Saturday, 6 August 2011

Istanbul, not Constantinople

The Travel Journal of an Edwardian Lady. Well, obviously not. But you can pretend. I can pretend!

Lesson Number 1, boys and girls: Always get to the airport at least two hours before your flight. Because the automated check-in machines will refuse to let you check in and you will have to queue for an hour to speak to the only human being staffing a help desk in the building. Everything else went very smoothly though and all concerned were very pleasant to deal with in person. Security and duty free were a breeze. Plus we were in the queue just ahead of a family returning home after buying all of Harrods. They had one hundred and one suitcases and as many children. Fortunately, we were dealt with before they took half an hour to process.

Lesson Number 2: Airline food can be good. Remember all that airline food we used to whine about and none of the budget airlines supplies any more? Well, flew BA for the first time in many years and they slapped a whole tray of food down in front of me. Maybe it's just that I was frankly Hank by then, having had no time to eat pre-flight, but I wolfed it all down. Cottage cheese salad with a bun, fresh and still had some taste. Then two beef sausages with a Colcannon rissole type thing and some coloured but tasteless veg. The rissole thing was OK but the sausages were really good. Then a little 'Banoffee Mousse' pudding. Now, I have never eaten a 'Banoffee' anything before because of my disdain for the word 'Banoffee'. It hit the spot though. All served up with two mini bottles of white wine that wasn't vinegar, some spring water and some black coffee.

Lesson Number 3: Don't talk to me. I have been in a better mood and have even been quite animated, what with all the excitement of travel. But the guy next to me on the plane kept trying to chat and even joined in a few conversations between me and my lovely partner, unexpectedly. Then, caught a shuttle to our hotel from Atatürk Airport, shared with a couple of others. American girl behind kept asking us questions and engaging fit to burst. Boundaries, Sweetie! I was bemused that she was heading on to Beirut "Because it's a party city: great clubs!"

Now drinking some barely chilled duty free champagne and thinking about venturing upstairs to investigate the roof pool and bar and restaurant.

Ventured up top. Great! Magnificent panoramic view of the rooftops of Istanbul, sat in the cooling evening breeze and ate shish kebab and Allah knows what else. Delicious. And a fairly good Riesling with it. Those big fuck off mosques look great in the darkness, all lit up.

Back now finishing off the champagne and watching 'Paul' on the laptop. 'Paul' is OK but limps along in comparison with Pegg's previous ventures in motion picture comedy. (Stayed up very late watching it to the end though, which says something.) Insane number of things unaccessible though as I surf because of Netsafe software. Not entirely sure whether that's just the hotel being incredibly stringent or reflective of Turkish state censirship more generally. Possibly the latter, sadly.

Caught comfortably up on sleep and we nearly missed breakfast. Stuffed our greedy faces with Turkish delights from the enormous breakfast buffet. Then we were off out to investigate the city streets! Got our bearings now, pretty much. We seem to be right in the middle of the Old City with all the standard tourist stuff ln our doorstep, which is a relief in this heat :) Can't complain about the heat though. That's why we came all this way.

Tomorrow we shall remember to put on sun screen and wear hats and then we shall stay out, see Hagia Sophia, and take a tour on top of a bus round the whole town. Today, contented ourselves with the (roofed) Grand Bazaar which was like the Great Souk of Marrakech's posher, cleaner, tidier cousin. Not wanting to buy a carpet or a bag of saffron, we then repaired to our lovely hotel. Things are cheap here but not that spectacularly cheap.

Have had a swim and am lying on a sunbed, looking out over the rooftops of the city towards Asia. Hotel wifi works fairly efficiently even on the roof. Audiobook (sequel to Game of Thrones), laptop, and bottle of dry white wine chilling in a big brass ice bucket. Lovely partner munching the peanuts they brought him with the wine. I was given a wine glass full of carrot sticks, sitting in lemon juice. Bizarrely more-ish accompaniment to my icy wine :)

OK, am going to moan. I have no business to do so while I lounge here in this idyll but surely they have another CD they could play. Last night at dinner I heard 'Nights in White Satin' about three times. Lovely partner remarked at breakfast that one soon tires of 'Careless Whisper'. Haven't tired of Sinatra singing 'Strangers in the Night' yet, though.

Even with my earphones in, it's hard to ignore the fact that Tom Jones is singing 'The Green Green Grass of Home' for the umpteenth time. My late mother loved that song and I have heard it many times before, listening with half an ear. Only last night, when lovely partner explained it, did I learn that it's sung by a murderer on Death Row who is dead by the end and buried beneath the green, green grass of home. I shall forever associate it with the cooling breeze blowing off the Bosphorus and the heat haze engulfing the great tankers in the port below.

And here's "Nights in White Satin" again!

Another excellent night's sleep in this marvellously well air conditioned room and we both leapt out of bed early and got ourselves breakfasted and buffed up and out to Hagia Sophia* before the crowds. It was a grand big space and very beautiful but seemed astonishingly empty, after looking at so many great churches and synagogues through the years. Mosques, of course, are spaces for hundreds of people to pray by kneeling and prostrating themselves on the floor, so they are obviously going to be empty. Stands to reason. One handy thing was that, instead of having to take your shoes off and shelve them, then rummage to recover them afterwards, they just give you a plastic bag to carry them around in.

