Saturday, 29 March 2008

Accept No Substitute

It's a brave man that accuses Bill Blunt of being worried about the competition. It's not my way to concern myself with imposters.

But Jasper was doing a spot of Googling just today.

William Blunt looks like the kind of guy you'd stake your pension on. Or use as your estate agent, if you lived in California.

That's OK with me. So long as he doesn't intrude into journalism. The world's big enough to take two Bill Blunts.

I like to think that my distinctive voice will set me apart from any imposters, so that readers will find the 'real' Bill easily enough.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Don't Leave Me This Way

It’s not very often I hear from my old pal and former drinking-companion, Des Smith, but when I do my memories of our days together on the Preston Globe are inevitably stirred. Des made quite a name for himself by championing IT at a time when most of us couldn’t tell an Atari from an Apple.

His retirement has found him in Japan, of all places, where he ekes out his pension by ‘stringing’ for a couple of Tokyo dailies. His irregular missives back home are always an intriguing insight into the cultural differences between east and west, peppered as they are with accounts of his trips to bars with his work colleagues. He’s developed an out-of-character fondness for eating raw fish and sea-weed, but apart from that has slipped easily into the Japanese way of life.

Anyone even remotely familiar with that lifestyle will know that Karaoke looms large in the social currency of the country. So, it came as no great surprise to him, when attending a leaving-party for one of his male workmates who had secured an advertising job in the capital, to find the Karaoke machine was blasting away in the corner.

“What do the British sing at farewell parties?” he was asked. Des’ assertion that it was quite unlikely that anyone would sing anything was met with blank incomprehension. “Oh, go on…” they cajoled. “Sing us the British farewell song”. Not wishing to offend his friends, but stuck to know quite what might be appropriate in the circumstances, he noticed that the ‘menu’ of songs included that Peter, Paul & Mary classic ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ – a song which most of us, of a certain vintage, could make a decent fist of. At first glance, it would seem to be a decent enough choice for a ‘leaving’ song and the chorus, at any rate, is a familiar refrain (altogether, now):

And I'm leaving on a jet plane
I don't know when I'll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go
As a confident Des took to the stage and began his rendition, the smiles on his friends’ faces were enough to convince him he’d got away with not offending them. Then, as the words of the song unfurled, he began to hope that their English wasn’t up to understanding the finer points of the lyrics. Increasingly crimson with embarrassment, he ploughed his way through the song, which he later described as ‘A Stalker’s Lament’.

For those who might have forgotten, here are a few lines:
All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go
I'm standin' here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye

But the dawn is breakin', it's early morn
The taxi's waitin', he's blowin' his horn
Already I'm so lonesome I could die

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go

There's so many times I've let you down
So many times I've played around
I'll tell you now, they don't mean a thing

Every place I go, I think of you
Every song I sing, I sing for you
When I come back I'll wear your wedding ring

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time, oh, let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I'll be on my way
As Des dashed off the stage, he could only reflect how fortunate he was not to be singing that song in the saloon bar of The Black Horse Hotel where, if our previous visit was anything to go by, he would have been lucky to escape with a couple of broken arms.

Plus ça change, as they probably don’t say in Japan.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Let Them Eat Cheaply

An interesting post on Gail's blog got me thinking it was time I shared with my readers a recipe that has come to be a mainstay in my weekly eating pattern.

It's a regime that has made me a regular visitor to Oxfam - not only to off-load the portly size 38" jeans I used to wear, but also to stock up on the much more becoming 30" ones that have been donated by someone who is perhaps travelling in the opposite direction.

Gail's plea is for cheap, wholesome food. Here's Bill's suggestion:

Tuscan Bean Stew

Take three tins of assorted beans (available from Sainsburys for the ridiculous price of three for a pound): pinto, butter, black-eyed - it doesn't really matter.

Drain them, and throw them into a slow cooker with a couple of tins of cheap tomatoes.

Add a good spoonful of tomato puree, a little olive oil, some pepper and a bloody good sprinkling of mixed herbs.

Now - the technical bit. Switch the slow cooker on. Go out and see the world for a few hours, and return to your sumptuous dish.

If you've made enough, but can't face eating the same dish two days in a run, throw in a tablespoon of chilli powder and heat the whole thing up again for a couple of hours.

Result - a couple of nutritious, delicious meals for around £1.40, with enough left over to freeze up for another meal.

Of course, you'll need some decent bread to mop up the juices. That's why I'm teaming up with the estimable Crofty to launch the Better Bread Blogger marque.

Wherever you see this, you'll know you're reading a blog penned by someone who appreciates the taste, texture and sheer, down-to-earth goodness of a decent loaf of bread.

Anyone who wants to prove they're up to rising to support this campaign can copy the code for the BBB widget and insert it into their blog.


Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Battle of the Poets

Things have come to a pretty poor pass in UK journalism when two of our more obscure quality newspapers are battling it out for circulation by trading on the reputation of the country's greatest poets.

The marketing boys at The Independent and The Guardian must be having a 'Doh!' moment, now that they've realised they've both commissioned a series of booklets profiling the nation's best poets as giveaways to boost their readership.

So - who'll win with this one? It's not an easy call when, on a slow Wednesday, Alexander Pope is pitched against WH Auden. But my money's on Auden. You heard it from Bill Blunt first.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Peace, Bread, Land

Having eulogised of late about the reasonable price being charged by Sainsbury’s for Dove’s Farm Organic Wholemeal Flour, it came as something of a shock when I went to stock up on supplies this evening.

After months perfecting my artisan bread-making techniques, I’d grown accustomed to paying just 60p for 1.5kg of the stuff, pleased to be able to make a decent loaf of bread for little more than 25p a go. I was hardly prepared, therefore, for the price-hike that faced me tonight. The same product has all but doubled in price, and now retails at £1.19 for a 1.5kg bag.

That’s why I’ve dusted the flour off my Bill Blunt Blast accolade, to award it to whoever it was at Sainsbury’s who has sanctioned this crippling price increase. Did they give a moment’s thought to the poor pensioner, eking out their pittance of an income, when they authorised this calamitous price rise? I doubt it.

If I were Gordon Brown, I’d be sleeping a little more uneasily in my bed tonight (and it’s worth stressing that no earthquakes are anticipated). His Government has failed to deliver peace in Iraq, and now the price of home-made bread has doubled. As for land, that’s a subject we might want to studiously avoid, lest we re-awaken Bolshevik instincts in the British population.

I’ll be writing to Sainsbury’s about this outrageous matter, I can tell you. Anyone tempted to add their voice to my campaign can do so by e-mailing their Customer Services people, here.