Sunday, December 31, 2017

Interlude: another German New Year's Eve tradition

JD presents Hogmanay!

A guid New Year to ane an` a` and mony may ye see!

While New Year's Eve is celebrated around the world, the Scots have a long rich heritage associated with this event - and we have our own name for it, Hogmanay.

There are many theories about the derivation of the word "Hogmanay". The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was "Hoggo-nott" while the Flemish words (many have come into Scots) "hoog min dag" means "great love day". Hogmanay could also be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon, Haleg monath, Holy Month, or the Gaelic, oge maidne, new morning. But the most likely source seems to be the French. "Homme est né" or "Man is born" while in France the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged was "aguillaneuf" while in Normandy presents given at that time were "hoguignetes". Take your pick!

In Scotland a similar practice to that in Normandy was recorded, rather disapprovingly, by the Church. "It is ordinary among some Plebians in the South of Scotland, to go about from door to door upon New Year`s Eve, crying Hagmane." Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, 1693.

Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and virtually banned in Scotland for around 400 years. (I think it became a public holiday round about 1960.) The reason for Christmas not being celebrated has its roots in the Protestant Reformation when the Kirk portrayed Christmas as a Popish or Catholic feast and therefore had to be banned. Many Scots had to work over Christmas and their winter solstice holiday was therefore at New Year when family and friends gathered for a party and exchange presents, especially for the children. There are traditions before midnight such as cleaning the house on 31st December (including taking out the ashes from the fire in the days when coal fires were common). There is also the superstition to clear all your debts before "the bells" at midnight. (I wonder how many people still try to clear their debts!)

An integral part of the Hogmanay partying, which continues very much today, is to welcome friends and strangers, with warm hospitality to wish everyone a Guid New Year. The underlying belief is to clear out the vestiges of the old year, have a clean break and welcome in a young, New Year on a happy note.

"First footing" (that is, the "first foot" in the house after midnight) is not as common as it used to be in Scotland. To ensure good luck for the house, the first foot should be male, dark (believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble) and should bring symbolic coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and whisky. These days, however, whisky and perhaps shortbread are the only items still prevalent and very welcome they are!.

And of course it has become traditional to overindulge and wake up the following day with a 'sair heid'. -

My New Year's Resolution

... is never to open the pages of the MoS' "You" magazine:
It's so easy to deconstruct, isn't it? A manufacturer's freebie, or something bought on expenses in a hurried cabbed trawl through West End shops, or even worse, a sponsorship.

Just don't tell us that "we" paid for it out of her own pocket or intends to continue using it, especially at that you-really-are-silly-aren't-you price.

A touchstone for the whole bloated, false-valued paper. If it wasn't for Peter Hitchens I shouldn't bother at all.

A German NYE tradition - divining the future by molten lead

We used to do this in Germany. The lead came formed into the shape of common objects, a bit like the old Monopoly player pieces. The result was always a frazzled lump in the bottom of the washing up bowl.

Started in Greece with tin-smelting, they say - so maybe dates back to the Bronze Age?

See also

On The Sixth Day Of Christmas

Friday, December 29, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Merry Claudemas! - by JD

It's that time of year, after the joy of Christmas and before the great joy of Hogmanay, a time to wind down and look for some calming tranquility. What better way to relax than with the music of Debussy. The third video is very fitting as we are currently 'enjoying' the latest episode in the global warming saga.

On The Fourth Day Of Christmas

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

On The First Day Of Christmas

- that chimes with the family's-home theme, but JD suggests this alternative:

Sunday, December 24, 2017

MUSIC: JD's Third Christmas Collection

Nollaig Chridheil gu h-uile agus Dia a 'beannachadh
sìth air an talamh agus deagh rùn dha na fir uile *

* A wonderful Christmas and God bless you
   Peace on earth and goodwill for all men

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Thought for the day: inequality

"Scheidel’s book* shows that historically, the only way high inequality has been flattened has been through catastrophe: disease, famine, world war, societal collapse or communist revolution."

- Quoted in "Evonomics":

Is there another way?.

*Walter Scheidel, "The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century", Princeton, January 2017

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Killer Arguments Against LVT, Not (428)

Wiggiatlarge in the comments at Broad Oak Magazine:

"The author of this has been on a mission to implement LVT as the prefered method of tax, he is entitled to his view, but no tax is perfect and many far more qualified than myself have taken apart aspects of LVT on his site, the author also rather spoils his pitch by using phraese like "homies" as a derogatory term for all home owners (1) and feels for some strange reason that anyone who has a garden (2) should bear the sins of mankind (3), all rather strange."

1. That's a deliberate misinterpretation of what the term means. As I have pointed out many a time, "Home-Owner-Ist" does not mean owner-occupier. Not all owner-occupiers are Home-Owner-Ists; indeed not all Home-Owner-Ists are owner-occupiers.

I am an owner-occupier and I guess most Land Value Taxers are. "Home-Owner-Ist" is my catch-all term for:
- people who celebrate high and rising house prices;
- people who think that "land and buildings" is synonymous with "property";
- people who say that income tax or poll tax is fairer than LVT without realising that they are two extremes and that LVT combines the best aspects of those taxes without their worst aspects;
- people who cheerfully say that the value of land is dictated by its location, location, location while denying the existence of the concept of 'community generated land value';
- people who genuinely believe the 2008 recession was caused by Labour government deficit spending and not by the land price/credit bubble bursting
- etc.

