Saturday, 25 April 2009

Marco: The Making of Marco Pierre White, Sharpest Chef in History - Charles Hennessy

Advantages: A great read. Say no more!

Disadvantages: None

You get your moneys worth here! 

This excellent book is a compelling read. It is of course a biography, and it gives us all we should know in such a book, but it is written in such a clever way that Marco Pierre White remains the enigma that he is - his peculiar way is not removed by the writer's words. 

For those who don't know, Marco Pierre White is one of the world's top chefs. Like many who make it to the top, it is debateable whether or not they have got to the top for their actual talent or on their particular brand of charisma - or perhaps it might be fitting to call this charisma a part acted out on life's stage?? Marco Pierre White displays personal traits, when he is in the public eye, which exude a certain commanding charisma, he calmly, but firmly when necessary, lets everyone around him know who is in charge. 

I have never tasted his food. If I had the opportunity, I doubt I would say the right thing. I know my palate is just not sophisticated enough. I will never be in a position to taste his food. I am not a wannabe chef, so I am not really interested in his cooking style. My only experience (till reading this book) of Marco Pierre White was through the box in the corner of the room. He is nothing but a character on the television to me. He has entertained me with his way of being, so I see him as an entertainer - a television personality. He is almost a cartoon character, almost a parody of a working class boy who has attained a faux-posh voice so that he can get on in life. 

That is what happened. Marco Pierre White grew up on a Leeds housing estate, decided somewhere along the line that he wanted to be a top chef, and did just that. I don't believe that he had the put-on posh voice back in the days of his Yorkshire childhood, a childhood he is evidently very fond of, and this comes through in his cooking. 

So we get to the book. To paraphrase Marco Pierre White, it will take you on a journey, it will lead you down a path. Naturally it starts with a scene from Marco's childhood, involving a more sophisticated version of scrumping, except this doesn't involve an orchard and orchard-keeper. This involves game and the local Earl. Immediately we get to see where Marco's love of hunting and food began. 

The obvious path of the book is through his formative years. Clearly a 'mummy's boy'. This has stayed with him all his life. His love of the foods of childhood are clearly linked to times spent with his mother in his youngest years. 

It is clear if you have seen Marco Pierre White that he is driven and self-motivated. This shines through in the inevitable. 'leaving home' chapter. From here the book follows through the struggle. or perhaps not so much a struggle but a path of inevitability that the motivated understand lies ahead of them. 

Whether that path involved the want to become a top chef, or the want, need or desire to become a fussy and intricately observant businessman, you will decide when you read this book. 

And of course Marco Pierre White has a personal life, romances, marriage, children, ups and downs, falling-outs and makings-up. Marco Pierre White doesn't just experience these like the rest of us, he deals with them. He faces everything head on. Marco has big disagreements with people - he is bound to, he has an ego as do his friends, enemies and business partners. He is also very forgiving and generous - or is that political? Is it Machiavellian? 

This book has everything you would want from a biography - and more! The book is sprinkled throughout with separate sections of quote, anecdote and recall from those who are close, or have been close to Marco. Words of warmth towards this man seem to be at the fore. There is also an end section of recipes, attempt them at your peril! 

Books about Marco Pierre White tend to go out of print quickly, as a consequence they keep their second hand value. If you can find a copy of this expect to pay about £16 to £20.

The Making of Marco Pierre White Charles Hennessy

Summary: This is a wonderfully entertaining read, pricey 2nd hand, but well worth it.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Golden Wonderful News - Golden Wonder Crisps