(*Only we didn't go to Hagia Sophia, apparently, we got the wrong mosque! Went to the Sultanahmet or Blue Mosque instead. Which is just next to it. Oh well, can rectify that another day!)

Then we jumped on an open-topped bus and went to Asia! Briefly. Saw the whole town, reprimanded a Russian for invading my personal space, took tons of photos, then got off the bus and had a sundae. Then came home to crash and do sweet Fancy Activity for the rest of the day :) What fun: going to and coming back from Asia without having left Istanbul :)

Now it's nearly 7pm Istanbul time, so we shall head off out into the town in a bit. Want to find a restaurant called Rumeli Café and eat there. It's not far. In what used to be the main street of old Constantinople under the sultans. Just a little curvy street now, so you wouldn't think it to look at it. Tried to post a link to Rumeli restaurant there because it looks quite smart but apparently that too, according to the Netsafe programme this hotel uses, is "p0rnography". In fact, googling any place in Istanbul to eat apart from this hotel's restaurant seems to be "p0rnography". Ha! Wonder why that is?

OK, been to the Rumeli Café. Didn't rate the food that much. Starter (Mixed Börek) was good but nothing else all that special. Shame, because there are a lot of rave reviews on the internet and in the Time Out Guide to Istanbul and that had raised my expectations. In particular, the attentive and humorous staff get a lot of mentions. Maybe they just didn't like us or maybe it was that thing of not knowing what to do with a male couple but we were rather ignored all night. Apparently you can dine on the roof but there was no sign of that on offer tonight. Street life was fun to watch, for me, but lovely partner just had me and the wall behind me to watch. Oh well, will try somewhere else tomorrow. Eating far too much! Should have a quiet night in our room with a packet of crispbreads and some salty cheese :)

Oh well, got caught up in holidaying and forgot to record it here. Still, there are a million photographs. I think what we did the next day, iirc, was tour Hagia Sophia and its glories and then just wander back to the hotel to lie in the sun on the roof and drink wine. Hagia Sophia was great and there's a whole separate photo album just for it. So old (a millennium and a half) and so full of pieces of that past, even with subsequent occupants having tried to extirpate the evidence of the ancien régime.

We had entertained ourselves, waiting for the slow staff in Rumeli Café to attend to us, by watching the street life and part of that was the energy two young men were putting into trying to entice punters into 'Adonin' restaurant, just up the street (Divan Yolu). All to little avail as there were few customers in there all night. Then we looked it up when we got home to the hotel and discovered lots of fans, telling us it was quite a reliable place to eat. Quite high up in Tripadvisor ranks. So we went back there that next night to find it chock full and the service there was much better. The couple next to us smoked all the way through their meal, even during courses, which was a bit off-putting but, all in all, charming service and the food was fair enough. It seems there's a standard menu in all these places, pretty much. Had deep fried mussels for a starter and they were great. Didn't taste much of mussels though...

Next day, we got up early and made for Topkapi Palace, since Time Out Istanbul said it was wise to be there sharp before the crowds build. Never a truer word. We had the place virtually to ourselves when we got there and, by the time we left, it was swamped. But what a great way to spend half a day! Processed through successive courtyards and visited gorgeous collections of things in gorgeous interiors. The buildings in which these are all housed and the gardens in which these buildings sit were exquisite, as you'd expect from a palace that was the hub of a huge empire for hundreds of years.

They had a museum full of sacred relics purchased by various sultans: Moses' staff, Muhammad's sword and tooth and various bits of his and his family's clothing. What a lot of old tosh. Handsomely guarded by handsome guards though. There was a collection of sultanic costume, with harem pants of such proportionate that MC Hammer would have given up. Some of those sultans were obviously very big chaps! There was a gallery of portraits of sultans. None was very impressive but I was struggling to resolve the very idea of a figurative portrait in a Muslim state that forbids such representation. All the art on the walls everywhere else purposely avoids representation of people or even animals for fear of iconography.

Had coffee on the terrace, looking out over the Bosphorus. Glorious! Marred only slightly by surly and ineffective service. Then paid extra to visit the harem. Well worth it! The space was interesting, all the little rooms and tunnels and utilities, mostly covered in brilliant (Iznik) tiles and unexceptional landscape painting. Would have loved to have seen it with the furnishings still there - all the opulent silks and hangings and cushions and jewels... And we only get to tour the ground floor. Would love to get upstairs to see some of the hundreds of other rooms still closed to the public, the personal chambers of the concubines etc. Lovely partner bought a big book about the Harem, so looking forward to reading that and devouring the pictures, misleading as Western artistic impressions apparently are.

Then out that night to the restaurant that was No 1 in the Tripadvisor rankings: Matbah in the Ottoman Palace Hotel at the back of Hagia Sophia. It recreates dishes from historic cookbooks used in the palace and what a joy it was to eat there. Everything was perfect: the space, the music provided by handsome Turkish chap on something like a guitar, the excellent service, the night sounds of Istanbul all around, and most of all the food! I had four hundred year old recipes throughout. Stuffed cold squid to start, something called Nirbaç for the main (lamb stewed with carrots, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, pomegranate juice, garnished with crushed walnuts and served in a pastry shell), and finished with Levzine (a kind of Halva). Washed down with chilled Turkish white wine, a Doluca. All just the very dab. Came home on a big high after that, so went up on the roof for a nightcap before retiring. The barmen are a bit pissed off that we order the local gin and not the expensive 'imported' kind that's twice the price but the local stuff is perfectly pleasant and hardly in Ouzo territory.