2. Anybody who thinks that Land Value Tax is a 'garden tax' has no grasp of reality. It is a charge based on the value of a location. Anybody can look this up for themselves - in the UK, the average value of a flat is approximately equal to the average value of a semi-detached house with a garden. So clearly, the size of your garden barely matters, it all depends where your garden (or home) is.

3. Who said anything about 'bearing all the sins of mankind'? Does he think that people who go to work (and pay income tax) should 'bear all the sins of mankind'?

The value of any bit of land is down to the extra advantages you can enjoy by occupying that location, location, location. There are thousands of factors, but a major one is being within easy commute distance of a decent job or having lots of potential workers and customers within easy commute distance of your business. And what you are paying for is the right to exclude all others from doing your job or taking your workers/customers; so you are placing a burden on them equal and opposite to the value you are enjoying. Sure, people can commute in from further away and do a similar job, but that extra commute time is a burden for the other person; similarly, there are people who live closer to your place of work than you do; they are placing a burden on you.

Therefore, it seems fair and reasonable to me for people to pay compensation (i.e. LVT) accordingly, and for everybody to receive an equal share of the compensation paid by all other land owners (whether that is in terms of public services or a straight cash payout).

There's no point bleating that "I paid for it and it's my land and therefore shouldn't have to pay further compensation", you are still placing a burden on others. What if I move in next door to you and listen to music at top volume all night long? I'm clearly placing a burden on you, and you wouldn't be too happy if I argue that "I've paid for my sound system and CDs and have no duty to minimise or mitigate the burden I place on you".

Friday, December 15, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Nina Simone, by JD

"She earned the moniker ‘High Priestess of Soul’ for she could weave a spell so seductive and hypnotic that the listener lost track of time and space as they became absorbed in the moment. She was who the world would come to know as Nina Simone."

"When Nina Simone died on April 21, 2003, she left a timeless treasure trove of musical magic spanning over four decades from her first hit, the 1959 Top 10 classic “I Loves You Porgy,” to “A Single Woman,” the title cut from her one and only 1993 Elektra album. While thirty-three years separate those recordings, the element of honest emotion is the glue that binds the two together – it is that approach to every piece of work that became Nina’s uncompromising musical trademark."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

CATALONIA: Art repatriated, Puigdemont loses his marbles, by JD

News from Spain includes a story about the removal of art works from a museum in Lerida and returning them to Huesca in Aragon.* 

Background of the story is towards the end of this Wiki entry- 

Of course Puigdemont is 'outraged' and this was his tweet yesterday- 

Carles Puigdemont@KRLS
Amb nocturnitat i utilitzant una policia militaritzada, com sempre, tot aprofitant un cop d'estat per espoliar Catalunya amb absoluta impunitat. Aquest és el model de país que defensen Ciudadanos, PSC i PP. 
As you can see he is still accusing the Government of a "coup d'etat" against Catalonia. I recall very well a genuine attempt at a "coup d'etat" on 23rd February 1981 which was ended by King Juan Carlos when he appeared on TV, dressed in his army uniform, and ordered the rebels to surrender. This was just four years after the Atocha Massacre and with the end of that 1981 coup attempt the ghost of Franco was well and truly exorcised from Spanish life.

Puigdemont's constant hyperbole diminishes his case and he is too stupid to see it.

I mentioned Puigdemont's name last night in a phone call to a friend in Spain; it is now a name which produces a furious reaction, a mixture of scorn and contempt; not least because he is still hiding in Brussels frightened to come back despite the fact that his Euro Arrest warrant has now been withdrawn. 

*Following a court order a month ago:

- but JD has these observations to make about this link to Catalan News:

The link you added is from Catalan News and is not exactly impartial. The court first ordered the return of the artefacts in 2015 and again in 2016. The suggestion that the Monastery was 'sacked' by Anarchists is disingenuous because they were fighting on the Republican side. The wholesale slaughter of priests and nuns by the Republicans is well documented.

And then there were the 'checas' which were basically Soviet run torture chambers. There is very little information on this in English but this is the background to it -

In Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, the detention and torture centers operated by the Communists were named "checas" after the Soviet organization.[42] Alfonso Laurencic was their promoter, ideologist and builder.[43]

I am not defending or endorsing Franco. He was the lesser of two evils in that conflict. As I have mentioned previously, I visited the abandoned village of Belchite while I was working in Zaragoza. It is a reminder of the stupidity of both sides but, unfortunately, there remain too many stupid politicians who wallow in the false glory of past conflicts and wish to renew them.

"My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori."


London, during the Blitz: Monty Modlyn, Jewish son of a West End tailor, sees misfortune come to a Nazi sympathiser:

"One shopkeeper who lived near us was a supporter of Moseley and an admirer of Hitler. He always hated Churchill. They never interned him, I don't know why. He had a little sweet-shop just over the way.

"At that time there used to be a gigantic soap and candle factory called Field's round the corner, and when it caught fire all the wax in it flowed out in a great river of molten wax down the side of the arches at Waterloo station. This burning river flowed right into his shop and burnt it to pieces, and we said, "That was a blooming good job your mate Hitler did!""

"Pardon My Cheek", Hutchinson (1973), pp. 44-45

So, as the capital city was being bombed by day and night, nobody had put the shopkeeper's windows through, nobody had read a Facebook instruction sheet on "How To Punch A Nazi" and put it into effect, nobody no-platformed him, nobody set the police and courts on him.

