Tag Archives: Cultures

Chilli Day

Standard
Chilli Day

Let’s talk all things spicy. Perhaps not all things, just those related to food. Specifically, let’s talk chillies. All kinds of chillies from everywhere. Whether you are a person who loves your food hot and spicy or as plain as boiled rice, sometime in your life one chilli or another has shown up in your food. If you’ve ever eaten chilli con carne, you’ll have had chillies in spades….unless you’re like my best friend who likes her chilli (not her favourite meal) mild as can be. Chilliless.

So, on the heels of the Sausage Sizzle, here we are in Eddie’s BMW, top down on a hot August afternoon, heading for Benington, a small village 4 miles east of Stevenage in Hertfordshire. We were going with Eddie, Mimz and two other friends, Sandy and Graham. Graham took his Porsche with its top down too. Regal travel and all. The destination was The 2017 Chilli Festival held at Benington Lordship Gardens, featuring 7 acres of gardens, a carp pond, an old Georgian Manor House and the ruins of a Norman motte and bailey castle. So very English wot?

20170828_133159

The Norman Gate.

20170828_134251

Castle wall ruins and gardens

I remember years ago in Canada, some Italian guy I worked with on the Eaton’s (like John Lewis in Britain) delivery trucks gave me a pepper from his lunch and dared me to eat it whole. Poor naive me did just that and paid the price. I can’t remember what variety it was but when it took hold, it nearly killed me. I have been wary ever since. But my interest was piqued during the finale of the Chilli festival when the annual chilli eating contest was held.

9 brave or reckless souls sat at a table with a beer and a bucket in front of each of them before the contest commenced. The MC had been running the show for years and educated us as the event wore on as to the name and effect each pepper would have on the contestants. Chillies are rated by their SHUs (Scoville Heat units). The New Mexico green Chilli, for example, can be anywhere from 0-70,000 SHUs. That seems quite a range, but most of us, except for my best friend, can handle them.

20170828_134751

Beware of the Chilli. Booth at the Chilli Festival.

20170828_133946

Chilli Festival and rolling hills of the Benington Lordship Gardens.

From there, we go up the scale until we get to a chilli known as Dragon’s Breath from Wales of all places. It has a SHU of 2.48 million. The chemical produced by the pod of chillies is capsaicin. If you swallowed a vial of that, you’d be ingesting 16 million SHU and you’d be dead. But then even eating a whole Dragon’s Breath can kill you. It was developed not to be eaten but to be put as an anaesthesia on the skin for people who can not have normal anaesthetic.

The competitors started with chillies at around 100,000 SHU and it went up from there. By the time they got to the Scotch Bonnets at around 500,000 SHUs, only half of the group remained. Then it was on to around 800,000 SHU and more dropped away, using the buckets provided to….well, you know. Red Cross folk were on hand to provide aid to contestants who were overcome by their chillies. They had milk and sugar cubes to counter the effects. Interesting.

20170828_141451

Some of the Gardens and the gardener’s house.

 

One young man who began foaming at the mouth and dribbling profusely hung in there despite his anguish. The audience began to chant ‘Dribbler, Dribbler….’ but Dribbler had enough and off he went. Two remained. They had to eat a whole pepper at 1.6 million SHU and did so. It looked for a moment like the contest would end in a draw, but one of the two decided he couldn’t go on and took a sip of the beer….which meant he capitulated. The winner got a case of Budweiser beer as his prize. No thanks.

Meanwhile, a Chilli Festival was going on….60 pitches (booths) with everything from chilli cheeses to chilli chocolate, fudge, chutney, sauces, pickles, seeds, plants and, naturally, booze. These were the top echelon of independent chilli traders. Very nice and all but a bit samey after a while. There was a carp pond and lovely gardens as well as views of rolling countryside. A very satisfying way to spend a holiday Monday. My life is full. But not of chilli. The only thing we ended up buying was a non-chilli  butterscotch, spicy liqueur. Hot enough on its own.

20170828_134210

Chilli stalls and Manor House.

