A note on ‘Greeting Cards’…

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Over the years, I have managed to somewhat curtail the amount of greeting cards that I once received, or was obligated to send, for occasions including – but not limited to – Birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day etc. No mean feat indeed, considering the irrational sentimentality some of my family and friends have, towards these functionless hoards of arbitrary house-litter.

Warning such as “Do NOT get me a Christmas card unless you’d like it mailed back to you with a bomb attached”, or “Don’t think you’re getting a card this year, I have wrapping paper and a sharpie, that’s where my responsibilities end…”, became a common response to the greeting card’s proponents. But what has concerned me more, than the endless battle to abate these pillars of mediocrity, was what to do about the ones that slip through the cracks of my ‘now-well-fortified-greeting-card-defence-barriers’.

When I was growing up, my mother would place all the greeting cards on a mantelpiece upon receiving them, and there they would stay seemingly forever. I never knew when they would be replaced, because these cards would remain up until the next random festive event brought with it the flourishing flood of fresh, new greeting cards. I don’t remember being there for any of the changeovers. But the point stands as strong as the cards did, those years back; there was NO time during the year that at least one form of card would not be on display. The birthday cards would see us through to the Christmas cards, which would in turn lead us to the next meaningless holiday. Suffice to say, there was a great importance placed on this ‘annexed gift’ to me as a growing boy. Like much other meaningless dogma, it doesn’t take long for one to arrive to one’s senses.

I’m not here to raise the question of how ridiculous it is to pay five dollars or more for a card, or to paradoxically have the personal inscription inside written on your behalf, or at the very least to argue about the ‘conspiracy of consumerism’ and holidays invented by Hallmark (because to be honest, we buy shit that we’re told to ALL the time). But rather to embark on a public consensus on how long we have to hold on to these damn things? One week? Two weeks? Can we throw it away once we’ve read it? Never in my life have I re-approached a recently mounted greeting card, for one extra parse of that ‘microwave dinner’ style pre-thought-up sentence, telling me how much the person who didn’t write it, wishes I had a great birthday.

I have even endured a torrent of astonishment and disgust from people, when they find that my greeting card from last week was not on display at my home – as though it were to be treated as a trophy, or cherished artwork. The implication that I seek to contradict its message, is often circuitously floated.

I am considering implementing a 24-hour greeting card lifespan policy, in which the card will exist within my home for the first 24 hours after being torn from its envelope, and then swiftly discarded along with the other rubbish that seeks to clutter my life.

Hookie’s Bangin’ Bolognese

(Not traditional, but which bolognese is these days?)

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Shit you need:
800g Pork Mince (or 50/50 beef/lamb)
100g Chopped Pancetta
2 white onions (diced)
5 cloves Garlic (chopped finely)
250g tomato paste
500g Pasata or red sauce
1 400g can of diced Tomatoes
4-5 Carrots (diced)
10-12 Swiss Brown Mushrooms - chopped (optional)
Fresh or dried Oregano (depends on how much you like but a tablespoon should be the minimum)
2 Bay Leaves
2 sprigs of Thyme
3 sprigs of Rosemary
5-6 Basil stalks and leaves (separated)
1 teaspoon Nutmeg
1 glass of good quality red wine
150-200g Parmesan cheese


500-800g Pasta, preferably pappardelle, but spaghetti or penne also fine.

Serves: A small club, or 3 hungry DJs.

Shit you do:
Heat a saucepan or pot to high, adding extra virgin olive oil (5 tablespoons). Make sure the pan can take the load you’re about to smash it with. Use your eyes, and hopefully, your brains.


Go in with the 2 bay leaves and onions. Cook until they begin to change colour slightly, then add the garlic. Smell that shit. Add chopped Pancetta and cook for a couple of minutes. After a couple of minutes, or whenever you’re feelin’ it, add the diced carrots. Smash this mix with the nutmeg. Don’t go too crazy. Then add the red wine, and stir the fuck out of it.


Time to add the mince. Be sure to ask someone with borderline obsessive compulsive disorder to furiously break up the meat as it’s cooking. Once the meat has browned on the outside, you can add the mushrooms (if you’re adventurous), and the rosemary, thyme and finely chopped basil stalks.


Stir, and add the tomato paste. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Lower the heat to a simmer (NFI what that means for you, but just go with what you feel), and add the tin of diced tomatoes, and the pasata.


Simmer on a low heat for around an hour, stirring occasionally. This should give you enough time to put on a decent mix tape or watch an episode of The Sopranos.