And that sort of British tolerance was not new. During the French Revolution (pre-Robespierre), the poet William Blake openly wore a Phrygian cap around London to show his support for the revolutionaries, and was not troubled for doing it.

What a stupid, febrile, mean-spirited people we have become.

By the way, I have the greatest admiration for Monty Modlyn, a man with balls of steel who interviewed Idi Amin shortly after the coup in Uganda and asked questions so frank that his cameraman cringed fearfully in his corner. And came back to Uganda a little while later, when sentiment had turned against the British. And visited Amin's HQ in the dictator's absence, showing photos of himself with Amin to gain admission - at a time when fellow journalists like Sandy Gall were sweating in a Ugandan jail with every prospect of being killed. What a man!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Catalunacy! - by JD

We are less than two weeks away from the regional elections in Cataluña, to be held on 21st December. Time for a further review of the 'crisis' and some clarification of the deep rooted reasons behind the persistent demand for 'independence'.

I have pointed out earlier that the idea of Catalan Nationalism was invented by 'the generation of 98' at the end of the 19th century. This is confirmed in greater detail by Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo:

Further confirmation comes in the following video by the historian Jordi Canal, who is a Catalan, examining and deconstructing a propaganda video by the 'independentistas.' He says quite clearly that it is a mixture of manipulated facts, mythology and outright lies. Everyone in Spain (apart from the Catalans) will tell you that there has never been a Catalan nation. The various fiefdoms within the region were all absorbed into the Kingdom of Aragon in 1137. One of the main reasons for that was to put an end to the 'war lords' fighting each other within the region. Canal says that the current idea that Cataluña is or ought to be a 'nation' is a 19th century invention. This confirms the view of Ortega y Gassett that the idea was promulgated by the 'generation of 98' (as mentioned above) In Canal's words, "There existed neither a Catalan nation nor a democracy - that is for sure."

In a 25 September 2017 letter to The Times, Sir John Elliot, Regius Professor Emeritus of Modern History at the University of Oxford and probably the foremost Hispanist in the Anglo-Saxon world, reacted to letters which had been published in previous days which had called Spain ‘repressive’, ‘intolerant’ and ‘authoritarian’, amongst many other things. He declared that:

“The supporters of independence make much of repressive measures alleged to have been taken by Madrid, but those sympathetic to the holding of a referendum may not be aware of the degree to which the Catalan government has itself for many years been attempting to impose its radical agenda on Catalan society.

“Through its control of the educational system, influence over the media, manipulation of Catalan history for its own purposes, and in some instances, intimidation, it has sought to impress on the population at large its depiction of Catalonia as the victim of malign outside forces.”

Elliott continues that theme in this article (in Spanish) in the newspaper El Mundo:

I have known about the subversion of the education system for a long time but now know that teaching of all subjects is almost 100% in the Catalan 'language' and it has spread to the Balearic Isles and partially into Valencia. 

One of the main tactics employed by the 'separatists' is to continue to suggest that they are somehow the victims of 'repression' by Madrid.

“Having an enemy is important, not just to define our own identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our own system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth, so when there is no enemy, we have to invent one.”

- Umberto Eco, 'Inventing The Enemy':

Underlying all of the above is something far more sinister.

On 14th March 1899, the mayor of Barcelona, Dr Bartolomé Robert gave a conference to an expectant audience in Barcelona. The subject of his talk was “The Catalan Race."

"Surrounded by huge sketches of skulls, Robert began to lay out “the solid proof of the cephalic index of the various races, following their path across Spain,” according to an article that appeared the following day in La Vanguardia newspaper.

Standing by a colored map of the country, the doctor declared that those from Valencia had a more oval shaped skull while in Asturias and Galicia there was a prevalence of rounder craniums similar to those of the “primitive inhabitants” coming to the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa.

In Catalonia, meanwhile, the shape of the skull fell somewhere between these two types, according to Robert, who described as “notable” the skulls of Aragon, “where the anthropological difference appears to be more distinct on both sides of the border.” The article added that Dr Robert would be leaving the characteristics of the Catalan race to another conference to be held at a later date."

The inference is clear: Catalans are a different and superior 'race' as compared to the 'Africans' who lived elsewhere in Spain.

Dr Robert's theory was immediately condemned by his former colleague, neuroscientist and Nobel Prize winner Santiago Ramón y Cajal, who spent five years as a professor at Barcelona University’s medical faculty. 
In his writings, Ramón y Cajal suggests that some of the Catalan population were later “poisoned” by prominent figures peddling pseudoscientific lies. “The rise of Catalan [separatist] politics was also reflected in attempts to establish the particularity of the Catalan physique,” writes Lluís Calvo in the Anthropological History of Catalonia, published in 1997.

The idea of Catalan racial superiority was promoted by others and is related in a book called "La Raza Catalana" by Francisco Caja (see references below). Many of the separatists firmly believe this theory, among them Oriol Junqueras, leader of the ERC (he is currently on remand awaiting trial for sedition among other things)

Whatever happens in the forthcoming election, nothing will change: if the separatists win they will continue to fight among themselves while Cataluña slides into chaos with SEAT adding a big blow to their hopes by relocating elsewhere. Another huge blow to the economic future of the region is the decision by the European Medicines Agency to relocate in a city other than Barcelona after the agency leaves London-

If the 'union' wins the rentamob will take over and continue there favourite pastime of blaming Madrid for all their misfortune. But long term, because of the brainwashing in schools and colleges, there will be a festering resentment against Spain and who knows how that will play out.......

"The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
 The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
 The best lack all conviction, while the worst
 Are full of passionate intensity."


