29 Oct 2010

Rooster's Pumpkin Beer

This really is what it looks like. It is a massive pumpkin perched on the side of a bar with a tap poking out the bottom. Pumpkin conditioned beer, with a warming, slightly spicy flavour, created by inventive Knaresborough brewery Rooster's: a perfect warming snifter in Leeds' North Bar on the way home from work.

28 Oct 2010

Les Jamelles Reserve Mourvèdre 2008 (£4.99, Co-op)

You don't often see mourvèdre as a single varietal wine on sale in the supermarkets. More often than not the grape is reduced to a supporting role in blends, playing a less glamorous second fiddle to the likes of syrah and grenache. Always the bridesmaid but never the bride.

So I was surprised to see this bottle on the shelf in my local Co-op, which, it has to be said, has a pretty decent range of wines around the £5-8 mark. Some other local supermarkets several times the size have less inspiring wine sections.

I bought this wine on curiosity value. And at just under a fiver, I wasn't expecting a lot (remember, after taxes and packaging costs etc are taken into account, only something like 50p of your money is going towards the wine itself for a bottle around this price). But this was worth the £5. Not a wine I'd recommend taking to someone's house I admit, but quite an interesting one.

My first thought on giving it a good sniff in the glass is dark chocolate, followed by a waft of spicy cloves. Also a bit of mushroomy earthiness in there too. To taste, it's an earthy one, and it seems a touch unripe to me. Not overly fruity, perhaps just a bit of blackberry underneath the earthy spice.

Not a crowd pleaser and I won't be rushing to buy it again, but it's got some character, and I'm glad I tried it.

12 Oct 2010

Secret Wines Revealed: It's Costières de Nîmes!

The true identities of the secret wines have been revealed - and sadly I didn't win. But on the plus side, I wasn't a million miles away. All three wines came from the Costières de Nîmes, an appellation that was once classed as part of the Languedoc region but is now the southernmost appellation in the Rhône valley. The region has similar stony terraces to those seen in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, an AOC which got a mention in my tasting notes for wine #390. But if truth be told, I probably wouldn't have guessed Costières de Nîmes in a month of dimanches.

Here's a quick overview of the wines:
Wine #079
My original answer: Grands Vins de Languedoc
True identity: Les Rameaux 2008, Château Grande Cassagne
Grapes: 80% syrah, 20% grenache

Wine #390
My original answer: Cahors
True identity: Capitelles des Mourgues 2008, Château Mourgues du Grès
Grapes: 85% syrah, 10% carignan, 5% grenache
Incidentally, uber-critic Robert Parker likes this one, rating it 90/100. And I'm pleased to see I was right to suggest it was at least 14%ABV (turns out it's 14.5%).

Wine #714
My original answer: Côtes du Rhône
True identity: Nostre Païs 2008 (Michel Gassier)
Grapes: 35% grenache, 25% carignan, 20% mourvèdre, 15% cinsault, 5% syrah

In summary, I'd strongly recommend wine #079 - Les Rameaux 2008 - which, it turns out, can be bought for around a fiver. A real bargain - I'd have guessed it would cost a fair bit more than that. And congratulations to Ingvar Johansson from Sweden, who got the correct answer!
Details of all the wines and more info about the Costières de Nîmes can be seen here.

11 Oct 2010

Autumn Food: Morocco Ale with Chicken Thighs, Lentils and Potatoes

The nights are drawing in, it's getting a bit brisk out, and almost without realising, you change what you're eating and drinking. It's the end of the working day and you face a walk into the darkness, a miserable fight with the blustery wind and rain. A chilled pale ale and light salad isn't going to be the comfort blanket you need. Autumn's kicked in; everything you eat and drink is getting darker, meatier, spicier, chunkier, warmer.

A big glug of olive oil and a piece of butter goes into the pan with a load of garlic, a small heap of chilli and a pinch or two of whatever warming spices you have in your cupboard (now's not the time for dainty measurements). When it all sizzles, the chicken thighs (which are great value) go in for a few minutes, then a tin of tomatoes and a can of lentils. Simmer 'til cooked. Roast some potatoes, and bob's your uncle. Well, almost.

