Friday, 22 February 2008

Britain's Curry Crisis

Chicken T\ikka

So, Britain has a curry crisis does it? I'm pretty sure it has a few more pressing concerns than that and, personally, I'm more concerned about the future of people from Bangladesh who merely want to improve their lot. You're going to tell me that Britain is only a small island and you can only fit so many in before it bursts ...

Same problem as here in the Canary Islands, but what are any of these people doing that is any different to what I and every British expat has done?

My next door neighbours back in Birmingham were Bangladeshis - the husband worked at an Indian restaurant round the corner. Nicer neighbours I could not have asked for and, I owe them a debt, because they fed me when when I first moved in and was installing a new kitchen. Their kids used to appear at my door almost as soon as I got in from work, proffering plates of delicious, home-cooked food, because they just couldn't let me buy take-away every single night.

In those days, I could well have afforded to do so. In fact, mostly, I did.

As well as the Bangladeshi-Brummie Indian, the local chippie was run by Greeks, I think. The "Greek" restaurant was run by Iranians, the Chinese possibly was "as advertised" and, I can't remember what nationality ran the pizza place that delivered (not Italian, anyway), but they all had my custom at one time, while the Balti Houses provided my "traditional" Sunday lunch!

Yes, you try telling a Tenerife native that, actually, we really don't eat that so-called English food that's demanded by tourists on this island, at home! :)

Anyroadup, if there's enough irony in poor Bangladeshi "refugees" (they probably weren't) feeding a starving "rich" (and that's a very relative term) westerner, then as for needing authentic staff to produce these authentic meals, the real irony here is that Britain's new national dish - Chicken tikka masala - is virtually unheard of on the Indian sub-continent.

The story goes that it was created by a Bangladeshi chef (very likely in Birmingham too), almost by accident. Serendipity: a happy accident, I would say, but lets be clear what it is. Similarly, it's said that the Balti (Bengali for bucket) was also invented in Brum, probably in the Balti Triangle.
For those not familiar, this should not be confused with Bermuda Triangles nor any other form of exotic location. Although the same area also produced British reggae band UB40. About the Balti, it has been observed:
"Thanks to the presence of Asian population, Birmingham is famous for its curries, and known as the curry capital of Britain. A type of curry called "balti" is reputed to have been born in Birmingham, among the Bangladeshi and Punjabi immigrants. Balti can be found now anywhere in Britain, but not in India, Pakistan, or even in Bangladesh."
Averting the Curry Crisis

Would-be Citizens - with or without cooking skills - can try this entrance exam.

Sorry if you fail (as I did and I'm a British citizen already), but bear in mind that the real one will be even more difficult (and I'm damn sure I'd fail that too!)

The rest of you will just have to learn to make your own Chicken Tikka, with or without the masala sauce (gravy), until the crisis blows over.

Chicken Tikka

Serves one person, maybe two if you serve it with rice.
  • 1 boneless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 tsp chopped and crushed ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 3 Tbs lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp corn starch
Mix together all of the ingredients together (sic). Let the chicken marinate for 3-4 hours. When it's ready to go, heat up the grill and grill the chicken on skewers. While they're grilling, take 1/2 cup of the marinade and put it in a small saute pan. Before heating it, mix in 1/4 tsp corn starch. Heat the sauce until it thickens and then let it bubble for a while. Set that aside until the chicken is done.
Recipe from Jon Sullivan.

Re-create Birmingham Balti restaurant favourites

You too can create a Brummie restaurant-style Balti in minutes with, Authentic Balti Curry Restaurant Recipes Revealed. Co-written by a highly experienced Bangladeshi chef of the award winning Kushi Balti House in Moseley, this book shows how to re-create Birmingham Balti restaurant favourites at home. David suggests finishing off a Balti meal (equally good after tikka) with Kulfi ice cream. I would beg to differ, but it's up to you. Try the Ras Malai instead.

If you can get to any of the restaurants and Balti Houses in Birmingham's Balti Triangle, they're either next door to or are Sweet Centers as well. Good for business, bad for we who love spicy food AND have sweet tooths! :)

Britain's Curry Crisis | The UK is in a curry crisis

Photo Minaxibose1992 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

You know you're old when ...

The traditions continue ...Maybe I never needed to paint cave walls, hunt a woolly mammoth nor chip flint or obsidian tools, but I certainly feel positively prehistoric to read some of this list of Obsolete Skills and realize that far too many of them are skills / items I've used regularly at some time in my life.