So now it's the last couple of days and we have to decide which of the other things we thought we might do we shall actually fit in. We've done the things we had to do and now anything else is a plus. Perhaps the Süleymaniye Mosque, just up the road behind the Grand Bazaar, but that has been closed for repairs for ages and may not have reopened yet. Or the Hamam, also just up the road, that seems to have a good recommendation all round for clueless tourist use. Maybe Durak, a beary gay bar over town somewhere - but that's a later-in-the-day thing to do. Maybe Dolmabahçe Palace, the one to which the sultans migrated in the 19th century, though it's further along the Bosphorus coast and maybe too much of an effort after having been pretty well palaced out yesterday. Has the biggest ballroom and biggest chandelier in the world though. Neither a sight to be sneezed at that!

However, thus far we have enjoyed our first long lie of the holiday. Got up, breakfasted, then returned to the room where I had a bath and then lovely partner fell asleep. Since I appear to have a big sore blister on my right foot, I am quite enjoying not having to go and do anything at the moment. Today may prove to be the one day of the holiday when we achieve absolutely nothing. How glorious would that be!

I gather that it's a hot weekend in London. It was the same when we went to Marrakech on honeymoon. London had its hottest day ever while we were away. I hope our lovely housesitter throws the odd cupful of water over my poor roof terrace plantings.

We went out and had a look at the Süleymaniye Mosque. Addicts' Alley, that leads you there, has lost its charm since the hashish café there stopped its illegal trade. The mosque has a bigger dome than Hagia Sophia but we were in and out in five minutes. Cultural Philistines perhaps or maybe just 'mosqued out', as we were 'templed out' in India or Cambodia in our time. Have now come back to sit in the sun on the roof, listen to 'A Storm of Swords' on audiobook, and potter about online. All the while drinking my favourite Turkish wine: Çankaya.

Will eat at another recommended place tonight and then head off across town to a Turkish 'bear' bar. Phenomenally excited about that which sadly means I am probably going to be horribly disppointed. But then it's Saturday night and wherever we are in the world, we miss Duckie on a Saturday night and try to do something special instead. An friend (impossible polymath and frequent visitor to Istanbul) told us to take a tram and we thought, probably foolishly, that should be easy. However, we have both now managed to purchase a token for a tram and since it's only three tramstops from here, I think we might cope :)

Oh, why can't I just spend my whole life on holiday? I'm so good at it!

We have wandered down to Divan Yolu, near Hagia Sophia, to eat on several nights of our holiday. We have eaten at a succession of restaurants that abut one another on the pavement there, progressively further from the main street. Each has been better than the last and last night we happened into Khorasani which was pretty damn good. As if often the case here, the starter was the best bit: Squid stuffed with mussels. Fantastic! Plus, great loaf of crispy, very thin, puffed up bread. That was marvellous, just on its own. The main was a mixed plate of 'kebap' meats. Tasty and well cooked but I'm tiring of the whole kebab deal. Back to Matbah for a last night meal this evening, to try something else. It has been fun though, sitting on the pavement, cats marauding around us - kitten jumped into lovely partner's lap last night, begging for scraps - and enjoying the street life.

Then jumped on a tram and went to Durak bar in Araksay. It was simultaneously very alien and very sweet. It was reminiscent of bars I'd frequent in my teens as a newly-out baby bender. Both because it was all strange and perhaps a bit unnerving to me, but also because of the hair and the clothes and the Turkish folk music in the background. It threw into sharp contrast the huge plastic saminess of so many gay bars in London. Thank God for Duckie and The Vauxhall Griffin. Odd to be drinking beer all night again. It's less of a fankle than wine, esspecially when the barman comes round and just slaps a fresh beer down in front of you when your glass is nearly empty. And at the end of the night he asks you how many beers you had and thinks of a number to charge you. In our case, we had seven beers and a bowl of peanuts for about £15. Then home to the hotel and our reserve finally broke - we raided the minibar.

Limping about this morning, so shall not be doing much tramping about the city. Will lie up on the roof all morning and then maybe hit the Hamam this afternoon. That's close by. Last day: bittersweet!

Arose and pottered about, packing gently, in our room. Suddenly, a phone call from the front desk to say our driver was there, half an hour early. Threw on our clothes and I went down to check out and pay up, while lovely partner finished packing in a hurry. The driver turned out to have a smart limo for just us, as opposed to the dolmus deal on the way out from the airport, shared with two other lots of travellers. Glad to be going home to home comforts and the familiar but was surprised to feel so blue to be leaving this lovely city. So much beauty, so much history, so much culture, so much mixing of people over thousands of years. Makes it an intriguing place to be. We don't like to go back to places, usually chanting our mantra that there are so many other places we haven't been yet, but I would love to go back and see/do more in Constantinople.

