Sunday, 25 February 2007

The Boy Done Good

Lovely Cristiano Ronaldo scored a Giggs-style goal in the 88th minute. (As in, reminscent of Giggsie's goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final in 1999).

Awesome. It was lovely to see Alex Ferguson dancing like a little kid on the touchline.

I remember being in Manchester the night we won the Treble. Could that ever happen again?

Crumbs...what if?

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Because I'm in the mood for salsa...

More terrific Youtube clips:

The best salsa dancers in the world - salsa champions Rafael and Janet.

(who are mesmerizing to watch in real life)

Rafael and Osbanis in Russia with 2 lucky girls.

Cubamemucho potpourri of Cuban salsa Includes casino style, rumba and rueda de casino. Really good camerawork for a hand-held, single track shot.

Que no hay nada mas rico que el son cubano...

Rumberos in Havana

Rafael and Janet rumba basics lesson - learn from the best!

A team of scientists and engineers from Cuba dance Rueda de Casino (to Ven, Ven, Ven by Los Van Van). Sigh. I wish any rueda team I'd ever danced with could look that good!

Los Van Van in London 2007

Concert Review from This Is London.

Familiar faces from the London salsa scene crowded the dance floor at the Hammersmith Palais, mojitos in hand, to bask in the seething energy, timba and songo rhythms of the best dance band in the world - Los Van Van!

It was the same lineup of vocalists that we'd seen two years ago - Mayito, Lele, Yeni and Roberto. It's a terrific setup which allows them to spend over ten minutes on each song, with each singer taking turns to solo, and captivate the audience during the improvised montuno section. Without dropping of exhaustion that is!

Roberto opened the set with a sizzling version of Chapeando, using the montuno to ask the audience - who here speaks Spanish? (massive cheer), and the usual shouts out to the various latino populations.

I cheered for the Mexicans but as usual we're hardly present...:-(

Los Van Van are the only dance band I've seen who command a performance like a rock band, with all the hand-waving and the audience participation on the popular songs. Some very hot Cuban girls stage-jumped to dance with Mayito and Roberto. During Somos Cubanos Mayito invited a rumbero (rumba dancer) to join him for an impromptu performance of guaguanco.


We were close to the front, right in the throng of shaking shoulders. It was terrific to see the performers up close. I'd never noticed how cute and sweet Yeni is (their female vocalist) - and what an incredible sonera. In live performance her singing has a breath-taking confidence and especially in the improvised section where she asked all the girls - Ain't it true that all men are a pain? And what do you do with a rubbishy one? Hey, I told mine to get out...I did! Wrecked his bike, yeh! And told that loser to catch the bus. Well what was I going to do? Jeez. What idiots men can be. (that's a somewhat cleaned up, free translation). Yeni has this really cheeky way of grinning and shimmying her shoulders. She's cool.

Lele is also cute and cheeky, joking with the audience as he sings. Mayito and Roberto have total control of an audience when they take the solo. Well, they do get all the best tunes.

Awesome night. Too bad we have to wait two more years to see them again!

Set includes solid favourites - Chapeando, Soy Todo, Tim Pop Con Birdland, Te Pone La Cabeza Mala, Somos Cubanos.

They are still on tour in Europe. Looks like an exhausting schedule!

Los Van Van website

Agua live performance (professional video)

Youtube fan video of Los Van Van live in EuroDisney 200, performing Soy Todo (Ay Dios Amparame).

Chapeando video

Thank you for coming to London, Van Van! WE LOVE YOU!!!!!

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Top 10...Chocolate Snack Bars

When I was a kid, child, young person, whatever is the preferred terminology, I used to take a daily walk with my best friend Eoin. We'd go down to the local village shops (Didsbury in Manchester) and buy a chocolate bar at the newsagents, then walk home via some circuitous route so that we had plenty of time to discuss the latest developments with Man United, Blake's 7, Doctor Who and Dallas.

Eoin would stick with the same bar for literally weeks on end. I was the flibbety-gibbet who'd vacillate between a subset of favourites. ('Vacillate' means uming and ahhing, not being able to decide).

We would sometimes get into heated debates about which was better, Twix or Caramel?

These days I'm too scared of sugar and fat now to dare eat one of these every day, or even once a month. This is one of the surprising things that happens when you grow older. Something that you loved as a child actually scares you. It's pathetic.

Can't stop me dreaming though.

Here's the list. It's not in order, okay? That would take just too much work.

