Stealing art from Tate Britain: It’s child’s play

Stealing art from Tate Britain: It’s child’s play

I went back to Tate Britain yesterday to take a last look at the ‘Impressionists in London’ exhibition. (It closes on 7th May) I was a bit rude about it on a previous occasion but wanted to see Monet’s wonderful fog shrouded pictures of Big Ben and parliament once again.

I got there bang on 10 o’clock when the gallery opens, brandished my member’s card, and made directly for the Monet’s which are in the penultimate room. Although other punters were invading the earlier rooms, I had the Monet’s and the Whistler Nocturnes to myself.

Wandering out through the Duveen Galleries, the main space opposite the Millbank entrance, I spotted a young couple with two toddlers. The kids were charging about among the statues and generally having a great time. I guess it’s the combination of the open spaces where they can run plus the colours and strange shapes of the art that appeals.

All of which reminded me of an occasion, years ago, when my three-year-old daughter and I paid a visit. We walked in to one of the galleries and were met with the unusual sight and sound of a security guard wearing a blaring walkie-talkie. Perhaps he was upset by one of the more visually arresting Francis Bacon pictures, but he was babbling into a microphone while the radio on his belt was turned up full, so everyone could hear the anodyne chat coming from the control room. There was no emergency underway.

Of course, even though people were irritated, being British, nobody said anything. If you listened closely you could just hear some gentle tutting. Finally, I went up to the guy and asked him to turn down his radio as it was getting on everyone’s nerves. He gave me a shirty look, had me figured as a poncey, pretentious git, but complied.

Meanwhile the daughter was making her way, at some speed, into the next room. When you want three-year-olds to move they stick like glue, but they can give Usain Bolt a run for his money if so minded. I followed closely to see her bearing down on an Anthony Gormley sculpture of fruit laid out on the floor at perfect toddler level.

I kind of knew what was going to happen. Just as the security guard entered, she grabbed a silver pineapple and looking very pleased with herself tore out of the room. The guard approached with a menacing look that seemed to indicate all his Christmases had come at once and that the pretentious, poncey git was going to get it with both barrels.

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, and before plod could say a word, I raced after the toddler, wrenched the pineapple from her hands, put it back on its pedestal and within thirty seconds the two of us were standing outside with the security guard sucking up the dust from my departing heels. There are some fights you can’t win.

Close-up of a girl's face
Jenny Saville

Last word: Yesterday I also went to see the ‘All too human’ exhibition at Tate Britain. It has spectacular paintings by Freud, Bacon and Kitaj. It also introduced me to a wonderful artist I’d not come across before: Euan Unglow.

Younger painters feature in the last room and the severe close-up of a woman’s face by Jenny Saville really needs to be seen. The exhibition is on until 27th August: Don’t miss it.

X Rated Television

X Rated Television

These days if you watch TV after the nine o’clock watershed, swearing is everywhere. Drama dialogue and unscripted chat shows are liberally spiced with the F word. The continuity announcers seem to relish it: ‘The next programme contains strong language right from the start’ they say, giving the indication there’s some hot stuff on the way.

This is fine with me as I swear quite a lot – too much according to my wife. But it wasn’t always like this. I remember years ago on the Old Grey Whistle Test (It was a music programme) some hairy rocker offered up an unexpected ‘fuck’ and I thought the roof was going to fall in. Even the somnambulant Bob Harris almost woke up. Now swearing is commonplace and Mary Whitehouse must be summersaulting in her grave.

Despite this we try to keep our fourteen-year-old daughter safe and have put a lock on the TV to prevent her watching 18 rated shows. As my wife says, you can’t unsee what you’ve seen. I think she might be a bit of a soothsayer.

But here’s the problem, wife and self are not technically adroit and besides that we’ve forgotten the password needed to unlock the TV. So, what do we do when we want to view an 18 show on Netflix or iPlayer? Well obviously, we call our daughter and she taps in the code.

