Holidaying in Spain this summer? Harry and Sally Metcalf suggest you swallow your doubts and go to the bullfights
The bull entered the arena like a shell from the barrel of a cannon. The initial charge and skid into the barrier seemed like a circus routine, but the mood changed when the picadors entered on horseback. The bull attacked with awesome ferocity, at one point lifting man and horse off the ground and tossing them to the floor. First blood went to a picador jabbing his steel-tipped pic into the humped muscle at the top of the bull's neck. Fascinated and stunned, we sat rigidly watching the action, eyes covered with splayed fingers like children at a horror movie.
The picadors were replaced by men on foot, carrying banderillas - pairs of yard-long sticks with four-centimetre harpoon-shaped steel points at one end. After five minutes, half a dozen of these were embedded in the bull's neck, and the ring was cleared for the ultimate confrontation.
In the final act, the bull faced only one man. The proximity of man and beast was shocking. By the time matador and beast confront each other alone, the bull is winded while his strength remains intact. His speed has gone but not his power, so that he will be even more deadly once provoked. But to be provoked, his adversary must come closer and closer to him. This is the quintessential moment of the bullfight, in which the deadly proximity of man and bull must result in the death of one or the other.
At first, the matador beguiled the bull with a piece of cloth placed over a stick. Then, having replaced the stick with a sword, man manipulated bull to a point where he was able to kill him from the front, going over the right horn and thrusting between the arch of the shoulder blades. Valiantly attempting to stand its ground, the bull swayed on uncertain legs. Time stood still. Then the bull's face seemed to take on a look of resignation. The next moment all life left his body and he toppled sideways into the sand. It was like a slow- motion movie, brought to an end only by the tumultuous applause of the crowd which rose as one to salute the matador.
The cheers woke us from our trance. We were no longer innocent tourists detached from the proceedings. For us as for the bull, there was no escape. It was as if somebody was demanding to know whose side we were on, the bull's or the matador's? We chose to salute the matador.
The bullfight has little in common with bloodletting or cruelty. It is an art form which celebrates human life in the manner of the bull's death. The people around us had not come to see the torture and humiliation of animals, but the nobility of the bull and the elevation of man above this. In saluting the instinctive bravery of the bull, the crowd paid homage to man's conscious courage, and affirmed human life and achievement.
The crowd's craving for excellence was borne out by its reaction to shortcomings on the matador's part. During the last contest in the programme, the matador failed to kill the bull cleanly after many attempts. The crowd grew increasingly hostile. The matador enlisted the help of three more men before the bull finally succumbed. At this the crowd became incensed. They rose as one, jeering the matador and throwing seat covers at him until he was forced to leave the ring in humiliation. But when the bull was dragged from the ring, it was cheered and applauded in his stead. In the crowd's response to failure, it became even more clear to us that the bullfight affirms life by its pursuit of excellence.
Signs of the times
'When I went to the polling booth I felt a kind of joy I hadn't felt in my entire adult life....Around my neighbourhood people have a kind of jauntiness today without saying anything. It is like a shroud has been lifted....It is perverse the contrast between a great expression of popular will against the knowledge that what is on offer from New Labour is authoritarian, centralised and abject.'
The British Athletic Federation is preparing itself to abandon the use of starting pistols, in anticipation of the new handgun ban. An electronic variation seems the most likely replacement.
A Belfast man sued a local glazier after his foot was crushed when a pallet fell off a lorry, and claimed to be unable to walk for three weeks. He dropped his claim when pictures were produced of the said Mr Jeffrey Shields leading the Orange parade on the Glorious Twelfth, a week after the accident.
Senior San Fransisco politicians and officials were shocked by the 'entertainment' laid on by political consultant Jack Davis at his 50th birthday party. The men in fetish gear having objects sewn into their skin were par for the course, as were the blow-up dolls, giant inflatable penis and live sex shows. However some felt that the piece de resistance was beyond the pale: a sadomasochistic ritual which climaxed with a man dressed as an Apache being sodomised with a whisky bottle administered by a leather-clad woman. It turned out this was simply a 'metaphor' for alcohol being forced upon native Americans.
Workers at ICI's Strathclyde plant are objecting to overalls bearing safety slogans such as 'My name's Wee Joe and safely I'll go' and 'Hip Hop Safety Daddio Zing'. There are reports of uniforms being vandalised.
One minority is still fair game in Australia - the Brits. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission has ruled that the term 'Pom' is acceptable. The Anti-Discrimination board said that last year 22 per cent of all complaints came from Britons, mostly objecting to being called 'whinging Pommie bastards'.
