Sunday, 6 December 2009

Craig Murray reflects on the absurdity of the threat by RBS bankers to resign, unless they are given permission by the Government to award huge bonuses to their fee earning staff. It is scarely believable that they have the nerve to make such a request, at a time when 1,700 workers at the Corus steelmaking plant in Redcar are set to lose their jobs. The word 'talent' seems to be the buzzword throughout the banking industry. It is important, we are assured, that the banks retain their top talent so that they do not move on to other companies. What logic! Damn, why did I not think of that in my previous job? It's obvious isn't it? Bully your employer into raising your salary or you will bugger off to a competitor! Sheesh. What 'talent' is this exactly? Are these the same talented whizzkids who mismanaged our money and got us into this mess in the first place? Come to think of it, what do they actually produce? What is their product? And how is their talent any more valuable to society than that of a steelmaker. A steelmaker manufactures and produces something we can see, feel and touch.

As Murray points out, it would have taken an injection of 0.0003% of the amount injected into the financial sector to save the Corus plant. Sadly it is apparently not deemed valuable enough to society. So as the bankers, who will undoubtedly receive their bonus in the end, contemplate whether to upgrade to a Bugati Veyron or Ferrari 355, the Corus workers will be contemplating how to make future mortgage payments.

Rafa Clarifies Aquilani Position

Rafael Benitez has defended his curious non selection of Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani. Koppites have been left baffled by Benitez's reluctance to field his £20 million summer signing, despite confirmations that he is "fit and ready to play". Following yesterdays drab 0-0 draw with Blackburn, the Spaniard responded to confused journalists by claiming that he is protecting Aquilani for his testimonial, which is scheduled for June 2019. Benitez claimed "Alberto is talented but fragile. In 2019 he will have been with us for 10 years and deserves his testimonial. It is important that we keep him fit for this very important game. We have other good players who can do a job in the meantime. I won't risk him."

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Beginning of the end for Benitez


Liverpool's miserable season got even worse last night as they were eliminated from the Champions League, despite a 1-0 win over Hungarian champions Debrecen. Any faint hope they had of keeping their campaign alive was erased as Fiorentina survived a late fight back by Lyon to claim victory by the same scoreline. The Merseysiders have the consolation of entering the Europa League, but most fans will not have much of an appetite for that competition. In truth, Liverpool did not deserve to qualify for the knockout stages. Yes, they have endured a certain degree of misfortune, such as the last minute equaliser away to Lyon, but the fact remains they have underperformed badly. Even last nights game highlighted the problem. Lyon and Fiorentina comfortably despatched of Debrecen away from home with 4-0 and 4-3 wins respectively, whereas Benitez's side laboured their way through the game after taking the lead, seemingly content with a 1-0 win from as early as the 10 minute mark.

Amidst all the gloom, it is the omission of the clubs major summer signing Alberto Aquilani that is most baffling. In recent weeks, Benitez has repeatedly assured fans and journalists that the Italian is (and i quote) "fit and ready to play". The player himself seems champing at the bit to get out there and start his Liverpool career. From the early stages of last nights game it was obvious that the Hungarians were there for the taking. With Liverpool lacking flair and a creative influence, the game seemed ideal for the introduction of Aquilani, probably in place of one of their two holding midfield players. But Benitez, for whatever reason, resisted the temptation. Even the opportunity to help him build up some match sharpness in the last half hour was again squandered. We can only assume therefore that Aquilani does not figure in Benitez's first team plans. He may not be a saviour, but should at least be given the chance to show what he can do. As it happened, Debrecen predictably worked their way back into the game and almost snatched a draw in injury time, in much the same way Lyon did 3 weeks earlier.

Liverpool fans have been patient, more patient than almost any set of fans in world football I would suggest. We understand that long term success is not built overnight. In the last 3 months of last season there were signs that we had finally cracked it. We attacked teams from the first whistle, battering them with flair, imagination, pace and creativity. The defeats of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Aston Villa spring to mind. It was as if the shackles were off. And therein lies the problem. It seems that under Benitez, Liverpool can only play to their full potential when the pressure is off, that is when they are out of every major competition. When there is still something at stake, such as the league title, the Spaniard's natural instinct is overwhelmingly caution. He is a manager who seems to have absolute, total faith in statistics, graphs, charts and percentages. If his sheet of pro zone stats indicate that the game is not suitable for the introduction of Aquilani, then Benitez will abide by that. In other words, he lacks the fundamental managerial instinct to assess a game with his own eyes and make human, footballing decisions.

The phone-ins and message boards will be calling for Benitez to go, but now would not be the right time. If the club are to sack Benitez, they would need a suitable replacement. Jose Mourinho will inevitably be linked, but is currently in charge of Inter Milan, and more significantly, on a huge salary. Guus Hiddink will also be suggested, especially following Russia's failure to qualify for the World Cup. The Dutchman though has indicated that he is keen to remain in Moscow for the next European campaign, and also retains an association with Chelsea. Current Galatasaray boss Frank Rijkaard would also feature in the betting, although doubts remain as to his experience and tactical nous. No doubt names such as O'Neill, Hitzfeld, Dalglish, Klinsmann and Lippi will be mentioned. Should England win the World Cup next summer, Fabio Capello may even be touted. Whatever happens, I believe that any decision should be left until the end of the season.

