Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Horsemeat, the Papacy and the Beatles - the news according to Travellin Bob

I have to say I do find this horsemeat “scandal” amusing.  To read the newspaper reports and listen to the items on BBC News you would think the End of the World is Nigh, and it will be through mass food poisoning. How ridiculous.

Now I’m not defending what has happened.  If someone has knowingly supplied a product labelled Beef that is actually Horse (or for that matter any other different meat) then there is a case to call it fraudulent at worst, careless and stupid at least.  But no-one is likely to die from it – horse is a very popular food in many parts of the world where beef and more traditional cuts are prohibitively expensive. The point that you could be taking into your system veterinary drugs used on the horses is ridiculous – what about the hormones and so on fed to beef cattle for produce a better yield?  All food animals are given a cocktail of medication from birth to fatten them up quicker, provide a better meat yield or just keep them healthy: why on earth should there a bigger risk from horsemeat than from lamb or pork?

I’ve eaten it myself, some years ago in Kazakhstan, and it actually wasn’t bad at all.  It’s a staple food there, on sale in supermarkets everywhere, in steak form or mince, and since all the food labelling was in Russian and Cyrillic script I hadn’t got a clue what I was buying so I’m sure I unwittingly bought it many times.  I know for sure I ate it once at party, where we were served these huge Cornish pasties (honestly, that’s exactly what they looked like) filled with minced horse, spices and mixed veg – potatoes, peas, parsnips, carrots – in a thick gravy.  They were bloody delicious and served that way there was no way of telling the meat wasn’t best minced beef: it was only when one of our hosts explained what we were eating that my mate and I found out what it was.  We shrugged our shoulders and got on with it.  Another time, on someone’s birthday, a little party was held in the office and amongst the cold cuts of chicken and ham were slices of horsemeat – it looked a lot like lean roast beef and tasted similar (if a little more bland).

So given the meat is currently restricted to processed frozen ready meals like lasagne, bolognese and shepherd’s pie, individual portions for one person, microwave junk – well, surely the amount of meat (of any description) being used is very small indeed.  Again, no-one is likely to become ill from it, and to call it “contamination” is frankly bollocks.  Right now, everyone is playing the blame game, and since the meats trail leads from Romanian abattoirs to British supermarket shelves, via France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Ireland (to name but some of the countries alleged to have been involved) this is likely to be impossible.  Of course, the abattoir is saying it’s not its fault – the label said beef when it left here, comrade – and the factory in Luxembourg is likewise denying any responsibility – ze label said bouef when it arrived, monsieur – which means that somewhere else in this complex chain of dealers and traders someone cocked up.  Get over it.  The calls for resignations and public enquiries are ridiculous.

It’s probably been happening for years anyway, and there have been far worse cases of meat mistaken identity in the past, many of which never made the national press.  I remember years ago, back in the early 70s, I used to use a Chinese restaurant in Tunbridge Wells regularly – they did a very tasty and cheap set lunch.  I rolled up one day and found it closed down.  A small item in the local paper the next day reported that a local food inspectorate spot check had found half a dozen partially dismembered dog corpses hung up in the kitchen.  So our chicken chow mein and stir fried beef probably wasn’t….but it had still tasted good for all that.  The restaurant was re-opened within 10 days, labelled “Under New Management”, but with as far as I could see the same staff and the same menu (although the prices had gone up a bit).

No, as far as this latest scandal (sic) is concerned, it’s a classic case of British sensitivities and love of animals more as pets than food.  I know people who won’t eat pork or lamb because “they’re cute little animals” – yes, and they’re also a traditional food, not pets.  I remember when I was a kid people in the road where I lived kept chickens solely for eggs (remember – baby birds….) and, later, for roasts: this was acceptable and quite normal.  I remember the butcher’s shop in the town with sides of beef, dead pigs, lamb, piles of offal and various birds complete with feathers and heads hanging up, and these were hacked apart to order.  A traditional craft that, sadly, is dying out these days – the meat was delicious, and you knew what it was.

It wasn’t horse, though.

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Then yesterday, the Pope resigned.  He was the first to do for 600 years apparently.  Clearly, the Papacy is quite literally a Job for Life – the problem being most of them have been old men before attaining the position.  The Polish Pope John Paul II was the exception, being in his mid-50s when he got the job back in 1978 – I remember it well.  Benedict was 78 when he took over, and has only lasted 8 years before quitting because he feels too old, mentally and physically, to carry on.  A brave decision and probably the right one.

There are calls now for a more liberal Cardinal to take over, and bring the Church kicking and screaming into the 21st century, embracing things like contraception, gay marriage, and priestly celibacy – but it’s not going to happen.  Similarly, there are calls for the new bloke to come from Africa or Latin America – in fact, anywhere but white Europe – given that Catholicism is more popular and growing faster in those regions.  That too will not happen – even though the Church does need desperately to modernise.

It won’t happen because the last two Popes have been Old School Conservatives.  They have loaded the Conclave (the Cardinals who are responsible for electing a new Pope) with like-minded clerics, so it seems to me that modernisation is not on the agenda. 

This is a shame, because it seems to me that the Catholic Church, like the Anglican Church, is dying on its feet – as indeed are many Christian variants, despite what the American Moral Majority might insist – and this leaves the road open for further Islamicisation – with all that could bring with it.  I’ve written before on here about the irrational dislike and fear that is sweeping Britain and elsewhere, and stated that not all Muslims are raving loonies and closet terrorists, and there is no reason to change that view.  But if as many people seem to think the Christian churches are bastions against the rise of Islam, then the new Pope (whoever it turns out to be) and the new Archbishop of Canterbury, as leaders of the two largest Christian faiths, have got their work cut out.

I wish them well.

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Interesting music anniversary yesterday – the 50th of the recording of the Beatles’ album Please Please Me.  They cut the entire album, 13 tracks, in a single 10 hour recording session at Abbey Road, in a 28 day month (February) during which they also played 30 concerts and appeared on a couple of tv programmes.  Those guys worked for their fame and fortune!  Apparently Lennon’s voice was nearly gone for the last track, the classic  Twist and Shout – listen to it, and you hear clearly the hoarseness, that makes it an even better recording than it could have been: classic rock. 

Yesterday, Radio 2 did an all-day broadcast from the studios as a group of modern day acts attempted to repeat the exercise – I listened to a couple of versions and they were nowhere near as good as the original tracks…..as you would expect: the Beatles were genius, and changed the face of popular music – every band since owes them a debt.

But 13 tracks in one day!  It would never happen nowadays, when artists routinely spend months recording a single album, weeks over a single track, hours over a straightforward guitar break or vocal dub.  I have an Elton John album, Tumbleweed Connection, that came out in I think 1973 or 74.  It’s brilliant, the man’s homage to country music.  It’s also one of 4 albums he released that year……four albums in one year!  It’s not unheard of for an artist these days to reverse that and release one album in four years.  To these old ears, the stuff that was being churned out by these bands and artists in the old days – and remember, as well as recording the albums, they were constantly touring, three or four concerts a week, up and down the motorways in the tour bus (or Transit van) AND writing new stuff for the next album – is so much better, more creative and vibrant than most of the stuff being released by today’s artists – most of whom seem to have been manufactured by Simon Cowell anyway.  It’s no wonder they hit the booze and drugs, uppers merely to keep going, downers to try and get some rest somewhere between Bognor and Bristol……the tragedy is that in so many cases that led to the excesses of heroin and cocaine and God knows what else and led so many brilliant young lives to an early grave.