Tweets this Week (2010-08-29)

  • Made it home (dry) through a gap in the heavy rain. Rather lucky, I could have been soaked! #
  • At the Peterborough Beer festival with @gxusm having a lovely pint of Loch Leven 'Golden Goose'. Not as light as Nobby's Nutz, my first. #
  • Having a Malt B of Maltby le Marsh 'Old Reliable' copper-coloured bitter. Good but not as impressive as Michael's Thornbridge Colorado Red #
  • Back to the 1/2 pints for a lovely 5am Saint from "Brewdog of Fraserburgh" very tasty. Peterborough CAMRA beer festival #
  • Last beer: Belgian Carolus Classic from Het Anker. Had to try it—"Gigantic thick head. Rich creamy mouth feel. Banana is right up front…" #
  • Looking forward to tonight's sake tasting. http://twitpic.com/2i338h #
  • Michael's made a lovely meal—marinated Welsh lamb, accompanied by a 2005 Mas de Daumas Gassac, which is ageing well (bottle 2/12). Sip sip! #
  • *BBC Prom 42* blog post http://www.grahammccann.org/JetPlane/?p=2059 #
  • *Pink Festival, Cambridge* blog post http://www.grahammccann.org/JetPlane/?p=2061 #
  • *33rd Peterborough Beer Festival* blog post http://www.grahammccann.org/JetPlane/?p=2064 #

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Sake Tasting at the Punter

We met up with Sarah and Jason for a night of sake tasting, not really knowing what to expect. Jason had had some bland sake in Japan, as had I (but also some lovely cloudy sake!). The evening was arranged by Cambridge Wine Merchants in the Punter Pub, where we had the fabulous sherry tasting in June. The tasting was conducted by Wakana Omija from Akashi-tai (and all the sake was from that small family company too). Wakana makes some sake during the winter, then spends the rest of time on promotion. She was great company.

We started with a plum sake spritzer with soda water, which was refreshing.

Akahashi-tai Honjozo, with opening snacks

Wasabi Beans
Sashimi skewers with soy and wasabi
Chicken Teriyaki skewer w sweet chilli sauce

Daiginjo Akashi-tai matched with Japanese mezze

Tea-smoked duck with ginger and beetroot dressing
Tempura fish with fennel and orange salad

Akashi-tai Honjozo Genshu matched with French food

Pork belly and lentil cassoulet
Wild mushroom, beansprout and spinach filo rolls
Mackerel fillet with black sticky rice, coriander and pink grapefruit sauce

Akashi-tai Genmai aged sake, with French and Japanese Food

Mussels with sake, lime and juniper
Braised beef shin with balsamic and caper sauce
Tofu with pistachio, carrot and radish remoulade

Akashi-tai Shiraume Umeshu, matched with savory and sweet options

Duck liver parfait with roast apricot
Plum and raisin strudel
Binham blue cheese and charcoal wafer
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I was impressed about how the rice is polished into smaller and smaller grains, so that different parts of the rice can contribute towards the quality and flavour of the sake. The brown, aged Genmai was like a dry sherry and this is an unusual style in Japan (and not well accepted) because they prefer more delicate sake with a purer flavour and not made with brown rice.
All the sake we tried was lovely: I preferred the fuller-bodied Honjozo Genshu, and the warm Daiginjo Akashi-tai, which were both on the side of fuller flavour, rather than the lighter honjozo. So i have a bit more confidence about sake—but with one brand and with this set of notes!
From the food menu, the braised shin of beef was beautiful as was the smoked duck. The duck parfait surprised a lot of people, who thought it was icecream to match the sweet plum sake! The chef was amazing (again) in getting this prepared.

