anti-Socialist or at least anti-Soviet. This was the era of CND and I saw the key battle in terms of the West versus Soviet expansionism. Simon Salzedo was chairman of the local YCs and a Maggie-loving-Wet-hating typical young Tory. He was bemused by this zealous anti-Communist in his midst paraphrasing Popper and Hayek at cheese and wine evenings – it would be a few years before he would lead the charge at Oxford to dry out OUCA on a principled Libertarian platform. He was elitist and it rubbed off on me, by the time I got to sixth form I had revived the double barreled family name that my father had let wither as a sixties Young Fabian. My Anglo-Indian father obviously despaired of me hanging out with Tory crypto-racists whom he loathed (although later he would vote with his wallet for tax cuts and privatization giveaways).

By the time I was an undergraduate in the mid-eighties, having joined the Federation of Conservative Students, and somehow affecting to wear fake bow-ties and cheap suits (whilst endlessly debating the merits of Anarcho-Capitalism versus Minimal Statism), I had at last found a small number of like minded souls. Marc Henri Glendenning the then national chairman of FCS spoke a language I could understand - Thatcher on drugs. Still it was right-wing anti-Communist, anti-Wet and mainly reactionary. Battling in Student Unions to rename the “Mandela Bar” the “Bruce Forsyth Bar”, arguing with CND feminists and generally opposing the left wing campus establishment whilst in the real world the Conservatives won elections by landslides and the war of ideas. Only on campus were we a radical minority and intentionally antagonistic, in fact so obnoxious that the Conservative Party decided to close down its youth wings.

That antagonistic, sod you attitude continued after I failed to get a degree (I was thrown out for being a right-wing pain in the butt who was more interested in student politics than essays) when I went to work in the various right-wing pressure groups and think tanks that proliferated in the late eighties. The deliberately provocative attitude still maintained – I never wore a “Hang Mandela” badge but I hung out with people who did. Why? What did we gain from doing so? Did we make ourselves more popular by calling for the death of a man who was fighting injustice by the only means available to him? Did this “shift the parameters of debate” in our direction?
There's only so much flesh-and-blood can stand. The rest can be accessed here.

The piece on Northern Ireland is equally bizarre, lunatic, and (ultimately) thoroughly boring. Sphere: Related Content
"Don't dig that kind of croonin', chum!"
"You must be one of the newer fellas!"

Anyone failing to recognise Frank and Bing in High Society is a philistine with sweaty feet and stinky socks. If Malcolm's memory holds, "the smelly-socks brigade" was one of the "Dear Bill" terms for journalists. For the moment, enjoy:

Almost anent that frolic of delight, the downside of periods of "peace" in Northern Ireland is each one requires a refresher course for Westminster-orientated journalists, regardless of sock-condition, once normal service of continued crisis resumes. In that spirit, we come today to James Forsyth, assuring us that:

The Tories' Northern Ireland policy has nothing to do with electoral advantage

If a politician (as e.e.cummings had it) is an arse on which everyone has sat except a man, what does that make a journo regurgitating Tory PR pap?

Forsyth gets worse when he gets personal:
The mutterings you hear from the Northern Ireland Office is that the Tories decision to contest seats in Ulster means that they can no longer be seen as impartial. That’s true but I don’t think the British government should be neutral about Northern Ireland’s status.
Now, let's place that in the context of established, bipartisan policy:
9 November, 1990
Peter Brooke's "no selfish strategic interest" speech.
Peter Brooke said Britain had no "selfish strategic or economic interest" in Northern Ireland and would accept unification, if the people wished it. "It is not the aspiration to a sovereign, united Ireland against which we set our face, but its violent expression." The speech had a huge impact on republican thinking and paved the way for the Downing Street Declaration.
What makes Brooke's cool, clear commonsense all the more remarkable is Margaret Thatcher was still (just) Prime Minister. So a hands-off policy has endured through seven administrations: the final three weeks of Thatcher, John Major I, John Major II, Blair I, Blair II, Blair III and Gordon Brown. Is that the longest continuity in Anglo-Irish policy since the First Home Rule Bill was introduced?

Were it to be succeeded by Cameron on trainer-wheels, pandering to Unionists for cheap electoral advantage (nothing strategic, nothing selfish) all is changed, changed utterly.

Little Englanders

To understand the shift in Tory policy, one needs to look back a bit.

The 1997 Election wiped out the Tory Party in Scotland and Wales. The now entirely-English Parliamentary Party got the message:
PRESSURE for an English parliament increased last night following a poll showing half of Tory MPs back plans for an all-England assembly.

The independent Campaign for an English Parliament was due to be launched today as the Tories prepared for their annual conference in which demands for English devolution will be high on the agenda.

A Scotland on Sunday poll of 47 Tory MPs found that 22 wanted an English parliament, with 21 opposed. Four were yet to decide. The MPs were all English - the Tories have no members in Scotland or Wales ...
After the 2005 Election, the Tories were the largest party -- in England. Elsewhere -- Scotland, and Wales -- their vote and representation (one seat in Scotland, three in Wales) were still nugatory. The one UUP seat in Northern Ireland was Sylvia Hermon in North Down, of whom:
I was elected as an Ulster Unionist; if my party chooses to move to call themselves a different name then I'm sorry. The people of North Down have stood by me in the most difficult of times. At the present time I can't see myself standing under the Conservative banner.
The England First campaign continued. David Davis, still shadow Home Secretary, was demanding "English votes" for English parliamentary business. Alan Duncan, a close associate of Davis and then Shadow Trade Secretary, went on television to say:
... we for instance, the Conservatives, have a majority in England. We have MPs from Scotland, essentially telling England what to do, when they are doing the opposite in Scotland, have no control over what they are doing in their own constituencies in Scotland and are not in any way accountable for the effects their actions have on England.

I mean, I'm beginning to think it's almost impossible now to have a Scottish Prime Minister because they will be at odds with the basic construction of the British constitution
Then, in October 2007, David Cameron discovered the Union:
Speaking in the shadow of both the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace, Mr Cameron said: "It is my desire and my duty to help shape the future, and the future of our Union is looking more fragile, more threatened than at any time in recent history."

He added: "The SNP now promise to deliver independence in 10 years and at the same time there are those in England who want the SNP to succeed, who would like to see the Union fail.

"They seek to use grievances to foster a narrow English nationalism. I have a message for them: I will never let you succeed."
By July 2008 Cameron was seeking a formal link with the Ulster Unionists. This was the only way to reconcile two opposites:
  • The Ulster Unionist Party had broken with Thatcher's Tories over the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. The issue then was the Irish Republic having a consultative rôle in Northern Irish affairs.
  • A truly "unionist" party required a Tory name on every Westminster ballot paper.
So was born UCUNF, another of those unfortunate acronyms peculiar to Northern Irish tin-ears (the Ulster Unionist Council being another).

It didn't need an eagle eye to spot the problems:
A UUP spokesman said: “The Executive Committee of the UUP has overwhelmingly endorsed the creation of a Conservative and Ulster Unionist Joint Committee to oversee and facilitate co-operation between both parties.”

