Monthly Archives: April 2013


An extract from the programme notes for That Obscure Hurt, a new piece by Guy Barker:

“Guy Barker and Robert Ryan first came to Snape Maltings in 2008 for a performance of dZf, their reimagining of the story of The Magic Flute. As a result of that performance, the Aldeburgh Music Festival asked whether Guy would be interested in creating something similar to celebrate Benjamin Britten’s centenary. Guy accepted and then asked Ryan if he could again help. ‘I am a long term admirer of Benjamin Britten’s music,’ says Guy, ‘and I knew from the very beginning this had to be a very different approach from the one we used for dZf.’
In the end they went back to the title of the concert series ‘Inspired By Britten’ and decided to look at where Britten had turned to for inspiration of his own work and Ryan began to consider the two operas based on Henry James ghost stories – The Turn of the Screw and Owen Wingrave and discovered another of the tales, The Jolly Corner, which had all the elements they required to make a start. Although Britten never tackled a third James story, they felt as if they were tapping into the same source. However, the jazz element of the music had to grow organically from the setting of the story (Barker was insistent that none of Britten’s music be touched or referenced).

So, the story was relocated from an apartment block in New York to a jazz club in Soho. There is a prologue, about the dance bands who worked on the transatlantic liners, crossing to New York, which gave them a thematic link to Britten’s own crossing to America. The Cunard dance bands (“Geraldo’s Navy”) are legendary in the jazz world – musicians such as Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth and Stan Tracey would sign on with the sole intention of rushing ashore in NYC to hear the new music being played in the clubs of 52nd St and the Village by modern jazz giants such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell.

Unknown When originally conceived by Ryan, there was to be no spoken narration or songs in the piece. As things developed, Barker began hearing songs and while experimenting with an idea for the prologue set in NYC, all he could hear in his head was Kurt Elling’s voice. And so Kurt was approached to play Harry Prince, singer at The Pagoda nightclub, and agreed and the piece took another turn. It subsequently became apparent that a different form of narrative was required in addition to Kurt.

With dZf they had an American actor but the writers wanted to go a different way this time by using with an English actress. Barker had seen Janie Dee perform the works of Pinter and Ayckbourn and knew she had the voice they needed. The final piece features these two great performers plus the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra – a total of 77 individuals on stage.”


So just to reiterate – we have managed to get the great Kurt Elling, who recently sold out Ronnie Scott’s for eight consecutive shows, to come to the concert hall at Snape Maltings deep in rural Suffolk and sing my “lyrics” and the equally wonderful Janie Dee to do the narration. As I said to Guy: ‘You always said Kurt could sing the phonebook and make it entertaining.. we’re about to find out if that’s true.’

* That Obscure Hurt premieres as part of Aldeburgh Festival at Snape Maltings on Wednesday June 12th. Further details: 01728-68710, It will also be broadcast live on Radio 3.



I first met the vivacious Carla Valentine at a crime event at the British Library. The ever-lovely Laura Wilson (A Capital Crime, Stratton’s War) aside, she was by far the brightest thing on a stage of mostly dressed-down middle-aged men (me, Mark Billingham, Barry Forshaw) and also managed to captivate the audience with statements such as: ‘I’ve always been interested in death’.
This utterance was in response to a question from Barry, asking how she had come to advise on TV shows such as Silent Witness and films like Resident Evil.
Fascinating though that is, her day job is equally intriguing. She is the Technical Assistant Curator at St Bartholomew’s Pathology Museum. Her domain is a stunningly dramatic Victorian room, an open space with three galleries or mezzanine levels, topped off with a vaulted glass roof. On the shelves that line this hall are endless jars of specimens, dating back to the 18th century, of everything from a ravaged scrotum (a cancer known as chimney sweep’s disease) to various foreign bodies pulled out of people (you’ll have to find out where the artillery shell was found and what it was doing there for yourself). The museum’s original purpose was as a teaching aid for training doctors in the various pathologies of the human body; Carla’s role is to conserve and re-catalogue the collection, which had been sorely neglected over the years.


Her crowded office was believed to be where Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote and as any Sherlock Holes fan knows, St Bart’s is where Watson and Holmes first meet (in the disused Path building next door to the museum) in A Study in Scarlet. When I visited, Dr Lucy Worsley, she of the cardigans and hairclips and troublesome Rs (which she winningly talks about on her blog – was filming a BBC documentary in the main room, so Carla took me up to her work space, which some might think a Little Workshop of Horrors, full of glass and plastic jars housing organs in various stages of repair and conservation.

Personally, I loved it –I used to be a biologist back when DNA was still an exciting new discovery – but there was one item that fascinated me more even than that Sherlock Holmes link. In one cylindrical jar stood a homunculus, just shy of a foot high, which appeared to be Not Of This Earth. In fact, it looked like the sort of model WETA Studios might make for an orc-like being in Lord of the Rings – imagine the Creature from the Black Lagoon shrunk to a seventh of its size. Carla has no idea who ‘he’ is or where he came from or how he was created, as the label has long gone (and yes, it has crossed my mind that it was a hoax to humiliate gullible people like me). He has a nickname, “Troll Boy”, and, although I would love to show you a picture, the Human Tissue Authority (yes, really) might take a dim view if it is a humanoid less than 100 years old.

