Harman in sense of humour shock

The verdict on the Labour deputy leadership candidates' Question Time performances - and bloggers un

As the Labour deputy leadership race gains pace, the display of aptitude by the contestants on Question Time, as on Newsnight the week before last, gripped the blogosphere.

Iain Dale thinks Harriet Harman has had her time in the spotlight during this contest and will be eating humble pie come June 27.

He said: “I do enjoy the sight of Harriet Harman dissing the very government she has been a fairly prominent member of for 10 years. She is, however, developing a long overdue sense of humour. I suspect it will disappear from whence it came after 27 June.”

Another deputy leader candidate, Peter Hain, has reversed his thinking behind a possible coalition with Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly Government, as Alun Cairns AM said here. Mr Cairns said Mr Hain was at his poorest on Question Time on Thursday night.

But it was news of a 22-year-old graduate who “blogged to shock” which drew my attention most sharply this week, featured on the Laban Tall blog. According to this BBC report, the supermarket worker was told he could be jailed for his posts by a Falkirk court.

Once again we see bloggers come under fire from the legal system. But the last time I wrote about one of our blogosphere colleagues being scrutinised for their musings, was when an Egyptian blogger had been jailed. You can read it here. It is particularly poignant after a week when Newsnight again talked up the political repression of the Egyptian state.

Ed Husain’s book, The Islamist, was discussed over at Pickled Politics this week, as I found myself agreeing with Melanie Philips – a rare occasion. I too would suggest this book to be read as widely as possible by the ruling class.

She said: “‘The Islamist’ should be sent to every politician at Westminster, put on the desk of every counter-intelligence officer and thrust under the supercilious nose of every journalist who maunders on about ‘Islamophobia’.

And this I just loved. As a student in Birmingham I often wondered where the word Brummie came from. The Prague Tory has dug this one out, saying: “I'm pretty sure most Brummies don't mind being called Brummies by outsiders and even if some do they should lighten up.

“The word Brummie derives from Brummagem which according to this Wikipedia entry vied over Birmingham during the 18th century.” Fascinating indeed.

But I leave you with notes from one of the most prolific figures in 20th century broadcast journalism, Kate Adie of the BBC. At the Multimedia Meets Radio blog, Mike Mullane has an interesting dialogue with Kate in which she airs her views on blogging.

She said: “You are blogging to a peer group - that's all right - I can understand there is a demand for that. But journalists shouldn't have any time to blog - there are too many stories waiting to be told!”

Perhaps she’s right. But this was topped by a dig at her BBC management colleagues. She said their blogs were proof they have nothing better to do during their working day.

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad