Category Archives: Latest

A Man’s Best Friend

For Dog lovers, here is a book where man and his dogs intertwine to form a common dotage. Only Brian Sewell could make this work in reality.

These were for the most part dogs discarded and left to fate-tied to the railings of Kensington Gardens, found with a broken leg in the wilds of Turkey, adopted from an animal rescue home, passed on by the vet-but there was also a whippet of noble pedigree and three generations of a family of crossbreeds in which the whippet strain was strong. They were not pets, but indulged friends and companions, with all of whom he shared his bed, and who richly rewarded him with loyalty and love.

This book is like no other. At £12,50 you will enter a world in which man and his animals form a bond that will intrigue you as well as give you much reflection to ponder upon.

Brian Sewell, a master of his craft will no doubt mesmerise the reader and educate him to the affinity that exists between man and beast.

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CHINESE CRACKERS

Every time you open the newspapers over the weekend these days you are likely to read about some progress taking place in China, which denotes that this great nation is forging ahead in every sector possible in order to become a leading world light to compete with others on a grand scale. One hundred years after Russian aristocrats fleeing from the Bolshevik revolution brought caviar to the haute cuisine restaurants of Paris, the Black Gold has found a new home in China – a country more known for food scares involving exploding melons and fake eggs.

The famed salt-cured fish roe, which is traditionally extracted from wild sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, has for centuries been a symbol of status and opulence – not to mention a source of power and wealth – for Europeans monarchs, ruthless smugglers and more recently, leaders of the Soviet Union. Now China has also been seduced and local producers are battling to overcome a reputation for shoddy food production standards to become one of the biggest players on the global market.

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It has been a short but arduous journey for China’s new sturgeon farmers and many continue to be discrete in naming the country of origin on products. ‘Most of the labels are in Russian,‘ said Su Shunquing, a fish trader at Beijing’s cavernous seafood market. ‘It’s because people always think China’s caviar is fake or inferior.’ But while consumers – both domestic and international – are yet to appreciate Chinese caviar, it has become a key ingredient for the world’s greatest chefs. Kaluga Queen, China’s top caviar producer, supplies 21 of the 26 restaurants in Paris to have been awarded the maximum 3 Michelin stars. The caviar was also served to world leaders at last year’s G20 summit in the Eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.

Kaluga Queen’s journey to the dining table of Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin began with a government-backed scheme to breed Russian and Iranian wild sturgeon in China from the late 90s. Beijing was more interested in boosting fish supplies than developing an industry which had earned valuable revenue for the Soviet Union. But the scheme helped Kaluga Queen produce its first tin of roe in 2006 – a landmark event, which was followed by 5 years of pain as the company sought to transform positive reviews into sales said Xia Yongteao, the company’s vice president. ‘The general distrust in “made in China” food stood in the way of our development,’ Mr Yongteao said in an interview at the company’s processing plant in Quzhou, about 120 miles south of Hangzau. But its opportunity came when strict quotas in fishing in the Caspian Sea were enforced, following concerns that stocks were fast becoming depleted.

Kaluga Queen made its breakthrough in 2011 when Lufthansa choose its caviar to be served in the airline’s first class cabins. It has since become the world’s biggest caviar trader, producing more than 60 tons a year with 5% of sales arriving in the UK. It’s most expensive caviar comes from Beluga-sturgeon and costs £460 for a 100 gram tin. Company officials claim the roe’s freshness is a result of the crisp, clear water of the man-made Qiandaohu – or Thousand Island – lake where the sturgeon are found. ‘You can see through the water for 7 metres ‘Mr Xia said. ‘And you can drink the water directly from the lake, no problem.’

But while Chinese producers are confident the caviar industry is facing headwinds, due to the rise of eco conscious consumers in the West who object to depleting fresh stocks and the killing of female sturgeon for the contents of their ovaries, Kaluga Queen are now targeting domestic five-star hotels and high-end restaurants in the hope that China’s new rich will be the next in the long line of wealthy elites to fall for caviar’s enduring charm.

China is on the march again. This time it plans to control the caviar market world-wide and reap the benefits that Black Gold will enrich its bulging economy.

THE PIGS HAVE IT!

I’m really fascinated to find out eating five mushrooms a day will keep the doctor away. It seems this habit is likely to ward off heart disease, cancer and dementia. The fungi contain key anti-oxidants which combat ageing and boost the brain, scientists in the US say. Their research, published in the journal Food Chemistry, found that countries, in which consumption was high, such as in France and Italy, had fewer cases of Alzheimer’s disease than those that ate less, such as the US.