He said the joint committee would: “bring forward proposals on manifesto commitments and the branding of candidates, ensuring that the heritage and appeal of both parties are respected and that the popular appeal to the whole Northern Ireland electorate is maximised.” ...

The UUP spokesman said the arrangement would operate on the basis of consensus between the parties.
Read it quickly and one might, just might, overlook that the UUP heritage includes the Orange Order, the odd sectarian march, and a bit of gender inequality.

Back to Forsyth

His CPHQ-inspired line is that the recent Hatfield House connivings:
were bringing together their allies in Northern Ireland, the old Ulster Unionist party, and the DUP. But that was because no deal can be done on the devolution of policing and justice without support from both unionist parties.
Again, a quick read might fail to observe that use of "allies": does it refer only to the UUP? If that's so, Malcolm, that old pedantic grammarian, suggests two phrases need swapping. For, as it stands, surely it includes the DUP? And, what's that about "the old Ulster Unionist party"? Has the UUP been formally integrated into the all-embracing Tory Party? Has anyone politely informed Sir Reg that he's now running merely the branch office (for which, see below)?

Another thing. The Tories in London deny (see Ecclesiasticus, XIII, 1) that they touched sectarian pitch, and therefore remain undefiled. Yet their "old" "ally", Sir Reg in Belfast seemed to be saying two things yesterday. His straight emphasis of the UUP's continued and continuing separatism was part of his crafty and crafted cryptic allusion to those three withdrawn candidates (two Roman Catholics and two women, who do seem to know what was going on, and didn't like it):
what has happened is an internal matter for the Conservative Party.
A nice reminder: in those Byzantine corridors of Stormont and 174 Albertbridge Road, the art of opaque double-talk is still developed. As is the cult of local independence: the Unionist goal is not to be lackeys at Westminster -- they've had Craigavon's
Protestant parliament for a Protestant people
and quite liked it. Many, especially west of the Bann, would like to have it some more. An Ulster Unionist's deliberate coded ambiguity is something that Tory Headquarters does not comprehend and has yet fully to develop. It's something, too, these newer-fellas in the press corps need to study to comprehend.

No, Dave. No, Sir Reg. No, Mr Fraser. Those are stinking socks, and this won't wash.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gulp. Swallow. Choke.
CUPERTINO, California—January 25, 2010—Apple® today announced financial results for its fiscal 2010 first quarter ended December 26, 2009. The Company posted revenue of $15.68 billion and a net quarterly profit of $3.38 billion, or $3.67 per diluted share. These results compare to revenue of $11.88 billion and net quarterly profit of $2.26 billion, or $2.50 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin was 40.9 percent, up from 37.9 percent in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 58 percent of the quarter’s revenue.
Gross margin: near 41%. Sphere: Related Content
What's in a name?

Well, let's try Owen Paterson:
MP for North Staffordshire ...

Since July 2007, he has been Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
And, as of the last week, increasingly the centre of a storm, as -- finally -- explained cogently by Nick Robinson for the BBC:

The Tories hosted a secret meeting bringing together Ulster Unionists - who are now formally in alliance with the Tories - and their bitter rivals the Democratic Unionists at an English country house.

The venue was Hatfield House, home of Lord Cranborne, the former Tory MP and peer who opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement negotiated by Margaret Thatcher and has long been regarded as a "friend of unionism".

The agenda for the"secret meeting" seems in doubt:

The talks were - according to the Conservatives - to resolve differences over the issue of how to resolve the breakdown of trust at the top of the Northern Irish Executive which threatens to force new assembly elections. They came at a time when the DUP was weakened by the Mrs Robinson scandal. If new elections were held, Sinn Fein could emerge as the biggest party in Northern Ireland - which would make Martin McGuinness first minister.

Some who attended the talks insist that they also focused on the dream of "unionist unity" - co-operation or, perhaps in the long term, merger, between the UUP and DUP - which could prevent Sinn Fein's electoral triumph and, in Westminster elections, deliver a dozen unionist MPs who might be expected to support the Conservatives. Very helpful indeed if David Cameron faces a hung Parliament after the next election.

In other words, either way Mr Paterson was trawling in some very deep waters. Whichever way that little lot is spun, it looks as if he was muscling in, meddling in local sectarian politics, and seeking partisan opportunism. Not the even-handedness expected of a putative occupant of the potty-of-state at Hillsborough Castle: such, too, is the expressed view of the Northern Ireland Alliance Party. The SDLP is scathing:
No-one is buying the Tory line that this secret, all-unionist meeting was an attempt to overcome political instabilities.

If this was the genuine motivation, then why haven't the Tories met with the nationalist parties which represent half of the population living here?
Meanwhile Sinn Féin look wise and stay quiet.

So, what have we here?

Paterson and the Tories protest innocence: they were doing the decent thing, not elbowing aside Secretary of State Woodward, just oiling the squealing wheels of Unionist Policing and Justice “policy”. With the DUP hierarchy attending, it must be supposed that Robinson wants movement on that agenda. Why such altruism needed to be kept from public scrutiny, nobody has yet explained.

If, on the other hand, the Hatfield House Cabal was in part or in whole a stitch-up of NI constituencies to benefit the London Tory machine, for very obvious reasons it has to kept away from the public, and indeed most of the UUP and DUP. Then the whole basis for the meeting becomes abundantly clear. By objective standards the gathering was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons, and held in the wrong way. When it slithered out for general scrutiny, three would-be Conservative candidates in Northern Ireland promptly withdrew their names from the lists. What adds spice to the pot is these three were:
  • Peter McCann, a BBC producer for Top Gear, who must on any grounds qualify as one of Cameron’s A-listers, but who happens also to be a West Belfast Roman Catholic;
  • Sheila Davidson, a high-profile businesswoman, another “star” candidate, who happens also to be a Roman Catholic;


  • Deirdre Nelson, a Ballymena councillor who defected from the DUP to the Tories last summer.

On the surface, three highly eligible, able and photogenic potential candidates. Yet, two RCs and two women: not qualities which command respect from your average DUP stalwart.

[Yeah: that last bit is a cut-and-shut from the Home Service .]

Enter, from behind the arras, Sir Reg Empey

Commenting on those three resignations, he was in full Pontius Pilate hand-washing mode:
However what has happened is an internal matter for the Conservative Party, and it is not me to comment… Until final candidates are selected they have their processes and we have ours.

My own Party is continuing through its selection process, which we hope will be completed shortly. Some constituencies have completed their process, and others are very close to doing so.
That totally fails to explains why the process was strung out to this degree, all the way from early last autumn and still unresolved now, with a General Election due whenever the whistle blows. Was it inertia, a lack of collaboration between the UUP and the Tories, the contracting parties in UCUNF? Or was it a deliberate UUP ploy: “if we hang it out long enough, they’ll get the message and go away”? Either way, it should be a black mark against Paterson, who is supposed to be the primum mobile here.

So, back to the issue of names.