Patience with Rafael Benitez is almost at and end with most Liverpool supporters. Defeat against Everton on Sunday is almost unthinkable, but with this Liverpool side it is sadly a very real prospect. The priority now MUST be on finishing in the top 4 of the Premier League. Personally, I do not give two hoots about the Europa League, and would be content for a reserve side to be fielded as in the Carling Cup. The FA Cup may provide a crumb of comfort, but if they can keep Torres fit, and finally introduce Aquilani, call me mad but I believe that there is a chance of catching an inconsistent Arsenal side and finishing 3rd. If you were to offer Liverpool fans the FA Cup and a 3rd place finish right now I'm sure most would snatch your hand off.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Glasgow North East By-Election


Residents of the Glasgow North East constituency will finally get the chance to elect their new Member of Parliament tomorrow following the departure of ex-speaker Michael Martin to the House of Lords. The seat will almost certainly go to Labour candidate William Bain, although the SNP are likely to make some gain. Socialist firebrand Tommy Sheridan, who is definitely not a swinger, has used the election campaign to spread his rhetoric but is unlikely to make any significant dent at the polling stations.

Threethousandversts has already noted the decidedly poor quality of candidates, including "straight talking" Big Brother runner up Mikey Hughes who has vowed to "clean up the House" (literally i presume?) and Glasgow Airport baggage handler John Smeaton. Smeaton, who has squeezed every last morsel of publicity out of his status as Glasgow Airport's terrorist attack 'hero', appears ever so slightly out of his depth in the political arena, something which STV Political Editor Bernard Ponsonby seems well aware of. Glasgow North East is one of the UK's most deprived constituencies with high unemployment and a depressingly low life expectancy. It may be mildly amusing to witness Smeaton's embarrassing performance, but this constituency deserves a higher quality of candidates.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Glasgow Betrayed By SNP Again

We are all familiar with the SNP's broken promises by now: no scrapping of Council Tax; no reduction of primary school class sizes; no writing off student debt; no 1000 extra police officers; no protection for A&E units; no grant for first time house buyers etc.

Now we can add to that list a complete reversal of their commitment to invest in public transport provision, particularly in the west of Scotland. Finance Secretary John Swinney's recent decision to axe the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (GARL) is another blow for Scotland's largest city, and yet more evidence of an Edinburgh biase from the Nationalists. After expressing his anger at the decision, the leader of Glasgow City Council Steven Purcell (Lab), was apparently told to "behave like a grown up" by the First Minister. Charming, but perhaps not out of character for Salmond.

The rail link has long been considered a vital compotent of modernising the west of Scotland's ageing transport network and injecting a huge boost to the wider economy. The scheme would have safeguarded thousands of jobs in engineering, planning, construction and environmental monitoring, as well as supporting the city's growing business tourism and conference destination reputation. 95% of users travel to Glasgow airport by road, with the only other option of getting into the city centre an expensive taxi or bus. Numbers through the airport are predicted to double by 2030, and with the Commonwealth Games in 2014, this was the perfect opportunity to at last improve travel choice and provide a modern, efficient and long term solution to infrastructure problems in the west of Scotland.

Laughably, Swinney has attempted to ease concerns by committing to a 'Fastlink' system, which is simply another term for an extra bus lane. It is quite depressing that, despite all the evidence from other European cities, successive administrations still cannot acknowledge the importance of an efficient, integrated transport infrastructure to the economic success of a region. Let's hope that the other main parties pledge their commitment to reinstating GARL and that this wretched party are removed from power at the next opportunity.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Casino Always Wins


In his final 'Event' on Channel 4 last night, Derren Brown narrowly failed to win £175,000 with £5,000 of stolen money at a roulette table in an unspecified casino somewhere in Europe. Or did he? The illusionist claimed to be able to predict which number the ball would land on by simultaneously working out the speed of the roulette wheel and the ball itself. He failed by one number. Leading up to the casino event, Brown explained which skills he would be employing through a series of stunts. In the first he selected two members of the audience, one extrovert and one introvert, and asked them to choose from one of two boxes, one of which contained £20. The purpose was to demonstrate that the extrovert could 'will' the £20 towards himself simply by adopting a positive attitude. As any amateur magician will know, this is one of the most basic of tricks. Prior to putting the money in the box he wrote an instruction to hand the note over to the other contestant. This is a fail safe mechansim. As it turned out the introvert chose the correct box and Brown instructed her to reveal the message. If the extrovert had chosen it, he would simply have neglected to mention the message written on the note.

In his next stunt he claimed to be able to guess the speed of a fast moving vehicle by employing some form of advanced trigonometry using surrounding signposts and trees to work out the relative speed of any given vehicle. Not only this, he then apparently guessed the correct speed purely by listening to the sound of the vehicle engine! Clearly this is absolute nonsense. In the next experiment, he demonstrated an ability to analyse the speed and trajectory of a small rubber ball thrown randomly inside a squash court, and predict exactly where it would finally settle within the court. Again, absolutely absurd. The idea was to generate in the viewer a sense that Brown could quite conceivably predict the speed of a roulette wheel and ball using these same skills, and subsequently cheat the casino.

