Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Meatless Days

Thanks to the alert reader who told me that last week we posted a repeat item. I have sentenced my "support staff" to six lashes with a wet noodle. Once the error was discovered, we posted a replacement item, so this week you have two offerings. You will need to scroll down to read the corrected item for last week.

One of my favorite paintings is called Friday. I trust that it is still to be found in the Walker Art Gallery - the one in Liverpool, England, not the gallery of the same name in Minneapolis. The painting shows a group of well-nourished monks, looking happily on a table of mouth-watering food, including several varieties of fish. Yes, it is a sarcastic reference to the former Roman Catholic rule of meatless Fridays, but it is very funny.

I confess that I am not a fan of abstract painting, although over the years I have learned to recognize such art for it's skill and beauty.

Like almost everyone I know, I am a fan of impressionists painting. Although I admire The Potato Eaters  I don't find it necessary for every representational painting to include human or animal figures. Never the less, I really enjoy the "every picture tells a story" approach.

Things are really turned upside-down in our house. Barbara will eat chicken and fish, but most of our evening meals are meatless. As long as this includes one of the Cheeseboard's wonderful vegetarian pizzas, and from time to time a pasta dish, either with pesto or a tasty sauce, I am cool with this restricted diet.

Ah, but when Barbara is away, meat is on the menu! Last night, she attended a pot luck with her Book Group, and I was able to prepare braised lamb shank. I had no handy stock, but I rolled the solitary shank in flour, seasoned it with salt, pepper (and a touch of MSG - shh!), together with some white wine. I baked a large potato - half of which I reserved to fry up this morning for my usual job of preparing breakfast for us. Aah, but the other half I mashed with a fork and used it to pick up the remaining olive oil and assorted juices, to serve with the beets and greens that accompanied the lamb shank. A couple of glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, and I ate like a king. I should confess that I also had a couple of teaspoonfuls of Straus raspberry ice cream, a couple of crackers with cave-aged Gruyere, and a piece of Lindt "intense orange" dark chocolate.

I recently read that the average American adult gains several pounds - Seven, I believe- of weight between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.

So, tonight it's back to salad, and whatever item of cuisine minceur.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Expensive hobbies

Some folk may be very upset when billionaires spend money on enormous yachts, but I think that we should be happy about this. Think of the employment this gives to naval architects, boatyards, professional crews, and luxury caterers. I look forward to reading the reports of the seemingly endless races. I think that the purchase of yachts is a far better use of a successful professional golfer's earnings than spending it on bimbos.

These thoughts have lead me to think about other past times enjoyed by the very wealthy. Polo is an example: A sport for the royal family and skilled horsemen from Argentina. It does seem to be a rather sexist sport: Do women ever play Polo? Probably so, but we never hear about them.

I am not really in favor of fox-hunting, although I do not take the extreme position that the League Against Cruel Sports does. At least, the fox has a chance to get away, unlike the Taro in a Spanish bullfight. Hunting on horseback can involve chasing after other animals, such as stags and wild boar. I have never felt tempted to join in such endeavors, even if I could afford them.

As a Naval Cadet, I did enjoy beagling. We would be driven in a Lorry (a large truck - no mini buses in those days). We followed the hounds on foot, and I don't think I have ever been in such good health since those days.

Likewise, although I once co-owned a twelve ft. sailing dinghy, I can't afford to maintain a yacht. Occasionally, in recent years, I have gone sailing with Barbara's son, Brian, but otherwise I have stayed away from small craft. I am reminded of the comment in The Wind in the Willows to the effect that nothing is quite so much fun as "simply messing about in boats".

Early in my days at Port Regis, my British-style prep school we performed the play, based on that book, written by A. A. Milne (who also wrote about Christopher Robin, Poohbear, Eeyore and Piglet.) it was known as Toad of Toad Hall. I was cast as the Chief Weasel - please don't quote that as an example of typecasting! We other animals were not very happy with the bumptious Mr. Toad, and I shall never forget the curse we spoke, which included "May he forget who wined his watch at night - and may his dancing pumps be much too tight".

I suppose I could have afforded to be a golfer, but my experience with golf clubs and golf balls is very limited. As children, my elder sister and I made a golf course for our selves in the extensive grounds of our parent's home in Reigate Surrey. The gardeners were always tolerant with us, and did not complain at the appearance of nine holes in the carefully groomed lawns.

We also played "Clock golf", essentially putting practice with "tees" being the Roman numerals of a clock, set about fifteen feet from the center.

I also enjoyed mini-golf, chiefly playing with my sons before they began attending high school.