Malcolm noted that he was not alone in giving Paterson an extra "t"; Nick Robinson has made the same slip:
The Tory leader insisted that the Conservatives would fight all seats in Northern Ireland - so, by implication, not make way for the DUP. He backed his Northern Ireland spokesman Owen Patterson who, friends say, was just trying to help ensure that devolution stayed on track.
Is this just a typo, or is there something Freudian?

For, out of a long-neglected synapse, Malcolm dredged a connection. It was that sectarian thing at the back of his mind. Of course there’s nothing sectarian about the Tories cuddling with the DUP: perish the thought. Never, oh, no! Except there's that quote in Henry McDonald's piece for the Observer (curiously omitted from the London edition Malcolm received):
"This meeting confirmed our fears that the party leadership is preparing to agree to a sectarian DUP-UUP carve-up of constituencies. Peter and others resigned on a matter of principle, that principle being a wholly secular, inclusive pro-union politics untainted by sectarianism.

"If Owen Paterson was doing this on his own, the party leaders should fire him. If not, then it seems the leadership has agreed to get into bed not only with the UUP but now the DUP. This is the triumph of tribalism over inclusive, secular politics."

That same Peter McCann, rather than the anonymous"source close to the trio", was later quoted:
Our sister party [i.e. the UUP] seemed to be intriguing into a public link-up with the Democratic Unionists. That was the point where I decided that the process was not going where I wanted.
Nothing about wanting to spend more time with his family!

The synapse triggered recollection of the former US ambassador to Guatemala, Richard Cunningham Patterson Jr. So settle down, kiddies, while Grandad Malcolm tells us a story ...

1954: the CIA's Guatemalan coup d'état

The government of Guatemala set about a redistribution of the idle lands expropriated from German owners during the Second World War. It so happened that much of this was coveted (but not in use) by the United Fruit Company. The President of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, offered United Fruit (who would still retain 162,000 acres, of which they were cultivating only 50,000) $600,000 of bonds for the rest: that, incidentally was United Fruit's own valuation, for tax purposes, of the worth of the lands.

United Fruit could not get Truman's administration to see sense: that the Arbenz regime was "Communist". Lubricated by generous campaign donations, that view changed once Eisenhower was established in the White House. It was, assuredly, sheer coincidence that the Dulles brothers (one head of the CIA, the other the Secretary of State) were major shareholders in United Fruit.

Patterson was the Eisenhower man in Guatemala. He adapted the Duck Test to comment on the Arbenz régime:
Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says ‘duck’. But the bird certainly looks like a duck. Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he’s wearing a label or not.
Duck or goose, Guatemala was trussed, basted and cooked. A military junta took over in the summer of 1954.

So, here's to you, Mr Paterson.

Quack. Quack. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, January 25, 2010

Foul-mouthed Tory apologist
(certified drunk)
derides clinical depression
as "pill-pushing" -- official

Full story here. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Smaller birds and other masters of the universe

The Lady in Malcolm's life is assiduous in providing for the denizens of the London suburban air.

This means that Malcolm's morning mocha (with the added foam from his milk frother notified previously) is diverted by the arrrivals and departures:
09:54 Blackbird Airlines arrives, refuels, departs;
09:55 Air Robin arrived from laburnum bush, swift turnaround;
09:56 Chaffinch shorthaul drops in, and heads out;
09:57 Pigeon post ...
and so on. With luck there'll be the resident wren and the bullfinches and the blue-tits ...

Further down the lawn, the jays come and go. There have been as many as five jackdaws in the beech tree at the same time. The grey squirrels flit from fence to fence (what divides the human territories provides their highways). Early morning the local vixen made her passing loping appearance.

Paul the gardener assures Malcolm that the stag-beetles and the newts will show again in the spring, that the toads and the odd hedgehog are still around.

All non-human life is here.

Soothing. Normal. Adds whole dimensions of proper proportion.

The Lady and Malcolm just pay the Council Tax.

For more consolation, there's Highgate Wood at the top of the road, and always wise old Kipling:

 Sphere: Related Content

Friday, January 22, 2010

Big bird

For Gordon Lightfoot, all the way back to 1964, "big" was a 707:

The current Economist update reminds us that the 707's bigger, better successor, the 747 Jumbo, is itself now forty years old.

Malcolm recalls his first transAtlantic trip (on an aging, and ratty, Lockheed) and how the 747 experience was itself an up-grade.

Yet, as that Economist piece, reprinted from Jan 24th 1970 makes clear, the 747 was not without early problems:
When Pan American's jumbo 747 failed to take off on what should have been its first, regular passenger flight, the reputation of the American aircraft industry took a terrible knock. This was the second time within two weeks that an engine had failed at take-off. Pilots say the overheating that made it necessary to disembark all 362 passengers, unload 15 tons of freight and find a replacement aircraft on Wednesday is unimportant and occurs only during slow taxi runs and never in flight. But it is alarming enough for a very senior captain to turn back after starting his take-off run, on the first scheduled flight of the first basically new aircraft for more than 12 years and in the full light of all the publicity an event like this attracts.
That flight was New York to Heathrow, a PanAm flight. The aircraft, therefore, has outlived the air-line.

What follows (and it deserves reading) is a positive consumer report of the flying experience. Some things seem to have reverted to type:
... innovations in the cabin itself, broken up into a series of four rooms by kitchen units running a help-yourself buffet service, and eliminating the dreary dispensing of plastic meals from trolleys that block the aisles for hours on end. For the first time passengers are treated as customers, rather than chairbound invalids to be fed at times and with the foods on their diet sheets.
While others are definitively not experiments worth attempting:
Weight is also expected to be a safety factor in the sense that a crashing 747's tons of steel are more likely to streamline obstacles and less likely to crumple like kitchen foil. The outcome could be a tendency for the first time in decades for some passengers to survive a crash. This is not an aspect the airlines like to expand on but it is one more factor suggesting it will be difficult to get passengers out of jumbos once they get the taste for them.
The last laugh is neatly captured in the Economist's every-picture-tells-a-story graphic. This accompanies the parallel one-paragraph noting where we are today. Shamelessly, because he liked it and because he has lasting admiration and affection for the Economist, Malcolm reproduces it here: Sphere: Related Content
Whammy? Whammy!

Brits got it, thanks to Chris Patten, who engineered the "double whammy" of his own: cooking up the poster slogan that won it for the Tories in 1992, while managing to lose his own seat at Bath in the same election.

This being Britain, the staider columnists tended to sneer at the populism of the term.

Malcolm assumed that Patten, a benign and civilised creature for a Tory, had borrowed it from the 1988 novel by Carl Hiaasen (left). If so, more credit to him. Particularly so, because in electoral terms, it was laying a bait to catch the passing attention of an easily-hooked dupe. And if ever the electorate was hooked, cooked, battered and fried, it was immediately after that election.

Al Capp

There were, among the more cerebral pundits, attempts to explain the imported term. As Malcolm recalls, most traced it back to the seminal Li'l Abner strip by Al Capp, where it was the weapon of choice of "Eagle-eye Fleagle" (apparently the agreed spelling, but not Al Capp's).