Of course, the legal ramifications (for Brown and Channel 4) of conning a member of the public into handing over £5000 through hypnosis and then gambling that money in a foreign casino using supposedly underhand methods are fairly significant. All of which suggests that the whole thing, as with his previous 'Events', was almost certainly a hoax. It may have been that Brown really did hypnotise a member of the public into handing over £5000. But he probably did not travel to a casino in Europe. It was most likely a mock up of a casino in a London warehouse/studio, and the £5,000 was therefore never at risk. Essentially, Brown was in a no-lose situation. If he DID get it right, then it would have been further evidence of his amazing psychic abilities. However, by narrowly missing out, he showed that he is in fact fallible, thus preserving his enigma and a thirst for yet more events (and crucially another TV series!). Nevertheless, Brown is undoubtedly a great showman and it makes for entertaining television. Such hyped up shows are ideal vehicles for advertisers and a further platform for Brown to raise his profile and set himself up for a big money book deal.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Hollyoaks Babe in Boyfriend Sensation

The Sun today carries the world exclusive that Hollyoaks actress Jennifer Metcalfe has got a new boyfriend, having been pictured together in Spain. Eye witness accounts have confirmed that Metcalfe, 26, at one point picked up her handbag. Having surveyed the water, the glamorous brunette is also said to have purchased a cocktail from a nearby bar. Sources indicate that it was a 'Cosmopolitan', although these reports are unconfirmed. The sand on which Metcalfe was walking is likely to be of the volcanic variety, with scientists currently carrying out forensic tests to establish its consistency and any traces of nail varnish. British holidaymaker Kandi Topper, 23, from Essex described the events: "It was incredible...i just saw her drinking a cocktail and walking along the beach. At one point she kissed her boyfriend on the cheek - I think it was the left cheek, but it could have been the right one...I'm not sure".

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Liverpool Need to Step Up a Gear

Liverpool travel to West Ham today in the knowledge that there is little room for error, having already suffered two early season defeats in the league. The Hammers are an unpredictable outfit, although Upton Park has been a happy hunting ground for the Reds in recent seasons. With Chelsea having established a slight lead (albeit having played inferior opposition) it is important that Liverpool carry on the momentum from their previous two games against Bolton and Burnley, before the crunch match with Ancelotti's men in a few weeks.

Wednesday's performance against Debrecen was far from inspiring, with Gerrard worryingly out of sorts, and Benitez's side received a fair amount of media criticism for their narrow 1-0 win. In general it was interpreted as further evidence that Liverpool are a long way off challenging for the title (almost universally explained by the absence of Xabi Alonso). In contrast, Manchester United's victory by the same scoreline against Besiktas was described as 'gritty' and 'professional' i.e further evidence that they are a team who know how to win when not playing at their best. Perhaps it is just that I am paranoid, or maybe it was because they were playing in front of a larger terrestrial audience, but there does seem to be a prevailing trend within the world of football journalism whereby Liverpool are open to harsher judgement than their main rivals. Yes, it was a poor performance on Wednesday, but let's not over-react. It is still very early in the season. I'll stick my neck out and say that in the long term, Manchester United will miss Ronaldo more than Liverpool will miss Alonso.

Friday, 21 August 2009

David Mitchell's Soapbox: Waste

David Mitchell's Soapbox: Waste

Shared via AddThis

Over the past 24 weeks, the comedian David Mitchell has presented a series of observations on a range of random issues. They are essentially 4 minute rants delivered in the familiar Peep Show sarcasm mould. I'd recommend you have a look at his others via the above link.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Lockerbie Families Deserve Inquiry


It's not often that Hernandez dips his fingers into the bowl of world politics, but the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds today merits consideration. The move has caused widespread anger, most notably in the US with President Obama describing it as a "mistake". On the face of it their anger is perhaps understandable. Megrahi was convicted in 2001 for the murder of 270 people of which 189 were American. He was sentenced to 27 years yet has served just 8, having lost an appeal in 2002. Aside from the arguments for his release, the Scottish Government's handling of the affair has been utterly shambolic. Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill's bizarre decision to visit Megrahi in Greenock prison earlier this month has fuelled specualtion of a deal preserving diplomatic relations with Libya. And today, the SNP have predictably attempted to use the worldwide exposure as a nationalistic points-scoring exercise, clearly a reminder that Scotland now makes its own decisions and is a separate entity from the UK.

The delivery of MacAskill's statement at todays press conference also had a rather odd tone, almost 'sermon' like as noticed by the BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor. It is reasonable to assume that the tone was for the benefit of the US audience, particularly the reference to a "higher authority". Apart from airy references to Scottish morals, values and beliefs, the statement lacked any real justification or reasoning, perhaps a hint that there were in fact diplomatic motives behind the release. Despite MacAskill's assurances, it seems unlikely that his release was motivated purely by 'compassion' or 'mercy'. Can we assume that from now on any prisoner with a terminal illness will be released and allowed to return to his family?

There is growing suspicion (in Scotland at least) that Megrahi's original trial may have been flawed and that his conviction may be unsafe. Many believe, including some of the families themselves, that Megrahi has been made a convenient scapegoat. Tam Dalyell, the former father of the House of Commons, has persistently argued Megrahi's innocence, saying that:

"Mr McAskill has arrived at the right decision on compassionate grounds. I do not accept his endorsement of the guilt of Mr Megrahi, whom I continue to believe had nothing whatsoever to do with the crime of Lockerbie".

Tellingly, back in 2007 the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission recommended that Megrahi be granted a second appeal, suggesting that the full facts did not come out through the original trial. It does seem unlikely that Megrahi could have acted alone and organised the bombing without significant support, if indeed he was involved at all.