Fernando del Pino Calvo-sotelo

Dr Robert's theory and Ramón y Cajal

Racism at the root of catalan nationalism-

Political prisoners? Read the thoughts of a genuine political prisoner from the era of Franco-

"The horrifying repression in Catalonia" during the referendum of 1st October. 
Oh really? Read about the Atocha Massacre in 1977 in Madrid and think again-

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Post-Literacy: A Realisation Of Modern Times, by Wiggia

I am in the process of having a declutter as we just might be moving, a previous piece* deals with all the horrors of that separately.

My biggest task was/is a large collection of books, I love books and am loath to part with them yet the truth is apart from a few most have served their purpose and one section especially falls into this category.

Books on gardening, there are coffee table books, history of books, plant guides, single genus specialist books, landscaping books, water garden books, soil management books, design manuals, specialist design books, manuals on costings, material usage books, plant and tree sourcing books  and on and on.

Most of these come from my time designing and creating gardens, though some are purely for pleasure and some have a sentimental value, being tomes from people I have known and revered.

The fact remains that apart from endless trade catalogs and fact sheets that have been disposed of the books remain or the bulk of them do, well over a hundred remain on my shelves with no obvious purpose left for them.

The knowledge gleaned from the reams of writings has been used and what I need now in life is stored in the old gray cells; the books apart from a select few are redundant.

So what to do, the specialist and “rare” books I decided I would put on eBay, that is until I saw that there are countless same volumes already on there that simply don’t sell whatever the price, so that wasjunked as an avenue of disposal.

What about charity shops? On principle I will not give to the enormous charities that pay executives huge salaries whilst the staff work for nothing, so that leaves the small ones and they when approached said they have too many books and no thank you.

I then thought that local gardening clubs/associations was a good route to explore; from those that bothered to answer the result was negative, one explained that they have a members' library yet only two books had been borrowed in twelve months, so again they politely declined my offer.

The sad truth is people simply do not read anymore, or certainly not as in years past, all information can be obtained on the internet. There is no need for hefty tomes to invade your ever-smaller living space: you have a problem then seconds later you have the answer in front of you - all the sections I mention above can be extracted from the web.

Is it the end of books apart from those posh coffee table adornments? To a large degree I have to agree and say yes.

The same can be said for my map collection. I had endless maps of various parts of the country, Europe and the world, most out of date and virtually all never to be used again. The sat nav and mobile phone apps have seen the end of maps apart from the basic back up variety so with no one wanting them either, into the recycle bin they went.

I have always believed books have a special place in one's life: we learn from them, we are entertained by them and many are reminders of times gone by, by association or time placement, so what to do? I am adverse to dumping them so will in the end take them with me, no doubt to claim a corner of my study until I pop off and someone else has the sad duty to put them in the skip along with much else that will be available at that juncture. The unloved, unwanted book, not words I thought I would ever say. 

The printed word has been with us an awfully long time, it has been the mainstay of our education system, yet along with the newspaper appears to be in terminal decline. 

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Forget tax changes and austerity; invest in R&D and education

From the USA, "Paddington" says: I'm trying to cause trouble again. I sent this to Michael Gerson of the Washington Post, and Paul Krugman of Princeton and the NY Times:
There is a great deal of discussion on the amount of economic growth that can be generated by changes in tax or fiscal policy.
What appears to be missing in that discussion is the likely answer: none. In fact, the changes proposed are very likely to hurt the economy.
The reason is that all long-term growth can be attributed to innovation, discovery and conquest. The first two are themselves dependent on earlier basic science research. The last is one reason why the Roman Empire collapsed when its expansion stopped.
Without basic science research, open access to the results, and a lead time of 20-30 years, there is no major innovation. The technology boom which began around 1990 was built on the government-funded research of the 1940's through the 1970's, in computers and electronics. Companies do not generally invest in research until the potential profits are demonstrated. When they do so, the results are often treated as proprietary, which impedes human advancement.
The US reduced funding for basic science around 30 years ago, which is one reason that most 'innovations' that we are seeing are the offshoots of earlier work, and nothing really novel is appearing.
Added to that is the attack to trim university budgets and faculty lines. Those faculty members are the very people who generate much of that new knowledge, for the common good.
Finally, we have the escalation in the cost of higher education and the proposed elimination of tax write-offs for it, without the realization that most of the people who staff the laboratories of the country are from middle-class families. Children from wealthier families choose business, law and sometimes medicine. Why more children from poorer families do not choose the STEM paths is a matter of some discussion.
In short, we are proposing, as a country, to shut off every avenue for the very innovation that we need to thrive. Our policies are a recipe for economic disaster.

Friday, December 08, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Female Flamenco, by JD

This was interesting in the El Pais weekly supplement:

"Female flamenco guitarists are so rare that Eulalia Pablo, a retired flamenco teacher and lecturer at the University of Seville, is often asked by her students why and if it was always like this. Analyzing press clippings from the 18th and 19th century, Pablo tries to answer these questions in her book Mujeres Guitarristas – Female Guitarists. “It’s a myth that women have never played the guitar,” she says. “But the flamenco world has always been very macho and inflexible. It remained that way until last century.”

Not something that I had given much thought to previously so I decided to browse to see what I could find. I wonder what Paco de Lucia or Sabicas would have said? I think the big question is not male vs female but are they any good as flamenco guitarists? According to the article some of the ladies already have the endorsement of Tomatito so we can start with him and then see what follows (not all are flamenco because there is a very large repertoire of Spanish guitar music)

Just like Johann Sebastian Bach, who composed his famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor at a the young age of 22, one of the greatest soloists and musical geniuses of this century – Paco de Lucía – wrote the Guajíras de Lucía at the same age.