The Oxford English Dictionary (which, as habitués of this column well-know, is Malcolm's instant resort on these occasions) ascribes it to July of 1951:
Evil-Eye Fleegle is th' name, an' th' ‘whammy’ is my game. Mudder Nature endowed me wit' eyes which can putrefy citizens t' th' spot!.. There is th' ‘single whammy’! That, friend, is th' full, pure power o' one o' my evil eyes! It's dynamite, friend, an' I do not t'row it around lightly!.. And, lastly th' ‘double whammy’ namely, th' full power o' both eyes which I hopes I never hafta use.
That may be Eagle-eye Fleegle's most comprehensive self-definition, but (since the strip ran from 1934) it cannot be the first.

For one example, it is claimed that the first bombs of the Korean War were dropped by the B-29 Superfortress "Double Whammy" on 28 June 1950.

Yet even Li'l Abner is not the origin here. Al Capp "borrowed" the "Eagle-eye" from Ben Finkle, former boxer, from St Louis once upon a time, patronised by Dion O'Banion in Chicago's mob-wars, but a long-term resident of Miami, and possessor of the deadly look.

All of which is incidental, prompted by Malcolm re-reading The Final Days, Woodward and Bernstein's exhaustive (and even exhausting) follow-up to All the President's Men.

We reach Sunday, 28th July, 1974: the end of a climactic week in which the Supreme Court had ruled 8-0 that Nixon's tapes must be handed over to the Special Prosecutor and the House Judiciary Committee had approved the first article of impeachment. Nixon and his entourage are heading back to the capital:
Air Force One departed El Toro Air Base for Washington at 2:26 P.M. The mood on board was somber. [White House Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander] Haig and [Press Secretary Ron] Ziegler were forward in the President's cabin. Both went back to speak with the reporters in the press section, emphasizing the line they had adopted since the Judiciary Committee vote. There had been reverses, a "triple whammy", Haig conceded, but they had not given up on the vote in the full House. The President, Ziegler maintained, was disappointed with recent developments, but not discouraged. Haig did not foresee resignation.
Ah yes: there it is, again. Was that Patten's source? Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This isn't just beer ...

The occasional reader of Malcolm's maunderings might recall the auld fella's penchant for Adnam's Broadside. This is advertised as
a premium bitter like no other.
Well, not quite.

Among the limited, but competent beer offerings by Marks and Spencer is Southwold Winter Beer. It specifically recognises its parentage: the collar tag identifies Adams (not that Southwold is wall-to-wall with brewers) and the back label refers to the Broadside heritage.

Malcolm finds it a thoroughly adequate drink, particularly for toasting toes before an open fire this dank, gloomy London evening. Protz and Cannavan say:
The copper-red beer is brewed with four malts and has oak, burnt fruit, smoky malt, dark chocolate and peppery hops on the nose. Raisin and sultana fruit dominate the palate with bitter hop resins and roasted grain. Tart fruit, roast malt and good hop bitterness combine in the long finish with a continuing hint of chocolate.
Yeah ... right.

About the only thing wrong is that it's not Broadside. The hint is the declared alcohol value: this is 4% against Broadside's 4.7%. So, a side-by-side comparison, shows this M&S effort lacking a trifle of depth. And Tesco charge £1.59 (40p less) for the real McCoy. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Alexander Zinzan, the man from ... Albania?

A month back, Malcolm collected his pieces on his distant ancestor, Sir Jacques Granado. Subsequently he rustled up another reference, from the Proceedings and Ordinances of the Privy Council of England, volume VII: 32 Henry VIII, MDXL, to 33 Henry VIII MDXLII (page 71) and, in summary on line through the site:
... at Windsor the 24th of October [1540] being present the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Privy Seal, the Comptroller of Household, the Master of the Horses, the Vice-chamberlain, Sir Ralf Sadler secretary.

Upon examination of a complaint put up to the Lord Privy Seal by James Joyner of Saint Albans against Alexander Zynzam & Jakes Granado esquiers desquyryes for breaking the peace & their answer against the said complaint, it was enjoined to Richard Rawnshaw sergeant at arms who was thought to be a great meddler in this matter that the said James Joyner of St Albans, that neither they nor their wives nor the son in law of the said Raynshaw should in any wise meddle or have to do with the body of one Katheryn Tattersall widow which is found by an inquest of office to be lunatic, and that also they should keep the peace against all the King’s servants being abiders there in the town of Saint Albans. It was also enjoined to the said Alexander Zinzam & Jakes Granado that they should in no wise give occasion to any of the said James Joyner nor their wives or to any other to break the peace.
Those esquiers desquyryes would be "squires of the stables". Moreover, it shows Zinzan in England fifteen years earlier than stated in the main reference below.

Men of property

Zinzan appears at Aldenham, south of St Albans, and convenient for Akeman Street (the modern A41) between London and the north-west. The deaths of two daughters are recorded in the parish records for 1573:
Septebr Jane & Jone Zynzam ye Childr' of Alexandr Zynzam gent ye 7 day.
Around this time, his son, Robert, is starting a career in the family horsey business: the Disbursement Books of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, include an entry of 40 shillings paid, 5th February 1585, to “young Robert Alexander”. This is footnoted as
the son of Alexander Zinzan, an Albanian Rider of the Stables in the 1550s and 1560s. He [i.e. Robert Alexander] was a member of the Stables staff by 1576 and by 1588-9 an Equerry and Rider (PRO, E101/107/33, Stables wage list 31 Elizabeth).
In 1596, Robert Zynzan or Alexander is leasing land in Christchurch, Hampshire:
site of manor, pasture and tithes in Ogbeare and Avonmead, pasture in Gramborough and tithes in Stratford, rent £7 10s. 8d.
The Alexander record

The most comprehensive account of Alexander Zinzan and his family appears in Charles Rodgers: Memorials of the Earl of Sterling and of the house of Alexander (available in various formats on line):

CHAPTER XXXIV.(pages 171-8)


ACCORDING to the learned author of the " History of Reading," Berkshire, the family of Zinzano, supposed to be of Italian origin, settled in England during the reign of Queen Mary (Coates' History of Reading, p. 445). The first reference to any member of the House in England occurs in 1555. Sir John Norres, knight, of Yattenden, Berkshire, died 21st October 1564. In the inquisition on his obit, made at Abingdon on the 25th January 1564-5, it was found that, by deeds executed on the 25th April and 20th August 1555, he had settled certain lands at Ashampsted and Hampsted-Norres, Berks, on his illegitimate daughter, Anne Norres, alias Graunt, and her issue. At the date of inquest, Anne was wife of Alexander Zinzan, gentleman, residing at Ashampsted.

Robert, son of Alexander Zinzan and Anne Norres, preferred as a surname his father's Christian name. In May 1585, a warrant was directed by Queen Elizabeth to the officers of Exchequer, authorising a grant of £50 to Robert Alexander, styled "one of the Quirries [equerries] of the stable, to defray his charges in conveying certain horses from the Queen to the King of Scotts, also for the charges of such as should accompany him " (Docquet Book of Exchequer).

