Frigid Air

Given my nationality and the looming prospect of the inevitable descent into winter, you may be fearing that this post will degenerate into a discussion of the weather.  Well, other than a chilly spell last week, it remains pretty mild: so the air is far from frigid, though it has been hurled at the denizens of South Cambridgeshire with more than normal force these last few days.  OK, I feel that covers expectations – so now I can wander off at a tangent with a clear conscience.

This post will instead handle one of my favourite subjects: food.  As has been mentioned before, while at home I am mostly vegetarian – and becoming more so (though if required, fish and shellfish can still be re-classified as vegetables).  As a result, my house contains quite large quantities of fruit and vegetables (though, I do know of those who pursue a vegetarian diet without much use of either fruit or veg).  Given their perishable nature, this does place some strain on my refrigerator.  At this point, I should come clean and admit that my fridge is a CBA rather than a Frigidaire – but the latter brand furnished a much better post title.

For historic reasons, I feel the need to keep as much of this fruit and veg in the crisper section at the base of my fridge as possible – though, now that I think about it, I have no idea if this is in any way beneficial.  The typical fridge (of which mine is a minor example) is much taller than it is wide – but for those in need of crisper space, the reverse would be a much better bet.  As a result of its conventional design, my crisper is always dreadfully over full – and edibles from the kingdoms of both plants and fungi spill out into the main body of the fridge.  This does tend to increase food wastage, as items from the crisper equivalent of the pre-Cambrian can be “lost” and so manage to spoil before they can be eaten (despite this, I should imagine that my food waste is a good few standard deviations from the mean, on the “good” side of the distribution).  Even when not lost to my digestive system, the over-crowding often necessitates an extended search for the desired item – which can’t be doing my electricity consumption any favours.

Reading the sticker on a Waitrose aubergine (oh yes, I have money to burn), while bored recently, revealed the interesting fact that it should not be stored in the fridge at all (as, I regret to say, its many predecessors had been).  I have no idea why this should be so, but it did allow a small volume to be reclaimed in my crisper – though at the cost of a corresponding loss of volume in the fruit bowl.

I also vaguely recall reading that keeping tomatoes in the fridge destroys some essential benefit that their consumption would otherwise impart.  The tomato is the love fruit so perhaps the fridge is cooling their ardour.  I suppose the late Nancy Mitford would know, having written on Love in a Cold Climate.

But, other than these two fruits – everything else still wants a piece of my fridge.  Surely other vegetarians with a decent appetite must exist?  I wonder how they solve this storage problem?  Or do they eschew fresh food, and rely largely on tinned and dried goods for their provender?

Perhaps it is time for me to develop (and later market) my new fridge for the discerning vegetarian: one where the crisper makes up a much large proportion of its total useable volume?  Yes, I am planning to bring the world the chest fridge.  No, not an aid for those with an overly warm embonpoint but a device inspired by the well proven chest freezer: after all, the two devices are basically the same (it’s just a matter of degree(s) – or the lack thereof).  The chest fridge would, I suppose, also necessitate some re-design of the traditional kitchen layout – but I can see clear benefits when coupled with a freezer to create the chest fridge freezer.  The combined device would be low enough in height (a) to benefit the shorter user and (b) leave room for more traditional storage either above or below depending on the height, flexibility and preferences of the user.

Vegetables are generally cheaper than meat – or so Katherine Whitehorn informed via the medium of print back in the mid 80s – so veggies should have higher disposable income available to spend on a new kitchen.  I really think I could be on to a winner here.  Coming soon to an out-of-town retail park near (but not very near) you: Fish Kitchens!  (The similar Kitch Fishing will have to await further development and a later post.)

Naval gazing

As I cycled home, a little after noon (and the afternoons do seem to be getting noticeably littler by the day), I spotted a somewhat dishevelled red admiral (the butterfly, rather than a Soviet naval officer) sunning himself on the cycle path.  As I also saw (and heard) a skylark ascending, it would seem that summer’s lease has not yet expired – or, perhaps it has, and Autumn needs to get the bailiffs in to force the issue (or, at the very least, to change the locks).