Whether he was responsible for the atrocity or not, Megrahi has only months to live. It appears that he has sacrificed any chance of clearing his name in order to spend his remaining time with his family. For the sake of the Scottish legal system, it is essential that a full public inquiry is held into the case. Otherwise the real tragedy will be that the victims families will be denied closure, as reflected in the words of Jim Swire who lost his daughter Flora in the bombing:

""I think for those of us who have looked carefully at the evidence and have doubts, we cannot achieve that until we're quite sure that it really is true and it could be proved that it were true that he was the one that did it. It's no good trying to have closure on false foundations"

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Big Season Ahead at Anfield

Liverpool came agonisingly close to clinching the Premier League last season, and it was only Manchester United's superior depth of squad that won it in the end. Glen Johnson remains the only new arrival at Anfield this close season, and further additions will be needed if Liverpool are to realistically compete for the title again this season. There is still a feeling that the side is over reliant on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard for goals, so a top class striker should certainly head Benitez's priorities. I would put forward Eidur Gudjohnen as a potentially useful addition. The ex-Chelsea man is an intelligent forward who could in theory provide an ideal foil for Torres. He is currently struggling to command a regular berth in the Barcelona team and a move could suit all parties - and is likely to come relatively cheap as well. However David Villa remains the most sought after striker in Europe, and Fernando Torres has made no secret of his wish to line up alongside his international striking partner at Anfield. Villa would not come cheap, but the estimated £30m generated from the sale of Xabi Alonso, together with the unspent part of the current budget, could provide the funds needed. Alonso will be a big loss, but Liverpool will not suddenly slide into mid table obscurity as a result of his departure. Alonso is undoubtedly a class act - arguably the finest passer in Europe - but he can be replaced. It is comforting to remember that Liverpool's best result of last season - the 4-1 drubbing of Manchester United at Old Trafford - was achieved without Alonso. Rumours have focused on the Roma midfielder Aquilani as a replacement, although admittedly I know next to nothing about him. For my money Mascherano would be a more serious loss to Liverpool than Alonso, so it is pleasing to hear of reports that Barcelona have cooled their interest in the Argentinian. I also believe Benitez needs to strengthen the centre back position, and he could do worse than Fulham's giant Norwegian Brede Hangeland.

Apart from further signings, I would like to see some of the younger players step up to the plate this season. In particular, Emiliano Insua looks a reall prospect in the full back position, and should provide healthy competition for Glen Johnson and Fabio Aurelio. Martin Kelly is highly rated at Melwood and this could be a big season for the England U-19 international. He could be the long term successor to Jamie Carragher. In midfield, local lad Jay Spearing is a fiesty competitor with a touch of the Steve McMahon about him and who impressed when he was given the opportunity last season. Up front it could be the right time to blood Daniel Pacheco and Kristiaz Nemeth. I remember watching Pacheco last pre season and even then he was obviously a class act - fantastic technique and a neat finisher, albeit a little raw. Nemeth looks a special player and has been on the fringes of the first team squad for some time, but was badly hampered by injury problems last season. Benitez obviously knows better than I do as to when the time is right for them, but if Alex Ferguson is prepared to give the likes of Macheda and Welbeck an opportunity in big games, I see no reason why Nemeth and Pacheco shouldn't.

The Russian Experience

One my long standing travelling ambitions is to do the Trans-Siberian Express railway journey from St Petersburg to Vladivostok. From the Guardian website, Marcel Theroux (the big brother of Louis) provides an interesting flavour of what long distance locomotive travelling in Russia might entail. With regard to the young Russian couple in the first part, you'd be quite right in thinking 'HOW THE HELL DID HE GET HER?!'

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

IMPORTANT SETANTA UPDATE

Setanta are no longer trading in Great Britain. We are unable to answer any of your stupid enquiries. Please bugger off and leave us alone.

PS: You are not getting any of your money back.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Setanta Sent for Early Bath


Although I have not registered my thoughts on Setanta through any form of recordable medium, I am proud to announce that I called their demise some time ago. From its inception, the Southern Irish broadcaster has adopted a bullish and aggressive marketing strategy. In one of their earlier advertising campaigns, I can clearly recall how they proudly announced that "only Setanta, not Sky" possessed the British broadcasting rights to show the USPGA golf tournament. Err, really? No offence to the USPGA, but even if it was on terrestrial TV I probably wouldn't bother with it, never mind Sky. And this has proved a feature of their existence - they have attempted to muscle their way into a market which just doesn't exist in the long term. Rangers against Celtic is one thing, but who the hell cares about Falkirk versus Hibernian other than the few supporters of those clubs? In the Premier League, Setanta only had the rights to the lower band games i.e. not involving any of the so called big four, whose games Sky have the rights to. Realistically, the only games worth spending big on are those involving Rangers, Celtic, Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal. Any games not involving those clubs are quite frankly unprofitable and should be left to the terrestrial stations.

It is the general air of desperation and dishonesty about Setanta's tactics that bothers me. I know many people who have had great difficulty in cancelling their subscription, one of whom was forced to call their 'customer service' department on no less than 6 occassions, mainly due to the fact that the "disconnection documents" (whatever they are) were apparently sent to the wrong address not once but twice.  The straw that broke the camels back, however, was surely their decision not to sell on the broadcasting rights for the highlights of a crucial Croatia v England World Cup qualifier to a terrestrial broadcaster. This was generally perceived as a public relations disaster and probably did more than anything to convince potential subscribers (who were by now making household spending cuts due to the recession) that Sky was the safer and better option given the choice between the two.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this sorry episode is that bodies such as the SPL, Premier League and Football Association have apparently been willing to put so much faith in these cowboys, despite the lessons of the ITV Digital disaster. I for one am delighted that this appears to be the end of the road for Setanta, although sadly the many football clubs who rely on their television payments will not feel the same. The rumour in Scotland is that ESPN, the global sports network owned by the Disney Corporation, could acquire the unpaid broadcasting rights for the SPL. If so, it may be only a matter of weeks before we see Rangers and Celtic fighting in out in the Mickey Mouse League - quite literally!