Catalina is interpreting this virtuoso work as homage to the great Spanish Maestro.

She is catapulting herself into the magic hemisphere of Flamenco, breaking all boundaries of the common classical style of playing guitar, bravely mastering a lot of innovating Flamenco techniques like the posture, Picado, Golpe, Tresillos and Rasgueos.

Pity only that Paco cannot listen to her anymore. But maybe he floats beside her like an angel smiling as her patron.

I have been looking through various videos of the Plaza San Nicolas which looks out across to the Alhambra in Granada. There are lots of 'gitanos' there playing and singing and dancing flamenco but so far the ladies stick to the traditional role of singing or dancing; no guitarists yet. If one of them does eventually start playing she will have to be as good as Charo before being accepted by los gitanos.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

FESTIVE FARE: Does It Matter? The Pairing of Food and Wine, by Wiggia

The choice of wine to accompany food has been a talking point for ever among those who claim to care about these things. On a personal basis, outside basic taste clashes it does not bother me that much, and like most things these days far too much is Sunday paper blether.

Some wines and food do clash  but not as many as is thought; even the old adage "only white wine with fish" has been debunked to a degree; but some common sense rules do apply.

Where it becomes a problem is when people who only drink red or white have to change when an obvious conflict of tastes comes about. Never is this more so than at Christmas when food not really eaten during the rest of the year is put on the table. In the perfect situation supplying a variety of different wines overcomes most obstacles but not everyone has the knowledge or the pocket to accommodate every eventuality.

I am not going through every foodstuff and suggesting a wine to match just some of the “problem” foods that crop up during the festive season whilst we are still upright and care enough to bother - after the tipping point nothing really matters - but some advice is still worthwhile.

With meats such as roast beef something substantial like Shiraz/Syrah, Malbec, the more robust Pinot Noirs and Bordeaux are the obvious choices; if lamb is on the menu a wine not quite as robust, lighter, such as good Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja  Brunello de Montalcino are better bets; and roast pork will also suit Chianti and Rioja but because of its fat content  is one red meat that suits white wine - Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Gris work well cutting through the fat content that can overwhelm some wines. Northern Rhone reds, Chianti again because of that edge it has, and Bordeaux - the latter of course goes with more food than any other wine, hence its popularity.

It’s when you get to white meat it gets interesting. This can be broadly separated into two groups, game and other white meats like turkey and chicken. With turkey Chardonnay from the new world as well as Burgundy sit alongside Pinot Noir, and Cabernet blends from the old and new world are pretty good company plus Chateauneuf du Pape. Chicken is not that different except that you can add Pinot Gris from the Alsace and Kabinett level German Rieslings to the list, but overall non-oaked or lightly-oaked Chardonnay is a safe bet.

Goose is like pork because of the fat content, in that Gewurztraminer works well, as do Northern Rhone reds, Cahors reds, the white Viognier and even decent Pinot Grigio and something like Greco de Tufo; basically any lighter wines with that acidity to overpower the fat content.

Ham you can roughly put in a single category: smoked, prosciutto, dry hams; the best all-rounder for these is Beaujolais and un-oaked whites like Chablis.

Game, Pheasant and Partridge plus Guinea fowl are all well suited to lighter red wines like Beaujolais and the satellite areas and other versions of Pinot Noir plus the Gamay grape and Chianti and if you can find a decent Valpolicella it will do well (but not the Amarone versions) and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be added to the mix.

The only other meat not normally eaten other than at the festive season is Venison. Southern and Northern Rhones - like Crozes Hermitage, to give one example - have the power to come through what is a strongly-flavored meat;and Shiraz works too.

Fish is not a staple of Christmas apart from the smoked salmon that is popular at this time of the year, and for that again, being a strongly flavored dish, it needs it requires something that does not clash; the new love of Rosés finds a home here, along with white Burgundy, Champagne and sparkling wines.

In the same way, Tapas is always accompanied with Fino or Manzanilla sherries and the same pair go well with a lot of fish. Oloroso is more than a pudding wine: it can be drunk with red meats like pork and game and makes a change from the usual combinations

There are numerous lists out there on wine and food matching but to be honest after reading them all your cellar ! would never have all the ingredients to satisfy those who write these lists. They are subjective, as is the individual's taste in food and wine; there will always be quite rightly someone who will say "try this with that, it really works" and they could well be right.

There are foods that are very difficult to match up. In vegetables, asparagus and brussel sprouts are really not worth making the effort to find something that will go with, despite the efforts of experts to come up with something complimentary.

Cheese is a challenge. The classic Port with Stilton really does work, but others do not naturally lend themselves to be paired up with wine and many of the suggested pairings are a bit hit and miss. In reality strong cheeses like Roquefort and Gorgonzola go better with a sweet wine like Sauternes or Liqueur Muscats, and Sauvignon Blanc from the likes of the Loire works well with Goats Cheeses, but all the others are a bit of a pig in a poke - what works for you, is the answer.

On the home front I noticed that this year there are some amazing bargains in supermarkets with vintage port. If you are a port lover both Tescos and Sainsburys have been selling a single Quinta Grahams vintage port for around £23 discounted, this is a ridiculously low price for such an exceptional wine, and Morrisons had a similar Warres version for £19. If you like port go for it, for the price will never be lower.

