Where did the ciabatta come from?

September 3rd, 2021 by Roger Darlington

I like ciabatta and was surprised to learn recently that it is a relatively recent invention.

Ciabatta bread was first produced in 1982 by Arnaldo Cavallari, who called the bread ciabatta polesana after Polesine, the area he lived in. The recipe was subsequently licensed by Cavallari’s company, Molini Adriesi, to bakers in 11 countries by 1999.

Cavallari and other bakers in Italy were concerned by the popularity of sandwiches made from baguettes imported from France, which were endangering their businesses, and so set about trying to create an Italian alternative with which to make sandwiches. The recipe for ciabatta came about after several weeks of trying variations of traditional bread recipes and consists of a soft, wet dough made with high gluten flour.

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A review of the novel “The Motion Of The Body Through Space” by Lionel Shriver

September 1st, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Lionel Shriver is actually a female American novelist who, as a tomboy aged 15, informally changed her name from Margaret Ann to Lionel. She is best known for her eighth novel “We Need To Talk About Kevin” but the only previous novel of hers that I’ve read is “The Post-Birthday World” (which was I was given). “..Motion..” is her 16th novel and again I only read the work because I was given it (by the same person). 

The point of view is that of Serenata Terpsichore, a 60 year old American voiceover artist, who is married to Remington Alabaster, a transport planner, who is four years her senior. Their children are called Valeria (a born-again Christian) and Deacon (a drug dealer). There is a personal trainer called Bambi Buffer. My first problem with the book was getting over these weird names. 

Serenata has been a lifelong serious exerciser who now has to give up her regimes because of osteoarthritis but, following the loss of his job, Remington – who has previously done no exercise – decides that he is going to run a marathon which is just the start of a series of outlandish physical endeavours. The novel is partially autobiographical because Shriver herself is in her 60s and follows an obsessive exercise regime and she seems to have the self-contained, somewhat anti-social, even selfish, character of her protagonist.

“..Motion..” has three themes: the adjustments that a married couple has to make as they grow older; the futility and indeed damage of extreme exercise; and the excesses of what Shriver would consider political correctness (although she never uses this term). 

As a man of a certain age who has never really exercised beyond daily walks, I warm to the first two themes but, as a political liberal, I found the third theme deeply problematic. There is a section of almost 20 pages chronicling Remington’s disciplinary hearing that cynically misrepresents efforts to increase diversity in the workplace. It does not add to the narrative but simply betrays the author’s publicly-expressed illiberal views.

In an Afterword, she writes The very best thing about getting old was basking in this great big not-giving-a-shit” and records that “Serenata was not obliged to give a flying fig about climate change, species extinction, or nuclear proliferation”. In fact, although I too am getting old, I do very much give a shit and a flying fig about these and many other issues.

Having said all this, Shriver is a fine writer with a sharp sense of wit and much of the novel is a pleasure to read if rather over-burdened with the detail of running and cycling and swimming and all three in the same event. I guess than eventually I concur with a review in the “Guardian” newspaper: “Certainly it’s problematic – but few authors can be as entertainingly problematic as Shriver”.

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How many covid deaths have there been now?

August 31st, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Each evening on the BBC’s News At Ten”, it announces the latest daily death toll but, for a long time now, it has failed to mention the total number of deaths.

That figure for the UK, as of today, is 132,485. That’s almost twice the number of non-combatants killed in this country in the Second World War.

Yet, at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, we were told that 20,000 deaths would be a “good result”. We need to remember that and to acknowledge that, even with a high rate of vaccination, the pandemic is still far from over.

Similarly the news in the UK from time to time mentions spikes in deaths in other countries but gives no consistent overall coverage of what is happening around the world.

Total deaths are now over 4.5 million. That is something like twice the total number of deaths occasioned by the Vietnam War between 1954-1975. The three countries with the highest death tolls are the United States (637,000), Brazil (579,000) and India (438,000).

In truth, the figures for Brazil and India and for the world as a whole are probably underestimates and, of course, the pandemic is still running.

Stay safe. Stay well.

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A review of the 2018 film “Destroyer”

August 30th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

This is a police thriller with a difference: the protagonist, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, is a woman – brilliantly played by Nicole Kidman – and the director is also a woman – Karyn Kusama whose partner Phil Hay is co-writer. The narrative centres around two bank robberies with many of the same participants, but these heists are 16 years apart and the account of the first is told in a series of multiple flash backs which makes the story difficult to follow at times.

Detective Erin Bell is not so much a hero as an anti-hero – she is not an honest cop and she is a bad wife and mother – and, in the present day scenes, the trauma is etched on her face so vividly that you’ll have never seen Kidman look so ragged and troubled.

It is an atmospheric movie, splendidly shot with some striking images and gripping sound, but it is slow with relatively little action. The film had a modest budget, but performed so poorly at the box office that it only covered half its costs. For all the limitations of “Destroyer”, I would recommend it if only for Kidman’s outstanding performance. 