10 minutes before you’re ready to serve you need to make the pasta. So much depends on if you’re using fresh or dried pasta, or whether you’re making it from scratch. But a few rules always apply.


1. If you don’t put salt in the water you boil your pasta in, there is no help for you.


2. Do not throw out the starchy water your pasta had boiled in once finished. You should add a small amount of the starchy water to the sauce before you stir the pasta into it (I’ll get to that). At the very least, allow the pasta to steam above the starchy water once finished - this will stop the pasta from drying out and it will also keep the pasta warm.


3. Oil should be used on the resting pasta once finished for a silkier texture.


4. Most importantly. Do not (under any circumstances), serve the naked pasta into a bowl, and then slap the sauce on top. This mistake is made by many, and the consequences suffered fly by without detection due to a lacking in experience of the alternative. Always stir the pasta into the sauce before serving.


As you stir the pasta through the sauce, add 3/4 of the parmesan cheese, and half the basil leaves. 


Serve in plates or bowls before topping off with some olive oil, the remaining parmesan and a couple of basil leaves to garnish.


Enjoy with good a nice glass of red, and friends who appreciate home made classics.


Salute!









Karl Pilkington… Jerk or Genius?

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Over the last couple of years I have become exponentially interested with the TV personality of Karl Pilkington, good friend of Ricky Gervais, star of ‘An Idiot Abroad’, ‘The Ricky Gervais Show’, and Author (seriously).

The premise behind this man, and his celebrity, is that he is (as Gervais describes him) a round-headed buffoon, idiot/moron. I tend to disagree with this description, while completely understanding the temptation from Gervais to tar him with such a brush.

I instead view Karl as a more unfortunate character, and a product of isolation in contemporary Western society. He doesn’t appear to exude as much ‘stupidity’, as he often does ‘ignorance’ or ‘naivety’. His bazar views on life, and his surroundings often have a benevolent silver lining, and he almost always presents an incredible sense of imagination, and subsequently humour. 

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One of the reasons I find Karl so entertaining is his relentless unpredictability. After watching all of his shows, podcasts, and YouTube interviews, it is still nearly impossible to suppose what the next thing to come out of his mouth will be. His imagination can sometimes takes him, and the listener to places they have seldom been outside an acid trip.

It is easy to understand why many find him amusing. Human beings tend to enjoy looking down on others, whether it be through lack of talent, susceptibility to misfortune, or being physically or intellectually inferior, as they see it. But in my opinion, a public figure such as Karl, could not sustain the kind of celebrity he has for so long by merely ‘lacking virtue’, without having made up for it in different areas.

He may be less educated than the majority of those who watch him, and up until recently quite poorly travelled, but having watched him progress over the years, you can certainly notice small nuances of thought occur in his life. Sometimes it even seems like you are seeing the cogs in his head turn, as he discovers things more fortunate people would have had the opportunity to, earlier in life.

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I completely understand the effect that would occur from seldom leaving your suburban midlands neighbourhood, not being exposed to other cultures or varieties of people and personalities. I also understand the result of (what we may call) satisfactory education in these areas. But by watching and enjoying Karl, you are in fact demanding his opinion, in one way or another, and we must learn to understand it.

Karl’s simplistic view of life can often be caught in certain phrases, which perfectly sum up the situations he finds himself in. Although rudimentary on the surface, sometimes over-complicating things can destroy their initial intent. I personally enjoy Karl’s unbridled imagination, and ability to completely ‘make’ a show or program, without ever intending to. He is who he is, and does what he does, for better or for worse.

Pilkington becomes even more intriguing when you discover that there is much more to him than meets the eye, rather than much less. I totally understand why Gervais calls him every day to ‘see what he is up to’ etc. If he was my friend, I’d have him on speed dial.  

Strasbourg

When making the decision to tactfully blend two cultures – in order to produce an amazing hybrid – it is important to make those two cultures French, and German (or cultures of equivalent grandeur).

Of course, this decision was no more ‘made’ than such a happy accident could have occurred. Over hundreds of years, many cultures and civilisations fought and died over the small city of Strasbourg, and it was time to find out why.

The two-hour train trip from Paris ushers you through some of the most beautiful French countryside, launching you headfirst into the gardens of the Alsace region. (Passing through Lorraine - but passing up on the quiche - became a notable regret.)

The remarkable dichotomy of the inner, older part of the city, and the outer, more recent, becomes instantly apparent when arriving to Strasbourg by train. The latter, appearing industrial, worn and bland, swiftly juxtaposed with possibly one of the most gorgeous town centres I have had the pleasure of visiting. It’s imperfect, yet perfect cobbled streets leading you through an array of meticulously nurtured 16th century buildings. Some of which, for a brief period, convincing you it is the age in which they were built.

I had booked a room in a cosy, two star ‘hotel’ right in the thick of it. At least, that’s how I might describe it if I was marketing the place. I don’t consider myself a snobby traveller, but the first thing this hotel boasted was an impressively large collection of staircases between the lower level, and the room I had booked. I decided that this may be where I draw the line in regards to accommodation compromises. Luckily the hotel owner, in addition to her hospitable nature, was an industrious and opportunistic young lady, who owned another hotel, just down the road, with a lift, and a fully renovated suite that would later prove priceless.

“We only have two rooms left, and they are both suites…” were the first words I heard from the receptionist’s mouth as she looked up at me, after tediously toying with her computer, endlessly bashing on keys, seemingly at random. ‘Darn it’, I thought. I was looking for something more low-fi. Removing the tongue from my cheek, I followed her up the quaint yet adequate elevator to inspect one of these ‘last resorts’.

It’s a cheeky thing inviting someone up to a room such as this when having just come from a 2 star facility. Almost as though she required praise for it’s brand new fitting and décor, rather than just ‘checking that it was satisfactory’. Of course it was satisfactory. It was over-the-top if anything. I registered my disapproval of her facetious tour with a slight look of confusion before folding with something like; ‘Of course we’ll take it, do we look stupid?’ Besides, what better way to spend your 4th anniversary, than in a place with a brand new freestanding bathtub (a modern convenience sure to drown any small issue that may cause a disagreement, like say, whether TripAdvisor is a perfectly acceptable form of restaurant address procurement).

After settling in, a short stroll down the road was to unveil what I can only describe as one of the most beautiful and imposing structures I have had the fortune of seeing in the flesh. The Strasbourg Notre Dame (slowly revealed to me as I turned the corner into the square), imposes structural dominance over everything adjacent it, and commands a particular respect I have seldom found in other buildings. Perhaps due to its close proximity to the other buildings which it dwarfs, and the relatively small square on which it sits. But also due to it’s (arguably) aggressive architecture. Originally built in the 12th Century, the Strasbourg Cathedral’s central irony (as far as I was concerned) was its boasting of an enormous astronomical clock, within. An early and strange confrontation of science and theology. My girlfriend also pointed out how easily one could have been coerced into a life of religious devotion when such an imposing structure was the centrepiece of your existence. I tend to agree, but still maintain the building is beautiful despite is fear-inspiring appearance.

Venturing further down the paths of discovery (offered in plenty by this gracious city), one would find themselves grinning at the endearing melange of gastronomy offered by many of the quaint restaurants and cafes lining the streets of Strasbourg. Only the best of both cultures involved in some of the most unique collaborations of foodstuffs this side of Spain. Sauerkraut, and old favourite, a staple of most menus, followed by confit de canard and a precession of warm soups, comfort food, and winter favourites. I can indeed say this with the straightest of faces - If by some unfortunate stretch of the imagination, you believe in reincarnation - let me tell you this now; Strasbourg is not the place to come back, as a pig. 

Supplementary to the recent enquiry as to how much food our stomachs could actually hold, it was decided a brisk walk could aid in the digestion of the meals, and possibly the question. It was at this stage that we (not unintentionally) embarked upon our exploration of the ‘Jewel of Strasbourg’ – Le Petite-France. A small, yet impressive, collection of 15th Century timber buildings and baroque structures, with a flowing canal system and sense of charm not found anywhere else outside of Venice. This – I would have to say – was to be the highlight of my adventure to Strasbourg. No more efficiently could you be whisked back in time hundreds of years, than a gamble through the prominent promenades of Le Petite-France. After dinner drinks worldwide have something to live up to after having spent an evening on the shores of it’s canals, trying tenaciously to spot the differences in the buildings, and their respective reflections on the still waters. And an old homemade biscuit shop on its outskirts provided the perfect ‘thank you’ gift for our gracious hotelier.

