Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Sumo tourny finale

To my total delight, Harumafuji (nee Ama) came through to win the Gogatsu Basho (May sumo tournament), finishing with a record of 14 wins and one loss, and beating Hakuho in a playoff for the championship. I felt my efforts in crawling out of bed to watch the tournament live via the sumo association's live web feed more than amply rewarded.

Here's how things unfolded in the last week:

Day 13
Asashoryu (11-1) vs Koto-oshu (8-4)

Having already lost once, Asashoryu needed a win to keep up with the leaders, Hakuho and Harumafuji (both unbeaten.)

Koto-oshu annoys the hell out of me for always making his opponent wait before the bout, which he did again this time, the arrogant turkey. To his credit, he made a good bout of it and Asa had to pull out a magnificent throw to win it.

Day 13
Hakuho (12-0) vs Harumafuji (12-0)

These two were tied for the lead and the winner would be favourite to lift the Emperor's Cup. Harumafuji was on top initially, spinning his opponent and keeping him off balance, but Hakuho kept a cool head and had the presence of mind to employ the cute little leg-sweep which won him the fight: not a technique much seen in top bouts.

Day 14
Hakuho (13-0) vs Koto-oshu (8-5)

Having established himself as sole frontrunner in the tournament, Hakuho then ballsed it up completely, being thrown ignobly to the dirt by Koto-shu. Koto, for his part, wasn't above side-stepping his opponent at the outset of the bout, which is Not The Done Thing (see previous post.)

Day 14
Harumafuji (12-1) vs Asashoryu (12-1)

With Hakuho having suffered his first loss, the door was open for the winner of this bout to mount a challenge for the title. Asa's prodigious strength wasn't enough, as Harumafuji pulled out an unusual leg technique of his own to set up the throw.

Day 15
Koto-oshu (9-5) vs Harumafuji (13-1)

Harumafuji looked in trouble with his right arm caught high and nowhere near his opponent's belt; another bit of quick thinking to grab his opponent round the neck and drive his pretty face into the floor.

Day 15
Hakuho (13-1) vs Asashoryu (12-2)

Wanting Asa to win and gift Harumafuji his first tournament title, I was a bit pissed off that the judges let Hakuho get away with what looked like a complete false start at the beginning of the bout. Asa looked out of sorts and meekly allowed himself to be bullied out of the ring.

Championship play off
Hakuho vs Harumafuji

(Those of you who don't speak Japanese / aren't avid followers of sumo will probably find the first 5 mins 30s a bit of a waste of time.)

By now, I was on my 3rd cup of tea of the morning and a yampy mess. Harumafuji used the same plan as day 13, except he managed to keep Hakuho off his belt and levered his opponent's leg with his free hand to force him down.

I was delighted and put the kettle on for my fourth cup of tea while Harumafuji gave his victory interview. Belying his normal reputation for taciturnity, he announced that he was "happy" and, when pressed to elaborate on this, conceded that he was "really happy."


Most gratifying was the manner of the tournament victory: over the last year or so, Harumafuji has picked up the happy knack of "winning ugly", picking up most of his victories via yorikiri (grabbing opponent by belt and bulldozing him out of the ring) and oshidashi (getting your opponent out of the ring with a good old shove.) The grey slice marked "other" which once dominated a glorious 20% of the pie chart on the sumo web page detailing Harumafuji's winning techniques has shrivelled to single figures. Winning ugly got him up to Ozeki rank and it's good technical sumo, but not so good to watch as the old days of Ama scampering round the ring, pulling down larger opponents; watching him open up the bag of tricks for the last three victories was much better.


Friday, May 22, 2009


Sumo tourny time once more

As usual, I've been following the sumo tournament online via the jittery, flickery feed available on Goo Sumo (you'd think they could manage a better website.)

Harumafuji and Hakuho are clear in the lead with 12-0 records, while Asashoryu is a win behind in second place. The two leaders will face each other tomorrow, Harumafuji will fight Asashoryu on Saturday, then the two yokozuna will be up against each other on Sunday. Exciting times!

Although Harumafuji has been sensational so far this tournament (having been a very slow starter in his previous two tournaments at the ozeki rank), his win yesterday against Kisenosato drew a lot of criticism for a perceived sidestep at the beginning of the bout, which is considered rather too underhand a tactic for an Ozeki.

