Sunday, 22 January 2017

Review: Martin Carthy, Band on the Wall.

I wouldn't go to watch Deep Purple last year, nor would I wish to watch the Rolling Stones anytime soon.

 I have the view that music evolves and grows, at least if it is alive and thriving it does. So the thought of seeing older men trying to recreate facsimiles of what they did forty years ago does not appeal. 

Martin Carthy is 75 years old, he has a musical track record of 60 years creativity with landmark examples along the way: his guitar technique, and collaborations like the Imagined Village a few years ago. 

Anyone expecting him to recreate his sparkling finger-dancing form of years gone by may have been disappointed yesterday evening. 

What we were treated to, as Martin stood alone with his two guitars on the Band on the Wall stage, was an entirely honest performance, no not performance, a sharing. 

Carthy demonstrated what age means: not some desperate scrabble to cling onto what our bodies are telling us we should let go of; but an acceptance of ourselves as we are now, and an acknowledgment of our ability to continue to offer something very worthwhile, yet different. 

The songs may have been familiar - that is in the nature of traditional music, many of these songs have been around for centuries - but the delivery was different. Not flashy but steeped in depth and wisdom. 

I find this refreshing. At 75 Carthy isn't the oldest folk singer to be performing. Shirley Collins recently returned to singing after an absence of 30 years. At 80 years Collins released her acclaimed album Lodestar last month, again a voice completely different from that we remember from Lark Rise To Candleford in 1978 yet beautiful nonetheless. 

There is hope for music; both youth and age have a part to play in keeping music alive and live. 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Don't Have Sex with Someone you Can't have a Reasonable Conversation with Beforehand

I must be getting old but I find myself less and less able to keep my mouth shut. I'm turning into my dad who shouts at the telly. This time it's the comments on social media about the Ched Evans case that have got my goat. 

I'm not going to write about the case because there is still a legal process taking place. These comments are about some of the issues that had an airing on Facebook during the furore as Oldham Athletic hummed and hawed about signing the player. 

I have two sons in their twenties, a niece who is eighteen and at university, a niece who is a teenager and a granddaughter who is one year old. My views are about the world they live in and that they are growing up in. 

A great deal has been said about the behaviour of both people in the Evans case. There was a great deal of alcohol involved and also casual sex. This sounds pretty much run of the mill for many many young people. The legal issues in the case are around the ability of someone to give true consent to sex. It is not about whether or not you should have sex with one or more strangers.

The question I pose is this: would you consider it OK for someone to have sex with your teenage daughter who, not unreasonably or unusually, had drunk herself into an almost stupor, on the basis that she seemed 'up for it' and didn't say no? 

I'm guessing the answer would be no. 

Whether someone's vulnerability is temporary and/or self-induced, the fact that they are vulnerable remains, together with their right to not have their vulnerability taken advantage of. I doubt you would think it was OK to have sex with someone who was vulnerable due to mental illness or disability. I hope. 

I guess if I was to have a father-to-son chat about the subject and wanted a pithy one-liner I'd probably say: 

'Don't have sex with someone you can't have a reasonable conversation with beforehand.' 

The Evans case is an important one not because it is high-profile but because of the issues it raises for our young people and the way they live their lives, we should watch with interest and hope that a new morality will emerge as the result. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

My New Year Bread Confession

I don't do New Year, as previous rants will demonstrate, but advancing age is perhaps mellowing me. I do understand the benefit of having a time for taking stock and reflecting. 

So what of my own stock-taking? 

Well, I have a confession: since November I have not only failed to make bread, I have on at least a few occasions bought bread from a supermarket. Moreover I have wasted part-loaves when they have collapsed in heaps of cotton wool crumbs beneath my bread knife, and I have then complained bitterly about it. 

So why this hypocritical bread-buying from the man who rails against the quality and nutritional value of factory made loaves?

In short, I have been guilty of not taking my own advice. Life's events since November meant that our routines were turned upside down and we were left trotting along in their wake trying to keep up. Rather than adapt my breadmaking routine to suit (which is what I tell people is the simple thing to do) I got cross with life and allowed sourdough cultures languish and gave Tesco my hard earned money in exchange for the crap they purport to be bread. 