We wandered about in the heat after arriving and getting something to eat first. The food vendors were from many cultures. There was Greek, Texan, Italian, British, of course, South American and South African. I had a South African steak sandwich with chakalaka….some spicy tomato, onion and pepper mix. Yummy. Then it was on to the Chilli festival and all that I described. What a treat. I must say I tried to sample at least the sweet stuff. Loved it. And I do like some chilli in my chocolate.

Started in 2006, the Festival has grown in size and popularity. It runs for 3 days over the Bank Holiday weekend. They even have entertainment for the whole family. This year it was the famous Bruce Airhead (never heard of him) and his big green balloon. But the hit of the show was the young lad Mr. Airhead picked from the audience who, much to the surprise of even the Airhead, actually entertained us with an array of gymnastic routines while the famous Bruce prepared his balloon. I think the lad was supposed to be a flop, but fooled us all. Even Bruce admitted that perhaps he ought to step aside and let the kid do the show.

20170828_142445

Bruce Airhead and his young assistant.

Just before the chilli eating contest, my best friend and I found a shaded spot beside the marquee where the contest was to be held. A man, dressed in those khaki shorts with millions of pockets, an unironed T-shirt and a pair of well-worn brown trainers (sneakers) sat in a chair just in front of us. A woman came from the audience and introduced herself to this chap as the wife of someone he knew. They spoke of food preparation or something. Turned out to be Richard Bott, owner of the place. Unassuming, charming and so very English, right down to the shoes.

Part way through the proceedings, I just happened to look up into the wide, blue yonder and there, flying right over head was the beautiful sight of a Second World War Spitfire. Made my day as the next contestant headed off behind the marquee to empty his insides into a bucket.

 

 

JAMES for PM

Standard

I have met some real characters in my life. My best friend would tell you I’m one of them. Most of them I’ve got to know after spending time with them. My boat neighbours Eddie and Mimz are real characters, formed by the trials, tribulations, adventures and sensitivities their lives have led them to. My best friend is a character. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Except that she’s a character in a good way as are our boat neighbours.

We’ve all run across bad characters, sociopaths and even psychopaths. I have known a number of the former and a couple of the latter. Dangerous characters in so many ways, many of which are undetectable by normal characters. A normal character is a person who is crazy but has learned to curb the crazies and has great empathy for all the other crazies around them. We support each other rather than use each other….mostly.

I knew a man, a character par excellence, the mayor of a town I used to live in, who proposed that prozac ought to be put in the water system of our town to chill everyone out. Not a bad idea I thought at the time. He was a good politician because he told me of his plan in confidence, never making it a public statement. And, after all, most of the world relies on one drug or another to get them through the day. All I need is a small pork pie, a hunk of cheese, an apple and a glass of wine. And music.

I like rebels. Not destructive ones mind you. I like the kind that stand against the system when it has become lax, lazy, fat and even corrupt or just too big for its own hat. The rebels that I like in particular are the comic sort, the ones who tell it like it is but who also make us laugh while doing it. There are some clever clogs out there. Astute, funny, fearless types that make us think as well as laugh.

So, I was sitting with my best friend and neighbours Eddie and Mimz (she of marinagate and Cagney and Lacey fame) by their boat in Cassiobury Park a while ago enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine, when two men walked by. As they passed, one of them turned sharply and called back to us, “Did you vote?” Stunned silence on our part. “Pardon?” Eddie asked. “Simple enough question mate. Did you vote?” My best friend and I indicated that we had. “Did you vote for Corbyn?” he asked. Silence on our part. Didn’t stop him from carrying on….”Well, if you didn’t, you should’ve.” he said.

“They’re all rubbish.” says Eddie, “All politicians. Liars, the lot of them. Don’t matter who’s in, they all promise the moon and give you nothing in the end.” Well, that set old James off. Back he trots with his friend in tow and begins a 4 hour tirade on the evils of the powers-that-be, the NHS (National Health Service), the invasion of foreign workers (with a tip to their industriousness over British workers), the lazy and disrespectful youth of Britain, foreign policy, the price of things, greed, sloth in general, the righteousness of Corbyn (the Labour Party leader who gave Theresa May and the Tories the fright of their life in the recent general election), the lack of justice….well, you get the idea.