In April 1594, a royal licence was granted to Robert Alexander and Richard Mompessons, equerries of her Majesty's stable, "that they, their executors, administrators, and assignes only, and none other, may bring into this realme of England annis seeds and sumacke, during the space of twentie yeares after the date of the same letters patent, paying to her Majestie the customes and subsedies due from the same " (Docquet Book).

Among the knights dubbed by James I. in the royal garden at Whitehall, on the 23d July 1603, was Sir Robert Alexander of St Albans (Nichols' Progresses of James I.). Sir Robert married the daughter of - - Westrode, Esq. of Hansacker Hall, Staffordshire, by whom he had four sons Sigismund, Henry, Alexander, and Andrew ; also three daughters.

Sir Robert Alexander or Zinzan seems to have died in 1607, for on the 24th December of that year, Henry Zinzan, alias Alexander, his second son, received the office of brigandery [see reference below] to his Majesty, in succession to his father, Sir Robert Zinzan or Alexander (Patent Roll, James I., v. 17).

On the 8th May 1607, a warrant, subscribed by the Master of the Horse, was directed to the treasurer and other officers of his Majesty's household, authorising them to pay to Alexander Zinzan, and two others, described as "ordinary ryders of his Majesty's stable, an encrease of 15 lb. by the yeare during their lives, over and above their former allowance of 20 lb. yearly. Also to pay unto Andrew Zinzan the younger, now entertayned as a ryder of the said stables, 15 lb. by the yeare for his wages during his life, and to such person as shall succeed as an ordynary ryder of the said stable."
John Pritchard was, on the 24th January 1626, appointed a rider of his Majesty's great horses, in place of Alexander Zinzan, deceased.

On the 28th April 1607, “Andrew Zinzan, alias Alexander, of the town of St Alban, and county of Hertford," is named in an indenture between himself and Henry Cutlar of Ayr, in the county of Suffolk. During the same reign, Andrew Zinzan, alias Alexander, received 66, 13s. 4d. per annum for riding the king's great horses.

Among the burials in St Lawrence's Register for 1625 is named that of "Mr Andrew Zinzan, alias Alexander." In July 1624, Richard Zinzan, alias Alexander, received an annuity of 66, 13s. 4d., and yearly livery, for riding the king's great horses in reversion after Andrew Zinzan, alias Alexander (Record of the Sign Manual, vol. xvi., No. 10).

Sir Sigismund and Henry Alexander or Zinzan, sons of Sir Robert Alexander, were associated as masters of sports at the accession of James I. In describing certain fetes in honour of the king's arrival at Grafton, the seat of her father, George, Earl of Cumberland, and which took place on the 27th June 1603, Lady Anne Clifford writes thus :

"From thence (Althorp) the Court removed, and were banquetted with great Royaltie, by my Father, at Grafton, wher the King and Queene wear entertayned wth Speeches and delicat presents, at wch tyme my Lord and the Alexanders did run and course at ye field, wher he hurt Henry Alexander verie dangerouslie."

In the Warrant Book of the Exchequer (vol. ii., p. 141), a Privy Seal warrant, dated 14th March 1608, authorises the treasurer to pay to Sir Sigismund Alexander, knight, and Henry Alexander, Esq., the sum of 100 in "frie guift." They afterwards received 100 annually " towards their charges for running at "tylte." In certain of the warrants, the "tylte" is described as having been run on the 24th of March.

On the 10th February 1611, Henry Alexander, described as "one of the gent, equerries of His Majesty's Stables, received a grant of all such goods, chattels, and debtes, which ought to come to His Highness by the means of the attainder of Richard Bancks, late of Westness, in the county of York, attainted of manslaughter" (Patent Roll). In 1614 Sir Sigismund and Henry Alexander received a royal gift of 1000. Henry Zinzan was appointed harness maker [see reference below] to the Ordnance, with a salary of 10 per annum. He long retained office in the royal household, for there is an indenture, dated 1st May 1638, between him and Joseph Zinzan or Alexander, one of his sons, in which he is described as "one of the equerries of the stable, son and heir of Robert Zinzan, alias Alexander, long since deceased " (Patent Roll, Charles I., xiv. 23, 26).

Sir Sigismund Alexander held a command in the Low Countries in 1617 (Coates 5 History of Reading). Among the undated State Papers of the reign of Charles I., there is a list of captains recommended for service in the Palatinate. Among the lieutenants is named Sir Sigismund Alexander; he afterwards appears as a petitioner for a company under the name of Sir Sigismund Zinzan, specially recommended "by the Prince and Queen of Bohemia." In a document containing a list of colonels and lieutenant-colonels connected with Ireland, he is named in a roll of captains.

Sir Sigismund Zinzan or Alexander married Margaret, daughter of Sir Philip Sterley, knight, of the county of Nottingham, by whom he had five sons and three daughters. Margaret, one of the daughters, married, first, Sir William Shelley, knight ; and secondly, Robert Thomas, Esq. On the 9th March 1640-1, along with her father, she presented to the House of Lords a petition, praying for relief against a sentence of the Judges Delegates, made upon an appeal from the Ecclesiastical Court, touching the validity of her marriage with Sir William Shelley (Manuscripts in the House of Lords, quoted in Appendix to Fourth Report of Royal Historical Commissioners).

Henry, son of Sigismund Zinzan or Alexander, married Jacoba, eldest of the three daughters, and co-heiress of Sir Peter Vanlore, Bart, of Tilehurst, Berkshire. Mary, Sir Peter's youngest daughter, had, as her first husband, Henry Alexander, third son of the first Earl of Stirling, who afterwards succeeded to the earldom. Among the Close Rolls is an indenture, executed on the llth January 1661, between Sir Robert Crooke, who married Susan, second daughter of Sir Peter Vanlore, and his two brothers-in-law, Henry Zinzan or Alexander, and Henry, Earl of Stirling. Henry Zinzan or Alexander died in November 1676, and Jacoba, his wife, in the following
year. Both were interred at Tilehurst, and are commemorated by a monument in the parish church.

By his wife, Jacoba Vanlore, Henry Zinzan or Alexander had three sons, Henry, Nicholas, and Peter ; also five daughters. Henry, the eldest son, was born 2d January 1633. An indenture, dated 28th August 1704, between Peter Zinzan or Alexander of Reading, Berks, and Nicholas Zinzan, alias Alexander, of London, describes the former as "brother and heir of Henry Alexander, alias Zinzan, late of Tylehurst, in the county of Berks, deceased." Nicholas Zinzan was a member of St John's College, Oxford, and took the degree of M.A., 16th March 1694. He was ordained deacon by Bishop Hough in Magdalen Chapel, 22d May 1692.

Peter Zinzan or Alexander, third son of Henry Zinzan, was vicar of St Lawrence, Reading. His grandson, Peter Zinzan, baptized 30th September 1705, was elected a demy of Magdalen College, Oxford, in July 1723, on the Berkshire foundation, and took the degree of M.A. in 1729. He resigned his demyship in 1731, but became probation-fellow in 1735. He afterwards held various offices in his college, of which he became vice-president in 1746.