So there's a bit of poetic licence; not everything listed is a skill and not all of them are obsolete (thank goodness), but it's still fascinating social history.

Either, you're going to remember stuff and think, Shit, am I that old?

Or you'll wonder, Did people really do that? :)

Just some of the "obsolete" things that have been normal to me; Getting off the sofa to change tele channels, tuning a radio, paying by cheque, dialing a rotary phone, remembering phone numbers, loading film in cameras, shorthand, telex, balancing the tonearm on a turntable / placing a coin on a tonearm to prevent skipping (I'm only a bedroom/livingroom DJ, but my ex-husband was a real one), booting off a floppy disk (in fact, I've run the accounts for small companies on computers that booted off floppy disks!), shillings and pence, plus a whole range of things to do with manual typewriters.

I've done car repairs, darned socks and repaired small appliances too. Like most people, I'm glad not to have to do those things any more. It also bothers me that we just throw things away, instead of making them last longer now.

To make me really feel old, some of those things I still do; Adjusting the rabbit ears on your TV set (adjusting the position of the bent coat hanger anyway), Cleaning head of a VCR (this week) or Defrosting the Icebox (last week).

At school, I used slates the hand-cranked adding machines that came before calculators (yes, I will admit that I have seriously used an abacus too) and, if I wanted to, I could still do long division manually. That's a good thing. Never could get my head round slide rules though. I'm glad I don't need to!

Want to write gud lolcats? Lern fonetik shorthand ... Robert Scoble rates shorthand as a skill that's no longer very useful to us.

I can has disagreement, 'cuz if you go here and read teh epitaph of Jacob Pitman (1810-1890) - brother of Sir Isaac Pitman (1813-1897), da man who invented Pitman Shorthand - and tell me, does that not read just like Lolcat?

See Lolspeak entry: "Spelling - something that has no clearly defined rules in lolspeak. As long as a word is phonetically understandable, you're doing fine."

So who sez shorthand is not very useful to us for something efurryday? :)

(Is this whole concept "useful?" "Cheezburger" and "Tofuburger" probably think so every time they get a payment from Google Adsense, Blogads, etc!)

Maybe I just have fond memories, since shorthand was one of the [few] things I ever got a 100% pass mark for in my exam? (I learned Teeline Shorthand and, that's not obsolete. You can still learn it online, if you want to.)

Whilst I don't use it fully (actually, I can't remember all of the symbols or how to write them), I do use some of it's principles, like scribbling words down with vowels missing. It's also useful to remember that a couple of thousand words is about all we use in English for everyday conversation. So, the initial vocabulary one learns for shorthand would also enough of a new foreign language to get by with. Anyway, getting back to the obsolete list ...

It's only in the last couple of years that I finally gave in and got rid of my record deck and vinyl record collection. And there's a box of audio cassettes (to be thrown out, after I've had a quick sort through to see what I might replace), sitting right next to me, even if I don't have anything to play them on now.

There are "new" things listed that I never got round to learning, because they got invented, passed me by at such high speed and became obsolete before I even had a chance. Maybe that's a good thing too. Who needs to learn how to aim a C-band satellite dish or blow dust out of a Nintendo cartridge?

Then, I personally may not have had to harness a team of oxen, but as the image above suggests, I know a man who can as it's still done where I live.

There are also plenty of things I've seen my dad do too, like hand cranking a car to start it, interpolating logarithms or navigating by compass. He didn't just use Morse code to send messages, he also taught Morse code to others.

My father had also tried to teach me how to double declutch, in the 1970s, which even the Obsolete Skills entry says, "Went Obsolete Somewhere around the 50s". As it should have! In fact, we had a blazing roadside row about this, because, though I understood the principle, I flat out refused to "confuse myself" by practicing it. Synchromesh gearboxes had been around long enough already that I was certain never to need the skill, unless, maybe, I'd planned to become a test driver for the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, which I didn't!

Barring the ability to send a distress signal, in case of an alien invasion maybe, reading that list generally though makes me think, dit dit dah dit, dit dit dah, dah dit dah dit, dah dit dah me, now I know I've become obsolete too! :)

Obsolete Skills Via: Microsiervos

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Being British

English Bulldog If you're looking for a symbol of Britishness, this dog's expression, I think, says an awful lot! It's an oldie and it changes slightly each time I read it, but as the Telegraph reprints (sent in by a reader from Bournemouth):

"Being British is about driving a German car to an Irish pub where we imbibe copious amounts of Belgian or eastern European beer, then on the way home stopping to pick up an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab to consume as we sit on our Swedish furniture watching American shows on Japanese TVs."

