Saturday, July 21, 2007

Colonel Moseley takes a Haiku

What ho! Earlier this week the Mem said she needed to go into our local bookshop to pick up the latest Delia Smith (or was it Wilbur Smith?): anyway, some book or other. As usual, she bumped into one of her cronies from the Townswomens’ Guild amongst the Danielle Steeles, so I occupied myself browsing for twenty minutes as they put the world to rights, dissected it or whatever it is they do.

I happened upon the poetry section which, as you might imagine, isn’t something I’ve done since the obligatory doses of Wordsworth and Tennyson at the old alma mater of my youth.

One slim tome in the bargain bin caught my eye. On the cover it had a picture of a pagoda in front of Mount Fuji, entitled The Art of Haiku.

It seems a haiku is a poem or epigram that has to have precisely seventeen syllables and be in only three lines of five, seven and five syllables respectively, no more, no less.

As an aficionado of Carol Vorderman and sudoku, this mathematical angle appealed. This was particularly so when it occurred that the haikus didn’t have to be very zen or concern snow slipping off the branches of willow trees or the wistful allure of the geisha.

I bought the little book and took it home. Having learned all that can be realistically expected of a chap of my age of this precise form, here are some first efforts with a contemporary Moseley twist:-

HAIKU: bittersweet

Just like a haiku,
Loving you is short, sweet and
Rather hard to do.

HAIKU: Miss Pargeter’s confessional

In my pew in church
I fancy making love to
Frank - and then Nancy.

HAIKU: end of the affair

An assignation,
For fornication – oft ends
With termination.

HAIKU: adieu syd barrett #1 ~ after e.j.thribb

Farewell then Syd - not
Sid James – the one they called a
Crazy diamond.

HAIKU: adieu syd barrett #2~ after chas 'n dave

Both Chas 'n Dave wave
’n rabbit: Gertcha, crazy
Diamond geezer.

HAIKU: half-century

Though "fifty" rhymed with
"Nifty" on my birthday card -
It was really hard.

HAIKU: redundant

Being told to go
And stubbing your toe hurt -but
You're too proud to show.

HAIKU: confession #1

I'm not a treasure;
I’m broody, moody and quite
Unlike Dame Judi.

HAIKU: confession#2

My only real vice
Is Countdown with a Mister
Kipling Country Slice

So, subjects for haikus can be more Oxford Road than The Road to Mandalay. They can range from daydreams to love and from the bittersweet to the confessional; they aren’t necessarily eastern or epigrammatic. Pip, pip!

*A version of this article has also appeared in Birmingham 13

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Colonel Moseley's Stereotypes: The Opera Buff

Barry had been devoted to the opera ever since Aunt Margaret had given him a tiny dansette and box of assorted Puccini for his tenth birthday.

His mother’s sister had been a seminal influence in Barry’s early life, steering him away from the rough and tumble of boy’s games to more refined pastimes of music, painting and the arts.

Indeed, it was on trips with Auntie Mags to the municipal art gallery, at the sight of the rippling muscles, stern expression and mini toga of the young centurion in the pre-Raphaelite room that the first funny warm feelings had manifested themselves below that never really went away.

Whilst other boys collected stamps or train numbers, Barry built up his collection of opera records and books. Rather than footballers he worshipped the great divas from Tebaldi to Callas to Sutherland.

As he grew up, his life was punctuated by the plop of Opera Magazine onto his doormat and the construction of more shelves of racking in the lounge, soon overflowing into the spare room to accommodate his burgeoning collection.

He remembers being taken for the first time as a child by Aunt Margaret to the holy of holies, the Royal Opera House. He adored the formal grandeur of all that red velvet and gilt, the glamorous dresses and frenetic gaiety of the laughter and champagne in the rush at the end of the interval.

Time spent in this wonderland of liveried footmen and sparkling chandeliers influenced Barry’s life. His flat, although modest, was plush-curtained, gilded and chandeliered within an inch of its life.