In a letter addressed by the magistrates of Leith to the magistrates of Edinburgh, dated 17th October 1668, one Charles Zinzan is named as resident at Leith, and as having had his house attacked by sixteen French soldiers (Analecta Scotica, vol. ii., p. 164); he may have been a son of Henry Zinzan or Alexander. Charles Zinzan, who practised medicine at Reading, married, first, the widow of Charles Hopson, Esq. of Beenham, and secondly, Sarah, daughter of Matthews of Reading. He died Reading on the 9th November 1781, and his remains were deposited in St Mary's churchyard. He is the individual referred to in Dr Bacon's " Kyte" in The Oxford Sausage. Describing his manners, Mr Coates remarks : " Had he not retired from his
profession upon his first marriage, he would probably have been distinguished in it ; but wealth, as is frequently the case, checked the exertions of genius (Coates' History of Reading, and Private Sources).
Note: It isn't a great leap from making body-armour ("brigander") to harnesses for horses.

The Globe Theatre

What is missing there is that the Zinzans did not limit their entertainments to horse-back. Their names crop up in masques (though mainly in that professional equestrian context). Sir Sigismund, though, was the landlord of The Globe theatre between 1624 and 1627. Thomas Brend (abt 1516-1598) owned the site, which passed to his son, Nicholas (abt 1561-1601). Sigismund married Nicholas Brend's widow, the former
Margaret Strelley. In due course, the property passed on to Sir Matthew Bend, Nicholas's son.

The Visitation of Berkshire

Some of the genealogy provided by Rodgers derives from Ashmole's Visitation of Berkshire, 1664-1666, which includes two tables involving the Zinzan family:

and (page 117):

But still ... Albanian?

There is no contradiction when the Dudley book suggests Zinzan was "Albanian" while Rodgers makes the Italian connection. At that time, much of the Dalmatian coast was in the hands of the Venetian Republic.

At home with the Waltons

So far the Zinzams are rooted in Hertfordshire and Berkshire. From that second generation, Robert Alexander owns lands in Walton-on-Thames, provoking this in the parish history:
THE ZINZAN FAMILY (alias Alexander) - Royal Jousters
The parish register of June, 1660, records the baptism of Charles, son of Mr. Robert Zinzan and his wife, Anne. Another entry reveals that Mr. Robert Alexander was buried in October, 1675. This family owned land in Walton during the first half of the 17th century. We know that because a lay subsidy on lands in Walton-on-Thames was paid by Robert Alexander, Knight, in 1603. In his will, he is described as 'Sir Robert Zinzan, alias Alexander, Knight, of Walton-on- Thames'. Where in Walton he lived is not known.

The interesting thing about the Zinzans is their occupation, for they were professional jousters. Alan Young, in his book Tudor and Jacobean Tournaments, published by George Philip in 1987 includes the following:
All the surviving tilting lists of James' reign contain names of the two Zinzan brothers, Henry and Sir Sigismond (often also known by the surname 'Alexander), the names usually written towards the bottom of the lists in a manner suggesting the inferior social status of the two men. The father of Henry and Sigismond Zinzan, Sir Robert, seems to have been employed in the royal stables during Elizabeth's reign, and he participated in tournaments regularly between 1565 and 1591. His two sons followed in his footsteps and first appeared at tournaments, singly or together, in the final years of Elizabeth's reign between 1598 and 1602. Though it is possible that Sir Robert and his sons were paid for their services during Elizabeth's reign, there is no proof of it However, beginning at least as early as 1610, Henry and Sir Sigismond were paid £100 (£50 each) to equip themselves every time they participated ... it seems probable that the money reflects the fact that these two professionals had some role to play in organising the tilts and that they acted as practice partners for the royal family.
Back to square one

To that is appended the thought:
There was, of course, a large tilt yard at Hampton Court.
Which brings us back to the death of Jacques Granado.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, January 18, 2010

An ageing* blogger proposes ...

Why do this thing?

Possibly because, this apart, the years of retirement amount to saying less and less about more and more to fewer and fewer for longer and longer.
* Or, if you were brought up on Webster's Dictionary, or tied forgot to change the preferences on your spellcheck program, "aging".
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

In a different context, Malcolm was considering the contribution of the historian E.H.Lecky (1838-1903). For anyone with a TCD background, that's familiar territory: a seated statue, a library and a professor of history with his name.

Scanning the Dictionary of National Biography entry about Lecky, Malcolm hit on this:
He saw Gladstone as an honest man with a dishonest mind who, by skilful casuistry, could persuade himself that he was in the right, and then, his moral nature taking fire, act as if under a divine impulse.
That seemed uncannily descriptive of a much later, quite recent, occupant of 10 Downing Street. Sphere: Related Content
The speed of sound

1. The smallest unit of measurable time:
that between the traffic-light turning green and the boy-racer behind hooting.
2. The shortest telephone call on record:
"Congratulations! You have been selected ..."
Sphere: Related Content
The cult of personality

... and, oh, so many more.

Keep them coming. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Then it was Richard II: this time it's Tesco

We've been this way before, too often, and quite recently, with quick-off-the-mark lawyers attacking parliamentary privilege.

Today John Hemming (Lib Dem MP for Birmingham, Yardley) reported a threatening letter from a firm of solicitors. The Speaker has agreed to debate the thing tomorrow.

Tesco intend to build a supermarket in Hemming's patch: this is substantially expanding the "Swan Centre" on Coventry Road in Yardley. To this end, Tesco bought land off Sainsbury's and Asda. So, no hint of a cartel this far.

It is not, locally, a resoundingly popular development, in part because it involves the construction of a huge carpark and a race-track. So protestors tried to buy up enough land to block the project.

The local authority, who have a vested interest in so far as it would inflate the rates income, and probably suck up a bit of local unemployment, has gone for the Big Stick: a compulsory purchase order.

Somehow Tesco thinks Hemming has overstepped a line in the sand. The retail giant has employed Withers, solicitors, to do the deed. Withers sent an email. Hemming, not unreasonably, feels he is being crowded.

He complained to the Speaker.

For the record "parliamentary privilege" began in 1397. Sir Thomas Haxey dared to query King Richard II's household budget. Haxey was deprived of his title and his property. When Richard had been deposed, the new king, Henry IV, had Parliament reverse the sentence, because it ran against the law and custom which had been before in Parliament.

These Lib Dems, doing what is right and proper, really annoy Malcolm when he has to agree with them.


The Economist update, dated yesterday:
Political rights and civil liberties around the world suffered for the fourth year on the trot in 2009, according to the latest report published by Freedom House, an American think-tank. This represents the longest continuous period of deterioration in the history of the report. The number of electoral democracies dropped from 119 to 116, the lowest figure since 1995.

Sphere: Related Content
Beers of Belgium come better when Brown: On to Brussels!