Harumafuji, keeps a blog at http://blog.goo.ne.jp/harumafuji/ with the slogan "Going toe to toe!" at the top of the page, although some indignant comments yesterday gave the lie to this:

"Think about how you used to feel when you got sidestepped by an ozeki. Poor old Kisenosato."

"What the hell happened to 'Going to to toe'?! I'm not going to cheer for you any more."

Stinging rebukes all round. Still, comment is free.


Sunday, May 17, 2009


Eurovision: introducing the Easter Pervert

Last night saw that triumph of democracy that is the final of the Eurovision song contest, where people across the continent spend Saturday night in front of the telly and Baltic states attempt to patch up relationships strained by centuries of blood-letting and atrocities by voting for one another's crappy songs.

Having not seen a final in six years, I was overjoyed to be invited to a viewing party and was unstinting in my condemnation of those I perceived as Not Entering Into The Spirit Of Things:

Taking a short breather in the kitchen

JAN: It's great having a separate room you can put all those with any kind of an interest in Eurovision in.

DAN: Jan, you're like a combination of Scrooge, the Grinch and the Easter Pervert.

This last, I informed my delighted comrades, is a figure of my own imagining who ruins Easter for children by attacking them. I don't imagine Disney will be strong-arming the movie rights off me any time soon.


My favourite song was easily Portugal's entry, Todas as ruas do amor, which finished way down the field in 15th with a niggardly 57 points.

The winner, by the proverbial mile, was Norway's Fairytale, which, I concluded, everyone had voted for after staking large wagers on it as the bookmakers' favourite. The UK, meanwhile, finished in an unmerited fifth position, and the performance could hardly have been any more nauseating had Jade Ewen sawed one of her legs off on stage.


We sit on the sofa discussing the aesthetic merits of Estonia's representative.

CHRISTIAN: Yeah, she is pretty, if you happen to like exceptionally beautiful women.


Saturday, May 16, 2009


Rule-of-thumb recipes #1

Samgyetang (also Sam gae tang) is, according to Wikipedo, "a variety of guk or Korean soup, whose main ingredients are a whole young chicken and Korean ginseng."

I was lucky enough to sample this in Korea, the recommendation to do so being possibly the only worthwhile 838 words to venture forth from the considerable jaw of one of Hirakata's more persistent students (no prizes for guessing.)

Having obtained some dried ginseng during a recent foray into Birmingham's Chinatown, I was all eager to have a go at Samgyetang and expunge the shame of my recent attempt at Ramen, which even the cat wouldn't eat:

What you will need:

A young chicken
A couple of bits of ginseng
3-4 cloves of garlic
Red dates (aka Jujubes)
Water chestnuts
Spring onions

What you will actually get:

A long, blank stare from the proprietor of the local delicatessen, followed by a rather more fruitful trip to the Co-Op, although you'll probably have to make do with regular dates.

Also, some ginger is recommended, in order to take away the taste of the ingredients.

Seven steps to culinary heaven:

1. Remove the wrapper from the chicken, and cut the string binding it, so you have good access to its cavity.

2. Stick all of the ingredients inside the chicken, except the spring onions, which you forgot to buy, and the water chestnuts which, for reasons best known to yourself, you hide behind the bread crock.

3. Having stuffed all of the rest of the ingredients inside the chicken, realise that they will probably fall out once the cooking process is underway and repent you of having treated the piece of string in such a cavalier fashion. Retrieve the piece of string and truss the chicken as best you can with it, to avoid loss of stuffing.

4. Bung the chicken in the pressure cooker and dole on whatever you deem to be a sensible amount of water.

5. Cook for about 15 minutes, then realise that you forgot to include the water chestnuts and swear loud enough to give your cats a nasty fright.

6. Cook for a further 45 minutes, adding the water chestnuts to the broth shortly before the end, in order that they should at least be warm.

7. Your samgyetang is complete! Serve a helping to your brother to make sure that it's not immediately fatal, then tuck in.

The way it was served in Korea was in a deep clay bowl with the whole chicken inside. Unfortunately, we had to split a single chicken, which made it a bit messy, but it still tasted ok. Anyway, I made the damn thing and no one died. I hope all of you reading at home will be inspired to give it a go.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Room for one more snout in the trough?

At the moment, the papers are full of damaging revelations about how British MPs have been going nuts with their expense accounts. A full disclosure of MPs' expenses claims was due to be published shortly, but a leaked copy made it into the hands of the Telegraph and now the swill has hit the fan.