"But above all, being British is our suspicion of anything foreign."

Yet we don't think we are "foreign", even when we live abroad.

And, despite eating the Indian curry, Turkish kebab and every other nationality of food at home, the moment a Brit goes on holiday, their diet becomes limited to "English Breakfast" and fish & chips. Someone please tell me why!

No wonder the Spanish think we're eccentric

Seriously though, I'd not realized that I'm of one of the "British opinion-forming classes" (actually, I just thought I was opinionated), but I do find the "whole concept of national identity either sinister or risible". Well, both, in fact.

Like most Brits, I find it weird, but it's not that I see "flag-waving US patriotism" as "childlike and naive" (well, that too), but mostly I see this as a predominantly right-wing nationalistic activity and decidedly unhealthy. Yet, either through flattering imitation or other means, Britain seems still hell bent on wooing its former possession, yet at the same time, stubbornly harbouring even longer-held grudges and skepticism against its European neighbours.

The idea of a "unified British identity" though seems to be an oxymoron to start with, because we always were a bunch of mongrels and the situation today, with all of the so-called "diverse" groups does not appear to be any different.

Perhaps "unification" was not always smooth and peaceful, but Angles, Saxons and Vikings didn't have Brown or Straw (or even a Cameron) to draw them up "A list of bland aspirations with a presumptuous and irritating "Bill of Rights" attached." Thanks goodness. Nothing could be so false and artificial.

There was King John and his Magna Carta (or "Great Charter of Freedoms") and maybe that worked then and in the American situation 200 odd years ago. Maybe the relevance does need questioning now (I don't mean it deserves to be run roughshod over), because the idea of a Brit demanding their rights under the Magna Carta (or even its new equivalent) just seems entirely ridiculous. And today in Britain, all the fat-chewing and politically-correcting that would go into attempting to come up with something that would suit everyone and offend none, would be far more likely to evolve into a "Great Charter of Limitations" and - naturally - have the exact opposite effect to the one intended.

Then again, I'm sure my thoughts here are wasted, because we seem totally incapable of remembering history or of preventing it from repeating.

We don't need to define Britishness

Photo: © Jenny Rollo

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Woman 50 gets net babysitter

So I know there are times when I [partly] jest about not knowing what I want to be when I grow up, but do I really - at my age - seem like I need a friggin canguro (babysitter / nanny)?

(Maybe that's a rhetorical question and, one that's best left unanswered.) 

Nevertheless, ever since I got my "slower than molasses in January" ADSL connection (after a 7 year wait, two years ago) it has seen fit to intermittently block everything in it's path (or my path) with a net nanny filter from, that comes, whether you want it or not, as part of the Telefonica package. (Anyone familiar with Spain will, at the mere mention of the name Telefonica - sadly the only option I have in this area - have identified the root problem and, will know also that there is no means of getting help for it.)

Of course, I didn't ask for it and I've had it deactivated from day one, but from time to time it just activates itself. That is, I will find it activated when it rudely gets between me and virtually every page on the internet.

Well, the perfectly safe and innocent ones anyway.

This week, it also blocked me from seeing Google Adsense ads, which not only returned errors and "holes" in other people's pages, but didn't help test my own sites that run them. It doesn't even say it's on - still says it's deactivated - when I check the settings in my ADSL account. It is so maddeningly frustrating.

Monday, 11 February 2008

You know you've lived in Spain when

"If you see someone wearing a T-shirt with something written on it in English, you can almost guarantee it won't make sense."

Or any clothing for that matter. Anyway, I think I ticked 45 on this list!

You know you’ve lived in Spain when…

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Lightening does strike twice

Well almost, because a few years ago, my telephone line was hit by lightening that "fried" my then modem. [1] That lit up the night sky brighter than the light show for a Stones concert, as the blue spark travelled at speed down the wire and into the back of my computer. It was only by pure luck that I reacted, threw myself back across the room and away from it, in time.

This time, lightening hit the electrical pylon, not 25 meters from the house in the early hours of Saturday morning, which is only inches from the phone cable that runs up the hill past it. Reckon that metal pylon attracts lightening?

