25 December 2010

How the Turkey got Done


This Christmas Day, I felt not just the seasonal joy of family time, gift exchanges, and eggnog-induced warmth, I also basked in the heady highs of being the Man of the House.

Yay, verily.

For it was I who prepared the Turkey, and the Fixings, and (having given thanks to the turkey for his sacrifice), carried the Christmas Day lunch to the table.

Of course, some people perform this function regularly - even routinely. But I am not some people.

You need only ask around as far as my wife to discover how shit my domestic skills are.According to her, I rarely rate as a passable room-mate, let alone a 'man of the house' type husband. From weather-proofing windows to unplugging drains, from hanging curtains to washing dishes, my greatest natural talent is being in the way.

However, Christmas Eve, while visions of sugar plums danced in the heads of our young visitors, I was in the kitchen, sauteing spices and herbs, mixing up stuffing, and prepping the kitchen for a busy daybreak.

And Christmas morning that task continued anew. Armed with a family recipe emailed directly to my inbox from my father, I carried on a proud family tradition of serving up a juicy bird.

And I'm happy to report that the turkey came out crispy of skin and tender of flesh. The potatoes were mashed to a consistency not dissimilar to that of the lump-free gravy, and the peas and carrots served their supporting role admirably.

It might not seem like much, but Christmas is not about the big things. It's about the little ones. Or the medium-sized ones that seem big - like the preparation of lunch.


22 December 2010

Christmas History: Eggnog


A couple of years ago I unearthed and presented some fascinating and true tales of Christmas History. Subjects discovered were: snowballs, lumps of coal, mistletoe, and wrapping paper.

In the interests of scholastic thoroughness, I've decided to take another stroll down Christmas History Lane. This time to reveal the results of my inquiry into the origins of eggnog.

From the 12th Century (when Christmas really started getting going) onwards, there was no nog standard. It was made from whatever was handy: Potato nog in the northeast; wheatnog in central Europe; in the south a spicy variant made of berries to rice sprung up; and briefly, in the Nordic countries, a herring nog was bandied about. And a million regional variations between. It was total chaos.

Without one single benchmark for holiday drinks, there was no way for intercultural holiday festivities to proceed without offending guests, or embarrassing hosts. Or both.

Travellers would often return home with horror tales of the fallout from Welsh leeknog or the vomit-inducing Portuguese beefnog. Or fail to return home at all, after an untoward remark led to their unfortunate beheading.

Something needed to be done, not only to preserve the sanctity of the holidays, but also to bring people together in a danger-free environment.

Noted 18th Century Christmasologist Sir Ebenezer Paddington writes "How tragicke and disgust-inducing these scores of despickable Nogges. The citizenry cravethed a solitary Nogge, to Unite their Holidays."

Finally, a powerful cabal of Christmas heavyweights (consisting of church leaders, captains of industry, the North Pole Lobby, and carol-writers) convened for the Council of Mannheim in 1581. It was there that, after sampling and discarding a plethora of other options, they ultimately settled on an egg-based nog as the beverage of choice for the holiday season.

It was not the most radical (or tasty) choice, but it was the one least likely to disturb the more conservative factions of the society.

There was of course some difficulties enforcing the new regime, as people attempted to continue whipping up their local nog of choice. Fortunately, these uprisings were swiftly and brutally suppressed.

And eggnog has been the drink of choice for the holidays ever since.


20 December 2010

Wild Xmas Tunes!

There is no shortage of terrible Christmas music. In fact, most of it is objectively awful.

But I can't help playing it. Even the stuff I hate I feel compelled to listen to, in order to bring a little bonhomie to holiday proceedings. I'm a sucker for Christmas music, though I recently found myself wishing for some that didn't suck.

So thank the tiny Baby Jesus and his wee little manger for last year's Christmas in the Heart - a reworking of standard carols by "Holiday" Bob Dylan.

But after listening that album to death last yuletime, I recently found myself in the market for some tunes to refresh my selection. And I found them, all in one place. Wild Xmas with Bomarr; the perfect mix of eclectic, entertaining, and mildly inaccessible Christmas tunes.

There are five (count 'em: 5) mixes for download.

I'm particularly feeling 2006's 50 minute mix of "obscure and strange Christmas songs featuring Audio Two, Hasil Adkins, Crafty Ladies, Paska, Erlend Oye, Mojo Nixon, [and] George W Bush."

Although his brand new mix for 2010 features an electropop instrumental version of Good King Wenceslas that's sweeter than a candycane, a drum n' bass Lovely Sleigh Ride that's guaranteed to warm your foot mittens, and a bad-ass cut-and-paste song called Bionic Santa that tells the story of the Fat Guy's cybernetic rebuild post-terrible sleigh accident.

Pretty much solid gold, including country, dub, and beat-heavy orchestral standards, with plenty of maudlin anti-Christmas numbers and straight-up weirdness to keep your attention. So get on it, and annoy your relatives with some new and obscure Christmas tunes.

Also, the albums are all available for free download, but seeing how it's the season, don't be shy about leaving a few pence in Bomarr's Paypal stocking.


13 December 2010

The Warehouse in Brussels

When I arrived at The Warehouse Theatre in Brussels on Friday evening I was struck by the size of the stage. It's huge. Without any backdrop curtain the theatre is absurdly deep. And it's always been wide, I just didn't remember quite how wide. It's basically a square, with the audience stretching from corner to corner on two sides of the stage.

For a solo performance, perhaps not ideal. Especially as it was the exact opposite of most places I've performed: the tiny stage of an intimate pub setting.

When the sprawling dimensions of The Warehouse were put in front of my face on Friday evening, and I tried to figure out how Roman Around would work, I opted to play way far downstage and ignore the oodles of space behind me. And, in confining myself to the very front of the stage, I also lost the lateral space.