He did it all in a machine gun verbal delivery that left us breathless and by hour 3 quite ready to do him in. But we didn’t. We listened politely and laughed at his take on things, which were, as I said earlier, quite humorous. At the end of each topical diatribe, he would end with, “And you know what they can all do with that? They can all f..k right off!” It became a theme. I’m no prude. I would have written the word fuck, but I felt it might be a smidge indelicate given the wide group of readers you’ve become.

And, I must say, most of what James had to say rang true with the 4 of us. His powers of observation dazzled us. He had that old kind of cockney wit that said it like it is and makes no apologies for it. Well stated, quite pithy in parts, great delivery and passion behind it all. I told him his talents were wasted. He ought to go down to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. He’d be a hit there. James said he would have to decline on the grounds that only old geezers with a grudge and religious nuts ended up there. “Besides,” he said, ” you’re not allowed to curse or swear. That’d do me in right there. And you mustn’t say anything against her Maj. Well, she can f…k right off with the rest of them.”

With all due respect to the Queen, James had a point. Really, what has she to do with his life on a daily basis? James relies entirely on the people around him to give him support, be trustworthy, keep him safe and feed him. James, you see, lives in a place that looks after those who have broken down mentally….at least as society sees it. Rather than deal with the growing number of people in Britain with mental issues, the government feigns doing something by coming out with pamphlets warning us to be aware of this or that mental condition and to seek help. They don’t say where or how long you have to wait to be seen. And, bless her, her Maj can’t do anything about it….or can she? Does she? If she does, James doesn’t know about it.

So, they can all just ‘F’ right off. Maybe James should be the Prime Minister and the Royal head of state all in one. Couldn’t do any worse and we’d all have a lot of laughs. Anyway, after 4 hours of James’s platform, he said his goodbyes. His mate, an Iraqi who came here a number of years ago to escape the madness in his own country and ended up going mad here, had gone 2 hours previously. He’s obviously had heard it all before from his mate. I wish them both well. I’d vote for James. And if you think I’m crazy too, you can just….well, you know.

Henge Madness

Standard

 

Related Entries Cheating On College Exam Women Drivers Microsoft Office Building_ Beautiful...

I was in Swindon not long ago. Not my favourite town. The people we visited are though. Nice couple. My best friend and the lady of the duo used to work together in London in the Civil Service. The male is a Doctor Who fanatic and has a collection of memorabilia that does the doctor proud. He also has other Super Hero stuff and a bunch of comic books. Shades of The Big Bang Theory (TV program for those less erudite among you).

No one goes to Swindon for a holiday or for cultural reasons. Even their football team was relegated to a lower division this year. And the Chinese restaurant we went to in town was closing that night after 14 years of trying to get Swindonians to eat more exotic dishes than Sunday roasts. Not a happening town. Unless you live there I guess. The last time we visited, the couple in question had moved from one new house to another, better built home, across the road from a farm and fields that were a protected property. Protected from greedy developers that is.

The protection comes from another source than it being a farm. You see, out there in that field lies what is commonly known as a Stone Circle, an ancient grouping of rocks that quite probably had astronomical and spiritual significance to people thousands of years ago. Their real purpose is lost in time, but some good guesses have been made over the centuries since. Mostly, many of these sites were abandoned for whatever reason eons ago and locals pilfered the stone for building and such and no one appears to have written anything we know about or have found that indicates their actual use.

But that doesn’t stop the theories or groups of wannabe druids, witches, pagans and the like adopting the various stone circles as the birthplace of their particular religious practices. Groups gather at significant astronomical times of the year….winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice and the autumn (fall) equinox….to sing, dance naked, wear other ancient garb or offer various sacrifices to whomever or whatever as a way of maintaining harmony and balance in the universe. Works for some.

Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain, has long been the ‘go to’ site for all and sundry, from pagans to Chinese tourists. Nearby is Avebury, not as spectacular but definitely worth the visit, a collection of  various sized stones and a big ditch around it. At other places all over Wiltshire, these stone circles abound. Some have completely disappeared. Henges are a little different because they involve earth works around them and sometimes they are wooden circles, but all these  circles and henges are understood to be linked together somehow. It is estimated that around 1300 stone circles exist in Britain. Many of them are dotted in and around Yorkshire. Some chappy estimates there are some 31 in the county of Wiltshire.