It's very rare for a storm to wake me up, but this one did at 5.30 on Saturday morning, because it was so loud and, because the rolling thunder shook this house (with it's half meter thick walls). By the tiny interval between thunder claps, I knew the storm was close overhead too and just seconds after the first that woke me and a millisecond before the next boom, was a tremendous explosion as lightening hit something I knew had to be very close by.

Power went off in this house at that instant, but when I looked outside, it was still on in the valley below at that time. Nevertheless, there wasn't much I could do at 5.30 a.m., so I went back to bed. At 8.30 a.m. the power was still off here and was also off in the entire valley (and various other areas apparently.)

Went outside to inspect, then phoned the electricity company and explained what I had seen and heard: that lightening must have hit the pylon.

Around 12.30 I rang UNELCO again, as after 7 hours, we were still without power and neither had I seen any technicians anywhere in the area.

Shortly afterwards, two blokes in a van turned up (coincidentally), took one look at it and announced casually that lightening had hit the pylon.

No, really? Don't you just love experts?

But these bright sparks weren't the repair guys. Now we had to wait for someone else to repair whatever had been hit and, of course, there were a lot of repairs needed after the storm and, no, they couldn't give me any idea at all how long it would be before they would turn up, let alone how long it would take to repair ... I decided I'd had enough then. This house only has small windows facing north, so even in daylight, it's impossible to see indoors without artificial lighting. Therefore there was absolutely nothing whatsoever I could do here; I was cold, damp and couldn't even make a decent cup of coffee.

When I went to catch the 2 o'clock bus the power was still off anyway.

It was a bad storm, but it wasn't that bad, compared to some we've had in recent years. To be left without power for 9+ hours, after something really only a bit worse than what is becoming "routine bad weather", is unacceptable.

As an expat immigrant, sure I accept sacrifices, but I didn't move to the "third world".

And on an island that relies on tourism this is downright 'effin criminal.

There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that this would not - could not - happen if cables were put under ground. And there wouldn't be a lot of these repairs needed and time and money wasted after every storm. Yet these ugly overhead cable spaghettis are still being installed, even in tourist areas.
Speaking to a neighbour, who has lived and worked in Germany, later at the bus station in Buenavista (he was also "escaping" to Puerto de la Cruz to look at the carnaval parade for something to do and to get warm), he compared the situations and opines too that the antiquated systems here are to blame.

What concerns us, is that we will be underground before the cables are!

And if lightening can strike twice in the same place already, lets hope that it isn't in the too near future.

[1] If you think the electricity company's response is slow, it took more than 4 years before Telefonica would even come out to look at the phone cable that was damaged and suffering badly from crackling noise on the line (they blamed everything else; my phone, my computer, cheap calls with a competitor), despite me telling them that I had seen it hit by lightening.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Voyage to Atlantis

Atlantis "doesn't exist", yet we name a Space Shuttle after it. You have to admit that we humans are a strange lot. Some even dismiss scientifically-proven evolution and then go and believe a book full of "fairy stories", but I'd probably be advised not to go there.

Anyway, as NASA readies space shuttle Atlantis for launch, weather permitting, we might get to see something like this.

Many myths and legends have been associated with Tenerife, but the Atlantis legend is one of the bigger ones. Far fetched, of course, but then they said that about Troy for a very long time and, yet Heinrich Schliemann managed to locate the place. Maybe we should have more open minds about history too?

In the Canary Islands, you often find people who "don't believe in" myths, legends, UFOs .... who then go out and "see" one! We saw a similar story when Michael Palin visited the island of Chiloé in Chile, on his Full Circle journey in 1997. There the myth involved witches and, he was told that locals "don't believe in witches, but they exist." Perhaps is it's an island "madness." :)

Speaking of long-ago journeys, I've been sorting through boxes of junk lately and came across a souvenir guide book from Kennedy Space Center, from 1980 (yes, America's Spaceport, the one in Florida, where Atlantis looks good to go.

Since the book is 28 years old, I guess I'm lucky it's not totally sepia, but it did strike me as quaint, full of "artists impressions" of what the shuttle was going to look like when it launched a few months later.

Anyway, since I'm slightly older than Sputnik, never mind manned spaceflight or the lunar landings (real or not), I've seen a lot of new stuff developed over the last 50 years, because we got out there and "pushed the envelope."

The tour was full of "this is where the shuttle will go" and the whole "kid with a new toy" enthusiasm then was mighty infectious.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Chocolate & Spain: a Passionate History

Chocolate con churros: Does it get any better than this? And, is there ever a history in Spain that does not involve passionate emotions? Maybe not. This fascinated me, because I do happen to adore chocolate.