Note of coincidence: On the second last day in Strasbourg, Lauren and I (on a mission to get lost) were bee lining through a back street when a man on a bike who had just rode past us, stopped. Turned around and yelled at me in French, asking me if he had perhaps seen me in Paris last week. He had happened to be riding his bike down Rue du Louvre and noticed me. Okay. I know that I may be a more remarkable or unusual site than some, but honestly, what are the fucking odds? It made me wonder how many lives actually cross paths dozens of times without being noticed… even if one was not on a ‘Tour de France’. Food for thought. 

 

 

Paris

No city in the world greets you in the way Paris does. The sensation is unique yet consistent, defying hour, weather and other arbitrary variables. Its soft buildings, with their romantic detailing, are easy on your eyes as they caress the streets. An expansive mélange of people with everything and nothing, but seemingly, all that is to be had. Indeed there is something to be said for a city that calms you, as you drive through its ridiculously small – and somewhat dangerous – streets at 60kmph.

Paris is a no-brainer for me. I always go back there, whenever I’m in that corner of the globe. It is truly, for my own purposes, the perfect city. Not too small as to render oneself restless, and not too grand as to get in the way of any hedonistic endeavour you may – and certainly will – find yourself pursuing. The city itself commands a particular respect I’ve seldom found in places so trampled by the tourist footstep. If you like, Paris seems to go at a different speed to other cities, while maintaining it’s grandiose reputation. This was to be my 10th visit to the city in my fortunate life, and it was nice to be back in the lane, which I belonged.

 

From my compact balcony, in my shoebox apartment in the first, I would truly learn to breathe in the city. Much of my time in my default position (crammed in between a shaky table and imminent death below) was spent staring and smoking. Moments before my Parisian friend arrived to welcome us I realised something about the city. It had a very distinct sound that I could identify at almost any point in my life. I remember thinking, if I’m ever kidnaped, blindfolded and whisked away to Paris, at least I’d know where I was. Some handy that will come in.

 

From the first day, the city of lights and its inhabitants had embraced me like an old friend. I found myself up in the morning (at hours I couldn’t possibly imagine back home) and down to the local cafe for a coffee and cigarette, breakfast (in my humble opinion) of champions. I had carefully selected a small local place, where workers from around the area, seemed to kick off their day with a similar philosophy. It was only after the second day at the café that my name was remembered, I was greeted with a smile, and my order brought out along with a straw and ashtray. Small acknowledgements and brief trivial conversations about the weather with locals made me feel right at home. Situations like these always beg the question; “What are people talking about when they refer to French people being ‘rude’ or ‘arrogant’? I’m sure if you situated yourself in the right places and exercised a slight disregard to a foreign culture you might get this anywhere in the world? For me, I seem to have skipped the whole ‘rude French people’ doctrine. Maybe I’m just going to the wrong (right) places. Either way, I was happy with my new local. I would use this time wisely to consider a full-time existence, not too far off this, for the rest of my days. Imagine getting my bread from the bakery, popping next door to the fromagerie to pick up some cheese before a short stroll to the deli and grocer to see what’s ‘in season’. What a novel idea! And all within fifty metres of your own residence. It gets you thinking, wasn’t all life like this at some stage? If it ever was in my lifetime, memory serves me a cold dish.

 

Paris is not about the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triumph or Sacre Coeur, though they are all impressive. As far as I may concern myself with it’s charm, Paris is about the little things. The individual, yet unique, beauty of each arrondissement, its eye wateringly welcoming charm, the respect for tradition, and the people who make it possible, all work together to make this the most remarkable city in the world.

 

Cities like Paris always make me wonder. Would there have been an ideal time - within the developed world - to stop the disease of ‘rush’ from spreading like a virus? Naturally there must be a balance between boredom and bustle, but where would that middle ground lie? For me, Paris has found it, and if they play their cards the way they have been, will always have it for years to come.

Coles Online Ordering Review…

1) Produce was FINE. Nothing too spectacular but certainly edible.
2) Some things that were ‘Out of Stock’ were replaced by inferior alternatives (which reduces my product selection process to a dubious status).
3) Other ‘Out of Stock’ items were simply not delivered with no warning (too bad if it was tonight’s dinner) but omitted from the bill accordingly.
3) Delivery charge was fair for a 3 hour window (costs more for a 2 hour window - I ask you, is there someone able to wait around doing nothing for 2hours but CERTAINLY not 3)
4) Delivery guy was friendly and we chatted in short about how I could still sign for things with no hands. No discernibly annoying overtones in conversation.

Overall 7.5/10 - For the mere fact that I didn’t have to stand next to a mercilessly crying shit-infant while waiting for grandma to unload her fucking piggy bank at the checkout

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