Sunday, January 20, 2008


Jim Bliss tagged me with a blog meme. Start the year with a list of seven things you approve of. And no tricksy inverting of negatives, just straightforward 'I'm all for this' stuff.

I love Jim's mention of dolphins. Who doesn't love dolphins? I suspect they have the best life of anyone, so much space and freedom and arsing about.

Gyrus' mention of the telephone is great too - we don't even think about it, yet imagine if it had only just been invented how much you'd totally love it.

But I don't need to be copying anyone else's answers, for there are plenty of good things around.

1 - Growing your own food. Before I started doing this I thought it might be very hard work, and I was more certain it would be difficult. More specifically, it would be easy to get wrong. But no - they are plants, they are trying very hard to be alive and grow. It is so simple and so satisfying.

There are deeper resonations, something primal about being out interacting physically with the land and the way it makes you spend more time outdoors. Plus there's the reduction of your food miles and not giving your cash to supermarkets, but those are not only the negative-inversion reasons we're not going to mention, they're not necessary to justify it. The joy of eating the stuff is more than enough reward.

I suspect the thing that makes organic food taste better is that the varieties are slower growing and that you tend to be eating it fresher. Freshness is so important for flavour. Years ago I worked on a farm, just a normal, chemical, supermarket-supplying vegetable farm, and I'd often take a few things home to eat and it always tasted amazing. Fast growing agrichemicalled stuff, but only harvested that day. Everything you grow yourself has that going for it.

Even if you haven't got a garden you can use a friend's or get an allotment. Everyone can do this and they should.

2 - The Music Grin. I recently described it as 'that instant liftoff sensation hearing something so irresistably exuberant and uplifting, the feeling I got the first time I heard Do I Love You by Frank Wilson or The Tams' Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy'.

It's a thing I get most commonly listening to such Northern Soul tracks, but it needn't be summat so bouncy. Nick Drake's Northern Sky's a dead cert.

3 - Single malt Scotch whisky. As Angus from Ardbeg distillery says, there are only three qualities of whisky; great, good and really bad. There isn't 'mediocre' or 'alright'.

With bourbon, it can be fine stuff but really it just tastes of wood and corn. Scotch whiskies - especially the darker, smokier island ones - have such a complexity, the flavours overlapping and swirling around one another, rolling out and changing. It just doesn't compare to two-dimensional spirits like, say, rum.

With single malts, there is just no such thing as a bad one. Thousands of different ones to try, so there's endless discovery, all of it guaranteed wonderful.

Lots of people start off telling me they don't like whisky, which invariably turns out to mean they got pissed and threw up on Bells when they were 17. Whisky is not about getting pissed. It's about flavours and warmth, savouring the sensation and letting the layers and levels of flavour unfold. The squiffiness should be regarded as a happy accident.

Nothing on earth captivates, consumes and soothes like a good dram of a great one; Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Caol Ila 12 year old or Lagavulin 16 year old topping my list.

4 - The sound of cows grazing. That mix of low-pitch high-pressure outbreaths with the rip of the grass is just hypnotic, so mellow and so summery. And it also means you're very close to some lovely, gentle, intelligent animals.

5 - Bicycles. The quickest means of transport around the city. The best means of rural exploration (anything faster has an engine and glass to separate you from the environment, anything slower doesn't let you cover distance). Like I said here a while ago

Public transport has some benefits, but it is inconvenient. The car offers freedom from timetables, freedom from timetables being ignored, an opportunity to go directly from A to B when you want without wasting time looping off to stop places you're not going to.

But the car too has its drawbacks. Imagine if it were somehow made so nimble that it could magically jump to the front of the queue at traffic lights and junctions. Imagine if there were free parking outside - or even inside - any building you went to. Imagine if it needed no tax, insurance or MOT. Imagine if it let you do a daily fitness workout whilst driving. Imagine if fuel were free and it never needed refilling. If it had zero emissions. If, whenever anything went wrong, instead of being at the mercy of pricey mechanics you could quickly, easily and cheaply do most repairs yourself. Imagine how much more precious it would be than the cars of today.

That vehicle is here. Prices start at about twenty quid, second hand.

Bikes feel like freedom and independence, they make you feel athletic and healthy, they're straightforward, practical and easy. Nineteenth century technology refined and improved to near-perfection.

6 - Side 2 of Abbey Road. As Cat Vincent said, it'd be too easy just to list movies and whatnot, but still. This huge sweep of music opens with Here Comes The Sun, one of the few songs of George's that genuinely stands alongside Lennon and McCartney's. Then it moves through delicate arrangements of cosmic musings, and then careers through all kinds of peculiar, witty, playful songs, little snippets so it moves very fast, yet segued masterfully into one symphonic whole. I'm always broadened, boosted, amused and amazed by this music.

And every time I hear it, I realise how words like that become just words with the retelling, I find I've forgotten the depth and totality of impact it has. More than this, every time I hear it it feels fresh, new, I hear it prickling with possibilities that hadn't stood out last time. It has grown with me and beckons me onward.

And there's a photo from the sessions that I utterly adore. People want to simplify and polarise the Beatles story. They tell you that they were writing separately after 1964, that they hated each other for the last couple of years. Yet here's John and Paul, clearly relaxed, happy, creative and at ease with each other and with the work they're doing together, finalising the lyrics for Mean Mr Mustard.

Lennon & McCartney write Mean Mr mustard

7 - Bed. Really, it's just the best thing ever. So many of the best things in your life happen in bed, so many of the worst things happen outside of it. Whoever had a car crash in bed? After working hard or getting cold or anything else difficult, getting into bed feels like such a treat and an indulgence. Where else can you stay for twelve hours and still not want to leave? It's warm, comfortable, comforting, an environment specifically designed to make you rest. What a great idea!

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Pass it on: I'd like to see several quality inventive intelligent bloggers come out of their hibernation and do this meme. Be Like Water, Goldfish Nation, Wanna hangout?, Rhythmic Ginger, Kerosene Oyster Hell.


Justin said...

An ace list, Merrick. I love that picture of Lennon and McCartney.

Just on the growing your own food - don't forget pots. The place we rent has a decked yard which means no digging. But I've yet to find anything that won't do in a pot.

We've done tomatoes, onions, garlic, sweetcorn, chillis, redcurrant, blackcurrant, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, carrots and more, all in pots.

We've got two mushroom logs on the go and this year I'm going to have a crack at spuds. It's ace, cheap and an absolute doddle.

merrick said...

You're dead right, Justin. For those in densely populated urban areas there's a scarcity of soil (that applies to me too; hence the allotment), but pot growing can surely be done.

And being in that urban environment, suitable free containers abound in the form of discarded items. Obviously you need to be sure they're clean, and not made of summat that'll leach evil chemicals into your food. But a friend of mine has a great bathtub garden in her tiny yard (easily deep enough for spuds).

Spuds are a great thing to grow (so plentiful, so simple), but I love going for the things that are a bit tough or expensive to buy like sweetcorn, beetroot (young ones steamed are so incredibly sweet and melty), and fruits like quince and medlar or older varieties of apple you don't see like the Ellison's Orange. But if I start talking about apples we'll be here all day.

Anonymous said...

We are still on the list for our allotment. Should be in the next 6 months or so that it comes up. Looking forward to growing leeks, I bloody love leeks.

After that mention of single malt i'm going downstairs for a Talisker right now..