Wait a minute…

Terror on the tube: Inspector Sands to the rescue

Terror on the tube: Inspector Sands to the rescue

I don’t want to alarm you but if while riding on the tube you hear an announcer say: “Would Inspector Sands report immediately to security” you may be part of an unfolding terror attack.

Apparently ‘Inspector Sands’ is the bland formulation used to alert staff, but not the public, that trouble might be brewing. What you don’t want in times of crisis is an announcer going into the ‘we’re all doomed’ routine, so the fictitious inspector fits the bill.

I know about this because my 14-year-old daughter told me and as far as can be established said 14-year-old has never been wrong about anything, ever.

Following some in depth google-research on my part it seems there might be something to it. Apparently, it originated in theatres and was used in case of fire. The name Sands being selected because they used sand to put out the fire.

And now you’re thinking: For heaven’s sake Jim, Inspector Sands because they use sand to put out the fire? Well please yourself, but the 14-year-old claims to have heard the announcement twice: once at Clapham South and once as Waterloo. She came through without a scratch.

Recipe corner: Jim’s Kickin’ Chicken

Recipe corner: Jim’s Kickin’ Chicken

When it comes to cooking, I’m not really an improviser, not a jazz cook, I don’t slosh in a bit of this and a bit of that to see what culinary delight might occur, I just do what Jamie Oliver says. If I don’t, the result will likely be a congealed mess stuck to the bottom of a pan.

A few years ago, I was given the Heston Blumenthal cook book; it was like doing GCSE chemistry and about as much fun. And what is the point of cooking chips three times?

But on Tuesday of this week, there was revolution in the air. I actually made up a dish. The wife had said, there’s some chicken thighs and a couple of courgettes in the fridge, see what you can rustle up. So, I did and it was not a complete coq-up. Certain members of the family (the daughter) who are not slow to criticise dad, went so far as to say it was quite good.

With that kind of full-throated endorsement ringing in my ears I thought I’d share this ground- breaking concoction with you.

So here it is: Jim’s Kickin’ Chicken

The ingredients:

  • Chicken thighs 500 grams
  • 2 courgettes
  • Can of tomatoes (not sliced)
  • Half an onion
  • Harissa Paste
  • Plain Yoghurt
  • Fresh coriander
  • Basmati rice 250 grams

First up, scoop some harissa paste into a largish glass bowl. I wasn’t paying much attention here, so how much harissa paste I’m not sure – let’s say a couple of good dollops. Open the yogurt pot and ladle in a similar amount and mix thoroughly with the harissa. Now put the chicken in among the gloop and smear all over. This is quite messy but acts as a good moisturiser if your skin is a little dry.

Pour a squirt of olive oil into a frying pan and braise (is that the right word?) the chicken thighs; this should take three or four minutes. Don’t make the pan too hot, otherwise the chicken and its gloop will burn. Once done take the chicken thighs out of the pan and put them where the dog can’t get at them.

Get the frying pan going again – hang on I’ve forgotten to tell you to put the oven on, so do that now to say 175 degrees, no idea what that would be if you were using gas. Once the olive all in the pan is spitting a bit, slice in half an onion, cook for five minutes and then add the sliced courgette and then cook for another five. Don’t slice the courgettes too thin or they’ll turn to mush.

Now you need a lidded pot that you can put in the oven, I’m thinking stew pot here. Put the chicken in the pot along with the onions, courgettes and all the gloop, add the tin of toms and half a can of water. Season with pepper and salt and heat it all up on the stove.

I once heard Jamie Oliver say that sliced canned tomatoes were very bitter and it was better to always use unsliced. I have no idea if this is true, but I follow this rule religiously and actually look down on people who buy sliced tomatoes.