33rd Peterborough Beer Festival

Headed off to Peterborough on the 5pm train with ‘Rob’ @gxusm to sample the delights of the Peterborough Beer Festival—one of the larger ones (and bigger than Cambridge). Peerborough Beer Fest 33 Very fast to get into the festival, owing to a sensible system for paying in advance for glasses which avoided the double queue issue. Huge double-tent layout with lots of beers. We sat outside for a while sipping beer, which was pleasant until the dusk came and the wind picked up and we headed back into the tent which was balmy and busy by comparison, Michael arrived about an hour later and tried his best to catch up with stronger beers. Ate a lovely steamed steak and kidney pudding for dinner from one of the stalls (shame there was no mustard)! We spent most of the night sitting at a table in one of the hospitality areas, which was very hospitable, but I suspect we had gatecrashed along with everyone else who was in there. 10pm train back to Cambridge, before tottering home.

Beers for the evening:

  • Nobby’s — Nobby’s Nutz, a festival special golden ale, 4.2%. Good start to the evening.
  • Loch Leven Brewery — Golden Goose, a red coloured ale in 80/- style. Lovely.
  • Malt B Bewing Company — Old Reliable, another copper coloured ale, 4.2%  Good but not as impressive as Michael’s Thornbridge Colorado Red.
  • Brewdog5am Saint from Aberdeenshire 5% ruby ale which was lovely.
  • Het Anker — Gouden Carolus Classic, 8.5%. Chosen exclusively for the write-up in the Festival Programme “Gigantic thick head. Rich, creamy mouth feel. Banana is right up front with some peach and a hint of citrus”. How could I refuse? Nice way to end the evening.

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Tweets this Week (2010-08-22)

  • At the BBC Proms in the Albert Hall. Fantastic Arvo Pärt (Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten) to open. http://twitpic.com/2fob9p #
  • Dreadfully Reverend James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons, Platitude of the Year Winner 2009 http://j.mp/dgpfQI #
  • Amused by the "Bouza" Tannat wine from Uruguay. Nice wine though, and a meaty (and spicy) 15%. http://twitpic.com/2gjl7t #
  • 'Zombie ants' controlled by parasitic fungus for 48m years
    http://gu.com/p/2j4fm/ip #
  • Weather holding out beyond expectations at the Pink Festival. Sam Jones rather good. Having beer with Jonathan. #
  • Cracked open Jason's pumpkin wine (2009) to sip alongside Jo Brand's Have I Got News For You #
  • Lovely to have lunch at the riverbank. The water is supposed to be 18°C, I'm not hopeful of that. #
  • Oops. Finished the pumpkin wine by the riverbank. Water is lovely and sun is shining—a lovely and relaxing afternoon. #

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Pink Festival, Cambridge

Michael was working today and the weather forecast was pretty grim. So I wasn’t sure whether I’d go to the Pink Festival at Cherry Hinton Hall. It rained a bit, then dried up so I grabbed a jumper and cycled out with the newspapers and a groundsheet after lunch. The park was reasonably busy despite the forecast, and I plonked myself in front of the main stage to listen to the music. Quickly met up with Jonathan and we chatted, drank beer and ate some chips in front of the stage for a few hours, which was very nice and enjoyable and the atmosphere was good.

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On the main stage, we saw:

  • Secret Circuits
  • Samantha Jones — enjoyable
  • Voice Couture — enjoyable

Jonathan had to leave to cook a duck, and I was getting cold, so I followed half an hour afterwards, sadly before much of the the more interesting music came on. It was a strange festival experience because I didn’t feel like I was at a gay festival. The crowd wasn’t particularly gay, which probably added to my impression. So sorry to say, Pink Festival itself didn’t work for me this year, but it was good to go.

BBC Prom 42

Met up with Simon and Peter in London, for dinner at a Polish Restaurant in Knightsbridge called Ognisko. It has a lovely terrace overlooking (and almost in) a garden behind Exhibition Road. We sate on the terrace int he warm evening air, which was great and it didn’t really feel like we were in the centre of London. The restaurant has an air of an institution about it, as if it wasn’t a commercial concern. The food was good though—beetroot soup for the other three and a rich mussel soup for me. My lamb’s liver for the main was beautifully cooked, and all washed down with Polish Beer.