The average difference in intake is only 3 ml. a day, the equivalent of 5 button mushrooms. The fungi contain the antioxidants Ergothioneine and Glutathione, which destroy harmful chemicals released by the body. Robert Beelman, a professor of Food Science at Pennsylvania State University, said Porcini mushrooms were the most beneficial.

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Since I am every fond of risotto with mushrooms, and during the season garnished with a generous measure of Italian or French truffles (when one can afford them), it’s good to know that such a bonanza is beneficial for one’s health.

What more could one wish for in a political climate that triggers off depression and discomfort?

Baria Alamuddin In Focus

Words of wisdom from Baria Alamuddin, the mother-in-law of George Clooney, when I interviewed her for my book Women, published by Quartet Books in 1987. Here’s what she told me under the following headings:

THE EARLY INFLUENCES
Baria Alamuddin: My farther and my mother divorced when I was one year old, so the biggest influence in my life up to now has been my mother. She’s the image I always try to follow, because she was among the very few educated women of her time. She was a Palestinian Jordanian, and when she came to the American University in Beirut she was the first Jordanian woman to study there. I was always influenced by her beauty, her charm, her intelligence, everything she did. I don’t know that I still try, but I copied her for a long time, and I always stop and ask, would my mother like this, would my mother like that? There was no other person in my life.

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Baria Alamuddin: Sometimes I feel emotionally disadvantaged because I feel things differently from the way a man does. Sometimes I lie awake all night because of one word that’s been said to me, and the man doesn’t even notice what he’s said.
I always tell my daughters to enjoy their souls and their bodies, because I think at the base of all this repression of women in the Middle East are a lot of sexual and soul problems. The women in the Middle East are not sure of what they want to give, and what they have to give. Many people of my age who went to university with me wanted to have lovers, to have sex, yet inside was this tremendous struggle: what would society say, what would my aunties say, what would the man I love and marry say? There is a very strong struggle, and not everybody in the end wins, and this is why you see lots of complexes in our society. In the West, I see this to a great extent, too, because women are basically the same all over the world.

FEMINISM
Baria Alamuddin: I am not a feminist. I don’t want a woman to be a fighter, or to rule the life of a man. I would still like the man to ask the woman to marry him, not the woman to ask the man to marry her. I still would like him to buy a rose and call her and tell her I love you. I don’t like the roles to be switched. In general, I think a woman is much more emotional, she is a softer person, she can live her emotions and her feelings a lot deeper, by the nature of her own being. Why do we want two creatures exactly the same? The world would be a very boring place to live in. But, to have a productive society, we should have equality between men and women. You cannot run the world with half its powers. In the West, I think it is slowly improving, although sometimes in the wrong direction, but in the Middle East, it’s taking longer because of different factors, basically the wars. People are not busy educating women at the moment. In Lebanon now, there is a whole new generation of boys and girls who have nothing to do with education and refinement or culture, and the same is true in many other Arab countries.
I think a liberated Western woman is a woman who can easily shed all the social factors and just walk away from them and go towards whatever she wants as a completely liberated individual, regardless of tradition. This is something that people in our part of the world can never do. I have often felt I am a pioneer of this in my society, because, even as a child, I always wanted to do things differently. I remember wanting to hurt society, to attack society and do things just to spite society because I felt it interfered in every single detail in my life. My God, society in our countries can even marry you off! There will always be a difference between the woman in the West and the woman in the East. A woman in the East has femininity which the woman in the West never had maybe, and will never have. Basically, I like the evolution in the Middle East, in the Arab countries, better than in the West.

SEXUALITY
Baria Alamuddin: Needs are basically the same in men and women, and sex is a matter of education and culture, upbringing and training. In our society, a man is brought up to be aggressive, to look for it, to go and get it; whereas a girl is not. She also has the need, but the application is different. Application is a very individualistic thing. I don’t think any two people can make love like any two other people. I always have the feeling that there is a misconception about sex in the world, both in the East and the West. I have personally interviewed people about marriage, and to some women it is just a means to get children. I interviewed one woman who had never even been kissed. I know women in the Middle East who hate sex, who think sex is dirty and not something you talk about. I am sure in the West, too, if you have a father attacking a daughter, then this girl’s perception of sex will never be the same. There are many elements involved in the application of sex. To me, sexual relations only make sense in the context of love. Any other time it is just like eating; you can go and get it in this restaurant or another restaurant. And I don’t believe a man can make love to another woman if he loves his wife.