Friday, 15 May 2009

Broadfoot Left With Egg On His Face


Rangers star Kirk Broadfoot may miss Rangers' crucial final 2 games of the season, not because of a groin strain, tight hamstring or any other normal footballers injury, but because of an exploding egg! The rugged defender, 24, was left with severe burns to his face after an egg he was poaching in the microwave exploded.  Broadfoot was apparently showered with boiling water, shattered glass and hot egg when he removed the bowl from the microwave. Reports suggest that the quick thinking Ayrshire man immediately plunged his face under the cold water tap to relieve the painful burns. 

Broadfoot is not alone in suffering an egg related injury. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that 500 Britons a years are admitted to hospital after "egg related incidents". They have used Broadfoot's case to highlight the importance of taking extra care when dealing with boiling water in a microwave. Broadfoot is expected to make a full recovery from his scalds, but perhaps next time he should follow my fail safe poached egg recipe from Down and Out which involves no microwaves.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Expenses Row - Time to Move On?

I must admit the MP's expense controversy is really beginning to get on my breasts. It has been the main news item for the past 5 or 6 days which I find quite extraordinary. Obviously there are weaknesses in the system which need to be rectified. Is it really that shocking to hear that politicians have been up to some dodgy antics? Let's leave it for an independent body, agreed by all parties, to come up with some recommendations and we can all have a discussion about it. Agreed? Right, let's move on and have some REAL news.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Carlisle Staring Relegation In The Face


Carlisle United enter the final round of fixtures this Saturday knowing that failure to pick up 3 points will see them relegated to the 4th tier of English League football. Their opponents are Millwall, a side who will be equally eager for the win that may provide them with an easier two games in the Play-Offs (against either Scunthorpe or Tranmere - who face each other- rather than Leeds United).


It is a sorry tale for the Cumbrians following last seasons narrow failure to win automatic promotion to the Championship on the last day. Worryingly, their fate is not in their own hands. Even a win may not be enough, should Brighton win at home to Stockport and Northampton pick up a point at Leeds. The scenario mirrors the final day of the 1999 season when on-loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass converted a dramatic injury time winner against Plymouth, sparking wild scenes of celebration and euphoria on the Brunton Park pitch. For Carlisle's loyal band of followers that will be nothing more than a distant memory if they fail to beat the Lions on Saturday afternoon. I for one will be keeping a very keen eye on proceedings.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Down But Not Out


I would like to apologise to my loyal cluster of readers for the lack of activity on DAOILAL over the past few weeks. Regrettably, most of my time is being taken up with seeking alternative employment having recently been given notice of potential redundancy. Down and Out has thus had to take a back seat I'm afraid. I am now a government statistic, another victim of the global recession. Nevermind. I have been reassured that this is all part of lifes rich tapestry and no doubt I will ultimately look back on this set back as a positive experience, and one which I can learn from.

On the plus side I can look forward to: lie-ins everyday, watching The Wright Stuff/Working Lunch, the ability to spend all night boozing without worrying about work, browsing the internet, drinking endless cups of tea, catching up on unread or unfinished novels, spending more time in the kitchen honing my cookery skills, camping, going to the library and house sitting for friends or relatives. Some people I know have been doing these things for the past 6 years. Thank God for redundancy!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Best Show on TV? Mos Def!


BBC 2 have confirmed that they will be airing The Wire in its entirety as of 30th March (albeit at the ridiculous time of 11.20pm) as blogged by the Guardian. Great news! Not that it makes much difference to me since I have already purchased all 5 series box sets. This critically acclaimed drama, revolving around the drug culture in western Baltimore but also encompassing social, political and educational dimensions, is quite simply the finest television series I have ever watched. It perhaps even surpasses The Sopranos in terms of the quality and sophistication of the writing, which i did not think possible. If you only watch one TV show again, make sure it is The Wire.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Calm Down, Calm Down. Rafa hasn't lost it after all.


Saturday 14th March 2009. A swinging of the championship pendulum? Liverpool emerged from Old Trafford yesterday in glorious fashion, picking up all 3 points and breathing new life into this seasons title bid. Ludicrously, Alex Ferguson claimed his was the better side on the day and were unlucky not to have claimed at least a draw. The rest of us witnessed a display of maturity, discipline and ruthlessness that will hopefully give the Merseysiders the confidence to go on and pick up maximum points from their remaining fixtures. Against a side who had previously conceded just 5 goals at home all season, this was quite a statement. Steven Gerrard was in inspired form, adding weight to Zinedine Zidane's claim earlier in the week that he is currently the best midfielder in world football. Fernando Torres looks back to his best, having completely humiliated Nemanja Vidic, a player let's not forget who is being touted for Footballer of the Year. Sami Hyypia had Shrek Rooney in his back pocket all afternoon, barely breaking sweat in the process. But it was the underrated Brazilian, Fabio Aurelio, who picked up Man of the Match. Aurelio seems to quietly go about his business but always looks assured defensively, and is willing to get forward and supply pinpoint deliveries from the left side. Such was Liverpool's domination by the end of the match, even Dossena got in on the act in injury time! The mass exodus of Old Trafford following the Italian's lobbed goal was one of the more satisfying aspects of yesterdays events.


It is not unreasonable to suggest that in Gerrard andTorres, Liverpool possess the two finest footballers in Europe at present. Keeping these two fit will be key to the rest of the season. Manchester are still in a strong position and huge favourites to claim an 18th title. However, contrary to media hype, they are not the best side ever to have played the game. They have a potentially difficult run in including Arsenal and Aston Villa at home, a Manchester derby and away fixtures at Sunderland and relegation battlers Hull City. Liverpool showed yesterday that if you press them and set about them in a positive manner, United are far from unbeatable. As Gerrard noted in his post match interview, this result will hopefully give other teams the belief that they can also take points from Old Trafford. Though he will not admit it in public, the petulant, ungracious and utterly detestable Ferguson will be nervous. He knows his sides confidence will have been rattled by yesterdays result and performance. Is the pendulum swinging again towards Merseyside? Make a note in your diary......

Eggcellent


A friend of mine recently expressed his frustration at being unable to cook an edible poached egg. I must admit, poaching is probably the most difficult form of egg cookery to master. Most amateurs end up with something that resembles little more than hardened yolk with most of the egg white disintegrating in the water, which ends up looking like 'egg soup'. The secret (apart from using an egg poacher) is to protect the egg from the water. There is no white wine vinegar, whisks, swirling or any other convoluted method you may have read about in other recipe books. All you will require is a mug and some cling film.


To make the perfect poached egg, line the inside of a normal sized mug with a sheet of cling film. Break the egg into the cup then lift out the cling film and egg, scrunching it at the top so it forms a parcel. It should resemble something like a goldfish bag that you would see at a funfair. Place the egg parcel into a pan of simmering hot water, making sure that the scrunched part is hanging outside of the pan. Let this simmer for approximately 3-4 minutes. As ever, it will require your own judgement as to when the egg is cooked to your liking. When ready, lift the parcel out, unwrap and carefully slide onto a slice of buttered toast. This method avoids the sometimes rubbery texture you often find when using purpose made poacher. I guarantee there is no better way of cooking an egg.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

World Book Day

As today is World Book Day, I’d like to invite readers of DAOILAL what their favourite book is. Mine is the epic ‘The Worst Journey in the World’ by Apsley Cherry Garrard, which is a powerful account of Scott’s Antarctic Expedition between 1910-1913. Garrard, who was the youngest member of the expedition team, describes the extreme hardships the party had to endure over the three years, including of course Scott’s ultimately tragic Polar Journey. He also portrays the sheer natural beauty of this vast frozen continent, his various encounters with the native wildlife (including Killer Whales), and the difficulties in overcoming such isolation. At its heart, The Worst Journey, aided by Garrard’s modest style, is about human spirit and humbles the reader, forcing a reappraisal of the true meaning of courage and endurance.

As a sideline, I'm not one of the 42% of folk who have lied about reading Orwell's 1984. It is in my top 10, although not as good as Down and Out in Paris and London!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Hernandez's Haute Cuisine # 3

I think I raised the barrier to new heights this evening with a quite simply sublime madras curry. For this dish you will require:


1 chicken breast

1 onion (diced)

1 clove of garlic (crushed)

1 tin coconut milk

cumin powder

tumeric powder

fresh coriander

baby spinach leaves

ground fenugreek

curry paste

lime

rice to serve


First of all seal the chicken by frying in a little olive oil. Add the onion and cook until soft and slightly caramelised. Add the garlic and fry for a further minute (take care that the garlic does not burn). Next, coat this mixture with a tablespoon each of the cumin, tumeric and fenugreek. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Then add roughly a tablespoon of the curry paste. You can use whatever variety you wish - I like my curries fairly hot but not overpowering so I used Madras paste on this occasion. I should note that using paste may be seen by some as cheating, but since I am not a Michelin star chef (yet) I see no harm in taking this minor shortcut. Let this mixture simmer for around 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently. When almost done, add in the coriander and spinach leaves and simmer for another 2 minutes. It should then be ready to serve with some basmati or Thai fragrant rice, a wedge of lime, some naan bread and a nice cold glass of beer. Fantastic!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Sammy Wilson - Making Ruane Look Competent

Chekov has drawn my attention to the latest antics of Northern Ireland's Environment Minister, Sammy Wilson. Wilson, who memorably made an utter clart of himself on the Ali G Show, is and always has been a clown. Quite how he has risen through the political ranks to such an important role no-one knows. He still refuses to acknowledge that climate change is partly man made, and in relation to depleting fossil fuel reserves, observes "We have heard this story since the 1960s, and today fossil-fuel reserves are higher than they have ever been". Dear lord!