He is now. The superb Morocco Ale from Daleside Brewery ambles nonchalantly out of the cupboard and takes off his hat and gloves, proving a pretty good impromptu pairing for the frankly made-up-as-you-go-along chicken and lentil thing. In the mouth the Morocco Ale is a well balanced mix of marmitey goodness and dried fruit, with a little hint of spice that mingles nicely with the meaty sauce.

The warm cocoon of your living room, dark beer in hand, the wind swaying against the windows; all is well.

10 Oct 2010

Tommy Tiernan interview: "I don't think I'm controversial"

Stand-up comedian Tommy Tiernan is a huge star in his native Ireland. He's apparently second only to U2 in terms of live ticket sales in the country, and his DVDs sell more than anyone else. He's also an extremely popular figure in Canada and the US, where he's appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman several times.
I was fortunate enough to interview him a few weeks ago for Leeds Guide magazine, and I'm going to see him perform live at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds later this month. His storming performance as the headline act on the latest episode of Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow (you can see it again here) has whetted my appetite for seeing him perform his latest show, Crooked Man. Here are some snippets of my conversation with him. (Photo: Nick Hitchcox)

Do you notice certain material goes down better in certain places or is it universal?
No - I know that if I introduce an idea that could in any way be misinterpreted as something horrific, I think that the more civilised audiences are… it takes a minute or two for them to kind of trust me. Whereas I much prefer performing to the uncivilised because they know I’m joking.

You’ve been labelled a controversial comic. Do you think it's part of your job to be controversial - or do you not agree with the idea that you are?
I don’t think I’m controversial. I like to have fun with the world, if you know what I mean. I like to look at the world and have fun and laugh at it. And I think if people think that’s controversial then… honestly, now, it’s just like free-wheeling down a hill on your bicycle, and say you come down a hill and the road stretches out and you go through a town, two legs sticking out and you’re singing, people might think that’s inappropriate. But it’s not really, it’s just fun.

"One of the themes of the show is the desire to know less and not to confuse information with wisdom"

How do you go about writing your shows - do you have ideas you feel passionate about and then try to find humour in it?
I do have big ideas that I feel passionate about but I find them very hard to get into the show. So it’s almost like I have to be talking about something else in order for whatever theories of life I have to seep through. It’s just about having fun really. Say last night, I was doing an impression of an old rabbi walking along a dusty road, and that morphed into Paolo Nutini. Now that’s not something that I’d be able to think of sitting at home, and it’s not something that’s particularly clever. It’s just silly. That’s the kind of stuff that ends up in the show. It’s just fun. There are other things in the show - it’s intelligent, there are different types of storytelling going on - but it’s not something that’s overly manufactured. If a clever person gets drunk, that’s what my show is like!

What are the main themes of the show?
I think that one of the themes of the show is the desire to know less and not to confuse information with wisdom. Other themes of the show are… I don’t know, this isn’t like a breakthrough novel with great ideas. The show is complaining about sex and is talking about the recession, all kinds of things in there. What I say to the people at the beginning is that my ambition is that we both leave here knowing less than we did when we came in.

What's the most important ingredient for making people laugh - the material, the way you say it or something else?
I think it’s fun. I know I’m saying that word a lot but I was listening to an American comedian called Doug Benson last night and he has one of his albums on iTunes and I was sat listening to it in bed. I was rolling around the place laughing because he was talking about how he went into a men’s toilet and the guy beside him farted, and it was just the way he did it was so brilliant, because he wasn’t trying to be clever and at the same time he wasn’t gratuitous or cheap. There was just something, and it’s very hard to define what that is. The same person can like Bill Hicks and Tommy Cooper and a bit of Morecambe & Wise and The Two Ronnies and Dylan Moran. I think if everybody is honest to their own inclinations then that’s a good start.

Are you able to relax and enjoy other comics or do you find yourself analysing them?
I tend to analyse them more if they’re shit. If they’re good, I’m laughing; if they’re shit, I’m kind of going ‘hmmm, how did he get so shit?’.

Would you reveal who the two ends of the scale are for you at the moment - are there any comedians you like and dislike?
I’d say, last night there was Doug Benson, check him out on iTunes, he has an album called Unbalanced Load, and he’s a dope smoker, he talks about smoking dope and he’s really, really funny. The person I think is the worst at the moment, which I wouldn’t cross the street to see for love nor money and all my kids’ health…? That feeling is reserved for myself.