They missed one. Ours. Well, not ours, but I’m claiming it. It has a name and apparently it is now protected. Only 5 stones remain and they are fairly flat to the ground. It’s now known as The Coate Stone Circle. I didn’t name it (Googled it later). I just found it again when it had become lost. Out of sight, hidden from the masses and all but forgotten. Sit down and let me tell you a tale.

So, here we were, visiting our friends in Swindon…or just outside. They live in a very new housing development. As I said, bare fields lay across the street. We visited there once before, heard tell of said stone circle and carried on with the visit with the promise we would go to see it sometime. But this time, I said, ‘let’s go see this stone circle. I’m feeling quite nostalgic and stuff’. So, we put on our shoes and off we went.

It’s all so new that we had to gingerly walk across a patch of freshly laid and evened out soil over the road that led to the fields. They hadn’t even put down the sod yet. Our footprints were left all over the neatly groomed surface. Couldn’t be avoided. Our quest had to be fulfilled at any cost….or nearly any cost. We didn’t even know what to look for or where to find it. I guess that’s why it’s a quest.

We made it to the fields, the intrepid 4. A path lay before us. You needed a path because the grass and other weeds had grown as high as my waist in some places. And we were supposed to find a stone circle in this. Not a marker anywhere to be seen. No sign board with historical data….nothing. Very disappointing. But we were determined to find the stone circle if it took all day (it was 4pm and we had a dinner reservation for 5:30, so not that determined).

We waded through deep grass, sweeping aside huge swaths of the stuff to find some sign that the stone circle did, in fact, exist. Over this way, back that, crisscrossing the large field until, BINGO! there it was. A large rock, gnarled and worn. One of us stood on it while the others went searching for other stones. We found 2 more, smaller stones, buried deep in the grass. Progress. I stood on this one while our intrepid friend went wading off looking for more. So far, all we had was an arch of 3 stones.

Eureka! He found 2 in a row pointing west to where the summer solstice sun sets. That was our conclusion. 5 stones, which I was later to discover is the exact amount found by those experts who rate these places as the real stone circle deal or just another bunch of rocks in a farmer’s field. Were there other stones here? Probably. We may never know. What went on here? Like with the other stone circles and henges we may never know.  We have some good guesses (like ours), but no certainty. A mystery.

There shall probably never be a crowd of tourists in this field as at Stonehenge or Avebury or the like. But we intrepid 4 marked the place and wondered back through the ages as we stood on Coate Stone Circle what kind of folk stood here and what they were doing. And, I hear tell, a group gathers here at summer solstice to dance naked around the stones. They’ll have to cut the grass first….then I’m in.

Boat Stuff

Standard
Boat Stuff

It has been nearly a year and a half since we entered the new life of canal narrowboating, unlike any other boating on earth. And we love it. Most of the time. No sour grapes here. Just doses of reality during moments of sobriety and general clear headedness. Living in a fixed home, on land, with plenty of room to spare never looked so good when things go wrong on a boat.

Not that we’d ever give up the boating life. Only old age and waning energy will determine how long we continue at this gig. Dying of old age on the boat is the best case scenario….but not for a long time to come hopefully. We simply ride through any problems that might occur on the boat and move on or not, depending on where we are at any moment. Most of our narowboating life so far has been static, living in a marina. In fact, we have only been on the move for about 3 weeks out of our time on board.

dscn0067

Our arrival at Apsley Marina in August of 2016.

As I write this, it’s Christmas Eve 2016 and my best friend and I are spending Christmas at our old house in Welling, Kent. My best friend’s son owns the house now and their clan is gathering for the festive feast day tomorrow. A bit unusual Blogging on Christmas Eve, but I’m battling man flu and need a distraction. We’ve actually been here for a couple of days already and things are as familiar as ever and constantly warm. It doesn’t help that we are in the winter season and have to work hard to keep the boat warm.