Getting back to reflection and lines-in-the-sand, last week was mine. I stood staring down at the collapsed remains of a loaf that refused to be sliced owing to the almost complete absence of any gluten structure and proclaimed enough is enough. As a friend of mine likes to say, I gave my head a wobble and got baking. 

So these two small loaves - baked using the simple sponge and dough method - are my way of saying just because you can't bake the best of breads (and sourdough is definitely the best), you can always bake bread that is better than that which you buy in the supermaket. 

And this is also my way of saying, if you do go in for New Year as a time of reflection, give your own head a wobble and make 2015 a good year with great bread in it. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Family Holiday: A Rite of Passage for New Grandparents

When our twin boys were babies we were struggling for money and sanity; so our parents took us for a break  to North Wales. Their parents had done it for them when they needed it. This last week we passed on the same gift and had a week together in a beautiful Welsh cottage.

We are fairly new grandparents with a baby granddaughter and a five-years old grandson who came with his mum into our lives a few years ago.

Since our own sons became adults we've moved on a bit. We like our home when there's only us and the dogs in it. The funny thing is we've never really thought about how they live: that's their world and we only glimpse it when we help out. But being cheek by jowl with each other thrust their lives right in front of us in a way I wasn't quite ready for.

I'm a reasonable man, but how hard is it to move a nappy after you've changed it, or pick up the towels, or wash the baby's used bottle after a feed?

Then there' s breakfast.  I get up early, have a quiet breakfast with a fresh coffee and a read. So at 7.00 am when five-years-old Austin bowls into the kitchen full of fizz that by rights should have taken hours to build up I can be forgiven for it grating a little. Can't I?

'Grandad, do you know?...' He says. There follows a richly detailed description of which Power Ranger is best and why. Then the telly goes on - seriously, at that time in the morning!

Just as my umbrage is gathering steam and I'm building up to a righteously indignant but pointless inner  rant, another voice, one with an accusing tone, whispers unbidden in my ear:

'Have you really forgotten? Can you not remember how glad of the telly you were to occupy the boys when they were little? Can you not remember how grateful you were to your parents for that trip to Wales that you would otherwise not have had? Did you ever wonder how chaotic your own struggles to manage twin babies might have looked to other people?'

I had forgotten some things: how much fun cricket on the beach is, or splashing in the waves, or just listening to the innocence of children's chatter. So at 7.45 am each day I sat and watched Milkshake, and had it all explained to me in great detail. And it was great.
Arriving home at weekend it all seemed very quiet, or was it peaceful? I was exhausted but very happy to have been able to do it, and looking forward to when the grandkids have their next sleepover.  



Tuesday, 10 September 2013


In January 2007 I had my heel removed, realigned and reattached with a Titanium screw. It was encased in plaster and I was left with almost four months to discover what life was like for people who are housebound. My hospitalisation and encarcerationgave me a rich seam of experience that itched for want of someone to share my thoughts with. 

I started this blog and inadvertently, and by increments, became an avid user and consumer of a range of social media. 

Reading back over my posts now is like finding an old diary or sketch book. I smiled at memories of funny and interesting things that populated my life for the years I blogged regularly. Yes, years. My blogging continued well after my recovery, and actually for a while became part of my job. I wrote my boss's blog and advised others on blogging. 

The nature of social media is that it never rests - constantly churning and evolving to meet the changing whims of an audience addicted to easy fixes of information (or does that framing betray my getting older and ever so slightly out-of-touch?). I lost interest in my blog - it took time to craft a piece of writing and seconds to Tweet.

Social media is now an integral part of the communications industry, every business or organisation must be accessible by a range of channels. 

So where does that slick professionalisation leave my little blog? Does it matter that sometimes only half-a-dozen people read what I had written - was it worth all that effort?

Even now, years after I shared my various and sundry experiences, someone living 10 or 10, 000 miles away will occasionally pop a comment on one of my posts to say they had stumbled across it in a Google search and my experience resonated with their own. 

Hooray for the Internet that gives us the freedom to express ourselves, like any heart wrenching, hand written journal entry, yet allows each of us to reach out to, who knows where, and who knows who.

