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Sunday, June 29, 2014

New Illustrations for Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile




Agent Triple P is not a habitual Agatha Christie reader but the film version of Death on the Nile (1978) is one of his great comfort films - ideal if he needs cheering up or is suffering from too much rainy weather.  We've actually looked at the leading ladies in this and the 2004 David Suchet TV version (also very good) a long time ago in the early years of this blog.  It is interesting to note how far Emily Blunt's career has advanced since we wrote that piece in 2007.




We have always wanted to go up the Nile on a steamer but, sadly, the current conditions in Egypt make this unlikely.  We had nearly got it organised a few years ago and even had a lady arranged to travel with on the very steamer used in the Suchet version of the story but then Egypt disintegrated.



Death on the Nile, was the first actual Christie book we read and it was interesting to note the differences between the two filmed versions and the book, particularly as regards the different characters who were or were not included from the original novel in the screen adaptions.




We noticed, in an article in the newspaper today that The Folio Society has just brought out deluxe versions of the four Hercule Poirot novels, including Death on the Nile.  They feature covers and interior illustrations by Andrew Davidson and they really are splendid.  In fact we liked the pictures so much we ordered both Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express from The Folio Society today.  It's nice to see the continued publication of splendid print editions despite this age of the Kindle.  Davidson studied graphic design at the Royal College of Art and works in very traditional ways.  His pictures for Death on the Nile are particularly evocative.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Carina Tyrell: Miss England 2014




As we suggested in our post back in April, having the luscious Miss Cambridgeshire, Carina Tyrell, win the Miss England competition would do the competition no end of good, as the Cambridge medical student is perfect publicity for embattled beauty contestant organisers everywhere who fight against the pretty but dumb stereotype.




Well yesterday, in Torquay, the judges (seven out of ten of whom were women) crowned Miss Tyrell as Miss England, beating 59 other contestants.  She will now go on to compete in the Miss World competition later this year.  The highest ranking contestant out of Miss England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (Britain has been able to enter separate contestants to Miss World since each region had its own parliament) becomes Miss Great Britain. This gives Carina a chance for another title if she is unsuccessful in defeating the string of Asian, South American and Eastern European lovelies who have dominated Miss World in recent years.  Britain hasn't won since Sarah-Jane Hutt in 1983 but Miss World 2014 will take place in London again this year.  Good luck Carina!





Raddled old feminist and fellow Cambridge graduate Germaine Greer has been spouting off in the newspapers today saying that Carina was chosen for her beauty not her brains.  Well, of course, you stupid Australian, it's a beauty contest and while undoubtedly lovely there were other, perhaps even lovelier, contestants but her intelligence must have been a key factor.  Ugly people can't get over the fact that attractive people are more popular.  They think its unfair and do you know what?  It is!  just as its unfair that some people are taller, more intelligent, more musical or better at drawing or sports.  Just deal with it,  as you won't change the rest of us (men and women) from reacting differently and more positively to attractive people.  Would Greer expect to be criticised if she only reacted positively to other intelligent people?  Why should we be criticised for reacting positively to attractive people?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Lost Babes: Estelle Skornik




You only have to exclaim "papa" to people of a certain generation in Britain for them to immediately answer "Nicole!"   These were characters in a successful series of TV commercials (as only people in the TV industry call them) for the Renault Clio, which ran from 1991 until 1998.  




They were prototypically French, engaging in "typically" French romantic behaviour.  The commercials were voted the most popular car adverts on British TV ever.





Loosely inspired by the characters played by Audrey Hepburn and Hugh Griffith in the 1966 film How to Steal a Million, Nicole was played by French actress Estelle Skornik.


"Papa?"


The beautifully put together Miss Skornik ("small but perfectly formed" as the advert narration said of the car, while showing Miss Skornik) started the series in a sundress that played to her perky assets beautifully.  




In fact, the nineteen year old Skornik hadn't passed her driving test when the first advert was filmed so a professional driving double had to be used.




The sunny, Provence setting and guitarist Martin Taylor's engaging Django Reinhardt-style take on Robert Palmer's Frankie and Mary made the eight adverts a huge hit.  In 1996 a survey showed that Nicole was recognised by more British people than then prime minister John Major.




Skornik was at the beginning of her acting career when she started the Renault adverts but went on to have a number of film and TV roles in France.   Her last film role was in 2011. 




In 1999, after the Renault adverts had finished, Skornik appeared in the Hornblower TV series, featuring in The Frogs and the Lobsters episode.  Sadly, it was her only non-French TV appearance.




Skornik with Ioan Gruffudd in The Frogs and the Lobsters


Skornik plays the part of Mariette, a schoolteacher, who becomes the romantic interest for Hornblower, although the character was invented for the TV show and is not in the original book by CS Forester.




