Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Smackdown: Astor v. Churchill

Ok, hands up if you have ever had this piece of dialogue or a variant recited at you by some tedious dullard trying to impress you with his wit and historical knowledge.

Lady Astor: Mr Churchill, you are drunk.
Winston Churchill: And you, madam, are ugly. But tomorrow I'll be sober.

Smirk. Guffaw. Ha ha ha haaaaa. Good for Winnie, eh? Score one to the Bulldog. Great example of the spontaneous wit of a British icon, right?

Wrong, actually.

First, some background. This incident, held up as an inspirational victory for put-upon men in the grip of joyless nagging haridans everywhere, may well never have taken place. If it did, Churchill's likely adversary was probably Labour MP Bessie Braddock, not Nancy Astor. But as this anecdote is widely believed, quoted and revelled in, I'm going to deconstruct it anyway.

So. Churchill has turned up pissed to the House of Commons. Lady Astor, only the second female MP ever elected in the UK and the first to take up her seat in Parliament, clearly thinks this is inappropriate behaviour for a British Prime Minister at a time of international crisis and takes him to task on the matter. Churchill responds by childishly insulting her physical appearance.

Astor has quite rightly drawn attention to the fact that drunkeness in Paliament is inappropriate and unprofessional. This once-famed society beauty is then physically abused by a man who, for most of his life, has resembled a plastic toy left out on the radiator for too long (see portraits above). While Churchill may well have been sober the next day (no doubt burying his head in his hands, wondering what he said to who while on his latest bender), he certainly didn't magically become better looking: the words "a bit rich" and "no oil painting" spring to mind. Given his astonishing lack of facial symmetry, you'd think the man would have kept his head down and not drawn attention to his own physical shortcomings by pointing out those of others. You might even question why someone who was never one of the "beautiful people" should be so depressingly shallow in rushing to pass judgement on the physical appearance of others.

If this anecdote is true, then clearly Churchill (along with so many others) believed that an ugly man, so long as he had a good career, material wealth and all the trappings of success, was to be approved and congratulated, but a woman who didn't measure up to a high standard of personal beauty, no matter what else she may have achieved in her life, could never be regarded as anything but a failure. Even Astor, at one time considered a great beauty, is written off as a waste of space once she has committed the cardinal sin of ageing. Then, as now, success for men was measured by possessions, career, lifestyle. For women, it always boils down to shaggability.

It strikes me that once analysed, Churchill doesn't emerge too well from this famed and celebrated exchange. It exposes him as being sexist, juvenile and unprofessional. Still, that was then. At least we'd never find people obsessing over the appearance of a female politician instead of the way she does her job nowadays. Oh, wait, I forgot...

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Wintry stew for summery days

Here is my recipe for a one-pot veggie stew (serves 4-6). Extreme comfort food.

  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 swede, peeled and chopped
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
  • Portion broccoli/cauliflower/green beans (whatever you've got in the fridge, basically)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 100g pearl barley (soaked overnight if indicated by packet instructions)
  • 100g red lentils
  • 2 Oxo vegetable stock cubes
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • 2tbsp Marmite
  • Dash of tobasco
  • 2tbsp Worcester sauce
  • 1tbsp tomato puree
  • 2tbsp soy sauce
  • 1tbsp dried thyme
  • 1tbsp dried rosemary
  • 1tbsp dried marjoram
  • 1tbsp oregano (optional)
  • Salt and pepper

Method: In a large stew pan, fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes until beginning to brown. Add all other veg to the pan and cover with boiling water. Throw in the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer until the veg and pulses are tender (about an hour). Or use a slow cooker.

Note: all measurements are approximate. I tend just to throw things in until it tastes nice.

Serve in one of those giant Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire puds. Yum yum.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

iPhone and me: BFFs

Hurrah, blogging inspiration has arrived in the form of my new iPhone. Here it is, with the Gryffindor case I knitted to keep it cosy. Isn't it beautiful?

So I thought I'd share my favourite iPhone apps which I've so far discovered. Here goes:

1. Spendometer (free)
This is a little app to help track spending. You can set a monthly budget, and categorise how you spend your dosh. There's also a useful going out feature. Credit crunchy.

2. Facebook (free)
User-friendly and cleanly laid out, this is the best way to use Facebook on the iPhone.

3. Google Earth (free)
It's Google Earth. In an app. I like that.

4. Fluid (free)
Creates the effect of moving water over pebbles which ripples to the touch. The novelty quickly wears off, but it's great for entertaining small children (if you don't mind them jabbing their sticky fingers all over your touch screen).

5. Zoom in (59p)
I'm not impressed that the iPhone camera didn't have a digital zoom feature built in so I had to pay 59p for an app which does it for me. I know I could just crop them after, but still, it's handy to have.

6. Around Me (free)
A useful little app which uses GPS to work out your location and lets you know where your nearest supermarkets, bars, cash machines and other amenities are.

7. WikiTap (free)
Wikipedia in an app. Settle arguments in the pub.

8. SnapTell (free)
Take a photo of a book, DVD or CD and this app will reocgnise it and provide links to reviews, Wiki entries etc. It also gives price details and links to buy the product, but as it's a US app everything is in dollars so that's not much use for us in the UK. So for that I use . . .

9. pic2shop (free)
Take a photo of a barcode and this will identify the product, linking to its Amazon UK page.

10. Stanza (free)
Simply the best ebook reader. You can download looooads of out-of-copyright books direct from Project Gutenberg to read with it. I've got 70 so far...

11. Paper Toss (free)
Very addictive flick-paper-in-a-bin game.

12. News UK Lite (free)
See the top headlines from five major news sources. I've got the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, Times and, erm, the Daily Mail. Well, know your enemy...

13. Stitchminder (free)
At last, stitch counters go virtual. Monitor number of rows, increase rows, pattern rows and pattern repeats.

14. KnitGauge (59p)
Measure your gauge.

15. (free)
This is great. Enter the name of an artist you like and this app will stream music from similar artists.

16. RadioBOX (£1.79)
This was the only radio app I could find which would stream the BBC stations. Now I can listen to 6Music on my phone, hooray.

17. Shazam (free)
Use this app to identify music. Hold it up to a song which is playing and it will identify the song, album and artist for you, and provide a link to the artist's wiki entry.

18. Flixster (free)
See what the latest film releases are and when they are showing at your nearest cinema. Links to Rotten Tomatoes reviews and the film's imdb page are also given.

19. VegOut (£1.79)
A good one for us veggies. This identifies your location and tells you where your nearest veggie or veg-friendly eating establishment is.

20. iDrinkulator (£1.79)
Track your alcohol units and find out how they could be affecting your health. Useful but depressing. 23 units this week, gulp...

Other apps I couldn't live without: my to do list app, ebay app, Sky+ app (record programmes on the move), multi-converter app and shopping list app.

Other apps I could live without but choose not to: iPint (navigate a pint along a bar and win yourself a free virtual pint), BubbleWrap (pop virtual bubblewrap against the clock), Lightsaber (what it says on the tin: turn your iPhone into a lightsaber).

And I've only had it a week...