Bumpy flight on the way back, both climbing and descending! First mate at the controls and maybe it was her first time. Glad that, this being a proper grown up BA flight, we got free wine and a tasty meal again. Huge queues for Non-UK Passport Holders but we were whistled straight through Border Control. Home by 6pm and collapsed on our big comfy bed at the old homestead :)

Thursday, 4 August 2011


#10 Rufus Wainwright with Antony: Old Whore's Diet
I never could see why people got so excited about Rufus and there are still times when I find him self indulgent and adenoidal but not here, on this song, with Antony Heggarty. Listening to this on the iPod as I commuted was what first got me to listen to more of his stuff and then I discovered The Art Teacher and Agnus Dei and Between My Legs and many more delights.
Isn’t ‘The Old Whore’s Diet’ a cigarette and a cup of coffee? That was my standard breakfast for many years. Now I just have the coffee.

#9 Booker T & the MG's: Green Onions
In the 1960s, they were members of the house band at Stax Records and played on many Stax artists’ hits. They also released instrumental records under their own name, of which Green Onions was the biggest.
Apparently ‘Green Onions’ are what we’d call Spring Onions in the UK, or Syboes in Scotland. Once had a tasty Laotian dish in Thailand that seemed to be made principally of chopped beef, chili, and chopped syboes, spiced. Called Laab Neua, very delicious.

#8 Burl Ives: Big Rock Candy Mountain
I heard this often on Children’s Radio as a kid, the Burl Ives version. It was originally a song about a hobo's idea of paradise, first recorded by Harry McClintock in 1928.
Wikipedia tells me that McClintock appeared in court as part of a copyright dispute, where he cited the original words of the song as he had sung it when a busker in the street in the 1890s. In that original version, the tale of The Big Rock Candy Mountain was used to beguile a child into the hobo life, leading to disillusion in the last verse:
“I've hiked and hiked till my feet are sore
And I'll be damned if I hike any more
To be buggered sore like a hobo's whore
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains."

#7 Donna Summer: MacArthur Park
Stretching one reference to a cake left out in the rain to justify inclusion but, wtf, I love this, so here it is! I don’t think that I can take it, cos it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipé again, OH NO! I might have posted Richard Harris’ original because I love it too but I love Donna’s dance version more.

#6 Little Feat: Dixie Chicken
Smooth and sultry slide guitar. That will do nicely. They were never very successful commercially but this single and the eponymous album came the closest.
Dixie chicken is apparently a casserole of chicken breasts, mushrooms, bacon, and cream. The song also talks about Tennessee Lamb but I have no idea what that could be. Kebab, perhaps?

#5 Harry Nilsson: Coconut
When I was a teenager, I was a bit obsessed with this song and with Harry Nilsson. Just for a little while but it’s strongly nostalgic now. ‘Everybody’s Talking’ and ‘Without You’, his other big hits, were sophisticated ballads but this infectious little novelty tune is a calypso, where Nilsson tells a silly story with a series of voices.

#4 John Lennon: Beef Jerky
Lennon went on producing some great tunes and performances after the demise of The Beatles.
I’m not fond of any of these old fashioned preserved meats: jerky, biltong, pemmican, Iceland dried fish etc. I do like jerk chicken though. And one of the benefits of working in South London is you can buy jerk chicken and curried goat for lunch from the West Indian food shops. That will all stop, alas, when I move offices later in the year.

#3 Rosemary Clooney: Come on-a My House
George Clooney’s aunty sure could sing and she was a huge star in her day. She starred in White Christmas with Bing. All the food innuendo here is a little more risqué than you might expect for the period. Sparks stole her song title for their album Kimono My House.
Come on-a my house and you’ll be lucky to get a cup of tea and a biscuit, although I used to be quite good at producing pizza at 3 a.m. after Duckie for guests, before I succumbed to Atkins. The song was based on an Armenian folk song, written by the Armenian-American novelist and playwright William Saroyan (his only foray into pop music) with his cousin, Ross Bagdasarian (the man behind the original Alvin and the Chipmunks). The melody came from an old Armenian folk song and the foodstuffs referenced in the lyric are examples of the hospitality offered if you were to visit a traditional Armenian home: candy, apple, plum, apricot, figs and dates and grapes and cakes, pomegranate, peach and pear, even Easter egg. Apparently Clooney came to hate the song but had to keep singing her greatest hit all her life.

#2 The Smiths: Meat is Murder
Title track of their second album. Horrible subject, great song. These days, I am once more an omnivore but I feel guilty about it. When I watch this I do, anyway. Dear, daft, quixotic old Moz who, to his credit, has apparently remained fiercely vegetarian to this day. Maybe he goes offstage and munches on a Peperami in secret but I choose to think not.

#1 10cc: Life is A Minestrone
Great band, great song off a great album (The Original Soundtrack). Bumped into them in the queue at the old Turnhouse Airport (which was really just one big shed) in Edinburgh when they were just getting famous, one of my first ever celeb spots. I like that their name is a reference to the average volume of ejaculate per seminal emission.
The line about ‘Sipping tea by the Taj Mahal at dawn’ takes me back to doing more or less that very thing a decade ago with my Beloved, on the ‘Diana bench’.
Great lyrics and a particularly fine foodie and philosophical chorus:
“Life is a minestrone
Served up with Parmesan cheese
Death is a cold lasagna
Suspended in deep freeze”

Minestrone just means ‘big soup’ but what lovely stuff it is. First Italian meal I ever ate, in a restaurant in Southwark aged 14 on a school trip, began with minestrone.


