Friday, April 29, 2011

The limits of Toby Young

Toby Young, author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, has maxed out his Facebook friends – you are allowed only 5000 and he scored his 5000th yesterday. Having reached his limit, he has set up a fan page. Skite.

I know about this because I am one of the 5000. This is not because I am one of those saddos who “friends” famous people who have never met or even heard of them. It is because last year, out of the blue, he emailed me, opening with the words “I’m a fan of your blog”. Toby, Toby, I thought, remember the First Rule of Bullshit: never bullshit a bullshitter.

He proceeded to ask me very politely to do him a small favour, and ended with the words, “I throw myself at your mercy.”

Naturally I did him the small favour because that’s the kind of person I am, I can’t help it, so sue me already – but also because he is Toby Young and I am not, I like his column in the Spectator and I like the idea of the Free School he helped establish.

He was fulsome in his expressions of gratitude. However, he wasn’t nearly as generous in his thanks as the journalist and author Francis Wheen whom earlier I had also helped with his enquiries – he invited to a rather famous politico-literary regular lunch here next time I am in London. No of course he didn’t mean it any more than Toby did, but I do think it’s nice when people make an effort.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The most disgusting recipe ever?

My significantly better half’s mother rang seeking advice on how best to reproduce a dish they both had in Uzbekistan on their holiday last year – the one they had while I looked after the children for three weeks, got them through the change to daylight saving and attended all the end-of-term activities including a poetry recital, sports awards and a concert. Not that I mind.

The dish my mother-in-law – who is an exceptional cook – was intending to replicate was a salad of beetroot and apple they’d had in Tashkent or similar. What else might it need, she wondered. She was not seeking advice from me, I hasten to add, but from her daughter who is also an exceptional cook. While they conferred I googled and found this recipe. It is a salad of beetroot and apple but doesn’t look Uzbek to me. It’s not just the sesame seeds. It’s not just the “ready processed beetroot”, the shop-bought French dressing, the carrot or the parsley. No, it’s that other. . . thing in there. Ewww.

This recipe, needless to say, is from England.
Beetroot & Apple Salad
Ingredients - Serves 4
4 Small Cooked Beetroot
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Seeds
3 Green Apples
1 Carrot
2 Pineapple Rings - optional
1 Large Sprig Parsley
8 Tablespoons French Dressing

Toast the sesame seeds either on a tray in a hot oven or in a heavy pan on top of the stove until they go light brown, be careful not to burn them.
Wash, core and slice the apples into thin wedges.
We have presumed that you will use ready processed beetroot, the sort that come in vacuum packs. If you are using fresh beetroot just scrub them and boil in plenty of water to which you have added a couple of tablespoons of vinegar. This helps to keep the colour from bleeding out. When they are cooked let them cool, the skin will peel off in your fingers.
Chop the beetroot into small dice. Cut the pineapple into small wedges.
Peel the carrot and grate finely.
Wash, drain and finely chop the parsley.
Mix all together well and then add eight tablespoons of French Dressing, either shop bought, or as below.

Some questions I am frequently asked: #1

Q: Why so quiet on the blogging?

A: Events, dear boy, events.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Nominative indeterminism

Call me insensitive but I find it hard to take any of this seriously, just because of the names of boat and skipper:
Protests over the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras’s ship heated up when police from a patrolling navy boat boarded San Pietro, which is owned by local iwi.

A Police spokesman said the arrest of skipper Elvis Teddy came after a blatant breach of safety by the boat.
See previous posts on nominative determinism here, here, here and here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Another day, another takahe

Long thought to be extinct, takahe were discovered alive and well in Fiordland by Geoffrey Orbell in 1948 – about 250 of them. However by 1981 there were only 121 left. A conservation programme saw numbers rise to 171 in the wild by 2005. In 2008 DOC estimated the total population in the wild and in island sanctuaries to be 227.

This afternoon we took some friends from England to Maungatautari Ecological Island to see some native bush and listen to the birds singing behind the 47 kilometre fence which keeps predators out. A breeding pair of takahe, Matariki and Hauhunga, was introduced in 2006; their first chick was hatched in January 2010; two more hatched in November. Another breeding pair was released in 2009 but I can’t find any reports of issue. Even so there must be seven takahe on the mountain now – though as the sanctuary covers 3400 hectares, there’s little chance you’d see one.