Advantages: These are the God of crisps

Disadvantages: Don't seem to be available outwith Scotland

Later in this review you will see my very simple, but tasty crisp recipe, involving Golden Wonder crisps. I love crisps. I seriously could live on these for the rest of my life. OK a health professional might have something to say about that. Now lets get back to Golden Wonder. I haven't seen these in years. I have missed them so badly. I have had to put up with supermarkets' inferior, although cheaper, own brands, and to get my fix of 'quality' Cheese and Onion I have had to go with Walkers cheese and onion in BLUE packets. BLUE, BLUE what is that all about. Everyone knows that the green packet means cheese and onion and the blue packet is for Salt and Vinegar. 
Now a recent trip to Glasgow brought me a certain type of pleasure unfelt for years. Picture if you will, the beauty of Kelvingrove Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it is packed with happy smiley people and the ice cream vans are raking it in... and I fancy an ice cream, so I head towards one of the vans. 
And through the window of the van I see something comparable to a mirage in the desert. It looks like... like... something familiar... a blue box with a familiar phrase on it GOLd.. I get a little closer GOLDEN.... something, and I get closer and see the words GOLDEN WONDER and because of the blue box I subconsciously see the words Salt and Vinegar. OMG it is a box of Golden Wonder Salt and Vinegar crisps. And I hope and pray as I move to the front of the ice cream van. And looking through the glass with its stick on pictures of Fabs and Cornettoes, I see The Green Box. the one with 'Cheese and Onion' (or was it Cheese 'n' Onion). 

I spent the next ten minutes walking through Kelvingrove park in ecstasy. Yes I know it is a sad thing to say. I was simultaneously eating a pack of salt and vinegar and a pack of cheese and onion. 

Which brings me neatly to my recipe: 

Get a huge bowl. 
A good DVD 
Bottles of Irn Bru (Barr's only, in a 'gless boatle' if possible) 
an equal amount of Golden Wonder cheese and onion crisps and Golden Wonder salt and vinegar crisps. 
Pour all the crisps into the bowl, give them a wee swirl and then eat them two at a time. 
Hopefully you will get one cheese and onion and one salt and vinegar crisp, which will give you a rather odd but pleasing flavour in the mouth not disimilar to picked onion. 

Don't forget to watch the DVD. 

Welcome back Golden Wonder

Summary: The most delicious crisps known to mankind

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Bletchley Park

Advantages: Top notch heritage site with a big spread of interest.

Disadvantages: Food in the restaurant is WAY overpriced

This has got to be one of the best days out in Britain, but bring a picnic! 
A quick overview of Bletchley Park for those that are unfamiliar: 
Bletchley Park refers to the site where The Allies decrypted Axis intelligence during the Second World War. It is also the site where, it is claimed the first computer to be invented, was used to decrypt these messages. 
What went on at this site, was materially destroyed after the war, in order that no-one would ever find out how the Allies managed to be one step ahead. What remained in peoples heads remained top secret, until the 1970s.
It would be fair to say that this heritage site could only appeal to the military enthusiast and computer buff and there is plenty here to satisfy that, including a painstakingly rebuilt Colossus computer. 
There is much much more, and importantly it all relates to the 1940s, so plenty here for the Home Front enthusiast. The military stuff is mainly centred around the huts. 
For those who like country houses, the mansion thankfully still remains. there is an excellent site dedicated to model railway. There is a large collection of 1940s dometic artefacts and advertisements etc across two sites, one of these dedicated more to toys and childhood. 
There is a 1940s style 'post office', although to be honest and fair to visitors, it is actually a shop selling First Day Covers and philatelic items. Great if you are into stamps, not so great when the 'tour' of the shop is a thinly disguised attempt at getting you to buy covers - this really put me off. 
There is also a 1940s style 'garage' complete with vintage cars, a maritime section... 
There really is a lot to see here. 
The entrance fee is relatively inexpensive for the amount you get to see. AND once you have bought your ticket it lasts the whole year from that date, although some special events are excluded. 
This is just as well because one day doesn't start to cover the amount of time you will need to take your time and enjoy all that is here. 
Only one real downside: one of the huts is now a restaurant. The food is overpriced. If you get hungry, be prepared to spend to satisfy this, and if you come with a family your wallet is going to empty very quickly when feeding time comes. Be prepared! Bring your own picnic, the grounds are beautiful.

