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A Pasta Mystery

Link to a story in New York magazine about the great bucatini shortage of 2020

I’ve never heard of the pasta shape called bucatini before (though the Mac spellchecker has), but it sounds fabulous, and I want to try it now. I won’t be able to, though (even if you can get it in the UK). This article by Rachel Handler in New York magazine is great: both hilarious and fascinating by turns.

Things first began to feel off in March. While this sentiment applies to everything in the known and unknown universe, I mean it specifically in regard to America’s supply of dry, store-bought bucatini. At first, the evidence was purely anecdotal. My boyfriend and I would bravely venture to both our local Italian grocer and our local chain groceries, masked beyond recognition, searching in vain for the bucatini that, in my opinion, not to be dramatic, is the only noodle worth eating; all other dry pastas might as well be firewood. But where there had once been abundance, there was now only lack. Being educated noodle consumers, we knew that there was, more generally, a pasta shortage due to the pandemic, but we were still able to find spaghetti and penne and orecchiette — shapes which, again, insult me even in concept. The missing bucatini felt different. It was specific. Frightening. Why bucatini? Why now? Why us?

I have a sort of mental goal of increasing my post-count this year. Ideally I’d like to hit 365. That doesn’t mean posting every day, necessarily (I didn’t post yesterday); but would need me to post several times per day. Even inconsequential fripperies like this.

The Monsters We Deserve by Marcus Sedgwick (Books 2020, 30)

The first of my Christmas books, so I could count it as next year’s; but since I had finished it by the day after Boxing Day, it definitely belongs to this year. And it also brings me to a nice round 30 books for the year.

A writer is isolated in a lonely alpine chalet to write about a book he hates. Which very quickly turns out to be Frankenstein. He is visited by — well, that would be telling, but just let’s say that the novel he’s writing about and its creator are very significant.

It’s written — at least at first — as if it was the writer writing to his publisher, though that conceit soon disappears. There are various details around the way it’s printed, that look as if they should be significant, but they aren’t really.

It’s good. Check it out.

Endings

Thoughts about the end of 2020, Brexit, Covid

Well, this year of infamy is finally lurching towards its end. I don’t think too many of us will be sad to see the back of 2020.

With it, though, we have to also say a final goodbye to Britain’s membership of the European Union. I don’t think too many of us will be happy about that. Even people who are pleased about it now will realise over time that leaving is a huge mistake.

At least with the exit agreement in place, we shouldn’t see the immediate shortages and queues at the ports that we feared. That agreement is problematic, though.

To get an example of its dangers, I refer you to David Allen Green’s Law and Policy Blog. Yesterday’s post is entitled ‘The Bill implementing the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is an exercise in the Government taking power from Parliament,’ and in it he says:

The draft bill is complex and deals with several specific technical issues, such as criminal records, security, non-food product safety, tax and haulage, as well as general implementation provisions.

Each of these specific technical issues would warrant a bill, taking months to go through the normal parliamentary process.

But instead they will be whizzed and banged through in a single day, with no real scrutiny, as the attention of parliamentarians will (understandably) be focused on the general implementation provisions, which are in Part 3 of the draft bill.

[…]

This provision will empower ministers (or the devolved authorities, where applicable) to make regulations with the same effect as if those regulations were themselves acts of parliament.

In other words: they can amend laws and repeal (or abolish) laws, with only nominal parliamentary involvement.

There are some exceptions (under clause 31(4)), but even with those exceptions, this is an extraordinarily wide power for the executive to legislate at will.

These clauses are called ‘Henry VIII’ clauses and they are as notorious among lawyers as that king is notorious in history.

Again, this means that parliament (and presumably the devolved assemblies, where applicable) will be bypassed, and what is agreed between Whitehall and Brussels will be imposed without any further parliamentary scrutiny.

The whole piece is worth reading (and note the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy references).

Take back control, right enough: take it back from the elected representatives of the people, and give it to the executive.

2020 made 2016 look like 2012. 2021 offers hope to the world as the Covid vaccines roll out, and hope for America as Trump is rolled out of the White House. But things still look decidedly dodgy here in the UK.

Xstabeth by David Keenan (Books 2020, 29)

Following on from number 27, then, we have David Keenan’s latest novel. Again we’re in a kind of magic-realist setting, without any obvious magic. In St Petersburg a young woman lives with her father, who is a failed or fading musician. The daughter — who is the viewpoint character — starts a relationship with her father’s friend, and gets pregnant. She keeps all of this from her father.

Her father, meanwhile, puts on a show at which he performs some seemingly-otherworldly music. He starts to believe that it was actually created by some sort of mystical entity called Xstabeth.

For reasons that escape me at the moment they go to St Andrews,1 where they get involved with a professional golfer. The ‘tenuous, ambiguous, confusing event’ that I referred to in the earlier note happens from this side too, but you’d only notice it if you’d read The Towers The Fields The Transmitters.

The novel is presented as if it were an academic work about a novel calle Xstabeth, by someone called ‘David Keenan,’ who killed himself by jumping from a tower in St Andrews. So there are cod-academic sections or extracts between the chapters.

It’s all very meta, and I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I totally understood it. The strangest thing about it, in some ways, is the use of punctuation. Almost the only punctuation used is the full stop. But that doesn’t just mean he’s avoided using commas and semicolons, and constructed appropriately short sentences. It reads as if he wrote it with conventional punctuation around dialogue and so on, and then replaced every other mark with the full stop.

For example, consider this:

This is singular. He said. This is music that cannot be repeated. This is music that can never be toured. This is music that can never be applauded. I pointed out to him that there was applause on the record. Muted Applause. Awkward applause. Uncomprehending applause. But still. Applause. What is the sound of one audience member clapping. I asked him. He laughed. Yes. He said. Yes. Yes. There is no mechanic in the world for this music. He said.

A more conventional way to punctuate that and lay it out, might be:

This is singular,’ he said. ‘This is music that cannot be repeated; this is music that can never be toured; this is music that can never be applauded.’

I pointed out to him that there was applause on the record. Muted applause; awkward applause; uncomprehending applause; but still: applause.

What is the sound of one audience member clapping?’ I asked him.

He laughed. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘yes, yes. There is no mechanic in the world for this music,’ he said.

There are, of course, other ways you could present it. As an experimental way of presenting text, it’s interesting enough. I found it intruded, in that I constantly noticed it; but not so much as to be annoying. Though there were places where it was slightly confusing. I paid particular attention to it because we recently discussed ways to present dialogue on my course.


  1. Still needs an apostrophe. 

Honestly, it’s great: I love the fact that I can stream all the albums in the world for one flat monthly fee.

I just wish that so many of them didn’t end their titles with ‘(Expanded Edition)’.

Or at least that the ‘Original Edition’ was there too.