The fact that someone of such responsibility who is so out of touch with reality and who genuinely holds such beliefs is worrying for the people of Northern Ireland. Not so much in terms of the damage Wilson will inflict on Ulster's environment (he will hopefully be removed at the next reshuffle), but the fact that they elected him and his party in the first place.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Mourinho's Ghost Haunting Stamford Bridge

Guus Hiddink yesterday became Chelsea's 4th manager under Roman Abramovich, supposedly on a temporary basis. I do not believe for one second that he will leave at the end of the current campaign. Like Scolari, 62 year old Hiddink is regarded as 'one of the best managers in the world' (copyright Talksport presenters). But as Chelsea have found out with Scolari, that does not necesarily translate into guaranteed success in the Premier League. The increasingly impatient Russian owner is seemingly not content with merely winning trophies, as proved by his sacking of Jose Mourinho and even Avram Grant who came within one penalty kick of winning the Champions League. He obviously craves an attractive brand of football as well as trophies (the Champions League in particular). I would suggest he is measuring the level of 'attractiveness' he is striving for against Manchester United. The problem for him is that Alex Ferguson has built up a dynasty at Old Trafford, to the extent where winning and exciting football comes as second nature, over two decades. And yet Abramovich expects his managers to achieve this in 6 months. It appears that he is willing to work his way through virtually every supposedly top class manager in world football until he finds a perfect combination. It doesn't take a footballing expert to work out that this strategy is doomed to failure.

Hiddink may bring some measure of success to Chelsea, just as Mourinho did. He brought significant success at his last club, PSV Eindhoven, winning 3 titles and leading them to the semi finals of the Champions League in 2005. I suspect, however, that as long as Alex Ferguson remains at Manchester United, the Dutchman - like his predecesors - will also fail to satisfy Abramovich's desires and he too will be shown the exit door at the Stamford Bridge circus within a couple of years. Probably the only man who could is Ferguson himself. Any pretensions Chelsea had of becoming a force in world football died the day Mourinho was sacked.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Tasting Notes # 2

Sandeman Vau Vintage 1999

After the sumptious Taylors Vintage, as reviewed in Tasting Notes #1, I have since been eagerly awaiting my next port experience. That moment came last weekend when I was bequeathed this much sought after 10 year old. This vintage port is based on a fine blend of wines from the Quinta do Vau, Sandemans top rated vineyard in the Douro Valley. It is designed to be enjoyed young, but ages well in the bottle. Appearance wise it is thick and dark red. To the nose it is seriously rich, with a healthy mix of blackberries, dark chocolate, vanilla and faint whiffs of smoke. On the palate there is more richness, bittersweet, almost like a good quality dark chocolate, with yet more dark fruit and even hints of stewed rhubarb. The finish is long and lingers in the mouth with leathery notes building up to an encore of dry and oaky notes. This is one of the very best.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

A pair of quadruple whiskies and another pair of pints...

It is possibly one of the most quoted movies of all time. I know people who have memorised the entire script word for word. There are no special effects or fancy Computer Generated Images. And Hugh Grant isn't in it. Yet there can be no doubt that Withnail & I (Richard E Grant and Paul McGann) is one of the most endearing British movies ever released and a timeless cult classic. It is illegal to make it through university without having watched it at least once a term. The BBC reports that Uncle Monty's desolate cottage, in which our two favourite out of work actors 'accidentally' went on holiday, is on the market for a tempting £145,000. This has certainly provided food for thought for this particular blogger. I for one would gladly give up my current life to eek out the more rustic Cumbrian way of life so beautifully captured in Bruce Robinson's tale of two drunken thespians. Who hasn't thought about barging in on the Penrith Tearooms and demanding the finest wines available to humanity, or spending an evening at the Crow? Which student hasn't contemplated necking a bottle of lighter fluid when bereft of alcohol? Who hasn't considered fishing with a shotgun when desperate for "something's flesh"?


No matter how many times I watch this low budget classic, I never get bored of it. Anyway, I can't resist it - please allow me to quote some of my favourite scenes (courtesy of IMDB):

First Policeman: [Having just pulled Withnail driving the beaten up Jaguar drunk & speeding] Bit early in the morning for festivities isn't it sir? [He eyes the pile of empty bottles in the passenger seat]
Withnail: They're not mine, they belong to him [He gestures vainly to the back seat]
First Policeman: [Wrinkling his nose as the smell of Withnail's breath hits him] You're drunk Withnail: I assure you I'm not officer, I've only had a few ales
First Policeman: Out of the car please Sir. [Withnail does not move, the Policeman opens the door abruptly & Withnail spills out then stands against the car, propping himself up - the Policeman offers him a breath test]
First Policeman: Would you fill this bag please sir? [Withnail shakes his head]
First Policeman: Are you refusing to fill this bag?
Withnail: I most certainly am
First Policeman: I'm placing you under arrest.
Withnail: Don't be ridiculous I haven't done anything. Listen, my cousin's a QC
Policeman Two: [Who has been listening - screaming] GET IN THE BACK OF THE VAN!


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Monty: As a youth I used to weep in butcher's shops


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[approaching the pub]
Withnail: Right, here's the plan. First, we go in there and get wrecked, then we eat a pork pie, then we drop some Surmontil-50's each. That way we'll miss out on Monday and come up smiling Tuesday morning.


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Withnail: Right, you fucker, I'm going to do the washing up!
Marwood: No, no, you can't. It's impossible, I swear it. I've looked into it. Listen to me, listen to me! There are things in there, there's a tea-bag growing! You haven't slept in sixty hours, you're in no state to tackle it. Wait till the morning, we'll go in together.
Withnail: This IS the morning. Stand aside!
Marwood: You don't understand. I think there may be something alive.
Withnail: What do you mean? a rat?
Marwood: It's possible, it's possible.
Withnail: Then the fucker will rue the day!

Top Gear's Big Secret About To Be Revealed?

On Barack Obama's first proper day as US President, ITN's Evening News ran with the headline that an impressionable 15 year old schoolgirl, who was missing for about 36 hours, had been found safe and well in France having run off with a pervert. But it was BBC's 'Newsbeat' which has surely unearthed the big story, with the news that the identity of Top Gear's mysterious test driver 'The Stig' may at last have been revealed. He is reported to go by the name of Ben Collins, and while there are no unhelmeted photographs, it inevitably just a matter of time. The world awaits.

Monday, 12 January 2009

The Count Claims Another Victim in Thrilling Lakeside Final



Chekov has poetically described the joys of darts, and I for one am sad that we will have to wait another 51 weeks for the return of The Count, Wolfie, Bobby and co. The thud of the steel tips into that cork circle is surely one of the most satisfying sounds in sport (alongside Anna Kournikova’s forehand grunts).

This year’s tournament produced some memorable games, not least the Final, in which Ted Hankey almost contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It would have been painful to watch Hankey if O’Shea did clinch it but thankfully he stumbled across the finishing line. One thing that really comes across when watching these players is the simple humanity and realism of it all. There is no pretentiousness and the players, whilst obviously disappointed in defeat, appear happy to take a place in the audience and cheer on their pals.

My favourite moment this year was a live interview between Ray Stubbs and Ted Hankey, who had just won his quarter final. Hankey was providing us with a detailed account of the benefits to his game of relative sobriety and a new found ‘healthy’ lifestyle. Stubbs then enquired as to whether he was now away to get some rest and prepare himself for the semi final. “No” was Hankey’s response. “I’m away for a fag”! Superb.

Liverpool Stutter as Benitez Falls into Sir Alex's Trap

Liverpool extended their lead at the summit of the Premier League on Saturday with a 0-0 draw against Tony Pulis’s well organised Stoke outfit. But the feeling amongst supporters is one of deflation and yet another missed opportunity. Many will see this as two points dropped for the Merseysider’s, but in truth they were lucky to escape the Potteries with a point, such was the dismal nature of their performance. Indeed, this was one of their worst showings of the season – all the more strange following such an impressive display in their last league outing against Newcastle. Yet again Rafa Benitez demonstrated his unpredictability by selecting Dirk Kuyt as a lone striker and leaving both Torres and Keane on the bench. It has been blindingly obvious for the past two years that Kuyt is not suited to leading the line by himself. Sure enough the Reds failed to create anything of note in the first half. Benayoun, having recently vented his frustration at not being a first team regular, was dire. Frustratingly, it took Benitez until after the hour mark to introduce Torres, but even he could not find a way past a stubborn Stoke rearguard. Gerrard glanced the post in the dying minutes, but a defeat would have been harsh on Stoke. The Reds now face a difficult run of fixtures including a Merseyside derby and the visit of Chelsea to Anfield. I will be surprised if they remain top by the end of the month.

Aside from the match it was manager Rafa Benitez’s bizarre press conference on Friday which drew most of the focus at the weekend. His verbal attack on Alex Ferguson has apparently backfired already, with Manchester United easily brushing aside a hapless Chelsea side 3-0. Quite why he felt the need to get involved with Ferguson at this stage of the season, particularly in such a calculated and predetermined fashion (he produced a sheet of A4 at the press conference) is anybody’s guess. Some have pointed to Ferguson’s assertion a few weeks back that Liverpool do not have the experience to go on and win the title, but in responding to this Benitez has fallen into his trap. This is a classic Ferguson tactic – making a seemingly unremarkable observation through the press and waiting for his opponent’s response. There was absolutely no need to pick a fight. I suspect he was also trying to put Ferguson off balance ahead of a key game, but following yesterday’s result it has apparently had the opposite effect. Or maybe he is attempting to emulate Jose Mourinho’s famous ‘outbursts’ in trying to get under Ferguson’s skin. However Benitez’s mannerisms, personality and slightly fragmented English does not help him in such situations. As far as I am concerned he would have been better advised to retain the moral high-ground and just keep quiet.

Regardless of the spat, Manchester United’s recent good form looks ominous, whilst Liverpool retain an air of inconsistency. Sadly United are huge favourites now to go on and claim a 3rd successive title.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Tasting Notes - Taylors Late Bottled Vintage 2001


As my drinking habits mature, I am becoming quite fond of the occasional port. Although I am by no means a connoisseur (yet), I am aware that Taylor's are one of the biggest names in port production. They are, if you like, the 'Ferrari' of the port industry. I enjoyed this 2001 as a Boxing Day aperitif, prior to imbibing in the more serious post dinner business of Jack Daniels. Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I have since acquired a further bottle for my own casual consumption. It is of a deep red appearance, and slightly opaque. To the nose it is peppery and packed with fruity aromas, including rhubarb and perhaps a hint of elderberry. On the palate there is much more fruit, a hint of 'summer pudding' and dark, rich tannins infused with feint notes of licorice. The finish is bold and lasting, with a sweetness emerging and woody spices on the death. Highly recommended.

Shooting Stars

One of the best offerings on TV over the Christmas period was the Shooting Stars documentary. What a great show this was!
video
video

2009

I'd just like to wish all my readers a very Happy New Year. I hope all your wishes for the year come to fruition. Personally, I am aiming to ease back on the bottle and find some stability. My blog has suffered recently due to excessive drinking. A friend of mine once said "Listen son, keep some perspective. Don't enjoy the high's too much, and then the lows will be easier to deal with. Stay on the middle ground." I think I know what he means.

I'd invite all readers to share their new year resolutions.