Wednesday, 25 May 2011


The man from Sky came knocking on my door a while back, wanting to know why I don’t have Sky. Simple, I told him. I don’t want Sky. There followed a longer than necessary conversation – as far as I was concerned the conversation ended as soon as I saw his Sky ID badge – which mainly comprised of him saying ‘you don’t have Sky’ and me saying ‘I don’t want it’.

Eventually I just closed the front door in his face, though not before he’d made some ill-judged assumptions about both my entertainment choices and my lifestyle.

I don’t have Sky for a couple of very simple reasons. Firstly, I believe quite strongly that Rupert Murdoch is The Devil Incarnate. One day he will die when the spirit of evil currently occupying his body finally wears it out through exhaustion with the sheer weight of its malevolence. It will then gust out from every wrinkly orifice in a cloud of luminous grey and choose a new fleshsuit - James, Elizabeth, Lachlan, Wendi, whoever the hell, I don’t care, the same feeling of repulsion and disgust I feel for Rupert will apply undiminished for this new host.

Secondly, what kind of idiot do you think I am?

I don’t watch television a great deal. I don’t have it on in the corner all the time as some folk do. It gets turned on when there’s something on that I want to watch, and it gets turned off again immediately afterwards. What I do watch is generally on the BBC and generally either on BBC2 or BBC4. This isn’t snobbery, it’s just how it falls. I’ve never missed an episode of Desperate Housewives, so don’t go throwing accusations of elitism at me, sonny.

The BBC is funded by the licence fee, or rather it isn’t. This is a popular misconception. The roads aren’t funded by Vehicle Licence Tax, more commonly called Road Tax, and the BBC isn’t funded by the licence fee. The licence fee is actually exactly what it states it is; a fee which grants a licence to possess equipment which is capable of receiving a television signal regardless of that signal’s origin. It isn’t a hypothecated tax dedicated to funding the BBC. So you can doctor your set as much as you like, you can scream blue murder about only ever watching ITV or C4, it will do you no good. You want to watch telly, you pay the licence fee. If you only ever watch DVDs or play games on your TV, you can escape the licence fee. Good luck with that.

Whatever: I pay a licence fee, it pays for the BBC. In return I get four TV channels and a great big bundle of radio stations, most of which carry the kind of programming that I like. And best of all, there is no advertising. There may be promos for other BBC stuff, but it only hits the screen/speaker between programmes, it doesn’t interrupt the dramatic flow or butt in during a long debate on Question Time.

Alternately I can watch one of the commercial channels, which is unlikely unless it’s Wednesday night and Desperate Housewives is on. If I watch a commercial channel I understand that, as these are funded by advertising revenue, I shall have to watch advertisements. I shall have to watch way too many advertisements for my liking; about a quarter of each hour of commercial airtime is taken up with relentless shilling, most of it humourless, badly-dubbed and more than slightly insulting.  These advertisements will disrupt the programme’s narrative flow, which is in turn structured entirely as twelve-to-fifteen-minute blocks so as to accommodate advertising breaks.

“Ah!” says somebody with far more patience for this than I, “You don’t pay anything for your ITV or your C4 or Channel 5 and that, do you? Aren’t the ads a fair swap for not paying owt?”

Yes. They are.

If that was the case.

But as everything I buy carries a premium of some sort which finances that product’s marketing, I’m paying indirectly for commercial television whether I want to or not, and that strikes me as being way more unfair than being forced to pay a licence fee.

One day, somebody will figure out a way to link together the data-mining potential of store loyalty cards with the media-consumption pattern of the individual consumer, which will enable Heinz to say to Sainsbury’s “Look, that guy buys our ketchup but he never watches the shows we advertise it in. Give him a few pence off, it’s only fair.”

Except whoever devises that will not return home that night, and will never be seen again.

And let’s not, for now, go into whether the need to raise revenue through advertising creates the need to deliver large audiences which leads to the blanderisation of programming. Take any person who believes this to be untrue, strap them to a chair, make them listen to Capital Radio, or Heart FM, or Galaxy, for a couple of hours or until their brain oozes out of their ears, whichever is the sooner.

See what they think then.

So: there’s the BBC on the one hand, and ITV/C4/C5 on the other, and then – and then – there’s Sky.

Which carries advertising. In fact, as a non-terrestrial broadcaster it can carry a damn sight more advertising than ITV/C4/C5 can – up to 12 minutes per hour plus as many trailers or promos for its own programming that it needs to show to fill up the hour of airtime that carries a 42-minute programme. The same applies to the ITV2/3/4/E4/More4/FiveUSA sub-channels and all the other Freeview channels.

