A Pasta Mystery

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?

– Rachel Handler, What the Hole Is Going On? The very real, totally bizarre bucatini shortage of 2020.


In the Departure Lounge

Here we are, then, on the last day of the UK’s membership of the EU. We fought, we lost, and now we’ve got to live with the consequences.

Which won’t really start to take effect until the start of next year, of course, because we’ll be in the transition period until then. Until 2021 we’ll still be able to travel freely; there will be no added tariffs on goods; food standards will still be the high ones we’re used to.

Ah yes, food standards. Just the other day I had a realisation — no, it was something that I already knew. More a dawning fear of how close a bad thing was. What brought it home was this headline in the Independent: “Brexit: US insists chlorinated chicken must be on menu in any UK trade agreement.”

Obviously no-one’s going to force anyone to buy or eat chicken, chlorine-washed or otherwise. But remember why chicken in the US is washed in chlorine, and why importing it into the EU is banned: it’s because the food standards are significantly lower than those in the EU. The chlorine washing is to kill off bacteria and make the meat fit for human consumption.

So what that headline means is that a US trade deal could depend on the UK lowering its food standards. That’s what Brexit means: our government could choose to lower the standards of hygiene required in food production. Sit with that thought for a while.

There are a couple of good things to think about on this bleak day. Both of those are also from America, and neither has anything to do with Brexit. But I’ll leave them for later posts. Stay tuned.

I leave you with this delightful snippet of Alex Andreou, on the Remainiacs podcast, suggesting how to cope with today, and the future.


Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff (Books 2018, 8)

I read this reviewed in The Guardian, and immediately bought the Kindle book. Sometimes a review is like that.

And it lived up to the praise. But here’s the thing: the horror, the weirdness in it: they’re not really what we’d think of as Lovecraftian.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and part of the reason for the title is that a couple of the main characters are fans of Lovecraft’s work, and they refer to parts of New England as “Lovecraft country.” But as the review makes clear, the real horror here is much more down to Earth: the racism of 50s America.

My Kindle edition was slightly oddly titled: Lovecraft Country: TV Tie-In. You expect that on a physical book to some degree. But putting it right in the title is new to me. A page on the author’s site confirms that it is going to be made as a series by HBO (which is annoying, because that means it’ll be on Sky Atlantic over here). JJ Abrams1 and Jordan Peele are both involved.

I’m slightly surprised to see that Ruff is not black. I wonder how long before he’ll be accused of “cultural appropriation” for writing from the viewpoint of African-Americans.


  1. I mean, obviously: he’s involved in everything, right? ↩︎


Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (Books 2017, 4)

Yes, the end of August and only my fourth book. What on Earth is happening? In short, Alan Moore’s Jerusalem is happening. All 1000-plus pages of it. I’m just over two-thirds of the way through it, and I’m loving it, but I think my target now must be to finish it by the end of the year!

But I got this one for my birthday, and it’s short, so I read it in two or three days while I was on holiday recently. It’s an odd one. It tells a story of some people and some strange videos in the days when there were still video rental shops stores and VHS tapes within them. Which allows someone to insert extracts from strange home videos into some of them, leading our protagonist to start investigating.

It takes place in the farmland of Iowa, and it’s interesting enough, but it’s one of those stories where you end up wondering, Why? Both why did the characters behave like that, and why did the author choose to write that particular story?

Not a bad story, but not that compelling either.


Pamela Constable on her parents' WASP values

Great piece in the Washington Post by one of their correspondents whose Republican parents would have hated what the party has become:

it occurred to me that our cerebral and courtly African American president, struggling against the tide of an angry, visceral age, had more in common with this elderly WASP gentleman than did many white Republican leaders of the moment.

Source: I rejected my parents’ WASP values. Now I see we need them more than ever. - The Washington Post


Woman Who Shot at Home Depot Shoplifters Vows to Never Help Anyone Again - The New York Times

Tatiana Duva-Rodriguez of Michigan, who had been a passerby when she noticed the commotion, lost her gun-carrying permit and got 18 months’ probation.

The NY Times reports this without comment. This crazy woman shot at people who were suspected of shoplifting. Not murder, not terrorism. Shoplifting. And the lesson she says she’s learned is, “I’ll never help anyone again.”


Yes you can!

Congratulations, America! Great news.

Obama’s speech was fantastic, and McCain’s was very dignified.

Unfortunately, there is one piece of bad news: Stephen Fry tweets that California’s Proposition 8 has passed. It outlaws same-sex marriage, and is a nasty, bigoted piece of work. I can’t find any official news on it at the moment, though, so let’s hope that the good Mr Fry is just misinformed, out there in Africa as he is.


Freedom Tickling

Went to see Jon Stewart of The Daily Show on Sunday. He was doing one night in London, with, as it turned out, the executive producer and the head writer of the show.

It was good, though it could cynically be seen as an extended advert for their book, America: The Book. The largest part of the 75-minute show consisted of readings of extracts from the book. Those were enough to make me want to buy it, but the the funniest lines were probably in Stewart’s introductory piece. The final section, consisting of questions from the audience, showed that both he and his co-stars are generally witty and able to think on their feet.

If volume of applause is a measure, though, the highlight of the night for much of the audience was a brief guest appearance. “For this next section we’re going to ask for help from a member of the audience. We picked him before we started, so don’t get up.” Then a stocky, black-clad figure walked on. From my position high on the balcony, and with my notedly-poor facial-recognition skills, I couldn’t tell who it was (though Frances, sitting next to me, could). I’d have recognised his voice, though. Ricky Gervais is officially more popular in London than Jon Stewart (which is not a surprise).

Gervais read the “funny names” from the book. This is a section on how US newscasters, weather forecasters and so on, can’t have anything like an ordinary name. The authors identified formulas for the name-construction for the various roles. “A monosyllabic kitchen-related verb, followed by two unconnected words. Eg ‘Chop Muddybottom.’”

As further evidence, were it needed, of my poor celeb-recognition, apparently I literally rubbed shoulders with Alan Rickman on the way out; then Frances said, “There’s Salman Rushdie over there.” “Where?” “There: standing in the middle of the road, with all the people round him.”

I did even eventually see him, and recognised him. And while I accept that I’m bad at recognising faces — and celebrities in particular — I would contend that I just hadn’t noticed him in the crowd at first, and recognised him perfectly well once I knew he was there..

Oh, and the title of this post? “We don’t torture. We like to call it, uh, ‘freedom tickling’”