RELATIONSHIPS
Baria Alamuddin: I feel most comfortable with men by far. There is no comparison. Most women actually bore me, and most women I find unsure of themselves, especially in the Arab countries, and that really upsets me. They are not in control of their destinies or lives, and I feel they are just souls floating around waiting for things to take them away, here or there, and I find it a waste of time.
Marriage has all the disadvantages the world has. It is a very difficult institution. I think most people are married because they are scared of society, because it is convenient and they have a car, and they carry a name and the children are there. I know of hardly marriages that are there by virtue of love. I’m not talking about my marriage, because that’s another story. I look at my marriage differently. I work very hard at it and yet I am always afraid. Not of losing the marriage, no, but of losing me in the marriage, or of losing the marriage to me. I am scared.
For the world to be straightened out and for us to be able to have a peaceful, strong, productive society, the woman has to change her attitude towards life, and the way she expects things from herself. I think she controls society since she brings up the child. For example, my husband has two boys from a previous marriage, and I brought them up. It was a beautiful experience as far as I am concerned, and I think for them, too. While they were growing up, they started coming and saying to me, today I kissed her, or I did this and that to her. I used to say to them, it takes two to kiss, it takes two to make love, it takes two to love, to build, to bring up a child. Anything not done together with the same intensity is not done properly. You can kiss a wall.

 

 

Last night marked the launch of Mother Anguish at the Ritz Hotel Piccadilly to an enthusiastic audience and here is what I said on this memorable occasion.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, please lend me your ears.

Basia Briggs could well be described as a woman for all seasons. Her endurance and fighting spirit are hard to describe, for she has survived against odds that defy normality and yet she has lost nothing of her vivacity for life and the determination to remain true to herself and the ideas that drove her on, no matter what the circumstances foretold.

An inner force led me to believe that this gorgeous lady has a lot that we all can learn from and the more I got to know her, the more I realised the potential endowed in her frail constitution was worth pursuing. It was then that I persuaded her to write this book, whose publication we are celebrating today.

Having said that, writing it was not an easy task; her reluctance at first was understandable. Her story defies credibility and can only be told when the courage to reveal every aspect of it could be hard to muster throughout and required a steely determination to tell all, despite the pain of recollection that would ensue.

My admiration for her, as the story unfolded, grew day by day and I felt I had truly encountered a woman whose determination and solidity, in the face of a traumatic environment, ensured she never failed to abandon her goal to survive. Her chronicle of events leaves nothing to the imagination.

Told with a rare honesty seldom experienced in a memoir by a socialite, Basia is never afraid to break that tradition of silence in order to avoid controversy which may follow her stark and painful revelations.

In this address I’ll let the book speak for itself and restrict this short message by asking everyone present here today to buy a few copies of her remarkable and touching memoir, to illustrate their appreciation for a woman’s story that will touch your hearts, oscillating from the comical to the tragic as you have possibly never experienced before.

 

A CALL FOR ACTION!

I don’t know what’s happening to us in Great Britain these days. We seem to have lost it. A divided government; a Labour party waiting to govern, promising the earth and what’s in it to its supporters, and those in favour of Brexit, whatever the circumstances, still plotting to sack Theresa May, who is determined to stay put, despite her loss of real power.

And now we hear that Britain is the fattest country in Western Europe, with obesity increasing faster than in any other developed nation. Obesity rates have doubled in two decades, which makes us the sixth heaviest developed country according to the OECD, up from tenth two years ago. International comparisons also expose Britain for its teenage drunkenness, high cancer death rates and shortage of doctors and nurses. The OECD says that the overall health of Britain is about average for the 35 member club of wealthy nations, but flags up obesity as ‘considerably worse’.

While obesity is falling, or stable, in Australia and Canada, British obesity rates continue to rise at 27 per cent, when the OECD average is 19 per cent and Japan has a rate of 4 per cent: 63% of adults in Britain are too heavy, with Mexico faring worse at 73 per cent. Obesity rates are higher in the US at 38 per cent. Britain is one of the five countries singled out as having historically high rates of obesity, with rates up by 92 per cent since the 1990s, against 65 per cent in the US. In China, Canada and Mexico, increases have been slower during the past decade. Britain is however slightly below average for child obesity, with 24 per cent over weight compared with an average of 25 per cent – rates are surging across much of Europe, while in Britain it has been stable in the past decade.

Mark Pearson, deputy director of employment, labour and social affairs at the OECD, said that the influence of American TV and films could be a factor: ‘In the UK we follow the lead across the Atlantic. We are more influenced by the US than people living in Europe and other parts of Europe,’ he said. ‘The other problem is we didn’t take it seriously for many years. It is normal now for people in Britain to be enormously overweight. They look around and see this is normal in a way that you don’t see in European countries.’