Full interview originally published in Leeds Guide

8 Oct 2010

Alun Cochrane interview

Stand-up comedian Alun Cochrane is someone who has mastered his trade to the extent that he makes it all look so easy, deceptively so. His comedy is largely observational and it's intelligent without trying too hard to be, in fact almost while pretending not to be ("I'm making more of an effort to grow up… sometimes I watch Newsnight all the way through and then think shit, I forgot to listen"). As he suggests in this interview I recently did for Plush magazine, perhaps his understated style has worked against him when it comes to earning wider recognition.

"I would much rather spend the evening with all the guys off Mock The Week if there were no cameras there," he says on the subject of television panel shows. "I've had a couple of really good gigs on the night on panel games. It's just I find there's a certain level of aggression that goes with them that I find a bit disinteresting. And now that comics know that they could sell out a tour if they get a handful of regular spots on a panel game, then people are even more aggressive. And this isn't me being mean to any particular comic," he reflects, "it just brings out a side in people that I just find a bit dull. In truth, I was brought up by my mum, single-parent family, with a real interest in politeness and good manners, and I find it physically difficult to interrupt people. And on the shows you really have to. I sit there and think, oh I'd rather not interrupt folk, I'll be funny when they ask me!"

A well-respected circuit comic, perhaps Cochrane hits the nail on the head with the suggestion that his unassuming demeanour works against him in the cut-throat world of panel shows, which these days seem to form a big part of the standard career path for a successful stand-up, which begins with small gigs in pubs and ends with a well-paid TV presenter's role, with panel shows, stadium tours and a live DVD somewhere in between. But when he's been given the opportunity to perform stand-up on TV, Cochrane's talents have certainly translated well to the small screen, as his everyday tales of supremely observed incidents, and his warm delivery, carry a universal appeal.

We start discussing his current tour: "It's called Jokes. Life. And Jokes About Life. And it's basically that. It very much describes the show. So if you don't fancy it, don't come!" he laughs. I ask whether his comedy style has always been storytelling rather than gag-based. "Well, actually in this show I am doing joke telling," he reveals. "I've got a tub full of jokes that I've written that I pull out and I also contrast that a bit with doing what I do normally, which is jokes about life. So I'm mixing it up a bit. So there are moments of experimental stuff, because I'm doing joke-jokes, which isn't really my thing, but it's really good fun. And yes, in answer to your question, I like it when it's just about life. I love the fact that you can literally turn thoughts you've had on a train into comedy; I really love that experience."

Having performed stand-up for a number of years, Cochrane jokes that he can’t remember his life and work before comedy. "Last year I was on tour and I was going to Brighton and I jumped on the train from Manchester to London, and Gail off Coronation Street was in the same carriage as me, in standard. I then said on stage that night, 'I think if you've been doing stand-up as long as I have, you've got every right to expect to be the most famous person in standard class'. First class, different rules apply - you can be on there with Andrew Lloyd Webber - but Gail off Coronation Street is provably more famous than me. I've been quite good at this for a while - I should be more known than that, surely?"

Originally published in Plush magazine

2 Oct 2010

David Baddiel interview: "I think I am 100% atheist"

I interviewed David Baddiel a couple of months or so ago. We were talking about The Infidel, a film he wrote, in which Omid Djalili plays a Muslim man called Mahmud who discovers that he was adopted as a child and that he was actually born a Jew. Baddiel told me that the film ended up with a smaller budget than he'd expected (about £1m, not loads for a feature film), but by and large the finished product is "pretty close" to what he'd anticipated, albeit with smaller crowd scenes and fewer "bells and whistles". Because of the film's theme, we ended up talking about all kinds of things - politics, religion, ethnicity, multiculturalism. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

SO'H: What inspired you to write the film?
David Baddiel: When I was young a lot of people thought I was Indian, loads of people. I actually got beaten up, once for being Jewish and once for being Pakistani, and then when I was on telly for the first time, loads of people used to write in saying 'you're the funniest Indian comedian I've ever seen', and I was always quite happy with that. So I always had around me a sense of people not quite knowing which ethnic box to put me in. And then when I saw Omid [Djalili], who was the first comedian to really kind of tackle race and religion as his main subject, not only was it interesting that he was doing that but also I didn't know, is he Muslim, he could be Jewish, whatever. He turned out to be Baha'i, which is a religion which believes that all religions are part of the same book, which made him perfect in a way. And so it was that really: it was a combination of the sense of ethnic confusion that hangs around me, and seeing Omid Djalili. It was always written with him in mind. Even though I'd had the idea for a while, I'd never really thought about doing it until I met Omid and he was up for it.