Sadly, Troll Boy isn’t on display in the main gallery, but even if he was, the museum isn’t open to the public. However, Carla curates a variety of events, including taxidermy courses, lectures on surgery, pathology and medicine and ‘skull art’ workshops a la Damien Hirst – see She is also running a blog with more information on the collection, its past, present and future: So if you want to see the soaring inside of the building and those endlessly fascinating specimens, book in to one of the events – there is one featuring Dr Watson (and me) coming up in November, details follow – but plenty before that, too.


Sadly we didn’t have room to fit in all the good fast food recommendations from Chowzters’ ( bloggers in the Sunday Times article on April 21. So here is what you were missing:
Blogger: Yvo sin
White BearYvo Sin 135-02 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, NY 11354
(718) 961-2322
White Bear may be a hole in the wall, but #6 – wontons with spicy chili oil (12 for $4.50/£2.95) – makes overlooking the tiny space totally worth it. The wontons are quickly steamed, topped with pickled mustard greens and a slick of chili oil (fiery red, but not particularly spicy), and then handed to you on a Styrofoam plate (if it’s to stay) or in a Styrofoam container. Ambiance and decor isn’t the focus here, and that’s all obvious once you take your first bite.

HONG KONG – Juliana Loh
Aberdeen Fish Market Canteen
102 Shek Pai Wan Road, Aberdeen, Hong Kong
This place is open at the crack of dawn, and as it’s eponymous name suggests, the owner Ar Lo gets the freshest daily catch from the market next door and this local dive doubles as a canteen for those working at the fish market. There is no formal lunch menu here, tell the owner your budget and what you’d like to eat and he puts together a menu for you. Some signature dishes to order here include the salt and pepper calamari, garlic and vermicelli with scallops, scampi with fried garlic, stir fried clams with black beans and chili sauce, deep fried abalone and a range of catch of the day fish to choose from. If you’d like a little variety away from seafood, there are side dishes like stir fried vegetables and fabulously well done French toast – Hong Kong style with caramelized condensed milk drizzled generously over. Beer needless to say goes well with your seafood orders, a Chinese beer like Tsing Dao goes pretty well with it. A meal for two would set you back about 700HKD aprox = 90USD / 60 pounds.

BERLIN -Suzan Taher
Curry 36Mehringdamm 36, 10961 Berlin, (
Don’t be put off by the perennial queue it moves fast and in no time you will be feasting on this Berlin institution on a cardboard plate.
Steckerlfisch & Co
At markets around Berlin, (
Charcoal grilled fish served on paper with blobs of seaweed and dill mayonnaise.
Hamburger Heaven
Graefestrasse 93, 10967
Standing out among the many independent hamburger shops for serving hand cut fries, fresh mayonnaise and house made ketchup. Pick from regular, free range or organic patties.

BUENOS AIRES – Alexandra LazarAli Lazar
Parrilla, Rodriguez Peña 682, Recoleta
Recommended dish: Peña Empanada de carne frita
A down to earth neighbourhood parrilla (steakhouse) that specializes in grilled meats, Parrilla Peña also offers a complimentary fried beef empanada at the beginning of each meal. It’s one of those perfect crispy, doughy, fried, flavourful bites where you wish you could go home with a dozen more, but then realize you have a massive steak dinner coming out next (order the bife de lomo, or tenderloin).

ISTANBUL – Tuba Satana

Karadeniz Pide Doner Salonu
Mumcu Bakkal Sok No: 6, Beşiktaş.
In the middle of Beşiktaş Food market, lies one of the best döner places in the city. Order a portion on top of pide, and enjoy the heavenly taste of the succulent meat, great with pickles, onions and ayran. Hurry, it sells out very quickly and it’s only open for lunch. Around £5.40, with ayran yoghurt drink.

ROME -Tavole Romane

Cesare al Casaletto,

Via del Casaletto 45. Price: average 30€ plus wine. After a full day of walking and some time to relax take the 8 tram reaching the end of the line to have dinner at Cesare al Casaletto. It’s a perfect trattoria to enjoy an authentic local experience, with a menu including dishes that change according to season and Roman calendar days. Choose your sauce and preferred pasta shape (mezze maniche with carbonara is recommended). Don’t miss also fritti misti, deep fried starters. It also has an excellent wine selection.

Gelateria del Teatro
Via di San Simone 70 (another shop in Lungotevere dei Vallati 25-27).
If you are still hungry after dinner I recommend a visit to the historical center of the city and an evening stroll near Pantheon and Navona square followed by a refreshing natural gelato at Gelateria del Teatro. Liquorice and sage & raspberry are two of their fantastic non-traditional flavours. A cone is a shade over £2.

