Remembering Anthony Bourdain

In 2003 — after reading “Kitchen Confidential” for the umpteenth time. I finally made it to Brasserie Les Halles in New York. Tony had long since stopped cooking there and was, I think, “Executive Chef” — a title upon which, if I recall correctly, he unloaded much deserved derision.

People look at notes and flowers left for the late CNN host and chef Anthony Bourdain in front of the now-closed restaurant, Les Halles. I remember the onion soup — superb and also the chefs, they seemed to be all Hispanic which, if you know your KC, means tough, mean and dedicated. Also, there was a mini butcher’s display immediately in front of you as you went in the door. A nice touch which had the added benefit of scaring away vegetarians.

A few years later, in 2006, I had just started at the BBC World Service and the boss wanted someone to react to the news that New York’s health commissioner was about to ban trans fats in the city’s restaurants. I began to mull over the usual suspects: over-earnest health and safety campaigners, snobbish food critics, dreary jobsworths from the restaurants association etc etc but in the end I decided to try and get someone who wouldn’t necessarily be jumping for joy.

I remember how an e-Mail sent off more in hope than expectation to Tony’s publicist was met with a positive response. The result was this brilliant interview by the one and only Roger Hearing. It ends with a great quote which is as good an epitaph as any for the greatest ever hoodlum-turned-writer-turned-chef-turned-food-guru:

“Unaged cheeses from Europe. Flower peppers from China. Cute little game birds from France. Stinky cheeses from Sardinia. Things like that. Good stuff!”




La Scozia — Scottish Italians in 1908

La Scozia was an Italian language newspaper for Scottish Italian immigrants. It was weekly and ran for about 48 issues or so in 1908 (some weeks were skipped, some weeks had a double-issue covering 2 weeks). It described itself as “A weekly organ for the interests of the Italian colony”. More information about it can be found here in Giancarlo Rinaldi’s excellent overview at BBC Scotland. Thanks to Giancarlo’s prodding I dug out some old clippings of my own of La Scozia from a trip to the British Library I made quite some time ago when I was doing some family research.


Issue 1

Front page of issue No 1 from 17th Jan 1908:

Issue 1 of La Scozia Jan 17th 1908

Issue 1 of La Scozia Jan 17th 1908


This letter from a female correspondent (printed in issue 2 or 3 I think) is one of the rare occasions in which the English language was used in La Scozia. It’s a hint of the slight wariness that existed between the Scottish and Italians in the early days:

Letter from a Scotswoman

Letter from a Scotswoman


Learning English

La Scozia ran an occasional English tuition column. This one shows how food is always front and centre of the Italian psyche:

An English lesson in La Scozia

An English lesson in La Scozia


This advert shows an example of some of the great typefaces of yore. Anyone considering opening a new gelateria should take a look at this incredible lettering:

An advert for Leopoldo Giuliani

An advert for Leopoldo Giuliani


Giosuè Carducci was an Italian poet an nobel-prize winner. Issue no 7 of La Scozia paid tribute to him after he died (quite some time before according to Wikipedia — early 1907). La Scozia commissioned a rather florid essay by a Francis Graham (who is this scholar, does anyone know?) who described Carducci as a “champion of freedom”. The fact that this essay was printed in full and in English indicates the editor really wanted as many people as possible to know about the great man:

Tribute to the poet Carducci

Tribute to the poet Carducci



































The Mafia

This article warns Italians away from members of the “Mano Nera” (Black Hand). This was a crude precursor to the Mafia and seems to have been more prevalent in the US than in the UK. Basically they came up to you and asked for money, if you refused they would burn down your business or beat you up. This brief summary article talks of how the Black Hand “does dishonour to Italy” and recounts the rather entertaining tale of a Black Hand member who tried to plant a bomb in Pittsurgh but was apprehended by a dog.

Stay away from the Mano Nera

Stay away from the Mano Nera





This second article from another edition is not so funny. It describes a brutal murder in New York where someone’s tongue was cut out. The author seems sure the murderer was “Marchionno from Palermo” and goes on to speculate that this same man was involved in the notorious but forgotten “Notarbartolo” case — the 1894 Mafia slaying of Emanuele Notarbartolo, the president of the Bank of Sicily.