Caroline Cerny, of the Obesity Health Alliance of Doctors and Charities, said that the findings were shocking and sobering and insisted that the solution lies in stopping children becoming obese. ‘This report recognises the steps taken by the government to tackle the causes of the obesity but much more needs to be done, ‘she said. Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum said: ‘One could weep over the figures, the result of successive governments who have for 30 years done next to nothing to tackle obesity.’ Smoking rates in Britain are below average, and alcohol consumption slightly above, but the OECD highlights youth drinking as a problem. While teenage drinking has fallen, compared to previous generations, drunkenness among adolescents remains a concern. Spending on health and good access to care is about average, but the numbers of doctors per head in 18 per cent below average and nurses, 12 per cent below.

The report praises Britain for improving cancer treatments with survival rates of breast and rectal cancer now overtaking the average. However, bowel cancer’s survival is still too low and cancer death rates are above average. Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England said: ‘Our plans to attack obesity are among the most ambitious. We are working to make everyone healthier and delivering campaigns encouraging people to choose healthier food and lead healthier lives. Change will not happen overnight.’

All this is nevertheless a sorry sight and, on top of it, air pollution is killing hundreds of thousands of people, especially in London and no one seems to care. We hear positive words from time to time, but slow moving decisions are never hastened. Tomorrow is always the answer.

We must buck up our mode of action and make all these matters our priority. Our health and our pride as a nation demand it.

CHRISTMAS ENCOUNTERS

Our Quartet Encounters series grew, in the 1980s and 1990s, to the point where it contained over a hundred titles, representing on the British publishing scene an unprecedented selection of European novels of outstanding merit. It was a brave attempt to bring European twentieth century literature to a wider audience at a time when the political link with Europe was becoming an actuality.

Commercial success eluded us, it is true, but perhaps that was because we were ahead of the field. The critical acclaim was resounding and established Quartet’s image as an imprint that left no avenue unexplored in its search for innovative ideas.

The Daily Telegraph wrote how, ‘Since 1985, Quartet publishers have been doing their bit to promote a free market in European writing with the “Encounters” imprint, which offers translations of work by distinguished, and sometimes neglected, modern European authors.’

‘The best of world writing in translation, Quartet Encounters has an editorial policy of real vision and imagination. Long may it flourish,’ wrote Gabriel Josipovici. John Banville in the Observer said, ‘Quartet are to be warmly commended for their courage and enterprise in making available to English-speaking readers so many modern European authors’; and Michael Tanner wrote, ‘Quartet Encounters strikes me as one of the most enterprising and worthwhile ventures in contemporary publishing.’

‘Not only extraordinary variety,’ said John Bayley, ‘but remarkable quality too. A comparativists’ paradise.’ The Spectator was even more fulsome in its praise: ‘The series as a whole is a landmark in responsible, original and stimulating publishing.’

Eventually most copies were sold, but a recent stock take at our warehouse revealed 6 titles remain in varying quantities, all in excellent condition and I recommend each and every one of them as perfect stocking fillers for the adventurous reader. Here they are:

Two novels, Age of Wonders & The Healer by Aharon Appelfeld, one of the most revered writer survivors of the Holocaust. Most of his stories, though he never writes directly of the Holocaust, describe Jewish communities unaware of, or unresponsive to, portents of the tragedy that is about to befall them.

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The Romanian writer D R Popescu’s The Royal Hunt is a stunning account of a young boy discovering the wonders of sex, love and friendship against a sinister background of crime and terror that threatens to engulf the entire community of which he is a part.

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Julian Green’s Each Man in his Darkness is a modern gothic masterpiece, brilliantly translated from the French, exploring the lust and panic of homosexual desire in a world bereft of religious faith. The eminent critic, Martin Seymour-Smith, wrote: ‘He has perhaps learned more from Balzac than anyone else, although when he was young he read Dickens, Hawthorne and others with rapt attention.’

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Andrea Giovene wrote The Book of Giuliano Sansevero in 5 volumes over many years and is regarded in his native Italy as their Proust. Quartet Encounter’s Sansevero 1 is a translation of the first three books, which can be read independently. Any lover of Lampedusa’s The Leopard would salivate with delight if a copy were found in her Christmas stocking.

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It won the most prestigious European literary award, the Strega Prize, 1947, Ennio Flaiano’s A Time to Kill will still grip any reader today, knocking John Grisham’s more famous namesake into the long grass.

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All six books are large paperbacks and still priced between £5.95 and £9.95, providing real value as well as long-lasting, satisfying reading and the chance for any giver to bask in the limelight of knowing about some of the forgotten masterpieces of European literature. Mourn our departure from that once golden place in good time for Brexit with a gift that truly resonates. Apply for copies on the Quartet website and have a good Christmas.