Brussels, of course, is as far as most English tourists customarily reached, after Bruges and Ghent (both of which have a flourishing beer culture). The Eurostar connection is reversing that trend: now it is easier to go direct to the capital, then backtrack north to the scenic wonders of Flanders (well: there are those two). Since Eurostar tickets include free onward travel to any other station in Belgium, that's a no-brainer.

Once in Brussels, the trick is to head for the Metro and avoid the grim bit around the Midi station.

The same applies to the concrete desert at the other end of town, around the Schuman gyratory. That's le Quartier Européen. View the Berlaymont and the granite-and-glass Justus Lipsius building, if you must, at a safe distance. Venture no closer. When the EU sessions are on, it's awash with limousines, police, and self-important politicos on expenses: any mere peasant, the underwriter of those expenses, is an unwelcome intruder. Other times, it's a morgue. Either way, it's over-priced, over-rated, and needs to be kept over there.

A kingly start

Out of season, in the cold, the Grand Place was tolerably light on tourists. that meant it was possible to find a seat in Le Roy d'Espagne and watch the evening light show on the façade of the Hôtel de Ville. A problem remains: Le Roy d'Espagne is a tourist trap: the beer list is short, unadventurous, stuffed by the big breweries (the aim, remember, is to avoid InBev), and not cheap. So Malcolm went for the Chimay Bleue. The price apart (€6.10 for 33cl bottle!), this was an acceptable but not surprising strong brown ale. Was it round the corner, at Le Cirio in Beursstraat/Rue de la Bourse, that a similar issue arose, to be solved by Ciney Brune? That beer, too was quite adequate, average, unremarkable.

The uplifting bit

As sold to the Lady in Malcolm's Life, the Brussels excursion was cultural. So the kulcha thing had to be done. Hence a protracted tour of the newly-reopened (as a separate exhibition space) René Magritte rooms at the Musee des Beaux-Arts. How many permutations on a few basic themes can a man take? Far more involving was the domestic Horta Museum, on a tram ride down the south side, at Rue Américaine.

Something of a surprise was the vast classico-fruity Palace of Justice, athwart the end of the Rue de la Regence away from the Museums. One account has this as the biggest single building erected in the nineteenth century: the central hall has the proportions of a major railway terminus, so that boast is quite credible. It's by no means a "beautiful" structure, but it does impress (rather in the same way as a bulldozer). It's also a tram stop on the way out to Louise and the shopping drag. This allows a supendous free view across the city from the edge of the Place Poelaert. Poelaert was the architect of this monster, which required the demolition of an entire working-class quarter: the term "architect" instantly and properly became a Belgian term of abuse.

The Lady in Malcolm's Life deals with crossing streets where foreign lunatics are driving cars on the wrong side of the road thus: follow the young. They've got more to lose. They'll know the routine. If they can make it, the rest of us stand a chance. Outside the Palace of Justice she refined this a degree further: follow the young robed lawyer. After all, it needs a brave or desperate driver to take out a lawyer. In passing, the ring road of Brussels is a race-track to be avoided: nor is Belgian signposting the acme of helpfulness.

The elbow-lifting bit, resumed

Between these spirit-enhancing activities (and there were others) needed to be fitted the processes of eating ... and drinking.

The eating bit solved itself by le Grand Café being on the opposite corner to O'Reilly's Irish Pub. Now, Malcolm has mixed experiences of these "Oirish" joints in European cities: this one qualifies for the dismal end of the listing. Unless one is desperate for free wi-fi [password: A1B2C3D4E5F6, if Malcolm recalls correctly], steer clear. So, a quick scamper across Boulevard Anspach to find competently served food.

Le Grand Café's beer list is thin, featuring the usual InBev fizzes (that huge Stella Artois sign outside gives fair warning). It does include some decencies:
  • Pauwel Kwak, a plum pudding of a dark amber beer. It's strong (8%) and drinkable. Alas, it is served in the most pretentious manner possible (the website should be an indicator) . Named in honour of a coaching-inn owner, the proper glass is a foot-of-ale, supported in a wooden neck-stretcher. For Malcolm, derisive mockery from the Lady in his Life determined this could never be a drink of choice.
  • Both blond and brown Kasteel beers from the Von Honsebrouck brewery of Ingelmunster. The pale brew is quaffable, and 7%: of the brown more anon (see below).
  • Rodenbach Grand Cru. Now this is a difficult one. It's a dark-ruddy ale rated at 6%. It's sharp, and flavourful. It has a very acetic aftershock. It's definitely a take-it-or-leave-it beer: Malcolm took it the once, an experience he would not have missed, but is not rushing to repeat it.
Going up in the world

Drinking was also done elsewhere, particularly when the Redfellow entourage was heading to and from the upper town. A convenient roosting point, then, was Place du Grand Sablon. Here are a nest of decent little cafés, and (just a bit away) a stonkingly fine one. In the environs are a mess of arty-farty shops and galleries, providing ample opportunity to mock the tastes of others. There's an upper-class version of a flea-market, flogging "antiques", many weekends. Mustn't omit Wittamer, that Tiffany of chocolatiers (Tiffany & Co itself is plonked at the intersection of Avenue Louisa and the Petite Ceinture, convenient for lawyers and ladies who lunch).

The Lady in his Life and Malcolm sought shelter from the unbalmy mid-December breeze in a couple of the Place du Grand Sablon's cafés. Liquidly this involved:
  • Rouge Chimay at L'entréee des Artistes, deceptively light on the palate for its 7% rating, yet a bit crusty and tart on the tongue, too. The brasserie is pretentious enough to have its own clip on Youtube;
  • A thoroughly decent Westmalle Trappist Dubbel in La Kartchma, which pretends at Art Nouveau, across the square. As for the beer, it does what it says on the bottle. What Malcolm would like is to try this one on draught: it is rumoured to exist.
There remained two bibulous treats in Brussels.

Le Perroquet

Off Grand Sablon follow Rue Watteau. At the top find an unprepossessing café on the corner: le Perroquet. It looks a bit dowdy, but it is an unreconstructed and genuine art-nouveau. The cuisine is unpretentious, little more than a superior sandwich bar: pitta breads with umpteen fillings, salads, to be completed with home-made cheesecakes, chocolate cakes, strudels ... to die for.

Malcolm, of course, was here for the beer. Trappistes Rochefort comes in three grades, differenced only by coloured caps and numbered roundels: red 6 (@ 7.5%), blue 8 (2 9.2%) and, the pick of the litter, black 10 (an awesome 11.3%: surely an up-the-wooden hill to beddie-byes drink). Explain the logic of all that.

Since this was early afternoon, choice fell on the 8. Beautiful, just beautiful: mahogany brown in the glass, and it drinks like treacle. There is something very subtle in the brew: Tim Webb identifies it as pinch of "coriander in the mash". This is a beer and a venue to die for; Malcolm on his second bottle heard the angels calling. And came back next day for more of the same.

Ready for home

The Lady and Malcolm were on the mid-evening Eurostar, so it was an early foddering, back at that staple, Le Grand Café.