Seeing the admiral led me to muse on the lack of any lower ranks – there are no butterflies named for the ratings, chief petty officers, lieutenants or even captains that a human navy needs to operate successfully.  It seems that in the butterfly navy, there are too many chiefs and not enough (or, indeed, any) native Americans.  I think this may explain why the lepidoptera have never been taken seriously as a naval power.

Trusted like the Fox

Or, so Worcester described treason in Henry IV Part I: was old Will the Nostradamus of these isles?  Should I be searching his works for other clues to the future?

Our beleaguered Defence Secretary is all over the news like a rash (or cheap suit if you prefer) at the moment.  In the days before his best man began to appear mis-named, the titular head of the MoD was generally referred to as Liam Fox.  He is now referred to almost exclusively as Dr Fox – bringing a DJ of years gone by to the minds of many of a certain age – though it is unclear in what subject his doctorate might be.   Surely, if he has been naughty, he should be referred to by his full name – including any middle names – as would any other mis-behaving child (and perhaps dispatched either to the naughty step or his room without any supper).  I have been unable (on the basis of a rather cursory search) to discover the chap’s middle-name – unless Liam is his middle name, and his forename is Doctor.

On the news this morning, one of his colleagues bemoaned the fact that Dr Fox was the subject of a mass pursuit by the media and his political opponents.  I had thought Fox-hunting had been banned by the previous government – though perhaps that was only with dogs, perhaps hunting with journalists is still permissible?  Or is this all part of a cunning (like a fox!) strategy by one “half” (warning, not all halves are equal) of the Coalition to make fox hunting acceptable to the electorate?  Has poor old Liam been sacrificed so that men in red can once more chase his bushy-tailed brethren across the countryside armed only with horses, a pack of dogs and a basic brass instrument?

If the balloon does go up for our Defence Secretary, I would strongly recommend a new career as a milliner (or cheesy DJ).

Going underground

Yesterday, I was once again required to visit our nation’s capital: though I initially only attempted to traverse it on my way to the fleshpots of Woking.  This time, the cattle of Essex were safely imprisoned in their fields and so I made it to the city in good time.

At Tottenham Hale (named for the days when goods were haled from boats on the nearby river Lee), I left the realm of daylight and descended into the netherworld that is the Tube.  As with Napoleon, all went well until I approached Waterloo – in my case, this was with a Bakerloo line train rather than a sizeable French army.  A mere stone’s throw from the London terminus most often immortalised in chart hits (OK, I have not checked this in detail – but I can think of two hits for Waterloo and nary a one for any of the other termini), my journey came to a premature halt.  The signals had failed – and it soon became clear that switching the PC off and then back on again was not going to be enough to fix the problem.

A 40 minute wait ensued, as the Bakerloo’s boffins tried to get us on our way again.  The driver was very good at keeping us informed, but had little good news to impart for quite a while.  At one stage, it looked likely that we would have to disembark (or de-train, to use the rather ugly railway jargon) and walk along the tracks to achieve our destination.  Part of me was disappointed when this didn’t happen: it would have been quite exciting, but I was wearing a suit and my best shoes both (all three?) of which I fear may have suffered from contact with the filth that I strongly suspect lines the Tube’s tunnels.  The passengers (or should I say customers nowadays?) of some other trains did apparently have this additional experience (at, no extra charge!) – and this rather held up the resolution of my own journey.  Eventually, the train in front of mine pulled a little beyond its normal stopping point on the platform at Waterloo, just enough so that the first carriage of my train could pull into the station.   We could then walk through the train and disembark from the one set of doors with access to a platform.

While we awaited this solution, our train became a liminal space (it would be embarrassing to admit how long I have waited for the opportunity to use the word ‘liminal’ in a post) and so we passengers were able to talk to each other (an activity so outré that it is normally only practised by the foreign or insane).  In my little area of the train, we all (students and men of business alike) agreed that we much preferred the bus – it may (usually) be slower, but if anything goes wrong you can just get off (de-bus anyone?) and walk.  You can even notify anybody that you might be meeting that you will be late – or you can if you are carrying a mobile phone, carrier pigeon, distress flare or other aid to communication.