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Statistic of the day: of 4.8 billion Covid vaccine doses delivered around the world to date, around 75% have gone to just 10 countries

August 26th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

The statistics are stark and shaming. During an exasperated intervention earlier this week, the World Health Organization’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, pointed out that of 4.8bn Covid vaccine doses delivered around the world to date, around 75% have gone to just 10 countries. The level of vaccine donations from richer countries, he added with some understatement, has been “really disappointing”. In Africa, where a third wave of the virus has been on the march since May, less than 2% of the continent’s population has received a first dose. While high-income countries across the globe have administered around 100 doses for every 100 citizens, the equivalent figure for low-income countries is 1.5.

This is the opening paragraph to an editorial in today’s “Guardian” newspaper.

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A review of the new movie “Free Guy”

August 23rd, 2021 by Roger Darlington

If you’ve never played a video game (I haven’t), you might struggle to work out what’s going on in the beginning of this movie. So it helps to know that it opens inside a video game where the human players are represented by characters with sunglasses and all the other figures are what are called non-player characters (NPCs). We immediately meet the eponymous blue shirt guy who is an NPC in the game Free City and he is portrayed by the ever-watchable Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds of “Deadpool” fame.

We learn later that the software for the game was originally developed by young programmers played by the British Jodie Comer and American Joe Keery, best best-known for popular television series. The villain of the piece is the owner of the video game played by New Zealander Taika Waititi (Hitler in “Jojo Rabbit”). I saw the movie with a 14 year old boy who not only knew immediately what was happening but recognised a number of gaming influencers playing themselves. 

Visually “Free Guy” is an absolute treat – we saw it in IMAX – with so many colourful characters, so much noisy action, and so many special effects. Plot-wise – once you’ve worked out what’s happening – it’s all rather simple and silly but, for the younger demographic at which this work is aimed, it’s enormously entertaining with a satisfying romantic ending. It’s a joy to see a film that isn’t a sequel or part of a franchise, although “Free Guy” is hardly a total original.

Think “The Truman Show” meets “The Matrix” with elements of “Groundhog Day” and “Source Code”. Among other movies openly referenced in this one are “Avengers” and “Star Wars”. Canadian producer and director Shawn Levy has form for this kind of multi-referencing movie since he was responsible fo the enjoyable “Night At The Museum” franchise.

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A review of the 2018 film “All Is True”

August 20th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

It was a brave man who thought that a commercially successful film – as opposed to a reasonably appealing play – could be made about the last three years of the life of English playwright William Shakespeare during which time he retired to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, wrote nothing, and further ruminated on the death of his young son Hamnet.

That man was Kenneth Branagh who both produced and directed and plays the Bard himself. It is beautifully shot and wonderfully acted (Judi Dench and Ian McKellen make up a trio of thespian royalty) but, as cinema, it is slow and ponderous and verging on the dull. Viewed at home – especially if you’re a Shakespeare fan – it might be regarded as a gentle treat.

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The first reviews for my book of short stories

August 19th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

“Very good read witty & easy to read.”

“Would buy his books again.”

“Excellent and easily readable. Highly recommended!”.

“An excellent read, thoughtful and very well written.”

This is what they are writing on Amazon about my book of short stories titled “The Rooms In My Mind”. If you haven’t purchased it yet or think it would make a little gift to a relative or friend, please check it out here.

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Word of the day: larking

August 19th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

Larking is the art of looking for the little treasures that are all around us, on beaches (beachlarking), in fields (fieldlarking), at home (houselarking and gardenlarking) and of course mudlarking in rivers, especially on the River Thames, next to which I live.

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A review of the 2016 political thriller “Miss Sloane”

August 19th, 2021 by Roger Darlington

This film is a terrific reminder of a lesson too often forgotten in the world of movies: a really good film has to start with a really good script. Amazingly, the scriptwriter in this case, the British Jonathan Perera, had never written a film before this one which won him Best Screenplay from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain. His legal and teaching background clearly helped but this is a man who has obviously devoured the work of Aaron Sorkin in “The West Wing” in order to produce this wordy and richly-textured script.

I confess that i could not catch all the dialogue and some of what i caught I didn’t understand, but the narrative is never less than compelling.

The next essential ingredient of a successful film is a fine cast. The eponymous role of Washington political lobbyist is brilliantly filled by Jessica Chastain. She is wonderful at playing strong women (think “Zero Dark Thirty”) and clearly relishes a wordy script (think “Molly’s Game”). But the support cast is excellent too with stars like Mark Strong, Sam Waterston and John Lithgow and newcomers such as Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Alison Pill.

Once you have the script and the cast, it all needs to come together with an able director and here we have more British talent with John Madden who gave us such character-driven work as “Shakespeare In Love” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

If you want car chases and shoot-outs, this is probably not the film for you. But, if you care how laws are made in the USA and how guns are controlled (or not) in that country or if you just like a fast-paced political thriller with as many twists as a corkscrew, “Miss Sloane” is highly recommended.

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