With desserts there is an overall winner in the use of Liqueur Muscats, Sauternes , sweeter Rieslings, Oloroso Sherry and Hungarian Tokay plus all the similar sweet wines like Beaumes de Venise.

In among all this do not forget the enemies of wine: anything vinegar based, artichokes, garlic, tomatoes, peppers (all) and chocolate. Chocolate is interesting as many say sweet white wines go with chocolate but just as many say no, better to have your chocolate separately from wine and play safe.

Of course at Christmas by the time you reach the Stilton and port you are past caring anyway so anything goes, but it does make sense to follow the basic rules even if only to please those dining with you who may not have your rather personal taste in wine and food pairings. Never force your choice on anyone else, it's a sure fire way to lose friends; play it safe and the following day with the turkey left overs you can indulge your fantasies.

I am lucky as this year as we shall be on our own so I can raid the wine racks and please myself: my last bottle of Grahams ‘85 vintage port is already in the firing line.

A quick addendum, in my last wine piece I did refer to the cult of “natural wine” and bio-dynamic growing. The former has no real guidelines and most decent quality wines are as near natural as you can get anyway, any added products to stop rot etc are all as far as I am aware natural products themselves, so I just don’t buy into the natural wine cult at all. This piece explains the downsides of natural wine:

As for bio dynamics, there is no harm done if you wish to follow this small trend, if you believe that the phases of the moon dictate grape picking times pruning times and more, fine, but when I asked a vineyard proprietor, and a good one, about the merits of bio dynamic wine production all he did was laugh! It’s a bit like homeopathy: if you believe in it you will champion the merits, but the truth is that as with homeopathy, at best it is a placebo: it doesn’t actually work.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 01, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: A Japanese Blend, by JD

Wiggia gave us some Japanese jazz recently so perhaps we could venture down a side track into what seems to be a blend of traditional and modern Japanese music:

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Classical - Jazz - Fusion, by Wiggia

This was sparked by JD's latest piece on Wynton Marsalis. We spoke about it and I came up with some items of classical music played by jazz musicians. Some are their own interpretations, some are new works, suites, some are interpretations of standard classics and some is jazz/fusion - a genre that I generally have little time for, though as always there are exceptions.

I think with jazz fusion it was simply born out of a desire by the musicians that went that way, to tap into a more lucrative market than pure jazz, and who can blame them? But much was pretty turgid stuff and musicians like Miles Davis went too far on an ego trip and produced some very strange stuff that didn’t sell and was not well received, leaving him coming back into the jazz fold.

None the less there are some works that show the sheer musicianship that exists in the jazz fraternity and over a wide spectrum of work. One of those special events was Art Tatum caught playing classical piano in someone's home and captured on a cheap tape recorder. Vladimir Horowitz said at the time he would retire if Tatum seriously turned to classical music. This came after visiting a jazz club and playing his own version of Tea for Two, something he had been working on for a while; Tatum responded with his own version and Horowitz was amazed he had played it as a straight-off-the-cuff interpretation. Rachmaninoff and Alfred Rubinstein were jazz fans and great admirers of Tatum's musicianship.

- and in ‘53 did this version of Dvorak's Humoresque:

Classical music has always had an influence on jazz as many jazz artists started out as classically trained musicians, Nina Simone being a good example. This version of Love me or Leave Me has a piano solo that is full Bach influences:

I don’t have any doubts that George Gershwin was fusing jazz and classical as far back as the twenties; this 1924 version of Rhapsody in Blue shows that mix and also shows the genius he was:

Duke Ellington did several classically inspired works of his own and interpreted this version of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, Morning Mood:

Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo got the full works from Miles Davis on his Sketches of Spain album. By any standards this is as near classical as you can get, despite the jazz influence of Davis.

An early version by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli of a J S Bach movement also is not without merit in this genre for something early - the recording is also good:

Sibelius is not an obvious choice for a jazz angle yet Wayne Shorter made this version of Valse Triste one of his best known works, great musicianship from him and Freddy Hubbard on trumpet:

There are quite a few more worthy entrants in this sector including the jazz fusion works of Herbie Hancock, all well known, but I finish with a rendition of Ravel's Bolero by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention on their last tour in Barcelona, showing they also could do their bit for fusion:

Friday, November 24, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Wynton Marsalis, by JD

Wynton Marsalis is well known as a jazz trumpet player but he is also an excellent classical trumpet player and an 'explorer' of all genres of music as can be seen and heard in the selection below.

Friday, November 17, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Dave Nachmanoff, by JD

"Not many people get to realize their early dreams - Dave Nachmanoff dreamt of working with singer/songwriter Al Stewart, and now tours as his lead guitarist and accompanist, and often as his opening act. From performing with folk legend Libba Cotten at the age of 9, to playing in a rock band with his two brothers, Dave went on to earn a PhD in philosophy and slowly build a grassroots following touring all over the US, first on his own, and later with Al Stewart. In addition to frequent touring, he is now writing and recording custom songs for people and using his recording studio to produce other artists as well. A truly independent musician, Dave's career is varied and never predictable."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

WINE: 2017 Annual Review, by Wiggia

My annual wine appraisal is due. Why? you ask; well, because I can. So if you can stay awake I will try briefly to make head or tail of the wine trends of the year as I see them and describe what is happening in general terms, plus some tips on what to buy; though as ever wine like any other beverage or food is subjective - very few people will come to the exact same conclusion of a wine's merits or otherwise.