Summary: An absolutely cracking day out. Just bring your own picnic

The Stars' Tennis Balls - Stephen Fry

Kingdom by nickpix2009

Advantages: Fry keeps the pace up throughout

Disadvantages: A rather flat ending, but I still enjoyed the book

I once never, ever thought I could like Stephen Fry and his work. His very essence reeks of everything I am not and never will be, and essentially his works give off an essence de Fry as well. 
But I do like Fry and most things that he does, but only recently. 
Now what has turned me onto Fry? 
A bad habit of mine is to have the telly on while I am reading - my concentration is in the book, but a little part of my mind is keeping an ear on the telly. So, it was due to this part concentration that I never really got QI - whilst my eyes were taking in "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen" or whatever I was reading, Stephen Fry would be chastising Alan Davies for getting the right answer wrong! I just didn't get it (yes I thought I knew the answers as well), then this klaxon would come up and big white letters would flash behind Alan Davies. You see I enjoy quiz programmes, but QI seemed to be absurd. Then one day a friend of mine was raving about QI and to cut a long story short I gave an episode a go, sans book. I was totally taken by the format of the show, but most of all Fry's wit and intelligence. So a few books down the line, I find myself 'reviewing' a Stephen fry book. 
I won't give any plot away, except to say the interaction of the characters involve class identity, religion, politics, ethics, moral issues, jealousy, envy, minor revenge, false imprisonment, mental health issues, intrigue, government, corporate wheeling and dealing, major revenge, the security services, terrorist organisations and in my mind a rather disappointing end. However, it is still an intriguing book and should keep you turning the pages. 
So thanks to actually taking the time to concentrate on a programme of QI, and then reading some of Fry's books, I think I am nearly a fan. 
What I like most about Fry though, is that despite him having a "brain the size of (insert English County here)", his work is not written to pander to the intelligentia. There are no big words or overly clever plot devices. His books are a joy to read.

Summary: Typically Fry

Image by Flickr user nickpix2009 under the Creative Commons scheme

Wimpy are no wimps when it comes to satisfaction

Advantages: A hot plated meal with polite service, reasonably priced

Disadvantages: None really

I like Wimpy! 
I like being able to go in and sit down and browse their menu at leisure, in the full knowledge that I am going to order the same thing as I did last time. Frankfurter in a Bun with chips and a glass of coke. Their frankfurter is somewhat odd in that it is a sausage which manages to curl its way around the inner perimeter of the bun (or as we used to call it in the UK a 'roll'). So, I call it a 'bendyburger' because the sausage is bent, well not so much bent as they cut little slits in the sausage so that it will bend. 
the 'bendyburger also has a slice of (processed?) cheese in it, tomato ketchup and very finely chopped onions. 
Then the chips - they are always hot, soft on the inside and crisp on the outside and a delicious blonde colour. 
And the coke, well coke is coke. They dont fill half your glass with ice though. Service is always good in Wimpys. It is not as cheap as Mcdonalds and maybe a little dearer than BK, but the food is nicer, you are not rushed, and sometimes it is nice to have someone serve you.

Summary: Go there for a warm satisfying no frills lunch

A great range of affordable clothes (H&M)

escalator by slimmer_jimmer

Advantages: The range is good, it is ever changing. Staff are courteous.

Disadvantages: Sizing of clothes wildly out at times.

I like H&M. What is it I like? 
It is their range of clothes. 
Ever changing, up to date and strangely sometimes, not so up to date. 
They have a great selection of accessories and, most of all the clothes and accesories look good AND are not over-priced. Admittedly the quality is not top-notch and the clothes aren't as hard wearing, but common sense says you should take care of clothes anyway. The stores I have been in have been big, bright and airy. The staff have ALWAYS been polite and friendly. I don't know if this is a happy co-incidence or the recruiters are switched on, but I do find in general when a store employs younger people (and H&M it would seem generally do), many don't have the life experience to deal with your enquiry, in a mature fashion. This isn't meant to be some sort of ageist rant, just an observation. But it seems in this respect that H&M CAN get the staff, so to speak.