Keep your mouth shut











In Giro . . .  In and around Scotland

This is an example of the ‘In Giro…’ column described by Giancarlo Rinaldi at the link at the top. It mentions the special ice-creams in Motherwell of a Mr Verecchia and a C. Coletti. This was Cesidio, the brother of my great-grandfather (also a confectioner):













This lengthy column head outlines “All aspects of the problem of emigration” from the point of view of the newly-arrived immigrant to Scotland. It seems some “Central Committee” had come up with a report on the topic (unsure what this body actually was) and wanted to “regulate, restrain and direct the immigrant flow”. The column goes on to mention “the very sensitive effects” immigration can have on “the demographic structure of the Kingdom.” La Scozia — primarily through its editor Filipo Cafaro — was always keen to urge integration.

It seems the great and the good of the Italians at the time were involved in putting this report together including a Mr Forte — possibly Charles, later Baron Forte. The article goes on to estimate the total number of Italians in Scotland at that time as being 8,000 and that their professions could be split into 4: confectioners/gelatieri, restauranteurs, barbers and mosaic workers. It also mentions that “emigration to Scotland is not advisable” as there is no guarantee of work. Also of interest is the call for the local consulate and officials to exert on new immigrants “a certain moral and material protection”. 






































An expensive snifter

This brief report describes how a Mr Marsella was fined for drinking whisky after midnight. Harsh.

Nip after midnight

Nip after midnight









Technology: capability v expectation

Have you ever gone on the hunt for something fully expecting to be overwhelmed by choice, dazzling features and multiple pricing options only to have your aspirations shattered by a pitiful array of products?

The digital picture frame market is a classic example. Customer expectation has vastly outweighed the available product capabilities and has done so for over a decade. It’s tempting to say digi frame manufacturers have rested on their laurels but that assumes they had some to begin with . . . complacency and a shoddy disregard for what customers have been telling them has been the order of the day for a long, long time.

Remember that bit in Mad Men season 4 when Don Draper dashes off a late night missive to the New York Times all about why his company will no longer deal with cigarettes? The letter was a crafty way of differentiating the firm from the crowd in the middle of a crisis but amidst all the self-serving guff about not being able to sleep at night there’s this line which  has always stuck with me:

A product that never improves, that causes illness, and makes people unhappy.

True for tobacco in the 1960s. True for digital picture frames in the noughties. I concede the second point might be a bit harsh but a decades worth of buyer’s remorse on a global scale surely counts for some kind of affliction?

Speaking of buyer’s remorse….In 2005 I wanted a digital picture frame and I bought this:



It’s a Nokia SU-4 image frame. It cost £149 and if memory serves you transferred your photos via infra-red which means this product must be one of the few ever sold that came with built-in obsolescence! I remember the frustration of not finding something that could even connect via USB let alone use Wifi. But back then it was about the only thing I could find that would come close to displaying digital photos the way I wanted. It wasn’t that good a device and it prompted me to write my first ever Amazon product review. I gave it 3 stars which was generous. They’re thin on the ground these days which may be this thing’s only saving grace.


Fast forward a decade and I dipped my foot into the digi frame waters once more:



This is the NIX Advance 12 inch frame. Now this cost £99. In other words 33% cheaper than the Nokia but a better product by a factor of 10 or more. Bigger screen. Sharper image and a very useful remote control. This device sat on our shelf and was unused and unloved….why? Quite simply it was a pain to update. It comes with a tiny USB mem stick onto which you load your images . . . naturally I did this once and then never again.

With the vast majority of casual digital images these days being taken on a smartphone owning a NIX meant you needed to import from the phone onto your PC and then transfer from the PC onto the mem stick. A real hassle. Lovers of the NIX will point out that it also has an SD card slot on the side but to me this is a not-very-good sop to the serious photographer community and honestly . . . has anyone, anywhere in the world ever used this feature?

Now we’re in 2016.


This is the Aura Frame. It’s a superb bit of engineering: from the box it comes in to the cord on the power lead…everything screams quality. The tiny, suede pouch in the box containing the wall-mount fixings is made with more thought and precision than the entire Nokia product range. It costs £300 — it’s definitely at the premium end of the market.

It’s got high resolution and a quality screen which means even though it’s half the size of the NIX your images will look way, way better on this. Also somehow it seems to get the brightness just right for each image (is there something going on automatically there??). There’s gesture control (kids love this!) and some nice sensors which mean it displays a different photo each time you wake it up by motion.

What really seals the deal though is the smartphone integration. Basically you send your images to it using the App and this can even be done automatically — the App can scan your albums, detect a new photo containing the face of someone you know and zzzzip . . . up it goes with NO WIRES and NO USB STICKS. Wonderful.