Righteous indignation is the order of the day: MPs are protesting that everything was done within the rules and demanding that the mole (whomsoever he or she may be) is found and persecuted (prosecuted, sorry), the headlines of the papers have involved little other than MPs trying to claim for their Christmas decs for a week or so and, while no one reads papers any more, people are generally noticing that there's a bit of a fuss about something, and who would have thought that politicians could be such a bunch of crooks?

One of the main issues is how MPs (ab)use their second home allowance. Each MP living outside London is entitled to up to £24,000 to obtain and maintain a second property, ideally so they can have a place to stay in London and easy access to the House of Commons.

MPs have to designate what their second property is, but they can change this as often as they like. Some people have been designating their family home as the second property and blowing the budget on a loft conversion, some have been using it to do up houses, then sell them on for a profit.

Kudos to the highest claimant one Eric Joyce, MP for Falkirk in Scotland: despite using up his second home allowance (therefore, by implication, having access to a place to stay in London) he still managed to claim over £40,000 in annual travel expenses, which makes you wonder how (as well as why) he was travelling.

This was tens of thousands more than MPs for surrounding constituencies, which makes you think that Falkirk must have a really expensive bus service.


Naturally, I want in.

The problem is, I'm not affiliated to any major political party and I don't have time to write my own manifesto. My only policy so far is that every house in the country should own a copy of Moon Safari but, as those nearest and dearest to me point out, that's probably already the case.

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Friday, May 08, 2009


AH1N1, AKA...

A Mexican footballer has been banned for spitting at an opponent then telling him he had swine flu. Guadalajara defender Hector Reynoso has provisionally been suspended from all matches in the Libertadores Cup after last week's game at Everton of Chile in South America's top club competition. The South American Football Confederation (CSF) said the length of the ban would be determined in the next 72 hours.

"Reynoso, following an incident in the game, reacted by spitting at Everton player Sebastian Penco and then releasing nasal secretions at the face of the player," said the CSF in a statement. "This situation, lamentable in its own right, was aggravated by the risk of a possible infection of the disease AH1N1 [swine flu]."

Mexican footballer banned for spitting and claiming he had swine flu
The Guardian, Monday 4 May 2009


My personal philosophy has always been to play the beautiful game like a gentleman, or as nearly as I can manage. I do have the occasional lapse, like the time recently when I distracted the defender who was marking me at a corner by pointing into the distance, saying "is that a new chippy?" then scarpering for the back post while he was looking away.


Sunday, May 03, 2009


Red hot silly buggers

Attention one and all: I have given over my windowsill to the growing of chilli peppers, the obvious advantages of having a ready source of humourous drink spikage readily to hand somewhat offset by the need to keep six pots of chemically-simulated manure in direct sunlight, a couple of feet from my bed.

At the moment, all I have is a couple of nascent shoots, raising their leaves timidly above the compost. I'm expecting to be able to start harvesting the fruit of my labour in June or July, so anyone who fancies a sample, let me know and I'll stick a couple of dried ones in the post for you.


Friday, May 01, 2009


Silly buggers

Tourists enjoying a day of sightseeing at Windsor Castle got more than they bargained for today when a couple were caught having sex on the Queen's lawn.

Ignoring signs asking visitors to Please Keep Off The Grass, the man and woman, said to be in their early 30, selected a spot near the castle's Garter Tower and stripped off in full view of hotels, pubs and shops.

An employee at the Harte and Garter Hotel, which overlooks the castle, said guests went out to observe the scene and could not believe their eyes. The woman, who asked not to be named, said: "People were shouting things like 'what are you doing?' but the couple didn't seem to care at all. It was going on for about 10 or 15 minutes, which is quite a long time, considering the location."

Another witness, Mark Robinson, 44, said the couple carried on until police intervened. He said: "The officers told them to stop and the sight of the uniforms seemed to snap them out of it. They were unsteady on their feet and the guy pulled his trousers up and helped the girl put hers back on.

"The Japanese tourists were comparing their videos."

A spokesman from Thames Valley police confirmed that two people had been arrested and cautioned for outraging public decency. It is not known whether the Queen was in residence at Windsor Castle at the time.

Couple caught having sex on Queen's lawn
The Guardian
April 30th

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