Sunday, 20 January 2013

So what’s wrong with eating horsemeat?

OK, so I’m happy to see Tesco seriously embarrassed by the noise over horsemeat in some of its economy burgers. I get fed up with all its self-righteous twaddle about providing value for money when it uses every underhand marketing trick in the book to squeeze as much as possible out of shoppers. But it has made me wonder why people are so enraged at the thought of eating horsemeat.

It’s not just that there are parts of the world where they tuck into equine flesh, or other animals that make us Brits turn up our noses, with gusto. But I would bet that it’s wound up in plenty of things that go through a messy industrial process and wind up in the bargain shelves and cabinets of the supermarkets.

I’ve never knowingly eaten horsemeat, but I’m not disturbed at the thought that I may well have done so unknowingly at some time. The fact is that we tuck into lots of meat products – pies, sausage rolls, processed slices with different names – that have all the odds and ends from dead animals that we would rather not think about. I suspect that the companies who produce this go for the cheapest option on buying their raw material and horse creeps in more often than anyone would admit. You just accept that if you buy cheap meat products you get what you pay for.

I’ve accepted for years that I’m eating things that the manufacturers would want to keep quiet, and as long as it doesn’t poison me I’m not going to make a fuss as long as they  don’t make dishonest claims about it being high quality, unadulterated beef, lamb, pork, chicken or whatever. And if we happily eat cows, pigs and sheep, and do pretty horrible things in raising them as food, why should we get so squeamish over horses?

Probably because we’ve been brought up on movies and TV programmes in which horses had some unspoken empathy with human beings – think Black Beauty or Champion the Wonder Horse – or run around a racecourse to give us a moment of excitement. Who would have wanted to eat Red Rum?

But people in other parts of the world don’t feel like that, and I don’t quite buy into it. And if you want to draw a parallel with domestic animals, I’m in no hurry to eat a cat or dog, but I’d do so if I was facing starvation, and I’ll quite happily tuck into stewed rabbit.

And if I’m ever somewhere that it’s on the menu and I receive a recommendation, I’ll eat a horse.

Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Tarantino has no right to his tantrum

I’ve felt ambivalent about Quentin Tarantino for a long time. I loved his debut Reservoir Dogs – a great heist movie that was fast, inventive, witty and frightening – but found it hard to feel so enthusiastic about his next film, Pulp Fiction.

I admired the skill with which the story was told, the action set pieces, and dark humour, snappy dialogue, but I had an uneasy feeling that it had crossed a line. In the first film it was always clear that the bad guys were bad guys and deserved a bad end. In the second there were subtle differences that suggested that there was no such thing as a bad guy and the violence was all part of a jolly game laid on for our amusement.

It left me feeling that Tarantino had drifted into morally dubious territory, a feeling that was intensified when I saw From Dusk till Dawn, for which he wrote the screenplay, which asked us to accept as heroes two bank robbers who begin the film by kidnapping then murdering an innocent female bank clerk. It left a nasty taste in the mouth that has put me off seeing any of his movies since.

I have been tempted to break the boycott by the reviews for his new effort, Django Unchained, on the strength from some glowing reviews. The fact that it’s about a slave fighting back in 19th century America has made me think maybe there are some genuine good and guys in it. But I’m not sure after watching Tarantino’s latest tantrum.

The strop he threw at Krishna Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 for asking about the possibility of a link between enjoying screen violence and inflicting it on others made it clear this is someone who doesn’t want to face an awkward question about what he does. It’s not an easy one to answer, and it’s full of ambiguities. Most of us enjoy screen violence – you can go back to the earliest cowboy or gangster films to see it was a key ingredient of their success – and the moral context or characterisations of those involved affect us all in different ways. But it is a serious that has issue with a lot of implications for a society which has its share of real life random violence.

I don’t expect Tarantino to have easy answers, but he makes a lot of money and has won worldwide fame by depicting violence in a way that suggests it’s there to be enjoyed. It’s the defining element of his career. He has an obligation to at least debate the question, no matter how often he’s asked, and throwing a wobbly at an interviewer isn’t going to win him any friends, and may lose a few who are currently on his side.

And I still haven’t made up my mind about whether to see Django Unchained.

Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Farewell to Harry Carey Jr

Yesterday I had one of those moments that comes to all of us as we get older, reading an obituary of someone I assumed had died years ago.

It was Harry Carey Jr, a Hollywood actor who, despite not being a big star, is a familiar face to all of us who love old westerns. He was one of the regulars in John Ford movies, which meant that he had significant parts in some John Wayne classics – The Searchers and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon – and a couple of starring roles – The Three Godfathers and Wagon Master. He had his highest profile in the 1950s but used to crop up in movies and on TV until the 1990s, and wrote a book about working on the Ford westerns.

No-one would argue that he was among the Hollywood greats, but he was one of those character actors who always contributed to a good movie and could sometimes provide a redeeming factor for a bad one. And he was one of the faces who would prompt many of us to point at a screen and say “Look who that is!”

I have to mark his passing because I’m a great fan of John Ford movies. I’ve watched some of them several times over – Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, Rio Bravo, The Searchers – and always enjoy them even though I know what’s coming. I know there’s something dubious about many of them, feeding a myth about the west that airbrushes the fact that land was stolen and native Americans wiped out in their hundreds of thousands, but they’re great stories with intriguing characters and make magnificent use of the landscape.

Ford was the visionary, and there’s no arguing that the presence of leading actors like John Wayne and Henry Fonda was crucial to their artistic as much as commercial success, but the supporting actors were as much as part of it. They wouldn’t be the same without the likes of Walter Brennan, Victor McLaglen, Ben Johnson, and Harry Carey Jr.

I believe he’s the last to go, and he deserves a farewell.

Mark Say's collection of fiction, Perversities of Faith, is available on and Also check out