And as I write this, I’m back on the boat and it’s the New Year. The steel tube, all 60 feet of it was freezing when we returned after our 5 days in a house. You could see your breath. So, we put on the old (or rather new) Wabasto central heating system while we lit a new fire. Took a while to heat up, but we got there in the end.

dscn0508

The addition of a new pram cover for the stern.

All that aside, it has been a learning curve that continues to teach the longer we live on a narrowboat. And I’m always worried I may have missed some crucial information on this or that technical matter. Keeps me awake some nights wondering if there might be water in the bilge or did I shut this or that appliance or gizmo off or had I forgotten to close a hatch (which I did one time….messy).

The key to surviving this lifestyle is in making friends, especially ones with practical skills. I have none, other than writing and playing one of my musical instruments. Technical stuff either baffles or annoys me. I try to learn, but, really, the inner workings of a diesel engine, while fascinating, do not, by choice mind you, become part of my integrated working knowledge of all things fussy. I am an habitual asker for help. Let someone who knows what they’re doing do it. Besides, I’m a rather tall, large guy and my engine room is small and tight.

But it’s like anything else you do that’s new to you. You make mistakes and learn from them. Most often. I have the nasty habit of repeating mistakes and paying for them….in every way. Just, on a boat, a mistake can be costly….in every way. Haven’t made one of those errors yet. Hope I never do. Remaining diligent for a guy with the attention span of a gnat, takes a lot of energy. Energy I need for other things….like writing these Blogs and learning a new riff on my guitar.

dscn0625

So, would I do it all again if I knew then what I now know? Probably. Because now,at least, I have an idea what this narrowboating is all about and still love most of it. At the moment, we are expecting a cold snap. That will be a test. And I’m running out of coal. But come March, all will be well again and from then until October, we look forward to happy cruising. Going north this time. Going south into the great city of London last summer was a once in a lifetime experience.

The chores of the day are done. Two shitters emptied, cleaned out and put back into place. Filled the water tank in anticipation of the cold snap. Filled the coal scuttle for the fire. Washed and dried the supper dishes. Threw out the rubbish over in the big bins in the bin shed. Skyped with my youngest who lives in Toronto at the moment. Made sure the boat was secure for the night and finally am finishing this Blog that began on Christmas Eve. The consummate procrastinator.

Keep warm and dry everyone. At least most of you live on dry land. But even you still have chores to do. What else is new? Oh, and I’m still battling man flu….just keeps coming back. Couldn’t be because I live on a narrowboat, a long, steel tube in the dead of winter….do you think? Nah.

dscn0380

Can you spot our boat?

Are You In Or Are You Out?

Standard

I don’t usually get political. Yes, I think all politicians are either corrupt or power hungry and I’ve said so, but that’s where I leave it. I have to say, though, living in England for the past 11 years has given me a new look at politics. Government politics in Canada is always a dull, forgettable affair, unless it’s between French Canadians and the rest of Canada. The same cannot be said in Britain. In fact, the political scene here is actually quite entertaining and very funny.

I say this on the day that Britain votes to either stay in the European Union (not to be confused with the old European Common Market) or leave that ‘union’ and go it alone. I put the word union in parentheses because what we have in Europe is anything but unity. That, in the first place, is laughable. The French intensely dislike the English. For that matter, everyone in Europe hates the English. I say English instead of British. That’s because the English that go over to the continent have a habit of annoying the shit out of everyone else.

The Germans look through their monocles down their noses at the rest of Europe, knowing that whether through war or ‘peace’, they alone carry the burden of economically unifying the unwieldy beast called Europe. The new idea out of the land of the Hun is that since the fall of the Roman Empire, we are all Aryan at heart and probably genetically too. Even the British monarchy are of German decent.

Italy just wants to party….on its own. And it still thinks the Roman Empire will make a comeback. Doesn’t matter where you are in the world, Italians still think they are Italian even if they are born in another country. Inside Italy there is, of course, the usual regionalism as in all countries. It’s a wonder anybody , anywhere in Europe gets along. Oh, wait a minute, no one does. Not even at football (soccer) matches. The Croatians lobbed lighted flares at each other and their own players during a UEFA EURO match against the Czech Republic. Not surprising given their history, but silly nonetheless.