Once all the ingredients in the pot are hot (perhaps you can see the liquid bubbling a bit) give it all a good stir, pop on the lid and ram it in the oven. Leave it there for around an hour, stirring occasionally. (Don’t let it dry out, perhaps it might be better to cook for slightly longer at 150 degrees. Look I’m not the expert here)

By now you will be getting hungry so put on the basmati rice, this is the stuff that doesn’t take too long to cook. Chop up the coriander, take the pot out of the oven and sprinkle the chopped coriander over the contents, giving a final stir and checking whether you need more salt. Dish up and graciously accept the praise that your guests will be heaping upon you as they heap second helpings on to their plates.

Of course, I have a sneaking suspicion that when I try this dish again it will all turn to ashes, but we live in hope. Do let me know how you get on.

Asian food is everywhere, but there’s something missing

Asian food is everywhere, but there’s something missing

Asian food is everywhere in London with Thai Green Curry fast replacing Chicken Tikka Masala as our national dish. Ten years ago, we didn’t know our Pho from our Tom Yum, now your local pub probably has them on the menu.

I lived in Thailand for 8 years and love cooking Thai food, but frankly what passes for Thai food in the UK is often industrially produced rubbish with a lot of it not really Thai, but an unlovely mix of Thai, Chinese and Malaysian cooking. What is sold as Pad Thai is often just a gloopy mess. Part of the problem is that restaurants find it hard to source all the essential Thai ingredients. Thai aubergines are not so easy to come by in London town.

One small London restaurant chain that does quite a reasonable Som Tam or papaya salad is Rosa’s Thai Café. (Som Tam is the benchmark dish for me, if they get that right I’m in) I’ve been to their restaurants in Spitalfields, Soho and Brixton and while not perfect, their food is recognisably Thai. Try their pork grapou, som tam and gai ped met ma muang or chicken and cashew nuts.

If you fancy a try at cooking Thai then most supermarkets carry the essentials:  fish sauce, galangal, lemon grass and green curry paste. It’s also worth a trip to the Longdan supermarket on Kingsland Road, which specialises in ingredients from all over Asia and the Orient. They even have Thai aubergines on occasions. It’s open on a Sunday so you can combine a visit to Columbia Road flower market.

I also highly recommend all Blue Elephant products, particularly their Massaman curry paste. These are now available in the UK.

So what’s missing? Well there’s one essential element of Thai, Cambodian and Laos cuisine, that hasn’t made it over here: fried bugs. Stroll past Asian street-food sellers and there’s usually a wok full of deep-fried crickets, grasshoppers, worms and beetles. For some reason we are quite happy to eat prawns, which are just aquatic bugs but not so keen on eating their land-based brothers. Asian’s enjoy these delicacies as a snack food combined with a beer rather in the way we eat nuts or crisps with a chilled lager.

I have a feeling it’s going to be an uphill struggle to make these snacks popular here, but in many ways, they should be. As we attempt to feed an ever growing world population, bugs have a lot going for them. They are full of protein with little fat or calories, are easy and cheap to raise and require little technology to do so. They are a far more sustainable food source than livestock, which accounts for nearly a fifth of all green-house gas emissions, plus they’ll eat almost anything.

Still not convinced? Westerners find bugs hard to swallow, but would you eat an energy bar made with extracted bug protein? The people at Eat Grub clearly hope you will and are out to convince you that bugs are a sustainable, nutritious and above all delicious source of food.

But if bug related food is not your thing, go and buy a pack of Blue Elephant Thai green curry paste, some strips of chicken, jasmine rice, a bottle of fish sauce, substitute peas for Thai aubergines and you’ll have a feast of your hands.

The best Thai food in London is often served at our house, but I’m afraid we don’t have room for you all.


 

How come it’s OK for men to piss in public?

How come it’s OK for men to piss in public?

Sorry for the rather crude headline, but I thought it might grab your attention.

I’m not just talking about homeless people here, it now seems any man can get his todger out and start spraying the London landscape, willy-nilly. Just yesterday I was out with the mutt in our local park and a man was leant up against a tree giving it full flow. Seeing him, the dog had a quick pee in solidarity, but close by were children and unaccompanied members of the clergy.