On my return home some hours later, my Victoria line train started going very slowly – with many an unscheduled stop (well, I assume they were unscheduled).  I did begin to wonder if I was cursed: had I offended Hades or Persephone and was doomed to remain trapped in their realm?  Was I in need of rescue by my own Orpheus-analogue? Though, had that been the case, I would insist he was fitted with a neck-brace before the rescue commenced to prevent any looking back: I’m no Eurydice (whatever you may have heard).

I think the driver of this Victoria line train also tried to keep us informed of what ailed the line, but whereas the Bakerloo train (built in 1972) had a clear public address system the Victoria train (built in 2010) could barely produce a whisper, so I have no idea what he was trying to tell us.  So much for the cult of youth, mark up another victory for the middle-aged!

Accounting for taste

The news informs me that Denmark is introducing a fat tax: not, as I understand it, a direct tax on those carrying a few extra pounds (or Kroner) but a method to discourage them from carrying any more.  For a country whose principal exports, if we exclude small plastic bricks, are butter and bacon this seems quite a high risk strategy.  And where does this tax leave the poor Danish pastry?  There is only so much that depressing film or television or, for that matter, Sandi Toksvig can do for the country’s balance of payments.

Talking of ‘balance’ and ‘payments’, I have – for reasons that need not detain us now – been trying to pass myself off as an accountant.  Yes, I hear you – but while I may already be dull enough, a fact to which this blog stands in mute (for the time being – but we are approaching post 200, so perhaps sound will come) testimony, I need to be able to prepare accounts and the like as well.  As a mathematician, I figured (pun fully intended) that this couldn’t be too hard – accountancy only requires addition and subtraction, they barely use multiplication or division let alone complex numbers, group theory or differential calculus.  However, in practice, it isn’t quite so simple due to the range of needlessly complex regulation that seems to surround every addition (or subtraction).  Bending my head round the reams of poorly drafted VAT (rather than fat) regulations is proving a particular challenge; and to think, I used to believe electricity markets were Byzantine in their arrangements (though at least, in part, these have some basis in physical reality and the movement of electrons).  Still, I’m starting to bore myself now – so on with the motley…

As you know, my mind rarely strays far from the subject of cake and patisserie – even when trying to be an accountant.  So, I found myself musing about presentations made by the accountancy arm of Greggs the Bakers (many other obesity outlets are available – though may now be full of Danes buying up our tax-free lard).  Would these include slides on rising apple turnover turnover?  Or ponder the profiterole profit role?  Has their share price suffered as a result of short-crust selling?

Sticking with the theme of cake and money; in a smart restaurant, I have occasionally been offered a financier for desert (I’m afraid, such eateries rarely offer something as substantial as pudding).  According to Wikipedia, a financier is often mistaken for a pastry – perhaps because they are flaky?  – but, in fact, it’s a small cake involving almonds.  In contrast, Mr Collins suggests a financier is one engaged or skilled in large-scale financial operations.  Given the current state of the world economy, I think I’d give my vote to the small, almond cake definition.  I reckon we’d be in far less of a mess if the cakes were running things!  And, if they did make a complete mess of things, we could always eat them – with a few berries and some whipped cream, rather than bailing them out with piles of cash.  This is one of the few occasions where bailing out involves the addition of something, usually it involves chucking stuff out: might this explain why the economy is still sinking?  (Was that almost satire?)

All this talk of cake is making my hungry, so I’m off to eat – tax-free!  (For now)

Hair Today

Though after a trim, a little less than yesterday – but hopefully not gone tomorrow (though that would save me quite a lot of money in the long-term).

Yesterday, I noticed an advert for a product which suggested that we should learn to love our “dry, unpredictable hair” – I think probably with this product’s assistance.  I believe it wished to claim for itself the ability to fix either my hair’s dryness or its lack of predictability or both.  I’m no expert on haircare – as anyone who has sighted my barnet could testify – but I have always found that water can resolve the dryness issue, at least for a while.  So, I have decided to focus on the second implied claim.

Simple use of an internet search engine suggests that a typical head has more than 100,000 hairs.  Even with the significant computing power many of us carry around in this modern age, I think that predicting the behaviour of so many hairs is going to be a non-trivial exercise.  Just identifying the initial conditions is going to be a serious undertaking and should you go outside, and be exposed to chaotic weather conditions, then I fear any hope of an accurate prediction is no more than a pipe dream.   So far as I can see (rather further with the aid of my specs), the only folk who can predict their hair with any degree of confidence are the totally bald.  Perhaps I saw an ad for a very powerful depilatory?   Certainly, if you remove your hair and keep it in an air-tight box which is otherwise full of water, then its days of dryness and unpredictability would be well-and-truly over.

Hair products have many strange descriptions: mud, putty and glue to name but three substances you might think twice before applying to your locks (or would, before the marketing boffins took them in hand).  However, today I saw a product ‘description’ that took the biscuit, viz express blow-out creme.  Now, I like my grub as much as the next man and have been known to enjoy a blow-out from time-to-time, though prefer to take my time (an express meal is a sadly diminished experience).  I wasn’t sure if the creme was designed to be used after a hastily consumed banquet or in some way acts as a substitute for one.  However, since it was applied to my own coiffure this morning, I can discount the latter option – so I assume my hairdresser felt I was looking a little dyspeptic this morning and took pity on me.  I eagerly await the haircare industry’s answer to the hangover!

Mr Brown goes into town

Well, OK, I’m not Mr Brown and I caught the 7:55 rather than the 8:21 – but my trip to London yesterday was the best chance I have to pay tribute to the late David Croft (let’s face it, I am unlikely to start work in a department store, holiday camp, or French café during the second world war in the near future).  And, when I return each evening I am ready, if not with my gun then oft-times with a pun!

Sometimes, I do not have to work at juxtaposition – my life just delivers curious combinations of experience to me.  As mentioned above, I did have to go into London for work yesterday and my inbound journey was somewhat delayed.  This was not, as you might have anticipated, due to loss of catenary cables near Sawbridgeworth (apparently, the felonious travel there expressly to steal live 25kV cables from above a passing express.  I know metal prices are high – but I think there is still plenty to half-inch that is not carrying high voltage above fast-moving and slow-braking rolling stock.  But, what do I know?) but due to loose cattle on the line.  More cynical readers may think this was just an invented excuse – on a par with “the dog ate my homework” or “the cheque is in the post” – but I can assure you it was not, the wrong type of livestock were real.  When we finally arrived at the problem location, the cows were still loose: standing just to the side to the track staring at the train is it inched past.  In the Wild West, trains are fitted with cow-catchers to deal with exactly this sort of problem (well, they are in the Westerns – though, if pushed, I’d have to admit that these are not generally marketed as documentaries and are set somewhat in the past) but the Class 379 Electrostar unit in which I was travelling, whilst fast and comfortable (and a huge improvement on the Class 317/1 that one sometimes has to endure), was not so equipped.  I presume that National Express East Anglia felt that paying the extra for a cow-catcher made little economic sense in the Tame East.  Hindsight is a marvellous thing!

After a busy day of meetings, I raced back home prior to cycling into Cambridge to see some comedy in the evening.  Luckily, Frisky and Mannish (for it was they who were purveying the comedy) provide a high-energy (and volume) performance, as by this time I was already somewhat tired and a more low-key performer may have seen me doze off.  The show was jolly good, though I fear my knowledge of music from the charts was too poor to fully appreciate some of the material (to be honest, in my world, charts either require graph paper or relate to naval navigation) – but I suppose that’s what you get from only listening to BBC Radios 2, 3, 4, 6Music and 4Extra (née 7).