Yeah, like who doesn't, but living in a country where you can buy bread rolls with chocolate filling as well as every other means of enjoying the stuff, including chocolate spa treatments! (The last is the hotel where Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony stayed when they came to Tenerife: wonder if she indulged?)

Anyway, the bit that caught my eye in the history was that,

"... a series of popes who were consulted during this ongoing debate agreed that since a person drank chocolate rather than eating it, chocolate was not a food, and therefore it did not break the fast."

On that point, hopeless incurable romantics familiar with the 1998 film, Ever After: A Cinderella Story, starring Drew Barrymore, will note that one of the many historical liberties taken in this romantic comedy is that, "Henry gives Marguerite chocolate at the tennis game [market: even goofs goof], Henry claims afterwards that, "The Spanish monks keep sending blocks of it."

But it didn't come solid in those days, "Although the Spanish had brought back cocoa from New Spain, it was not used in France until the 18th century (200 years later), and when it was, it was drunk with vanilla. Solid, edible chocolate like we have today has only been around for about one hundred years."

The upshot being that, if you drink your chocolate (still the most civilized way, in my mind), you need not be deprived of chocolate during Lent.

Well, not that I was worried or feeling guilty about that in the first place, but some people might be. Although I will venture that with Valentines Day coming up and it falling inside Lent this year and, even if your girlfriend / boyfriend / husband / wife / significant other is catholic, please still don't expect them to be satisfied with a packet of drinking chocolate or a tub of Nesquik™! :-)

Chocolate & Spain: a Passionate History

Friday, 1 February 2008

Once a day and twice on Fridays

The other day, I explained how nicotine patches had triggered chest pains and breathlessness when walking up hills after I stopped smoking in September and, which got added to many other symptoms that I've been dealing for at least a decade - dealing with alone, I might add, since I have no diagnosis for reasons that make an epic saga in themselves.

(With self-diagnosis, I've taken great care to follow Mark Twain's advice: "Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.")

In the meantime, my reaction to this development has been to "take things easy". Well, relatively easy, but I live alone, so taking things too easy would mean no chores would get done and I might starve to death (I might anyway.) Frankly, I feel like I'm walking on eggshells the whole time, but I do also realize that I have to maintain a careful balance between being idle and completely ceasing up and, doing too much and possibly killing myself in the process.

One of the ways I avoid being totally idle is because of Holly dawg, who needs her daily walks. She's also now at least 13 years old and, despite otherwise being strong and puppy-like still, has unfortunately become rather incontinent.

Yes, it could happen to any of us and I probably drool more than she does!

(It's also causing lots of additional laundry.) Anyway, to avoid too many "accidents" and keep her as comfortable as possible, I take her out at least hourly, if not more frequently. On the one hand, this does nothing to help my concentration or get any work done: on the other, the exercise - especially taken in small, frequent doses - probably hasn't harmed either of us.

Every morning, like clockwork, "we" also have a performance of #2s.

Except Fridays.

A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far. It's at the end of my "driveway" and is the only way in and out of the house. I cross my fingers every time I go over it! :)

Our refuse collectors come early on Saturday mornings and, in winter, they may come while it's still dark. Well, apart from that it's too early for me, no matter what the season.

Also, I live 100 to 150 meters from the road (where the refuse is collected), across land that is an alternately dusty or muddy paddock, over a Barry Bucknell built concrete bridge with no railings (that spans a barranco) and, then down a very steep hill.

And it's unlit: no street lamps and very little other "light pollution."

So I always take the trash down on Friday afternoons.

Thank goodness that is DOWN hill when I'm hauling that trash, but this is probably one of the hardest challenges I face each week. Do you think I can find any sort of trolley here that I might be able to wheel it down on? Not a hope!

And, yes the irony that I PAY for refuse "collection" and yet I have to struggle to "deliver" it that far to them, does indeed rankle quite a bit.

Anyhow, I take the Holly dog with me (virtually everywhere, as a guard dog), partly to "multi-task" one of her necessary walks along with the job of dumping the trash and, because she can help pull me back up the hill afterwards!

And every Friday on that trip, Holly dumps some extra trash of her own.

Does she associate the "dumping" action? Does she know what day of the week it is? I really don't know, because she eats the same each day, but I've tested: I've taken her down there on any other day of the week and she doesn't go!


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