Sweden? Fine thanks. But hard pressed to find solidly good reasons to remain in the union. Their neighbours, Norway, are doing very well without it, thank you very much. I bet Sweden wishes it had followed Norway’s path.

Then we have the Greeks. They want it all and they want it now. They tried to stop spending but are now worse than bankrupt. Same with Spain, except the Spanish are more clever. They finesse their way out of trouble, acting like wealthy clients while actually being broke, skint, brassic. The Greeks are not so subtle. The world sees the results. Cultures clash and unity flies out the window. Nice idea, unity, but bureaucrats aren’t interested in the unity of the species, just the GNP bottom line. It’s the corporations who win in the end, not the corner grocer, the office slave or me.

Now throw into the mix all the old Soviet Union satellite countries in what we refer to as Eastern Europeans and the whole system gets mired in an economic stew that offers no way out. Except that the lingua franca of the world happens to be the one native only to Britain (if you can call Cockney or Geordie english).

Yes, learn a few english phrases, as the world does, and then come to Britain because the economic system in place has been a generous one. If I were Romanian earning about £1.10 an hour (minimum wage) in Romania, why not go to the UK….because I can….and work for 7 times that amount per hour. Even if my employer gives me less than minimum wage, let’s say £3 less, I’m still ahead. I can rent a room with several other compatriots, work 3 different jobs (I’m young and don’t need a lot of sleep) and still have money to send home to Romania. Most of those old Slavic states are in the same predicament.

There is no good or bad here, just economics. It doesn’t mean Bulgarian or Polish workers come to the UK for the sake of unity and good will. As I said before, no one likes the English anyway. I have spoken to a number of economic migrants (usually in restaurants, hotels or bars and pubs). They, naturally, tell you how bad the weather is and want to talk about their homelands. Perfectly understandable. I have only met one who does not want to return one day to his native land. That’s because he’s gay and his country takes a hard line against homosexuals. He still has national pride, though, drummed into him from birth.

Over here, in the land in question, the English are the ones pushing for a vote to leave the EU. Not all, mind you. The polls show that the race is close. And herein lies the humour of the whole damned thing. No one has a clue what will happen if Britain leaves the EU. So, to convince the electorate which way to vote, the politicians (sometimes on opposing sides of the same party) use scare tactics to convince us to vote this way or that. It got crazy. Leaving risked war. Staying meant open borders and losing national health. Leaving meant we’d all go broke. Staying means we can’t trade with whomever we choose. Leaving means free movement of labour will be stopped. Staying means we can’t deport even the hardened criminals and terrorists.

It goes on and on. Finger pointing. Name calling. Even John Cleese of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers fame has waded in for the Leave campaign. There has been a comedy of errors and uninformed and uneducated opinions on both sides. There is nothing more comical than Englishmen losing their wick. Especially posh ones. Obama came over to plead with us to stay. Michael Moore, the documentary film maker said it would be insane to leave. Normally, the English don’t give a shit what Americans think, but the Remain side have fallen over bacwards to accommodate their views.

And so today we voted, my best friend and I, torn between agreeing we have to leave while agreeing perhaps we ought to stay. I’ll not say where we put our ‘X’. Meanwhile, in typical English style, the heavens opened and flooded some areas of London and the south east. Older voters who would probably have voted to leave couldn’t leave their homes to exercise their franchise. Some are claiming the Remain campaign planned it this way, seeding the clouds. The Remainers just laugh into their Belgian waffles.

I have talked mainly about England. The Scots say they’ll vote to stay and if we leave they’ll leave the UK….again. The Welsh are divided. They will probably vote to Stay just to stick the middle finger up to the English. The Nothern Irish are too hungover after making it into the final 16 at the EUFA EURO football tournament in France to bother voting. Whatever happens when we wake up in the morning, two things shall remain clear. The Glastonbury music festival will be ready to roll….in the mud as usual….and Wimbledon shall go on as usual next week.