#20 Herb Alpert: A Taste of Honey
I like honey well enough but its consistency troubled me as a boy, so I preferred jam on my toast. These days, the only time I consciously consume honey is when I have it with lemon and paracetamol to ease a sore throat. Although, on holiday in Istanbul recently, I became fond of yogurt with walnuts and honeycomb on top for breakfast.
The Tijuana Brass had the big hit with this, in 1965, but it was originally written by Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow five years earlier for the Broadway opening of Shelagh Delaney’s West End stage hit.

#19 Dean Martin: That’s Amore
Martin (born Dino Crocetti) first sang this in a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis comedy called ‘The Caddy’ in 1953. It was nominated for the Best Song Oscar but lost out to Doris Day with ‘Secret Love’. It’s in this list because of the repeated food references, to a big pizza pie and to pasta fazool.
I adore pizza but it has to have a proper thin, crusty base. I have no patience whatsoever with ‘deep dish’ or ‘stuffed crust’. Last time I was in Italy, Stu and I ate pizza for breakfast every day. In my case, it was always anchovy-strewn Pizza Napoli.
‘Pasta fazool’ is a Neapolitan dish of pasta with beans, called ‘fagioli’ elsewhere in Italy and ‘fasule’ in Naples. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it.

#18 Millie: My Boy Lollipop
Don’t much like lollies. Never have. Did see some interesting ones with insects and worms inside them in Fortnum and Mason not long ago. I loved this song as a kid. Its essential rudeness quite passed me by. This 1964 recording was reputedly the first international ska hit and the first big moneyspinner for Chris Blackwell’s nascent Island label.

#17 Beastie Boys: Intergalactic
"If you try to knock me you'll get mocked
I'll stir fry you in my wok
Your knees'll start shaking and your fingers pop
Like a pinch on the neck from Mr. Spock"

Was I not just recently lamenting the absence of lyrics about the glory of the stir fry? Then I thought of this, courtesy of a Joe My God reference. I love a stir fry. Excellent Atkins-friendly meal if you up the meat content, miss out the noodles or rice, and substitute beansprouts.
The Readers Wifes play this at Duckie regularly and that has tweaked my interest. Not particularly fond of these homophobic prep school co-opters of rap otherwise.

#16 Barnes & Barnes: Fish Heads
Barnes & Barnes were Robert Haimer and Billy Mumy. Mumy was the little boy in ‘Lost in Space’ (Danger, Will Robinson!) and later the Minbari ‘Lennier’ in Babylon 5. This song and this video are both gloriously barking, although the video takes a wee while to get going. Might want to jump ahead to the middle. Fish heads are disgusting but they make great stock for bouillabaisse or chowder. Eat them up, yum!

#15 The Searchers: Sugar And Spice
I’m more Frogs and Snails and Puppydogs Tails, myself, but I remember this with affection from my youth. The Searchers coasted the Merseybeat wave in the wake of the Beatles and I really liked their Needles and Pins.

#14 Lieutenant Pigeon: Mouldy Old Dough
Wikipedia tells me that this is the only UK Number 1 record to feature a son (Rob Woodward, who co-wrote the song) and his mother (Hilda Woodward on piano). I assumed they were singing about stale bread all these years but have just read that they were commenting on the recent decimalisation of the currency. I remember £sd and pennies with Queen Victoria’s head on them. Thrupenny bits! Silver sixpences!
Dough is great stuff. I’m sure it can’t be good for you but, as kids, we loved to lick the spoon and the bowl when my mother was baking something and Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough is my favourite ice cream.

#13 The Stones: Brown Sugar
Nothing to do with Muscovado or Demerara sugar and all to do with the sexual abuse of young black female slaves and with cunnilingus. Gets us all shaking our beary booty on the Duckie dancefloor though.

#12 Hot Butter: Popcorn
An early Moog synthesiser tune that was a hit all over the world in the early 70s, even behind the Iron Curtain.
I’ve never been particularly fond of popcorn but I munch a bit when Stu buys a big carton of it at the cinema. I have occasionally popped my own and that is always dripping with butter and salt. I gather that you can buy it in foil packs and put these in the microwave. I have seen people do this. Takes all the fun out of popping it surely. Partner also buys Marks and Spencer’s chocolate covered popcorn. That’s good.

#11 The Strangeloves: I Want Candy
This is the original. Groovy, baby. Bow Wow Wow’s cover is great too.
‘Sweeties’ sound much more appetising than 'candy'. My grandparents called them ‘boilings’. I was thinking about ‘soor plooms’ or sour plums the other day. What exactly were those? There was a little flat, flowerless plant too that grew in the grass and we would chew it as kids, thinking it tasted of ‘soor plooms’ too.