As a result, the show Friday night was intimate, as I had hoped. But the staging was all awkward and wrong for the space. I have no doubt that the audience on the periphery (the bulk of them) enjoyed my devestatingly handsome profile, but they got very little direct face-time.

And in trying to transplant the small staging of the show so suited to backroom corner stages to the massive expanse of the The Warehouse, I also confused myself a couple times. Overall, I felt good about the show, but I knew that it could be improved simply by giving up my security blanket of being RIGHT THERE in front of the audience.

So Saturday night I moved away from the audience, forgoing that forced intimacy, and just used the whole damn theatre.

And it worked, I naturally spent my time using up all of the space, pacing up and down and elaborating all of the physical elements previously confined to the various upstairs pub-theatres of London, and the Little Cave of Edinburgh's Hive. The historical re-enactments were broader and wider, and the moves between narrators physicalized with actual physical steps.

Turns out, I liked it big. And I learned that the connection with the audience doesn't necessarily require my being three to four feet away from them at all times.

The show also works in a more theatrical setting, with the elements of the show (and the performer) having space to play around. I'm not saying it's time to book an arena tour, only that the trip to Brussels - in addition to being a whole shed load of fun and frivolity - was also a forward leap in my understanding of the show.


10 December 2010

Portrait of a Tour Guide

There's a 'Portrait' of me in this week's Brussels Unlimited, a "weekly listings magazine highlighting the best of arts, entertainment, TV and film." I think I fall under the 'arts' and 'entertainment' categories.

It's written in the first person. I've never had anyone write about me in the first person before. I like.

Read the whole article here. Or go to a Belgian newsagents and pick yourself up a copy. That's what I'm going to do.


08 December 2010

The Xmas Tree Revolution

In a departure from our usual holiday habit of travelling to Canada or Italy for yuletimes, this year we're staying put.

In another switch-up, we're hosting Chiara's dad, his wife and their two kids. This means that it'll be a house full of Italians. And also, as hosts, it's up to us to Christmasfy the house.

To me, that means drinking an unhealthy amount of eggnog and decking halls to the tune of a song with the word 'christmas', 'bells' or 'santa' in the title.

But we couldn't get beyond the tree debate. While I hate senseless murder as much as the next upstanding citizen, I was struggling to imagine a Christmas household without a tree.

Fortunately my wife is a handy and resourceful genius, so we spent Saturday night together - not just decking halls, but making a Christmas tree out of cardboard, crayons, and some leftover fabric.

As you've no doubt already noticed. It's pretty sweet, our tree. Especially decked as it is with two small boxes of decorations received from my parents some years back.

Also, this ornament from my brother and sister, which always makes my throat a little lumpy around holiday time.

Our adorable and plucky little tree has quickly swung me over to the 'advocating for homemade Christmas trees' side of things.

As a bumper crop of holiday frivolity, we've got a little burglar Santa scaling our bookcase. He came to us from Chiara's mom awhile back, and though his foot's a little gluey, and it's not clear why he doesn't just come down the chimney, he's also part of our Christmas decoration family.

So, though it doesn't smell pine-scented in here, it's starting to feel a lot like Christmas here. There is also a string of lights. I didn't post a picture here, but trust me, we've got some lights encircling our sliding glass doors. So the decorations are all in place.

Just one thing left to get set:

I recently noticed that our only Christmas album is last year's Bob Dylan's Christmas in the Heart. It's also our only Bob Dylan album.

So, my request is for any other hot Christmas tunes/albums that won't make anyone want to smash the stereo. For example, The Chicharones 'Straight outta Noggin'. Or any of these I discovered just now.

And then, also, we could do with some more Bob Dylan. I've heard that before he put out that Christmas album he made some other music that is also pretty good.


04 December 2010

Pig's Ear Beer & Cider Fest

Judging by my frosty reception at the Pig's Ear Festival, the East London & City branch of CAMRA is quite used to having people attempting to gatecrash their events claiming to be journalists. Without any press accreditation, or an appointment through their press office, I may as well have been wearing a big sign saying “I am a dastardly beer weasel, willing to try any devious method of subterfuge to avoid paying the 3£ entrance fee to get into your Real Ale Festival.”

Instead, I was there legitimately, if a little last minute, to write a review for Hackney Hive.

The organisers, suspicious of my intentions, were begrudgingly cooperative, answering some of my questions, and permitting me to breathe the rarefied air of The Round Chapel on Powerscroft Road for ten or so minutes.

Despite my misgivings at being treated so disparagingly, it's hard to stay mad at CAMRA, a volunteer-led organization devoted to “champion[ing] drinkers' rights and protect[ing] local pubs as centres of community life.”

And the Pig's Ear Beer & Cider Festival (so named for Cockney rhyming slang for a bottle of beer) was well worth my journey up the street to The Round Chapel. The church hall was rammed full of casks and bottles (some imported from as far away as Australia and Sri Lanka). The focus was a wide array of dark winter beers, though with such a carefully curated range there was surely a beer that to suit your unique tastes, even though you would likely have had to sample a whole lot to find your match. Indeed the diverse crowd of beer enthusiasts seemed well-absorbed in their quest.

In addition to the beers, ciders and selection of curries to soak up the booze, there was novelty drinking t-shirts, flasks and collectible mugs to check that raging beer enthusiast off your Christmas list.

And doing your browsing with a pint in hand is a way better way to get your shopping done than the faux-holiday madness of Oxford Circus.

Too bad for you the Festival finished last night. Good news for you, the Chatsworth Road Sunday Market is on tomorrow. That's where I'll be.