1. Mars Bar (Mars)
There really is nothing like the sugar rush you get from one of these. Fresh and in tip-top condition, a Mars Bar is a fudgy delight of maltiness, caramel and thick chocolate. The flavours and textures melt together in a wholly intoxicating way. The problem is that to the educated palate, they are so variable. Batch control: we'll return to this problem again and again. That stuff about putting them in the fridge is a red herring. Milk chocolate - even the Mars kind -melts at close to body temperature. The ideal is to have it melt on your tongue. If you are gulping down chunks of hard chocolate, you have been ripped off, enjoyment-wise.

2. Dipped Flake (Cadbury)
How such an obvious innovation came along so late in the day, I'll never understand. The clues were there - the Galaxy Ripple! Or maybe the patent ran out on the Galaxy Ripple. Ahhh. Only just thought of that.
(a 'patent' is something you use to protect an invention)
The precursor to this, of course, is the Cadbury's Twirl. Cadbury are very good at textured chocolate. By increasing the surface area of the chocolate, they increase your exposure to the flavour. The Dipped Flake stops the chocolate crumb from being wasted.

3. Twix (Mars)
Awesomely good when the batch is good. Beware of batch variability in anything with a biscuit base. When the shortcake is just right, these are perfect. The caramel can vary too, from butterscotchy yumminess to bland sweetness.

4. Caramel (Cadbury)
One of the most reliable performers. Always squidgy, caramely and chocolately. They've really got the ratio of chocolate-to-caramel right here. Not so in the Caramel Egg, where the density of the caramel reveals it's thinness. Stick to the bar.

5. Star Bar (Cadbury)
Very sweet and peanut-buttery. So sticky that it's hard to talk when you are eating one, or even shortly afterwards, on account of your jaws being glued together. Not ideal in warm weather, when the caramel coating of the peanut butter centre starts to melt. Americans have lots of peanut butter bars, but we don't. The Star Bar is a terrific product in this category but it's not up there with the...

6. Nutrageous (Reeses - Hershey)
You can buy these in some shops, particularly if your town is home to lots of Americans, like Oxford. These are unbelievable. Peanut butter with chunks of roasted peanuts, caramel and thick chocolate. It's Hersheys chocolate, which is less milky than Mars or Cadbury. The peanut butter is slightly salty, unlike with the Star Bar. Altogether less sweet - more of a grown-up bar.

7. Kit-Kat Chunky (Nestle)
Boo Nestle for encouraging mothers in the developing world to buy formula milk instead
of breast-feeding. But the Chunky Kit-Kat does marry two great concepts - the chocolate of a Yorkie bar with the wafer crunch of a Kit-Kat.

8. Double Decker (Cadbury)
Another variable one. The nougat can be too chewy, or too soft. The crunchy bit is best when the batch is very fresh. Delicious when they get the batch right.

9. Snickers (Mars)
Stick to the plain kind, with peanuts and nougat. Avoid the peanut-butter or nougat-free variations, and especially the bizarro ones with crispy bits. An acceptable meal substitute if you are find yourself somehow unable to buy sushi or fresh fruit and are starving hungry. Representatives from 3 major food groups.

10. Frys Turkish Delight
Not the best turkish delight, by a long way. (Perfectly good and cheap turkish delight is Marks and Spencers, but eat it quickly and all on the same day while it's still juicy soft.) But still deliciously rose-scented and yummy. For some reason, lots of kids don't like Turkish Delight. I never understood this as a child. That, for me, was the principle appeal of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" - the turkish delight-eating scene. Turkish Delight, therefore, I quickly learned was a great bar to choose if you don't want to share.

Like a bite of my Turkish Delight? What, you don't? Okay then. Why thank-you, I'd love a piece of your Caramel...

D'ya see?

Top 10...

Since I'm hoping to be a children's author, I thought I should write the occasional blog post which won't actually bring tears of boredom to the eyes of a child reader.

As a kid, one of my favourite games was 'Top 10 - whatever'.

(Well heck, this is still one of my favourite subjects of conversation but you should see what it's like to be an adult, they MAKE you talk about boring grown-up stuff even if you don't want to, even when the people actually don't have a clue what they are talking about, sometimes, honestly, I could cry with the inanity of it all.)

I hope to be covering important subjects such as:

Top 10 Doctor Who episodes
Top 10 Disney Theme Park Rides
Top 10 Chocolate Bars
Top 10 Puddings
Top 10 Comic Books
Top 10 Kids Books
Top 10 Cartoon TV Shows
Top 10 Duck Comics
Top 10 Disney movies

There's just so much material! And these are crucial questions for debate.

Waiting, waiting, waiting-waiting-waiting

If you've seen the DVD of 'Finding Nemo', you'll understand the title.