And talking of Australia, the touring cricket side will be heartened to hear that there really are no more heroes - it's official. An attempt in Hastings to erect a statue to WG Grace - he of the unfeasibly wide bat and other unsporting but not actually illegal techniques - has been refused. In its place will be two anonymous cricketers. How appropriate.
'A sad little island'
JG Ballard's verdict on Britain, following Westminster Council's ban on the film of his book Crash
Dr Daniel de Souza, a Toronto psychiatrist has set up a support group to give 'bereavement counselling' to people whose Tamagotchi 'virtual pets' die.
The World Review is a new magazine with an interesting new approach which certain other papers might like to consider adopting. As is customary, it has invited eminent authors to pen its book reviews - but the difference is, they will be dealing with their own books. As the magazine says, 'No one can be expected to write more accurately about the authors' views than the authors themselves'.
Tony Benn, the former champion of new technology, is opposing the introduction of electronic voting in the House of Commons on the grounds that MPs would 'press each other's buttons'.
Almost ashamed of Pride
If you are gay, summer brings Pride as winter brings Christmas. You may not want to participate in either, but you have to adopt a coping strategy. Mine is to be a performer on the Pride cabaret stage, which gives me a reason for being there and a place to hide from the crowd.
Pride today is a vast marketing exercise, its chief sponsor a major brewery. The march, or parade, as it is now known, has been detached from the festival, and both have long been stripped of any meaning other than their mere existence. The inarticulacy of Pride is symbolised in that ubiquitous accessory, the whistle. Slogans and chants, even the old standby 'we're here because we're queer', have long been silenced by the wordless, brain-shattering shrilling of these plastic horrors.
But then Pride (full title: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride) has always been absurd. A lack of shame is one thing, but what does it mean to take pride in something like sexual orientation which, to all intents and purposes, you cannot help? It is as vacuous as the poster campaign for London Pride beer, which urges 'whatever you do, take Pride'.
When I heard Tony Blair's speech on the steps of Number 10, it led me to think that perhaps the gay community has done for politics what it once did for music and fashion. We had it all first: the obsession with health and safety, neurotic individualism, trivial consumerism posing as self-expression, anti-politics, the denial of class, contempt for democracy, sanctimoniousness, and Soho/ Islington prejudices. The whole depressing New Labour package might have been nurtured in embryo in a Compton Street cappuccino bar. If they could overlook the drug-taking, not only Chris Smith, but the entire cabinet would feel at home at Pride. Me, I'll be hiding in the cabaret tent.
Des de Moor is a singer and club promoter
War with the death taken out
When asked to write about cricket I was invited to be as lyrical as I liked. Since lyrical here is a euphemism for slow and soft, it seems to me that this injunction embodies the most fundamental misconception about cricket - a game that is cruel, lonely and above all unforgiving of error.
'To have some idea of what it's like', says batsman Geoff Boycott, 'stand in the outside lane of a motorway, get your mate to drive his car at you at 95mph and wait until he is 12 yards away before you decide which way to jump'. Boycott speaks from the experience of being run over by Michael Holding on a rapid surface at Sabena Park, Kingston. Holding beat the Yorkshireman five times for pace before skittling his stumps with the last ball of a perfect over.
Cricket is war with the death taken out. Perhaps this is what appeals to the Compton Homies and Popz, a cricket team from South Central Los Angeles who toured England at the end of May. One of them grasped the essence of the game when greeting his hosts as the 'Original Gangstas' of 'a game made in heaven'.
As this season began another Compton died. Dennis Compton, the Brylcreem Boy, who, in the summer of 1947 scored more runs and more centuries than anybody before or since; and he scored them with a style and courage that nobody who saw him will ever forget. My father told me about Compton when he gave me my first bat. More recently, I sat with my father in the autumnal sun watching Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards play his last first-class innings. Recalling the great deeds of Richards' career, I realised that the appropriate poetic form for cricket is not the lyric but the epic. Of willow and the man I shall sing...
Alan Hudson believes that life is an elaborate metaphor for cricket
The long, hot summer lunch
Good ingredients are the most important element in cooking. If you start with the best quality produce and keep it simple, the results are guaranteed to please. But if your base materials are inferior, you are probably wasting your time. Not that I am suggesting a diet of lobster, foie gras and truffles (though not averse to any of these). What I mean are ingredients that sing with freshness: sparkling red mullet and John Dory, skin still glistening with protective slime; plump, golden chickens; and, in July and August, the juicy peaches, fragrant apricots and purple-staining cherries that make every day a summer holiday.