And not only does it carry advertising, it charges a subscription fee. So you pay for it twice over. And you pay for it at a rate that makes the licence fee’s £145 a year look like an absolute steal. The basic Variety pack sets you back £19.50 a month. £234 a year. That’s the basic pack; no bells, no whistles.

One of the Sky man’s arguments is that with Sky you only pay for the channels you want to watch. Hogwash, sir! Bullhockey of the highest order! If I want to watch Sky Arts, I have to have it as part of a package that includes several other channels I have no care for. If I want to watch a football match I have to have a full year’s worth of Sky Sports. That’s not menu-pricing. That’s force-feeding. That’s having to eat Big Macs for a year when all you wanted was a quick cheeseburger to tide you over ‘til dinnertime.

And besides, if I want to watch a football match I’ll go to the pub. At least then I can walk out with ten minutes to go and no remorse.

So really, what the man from Sky wants me to do, every time he knocks on my door, is for me to invite him in, sit him down, and nod my head while he gets me to sign up for the televisual equivalent of an endless semi-consensual wade through untreated sewage.

Anyway, that’s enough. I have to go and find out what’s going on with Susan Delfino’s kidney. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

And The Spurs Go Marching On (with the occasional stumble and more than a few nasty falls)

That’s another one over with, then. And a disappointing one it was too, a bit like being a kid and really wanting a bike for Christmas, and seeing a bike-shaped parcel by the tree, all wrapped up in the most exciting shiny paper ever – paper made of the same black and glossy stuff as Darth Vader’s helmet, paper spun from the skin of Jesus himself – then unwrapping the bike and being more excited by it than you would be by even an astronaut suit, then riding it around for a couple of months having more fun than any other human being ever before has ever had, before realising, as you stare up at another impossibly steep incline and feel the dull ache in your calves, that in the end it’s just a bloody bike.

At the start of the season my mate Phill was pre-emptively complaining about the state of play – I think we were lying sixth or something – and I told him that if a year beforehand somebody had offered sixth place and the Champions League, he’d have had their hand off. Which he would’ve. But here we are, one eminently losable game against Liverpool away from the end of the season, and no matter how much you piss and moan about lousy refereeing decisions costing us fourth place (yes, we should have won at Chelsea, but we should also have won the five games before and the two games afterwards regardless of who was running the line) we’ve got sod all to play for and a great stretch of wasted year behind us. Great dreams of a decent CL run, of a top-four finish being our right, all gone. Sixth if we’re lucky, seventh more likely.

So let’s put it behind us: loathe as I am to agree with an Arsenal supporter, the neckless fat ginger sub-literate git Steve Byrne said after the victory at the Emirates that it was ‘just another game.’ At the time he took a pounding from the Spurs fans, but he was right. This has been a bloody awful year to be a Spurs supporter. As John Cleese said in Clockwise: “I can handle the despair. It’s the hope I can’t take"[1]. But we have to accept it, embrace our limitations, and move on. It's been just another season. 

So: next season. Tempting though it is to say that QPR and Norwich will easy six-pointers, the new boys and the bottom-of-table stragglers tend to be the ones we screw up against. It will, however, be nice to see Loftus Road again as it was where I saw my first ever away game.

Players? VdV, Luca and Pav may well move on having shown the rest of the Prem what they’re worth (which isn’t as much as it was a year ago). Crouch and Palacios can go regardless of how well Harry gets on with Wilson’s mum.

And the two biggies: Gomes first. Goalkeepers are remembered for their mistakes more than for anything else. The only exceptions are Gordon Banks and Pat Jennings. Don’t believe me? What ‘s the first thing that comes into your head when I say the following names: Seaman. Green. Fabianski. And Gomes. Against Nani. Harry’s right, he’s a great goalie who pulls off some astonishing saves – that left-hander against Blackpool was a beauty, stopped us being a complete laughing stock in that match. But the eye-popping beauties are well outweighed by the comedy slip-ups and the school reserve-team errors. Ben Foster’s just withdrawn from international duties and despite his fragility he’d be a decent buy. Frankly, someone pulled at random from the crowd and given a couple of those giant foam pointy fingers would be a decent buy, but Foster would do.

And what about Gareth? Come closer, I have to whisper this: is he a bottler? Seriously. He had that incredible run in the CL, made himself one of the most talked-about players not just in England, not just in Europe but in the world, and then… not a lot. Injuries all over the place, one or two trademark runs down the left, but the talent we all threw our hands in the air and stared open-mouthed at seems to have taken a long holiday.