"There is a part of me that will be eternally grateful to this country" 

SO'H: You're on record as saying you're an atheist - can you ever be 100% atheist after your upbringing?
David Baddiel: I think I am 100% atheist. I mean I'm Jewish, there's no doubt I'm culturally Jewish, I think the tone of my comedy is pretty Jewish and the way I think is quite Jewish, and you know I'm neurotic and all that stuff, something of a hypochondriac and a depressive, I'm all those things because I'm Jewish, but I absolutely, totally, I don't just believe this, I know there is no god. I know it like I know that stone is hard. And for that reason I'm not that bothered about it… I quite like religion. I sometimes read Dawkins… Dawkins and people like that, because there's a tiny bit of them, like, he was brought up very religious, they seem to me to be shrill a little bit, because they're not relaxed with their atheism. I am so confident that god doesn't exist, I think religion's quite sweet and nice and got poetry and magic in it: it's fine, it's just completely wrong.

SO'H: How successfully do you think multiculturalism operates in Britain?
David Baddiel: Well one of the things I'm proud of about being British is that, for all the fact that obviously there are racial issues in Britain and there's BNP in Britain and whatever, I think that Britain has managed to be an incredibly tolerant country. I know this just because my mother is a holocaust survivor, my mother fought in Nazi Germany and she escaped with three weeks to go before the war started to come here where, you know, things were not easy to be honest, but she managed to build a life for herself, and her parents managed to build lives for themselves. And there is a part of me that will be eternally grateful to this country for that. And for all the fact that there are racists in this country, we've never had anything like... anything that looks like a fascist government in this country. We've never had real dangers like there still are in Europe, and parties that can create that. And yet we've got more races in this country than most other places. I mean, I spent some time in Belgium, for example, when I say some time I don't mean I was there for two years, I was there for three weeks in Belgium, doing a weird literary festival. And people would say to me, very kind of intellectual bohemian types, they would say 'we have to do something about the immigrants'. And I would say 'what immigrants?' and they would say 'haven't you seen them?' and I'd say 'I haven't seen any since I've been here'. They would mean the sort of four black people in Antwerp. And I'd say 'come to London, we're fine with that', you know. And I think that is a great thing about Britain, so even though there are problems, it's basically working alright.

SO'H: What would be your opinion on banning burkas?
David Baddiel: I wouldn't ban burkas obviously. I think it's an unbritish thing to do and also in terms of The Infidel, I think there is a way forward there with relaxation and comedy - the woman in the burka in that, who's Nina Anwar, who's a Muslim, you know, what I did with that was to make her not a frightening alien figure but to make her someone who talks about Grazia and fashion... and that is based on what Muslim people tell me is that lots of those women are like that. But she's still... what I didn't want was a moment like you've got in Sex and the City 2 where the women take off their burkas and they've got fantastic designer clothes underneath - I think that's shit in a way. What I think, it's a woman who's fine in a burka but is also not a stereotype either.

SO'H: What's your assessment of the coalition government?
David Baddiel: Well I voted Labour, but to be honest I'm not very interested in party politics. I voted Labour because Glenda Jackson's my MP and because she was great on The Morecambe & Wise Show in 1974. And that is the real reason why I can't not vote for Glenda, because of that. She once said on a radio show that she thought that was the high point of her career. And I love her for that. And in a way, that's more important to me than what her politics are. I was brought up in a very left-wing household, I will always have an emotional attachment to voting Labour, but to be honest, you know, I thought a lot of them were a shower of fools as well. So the coalition seems to be doing alright to me.

SO'H: You were doing your PhD when you had your big break in comedy - what would you have ended up doing without that break?
David Baddiel: I'd have been quite a bitter academic. I'd have stayed in academia, I'd have been quite bitter thinking that I should be a celebrity, and trying to have sex but being turned down by students.

The Infidel is out now on DVD.
You can read the original Leeds Guide article here.