#30 Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Spam
The excitement of the Pythons’ playing around with form as well as content is perhaps lost on us forty years on but not the memory of my Granny’s spam fritters, chips and beans. Wonderful. None of your vegetable oil in her chip pan either. It took a good ten minutes to melt down and boil up the dripping then chips, eggs, all sorts would go in. She did die fairly young after several strokes and heart attacks though :(

#29 Carpenters: Jambalaya
The Cajun version of paella! I tried it when I was in the States and it was OK but, like paella, it made me long for a biryani or a good kedgeree instead. We went to our favourite restaurant, The Wolseley, for breakfast on our anniversary last year and I had an excellent kedgeree.

#28 Arlo Guthrie: Alice's Restaurant and
Part 2
The song’s narrative's well captured in Andrew Colunga’s cartoons.

#27 Food Glorious Food! from Lionel Bart’s ‘Oliver’
This is a depressing film that ruined a Boxing Day for me once, when dragged to the cinema to see it as a child. But there are more than a few fine tunes in it and this is a good one. Didn’t Mark Lester grow up to be an occupational therapist or the like, and also one of Michael Jackson’s best pals?

#26 Squeeze: Pulling Mussels from a Shell
I didn’t really eat any seafood until long after I’d grown up and left home. As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown to like it a lot. I think my late mother avoided it because we lived so far inland that we were lucky to get fish for tea every Wednesday off the travelling fish van. Also because, as we discovered to her chagrin on one visit to the theatre in Soho, my mum was allergic to some kinds of seafood. She certainly had a violent emetic reaction to scallops! Not me. I love them. Love squid and have had great octopus, even carpaccio of same, in various foreign parts. Prawns, razor clams, abalone, so many Frutti di Mare to try! Mussels I like, but only served as Moules Marinière or the like. Never yet tried a sea urchin though.

#25 Spike Jones: Yes, We Have No Bananas
Sheer, exhilarating, nonsensical anarchy. Loved lots of Jones’ stuff when I was a kid. I do like bananas though. Perhaps explains all the banana-themed tunes on this list.
One thing we saw while wandering around Iceland recently was the banana cultivation in glasshouses, heated geothermally. Iceland is a net exporter of bananas, one of the biggest, apparently.

#24 Dusty Springfield: Breakfast In Bed
Lorna Bennett later had a hit in the UK with her reggae version of this but this is the incomparable Dusty! One of the Greatest Albums of All Time too. Have never been a big fan of breakfasts in bed. Too much Crumb Danger. I would like to try it, like Barbara Cartland, with the finest crockery and silver on a big wooden breakfast tray with feet, and an ironed copy of The Times from 1930something. Full English, side dish of kedgeree, toast with marmalade, gallons of Choice Mysore coffee in a Bialletti stovetop pot with hot, frothy milk in a little white jug.

#23 Harry Belafonte: Banana Boat Song
I went on holiday to Greece with my sister and her family many years ago and woke everybody up in the middle of the night by singing this song loudly in my sleep. I had only recently seen the fun Tim Burton had with the song in Beetlejuice. My dad played us lots of Belafonte’s songs when we were kids and, as well as having a fine voice and a very pretty face, Belafonte fought hard for civil rights over his long career and was particularly critical of the last Bush.

#22 Toto Coelo: I Eat Cannibals
Silly 80s-tastic girl group that included Bob Holness’ daughter, Ros. For my thoughts on cannibalism, I refer you to my comments on #38 (aforementioned).

#21 Blondie: Eat To The Beat
One of the best live gigs I was ever at was watching Blondie support the Scissor Sisters (who were pretty bloody good themselves) at a Hogmanay gig below the castle in Edinburgh years ago. This one’s off the eponymous album, which also offered up Union City Blue, Dreaming and Atomic. Phew! Hard to beat. Haven’t tried to eat to a beat, ever. Maybe some classical Spanish guitar or some Portishead would be good for the digestion.


#40 Led Zeppelin: Custard Pie
Foodies must be disappointed. This list is turning into a list of songs about sex, such as this Zeppelin crudity: Chewin' a piece of your custard pie. Listen to Jimmy Pages' guitar whine and wonder, and Planty's harmonica frolics.
I discovered custard pies when I moved to Little Portugal, in Lambeth, South London, where every local deli sells glorious Portuguese flaky pastry cases filled with thick custard. To die for, to quote Nicole Kidman.

#39 John Lennon: Cold Turkey
Not at all about food in any way shape or form. But, wtf, I love it. And I love turkey, whether at my American expat friend’s annual Thanksgiving-in-Exile or in some fancy restaurant at Christmas. I also eat cold turkey, with relish. And, anyway, I couldn’t find the other ‘turkey’ song I like which is a Thai song we heard a lot when we were over there, the lyrics of which my lovely partner swore were ‘tie your turkey tins to cans’.

#38 Hall and Oates: Maneater
OK, pushing it a bit to pretend this is a song about food but, wtf, I love Hall and Oates and one hears them so seldom these days. I’ve never eaten a man but I’ve had a good chew on a few through the years…

#37 Ralph Marterie & his Orchestra: Shish Kebab
When my lovely partner first moved to London, I was still living in Scotland and commuting up and down to see him at weekends. He was living for a while in North West London and there was a big restaurant called ‘Shish’ there that we frequented. It was part of a chain because there was another one up in Shoreditch we’d go to when we went to Columbia Road Flower Market in later years. They seem to have gone now but I enjoyed their slightly upmarket Middle Eastern fast food feel. Also got good shish kebab in the Turkish restaurant down the road from my office, until it went under new management, got all tarted up, the prices doubled, the food went downhill, the portions shrank, and it went bust. Then my lovemonkey and I went to Istanbul on holiday this year and devoured the whole range of shish kebab from marvellous to mediocre.
I know nothing about this record but it sounds suitably twirly and ramshorny.

