Month: May 2011

Their glory shall not be blotted out


As I’ve previously mentioned, my weird hobby when in Belgium is to visit and photograph Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries.

If you’ve never seen one, this must seem very odd indeed, so here’s a short video of Railway Dugouts (Transport Farm) cemetery, just outside Ieper/Ypres, so you can see what they generally look like and why they hold such fascination.

It’s been around 18 years since I last handled professional video cameras, so it’s no surprise that the videoed parts of the film are rubbish: inexperienced operator using a stills camera to take video pictures without a tripod == crappy film. Still, it’s no worse than most YouTube videos, especially as I shoved in lots of stills with too much Ken Burns effect on them. The camera mostly caught the sound of me breathing like some old pervert (say nothing) so I’ve dubbed a Public Domain rendering of Jerusalem over it, which leads to some accidentally hilarity (the choir sings “dark satanic mills”, the camera pans on to the grave of one S W Mills; each time they sing “England”, the camera comes to rest on a Canadian or Australian grave and so forth).

[plug type=”shameless”] If you like the Ken Burns-style stills, you can see more of them by buying my wonderfully produced, if ambitiously priced, book from here. [/plug]

Let the train take the strain


So I discovered the video camera function on my phone, pointed it out of the window and now take you on a journey from Menin to Wervik (edited for sanity reasons) so you too can pretend you’ve been to Belgium too! See what I do for my readers?

As a bonus, I’ve included the return working of the train passing near Zillibeke at the end.

Of knives and forks

I’m back from a week in Belgium. I love Belgium: quiet, laid back, pretty and with plenty to do and see. And above all: British people don’t tend to holiday there.

I’ve only once been on a package holiday, about 15 years ago. I went to Corfu. It too was lovely, but it was infested with Brits – and I hadn’t even gone to the rough, partying part (Paleokastritsa), instead choosing a quieter area (Kassiopi) overlooking Albania. The problem was that Thompson or whoever it was had run a special offer I hadn’t known about and had hoovered up a lot of other British tourists more used to Spain. I spent two weeks in the close company of people who moaned that the newspapers were yesterday’s newspapers, that the plumbing was wipe-and-bin rather than wipe-and-flush, that there was no McDonalds, that there was no Sky TV, that there was too great a chance of running into a local who might not speak English, that the pool was smaller than Spanish pools, that the beach was shingle not sand… on and on, all ending with the refrain “It’s not like Spain!”

That was the reason I hadn’t gone to Spain. Spain was full of British people complaining. I thought a relatively expensive, out-of-the-way not-quite-a-resort like Kassiopi might have been fairly free of Brits. I was wrong and the experience still haunts me.

So Belgium is lovely in that regard… except that we long ago fell in love with Ieper (Ypres that was) and I got my Commonwealth War Graves hobby going. Ieper, home of the Menin Gate and bazillions of CWGC sites obviously attracts lots of British tourists. Still, they’re mainly coach parties, doing a night in Ieper then off to the Somme or Dunkirk or somewhere with tulips and pot, so you don’t see all that much of them.

Except at dinner time. I wouldn’t mind, if it wasn’t for the bloody incessant complaining of the Brits aboard. It’s ABROAD – it comes with differences, that’s why you fucking well went abroad in the first place. Still, I’m pretty good at tuning them out most of the time, and if they’re too far away for me to hear with my useless hearing, it’s quite easy to do. And then I can switch to people watching – the proper study of mankind being man (also, I’m nosey).

One evening, we were eating dinner at Brasserie Central on the Grote Markt. We’ve become friends with Sergio, a waiter-manager, so tend to take breakfast or dinner there four or five times in a week. He tends to seat us with the locals rather than the tourists, so it’s win-win. I watched as a family of three came in and pegged them (in a sociological kinda way, not at all a snobby kinda way, ahem) immediately: Brits on holiday by Chunnel and car, used to Spain, branching out.

They sat down and I waited for the usual food order to be placed – fish and chips for the mum and dad, burger and chips for the (alarmingly large) 11 year old son. Well, slap me down: they ordered off the set menu. This is reasonably priced, but quite exotic in places so I was shocked. It features neither fried fish nor burgers. Still, it does have some “normal” food on it, and the starter of melon and ham they ordered didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the main course – they all had Flemish Stew.

Flemish Stew, I thought, was quite an adventurous meal for them. It can hide a multitude of sins (liver being one) in the thick, beer-based brown gravy it comes slathered in. But they cooed over it (it was, as usual at Central, beautifully presented) and tucked in.

I have in the past, here, on foodie forums and on my previous blog, complained that the Tory decision to remove Home Economics (ie Cooking) from the school timetables created a whole generation of parents that can’t cook even a simple meal and is creating a whole generation of unhealthy children who don’t know what goes into food. Smug in my chef-fy, middle class world, I prescribed reintroducing Home Ec, or where it already exists making sure that there are actual cookery lessons, teaching the basics (hygiene, how to make a roux, how to make a soup or stew) to solve this problem.

The son proved that my solution wasn’t really addressing the problem. I’m not talking about the horrors of an obese 11 year old (although this is Not Good in itself, and I speak as a bit of a porker myself). No, this is more fundamental. I watched as he picked up his knife and fork and looked confused. He watched what his parents were doing and tried to replicate their behaviour, swapping the cutlery from hand to hand as he attempted to saw at a piece of meat. He tried valiantly, but soon gave it up as a bad job, put the knife down and ate with fork alone. Anything too large was simply crammed into his mouth and chewed at, wide-open, until it was swallowable.

This child had clearly never used a knife and fork to eat with before. All his food – and he’d had plenty in his time – had been edible with just a fork or, more often, with just his hands.

How does this happen? How could his parents have let him get to Secondary School age without once noticing that the poor boy had never had reason to use a knife? How in future will he cope in school dining rooms, cafés, restaurants, dinner parties and any one of the thousands of other social occasions that include sharing food? Is he expected to spend his life eating only in McDonalds or Pizza Hut, never again to experience a civilised meal that doesn’t involve using either or both hands to get the food into his gob?

This spell of people watching was the worst spell of people watching I’ve ever done. And I’m all the more convinced that I should holiday in places without (other) British tourists more often.

0208 if you’re outside reality

Some will say this is petty, but it’s worth pointing out.

Just before Doctor Who, the BBC ran a trailer for the return of the John Barrowman cheap variety filler programme “Tonight’s The Night”. They were begging for idiots in the audience to apply to humiliate themselves on television. In order to take part in this ritual humiliation, they need to call the production company.

Just call 0208 576 9785, they said. Except this number doesn’t exist. The Subscriber Trunk Dialling number for London is 020. It used to be 01, as we probably all remember from childhood when the BBC would often tell viewers “Call for more information on 01, if you’re outside London, 811 8181”, helpfully ignoring that 85% of the country are outside London. Then they split London into inner 0171 and outer 0181. Then they combined both again into 020. When they created 020, they added 7 or 8 to the front of the local number to make more numbers. Since then, they’ve introduced 3 at the start of the number for some subscribers, with 5 to follow soon.

Similar changes of numbers have happened elsewhere too. Leeds was 0532 (0LE2 on the old dials, see?) but they changed it to 0113 and put an extra 2 on the front of the subscriber number. So a Leeds number is 0113 2XX XXXX. It isn’t 01132 XXXXXX. Locally, you have to dial the 2, even if you don’t have to dial the 0113.

So when the BBC said to call 0208 576 9785, they meant 020 8576 9785. Why is this important? Because these little things are important. If the BBC can’t even research correct telephone numbers for a trailer, why should we expect them to research correct background information for a news report?

If the BBC can get its own telephone number wrong, can they be trusted to make a documentary without cutting such basic corners? If there’s a phone vote, can they be trusted to count the calls correctly? If they can’t even get a phone number right, can anything they say be trusted? From such acorns do mighty oaks grow.

Give a dog a bone

You’re fired

Mostly, American politics is poisonous. Even compared to the pernicious politics we’ve now got in the UK, where the members of the ‘radical centre-left’ third party form a nonsensical queue to support insane right-wing policies and attack those they are most politically close to, American politics as reported in Europe drips nauseating personal, immoral and bloody bile from both sides (but mostly from the right of the Republican party and from Rupert Murdoch’s House of Evil Media and Invisible Mending).

So it’s oddly nice to see the President of the United States getting the boot in too: to Murdoch’s minions and also straight into the ludicrously bewigged face of Donald Trump. And I can’t express the pleasure I feel at Trump sitting there, stony-faced and humiliated. Shortly after this singular drubbing at the hands of his Commander in Chief, Donny “Rugburn” Trump announced he was too much in love with his money to run for president after all. Also, he probably wouldn’t look forward to that damn liberal media replaying this clip every single time he made a speech during the entire election campaign.

Live by the sword, Don, die by the sword. Dog eat dog. Shit or get off the pot. Various other trite phrases that you’d’ve trotted out had you run for president. And above all: you’re fired.

Picture Box of DOOM

I have no real idea why this title sequence still gives me the creeps to this day. Is it the sinister, faintly out-of-key, oddly muffled steel drums music? Is it the sinister, out of focus, oddly rotating at an unpleasant speed box thing? Is it Alan Rothwell and his sinister and most probably sweaty palms in the continuity studio in Quay Street because Granada was too cheap to build him an actual set?

Perhaps it just it reminds me of pretending to be ill to avoid school and then finding that staying home watching daytime TV in the early 1980s was no laughing matter either.