It is here, on the fruit and veg counter, that the supermarket giants have made their biggest impact. With hi-tech food storage and global sourcing, the seasonal availability of many foodstuffs has been replaced by their year-round presence on the shelves. But this extension of choice is not quite as it seems. The supermarkets influence producers to opt for high-yield, long-shelf-life varieties which can be easily cultivated. Flavour and texture are sacrificed in favour of appearance, price and consistent supply.
Tomatoes are a prime example. In the summer months, my local Tesco stocks vine-ripened tomatoes. They smell like real tomatoes and they are more than twice the price of their pale and watery counterparts. (Sliced thickly, with a generous sprinkling of Maldon sea salt, a drizzle of peppery Tuscan olive oil and a few torn basil leaves, they taste divine.) Strawberries are another illustration. Every year, I make the same mistake. Although never enticed by the punnets that sit out the winter in the chill cabinet, when the 'new seas- on' crop from Spain and the USA spills out onto the open shelves in May, my resolve gives way. Like everybody else, I hope that those things which look and even smell like strawberries will be the real thing. They never are and I never learn. But harvest your own in July, from your own garden or from a pick-your-own fruit farm, and you will remember what the fuss is about.
Seared salmon with roast vine tomatoes and sauce vièrge (serves four)
A recipe for a summer lunch which should ideally be enjoyed on a terrace with a couple of bottles of chilled rosé. If you cannot get wild salmon, substitute good quality farmed fish.
4 tail fillets of salmon, skinned and weighing about 150g each
12 tomatoes on the vine
Extra-virgin olive oil
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
8 basil leaves
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
Maldon sea salt and pepper
Cut the tomatoes into bunches of three, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and roast at 200ºC in a preheated oven for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the ingredients for the sauce, season with salt and pepper, and heat gently. Preheat a cast iron grill until hot (you can also cook this on a barbecue), brush the fish with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and sear, skin-side down for 3-4 minutes. Sear the other side for a further minute. Serve the salmon, perhaps on a bed of crushed waxy potatoes with a bunch of roasted tomatoes and the warm sauce spooned over the top.
Strawberries with mascarpone
500g ripe strawberries
1 tub mascarpone caster sugar
Beat the mascarpone with a whisk. Add a little caster sugar to taste and serve as a dip with the strawberries.
© Neil Haidar BBC1's Masterchef 1996
Cannes you kick it?
I was at the fiftieth Cannes Film Festival to organise a major celebrity's presence there. Cushy number? More like two weeks of Oliver Stone-style hell, in which the cast of characters is more desperate than in Robert Altman's The Player (best director, 1992).
Ensconced in their own villa or hotel suite, the Agent and the Publicist are keen to ensure that their clients are seen and heard. Despite their best efforts, the main talking-point is the availability of tickets for prestigious parties. People who you might have been on nodding terms with beforehand become your bestest friend if you can get them into an MTV bash or the lavish opening party for The Fifth Element, which featured a gigantic spaceship built in the bay for just one evening.
The Trade Journalist holes up in the hotel basement. From these bunkers, they frantically produce daily newsheets which are distributed in hotel lobbies early each morning. The dailies also take glossy ads for film that will not be winning any Jury prizes, such as The Sex Files: A New Dimension In Ecstasy. Meanwhile the Showbiz Journalist is allowed above ground to track the glamour and gossip that will attract interest back home.
This year's Wannabes were not the Spice Girls but the British government, closely followed by David Puttnam. Chris Smith, new Secretary of State for National Heritage, travelled to the South of France to announce the winners of the British film studio franchises, who will receive Lottery-funded Arts Council grants worth a total of £92.25m (hardly enough to make Britain a Player by Hollywood standards). Meanwhile producer and former studio boss David Puttnam was seen hanging around the minister's entourage, touting his new book about the close connections between Hollywood and Washington, The Struggle for Control of the World's Film Industry. Looks like Puttnam, who one insider told me has a direct line to Number 10, wants to establish an equally intimate relationship.
Cannes was glamorous as well as frenetic. Tuxedos and evening dresses are a must. Real champagne flowed at every party. But in this war zone of the rich and beautiful, the most successful films were all about failure and squalor. Gary Oldman's directing debut, the autobiographical Nil by Mouth, won Kathy Burke (better known as Waynetta Slob) the best actress award for her role as Oldman's battered mum. Even she admits she is less than glamorously gorgeous. Moreover, the joint Palme D'Or winners, Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran) and The Eel (Shomei Inamura, Japan), did not seem to have a Publicist or an Agent. Judging by the award-winners, it seems as if the film industry is in denial of itself.