This was all a prelude to the BBC Proms at the Albert Hall, up the road. It’s the first time I’ve been in the Albert Hall and I was really impressed. The building is lovely, smart and with plenty of entrances to get you in or out quickly. Walking into the auditorium was quite stunning. Our seats were off to the side of the main stage, and we were very close at the orchestra and facing the soloists, which was great.

Prom 42 started with a mesmerising piece by Arvo Pärt (which is why we’d chosen this particular prom) and the solemn chime and rising and falling violins are eerie and mesmerising. The Britten that followed was also good. We had mixed views about Huw Watkins modern concerto, that was being premiered at this Prom. It was difficult and uncomfortable to listen to and I was amazed by the vigour and skill of the violin soloist, Alina Ibragimova, in playing this—it looked incredibly tiring. Playing the piece involved her whole body. It was certainly memorable. We bumped into Philip at the break—he’d come for the Shostakovich Symphony. This was great and I must admit that I dozed off for a few minutes a couple of times, to be woken up by some romping music. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was good and it was interesting to watch the musicians close up (rather graphic tuba-mouth-piece licking, and how skilful it is to ring a chime from low to high volume, when you are the main focus of the composition!)

Prom 42—Programme

  • Arvo Pärt Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten
  • Britten — Four Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’
  • Huw Watkins — Violin Concerto
  • Shostakovich — Symphony No.5 in D minor
Prom 42 in the Albert Hall

Tweets this Week (2010-08-15)

  • Bentley's like a kitten again—ages since I saw him up a wall! The glucosamine supplement seems to be working! http://twitpic.com/2dmnsz #
  • Spent a fun hour at Clayhithe staring at the Pleiades before the clouds drifted over. Saw a few great light streaks. Need whisky to warm up! #
  • Perseids, Pleiades, oh well! #
  • A squirrel ran through my front wheel and got stuck between the spokes; made 3/4 of a revolution round the wheel then lept out, leaving fur! #
  • Lovely to see Tony, he drove over from Bicester for breakfast (Carluccios) #
  • Watching the occasional leaf fall from the horse chestnut trees at Fenners. It can't be the start of autumn already, surely? #
  • Bleurgh! Wish I'd left the tin of French Onion soup at the back of the cupboard, it's nasty. [It was from Aldi apparently] #

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Tweets this Week (2010-08-08)

  • Six am start was a bit painful after a night in the pub. Yawn #
  • Arrived at Cowes 30 mins early. Tempted by some Dubarry deck shoes. Time for a bit of internet research. http://twitpic.com/2awg1y #
  • Enjoying the OnDeck hospitality at Cowes. http://twitpic.com/2b0me3 #
  • Good tribute band at West Cowes: moved from T-Rex to Dolly Parton effortlessly. http://twitpic.com/2b1cla #
  • Lovely seafood meals in Oxford Brasserie, Southampton. Enjoyed the machiato too. Couldn't find anywhere that would take us in West Cowes. #
  • Missing my breakfast! We planned to grab it at Southampton station, but went straight onto a train. Now it will be lunch at Waterloo. Hungry #
  • At the Great British Beer Festival trade show in Earls Court. Massive. This is going to knock us silly. #gbbf http://twitpic.com/2b82c0 #
  • Starting with a dark beer from the 'Young and Upcoming Breweries Bar' Richmond Swale, dark chocolate malt. Michaels Prescott Hill Climb good #
  • Fun Bombadier Beer Bus. However, really enjoying my half of Ulverston Lonesome Pine (fruity honeyed lemon zesty) http://twitpic.com/2b89k7 #
  • #gbbf hic! http://twitpic.com/2b8cgf #
  • Disappointed that Orkney Red McGregor wasn't on. So had a half of Highland Orkney Blast from the same bar (6% barley wine, oops!) #gbbf #
  • Probably my last at #gbbf wonderful draft oak-aged Flemish brown beer with cherries: Verhaeghe Echte Kriekenbier. To easy to drink (6.8%) #
  • Three commuters sitting together on train by me. All doing the same crossword in their own papers. Will they compare answers at Cambridge? #
  • Yes, all comparing answers to crosswords. How lovely! Good to be back in Cambridge #
  • *Don Juan* blog post http://www.grahammccann.org/JetPlane/?p=2031 #
  • *Racing in Cowes Week* blog post http://www.grahammccann.org/JetPlane/?p=2041 #
  • *Great British Beer Festival* blog post http://www.grahammccann.org/JetPlane/?p=2047 #
  • After about three hours of catching up with blogging, I'm relaxing with a lovely wakame soup. I'm now three hours behind schedule 😉 #
  • Bbrrrr! Swam too far in the river (which was lovely) but haven't warmed up in 20 mins. Time to go home, perhaps the cycle will warm me up! #
  • Yes, warmer now. Scrapped plan for hot bath! #

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Don Juan

It’s a year tomorrow that I started reading Don Juan, and I finished it today. I’ve struggled with it as times (1, 2) and been enchanted at times (3) which is a good summary of the book as a whole. The Wikipedia summary looks good, as is the introduction to the Riverside Edition that I read. I’m very glad I read it, maybe a break before I start on some Pope!

Byron wrote the novel in part to shake off the popular image of him as his Childe Harold, from his earlier epic poem. Byron’s Don Juan screen-capture-1.png isn’t the libertine and seducer of legend, but is himself seduced and his story follows his path between six women: Donna Julia (who seduces him rather outrageously), Haidée (innocent young love), Gulbeyaz (who buys him for her harem but he resists her and falls for one of her maids, Dudu, instead), then as he grows more worldy wise (blame that on the harem) he becomes one of Catherine the Great’s lovers, before coming to England as an observer of the social mores of the time and double standards, finally in Canto 17 having a two-stanza fling with the Duchess of Fitz-Fulke. Byron died of a fever part way through Canto 17 so we won’t know where the night of passion led to (she was dressed up as the ghost of a monk, so that’s far from conventional).

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Finding of Don Juan by Haidée

The most difficult part of the book is the dreary Russian siege of Ismail in 1790 in Cantos 6–8. There are quite a few other digressions, some of which are great and others lost me quite effectively. I kept a note of some of the fantastic stanzas: The description of Don Juan’s parents I’ve already written about (from the First Canto),

From the Second Canto (LXXV–LXXVII and further) where, shipwrecked, Don Juan and his shipmates have to resort to cannibalism is amusingly written:

The lots were made, and mark’d, and mix’d, and handed,
In silent horror, and their distribution
Lull’d even the savage hunger which demanded,
Like the Promethean vulture, this pollution;
None in particular had sought or plann’d it,
‘T was nature gnaw’d them to this resolution,
By which none were permitted to be neuter–
And the lot fell on Juan’s luckless tutor.

He but requested to be bled to death:
The surgeon had his instruments, and bled
Pedrillo, and so gently ebb’d his breath,
You hardly could perceive when he was dead.
He died as born, a Catholic in faith,
Like most in the belief in which they ‘re bred,
And first a little crucifix he kiss’d,
And then held out his jugular and wrist.

The surgeon, as there was no other fee,
Had his first choice of morsels for his pains;
But being thirstiest at the moment, he
Preferr’d a draught from the fast-flowing veins:
Part was divided, part thrown in the sea,
And such things as the entrails and the brains
Regaled two sharks, who follow’d o’er the billow–
The sailors ate the rest of poor Pedrillo.

The sailors ate him, all save three or four,
Who were not quite so fond of animal food;
To these was added Juan, who, before
Refusing his own spaniel, hardly could
Feel now his appetite increased much more;
‘T was not to be expected that he should,
Even in extremity of their disaster,
Dine with them on his pastor and his master.

The shipwreck leads to Don Juan being the only survivor and being found by Haidée on a beach. The next quote from Canto 5 (LXIII–LXXV) is when Don Juan has been sold into salvery and bought by a seemingly very rich man for a mysterious purpose—

Baba eyed Juan, and said, ‘Be so good
As dress yourself-‘ and pointed out a suit
In which a Princess with great pleasure would
Array her limbs; but Juan standing mute,
As not being in a masquerading mood,
Gave it a slight kick with his Christian foot;
And when the old negro told him to ‘Get ready,’
Replied, ‘Old gentleman, I’m not a lady.’

‘What you may be, I neither know nor care,’
Said Baba; ‘but pray do as I desire:
I have no more time nor many words to spare.’
‘At least,’ said Juan, ‘sure I may enquire
The cause of this odd travesty?’–‘Forbear,’
Said Baba, ‘to be curious; ‘t will transpire,
No doubt, in proper place, and time, and season:
I have no authority to tell the reason.’

‘Then if I do,’ said Juan, ‘I’ll be-‘–‘Hold!’
Rejoin’d the negro, ‘pray be not provoking;
This spirit’s well, but it may wax too bold,
And you will find us not too fond of joking.’
‘What, sir!’ said Juan, ‘shall it e’er be told
That I unsex’d my dress?’ But Baba, stroking
The things down, said, ‘Incense me, and I call
Those who will leave you of no sex at all.

The dressing up turned out to be because he was was being prepared to met the great Princess Gulbeyaz whose harem her slave-master Baba had bought him and he was to be sneaked in dressed as a woman so as to be undiscovered by the Prince.

Even in the dreary Canto 8(LXXIII), there were some great atmospheric stanzas about the Ismail siege—

And scrambling round the rampart, these same troops,
After the taking of the ‘Cavalier,’
Just as Koutousow’s most ‘forlorn’ of ‘hopes’
Took like chameleons some slight tinge of fear,
Open’d the gate call’d ‘Kilia,’ to the groups
Of baffled heroes, who stood shyly near,
Sliding knee-deep in lately frozen mud,
Now thaw’d into a marsh of human blood.

Once Don Juan is in England, Byron has a lot to say about English culture and restrictions. Byron had an unhappy marriage (for money) and his thoughts on the marriage game are interesting—

A young unmarried man, with a good name
And fortune, has an awkward part to play;
For good society is but a game,
‘The royal game of Goose,’ as I may say,
Where every body has some separate aim,
An end to answer, or a plan to lay–
The single ladies wishing to be double,
The married ones to save the virgins trouble.

I don’t mean this as general, but particular
Examples may be found of such pursuits:
Though several also keep their perpendicular
Like poplars, with good principles for roots;
Yet many have a method more reticular–
‘Fishers for men,’ like sirens with soft lutes:
For talk six times with the same single lady,
And you may get the wedding dresses ready.

Perhaps you’ll have a letter from the mother,
To say her daughter’s feelings are trepann’d;
Perhaps you ‘ll have a visit from the brother,
All strut, and stays, and whiskers, to demand
What ‘your intentions are?’–One way or other
It seems the virgin’s heart expects your hand:
And between pity for her case and yours,
You’ll add to Matrimony’s list of cures.

I ‘ve known a dozen weddings made even thus,
And some of them high names: I have also known
Young men who–though they hated to discuss
Pretensions which they never dream’d to have shown–
Yet neither frighten’d by a female fuss,
Nor by mustachios moved, were let alone,
And lived, as did the broken-hearted fair,
In happier plight than if they form’d a pair.

Finally, I enjoyed this stanza (Canto 16, XXXIV)

Lord Henry, who had now discuss’d his chocolate,
Also the muffin whereof he complain’d,
Said, Juan had not got his usual look elate,
At which he marvell’d, since it had not rain’d;
Then ask’d her Grace what news were of the duke of late?
Her Grace replied, his Grace was rather pain’d
With some slight, light, hereditary twinges
Of gout, which rusts aristocratic hinges.

Quotes above from Project Gutenberg  


“Don Juan (Riverside editions)” (Lord George Gordon Byron)