RIO DE JANEIRO – Tom Le Mesurier

Nova CapelaSAMSUNG
Avenida Mem de Sá, 96 Lapa
00 55 (21) 2252-6228 ‎
Nova Capela is renowned for selling the best Bolinhos de Bacalhau in Rio. Inside the crisp golden shell you’ll find a luscious mix of delicious salt-cod, potato and herbs. For an authentic taste of Rio, add a few drops of fiery chili oil and wash it down with an ice cold draft beer. Price (per bolinho): R$3.50 £1.20).

Tacacá do Norte
Rua Barão do Flamengo, 35 Flamengo
00 55 (21) 2205-7545‎
Tacacá is an amazing Amazonian soup, brought to Rio by Amazonians who moved the city looking for work. The soup features huge, juicy shrimps in a base of jambú, a tangy leaf with strong anaesthetic properties. This delicious combination is served in a traditional drinking gourd and will leave your lips numb and your tongue tingling. Price: R$13 (£4.30)

Rua Barata Ribeiro, 7 Copacabana
Tel: +55 (21) 2275-6147
The sandwiches of Cervantes are legendary among late night revellers in Copacabana. Inside the lightly toasted milk bread you’ll find layer after layer of juicy filet mignon, topped with a massive slab of melted cheese and Cervantes’ signature addition, a slice of gently grilled pineapple. Sounds strange but this combination really works, as evidenced by the queues leading out the door after midnight. Price: R$23 (£7.70).

* The Chowzter/Coca Cola Fast Feasts Awards, hosted by Alexander Armstrong, take place at East London’s Village Underground on April 28 and tickets cost £25 including drinks plus the chance to buy food from some of London’s best food trucks (Pizza Pilgrims, Big Apple Hotdog, Spit and Roast). See for tickets. Winners will be announced on the website.


This piece is of an age now, not long after Iain had ripped up his passport in an anti-Blair protest, but I still remember it as one of my favourite interviews with another author, even though we never really got onto books (at least not on the record: it was for ‘My Hols’ in the Sunday Times) and remembering it made the news about his illness all the more sad and depressing.

“There was no great moment of epiphany, no blinding light when I decided it was time to go ‘green’. It was more like a straw that broke the camel’s back. Perhaps it was thirty years of reading New Scientist, which has been going on about global warming for all that time, but one day one of the cars needed an MOT and I thought: why don’t I just get rid of them?
In some ways I felt like I’d got the fast cars out of my system and the same is possibly true of travelling. I have a fair number of miles under my belt. I do love driving, especially on holiday. One of the best trips I ever had was Highway One from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I hired a car and it was a terrible thing. It would change gear at the slightest incline and start labouring like I was asking it to go up a cliff. But I ended up really enjoying the journey, because the views were so wonderful and driving next to the ocean just can’t be beat. And if you are driving fast and concentrating, you miss all that, you daren’t take your eyes off the road. I have even found that in Scotland, having a slower car means I take in a lot more of my surroundings. And the scenery is the thing here, of course.
Another wonderful driving experience, again in the USA, was when I did a drive-away. That’s when you drive someone else’s car from one side of the States to another, because they have moved and want to take it with them. I had an uncle, a mate of my dad’s rather than a blood relative, in Washington DC and I flew there, then picked up a car to be delivered to Los Angeles. You had to do six hundred miles a day, which is no small amount, but it was a wonderful feeling, Highway 40 all the way, the ultimate open road. You hit Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, all these great places, although you didn’t have much time to do much other than get out and stretch your legs. I did make a small detour for the Grand Canyon, though, but still got it there on time and with less than maximum permitted miles.
I enjoy travelling alone. Perhaps because I am an only child, I am happy with my own company. The first couple of times I went abroad was either side of my time at Stirling University, when I hitched in Europe. I’d read somewhere a single man travels faster – although, of course, a single women travels even further – and so I went by myself. Like all those kind of trips, it is probably better in recollection than it was at the time, but I enjoyed it and I didn’t have any scrapes or misadventures. I am naturally suspicious, so I didn’t take sweets from any strangers or anything like that.
I have never really enjoyed very hot countries. I don’t like the heat. Anything over sixty is a heatwave as far as I am concerned. For me the tropics begin somewhere around Nottingham. It’s genetic, I’m sure: my dad is very pale skinned and when he was younger he had red hair, so he’s not big on sun either. Friends have pushed me to holidays on the Greek Islands and Gran Canaria and the Algarve. I even did a Nile cruise Egypt, but I spent most of the time lying in the shade panting like a dog.
So for the past few years my holidays have been on Barra, jewel of the Outer Hebrides, and they probably would have been, passport or no. It’s perfect for me – quiet, no great social scene, good walking and wonderful beaches where you can just stare out over the Atlantic. At night you go to sleep with the sound of those waves in your ears.
[In response to a question about not flying and selling his collection of fast cars for a hybrid:] I don’t have any kids but plenty of my friends do, and I’d like to be able to look them in the eye and say: yes, my generation did do this, we did screw up the planet, but at least some of us have made a start, no matter how small, on trying to do something about it.”