Letting it (nearly) all hang out
Arriving on an American beach for the first time last year I sprang into the English girl abroad routine of removing my clothes and skipping merrily off for a dip. My American friends were horrified by my suggestion that they should join me, and informed me that if I did not cover up immediately they would be forced to leave. I now realise that on many beaches in the USA it is an arrestable offence for a girl to remove the top half of her bikini, even in pursuit of an all-over tan.
My American girlfriends could not understand my objections to enforced enrobement, telling me that at least it meant our more delicate areas would not be exposed to the sun's harmful rays. Besides, they said, and I suspect this was the real reason, some of us are less favoured than others, and who wants to see nubile young bodies bouncing smugly past while the rest of us lie in the sand troughs carved out by our leaden thighs?
Well, as I see it, having 'safe fun in the sun' while covered from head to toe in clothes and sunblock like the England cricket team is ludicrous. Have we forgotten the pleasures of a good baking, with somebody on hand to massage just a little bit more after-sun into our delicate parts? This is the year to throw caution to the wind, pink bits out for the lads. After all, nobody is going to recognise you with your clothes back on. But, boys, do not feel obliged to let that belly hang out. I hear sunburn to that sensitive area can be very serious indeed.
A hot summer's day eliminates the need for a wetsuit. A sense of freedom is essential to the surfing trip and sheathing oneself in five-millimetre neoprene is akin to donning a body-sized condom (even this may not prevent the deafness that comes from having eardrums calcified by gallons of icy North Sea water). Summer brings more of the right kind of weather, but fewer waves. Through the interminable flat days, when each journey to the beach anti-climaxes with the vista of the becalmed ocean, the surfer craves waves; and when it finally happens, when the surf's up, everything is up.
Surfing is better than sex. A perfect swell is the ultimate turn-on. It stokes you up. Far out, the further the better, lines of shadow form - the early tumescences of another set rolling in. The lines should be clean, held up by an offshore breeze to create the best shape. When it is working perfectly, each wave breaks from a single peak. This breaking cusp of green water is the focus of the wave's energy, where every surfer dreams of being. To get there and be in control, manoeuvring as radically as possible in relation to the wave, is a guarantee of elation. Worth all the waiting and all the hours floundering as a gremmie, it even compensates for being sucked into a monster shore break and drilled in the organ-rupturing turbulence. The thrill of it is beyond hyperbole. You really have to be there - so long as you are not on my wave.
Carving up the waves and hopping the chop, windsurfing is a buzz which demands a certain attitude. The only way to conquer that fickle bitch mother nature is to engage the action at full throttle. Anything less and you are swimming.
Fear is a self-fulfilling prophesy: to concede is to invite retribution. Better to hook-in, lock-out and try to dominate the spewy soup. Then try again. If you stand on the shore and listen to windsurfers you can hear them shouting. They are cursing their own cowardice and damning their ineptitude, while grunting the gear round and willing the wind to suck the rig out of the brine and into action. You always want one more blast, because it makes you feel like a god. Once more off the lip, carving the board in a graceful and controlled arc, flipping the rig and sheeting-in to a chorus of praise which only you can hear. And you do it till you drop, until either you or your kit is finished.
Steve Bowler sails a Mistral Screamer
With Oasis singing about it, and re-marketing courtesy of trendsetting design studio Tomato, gin and tonic is losing its reputation as the tipple for old duffers and acquiring a new image as a truly adult drink. And rightly so, for it is ice cool, refreshing and looks good too. But the summer queen of the spirits does not reveal her secrets to just anybody, and newcomers should heed the following.
Never accept imitations. In a bar, ask for Gordon's, and Sapphire for the home. Do not be tempted by cheap East European brands or anything that sounds cheerily parochial like London gin. Similarly, do not use 'own brand' tonic water; only you know who. The perfect gin and tonic is to be had at home with friends at dusk. Take a highball glass (250ml), slice a circle of lemon rind, fold and squeeze until the zest pops from its pores and then smear around the rim. Pack the glass with ice cubes, add a half-slice of lemon; pour an inch of gin into the glass, fill it up with tonic, stir and enjoy.
In a bar the measure is both not enough and too much. A single will be drowned if the whole mixer is used, and a large one plus mixer is probably too much for the novice. The solution is to use two-thirds of the mixer with a single measure (do not snatch the not-quite-empty bottle back when the bar staff clear the table). Be sure to ask for ice and lemon and never accept tonic from a pump. Finally, unless wearing driving gloves and a car coat, do not order a 'G & T'.
Alex Cameron used to be the best bartender in Glasgow
Reproduced from LM issue 102, July/August 1997