Reduce me to a muzak fate

I love Christmas.

As well as the day itself, with all its traditions and trimmings, I mostly enjoy the build-up over the weeks beforehand, including several opportunities to freeze various appendages off while playing carols with the Menai Bridge Brass Band outside supermarkets (especially fun as a tuba player because you get to hug a large amount of very cold metal, which also happens to be a very effective collecting device for rain and snow).

One thing I don’t enjoy so much is the festive muzak they insist on playing inside the supermarkets at least a month in advance.

Actually, today (which is only one month until Christmas Eve) was the first day I noticed and was irritated by the sonic backdrop to my shopping, which seems a bit later than usual.  Only one more month to put up with it…

Fortunately, I happened to pass the beer aisle and noticed a festive brew called “Bah Humbug” (an offering from the Wychwood Brewery, whose beers I generally enjoy greatly) on special offer, so I decided that a bottle of this would provide suitable compensation for having to endure the annoying tunes.  (NB in case you were wondering, I did actually buy the beer – it didn’t even cross my mind to do otherwise and I don’t think I’d have been able to convince the store detective that they owed me a bottle in return for subjecting me to such musical torture!)

I suppose, ironically, this means that the muzak was effective, if only minimally so, in encouraging me to purchase Christmas-related products (which, presumably, is the reason they choose to inflict it on us – I hope they are not just sadists).  I’d probably better not buy a bottle of beer every time I go shopping over the next month, as it wouldn’t be good for my wallet, my waistline or my liver.  As a one-off, though, I thought it was a pretty good excuse. 🙂

Thinking about all this reminded me of a line from a Queen song, which I remembered as “reduce me to a muzak fate” and thought came from the song Death on two legs (on the Night at the Opera album).  Checking up by listening to a handful of tracks from my collection of early Queen albums, backed up with a swift bit of googling for the lyrics, I discovered that it’s actually from Flick of the Wrist (on Sheer Heart Attack, so I was only out by one album) and the line is actually “reduce you to a muzak fake machine”.  Still, I decided to keep my slightly mangled version of the line as the title for this post.



Sláinte – better late than never!

Yesterday was St Patrick’s Day.  As I said the other day, this is a good month for Celtic patron saints, with Ireland being the third Celtic nation in as many weeks to celebrate its saint’s day. I was busy for most of the day so I didn’t get very much opportunity to mark the occasion, although I did listen to a bit of Irish music in the evening (including some wonderful traditional piping by Finbar Furey and an album by the Bumblebees, a lovely bunch of ladies with whom I once had the pleasure of playing at a jam following a gig they did over in Caernarfon several years ago).

Today I have been continuing the same audio theme by listening to more of my reasonably extensive collection of Irish music.  This is mostly folk music based, but it ranges from quite traditional stuff (such as solo fiddling by Paddy Canny and some truly beautiful singing (mostly in Gaelic) by Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola) to somewhat more modern interpretations (for instance, the Mary Custy band, which has drums and everything!).  The classical music world is represented by a set of four Irish dances by Malcolm Arnold, which are based on folk dances (he also did sets of English, Scottish, Welsh and Cornish dances, though sadly I forgot to listen to the latter the other week).  In the true Irish spirit of not taking oneself too seriously, I also slipped Tom Lehrer’s Irish Ballad (an exploration of all the cliches of the genre which has to be the most hilarious murder ballad of all time) in there.

Probably one of the most esoteric bands in my collection of music with Irish connections is the Russian band Белфаст (that’s “Belfast”, for those of you who don’t read the Cyrillic script). I first discovered this band on about 18 months ago, where they had (and still have, at the time of writing) several tracks available as free downloads.  The genre of their music is described as “rockapaddy”, a term I’ve never encountered elsewhere that apparently means an Irish-oriented mix of Oi, punk and rock.  I’ve no idea what Oi is supposed to be but I can certainly detect punk and rock influences in there.  Some of their stuff is quite Irish flavoured, although some of it sounds more country & western to me.  In any case, it’s quite fun to listen to.

This evening I hope to be going to another meeting with the Bangor polyglots.  At least one member of the group speaks fluent Irish (while I have a very limited command of the language), so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s one of the languages spoken about (or, indeed, spoken) tonight.  I may also depart from my usual choice of Wychwood or Jennings beers and have a pint of Guinness or Magners, or some other beverage from the Emerald Isle, depending on what is available.

In case you were wondering about the patron saints of the other Celtic nations (apart from Wales, Cornwall and Ireland, whose saints have featured recently in this blog), Brittany has St Anne (traditionally recognised as the mother of Mary and hence grandmother of Jesus), who is celebrated in July, and Scotland has St Andrew, whose feast is on 30th November.  I was unable to discover from Wikipedia (the font of much, but not quite all, knowledge) anything about the patron saint of the Isle of Man.

A match made in heaven?

I love coffee and I love beer.  Hence, a post I read today at the Kitchn blog caught my attention as it was all about java-infused beers, i.e. beers with coffee in them.

All of the five examples of commercially available coffee beers listed were stouts or porters, so presumably this is the type of beer that has been found to work best with coffee.  Unfortunately, it being an American food blog, the chance of me being able to find any of these beers over here is pretty slim.  I will have to keep my eyes open to see if there are any similar beers available on the UK market, or I will have to try brewing one of my own (it’s about time to get some more brewing underway in any case).   Apparently the coffee can be added to the beer wort while it is still hot, in the first stages of brewing, or can be cold-brewed into it later on.  I would probably go for the latter approach, so that I could try it first with a small batch rather than risk destroying too much beer if it doesn’t work.

Thinking about brewing coffee beer reminds me of my first naive attempt to make chocolate stout.  Unlike coffee beer, which does actually contain coffee, chocolate stout traditionally refers to a stout brewed with chocolate malt, which is just very dark roasted malt, and doesn’t have any chocolate in it.  As a student, I did some brewing with one of my housemates and we decided to have a go at a chocolate stout but didn’t realise what the name referred to; our approach to making it was to add some cocoa powder to the brew.  Although not a traditional chocolate stout, it was nevertheless a very tasty brew – probably one of the best we made together.  I have brewed a few other stouts and porters since then, but have not yet got round to doing another chocolate one (either with chocolate malt or real chocolate).

Perhaps if my experiments with brewing a coffee stout are successful I could combine the two ideas and make a mocha beer?