Agent Cox reports that the publishers have finally agreed on the last-wafer-thin-mint of a clause he wanted for the book contract. We should be signing next week.

Meanwhile, my editor and I are still whupping the ms into shape.

Blogs I Would Like To Read

This is a wishlist. I occasionally search for blogs like this. Still looking.

1. Diary of a Molecular Biologist
I miss being one. I would love to live through some researcher's life, vicariously. But it would have to be honest! I'd want all the details about the science, all the angst and the lab politics and drama, the whole bit. Realistically, no-one has the time to do this well, or honestly.

2. The Real Life Of A Literary Agent
Yeah, yeah, all you agents with your blogs. No-one gives away the really interesting stuff. That's what I want to read.

3. Entrepreneur Blog
I am full of admiration for young entrepreneurs, especially the type who didn't get their start from a Trust Fund. (I've got nothing against the Trust Fund Kids; hey, they are putting the cash to good use, but they aren't quite taking the same risks as the zero-starters). These people are KEY to our economic future, well-being; they are the bees-knees.
Actually I have a couple of candidates here.

I'll follow them for a bit and see which one is more fun to read.

4. A decent blog written from somewhere in Southern Mexico.
I've got my eye on a couple, but they are written by gringos and not updated all that often. Nothing against gringos, but they are living the ex-pat life, which does not interest me.

Hey, if anyone hears anything...

Blogs I Read

Okay, here's a list of the blogs I regularly read:

1. Miss Snark
Yay Snarky! I worked out who she is, you know. No, really, I did. I'm not telling though. The Snark does her best work undercover.
2. Peter Cox
Well, he is my agent. :-)
3. Richard Herring - Warming Up
The diary of a successful stand-up comedian/writer. Richard and I went to the same college, although we never spoke, so far as I know. He spent little time there. He told me, years ago, that he hated the college. I corresponded with him by email briefly during the nineties. He makes himself write something everyday; admirable pursuit.
4. MaryD
MaryD is the mother of my best friend-when-we-were-kids. I remember the cakes she used to make to this day. She did lovely vanilla Victoria sponges iced with orange and lemon buttercream. Then there was this unbelievable chocolate hazelnut cake filled with whipped cream, the first baking of which has a place of honour in my memories. I'm willing to forget a whole year of biochemistry to make the necessary space for the details in my crowded memory.
MaryD now lives in a village in Co. Galway and uses her brilliance as a journalist to paint a fascinating view of aspects of life in a rural Ireland.

Right, now for blogs I'd like to read.

Bloggers need opinions

The word on the street is that you shouldn't keep a blog which is just about the everyday trivialities of life.

(I say the street; obviously I mean some saddo online community where I spend more time than the street, in fact although I regularly walk to and from nearby Summertown, I've yet to have a conversation with a passer-by about blogging, not yet anyway but it could happen.)

No - apparently to be blogworthy you need to post interesting snippets and comment on World Affairs and come over all polemical, like.

Frankly I prefer the 'what-I-did-today' type, but you have to either know the person, it must be well-written, or they must have a reaaallly interesting life, or be blogging about something in which you have a professional or hobbyist interest.

So, I'm going to try a bit harder. Not going for being another Guido Fawkes or anything. But I'll try to post some stuff that isn't about, yanno, me.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Van Van viene ahora, el sol natural...

I am so excited about the Cuban dance band, Los Van Van concert this at the Hammersmith Palais this Friday!

Two years ago we went to see them in the Coronet. It was my first proper outing since breaking my leg. Our seats were up in the gods, and I was still on crutches. Something about the music and energy that night broke through to me on a whole different level. It was like a narcotic high - and I actually knew what one of those was by then, having spent two days on opiates whilst in hospital.

Except it was even better. The talent and energy couldn't be confined to the stage. It rippled through the largely latino audience. It charged the atmosphere with complex rhythms that interweaved between heartbeats and brain waves.

This time, the tickets are standing room only.

That's fine. Who needs a seat when you can dance?

Sunday, 18 February 2007

That Makes Two

I once admitted to a group of fellow school governors at a conference that I watched Big Brother - compulsively. The reaction was a mixture of amusement and surprise, perhaps that I'd dared admit to something so venial. Or perhaps in sympathy.

Hey, I'm not proud of it.

Two other people have slapped my wrist for the same. The first was a Jewish girlfriend of mine, who admitted surprise that I, as a Catholic, should watch such a show. The other was my literary agent, who thought it a transgression in what he'd taken for my intelligence.


See now, this just makes me want to watch it all the more. For the love of God, take the show off the air, Channel 4!