Summary: Good looking affordable fashion for all ages

Image by Flickr user slimmer_jimmer under the Creative Commons scheme

Big Jaffa Cake in court! (Mc Vities Jaffa Cakes)

Advantages: They are a cake - Even giants like them.

Disadvantages: They are NOT a biscuit.

I can't go past a box of Jaffa cakes without eating one, then I will go back and eat another, then I might go completely out of my way, as I traverse around the house of an afternoon, just so as I can help myself to another. 
And remember they ARE a cake, not a biscuit, as Mcvities had to prove in court. 
When they went to court, Under UK law, no VAT was charged on biscuits and cakes -- they are "zero rated" (and this is probably still the case). However, chocolate covered biscuits ARE charged VAT. Although they are the same size and shape as biscuits, McVities argued that the Jaffa cake IS a cake. The criteria for differentiating between a cake and a biscuit is that biscuits would normally be expected to go soft when stale, whereas cakes would normally be expected to go hard. And this indeed was proven to be the case and that Jaffa cakes were indeed just miniature cakes. 
But this is my favourite bit of this story: 
In defending its classification of Jaffa Cakes as cakes, McVities produced a giant Jaffa Cake to illustrate that its Jaffa Cakes were simply miniature cakes. 

How I would love to have seen that Giant Jaffa Cake! 

Perhaps the Jaffa cake people might do special BIG Jaffa Cakes just for Christmas.

Summary: Jaffa cakes are good for your soul

Image by Flickr user kevin (iapetus), used under the creative commons scheme

Crabbit old men make me laugh Still Game

Advantages: Hilarious. Portrays the Glaswegian sense of humour without resorting to sentimentality!

Disadvantages: Might not appeal to an audience brought up on "typically English" BBC sitcom.

Anyone outwith Scotland might have blinked and missed this when originally aired. 

Sadly for the non-Brit watching British Sitcom, the broadcasters. especially the BBC, have painted us Brits as Middle Class, Middle-Aged and Middle-English in attitude and accent. 

Till now! 

Enter Jack and Victor! 

Old Aged, Working Class and Scottish! And crabbit as well. 

Not only Scottish, but Glaswegian and with that snappy, sometimes cruel, sense of humour to match. A comparison might be Last of the Summer Wine, for Jack and Victor have some doddery old mates to complement their quips. Unlike Last of the Summer Wine, Jack and Victor use real swear words. 

Jack and Victor's world is the multi-storey block of flats, dealing with neds, witty banter with the local publican and their friendship with the Asian shopkeeper Navid, played by Sanjeev Kohli . It is about the retired working class who don't have a tidy sum put away to retire to the country, but have to make do with a council estate. Their wives are departed, their kids live abroad and it would be all too easy to imagine the highlight of their day is a Tunnock's tea cake or a trip to the bookie's. It would also be easy to imagine their lives to be dull. 

Hell no! 

Jack and Victor get into scrapes, that would shame a young ne'er-do-well. 

This is an antidote to the Genre that included "My Family", "2point4 Children" and "The Good Life" that we have endured for years. 

And there is a saying I believe they use in Scotland that applies to Still Game... 

Funny as ****!

Summary: Essential viewing

Holds it resale value! Canon Powershot A640

Advantages: Great manual control for a compact, 10 megpixels, fold out screen

Disadvantages: Relatively heavy. Noisy after 400 ISO, but hey, it IS a compact.