11 years since Nokia rushed out their crummy product, finally the technology has caught up with the customer.

Interestingly the tobacco industry has also finally started to move. In the past 3 years or so we’ve seen vaping technology grab significant market share and just this past week we’ve seen a major firm launch a new HNB (heat-not-burn) tobacco product. For an industry that was at the fag-end of its life so to speak, there’s a surprising amount of innovation going on.

I wonder what Don would have made of it?




PS — this is the initial Aura release and I feel there’s many, many great things to come including bigger, thinner frames. I’d also like to see:

  • Cut the cord! Could be challenging technically but a photo frame on your wall with a power lead dangling down is an eyesore. How about a battery option?
  • License the Aura app technology out to the high-end photo manufacturers. Wouldn’t it be great if Nikon’s SnapBridge technology could incorporate the Aura tech? In other words straight from your D700 to the frame . . . no need to go via the smartphone.
  • Android version of the Aura app. At the moment it’s iOS only.


70mm Panavision — BBC World Service

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what I do counts as work . . this is one of those times. Special thanks to Michael Mannix of the Odeon Leicester Square for showing the skill involved in getting Hateful 8 screened. Read more

Surfaris 1999

Surfing the east coast of Australia in 1999. With Garth, Jack and the gang from Surfaris.


Novell — A Candid Admission?

I’ve written before about the sad fate that befell Novell’s flagship product NetWare. In the list of mistakes and mess-ups made by my former employer I never included the inattentiveness of a CEO. However, I’ve just discovered a sort of mea culpa from our old CEO Eric Schmidt. Mr Schmidt, now CEO of Google, says via a ghostwriter in 2014’s “How Google Works” that “he should have been spending more time on NetWare”.

It’s a startling admission for someone so senior to make. Here’s the full quote from p168, it’s from a section entitled “Spend 80 percent of your time on 80 percent of your revenue” (a piece of advice given to Eric by Bill Gates):

“That shiny new stuff can be much more interesting than the boring old core business stuff, but it’s the core stuff that pays the bills, and if you make a mistake there, you probably won’t be able to recover. Even though Eric thought he was heeding Bill’s advice, in retrospect he should have been spending more time on NetWare. You have to focus on your core business. You have to love it.”


I hope Eric is now “loving” the “core business” at Google a bit more than he was at Novell.


ps – my prediction for NetWare eventually finding a niche didn’t work out too well either. What’s left for NetWare, Open Source?

Wednesday 14th January 2015 — we will see who really is Charlie

Jimmy Cliff in 1973

Sooner or later you’re gonna have to stand up tall
Sooner or later when your backs against that wall
Sooner or later you’ll have to be the one you are
And you just might find that you’re out of time and it’s just too late

In less than 48 hours the magazine Charlie Hebdo will publish its first magazine since the massacre last Weds in which 12 people were killed at their offices and a further 4 murdered in the subsequent hostage attack at the Hyper Cacher shop.

 A Day of Reckoning

The cover comes out Weds morning the 14th Jan although it may well be publicised late tomorrow, Tuesday 13th. The remaining staff at Charlie Hebdo have probably been pondering a choice — they may choose to refer to the slaughter directly as many cartoonists in the preceding week have done — the Indy’s defiant rising finger being one great example. Alternatively, Charlie may choose an image that reinforces their entire being and shows the world that this small bastion of free-speech intends to carry on doing what it does best: offending, pricking pomposity and raising a finger of its own to the forces of hate. In other words an image that says to the World: here at Charlie Hebdo it’s business as usual. An image such as this may well involve a drawing of Mohammed or Mecca or one of many other symbols holy to Muslims.

There will be a great many people especially those in the media who will be hoping, praying dearly that Charlie opts for the former because if they go for the latter then too many people who claimed ‘#jesuischarlie’ will be faced with an uncomfortable day of reckoning. Do they republish the cover — it will surely be one of the most talked-about news items of 2015 — in its entirety or will they choose the ‘#jenesuispascharlie’ option and avoid broadcasting or reprinting the image at all…?

The Channel 4 reporter Jonathan Rugman smelled the rotteness of this latests hashtaggery very early on when on 7th Jan he said:

“Let’s be honest. We are not “all Charlie”: many media outlets self-censor in ways the magazine rarely has so as not to cause offence.”

How true. We may well see Wednesday morning just who stands up tall and who cowers behind a poorly-pixellated picture of one of the biggest image stories of 2015.