#36 Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: The Onion Song
Ah, Motown. Lovely, lovely Motown. Lovely, lovely Marvin. I was never that convinced by Terrell but Marvin was. Despite being married to Berry Gordy’s older sister, he was rumoured to have had a long affair with her, until she died of a brain tumour, after which he attempted suicide. When I was at High School, this man was about the coolest, sexiest thing imaginable, until Bowie.
And, onions? What can one say about the onion. Love onions. Base of countless dishes. Carol Ann Duffy, our splendid Poet Laureate, wrote a fine poem for Valentine’s Day, with an onion theme:
“I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are...”

#35 Lynsey de Paul: Sugar Me
Sugar? Filthy stuff. I use saccharine in my coffee, nothing in my tea, and avoid starches of all kinds in my foods. That is why I look like the young Robert Redford and can leap mighty buildings in one bound. This was some pleasant hokum from Lynsey. Shame she was such a Tory.

#34 Stephen Sondheim: A Little Priest (from Sweeney Todd)
More cannibalism! Brilliant Tim Burton and outstanding performance throughout from Bonham Carter and Depp (who sounds a bit Bowie-esque). Have never eaten priest but I have eaten all sorts of pies in my time. Seeing Ken Livingstone a few days ago reminded me of the time I baked a special Ken Pie for the last mayoral Election. It was a tasty pie with his name spelt out in pastry on the crust but clearly did not contain the necessary magic to help him win the vote.

#33 Gracie Fields covering: If I knew you were coming, I'd have baked a cake
Gives me a very warm nostalgic glow. When I was a kid, people did still bake cakes, all the time. ‘Shop bought’ was unusual and rather frowned upon. One of the joyous discoveries I made when clearing out my mother’s house was her Be-Ro Flour cookbook with all my favourite childhood recipes for cakes and biscuits.

#32 Tom Waits: Chocolate Jesus
Perfect Easter song:
“Well it's got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied.”

#31 Dean Martin and Helen O’Connell: How do you like your eggs in the morning?
This was nearly ruined for me by overexposure in a recent advertising campaign but my longstanding fondness for Deano saved it: the old Latin lush.

Saturday, 23 July 2011


I am a gourmand. I love to eat. I have eaten wonderful food all over the world and in all sorts of places and I am therefore now, in my fifties, a very fat bloke. Here are some gourmet tunes that I shall post each dinner time as I wait for my snail porridge to cook.

#50 Herbie Hancock: Canteloupe Island
The only melon I really like is watermelon and Hancock did of course have a big hit with his Watermelon Man but I prefer this tune, even if canteloupe wouldn’t be my choice of a starter, even wrapped in Parma ham as it often is on these shores. My partner recently ate a melon stuffed with haggis in Istanbul and it looked delicious. I sampled the 'haggis' and it was splendid. This was at Matbah restaurant, at the back of the Ottoman Palace Hotel, beside Hagia Sophia. When I say haggis, I mean stuffing made with rice, pine nuts, minced beef, spices, and so forth. His verdict was "Haggis in a melon rather than a sheep's stomach, Turkey WINS!"

#49 Las Ketchup: The Ketchup Song
Apparently the Spanish all girl group took the name because their dad is a famous flamenco guitarist called El Tomate (The Tomato). I chose this song because we heard it a lot when we were touring round Thailand and Cambodia years ago and were pursued by this earworm. Shame I really don’t like tomato ketchup. Like mushroom ketchup lots though. Can't abide raw tomato either. My grandmother used to force me to eat them when I was a lad and I'd throw up. My sister and I still gag when faced with an uncooked tomato.

#48 Sammy Davis Jr: The Candy Man
I have never liked the word Candy. It's American for sweets and makes me think of those disgusting tooth-hurty candy canes you get as Christmas decorations. This is a song from the original film of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley specifically for the film. I always assumed Candyman had another meaning. Sammy Davis Jr had a big hit with his cover. Unfortunately, after Davis inadvertently sang the song three times in a row while looking into a mirror, the Candyman came and chopped him up and he was never seen again.

#47 The Kingsmen: Jolly green giant
The men who gave us Louie Louie in 1963. In 1965, they had another Top Ten Hit with this. I was terrified of the Giant when I was a kid. And I had grown up and left home before I ever ate sweetcorn. Love it, though. Usually have it dripping in butter and poisoned with salt.

#46 Supertramp: Breakfast In America
I don’t think I ever bought one of their albums at the time but everyone I knew seemed to like them. Over time, I have warmed to this. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia. Reminds me of Judi Pulver. Remember her? They’re Dancing On The Moon? I have to say that I don’t have great memories of breakfasts in America. Bagels were good but grits were disappointing. Hush puppies and hash browns were interesting. My culinary thrills all came later in the day.

