Five mugs

A friend recently posted five consecutive photos on five consecutive days on facebook. The photo had to be of a mug and he had to tell the story behind it. As the month draws to its close and I run out of blogging material I present to you here, and not on facebook, my Five Mugs.

The Shakespearean Insult Mug, from the Unemployed Philosophers’ Guild. I bought this in San Diego. The only mug I own which is worth reading. I keep this one in my office.


The famous Orange Two-handled Mug. I bought it in Den Bosch in 2007. I use it less than I expected to because I’m not so keen on the feel of plastic, as opposed to ceramic, in my mouth.

The “I heart NY” Mug. Bought in Newark airport in order to use up a few remaining dollars before heading home to Yurp. But then of course the sales tax was added on (because Americans don’t like to include that in the display price) bringing the final price to more than the amount of cash I had left, so I had to pay for it with the credit card and so I still had a fistful of dollars afterwards. Obviously I only use this mug when I’m in a New York state of mind.

The Darth Vader Mug. This came free with some kind of confectionery. I rarely use it because it’s surprisingly capacious and I don’t need coffees or teas that big. No good for drinking from if held in the left hand.

The Ball-handled Mug. Bought in a small shop in Genova. The handle is actually less comfortable to hold than a normal one but I just like the way it looks.

Bonus: Anne found a wacky beer mug the other day in a bar in Brussels.

Chauffeur, chaperone

These days I spend a lot of time ferrying my kids back and forth between various activities in the evenings and at weekends. I mind that less than I expected to. For one thing it’s another, brief opportunity to get one of the kids on their own for a chat away from homework, play and tv.

For another it’s often amusing or gratifying to see them engaging in these activities: learning, making new friends, etc.

Or sometimes it just allows me a little ‘me’ time. At the moment I’m spending quite a few evenings sat in the bar of a local cultural centre (yes, drinking alone) reading while I wait for my daughter to finish with tap dancing and singing.

This willingness to drive them around may change in years to come when they’re teens and just need me to pick them up from parties at some ungodly hour of the morning.

Reading aloud

The other day our babysitter told me that when she came to look after our children that evening she would bring some homework with her. Now this is not a teenager but a woman in her 50s so it wasn’t immediately obvious what she meant. It turns out that she’s learning to read the Quran.

Reading the Quran isn’t a surprise either, as she’s a Moroccan muslim, and she’s been able to speak and read Arabic for a while. But I didn’t realise that there was a special technique involved in reading the Quran. According to wikipedia:

“The proper recitation of the Quran is the subject of a separate discipline named Tajwid which determines in detail how the Quran should be recited, how each individual syllable is to be pronounced, the need to pay attention to the places where there should be a pause, to elisions, where the pronunciation should be long or short, where letters should be sounded together and where they should be kept separate, etc. There are two types of recitation: murattal is at a slower pace, used for study and practice. Mujawwad refers to a slow recitation that deploys heightened technical artistry and melodic modulation, as in public performances by trained experts.”

In order to help her with this she’s following a course, and in order to be able to study on her own at home she has a special pen and connected headphones to aid with pronunciation. The pages of the book contain some kind of special invisible code which is then “read” by the electronic pen as it passes over them, triggering a recorded voice reciting that verse.

This is quite clever and got me thinking about whether there were any other possible applications for such a technology. Combining “normal” books with audio books in one edition, so that blind people who don’t read braille can hear it instead? Or encoding music or sound effects which support the text for people who still want to read a paper version instead of listen to an audio book? But that would depend on the pace at which you read, I suppose. Personally I want silence when I read. I guess this is just a specific tool for a very specific purpose.

Best Of

The other day my kids were watching part of a That’s Entertainment! film on TV. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they’re feature-length compilations of all the best bits (i.e. the song and dance numbers) from several decades’ worth of MGM musicals. Now you could complain that removing these sequences from the context of the originals films is sacrilege and makes for an uneven viewing experience which doesn’t respect the Aristotelian Unities. People who are chin-strokingly serious about pop music similarly complain about Greatest Hits compilations which divorce songs from their albums and thus their historical context.

On the other hand for many of these films the song and dance numbers are the only bits worth watching, and the bits in between are merely there to pad out the film to feature-length. In my film studies classes we were introduced to the idea of “The Cinema Of Attractions vs. The Cinema Of Narrative Integration”. The idea being that there are two types of film: ones which are all about the plot, and ones which are simply a collection of moments of spectacle (comedy scenes, action, musical numbers) where the plot simply serves as a structure on which to hang them. I never had a problem with this kind of film. No one complains after a trip to the circus that the individual acts were good but that they weren’t held together by a strong plot. No one goes to the opera or ballet to find out what happens in the story. I mean, I assume they don’t, since they’re all well-known stories. But I never go to the opera or ballet so I could be wrong.

