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The Black Dog

R.A.D. Stainforth is unwell.

Seriously, the next Mrs Stainforth.

Knowing my luck, she’s probably a dyke.

Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, arguably the last great female star of
the Hollywood studio system, has died at the age of 79.

The Oscar-winning star died in the early hours of the morning at Cedars-Sinai medical centre in Los Angeles, from congestive heart failure, according to her spokeswoman Sally Morrison. She said Taylor’s children were at her side.

Dame Elizabeth, who had been in ill health for a number of years, was taken to the hospital with heart failure six weeks ago. A spokeswoman for the hospital said: “She passed away at 1.28 [0828 GMT].”

Taylor’s luminous screen presence, allied to a colourful private life, made her a mainstay of US popular culture for more than 50 years. She won her first best actress Oscar for playing the self-styled “slut of the world” in Butterfield 8 (1960). Her second came courtesy of an electrifying turn opposite then-husband Richard Burton in the 1966 drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Born in Hampstead, north London, Taylor relocated to the US in 1939 and made her screen debut as a nine-year-old in the 1942 Universal comedy There’s One Born Every Minute. She found fame as the perky child star of Lassie Come Home and National Velvet before graduating to adult roles with the 1950 comedy Father of the Bride.

The following year she rustled up one of her most vibrant and vital performances in A Place in the Sun. George Stevens’s melodrama cast her as a spoiled debutante who bewitches Montgomery Clift’s ambitious social climber. According to the critic Andrew Sarris, the film’s young actors were “the most beautiful couple in the history of cinema. Those gigantic close-ups of them kissing were unnerving – like gorging on chocolate sundaes.”

Other notable roles were in Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly, Last Summer and Reflections in a Golden Eye. Yet Taylor’s on-screen prowess was often upstaged by the ongoing soap-opera of her personal life. She was married eight times to seven husbands and sparked a scandal when she began an affair with the British actor Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra.

The couple wed in 1964 and divorced a decade later. They remarried in 1975 and then split again the following year. Throughout this period they were embraced as the hydra-headed emblem of Hollywood glamour, their lives a whirl of ritzy premieres, champagne receptions and indulgent movie collaborations. “It was probably the most chaotic time of my life,” Taylor would later recall. “It was fun and it was dark – oceans of tears – but there were some good times too.”

Throughout her life, Taylor seemed drawn to fragile souls and those in need. She reportedly saved the life of the notoriously self-destructive Montgomery Clift following a car crash in 1956. Spurred on by the 1985 death of her friend Rock Hudson, she helped found the American Federation for Aids Research and went on to raise an estimated $50m to fight the disease. More recently, she rode to the defence of Michael Jackson after the singer was arraigned on charges of child abuse.

Away from the cameras, her own life was punctuated by health problems. She survived a brain tumour, suffered from a heart condition and reportedly broke her back on five separate occasions. In later life, she was largely confined to a wheelchair as a result of osteoporosis. Yet there was something resilient about Elizabeth Taylor – a fighting spirit belied by her famous good looks. “I’ve been through it all, baby,” she once boasted. “I’m Mother Courage.”

R.I.P. Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, actor, born 27 February 1932; died 23 March 2011

New York Times obituary
Elizabeth Taylor, Guinea Pig for Modern Celebrity

I used to go to bed around 4 a.m. frequently, a habit that came from: my former interest in astronomy and observing the night sky, watching late night programming on television and listening to late night shows on the radio, surfing the web late at night. All of these however do not currently have merit – I am no longer interested in astronomy, I do not even own a TV set now and surfing the web later is not better than earlier in the day. So I go to bed around 2 a.m. but I intend to make it more like midnight, followed by an hour or so of reading a good recipe book and eating cake so my dreams will be filled with Nigella, Queen of Gastroporn.

I have this dream where she is walking towards me, arms outstretched, she licks her lips, removes her bra, then suddenly a refrigerator full of profiteroles appears and she takes me by the hand … “Charles won’t mind,” she whispers in my ear. I look her straight in the eyes, I’m breathless. “My darling, don’t get sand in the profiteroles …”

Australia’s favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, a.k.a. Lorraine Elliott, comes face to face with her namesake at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival:

There is a classic Nigella moment when she says “I like a bit of brutality in the kitchen” with that gleam in her eye and she leans onto a raw, whole chicken to flatten it slightly to make it easier to cook. Food is about legacy and passing recipes on, and along with this, recipes, traits or style are passed on. She amuses everyone with a story of a woman who made a pot roast and to start she would cut off both ends of the pot roast. When asked why she did this she answered that it was what her own mother had always done so she did it. When they asked her mother why she had done it she said that that was her mother had done. When they asked the grandmother why she had done it she said that the reason why she did it was because her pot was too small to fit the pot roast!

After browning the chicken, she places it in a pot to boil along with celery, and carrots, which brings us to carrot coins. “I find circles of carrots make me depressed,” she says, citing school meals with carrot circles as the possible cause. “But by all means if carrots don’t make you depressed, use them … If you had to be an expert to cook, the human race wouldn’t exist.”