In brief, the rise and rise of sparkling wine especially Prosecco and Cava has pushed Champagne down from its No. 1 position in this country. Rosé is still on the rise and in France more rosé is now consumed than white wine.

Spain is the largest exporter of wine, mainly due to the bulk wines from the prodigious plains of La Mancha. France still easily makes more money from wine exports than anyone else owing to their premium wine market, and the Italians make more wine than anyone else. And Sauvignon Blanc is the most popular grape variety, red or white, in the UK.

Anyone can see when trawling the supermarket shelves is that there is a push upwards in the price of wine on offer. In fairness, for years the price has been held down as the great British public refused to pay any more than £5 a bottle, but all good things come to an end and whilst the £5 bottle still exists the dearer bottles are now in the ascendant. 

The pushing through that barrier has seen some outlets overdo the quality improvement bit and I have in mind Tesco who have carried out a badly needed revamp of their wine list but have introduced ever more own label wines under the Finest label. As with all the other supermarkets it can’t be and isn’t all the Finest or anything else but you pay more for it; sadly this is a trend that is going to grow as it constrains the amount of lines they stock to ones they have control over re price. Remember, important looking labels and expensive looking bottles have no bearing on what is within.

What we are seeing Europe wide is a general reshaping of the old wine producing countries as they push back against the New World and reshape, as they must, for the New World is not standing still either. The endless planting of the major grape varieties is slowing as indigenous grapes are being rediscovered and treated with respect. Europe of course has more of these than anywhere else and is experimenting with them, as well as using different grape varieties to suit the areas that are seeing temperature rises. An obvious candidate in red wines is the re emergence of Grenache, the southern Rhone staple that is more tolerant of high temperatures than Cabernet Sauvignon, and in Spain old Grenache vineyards are now being renovated, after suffering years of neglect and being ripped up.

Probably more than any other European country, Spain  is going through or starting to institute some big changes. Among white wines, Albarino and Godello are proving Spain can produce quality white wines after years of oxidised white Riojas. The only problem with these excellent wines is the current fairly high price compared with the competition. There are also some other varieties on the rise - Verdejo, Macabeo, and others are being seen over here, welcome additions to the whites category;  reds such as Monastrell, Carinena and Mencia are already available.

In reds Rioja, as I found on my recent trip, is changing: the old guard is being challenged. There is a push for single vineyard and area status, something everywhere else has but not Rioja. A Gran Reserva achieves its status by spending two years in wood and three in bottle, but it has been pretty obvious for years that the price of some Grand Reservas on sale could never be achieved without poor quality and cheap fruit being used, so the 2 and 3 year ruling has no guarantee of quality and this they are trying to change by trying to introduce a cru class system, i.e. wineries classified by quality.
Other areas of Spain are also on the rise with good and great reds coming from Ribera del Douro, Priorat, Toro and others; even La Mancha has plans to reduce the bulk wine industry and start on quality.

Spain's neighbor Portugal has been producing better and better wines for some time now and the Port grape Touriga Nacional is proving to be as good as any in producing top class reds and they are becoming ever more available. The whites as in Spain were pretty awful but the recent examples of Vinho Verde are miles away from that era and well worth buying.

Italy like Spain has been going through a change period over a longer time. Their indigenous white grapes are commonly seen now: Falanghina, Pecorino , Greco de Tuffi, Vermentinos and more alongside the Gavis, Verdicchios, Pinot Grigio ( the ones from the Trentino area are the best) and Soaves and at last the quality is rising with all of them - a couple of Soaves I have drunk this year reminded me of how good they can be.

In Italian reds there is not so much new, rather a cementing of fairly new (to us) grape varieties such as Aglianico, the southern reds providing the best value with Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro and Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) and much more choice of the likes of Montepulchiano d’Abruzzo and Chianti and the Tuscan region. The more expensive northern enclaves of Barolo and Barbaresco produce Italy's flagship wines but choosing is difficult: price can be stratospheric but not not necessarily the content.

In France the regions outside Bordeaux and Burgundy are getting the exposure they deserve with the Rhone valley producing some wines in their lesser appelations that have come on leaps and bounds along with availability. Everyone knows Chateauneuf du Pape and Cotes du Rhone, but the likes of St Joseph , Cornas, Lirac, Ventoux and especially Gigondas have not exactly been plentiful; but that is changing. The Rhone at one time was the most sought after of France’s wines and the top Hermitage, Cote Rotie wines can hold their own with anything from Bordeaux or Burgundy, but they will never really compete as the area where they are grown is minute compared with the latter. The Languedoc and satellite areas (if I can call them that) like Costieres de Nimes, Corbieres and the rise in the quality of the those using the Carignan Cinsault and Mouvedre grapes make this a happy hunting ground for new producers who are using the good material that in many cases has always been there.
The Loire is another very large area on the up, helped by temperature rises in recent years. This area that would have good years  infrequently is enjoying better times: even the reds that can be thin and tasteless in bad years are offering something different to be tried. Red Chinon, for example, is being made to a standard way above the norm and Vouvray is very good most years, plus all the whites along this great river from the coast in starting with Muscadet have benefited from a renaissance in wine making and better weather.