Barry had more dress suits and white tie ensembles than you could shake an ivory topped cane at - and more silk lined opera capes than was strictly necessary in the wardrobe of a chartered accountant.

The crush bar at Covent Garden was Barry’s most favourite place. He adored the idea of so many attractive and like-minded young chaps crammed together in such high spirits for such a sort space of time. He called it “My kind of scrum” and always seemed to make new friends there. Rarely did a visit end without a supper afterwards or a new phone number tucked into his pocket Letts.

On holiday in Gran Canaria each March, Barry would lie in a nook on the dunes near Maspalomas without a care in the world, catching some rays, whilst revisiting a rare recording of The Ring” on his iPod.

At parties, conversation amongst Barry’s circle of opera-loving aficionados revolved around reviews of the latest performances and the niceties of favourite sopranos, lightened by the occasional funny story of diva-ish excess or rivalry.

By the time Barry reached a solitary middle–age, his flat was a shrine to dear Joanie and the divine Maria. Visits there were enjoyable for those in the know, although fans of the Ink Spots or Alma Cogan struggled.

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Colonel Moseley's Stereotypes: The Foodie


There only thing that Robin liked more than waking up to Giles Coren on a Saturday morning, was breakfast in bed on Sunday with A.A.Gill. Personally devoted though he was to these giants of culinary criticism, however, Robin’s only real passion extended to food.

As a child, Robin’s parents saw nothing unusual in their little boy having no problem eating egg whites, broccoli or liver. What seemed a little strange in a nine year old was a precocious taste so early for organic produce or what he termed “real coffee” and “decent bread”. Although a little unsettled, they sighed and took comfort in the thought that fastidious eating habits were to be preferred to glue-sniffing.

In time, as Robin’s precocity extended to plover’s eggs, artichokes and foie gras, they began to wonder where they had gone wrong. Perhaps if they had insisted on his reading The Bumper Fun Book for Boys rather than Elizabeth David’s “Mediterranean Food”, this unnatural vice would have been nipped in the bud. They recall thinking it was a phase which would soon pass, but came to recognise how wrong they were. Soon, he graduated to even more exotic fare, such as the works of Eliza Acton and even Brillat-Savarin. By the age of fifteen, the die was cast; their Robin was a confirmed and practising foodie.

As a young man a considerable proportion of Robin’s income was spent on his passion. Birthday money and savings were invested in Le Creuset cookware and a full set of Michelin Guides, rather than rap CD’s and trainers.

Day trips were made to the culinary centres – Bray for The Fat Duck, Ludlow and Hibiscus and Anthony’s in Leeds. Foreign travel was also gastro-centric. For Robin, Florence meant Enoteca Pinchiorri rather than the Uffizi. Lyons was synonymous with Paul Bocuse. Rather than MoMA and SAKS, New York meant Balthazar and Gramercy Tavern.

Latterly, Robin’s overriding interest lay in molecular gastronomy. A poster of Heston Blumenthal adorned his kitchen wall. He loved the invention and wit of some of his signature dishes: sensory jokes with hot and cold and confusions of colours, aromas and even noise. It was food where nothing could be taken for granted, where memories could be triggered and games played.

This led him to devour all he could read about his hero, the originator of this gastronomic necromancy, Ferran Adria. Each year Robin planned his prospective holiday around the possibility of securing a booking for dinner at El Bulli, Adria’s legendary restaurant in Roses near Gerona in Spain. Every year along with literally 400,000 other supplicants, he failed.

Invitations to dinner at Robin’s were much sought-after. Guests relished the eclectic mix of dishes and wines, with many a reference to current celebrity chefs: from Heston’s egg and bacon ice cream to Gordon’s peanut butter parfait. Unfortunately, Robin’s exquisite taste and discriminating palate was so well known and intimidating that no-one was ever brave enough to invite him back.

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