With possibly more time on my hands to come perhaps the time is right to reacquaint myself with Crofty's Blog. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Sourdough at the Handmade Bakery

I don't mind admitting I'm a bread geek. Baking bread, for me, is far more than the simple combination of ingredients to form what, on the face of it, is a basic foodstuff

So you will understand why I was looking forward to my course with Dan and Johanna McTiernan at The Handmade Bakery in West Yorkshire. The course set out to dispel the myths that surround sourdough baking and that make it sound so difficult. If you've read my blog before you will know that sourdough is easy.

What I was hoping from the course was more about the pleasure of baking in a commercially run bakery with a really passionate expert. I wasn't disappointed.

Dan and Johanna weave practical baking craft with, what for me, is the heart of bread making, the social challenge of producing sustainable, local food. I couldn't help thinking though that in the case of our course he was preaching to the converted. Most of us arrived at Dan's back door because we already knew that his and Johanna's views resonated with our own. And yes, it was great to be among fellow geeks sharing pleasure in the deck ovens and the baking rotas on the walls, And it was great to ask bread-head questions and not be thought nerdy, but the challenge for all of us who feel this way about bread is to show people who probably would not usually access Dan's excellent courses that good food is a right, not a privilege.

The second challenge is to show people that they can afford really good bread by making it themselves - it's easy. 

I think though that our evangelising about real bread does not help. My colleagues sum it up when they say: 

'Crofty's bread's lovely, but I wish he wouldn't go on about it so much.' 

That then, is the answer. Let the bread do the talking. 

I heartily recommend anyone who is interested in bread to consider a course at The Handmade Bakery with Dan and Johanna - you will not be disappointed. If you do not want to become a bread geek like me, and aren't, for example,interested in where Dan got his ovens (a Greggs bakery, second hand, I loved his comment - 'it was like rescuing a battery hen'), you will come away with armfuls of absolutely delicious bread, and the means to make it for yourself.

Here's what I made. 

I made this!

If you want to know more about real bread and why it is important check the Real Bread Campaign website here. 

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Sourdough - The (not so) Secret

Culturing sourdough is easy, so why does much of the advice about it sound like a cross between necromancy and alchemy?

Why does sourdough seem so difficult?

Most amateur bakers have their own bread-bible for guidance, mine is Andrew Whiteley's Bread Matters, Dan Leopard's True Loaf is another, the sourdough starter recipes are consistently simple, here's one:

Some organic wholemeal Rye Flour
Some water
Nature (or science if you prefer)

If you think I'm being flippant I apologise. In truth I struggled to get a starter going at first but the reasons were simple.

Let's go back to the recipe and consider each ingredient:

Organic wholemeal rye flour -sourdough relies on natural yeasts in the air and flour to give it life. Therefore the freer your flour is from artificial messing about the better chance you have of seeing some life from it.

Water - again the cleaner and purer the better, if your tap water doesn't have chlorine in it all the better (chlorine's there to kill bugs, we want to encourage them). Our water is chlorinated - it still works ok.

Nature (or science) - yeasts multiply best between 28-32 degrees centigrade (apparently).

This was where my error lay. Time after time I'd mix a gloopy slop and wait for bubbles to form, sniffing tentatively and hoping for that tell-tale fruity tang that let's you know the yeasty blighters are reproducing.

Again and again it either dried up or went mouldy.

I returned to bread- guru Whiteley's advice and it struck me: consistent temperature.

I set about searching for a consistently warm place, but with no hot water tank, drew a blank.

Then I had a eureka moment: this was very similar to brewing. I investigated a variety of brewer's heat pads, which all looked promising. Then I remembered my mum-in-law's arthritis. All that remained was to whip the fleecy heating pad from her feeble grip and we were set.

It works a treat.

What? Her arthritis?... Err...

Anyway I have had a sourdough going for months now. So long as I use it and refresh it once a week, replacing old with new each time, it delivers vigorous, bubbly life to my loaves every time.

(The only secret is to make sure the Moon is in Gemini when you start your culture; that and the naked goat-dance in the garden.)
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