Archive for August, 2012
If you are an elderly religious leader enjoying iconic cultural status, a girlish giggle goes a long way – especially when you’re on shaky moral ground. This, arguably, is true of the Dalai Lama; and it is certainly true of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
This week the retired Archbishop – undoubtedly with a giggle – pulled out of a leadership summit in Johannesburg because of the presence of Tony Blair. In a statement, his office explained that “Mr Blair’s decision to support the United States’ military invasion of Iraq . . . was morally indefensible. . . it would be inappropriate and untenable for the Archbishop to share a platform with Mr Blair.”
My colleague the Rev Peter Mullen has already drawn attention to the Archbishop’s sanctimony. I’d add that Tutu is displaying hypocrisy of Pharisian proportions. Since March, Tutu has happily been associated with members of Hamas, which has long been regarded by Britain and the USA as a terrorist organisation. The Archbishop is on the Advisory Board for a controversial group called the Global March to Jerusalem (GM2J), which aims to stage civilian marches on Israel’s capital. The group’s advisers also include two members of Hamas, Zaher Birawi and Ahmad Abo Halabiya.
Let’s bring this into sharper relief. In a sermon given at a mosque in Gaza and broadcast live on Palestinian TV, Ahmad Abo Halabiya allegedly said: “Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them . . . and those Americans who are like them, and those who stand by them.” The Archbishop is apparently willing to share a platform with men like these, but not with Tony Blair. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
How a social website for the super-rich could make Prince Harry’s Vegas affair look like small beer (Telegraph blog)
With news emerging that there may have been video footage taken of Harry’s naked frolics – and that he has been active on Facebook under the pseudonym Spike Wells – this story may have some more unexpected twists. But if it does disappear into the stuff of embarrassing memory, fear not: it doesn’t take a Nostradamus to foresee a string of highly entertaining scandals heading our way, courtesy of a Swedish count by the name of Erik Wachtsmeister.
It all started some years ago, when the Count was hunting boar on the Bismark clan’s estate in Schleswig-Holstein, northern Germany. In the moments of quietude between having “50 animals coming at you”, he recalls, he was struck by a “good idea”: an invitation-only social network, catering for millionaires and the ennobled.
The logic went like this. As a self-proclaimed member of the international jet set, Wachtsmeister found himself “running into the same people who all know each other” on the well-worn glitterati circuit. Rather than have to share Facebook with hoi polloi, it made sense – to him, at least – to mirror this milieu online, with an exclusive social-network-site-cum-private–members’-club. Fast forward to the present day:bestofallworlds.com has just been launched, and already boasts more than 25,000 users. According to Wachtsmeister, this number includes billionaires and members of various royal families.
Now, here’s a simple equation. Take Prince Harry – or Spike Wells – and his circle, who, as Celia Walden attests, are possessed by a “semi-scatological humour” in which the ability to take off one’s clothes is seen as a comic asset, like “walking around with a whoopee cushion permanently at your disposal”. Add Aidan Burley, the Conservative MP who, like the Prince in his younger days, has a penchant for Nazi fancy-dress parties. Add the members of the Bullingdon Club, and the super-injunction clique of Zac Goldsmith et al, as well as a small army of major and minor celebrities. Multiply by bestofallworlds.com, an exclusive social network which offers the illusion of privacy. Divide by Wikileaks and the community of international computer hackers. Equals? Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Borut Kozelj, the hyperactive Slovenian butcher, raises a pair of sausages in the air. “Guys, which one is healthier?” he challenges. We fellow novice sausage-makers take a close look.
The first is dappled with white chunks under the skin; the second is a consistent colour, and of a creamier texture. We decide that the dappled one is more fatty, on account of the visible white bits.
“That is wrong, guys,” says Borut. “Guys, the lumpy or pasty texture comes from how finely it is minced. Nothing to do with fat content. If it is nice and chunky, it will be good quality meat, you can’t hide nothing, guys. But the pasty one is minced very finely, so you don’t know what is in there…”
We all turn a little green and swear never to buy cheap, finely minced sausage again.
Welcome to the one-evening sausage making course at the Ginger Pig butcher’s shop in Marylebone. It takes place every month, and is invariably sold out: bookings must be made at least four weeks in advance. Sausage-making, it seems, is back in fashion.
Waitrose’s sausage buyer, Jamie Matthew, says that anecdotal evidence confirms this. “We constantly get enquiries for sausage skins, even though we don’t sell them,” he says. “Unless everyone is doing something else with pig intestines, people are making sausages.”
