Archive | October, 2013

Lost in translation

30 Oct

Here are a couple of genuine pieces of text from China, the first from Xitang, on a moped and the second from Suzhou, on a shop selling custard tarts.

I can’t quite believe this one, but believe me, it is genuine. I’m not sure how they got the translation or who they got it from but it does make for a laugh.

The second picture is from a shop in Suzhou. I presume they confused hand-made with manual, which is understandable. That tart is also slang for prostitute doesn’t help much in this case.

In UK English there is a story / joke. This concerns the words sight and vision, which are generally regarded as being synonyms. However, if you call a woman a vision she will regard it as a compliment, but if you call her a sight she is liable to slap you.


Xitang and Boazi

28 Oct

We were supposed to have had a serious storm last night, but it largely skirted around the south of us and, apart from some surface water, we escaped mostly undamaged. Having eaten large numbers of steamed buns (baozi) during the holiday I decided to try to make my own yesterday evening. They tasted OK, but I won’t post up any photos of my own efforts until I can make them look a bit better. My crimping leaves a lot to be desired. Anyhow, here is a link to the recipe I used. I didn’t have any sesame oil or oyster sauce or dried shitake mushrooms to hand, but I do have alternatives, and the method is more important than the exact matches for the filling. The dough needs to be made as described. Like cakes it works by a mixture of chemistry and physics, and the proportions and ingredients need to be followed.

I don’t think we ate Boazi in the first place we visited after getting to Beijing, Xitang. We went on the Bullet train to Jianshan South railway station, some six hours on the train. From there we took an unofficial minibus / taxi to Xitang, with the five of us and luggage. Far too much to fit in a normal taxi. Xitang is an historical water town you have to pay to enter. The entire waterfront area is a living museum. If you are not too proud to admit it, you will have seen the place as a location at the end of Mission Impossible 3. Now, that is not the kind of film I watch too often, but I bought a copy for a couple of quid, and will watch that bit soon. We stayed in a guest house / hotel right on the waterfront, near to one of the most picturesque bridges. The views more than made up for the failings of the room and the bed which had a solid board under the sheet. More on Chinese beds later.

Xitang is impossibly cute and infinitely photographable. Groups of wannabe artists were lined up drawing some of the views. There are tours of the waterways on boats propelled by a single long rear oar used in a figure of eight motion. Women wash clothes in the river water, and there are boats used to fish rubbish and leaves and water weed from the rivers. There are about a dozen little museums to visit, including a button museum. But enough of the travelogue, here are a few photos of the place.

This was also taken in Xitang. A very strange name to put on a moped!

All the way from China

25 Oct

Pardon the gap in these postings, but we recently got back from China. We visited a piece of old China, Xitang, a piece of modern China which has preserved the past, Suzhou (pronounced Sue-Joe) and parts of Beijing where parts of the Tartar city still exist among the constant remodelling of the modern city.

This post is about the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou. The Chinese idea of beauty is all to do with order within nature and texture. The garden should be a haven of tranquility. Groups of twenty or more are ushered around the gardens by guides armed with a microphone and having a squawk box dangling around the waist. The volume of these amps is set to a distorted scream. If you are unlucky enough to get stuck between two such groups all you can do is cover your ears. The gardens are now available to all, not just the very few, but it is a supreme irony that what should be an area of quiet and reflection is now horribly noisy.

Anyhow, here are a few photos, to give some idea of what the gardens are like.

The gardens really are beautiful, and are a World Heritage site

Who Benefits?

10 Oct

In the wake of leaks from Edward Snowden the new head of MI5 has complained that British security has been compromised. He claims at least one major incident a year might occur because of this. The Guardian newspaper published part of Snowden’s leaked details and has become the target of various elements of the more right wing press. I would say that it is important to have some idea about what is being done in our name. That is not to say that there are no real threats; that would be putting my head in the sand. There are real threats from credible organisations out there. From studying history I know that one of the first tests you apply to any text is to ask what benefit the author of the text would gain from its production. For a government funded agency there is an obvious benefit to obtaining work and money. The bigger the department, the more prestigious the appointment as the head of that department is. That is a rule of the civil service.

Throughout its history the internal intelligence service, MI5, has spied on people within Britain, either citizens or residents. It is the nature of the beast that radicals of all sorts are the targets of surveillance. Overall, the targets tend to be more left wing than right, despite threats from extreme right wing groups being more of a danger to British society than the moderate left wing groups which are commonly targeted. These days the main threat is seen to come from radical Islamists. I would argue that, with their desire to impose the most draconian of socially conservative control, these groups are more right wing than left. They are certainly not remotely liberal or socialist. So I ought to be happy about surveillance. The problem is that Islamist does not equate to Islamic. The vast majority of Moslems are reasonable and socially responsible, in the true light of their faith. The suicide bombers and their ilk are politically, not religiously motivated.

It is perfectly reasonable for MI5 to target these Islamist groups. It is an infringement of our rights that we can all be spied on without due cause and with no recourse to the results of any investigations. What Edward Snowden demonstrated was that the watchdogs we have appointed now possess the ability to spy on us all, and most of us were unaware of what was going on. There is little control of what is being done. We are told we have to trust in the decisions made. That sounds like social control.

From the foundation of SIS in 1909 the security agencies have been checking up on us. The first head of what was to become MI5 was Vernon Kell. He had some very dubious sources of information, notably Arthur Maundy Gregory. You can look up articles on them on The Web.