But we did. About 10 minutes into our walk in the southern enclosure we saw a takahe, just five metres from the track, calmly waddling around grubbing for food, which apparently is what they do all day. It looked like a big fat pukeko and was completely unfazed by four adults and three children stomping up the hill so close.

Of course then our friends wanted to see a kiwi. . .

Monkeys riding dogs

. . . while herding goats. Yes, herding goats.

See it at

Monitor: David Thompson

Monday, April 18, 2011

Brief encounter

It’s school hellidays so, this being Cambridge, the children are spending the first week learning to ride horses. I collected them at 4 p.m. this afternoon and among the other parents collecting their children was:

A woman in a burqa.

She said a cheery hello.

I don’t know which was the more surprising.

She may be there tomorrow – but how will I recognise her?


 For anyone who hasn’t noticed, Paul Litterick at The Fundy Post has changed his blog’s description, or sub-heading or whatever these things are called, to: 
Shot a life coach in Reno, just to watch him re-evaluate personal goals.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Three hours of hell

Eight excited small girls at the six-year-old’s birthday party. In my house, today.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Evil power-hungry villains

This letter to the editor – of the week? month? – is in the Economist, 2 April edition:
A dog’s tale
SIR – It was lovely to see your reference to a New Yorker cartoon from 1993 of one canine saying to his pooch pal that “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” (“Anonymous no more”, March 12th). Recently, my dog Ursa set up a Facebook account. She has acquired more than 30 friends now, including several of my kid’s acquaintances who would never friend me directly. They all know that Ursa is a dog. Mostly my wife and I post things that we think Ursa would say, and she has entered several provocative discussions.
My point is that the web has become a much more sophisticated place since 1993. Now people on the internet know you are a dog but they still treat you as an equal. Of course cats are still excluded as they continue to be evil power-hungry villains.
New York

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The consolations of philosophy

We are told that we should encourage our children to grow vegetables and learn to cook. I discourage my children from growing vegetables because my garden is my shed, my man-cave, my man-alone time.

Cooking, yes. Excellent, a great idea. But when the nine-year-old wanted to make carrot muffins at the weekend her mother who usually (i.e. always) does this was tired so I volunteered. Do you know how long it takes to grate that many carrots? I do. The nine-year-old doesn’t. Apparently the muffins were a success. I wouldn’t know. They were all eaten by others.

This afternoon the nine-year-old decided to make French toast for visiting friends. She can crack an egg, get milk and butter out of the fridge, cut bread, all the basics. But guess who actually made the six slices of French toast?

While I was doing this, I thought back to my days at Auckland University doing maths and philosophy and reading Berkeley, Locke, Hume, Marx and Popper – not the fun stuff like The Open Society but the hard stuff, The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

And I thought, how did I get here from there? Where did it all go right?

Listener online

The all-new, singing and dancing Listener website is now open for viewing.

Looks good.

Books & Arts editor Guy Somerset has a blog there. He writes:
Listening In comes to you as part of the Listener’s new-look website, a place where you can join in the cultural conversation that takes place each week in the print edition of the magazine. As well as being able to read and comment on reviews and interviews from the print edition, you will be able to do so with additional online-only content, including this blog, our film critic David Larsen’s blog, Romeo Must Not Live, interviews and DVD reviews.
I’m particularly looking forward to the discussions to be had in our new comment threads. Arts and books are there to be talked about – and here is a place you can do that talking.
Sounds good.

Retail sentence of the day

Damian Thompson in the Spectator, on the Classical Exchange, one of London’s three remaining specialist classical CD shops:
It’s true that relations between the staff could be a bit strained – unsurprising, when you consider that the deputy manager was the gay ex-husband of the manager’s bisexual girlfriend.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Blog comment of the year, so far

Of course, it’s at the Dim-Post. Danyl asked for suggestions for a name for Hone Harawira’s new party. First up was “dave” with:
The Te Party.
I don’t know why anyone bothered trying after that.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Auckland thought of the day

A London poster quoted in the latest Word magazine:
You are not “stuck in traffic”. You are traffic.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sentence of the day

Winner will be randomly selected by Penguin.
OK, it’s a publishing in-joke. I’m allowed to. It’s Friday.