This camera holds its resale value! Great for when you want to move up. This camera has been known to sell second-hand at MORE than its retail value! These are well sought after. So if you can find a dealer who is still selling them at their retail value, well done to you. Otherwise you are looking at a second hand one from This compact is heavy, which is mainly down to the fact that it takes four batteries, which I personally think is a distinct advantage. Why? Simply because your batteries in all likelihood, won't die on you at that crucial press of the shutter. The telephoto reach is good and gets even better with the digital zoom, although as can be expected image quality begins to degrade - but not much. Noise issues? Well it is a compact, so don't expect BIG noise free prints. I personally persevere at squeezing as much as I can out of this camera at ISO80, and with attention paid to exposure, I do well at keeping noise low, but as far as compacts go the noise levels are reasonably well under control. Why this camera is still sought after is because of the manual control it gives for a compact. Manual focusing on a compact! WOW! It is great, but not perfect. This comes into its own when there isn't enough light for the autofocus to work. It relies on you being able to see the magnified image in the view finder screen. And this brings me neatly to the view finder screen which folds out and around if you wish. This is great for taking images in really awkward places and angles. E.G. you can lay your camera on the ground to look up at a building. In normal circumstances you wont get your head down to the viewfinder, but with the fold out screen you can compose the shot! Excellent! Officially you can't take RAW images with camera - unofficially you can but you need a software hack which Canon have NOT endorsed.

Summary: A fantastic, feature packed compact. get one if you can!

Image from Flickr user acroamatic Used under creative commons sceme

Michel Auer Collectors Guide to Antique Cameras 

In French and English

Includes:- 3 volumes, a price guide supplement and carboard surround for keeping the three volumes in one place. Not paginated, but there must be at least 150 pages to each volume - each item is numbered though. Volume 3 holds the index, part of which...


more info here

The Association of Photographers Fifteenth Awards book 

The Awards The Association of Photographers Fifteenth Awards Excellent book for any photographer. PACKED with some stunning work. You should be influenced by the photos included here... more info here.


Dixons World Of Photography Black And White Printing

Dixons World Of Photography Black And White Printing For anyone still interested in learning traditional photography techniques this book has become a sought after classic. The whole series of Dixons World Of Photography have been (and still are) regarded as the keystones of learning ... more info here

White Women Helmut Newton

White Women Helmut Newton Large hardcover book in dustjacket. A collection of images of Helmut Newton's. Large, approx 9 by 12 inches, over 110 pages. The book consists mainly of images with some German text. Publisher Schirmer/Mosel Verlag GmbH, 1992. see more images below. There is ... more info here

Photographic Lenses A Simple Treatise limited de luxe

A Simple Treatise Edition De Luxe by Conrad Beck and Herbert Andrews There were only 500 copies of this Edition De Luxe. There is no date, though I understand they were published in 1902 ... more info here

Nikon F 601 and F 601M Hove User's Guide F601

A practical manual on the Nikon camera, the Nikon F-601 (and also covers the F-601m)...more info here


On Photography Bernard Shaw

A MUST for students of both literature and photography. Hardcover in clipped dustjacket. With acceptable minor wear to jacket overall cond. is VERY GOOD. Buy with confidence! more info here











Pictorial photography in Britain 1900-1920 (catalog)


This sought after book will be a welcome addition to the library of anyone interested in early fine-art photography. Softcover in VG cond.more info here



Step up to the Canon EOS 450D

Advantages: Low Noise,12 megapixels, Live View. Great value for money

Disadvantages: Build is maybe not as good as the EOS 40D, but this gives quality results and is more affordable.

This is the ideal camera for the compact user who wishes to step up to a DSLR, and the first thing you will notice when you inspect your images full size is the lack of noise. The 450D gives excellent noise results up to ISO 400, then and only then does noise start to become apparent, though not noticeable if printing at reasonable sizes. Autofocus is a joy to use, though for those situations where you feel manual focus would be better I.e. low light or low contrast, Live View is obviously an added bonus, as it allows you to have better control over manual focusing, though be sure to use a tripod as the camera will be at arms length when you are viewing and will tend to wobble a little. This camera is superb! I've had it for a while now and I am really pleased that I decided to go with this one. I had looked at the Nikon range, but they were a little fiddly in comparison to the Canon range. For the price I found no glaring downsides with this camera. You will love it!

Summary: Great 'entry level' DSLR for the enthusiastic learner. Great 2nd Camera for the more experienced use

Image courtesy of Flickr user TDR1

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