#45 Weezer: Pork and Beans
Not a bad wee song. The video’s fun though, with its litany of references of internet memes from the past few years. And pork and beans is a great combination. Boston baked beans; cassoulet; sausage, chips and beans; whatever…

#44 Moby: Honey
Saw him perform on the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade one Hogmanay. Still have the t-shirt (that I wear only to the gym). Like this tune a lot, hearing it after such a hiatus. And honey, according to Barbara Cartland (who died at the age of 111 while riding to hounds with her Argentinian lover), is very good for you.

#43 The Drifters: Sweets for my Sweet
A year before Up On The Roof and two before Under The Boardwalk, The Drifters developed a sweet tooth. My Sweetie’s favourite sweets are Cadbury’s Creme Eggs and Tangfastics. I never eat sweets, but if I did, I would kill for chocolate limes and sherbet lemons. And Green & Black’s Maya Gold chocolate.

#42 Don McLean: American Pie
Loved this album and several songs from it. Madge covered this song of course but I still prefer the original, which has nothing to do with food. American Pie to me means the pecan pie I had in the U.S. and which I produce each year for an expat American’s fabulous Thanksgiving Dinner-in-Exile. Not that any of us has room for pie after all the delicious traditional fare like turkey stuffed with marshmallows or whatever.

#41 Blue Dots: Saturday Night Fish Fry
This jolly celebration of convivial fish eating ably sums up the joyful experience of going to visit a friend of ours who lives in a fishing town on the South Coast. She goes out to the fish market when we come down and, having once been a chef, produces outrageously good fish feasts.

Friday, 22 July 2011


When I began to make this list, I had to winnow the tunes chosen down to fifty and kept changing my mind. These top three were easy to decide though. Any one of them could have been my Number 1.
This deserves the top spot because it’s a wonderful piece of music that instantly lifts my mood. It makes me feel it’s a Saturday morning and the day is full of youthful hope and possibility! The good associations have been cemented by the times the fabulous Readers Wifes have played this at Duckie. The show was one of those foreign children’s programmes that seemed to crop up all the time on British kids’ TV, badly dubbed and bearing a patina of the glamour of ‘Abroad’. How they made me itch to go there. Probably largely responsible for me studying modern languages at high school and at university.
This theme was written by Michael Carr (who also wrote ‘South of the Border, Down Mexico Way’) with Ben Nisbet and sung by ‘Jacky’ (Jackie Lee). It was a top ten hit in 1968, the year the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia and I started High School. Jackie Lee had another hit with the theme tune to ‘Rupert the Bear’ and sang backing vocals on Tom Jones’ ‘The Green Green Grass of Home’ and Engelbert Humperdick’s ‘Please, release Me’.

Number 2: Robinson Crusoe
I have loved Robert Mellin’s haunting music for this show all through the years since I first saw the show in the sixties and still listen often to the whole suite (ici) on the iPod.
It was another one of those badly dubbed European shows that seemed to me to have added exoticism. The idea of being marooned on a desert island held immense allure for me as a teenager. It would be an understatement to say that I enjoy my own company. I’d be a better Friday than a Crusoe though and the real island that Alexander Selkirk, the model for Defoe’s hero, was stranded upon was not in any way the tropical idyll you see here. It was a happy thing when I finally found the music on a CD back in the 90s because, until then, I used to drive friends mad trying to get them to hum the tune for me when I was drunk.

Number 3: The Avengers
It is barely possible to put a cigarette paper between My Top Three. This is a brilliant, brilliant theme tune and it was a marvellous show. It’s one of the late Sir Johnny Dankworth’s, his second appearance in this list of mine.
I can’t remember the very early shows when Patrick MacNee had a male sidekick but I can remember when the stalwart John Steed was accompanied by Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman) and then by Emma Peel (Diana Rigg). My father used to get very worked up over Mrs Peel. I used to think that I must be heterosexual after all because she got me steamed up too but then I discovered that was just the kinky leather gear she wore. This show foregrounded a lot of transgressive imagery that struck a chord with even a much younger me. I saw Dame Diana on stage at the Old Vic a couple of years ago and she was electrifying.

Number 4: Doctor Who
I loved this show as a child (and I remember watching the very first episode) and I love it still.
This is one of the most instantly recognizable theme tunes ever, composed by Ron Grainer and a brilliant woman called Delia Derbyshire, mainstay of the ‘BBC Radiophonic Workshop’ realised the piece. Without benefit of synthesiser, she used found sounds on tape that she cut up, distorted, and spliced together. Bloody clever, hugely creative, and the result was a theme tune that was startlingly new and appropriately ethereal.

Number 5: The Addams Family
"Their house is a muse-um
Where people come to se-um
They really are a scre-um
The Addams Family..."

It was written and arranged by Vic Mizzy, featuring harpsichord, and finger-snaps as percussion. Lurch the butler (Ted Cassidy) growled individual words: ‘neat’, ‘sweet’ and ‘petite’.
My dad would allow us to sit up and watch this at 11.04 on a Friday night. Was it really 11.04 and why does that number stick in my head after nearly half a century? It was scary when I was a child but I adored it nevertheless or perhaps precisely because of the gothic horror tradition their comedy pastiched. I liked Gomez and Uncle Fester, but Morticia I adored. My baby sister had very long hair as a kid and my dad called her Cousin Itt for years.