The Double Negative of the independence referendum


UPDATE: Just over 24 hours until polls close I’m laying my cards on the table, Scotland will reject independence with the following result: YES: 43.4%    NO: 56.6%    turnout 87.2%

My rationale for the above . . . the timidity of the NO voters …nobody wants to be seen to be ‘unpatriotic’ in front of friends and family…so people tend to tell pollsters they’re YES when in fact they’re NO. This is based on my own experience of talking to friends and family in Scotland. The YES vote has been obviously noisier and on occasion’s already inherently more of a strain to say you’re against something than to say you’re for something, doing so in the face of pretty forceful opposition tends to quieten the ardour even  further…the love for NO will flourish inside the privacy of a polling booth. A well-known World Service presenter put it well, the NO voters are like Tory voters in England…they tend to keep quiet but there’s an awful lot of ’em about.




It’s the final day I cannot ignore all the talk during the Independence Referendum campaign on the negativity of the NO campaign, but if you really delve down you’ll find both sides equally up on the down aspect so to speak.


Irvine Welsh sums up the NO campaign well with this . . .




He has a point. The NO campaign decided early on to go for the cold, hard facts of the economic disadvantages that would befall an independent Scotland. As a Peterhead fisherman yesterday on the World Service’s Business Daily pithily said, “We’d be like Greece, but without the sunshine”. That’s not to say Scotland could not support itself…it could, but with one hand tied behind its back Greek style it would be missing out on the juicy cut of the Barnett formula which is to say Scotland accounts for about 8.3% of the UK population but receives about 9.2% of the public spending. If the Barnett formula were a cow, Scotland gets the filet mignon. Yes, yes I know there’s oil to be factored in to that equation post any YES vote, and yes if Scotland had total control of the North Sea revenues that would be a massive boost, but would you found a nation’s prosperity on an inherently dwindling resource?

All the same I like my campaigns top be a bit more positive. The Better Together campaign should have been the guy at the party who, when things are flagging at 2am, urges everyone on down the road to a pumping secret rave …. maybe Spud style “wi a wee dab ae speed” to get things really cooking.


The negativity of the YES campaign is best summed up by another Welsh quote, this time from Trainspotting . . .

— It’s aw a loaday shite anyway, Sick Boy meekly counters, using one of this classic tactics. If you can’t win the fine detail of an argument, then rubbish its context*

 (*eagle-eyed readers will know this is one of my favourite quotes, and yes it can be twisted to any topic, any time …however, it is particularly apt here)

The absence of Nationalism in the debate has been noted by myself already, both sides in this battle would probably concede that people voting for independence are not doing so out of a strong sense of Scottish pride rather the refrain from Salmond and others in the SNP has been a constant and I think quite effective: save Scotland from “a government we didn’t elect”. . . “out of touch Westminster elites”…as if London were some far-away el Dorado; its streets paved with the skins of Jarrow marchers on which Tory toffs prance daily. People are voting YES for very similar reasons to those who voted for UKIP back in the May European elections –they want to stick one in the eye of the ruling establishment. It wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference had Labour or the Lib Dems been in power right now the rhetoric would have been the same (witness Ed Milliband’s ugly heckling yesterday in Edinburgh).

And who can blame them? Back during the height of the ecomomic crisis in 2008/2009 a good friend wondered aloud what “all this” was doing to society? What he meant by ‘all this’ was a political and financial elite who placed giant bets on red and when it came up black they kept their Maseratis while we, the taxpayers, bailed them out. What we saw in May and what we’re seeing as part of the YES campaign is a continuation of this subtle form of class warfare. When the likes of David Nish of Standard Life speak ominously about how “operations” might have to move south in the event of a YES vote they are to all intents and purposes speaking to a blank wall, the people they’re trying to convince think they — the financiers — should be in jail not on a soapbox pontificating about Scotland’s future. I have some sympathy for this view — the gamblers who created the 2008 shock waves have, almost to a man, kept their positions and wealth without penalty. However, the solution to a system you don’t like is not simply and petulantly to do away with that system. The YES campaign are like those kids at school who when the footy wasn’t going their way would march off with the ball and one of the jumpers you were using for goalposts. We’d often find these moody moochers on another patch of green across town an hour or so later playing with another bunch and sure enough, when the game again started to slip away, they were off …harrumphing back to their maws. Voting YES because you hate Tories is a pretty shaky foundation on which to found a nation.









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