The show did require audience participation – and despite sitting in the back row, I was required to participate rather more fully in the show than anticipated (then again, I had anticipated none).  The premise was to form a 5-piece boy-band from members of the audience after the style of Take That: from the days when they were a boy-band, rather than the reformed middle-aged bloke-band of today.  This beggars belief, but I was chosen to form part of this soi-disant boy-band (the other four could certainly have passed for boys, even in quite good light, but I thought my days of passing for a boy lay in the distant past) on the basis of my dance skills (I was the Jason Orange figure, I believe).  For the avoidance of doubt, I should make clear that I have no dance skills whatsoever – and even the basic hand movements for the Macarena proved totally beyond me (perhaps I should have been spending less of my available mental capacity trying to translate the Portuguese words to the song at the same time) – so I can only assume that my dancing was chosen ironically.  My age, apparently, wasn’t – so I do wonder if I should send Mannish details of my optician.  As a result of my selection, I spent some 10 minutes on the stage (and not the first one out of town, to return briefly to the Wild West) and did gain rather a taste for it, despite the lack of a singing (or speaking) part or (indeed) a fee.

So, perhaps rather than the movie or book of this blog, I should look to present GofaDM on the stage.  At least that way the posts will (mostly, though I’m no respecter of the fourth wall – or estate) be safely confined behind a Proscenium Arch.  Perhaps, also if it were staged then in the distant future academics will argue as to whether I really wrote this blog or it was someone else entirely.

No moggy

Oh yes, definitely not feline – this post relates rather to an uncat.  Well, it probably does – though lawyers might argue the point.

This blog has previously mentioned my tendency to insomnia – perhaps one of the reasons I so enjoyed studying Macbeth for O level: he also had a rather difficult relationship with sleep after an unfortunate incident with some daggers (and Duncan, as I recall).  For the sake of clarity, I should make clear that I have neither met a triumvirate of strange women on a heath nor engaged in regicide and I have never been Thane (indeed, some would suggest that, on the contrary, I am inthane).

Generally, sleep deprivation does not have a positive impact on a chap (or, I believe, a chapess – though I cannot speak directly in this case).  Indeed, these negative impacts are what makes it so useful as a form of torture and thus fall within the purview of UNCAT (the UN Convention Against Torture) – although, as mentioned above, some would argue that it does not.

However, after several weeks of very poor sleep I have discovered a positive side-effect of my affliction.  I have suddenly become inspired when it comes to solving cryptic crosswords – a process whose pace can normally be compared with glaciation or continental drift.  Now I do love cryptic crosswords – or at least those from The Guardian – but only play with them somewhat infrequently.  I have a foxed and faded book of 100 of the Guardian’s finest: and on the current rate of progress I will never need to buy volume 2 (unless the human lifespan is significantly extended in the near future).  Solving a clue provides a triple pleasure: the sense of triumph in finding the answer, the joy at understanding the construction of the clue and the satisfaction from having successfully engaged another mind in single combat (the rude might suggest unarmed combat in my case).

Some clues prove particularly resistant to my mental assault – and puzzle number 13 (set by Rufus) had proved a particularly tough nut to crack.  However, in recent days, my addled brain has started to solve clues at an unprecedented rate.  I’m not entirely clear which of the myriad side-effects of sleeplessness might be providing this boost to my crossword solving skills – perhaps something in the confusion-hallucination space is allowing me to see the clues in a different and, as it transpires, helpful way?

Through the ages, artists have tried using a variety of drugs to allow them to think differently and as a result find inspiration.  Have I inadvertently discovered another, entirely legal, route into the Muse’s favour?  Is it time to write my first self-help book: one for the struggling artist?  Then again, would struggling artists be a particularly valuable market segment to target?  Maybe I need to wait for the self-help idea which will appeal to the struggling multi-millionaire…

Great as it has been to finally defeat Rufus (and much as I’d like to see off Araucaria’s No.11), I think on balance I’d prefer to have a few decent nights of sleep (as opposed to Knights of Sleep – a body of heavily armoured men who deliver sleep, each astride a nightmare, at the point of a lance).  So, I’m off to my palliasse with the plan to start counting Z’s or sheep or crows (though the last may not be entirely conducive to slumber).