Skornik is still only 43 now and still absolutely gorgeous but hasn't done any English language work since the 2001 film From Hell.   A lost babe who we should have seen much more of.

Monday, June 2, 2014

So, what makes a Full English Breakfast?


Garfunkels, Terminal 4, London Heathrow Airport, October 2010


An anonymous poster has berated Agent Triple P for including baked beans in his cooked breakfasts, claiming that baked beans should never be eaten before 6.00pm.  Although we feel that this is a ridiculous notion, Mr Anonymous' comments do raise the question of what does indeed constitute a Full English breakfast; one of Britain's great contributions to international gastronomy.  This does not mean, of course that Agent Triple P doesn't have his own preferences but we are not tied to externally imposed "rules".


Langham Hotel, London, February 2011


Eschewing the effete bread-based efforts of our continental cousins the cooked English breakfast really came to the fore in the nineteenth century and certainly helped fuel the industrial revolution and assist Britain's rise to the greatest Imperial power the world has ever seen.  Try and run the world on a few flaky croissants or some slices of cheese and ham and see how far you get.  

The proper constituents of a Full English breakfast is as controversial as what goes into a Bolognese sauce or a Salad Niçoise.  So let's have a look at the candidates.  We will illustrate them with pictures from our own breakfast history!


Eggs



Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, October 2009


These could be fried, scrambled or poached.  Triple P much prefers fried but will cope with scrambled, although it is very difficult to get good scrambled egg in a restaurant unless prepared to order and impossible in a hotel buffet where it takes on the same consistency as foam rubber .


Hotel Inter-Continental, Lusaka, December 2010


Poached eggs used to be more popular when Triple P was young but now they are the breakfast equivalent of wearing a bow tie every day; slightly pretentiously eccentric.  You do sometimes get them in places that serve Eggs Benedict as part of a cooked breakfast.  We've never been convinced by Eggs Benedict: Hollandaise sauce is too rich for breakfast and the muffin is too thick a platform for the egg.


A goose egg under way, June 2013


We prefer two fried eggs but have been known to take one large egg (such as a goose or turkey egg) once in a while.  Currently we prefer duck eggs to hen's eggs.  If we are having scrambled eggs we prefer three or even four, if they are small.  We tend to eat scrambled egg as a separate meal without all the constituents of a Full  English, except perhaps some chopped ham.


Omni Hotel, San Franciso, October 2009


We have also had a three egg concoction once but that was small eggs cooked as one, giving a thicker white.


Bacon



Bongusto Restaurant, London, March 2009


People in most countries can produce a good fried egg but when it gets to bacon Britain really does reign supreme.  What passes for bacon in most countries are dark brown, greasy strips of fat cooked until they are brittle, like baked shoe leather and about as tasty.  Proper bacon for a Full English should be back bacon.  Each rasher is made up of one part (the larger part) of pork loin and one part of pork belly. The American brittle bacon is exclusively the fattier pork belly variety.  In fact, quite often we jettison the pork belly piece and just have the pork loin medallions. Properly cooked bacon should be soft not brittle.  Some foreign hotels and restaurants serve ham instead of proper bacon but this is a poor substitute.


Sausages



Grand Cafe Royal Exchange, London, November 2011


You can't have a Full English without sausages (plural, please) otherwise it is just bacon and egg or a cooked breakfast.  These is nothing wrong with bacon and egg but it makes a lightweight start to the day without some serious meat to back it up.  Sadly, most Full English breakfasts in restaurants or cafes are let down by the sausage, which is often of poor quality compared with the bacon.  This is an area where the home cooked version triumphs as you have complete quality control.  We get our sausages from prize-winning sausage maker Maurice Jones & Sons in Oatlands, Surrey. Vastly superior to anything from a supermarket.


Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia, October 2009


The variety of sausages you get around the world is startling; including turkey and beef ones in Muslim countries.  In South America we have had spicy ones which while interesting aren't really right.  Worst of all was the sausage meat we had in Philadelphia which was dripping in maple syrup.  Disgusting!


Mushrooms




Côte London Bridge, London, May 2014 



We admit that we don't always have mushrooms if we are cooking breakfast at home but there is a good argument that they are a complusory ingredient for a proper Full English breakfast.  Americans can find the fact that we have mushrooms for breakfast odd.  In fact they are one of the newer ingredients as they have only been cultivated in Britain since the mid-twentieth century.  What you get varies between whole or halved small button mushrooms, sliced larger cup mushrooms or a whole or sliced large flat mushrooms.  We prefer the middle option. Never, never tinned mushrooms though!


Tomatoes



Gossips Cafe, Yarmouth Isle of Wight, August 2011


These are another compulsory ingredient (even more so than mushrooms).  Fried or grilled they should be soft to the point of disintegration.  They should not have, as some hotels offer, cheese on them.  They should also not be tinned.  There is an increasing fashion in London for more upmarket places to serve plum tomatoes sliced in two vertically but, again, this is a bit prissy.