Before the main course, and a bottle of decent red plonk, there was time for one more. As Malcolm said above, Le Grand Café's beer list isn't the longest. But, as mentioned above, ...

.. it includes the Kasteels from Van Honsebrouck, blond and brown. The Bruin comes in at 11%. When Malcolm requested it, the waitress had a double-take, and asked did he know it was strong. Oh, yes! Think barley wine with chandeliers, bells and knobs on. It takes no prisoners. And, for nudging the memory, don't miss one of the most inventive brewery web-sites around. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beers of Belgium come better when Brown: draining Leuven dry

Leuven is the stronghold of Stella Artois. On the north side of the city, in Tim Webb's words:
The enormous factory complex that produces Stella Artois and a number of other run-of-the-mill ales and lagers is strangely beautiful in a plain white slab sort of way. There are odd similarities with some of the more monumental war graves, which is perhaps apt given its industrial heritage.
As a result, even more than the Belgian norm, each and every boozer has its walls dedicated to Jupiler or Stella.

Malcolm had that initiatory taste of Orval in the Cafe Gambrinus, at the west end of the Grote Markt:
Gambrinus (13 Grote Markt; 00 32 16 20 12 38). A classic, the timeless Gambrinus has views of the sumptuous Stadhuis as an irresistible side dish.
If first stop in Venice is Il Caffe Florian (an essential to-do, unlike overrated and overhyped Harry's Bar), then Gambrinus is the Leuven equivalent. Nice.

A pot-walloping paradise

The cavalcade moved on and soon located Domus, a brewpub just back of the Town Hall. Since this was December, there were three housebrews available:
  • the standard Domus, for those who go for a lighter Pilsener;
  • the slightly stronger (well, 5.8%), and darker Nostra Domus (it's a pun on the 16th-century seer) -- too much and one definitely sees visions;
  • and Engel, a strong bottled lager.
Here, for extended periods, Malcolm could willingly take root and swig Nostra Domus, half a litre at €3.80, at ease, and in pleasant surroundings. The English have lost the taste for darker beers: Nostra Domus (or its ilk) should be capable of restoring the proper norms. Tim Webb calls it:
a sweet and grainy amber beer with an odd but pleasant backtaste.
Hmm: Malcolm reckons the colour is far deeper than most ambers, darker than most English bitters; and the "backtaste" is certainly not "odd". That Domus website gives a fair flavour of the ambiance of the joint, though not of its products. The menu isn't bad either: expect to have to battle Belgian families for a seat at lunchtime.

Nothing here to get your back up

Round the corner, and on the catty-corner of the cobbled Grote Markt, the Lady in his Life and Malcolm found another perch in Notre Dame Quasimodo.

There are many, and doubtless very good, other places to eat. Leuven is a student town, and Notre Dame is not squeamish in catering for that market. So it is a bit brash and can be loud. Elbow-room is limited. Read the reviews on Tripadvisor or wherever. Ignore the comments on waiting staff -- they're rushed, but it works: anyway, what's wrong with sitting and sipping while the plates arrive? Malcolm seriously doubts those complaints. Venture into the joint: notice the plethora of customers, all ages and types and conditions. This is a popular place: take the hint, get the message. There is also a good beer list, mainly bottled.

Malcolm quite took to Gouden Carolus from the Anker brewery in Mechelen. The straight Gouden Carolus, as the name suggests, is a dark golden ale, a bit too spicy for Malcolm's English tastes. But the Christmas brew is a dark sweet barley wine. Malcolm's dear old Dad had a habit of ordering in a keg of K winter Ale (from long lost Stewart & Patteson of Norwich) to be nurtured through the next month or so, for his own personal use. Like that, this Gouden Carolus seasonal brew needs to be handled with care; it rates at 9% alcohol.

Malcolm admits the waiting staff at Notre Dame were a trifle wary of an Englishman, even one of advancing years, relishing a couple of these while awaiting, and then accompanying his steak with his fair share of the bottle of Cabernet.

Leuven comes well recommended. It can almost be forgiven Stella Artois.

Coming up:

Beers of Belgium come better when Brown: On to Brussels! Sphere: Related Content
Beers of Belgium come better when Brown: Preface

A pastoral interlude

Way back in the 1960s Malcolm was plonked down in the valley of the Semois, just inside the Belgian border from France. This was a good thing, for it was comfortably adjacent to the Trappist monastery of Orval. Moreover, Orval is located in the far south, in the province of Namur, adjacent to Luxembourg. Down here they enjoy their food: sausages and game, washed down with Moselle wine (the cheaper varieties flavoured by fruit liquers). So Orval (and one other great Trappist brewery, of which more anon) are a good deed in a naughty world.

If there is a beer-topers' heaven, Malcolm discovered it forty-odd years ago. It involves Orval beer, Orval cheese, being young, no worries, on a warm summer's day, snoozing in long grass beside the Semois.

Any visit to Belgium, Malcolm decided, must celebrate that afternoon and start with a bottle of Orval. So Malcolm inaugurated that personal tradition. As Tim Webb suggests, the pressures of modern commerce mean that the Orval brew is not quite the same artisanal product it was those four decades ago, when Malcolm first encountered it. Now, for example, Orval seem to prefer a goblet to that rough, orange earthenware mug Malcolm purchased as the Abbey (and still has). Orval has an alcohol content over 6%. Like most good Belgian beers it therefore demands gentle sipping, rather than sloshing. There is a sharpness of hops, but less bitter than, say, English north-country beers.

The smoking issue

Malcolm reckons that the greatest difference to his social life in recent years is the ability to escape from a session in a pub without being kippered by nicotine fumes.

The Belgians have not quite reached the same level of civilisation. In Belgium, each establishment advertises its policy on the weed at the point of entry. It is easy, therefore, to avoid second-hand smoke. It is a system which works.

Then for some hard drinking

Now there are two ways of coping with this:
  • flit from drinking hole to drinking hole, sipping from as many founts as possible;
  • find a perch or two, and return regularly.
At his advancing age and after years in which he has gained some limited discretion, Malcolm now leans to the latter.


Beers of Belgium come better when Brown: draining Leuven dry
Sphere: Related Content
Trouble brewing

The beer behemoth InBev has problems. Consumption of its product is dropping: in its home market, the Belgians are quaffing about a fifth less than they were at the start of the decade. Last week, InBev announced job-cuts of 10% of the workforce: this must be the second or third round of redundancies in recent years.

Another way of looking at that is InBev's pre-tax earning jumped 12% last year, on a 9-month drop in sales of 2%. A triumph for the beancounters (and InBev count beans as well as anybody: their brews are less remarkable).

For some hours last Friday the workers held managers hostage. Since InBev's staple products in Belgium involve Stella Artois and Jupiler, Malcolm feels temporary internment may be too good for them.

Now, then may be the moment for Malcolm to review his few days in Belgium, just before Christmas. They were, he proudly boasts, a few beer-soaked days in which he avoided all direct contact with the products of InBev.

So ... next boozy post coming up. Sphere: Related Content
Subscribe with Bloglines International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add to Technorati Favorites