Considering the paucity of musicals these days what would a modern-day That’s Entertainment! look like? A compilation of action scenes? Action and fantasy films are probably the genres with the most popular appeal comparable to musicals of 70 years ago, but these days we have Youtube supercuts instead (like these) although these tend to be shorter overall and also use tiny clips chopped up rather than presenting entire sequences. Insert here your observation about modern-day attention spans and ADHD-style editing.


The Restaurant

The Restaurant may possibly win acclaim for its food or admiration for its decor but it’s never going to win prizes for its name. Then again, it is located on the ground floor of The Hotel, so I guess they didn’t have much choice. Still, it’s very silly and makes it difficult to search for information or reviews online.

The decor is serious and sumptuous: lots of heavy fabrics and velvet, lots of black, with spots lighting the room. It reminded me a bit of Via Lamanna. We were given a table for two by the window and a menu. The lighting was a bit hit and miss, which explains the graininess of some of my iPhone photos.


Looks easy, doesn’t it? But in fact you have to choose a country as well as an ingredient. There are three chefs in the kitchen: French, Italian and Thai. Each has created a dish based around each of these main ingredients, so you can choose, for example, Thai Egg for starter, and Italian Sea Bream for the main, or whatever.

To make the choice easier we were given an iPad which allowed you to scan through the illustrated menu switching between ingredients and chefs. This was handy, but then I don’t see the point of having both the iPad and the printed menu.


The golden swoosh seems to be an obligatory part of the sea bream dish.


We made our selections and then received an amuse-bouche of salmon.


My starter was French Mushroom, which took the form of a salade folle: mushroom and salad and herbs and truffle shavings. It was fine, but lacked a little punch, I felt. And dill was a weird choice of herb as it seemed to be the most dominant flavour. The truffle, by contrast, was fairly tasteless. I’ve had this experience before: cook with it as an ingredient and it’s wonderful and distinctive; but just shave it, raw, onto the top of the dish and it’s just like eating a chewy cardboard disc.


My main was French Guinea Fowl, which was supposedly a deconstructed club sandwich. Eggs, salad, bacon, and curly bits of toast. Nice.



My wife made a slightly better choice: the mouthful I tried of her Thai Beef main was delicious.

It was quite filling so we skipped dessert, although I was momentarily tempted by the “Autumn Éclair”. Our wine for the evening was an Australian Shiraz and very nice it was too. I also liked the way the light from the table lamp passed through the bottle and lit the label from behind.


I liked the concept and would be willing to try it again. But considering the prices they’re asking I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by the food.

Shut that door!

This door is just opposite the door to my office.


As I’m located at the end of a corridor I see a lot of people coming and going during the day, and most of them pass through this door to head out into the atrium and take the stairs or the elevator or exit the building. And about 70% of the people who pass through this door leave it open once they’ve gone through. This not only lets in cold air from the atrium, but also distracting noise of one kind or another from outside.

See, I’ve had to interrupt drafting this post three times already to get up and close the door again.

But I can understand people’s confusion in this situation. If only there were some kind of large, simple, visible reminder of the necessity to keep the door closed, then everyone would know what to do and we’d all be happy.

Holiday reading

Yesterday my book order arrived. This is the book I’ll read on holiday this Christmas. Yes, I plan in advance what I’m going to read on holiday.


We’re going on holiday to Sri Lanka. This book is set in Sri Lanka. This is not a coincidence. I prefer to read books set in my holiday destination, for several reasons. Now admittedly on this type of holiday where we’ll be moving around a bit and exploring all kinds of natural and cultural sights I won’t have a great deal of time to sit down and read, although there’ll be a few days at the beach towards the end of the holiday when I can relax. But when I do get a chance, I want to read something which is about the place I’m in.

Firstly because this is a way of learning more about the country I’m visiting. Fiction can often reveal aspects of a culture better than a guidebook. But the other, main reason is this: travel is an escape from my everyday life. I leave home behind and go to discover somewhere new. This is also what I do when I read. So it would seem a bit weird to go on holiday to an interesting new place and then to escape from there into another new place in the world of a book. I want to stay in Sri Lanka, even when I’m reading. It’s not like I’m going to go back regularly. So it makes sense to read a Sri Lankan book while I’m in Sri Lanka. I read Ulysses while I lived in Dublin; I read Don Quixote on holiday in Andalucia; I read Cannery Row in California.

How did I find this book? Well first I had a look on Tripfiction, which is a site specifically for helping you choose books based on their geographical setting. For Sri Lanka they featured a lot of Roma Tearne books, but I wanted a second opinion so I did some googling and came across a book blog called Chasing Bawa which specialises in Sri Lankan literature. I narrowed it down to two choices: the other was Cinnamon Gardens by Shyam Selvadurai, but in the end I decided I wanted something more contemporary and less colonial.

I’ll post my review on goodreads when I get back to let you know how it was. And I imagine I’ll post about other aspects of the trip too. The food, if nothing else.


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