Toast


Sainsbury's Cobham, May 2014


This is usually served on the side but Triple P likes it as an integral part of the full plate.  When he was small he would be given egg, bacon and fried bread for breakfast but fried bread is disappearing before the onslaught of the healthy eating brigade.  Frying a slice of bread at least doubles the calories but as a typical Full English breakfast come in at about 1000 calories plus that really isn't going to matter that much.  Triple P tends to have toast rather than fried bread as it is more absorbent for soaking up bean and tomato juice etc.


Baked Beans


Churchill Cafe, Whitehall, London, November 2011


Baked beans seem such a staple of a Full English that we were genuinely surprised by Mr Anonymous maintaining that they shouldn't be included.  He is not alone, our research has shown, but we would venture that such people are in the minority now and that their insistence that beans should only be eaten after 6.00 pm is rather akin to those who insist on saying "an" when the following word begins with an "h".  They are technically correct, perhaps, but English Breakfasts, like the English language is constantly evolving.  Britain makes and consumes more baked beans that any other nation on earth; to the extent that last month a government minister here was trying to encourage people to eat less of them to avoid the excess generation of gases that contribute to global warming.  We are not joking!  The UK version of baked beans is very different from those served in the US which have more than twice the sugar in them.  In fact Heinz Baked Beans, which were first imported from America and sold as a luxury item in Fortnum & Mason in the nineteenth century, are now exported to the US, having been made here since 1928.  They started to become part of a cooked breakfast in the late sixties and we would say that, despite the naysayers, they are now completely integral to the Full English breakfast.


Potatoes



Giraffe, South Bank, London, February 2011


These are another controversial ingredient.  Probably, traditionally, bubble and squeak, a fried mixture of shredded potato and cabbage was included in earlier versions of the Full English.  This has now largely been supplanted by American hash browns, saute potatoes or chips (French fries for our American cousins).  We have had shredded potato mixed with other things in foreign hotels.


Royal York Hotel, Toronto, August 2010


We would venture that chips are really only served when the Full English is served as lunch as an "all-day breakfast".  This is certainly the practice in the breakfast Nirvana that is Eegon's of Cowes.  For their larger breakfasts they serve saute potatoes.  We have never been that fond of hash browns but they are more digestible in the morning than solid potato.  Producing potato dishes as an accompaniment to a Full English at home really does add an extra level of complexity to the whole performance, however.


Black Pudding



Sheraton Hotel, Edinburgh, September 2013


Is black pudding (a blood sausage) a part of an authentic Full English or a regional variation in the manner of cockles (yes, really) in Wales, Soda Bread in Ireland or haggis in Scotland?  The traditionalists maintain that it should be included and, certainly, it was in the cooked breakfasts served at Agent Triple P's college, although that had a lot or people from the north of England as students.  Triple P, being from the south, thinks that this is a northern affectation but it certainly adds to the finished article.


Eegon's, Cowes, Isle of Wight, August 2013


So, according to some writers, these are the "magic nine" ingredients which transform a "cooked breakfast" or "fry up" into a "Full English breakfast".  As we have seen, however, there is not universal agreement on this.  We have also had, onion rings and steak included, especially in the terrifying Steakfast from Eegons; the only cooked breakfast in the world we were unable to finish.


At home, January 2014


Latterly, since we have been spending more time in Scotland we have added haggis to our home cooked breakfasts; usually in small fried slices but occasionally using the leftovers from a complete haggis.


Waldorf Astoria, Edinburgh, February 2013


Interestingly, in checking through our photographs we realise that we haven't actually had a breakfast with all the magic nine in it.  The closest we have got was this superb example from Scotland which had haggis but no potato and fried bread instead of toast.  Something to strive for still!  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ola Jordan returns for next series of Strictly Come Dancing

Jordan - back


One of Agent Triple P's greatest guilty pleasures is Strictly Come Dancing (Dancing with the Stars being its American offshoot) and so he is delighted to learn that Polish poppet Ola Jordan is returning, despite rumours to the contrary, for the next series beginning in the Autumn.  Her husband, the perpetually grumpy James, will not be returning, however, having turned down a "reduced role" (i.e. not dancing with a celebrity partner).


Garnis - leaving

Also not returning is Anya Garnis who has, however, accepted a reduced role as part of the choreography team.


Lowe - returning


Natalie Lowe will be returning, having missed the last series through injury and there will be a new female dancer in the shape of Joanne Clifton; although we don't know what that shape is yet.


Clifton - new


Clifton is the sister of current Strictly professional Kevin.  She may have been brought in partly to answer criticisms that too many of the professional dancers were foreign (not that the BBC is particularly responsive to criticism).