I will lump the Alsace in with its German vineyards across the Rhine in saying they are still simply not appreciated for what they are and the great grape Riesling they use. For me it has always been the Pinot Gris that I have sought out from the Alsace, preferring the German interpretation of the Riesling grape, and this is another area that now seems rarely to have a bad vintage. The Riesling grape provides value for money in the hands of so many great producers - for many the Riesling is the greatest white grape. It continues to provide me with white wine on a par with and often better than white Burgundy and at a price I can afford. It was not always like that: as with the Rhone pre war, this area provided the most expensive and prestigious white wines. If you like Riesling there are now styles to suit all, and the drier styles are now superb: look out for anything with GG on the label and even the Kabinett class - they are in styles no longer in the sweet category and are amazing value.

The weather has benefited most northern wine areas and another to benefit is German red wines. Red German wines you ask? Well, yes: Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir) has been grown there with limited success for years but recently it has “come good” and there really are Spätburgunders to rival Burgundy and again becoming available.

Virtually no wine growing European country is not represented on the wine merchant's shelves now. Eastern Europe which has some very old vineyards has been slow out of the blocks but is starting to make a mark at this moment in time, mainly with their whites, and Greece is now full on producing some great wines from grape varieties unique to them - worth seeking out for something different and worthwhile.

As I said earlier the New World is not standing still either. Australia which started the revolution in new world wines has had to rethink not only what it grows but how they make the wine. Shiraz is still their best red but became very alcoholic and heavy to the extent that people started to turn to lighter, fresher styles and this is now being reflected in the vineyards, Chardonnay using cooler climate sites like the Adelaide Hills; the Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignons have moved up the quality ladder and Pinot Noir is being successfully farmed. New grape varieties are being planted in a country that has been quite conservative in that area.

NZ stays much the same, just starting to plant other varieties, but probably feels that their success with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir (despite my own reservations on the cheaper versions) calls for any change to be carefully thought through.

In the vineyards of the Cape in South Africa there really has been change: no longer endless Chenin Blancs at knockdown prices. A move upmarket has resulted in some cracking wines of both colours coming from there. The problem for the SA wine industry is not whether they can produce great wine but the political situation, which is worsening for farmers of all types: how long before the wineries get similar treatment?

With Christmas approaching many will be reaching for the port and sherry. Both are artificially low in price against what is in the bottle. Bargains abound, bulk sherry producers are on the floor at the moment but the better sherries have never been more plentiful in recent times. There are some amazing sherries out there if you like the stuff: spend a bit more on a bottle, you will not regret it. The same with Port: it is amazing to be able to buy a vintage Port at today's prices; such great wine at such comparatively low prices.

Cool climate vines and "terroir" are the buzz words across the wine world at the moment and nowhere is pushing the boundaries more in this respect than Argentina. Having conquered the USA with their full-on Malbecs, experimentation at altitude has resulted in many high altitude vineyards being planted, the highest commercial vineyard being at 3,111 metres. The long season and plentiful sunshine in a cool climate situation brings a whole new dimension to the wines grown like this. Again as in Chile there is experimentation with different grape varieties. In Chile they are even planting in the Atacama desert, a cool climate desert; all of this opens up the use of other areas of the world to the planting of vines.

The Americas are fast opening up with Uruguay and even Peru producing wine and Brazil has an enormous sparkling wine industry, so it will not be long before we see Brazilian “Champagne” alongside the  Prosecco and Cava.

The USA drinks most of its own wine and the cost of wines means they are not easy to source in the UK but exchange rates move in both directions and who knows when they will become easier to obtain.

Elsewhere in the world the big news is China who along with India will be almost certainly the new frontier of wine in the future. An awful lot of money is being pumped into finding the best sites for vines and the top consultants are being employed. To give an idea of the importance of this country and wine futures the DBR (Domaines Barons de Rothschild, the parent company of Chateau Lafite who have wine holdings worldwide) purchased 400 hectares in China in 2008 and the first wines will be on sale next year.

Bulk wines from the likes of the two powerhouses of this wine, Spain and Italy, plus France, Chile and Australia, account for an ever growing percentage of supermarket wines. Bulk wine by definition is any wine shipped in containers (and not in bottles or smaller packaging and bottled in the country of consumption.) Most people would never realise that the bottle they hold is from bulk shipped wine, only a small label “bottled in the UK” gives it away. The cost savings on freight and packaging, bottles, is enormous and keeps the wine price down so it is not all bad. Bulk wines currently account for something like 62% of all wines sold in the UK with 85% of all Australian wines being shipped in bulk.

In other news, cork is rising back to the top as a closure, as the cork producers fight back against the screwtop with cork closures that have managed to eliminate the spoilage compounds, above all trichloroanisole TCA. People prefer the cork as it gives a perceived indication of quality, so cork will retain the lion's share of the closure market; hat in itself is enormous -18 billion bottles of wine are produced annually and over 11 billion use cork as a closure, as against 4.5 billion using screw caps and the rest plastics. A whole science is continually going into making closures of all types better for the wine they enclose.

And finally it has become very apparent in recent years that there has been an ever increasing number of women involved in wine; from wine makers at all levels and world wide to CEOs and managers, women are now an important part of the wine industry, such as Susana Balbo in Argentina; Xandra Falco who runs the Marques de Grinon estate in Spain; also in Spain Elena Adell, chief winemaker at the giant Campo Viejo winery; again in Spain Maria Vargas chief winemaker of Marques de Murrietta; and many others in all the wine producing countries.

And finally, finally, I give you at the top of the page the granddaughter of my cousin who is a vineyard consultant: Mabel. Starting them young is definitely the best way forward. Here she is at the Sandridge vineyard in Totnes, Devon bringing in the Pinot Noir. Good girl!