So: if there’s a clause in his contract – which there’s reported to be – that lets him go if the club’s not in the Champions League (a clause that a couple of the other big names may also have), then do we let him walk away? We’d get a fair amount of money for him but that’s a secondary consideration. Would it do him good to spend a year or two somewhere in Europe – not a Real or a Barca, I doubt they’d actually want him on his late-season’s showing – but a Schalke 04 or a Bayern where he could learn a different style of game, gain a bit of patience, show them what he’s capable of?

I’d say not. Bale’s got the potential to be our Giggs, and not just because he’s Welsh. He could be the talismanic player that Defoe or Jenas should have been but never became. He could be our new figurehead. He could be the new Ledley King. 

Anyway; there’ll be no victorious open-top-bus parade down Tottenham High Road this year. We’re going to slink back home like a repentant drunk, hoping nobody notices us, praying we can have a better tomorrow. Harry says he wants to win the Premiership with Tottenham. Let’s see if he can make a few decent buys during the next transfer window, get us the extra level of skill and resilience we need to make his ambition a reality.

And most of all, let’s see if he can get us to stop losing to the Hull Cities and the Blackpools. 

[1] Going by memory there. Probably a misquote. 


Two things I’ve been searching for all my life: the perfect sourdough and the perfect cheesecake. I tasted the former in a scruffy deli overlooking a badly-tarmaced car park in San Diego about ten years ago and have never been able to find, buy or bake anything comparable. I will die remembering that bread.

The cheesecake hasn’t been quite so Holy a Grail; the worst thing about the sourdough is that I found it in the first place and that I know it’s out there, waiting for me, on the other side of the world. But the cheesecake’s not turned up yet. One day I’ll turn a corner, walk into a Maison Bertaux-style patissierie or a grotty transport caff, and it’ll look up and say "There you are”.

Until then, I keep looking. This is the most recent try: it’s based on a recipe from a book of New York recipes which claims this is the cheesecake served in Lindy’s deli. I’ve been to Lindy’s. This ain’t the cheesecake.

But it’ll do.


One cake tin, 8” diameter, springform or loose-bottom, with deep sides – a flat shallow sandwich tin’s no good for this as it rises soufflé-like in the tin before settling into a dense, savoury-sweet mass.
One larger deep tin, a roaster or similar, large enough to stand the round tin inside.


A little butter
Four or five digestive biscuits, crushed into crumbs
800 grams cream cheese
Grated zest of two lemons and one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125 ml double cream
180 grams caster sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon crème freche

The original recipe calls for fewer eggs and more crème freche, but I’ve found that makes for a very wet mixture which tends to collapse in the middle when you take it out of the oven, so a bit of fiddling has given me the above quantities.

Pre-heat the oven to 190C. Cut a disc of foil or baking parchment to fit in the base of the cake tin (if you’re using a loose-bottomed tin it’s easier to just wrap the base in foil). Butter the inside and base of the tin, then scatter the biscuit crumbs over the base and sides until they’re nicely coated. Shake out the excess crumbs.

In a bowl (if you’re using a mixer, it should be at low to medium speed), mix together the cream cheese, zests and vanilla extract until they’re well-combined. Then add the cream and the sugar, and mix them in.

Beat in the eggs; do these one at a time or there’s a chance the mixture will curdle. Then add the crème freche and beat that in.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin.

Put the kettle on.

Place the cake tin into the larger roaster, and pour boiling water into the larger tin until it’s about half way up the sides of the cake tin.

Bake it for 75 minutes, or until the middle stays firm when you shake the tin. This may take a long time: if need be, turn the oven down to a very low heat and let the cake stay in the oven until it’s done.

Take the cake out of the water and leave it to cool. Some say it should come out of the tin after ten minutes and left to cool on a rack, others say it can stay in the tin until it’s cold. I’ve done both and there seems to be no discernable difference. Ideally it’ll look pale yellow from the egg yolks, with a slightly browned top. Chances are, though, especially the first time you make it, it’ll be dark brown to a little burned. It doesn’t matter. The taste is the same.

This is a very gooey cake, essentially a kind of egg custard thickened with cream cheese. If you’re fussy about getting clean-edged slices, dip your knife in hot water and dry it before you cut each slice.

No photo as it tends to get 'sampled' as soon as it's done. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Garden: An Update

There’s a five-foot high pile of wood and leaves just outside my back door. Bloody good job Swamp Thing’s back.