Barbara and I did enjoy most of one game on a Par 3 course in Florida. This was laid out on the same property as contained two famous 18-hole courses. We rented the equipment, and were having fun until I took such a swipe with my 9 iron that the ball overshot the hole, and landed on the driveway leading to the fancy clubhouse. As we walked over to recover the ball, a Cadillac drove onto the property. Seeing the ball there, the driver stopped the car, got out, and swiped my gold ball...

End of golf game: End of story.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I have a disclosure to make. Last week, a fellow former editor told me that she would bet that I didn't do my own typing. True enough, I told her. "You should teach your amanuensis the difference between 'its' and 'it's,' " she said. For those in the U.K. who expect my blogs to be posted punctually by Tuesday morning, my apologies. I am grateful for no. 3 amanuensis, who stepped into the breach during the temporary absence of my regular helper and her alternate.

Many of us have been rather shocked at the recent bombing that killed five CIA operatives and two contractors, and wounded others. I don't usually discuss contemporary issues, preferring to write about various matters that have little time value, and I like to indulge in nostalgia and my early days. This is an exception.

When I "went down (i.e. graduated)" from Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1952, a year or two past the arrival there of David Cornwell, better known by his pen name of "John Le Carré,"I had read every one of his published books. They are well written, but often seem to take a sour look at life: most of his leading characters do not survive. From The Spy Who Came in from the Cold onward, there is much about the life of the secret agent. This includes a discussion of "tradecraft," or how to be an effective secret agent. I believe that the works of John Le Carré should be required reading for any CIA operatives in the field. Just today, I have been reading an article in the January 18 issue of Newsweek. The three writers would probably agree with my suggestion, or with equivalent training. Here is an extract from that article:

"There are very rigorous protocols for such meetings...all informants should be searched carefully, the rendezvous location should be staked out ahead of time, and when the mole arrives, only one or two CIA officers should be present."

Human Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi has been described as a "double agent," but probably should be considered a triple agent. He was a Jordanian Jihadist, who was apparently caught by the Jordanians and "turned" to be an agent for its allies, and an informative for the CIA. Little did any of his employers realize that he had reverted to the opposition. He should not have been allowed inside the base without being searched. Instead of this, he was able to enter the base and approach the operatives with a hand in his pocket. When he was asked to remove his hand from the pocket, he detonated the bomb.

Surely, it was dangerous for an informant to meet his contacts at the base. One can imagine that the enemy knows the location of the base, and can observe those who enter and leave it. If only he had met no more than two CIA folk at a "safe house," it would have been much safer for him, had he stayed loyal to his Jordanian and CIA masters.

Were those who employed him totally ignorant of tradecraft?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Christmas Trees

We have almost always bought a Christmas tree. As a "stickler", I prefer that it not be up until Christmas Eve, and not taken down until the 13th day after Christmas. This usually doesn't work. Barbara loves having a granddaughter help with trimming the tree, and she will not put up with my delaying tactics. When the tree dies, and starts shedding, Barbara complains about the mess, and the tree has to come down ahead of my preferred schedule. So be it.

This year, I was shocked when she brought home an artificial tree. I would as soon use the wrong fork to eat my salad. She said something about "saving a tree". I began reminding her about the materials and the energy that had been used to fabricate that wretched excuse for a tree.

I explained that most Christmas trees now came from Christmas tree farms. All these trees-and there are millions of them-help to absorb carbon dioxide. I pointed out that we had friends who had developed a Christmas tree farm, about fifty miles north of San Francisco. The wife was a CPA, and in a year of high earnings, she shrewdly spent a lot of tax-deductible dollars on setting up a small forest. (We never did learn whether they came out ahead when the trees matured.)

Brian and Marlene came to our rescue. After the family Christmas Eve celebration at their house, they brought up their real tree, and helped us find and use the stand, so that it was ready for decorating. Granddaughter Justine helped to add the ornaments and lights, and we were all set.

Fortunately, I guess, that artificial tree was defective, so Barbara could return it for full credit.

I was happily waiting until the end of the Twelfth day of Christmas, but while my back was turned (Justine and I were in church on Sunday) the tree came down, the floor was swept, and the ornaments stored for next year. Win a few, lose a few.

Several years ago, we bought a small living Christmas tree, and it was still alive when we planted it, waiting for next years Christmas season. The tree still lived, but did not seem to be thriving. One day, Barbara complained about this to our wonderful Japanese gardener, George Sujishi. His reply, in his still-accented English "Christmas tree! I make it bonsai."