My own first novel, ‘Most Secret’, includes details of Gregory, Kell and various other people. It is the result of a good deal of research. Much is fictionalised, but I have included a good deal that is historically verifiable and some other real life people. Look out for Dorothy Levitt, who was known as ‘the fastest girl in the world’ and invented the rear-view mirror! But enough of being serious, it is meant to be an entertainment. The second volume, ‘Down in the Flood’, is due out very shortly.


Misguided help

8 Oct

The Help to Buy scheme is being launched today by the government. The idea behind the scheme is to help first time buyers to get a mortgage. They will be able to borrow up to 95% of the value of the property but have to borrow from state-backed financial institutions to qualify.

Call me a cynic if you like, but I can guess exactly what is going to happen. In areas where there is pressure on housing and house prices are rising, the prices will go through the metaphorical roof, seriously raising the possibility of yet another property bubble. In areas where house prices are flat there will be complete apathy because there are few jobs and no possibility for the buyers to pay the mortgages.

What was needed was help for builders to create new houses where they are required. This would help to keep house prices under control and prevent a property bubble. The scheme currently favours the sellers and not the builders. House building would also give employment and inject more money into the economy. This is one more example of a policy helping the haves and being irrelevant to have nots.

Squash season

3 Oct

I have been picking the butternut squashes in the garden before the worst of the autumn weather starts. These were a bit late, but, as many things do in the garden, they grew very big. Now butternuts are pear shaped, with the top part narrower than the bottom bulgy part which contains the seeds. A normal squash in the shop is about 3-400g in weight, somewhat under a pound. The lightest one I have picked so far weighs 850g, about 2 lbs. Below are a couple of photos of that squash and of the largest one.

The big one is wider at the top than the base and weighs just short of 2.7 kg, over 6 lbs. That is going to be a lot of squash for the two of us. But, with a bit of luck, there will be many more than two of us at Christmas. Squashes store very well and three months is no problem.

I suppose I’d better say how I cook the thing. The answer is in one of several ways. It makes excellent soup, but my favourite is roasted in a little olive oil with some rosemary and thyme from the garden. Mixed with other root veg they work excellently. My mouth is watering at the thought of it now.

What a mistake to make!

2 Oct

This from the ‘Fala’ speech by FDR:

These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him – at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars- his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself – such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.

(FDR went on to be elected for a third term)

The Daily Mail, in a splash article, claimed that Ralph Miliband, father of the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, hated Britain. Ralph Miliband was a refugee from Nazi Germany who came to Britain in the 1930s. As soon as he was able, after the declaration of war, he joined the Royal Navy and served with distinction throughout the War.

In 1934, Viscount Rothermere, great-grandfather of the current chairman of the Mail published a headline, ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ (The name for the Union of British Fascists, led by Oswald Mosely). He willingly met Hitler and openly expressed admiration for Mussolini. Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, admired Rothermere’s attitude towards the Jews. The father of the current Mail editor, Paul Dacre, never served in the War.

The range of reporting from bias through half-truth to downright lies which appear in that limp organ of the press bear more than a passing resemblance to the best efforts of Goebbels. The black propaganda directed against the most vulnerable members of our society, based on race and religion are a dripping poison in the heart of our society.

This attack on the late Ralph Miliband, an honourable and reasonable social commentator and academic, is vile and smacks of the worst excesses of McCarthyism. To include a picture of his grave on the on-line site was an invitation for the grave to be desecrated. But Paul Dacre has made a great mistake in making this attack in an effort to smear Ed Miliband by association.

Last night on the BBC’s flagship Newsnight programme Dacre sent his deputy, Jon Staefel, to defend on the story. He mumbled some weasel words about British values and other abstract nonsense. In answer, Alistair Campbell, ex spin guru for the Labour Party and journalist, tore into him and into Dacre. It was not a battle but a rout. Staefel would not admit he agreed with the story or the headline. At the end of the interview he looked like a beaten dog.

Paul Dacre is a shy and retiring man who does not court personal publicity, so perhaps he is not an absolute craven, crawling coward for not personally defending the story. He is, however, reportedly known for his addresses to the editorial staff of The Daily Mail. These are referred to as the ‘The Vagina Monologues’ by the hapless writers of the newspaper due to Dacre calling everyone ‘Cunt’. Perhaps he has not moved so far right as to be almost off the political stage.

For years the Mail has pretended to be a ‘decent’ newspaper, appealing to the aspirational members of society. In reality it is the least accurate newspaper of magazine in Britain. That is official. The Press Complaints Commission published statistics of complaints made to it. Over several years The Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday were clearly at the top of the list, accounting for between 47 and 48% of all complaints for all magazines and newspapers. It tends to pick on targets who cannot afford to defend themselves in court and rarely makes corrections or apologies.

The backlash against the Mail for this latest smear includes the leaders of all the major parties. This is a cowardly and pathetic smear on the life of a decent man who loved his country but wanted to improve it. The Twittersphere is buzzing with comments. Just as with FDR, making an attack on a family member unable to defend themselves results in dismay about the smear and an unwillingness to trust anything else the source of the smear has to say.

As for attacks in the Mail on immigrants, especially refugees like Ralph Miliband, I have only two words to say, Mo Farrah.