Thursday, November 29, 2012


And while I'm in the mood, there's this:


I’m still officially out to lunch (writing, y'know) but this is too good and psycho to pass up.  A book has just been published, titled Frank Sinatra and Me: the Very Good Years by one Tony Consiglio, who was Sinatra’s old pal from the ‘hood.  That's the two of them above. Since Sinatra died in 1998 and Consiglio died in 2008, the book can’t exactly be thought of as hot news but there is some good stuff in there.

The “best” story features some anonymous “broad” who was “dating” Sinatra and expressed political views that differed from his.  She went off to her hotel room to change into something more comfortable, and Sinatra ordered Consiglio to go up to the room, and when she opened the door hit her in the face with a plate of spareribs, which he duly did, and then apologized profusely.

What a couple of pantywaists.  I guess you could understand why Consiglio did it: if you said no to Sinatra you might fear ending up in the choppy waters off of Hoboken.  It’s Sinatra who comes off as the complete tool.  He couldn’t even handle his own food fights.  Of course I might not have said this quite so glibly pre-1998.

At least Ava Gardner got back at him.  Here’s Lauren Bacall in her memoir By Myself.  “The day before I was to leave for London, Frank Sinatra called to ask if I’d mind carrying a coconut cake to Ava Gardner, who was in the film with Bogie  … On the morning of my departure from New York the cake was delivered to me in a large white box - unpackable, of course, so I took off with the coconut cake permanently attached to my hand to keep it from getting crushed. I stayed a night in London, and then Bogie was at the Rome airport to greet me. He took me and my cake box to the Excelsior Hotel and I asked him to tell Ava Gardner I had brought it. He told her - she did nothing about it - so two days later I decided to take it to her before it rotted. I didn’t know her and felt awkward about it -  who knows what happened between a man and a woman when it goes sour? I took the damn cake to the studio and knocked on her dressing room door. After I had identified myself, the door opened. I felt like an idiot standing there with the bloody box - there were assorted people in the room and I was introduced to none of them. I said ‘I brought this cake for you - Frank sent it to me in New York, he thought you’d like it.’  She couldn’t have cared less.”  Hurrah for Ava!

The picture above shows Gardner and Sinatra in, as they say, happier times with a quite different cake.  The picture below, just conceivably, shows Lauren Bacall holding said cakebox.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


And is that a monkey on the towel? Or something even more sinister?

Friday, November 9, 2012


So America has a new, or actually the same old, president, elected by very, very slightly more than fifty per cent of the country’s voters.  Democracy!  “The worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried,” - Winston Churchill.

 Shortly before the election Barak Obama was seen in public with a beer in his hand, not for the first time, but since it was in a sports bar in Orlando and he seems to have been surrounded by children you have to assume it was a carefully thought out photo op.  Also in the picture below it does look as though he might be lunging for somebody else’s beer, but surely that can’t be the case.

 Today’s politicians seek the popular touch whether it’s natural to them or not.  Ronald Reagan, embracing his Irish ancestry, seems to have been photographed in any number of bars, looking like he’s actually enjoying it, though he was, of course, an actor.

 But sometimes the populism can go too far.  Is there really any need for a president to be seen bottle of Bud in hand with his arm around some sweaty tattooed bare-chested guy?

I think we can safely say that FDR wouldn’t have done it.  Equally I think we can safely say that today’s electorate would never choose a man who smoked using a cigarette holder.

In Britain we tend to assume that most of our leaders are boozed up most of the time, and in the case of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher it was a pretty fair assumption.  Even Tony Blair admitted he used alcohol as a “prop.”  This was one of the few things that made him likeable.

The reason we like drinking politicians?  Because it makes us feel they’re just like us.  And that’s one of the reasons David Cameron is so thoroughly despised.  He’s regularly seen with a pint of beer in hand, trying and completely failing to establish that he’s one of the lads.  We know he doesn’t mean it.  We know he’s not one of us, and everyone would be much happier if he just admitted it.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I was recently sent a copy of Bee Wilson’s new book Consider The Fork.   (The publisher is Basic Books.)  The subtitle is “A History of How We Cook and Eat” although it might equally be called a “a curious history of kitchen technology.”

It’s a splendid volume, serious but by no means solemn, and full of the most surprising information.  Who knew for example that the Kenwood mixer was devised by someone named Ken Wood?  Or that the first food processor to be marketed in the USA  - the  Cuisinart - originally sold for the equivalent of $800?

There’s also a terrific section about the spit.  Wilson goes to visit Ivan Day (that's him above), a hands-on food historian, whose name crops up frequently in the wilder highlands of gastronomy, and who cooks the best roast Bee Wilson has ever tasted, using a spit and an open fire.  Day insists that spit roasting is a far from crude or primitive method of cooking, and the reader is left with the realization that most modern roasting is actually a form of baking:  true roasting involves fire not an oven.

Spits, of course, have to be turned, and we know that young boys were sometimes used to turn spits.  Wilson tells the story of John Macdonald (born 1741) who rose to the rank of footman, but was initially employed as cradle rocker, a job from which he was sacked at the age of 5, and he had to change career to become a spit turner.

Most of us know that dogs were sometimes used instead of boys, hence the now extinct breed of Turnspit. But who knew that geese were sometimes used too?  Dogs apparently were too smart and ran away.  And geese could go on for twelve hours at a time.

In the United States, that bastion of freedom and morality, animal rights protestors railed successfully against the use of dogs in kitchens, and so in the later 19th century Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA, was able to report that small black children were being used instead.

I don’t suppose a child can really be considered a kitchen gadget, but the book did get me thinking about which kitchen gadgets we really need and which we don’t.  I was given an electric lemon squeezer as a wedding present, and squeezing lemons really isn’t a task that requires much automation.  I believe I used it once.  And who really needs an electric pepper grinder, a pneumatic bottle opener, a motorized cocktail shaker, or even one of those acrylic bagel slicers?  (OK, OK, I know some people are bound to say these items are absolutely indispensible).

And then I started thinking about non-existent or fantasy inventions that we really could use – a foolproof oyster opener, a device for extracting salt when you’ve over salted, a device that absolutely guarantees you can crack an egg without ever breaking the yolk.  Ah, dream on, Geoff.

Anyway, life being as it is, Michael Kupperman’s latest ironically deranged cartoon strip features a parody of the new Bond film Skyfall and imagines a low-budget MI5 in which the old firm can no longer afford, say, an Aston Martin with ejector seats and instead comes up with this:

You can see and read the whole Kupperman thing here:

Some say the spork is one of the most significant inventions in the history of eating.  Bee Wilson devotes four pages to it.