(Source: Business Spectator)

I’ve had a few disastrous interview experiences in my time. In my twenties (back in the 1980s, kids, before the fucking internet) it was difficult to find a teaching job in the UK so I decided to try and become a probation officer. I had to have an interview for a social work qualification at Nottingham University very early in the morning.

I had no money to stay in Nottingham overnight so I walked from my friend’s flat in Earl’s Court, London, to St Pancras Station. This took several hours overnight. I caught the first train to Nottingham. By the time I arrived for the interview I was delirious with tiredness. Nottingham is not easy to get to, no matter where you are in the UK.

As an opening question they asked me where I had come from. I said “Newcastle” (fuck knows why). They looked at my application form and said “But it says here that you are from London.” I replied “Yes, I came from London.” They obviously thought that I was a compulsive liar and completely unsuitable as a budding probation officer – I was not offered a place on the course.

My sister had an even worse experience having an interview at a lawyer’s firm in London. My sister had just been to the dentist and half her mouth was numb. The man interviewing her had a very bad speech impediment. My sister says that it must have looked like she was taking the piss out of the poor man interviewing her. She was not offered a place with that firm.

After sitting on my arse in an office for a couple of years, I found myself on boards to interview job applicants. On one occasion I was a bit surprised at who my co-interviewer was. Called Sue Beard (seriously), she was someone I had not known had interviewed applicants. We sifted the application forms. One of the job seekers we decided to interview had a degree in psychology. Sue commented that she would be interested to ask about that.

The interview went along OK, then Sue clearly decided to ask about the applicant’s degree. She said, “Now, this psychology then, what’s all that about?”

The applicant looked nonplussed by the question and I then made sure that Sue did not get to interview for any more posts.

(For those of you who love a twist, Sue Beard became the first Mrs Stainforth.)

She does the weather on BBC Breakfast. So she tells you how many inches you can expect, etc., etc.

Fucking hell.

She is the best known female food personality in the world today. The mere mention of her name can cause people to recall, accurately, what she sounds like, how she smiles, and, of course, how she cooks.

You might think it could be unnerving being Queen of Gastroporn Nigella Lawson and constantly having your sensual charms – and curves – discussed alongside your body of work. But Lawson says that she can’t control how people perceive her and that ”it’s wrong to get into a state about it”.

She says the suggestion that the way she presents herself in front of the television is carefully thought about is simply false. ”I don’t construct a personality, but I certainly think the personality that is ascribed to me is not my personality,” she says. ”That’s a projection of other people, but also to do with the particular, strange force television has.”

Her trademark lascivious tone, for example, is unintentional. ”When I am talking to camera … I mean, I love my crew and I have had them forever so I am very very close to them … I know that I am quite an intense person and I know that I am being quite intimate. To me, I am not being remotely coquettish.”

Men and their egos are often the source of this misinterpretation, she suggests. ”One of the things I find quite endearing about men is that they do seem to have a certain sort of confidence and they sort of think anyone is flirting with them.”

Lawson is in Australia for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, of which she is the star attraction.

Here to represent a key festival theme, Women of the Kitchen, Lawson reflects on the women who inspired her. ”My mother was quite spontaneous, quite impatient, and really knew how to trust her own palate. I think people really underestimate how important that is,” she says. ”Maybe because cooking has been, in the large part, taken over by professionals, I think technique has been overstressed and actually what cooking is, is about trusting your instincts and about trusting your palate to know what tastes good.”

After graduating from Oxford University, Lawson worked as a literary journalist and opinion page columnist before releasing her first cookbook, How to Eat, which became a bestseller. Her first television series, Nigella Bites, became an incredible success and soon she was known as a woman who loves food and doesn’t torment herself dieting.

”I am always thinking about what my eating opportunities are, and what I can manage to get in,” she says.

(Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

An Italian conductor, a Swedish contralto and a Siberian soprano.

Here is Mahler’s programme note for the last movement of his Symphony No. 2, included in Gustav Mahler: Erinnerungen und Briefe by Alma Mahler (trans. Basil Creighton):

We are confronted once more by terrifying questions.

A voice is heard crying aloud:

“The end of all living beings is come – the Last Judgment is at hand and the horror of the days of days has come.”

The earth quakes, the graves burst open, the dead arise and stream on in endless procession. The great and the little ones of the earth – kings and beggars, righteous and godless – all press on – the cry for mercy and forgiveness strikes fearfully on our ears. The wailing rises higher – our senses desert us, consciouness dies at the approach of the eternal spirit. The Last Trump is heard – the trumpets of the Apocalypse ring out; in the eerie silence that follows we can just catch the distant, barely audible song of a nightingale, a last tremulous echo of earthly life! A chorus of saints and heavenly beings softly breaks forth:

“Thou shalt arise, surely thou shalt arise.”

Then appears the glory of God! A wondrous, soft light penetrates us to the heart – all is holy calm!

And behold – it is no judgment – there are no sinners, no just. None is great, none is small. There is no punishment and no reward.

An overwhelming love lightens our being. We know and are.

(Mahler had converted to Catholicism because, as a Jew, he was barred from becoming Music Director of the Vienna Opera.)

Alma Mahler records that Debussy walked out during the second movement of this symphony at its first Paris performance. He said later that it was too much like Schubert.

Fuck Debussy.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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