My wife says men are filthy creatures and we’ve always done it. I disagree, I think a change has occurred and men now think this is acceptable behaviour. Perhaps the council is to blame for not providing enough public loos, but I don’t like it and it stinks.

Whatever the case, you probably want to go and wash your hands after reading this post. At your convenience, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

The Unwelcome Guest: Celebrity Endorsement

The Unwelcome Guest: Celebrity Endorsement

Since I last posted: Stephen Fry has fessed up, George Monbiot, the writer and environmental activist, has outed himself and now Bill Turnbull, the former BBC Breakfast host is in on the act. Prostate cancer gets the full celebrity endorsement as all the poor bastards have it; proving that PC is nothing if not democratic.

When I meet people who I may not have seen for a while but who know about my condition, I gauge four different responses.

  1. I’d like to make it implicitly clear, without mentioning the subject, that this is something I feel very uncomfortable about and I don’t want to talk about it.
  2. I kind of want to talk about it or sense I should, but feel uncomfortable raising the subject.
  3. I’m concerned about you, so tell me: “How are you getting on?”
  4. I’m concerned about you, want to know how you are getting on, want to know what kind of treatment you are receiving, if the side effects are awful and what the prognosis is.

Let me say right away that every response is just fine. If you don’t want to talk about cancer as it gives you the heebie-jeebies I completely understand. It can give pleasant banter a savage blow to the head. Instead, let’s chat about playing guitar in a rock & roll band, when Wenger will finally leave Arsenal, how wonderful Aimee Mann is or the relative acting merits of say Jennifer Lawrence or Amy Adams. Dammit I’ll even talk about Donald Trump if we have too and yes, I have read ‘Fire and Fury.’ If you don’t want to talk about prostate cancer, then neither do I.

As to the second response, I can usually sense when someone is not sure whether cancer is a subject that should be raised in a social situation, so I raise it anyway but make it clear I’m not going to bore on about it. People usually want to know why I first went to the doctor (I had blood in my urine), how I’m feeling (Just fine thanks, I don’t plan on collapsing over the finishing line any time soon) and are you still able to drink? (Yes, and mine’s a large one) People are so dear, I’ve never been bought so many lunches and drinks, so thank you.

My response to those who come right out and ask me how I am is pretty much the same as the above, but with a little more detail. I went to the doctor because I had blood in my urine, but that’s gone away, so thank god I got checked out because if I hadn’t it would now be spreading and the two things we all know about cancer are:

a. We don’t want it.

b. If we’ve got it then let it be small, insignificant and localised.

Health note: (ignore the next couple of paragraphs if you are of a nervous disposition) I then assume the serious face and tell the guys to go get their PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) checked. It’s just a blood test but gives doctors an inkling as to whether you might be in trouble.

My PSA is quite low at 2.61 and a few years ago doctors may have left it at that, which would have been a mistake, but my Gleason Score, which grades the cancer, is quite high at 7. This is me: Gleason score 7 (4 + 3). I’m told most of the cancer cells found in the biopsy are likely to grow at a moderate rate, though some look likely to grow more slowly. It also indicates, as does the MRI scan, that most of the cancer is retained within the prostate, with just a small section attempting to break on through to the other side. I could now go on to tell you about the glories of having a biopsy but as you’ll probably never need one, I’ll leave it there. Put it this way if a prostate biopsy was rated on TripAdvisor, it wouldn’t get many takers.

And so finally to the person (rare in my experience), who wants the full enchilada, the whole story. Frankly, if they want it, they get it. It doesn’t really become me to be coy and reticent when here I am blogging to all-comers about my predicament.

I tell them about my treatment: no prostatectomy, which is the removal of the entire prostate gland, as a tumour is too close to my rectum for safe cutting and hacking. So, I’m on hormone jabs to shrink the tumour until September when the guest will be blasted with radiation in an effort to encourage the little bastard to check out. I could tell you about the side-effects of hormone therapy, but I think, dear reader, you have suffered enough. And frankly they are as nothing compared with the side-effects of being sixty-three.