The chopping starts. I am taken aback by the nipples on the piece of pork I am given, but I am attempting to be a man of the earth: I whip them off with a knife and get to work. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
It is early evening, and the West Sussex sun is coating the countryside in a syrupy glow. Brian, together with Neil Lindsay, a balloonist who has agreed to take a supporting role, is lugging equipment out of a trailer. Out of a voluminous sack come the billowing, canary-yellow bulges of the balloon. Then a cuboid case is unzipped, and the “sofa” is revealed. Neil inspects it. “Actually,” he says, “it’s more of a garden bench.”
Even that is generous. The “Duo Chariot”, as it is hubristically named, is simply a padded steel frame with two canvas seats slung above a tank of propane.
“We’ll be like those magnificent men in their flying machines,” says Brian, founder of the British School of Ballooning and the most enthusiastic person I have ever met. “The seat tips slightly backwards, which makes it an incredibly relaxing way of flying.”
Sadly, there are fewer balloons around these days. Liz Meek, editor of the ballooning magazine Aerostat, says there are around 600 functioning balloons in Britain, compared to 1,700 in the early Nineties. This, she says, is largely due to the advent of commercial balloon operators, who offer the opportunity to buy a one-off balloon “experience” without having to learn to fly yourself.
Recently, however, a new craze has taken off: people are taking to the skies in balloons that carry just one or two people. One Man Meet (cloudhoppers.org), an annual celebration of one-person balloons known as “Cloudhoppers”, is expecting more than 30 balloons on October 12-14 in Welshpool. Make no mistake: the mini balloon is on the up.
“The advantages are tremendous,” says Liz. “I have a balloon with a two-man collapsible basket. My boyfriend and I take it on holiday with us in the back of the car, along with a folding motorbike that we bought on eBay. We find somewhere to park, then fly off with the motorbike strapped to the side. After we land, he rides back on the bike to get the car, while I pack away the balloon.” In traditional ballooning, a “retriever” has to follow the balloon in the car and pick up the crew when they land. With her mini balloon and motorbike, Liz can do away with all this.
Small balloons are also less expensive and easier to handle. Most have open seats rather than baskets, making you feel more in touch with the sky: not quite extreme ballooning, but something approaching it.
Brian and Neil lay out the balloon on the ground and attach it to the “chariot”. They set up a large fan and blow cold air into the “envelope” to make it bulge. Finally they fire the propane burner, and a flame equivalent to two-and-a-half central heating systems shoots jets of hot air into the envelope. The balloon lifts to a vertical position.
“Now,” says Brian, “jump on.” I hasten to the bench and, marvelling at my lack of concern for my own welfare, strap myself in. “Have a nice flight,” says Neil, drolly. He casts off the moorings and we rise, legs dangling, into space. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
A fortnight ago, I described on these pages the difficult decision that my wife and I made not to circumcise our son, who is now three. We are both half-Jewish, and were caught between the demands of tradition on the one hand and our consciences on the other. In the end we made what we felt was the humane, and just, choice: he remains uncircumcised.
The article provoked a large and impassioned response from readers. One user of telegraph.co.uk, who has since been banned from the site, posted a startling stream of anti-Semitic vitriol. Another reader sent me a long and venomous letter in which he called me a “devious and cowardly narcissist”, bent on undermining the ancient traditions of the Jews.
It didn’t stop there. I received a letter imploring me to repent and embrace Christ; I was told that I harbour unconscious wishes to dominate my son; and I was telephoned at home by a total stranger encouraging me to pay more attention to my Jewish heritage. And all because of that little loop of skin commonly found on the end of the penis.
Given the controversial nature of the debate, I had been braced for a colourful response. I was surprised, however, by the general consensus of opinion. Apologists for circumcision were effectively drowned in a maelstrom of outrage. The prevailing sentiment was summed up by a comment made on the website by a user called Hugh: “Congratulations on your final decision, but why put yourself through such a wringer over it? HIS body, HIS choice.”
So simple! His body, his choice. But when seen through Jewish eyes — and, I suspect, Muslim ones too —the issue becomes rather more complicated. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
With the London 2012 Olympics in full swing, people are watching more sport than ever. There is something ironic about witnessing great feats of athleticism while sinking deeper into the sofa; as the excitement builds, we spectators need something into which to channel our own competitiveness.
What could be better than board games? Not only do they sharpen the mind and stimulate the competitive spirit, they are great ways for families to bond. They are also universal, not reliant on physical strength or agility. Snakes and Ladders, for instance, is a game that can be enjoyed by preschoolers and pensioners alike. For the enthusiast, the Mind Sports Olympiad, an Olympics-style board games extravaganza that attracts the best players in the world, will take place in London at the end of August (details can be found at boardability.com). Continue reading on the Telegraph website