Cook’s tour

As a child my interest in cooking was rather limited.  I was aware that it took place in order for food to appear on the table in front of me at regular intervals.  I also knew that for certain processes, hanging around the kitchen could enable pre-meal scraps to be scrounged from the process: the licking of spoons and the like.  I was always especially fond of the delicious ‘scum’ that formed on the top of the jam: oddly, no-one has ever seen fit to market this as a product and I haven’t made jam in nearly 30 years…

It was when I left home to go to university that I came to realise that food did not just arrive by magic.  I also discovered that the pre-made food available from the supermarkets of the mid 1980s was terrible.  As a result, I had to learn to cook in a hurry – and using very basic equipment.  Initially, I had little more than a mini-oven/grill but could still create moderately interesting food.  I remember somehow making omelette Arnold Bennett: though I seem to recall using tinned tuna rather than smoked haddock (I don’t think haddock had learned to smoke in those far off days: they are probably vaping now…).

In my second year at university, I had access to a single ring and a slow cooker.  This significantly expanded the scope of my culinary creations.  I can clearly remember making orange and lemon flavoured sponge cakes in the slow cooker: they had a slightly different texture than a more traditionally baked cake, but were moist and very tasty.  From my third year, I had access to a full kitchen and I have retained that access ever since.

I will admit that I am a lazy cook, I usually want to eat NOW and don’t like getting my hands dirty if at all possible.  This means I am generally reluctant to make dishes that have very long lists of ingredients or long preparation times, especially those that need to rest, soak or chill for extended periods.  There are also some processes that can be used in cooking with which I would feel less than confident, especially those that require fine motor control given that my hands and general mobility are somewhat agricultural in nature.  I also have very out-of-date (i.e. mid-80s student) views about the cost of ingredients which surface in unexpected places, e.g. I would usually think twice about the bootless extravagance of any recipe needing more than two eggs and view tinned cherry pie-filling as a luxury product.  However, I will spend ridiculous amounts of money on ingredients that did not form part of my student diet as they are unaffected by my internal auditor: I am nothing if not maddeningly (to me at least) inconsistent.

From my university days, I have generally cooked at least one meal per day from basic ingredients – and, more recently, often two such meals.  Pretty early in my adult life, I discovered the joy of cooking for others.  For a start, it somehow gives me licence to attempt more exotic, complicated or just plain expensive recipes than I would feel were suitable for satisfying my own quotidian hunger.  Guests also approach the food I’ve wrought afresh and without the long backstory that accompanied planning the menu, buying the ingredients and then preparing and cooking them: I can then share in their reaction.

In recent years, my cooking for others has become more infrequent: partly, because I am usually out every evening doing something cultural.  It had fallen to one major Fish Supper every other year on New Year’s Eve: as has been documented before in GofaDM, I am the Fish and actual fish may, or may not, make an appearance within the meal (knife-related accidents can cause actual Fish to appear in the meal, but I seek to avoid this).  My time on Lundy (see The Lundiary for more details) along with my recent sharing of a range of Frankenfoods with friends (and their largely positive reactions thereto) reminded me of how much I missed cooking for others.  So, in late November, I resolved up my game and the frequency with which I cook for friends.

From Christmas to mid January, evening cultural events can be rather thin on the ground and so I decided I could squeeze in a Fish Supper at the end of December.  I seem to recall that this had 7 or 8 courses: which is not unusual, though I don’t recall precisely when the Fish Supper was subject to course-inflation from its initial format of starter, main and choice of two puddings.  For one of these courses, I made fresh pasta (broadly tagliatelle) which I did live at the dining table: largely for reasons of practicality, as it is the best (or only) location where I can mount my pasta machine.  I had made fresh pasta once before, about 18 months previously, and I’ll admit the live process did not go entirely smoothly.  In the fullness of time, beautiful fresh tagliatelle did emerge from the machine but prior to this, the cook was suffused by a degree of panic – which I believe improved the floor show for the audience.

Having tidied up the debris from this meal, mostly a matter of loading and emptying the dishwasher, I found myself enjoying the relatively spacious feel of the flat.  Prior to the arrival of guests, I’d had a decent tidy-up and the results of my efforts continued to pay off into the early days of 2020.  Liking this feeling and having few other excuses – beyond basic self-interest and the dregs of my self-respect – to keep the place tidy, I resolved to have guests over for a meal once per month in 2020.  Given that I don’t want to interfere with my hectic cultural calendar, it was time for the Fish Supper to make way for the Frankenlunch!  I decided that a Frankenlunch would tend to be a weekend event (as neither myself nor my putative guests are independently wealthy and are stil beholden to “the man” during the week), commencing around 13:30 with the aim to finish by around 17:00.  The intention was for a light lunch format with a more modest number of smaller courses than has tended to characterise the Fish Supper.  The hope is guests may be able to perambulate their way home without too obvious a waddle

Frankenlunch 2020/1 was staged on the 17th and broadly followed the planned format: though I found myself unable to resist making five courses.  It was partially inspired by my desire to “use up” a magnum of champagne given to my by a (presumably) grateful client some years ago and which was taking up a lot of storage space.  So, the menu was designed around courses that the internet suggest go well with champagne: as it transpired, this did not restrict my creative scope to any significant degree.

I hosted four friends for this inaugural event, which was more people around my dining table than ever previously achieved and did require the acquisition of some new crockery in John Lewis’ sale:  years of exposure to my clumsiness had meant that most of my crockery was only available in sets of between one and four items, rather than their original families of six.  I assume, were I to live long enough, evolutionary pressure would lead to larger litter sizes from my flat ware…

Inspired by this year’s NYE menu in Lewes, we started with individual cheese soufflés.  I had carried out a practice run on these, partly process-wise but mostly to calibrate my oven for temperature and ramekins for size: recipes do seem to be based on the Platonic ideal of a ramekin but never give its dimensions and real-world ramekins are very varied in their volume, diameter and form. As it transpired, the process is straightforward and rather satisfying, my oven is slightly cooler than it claims and my ramekins appear to be close to the Platonic ideal.

As I think will now become a standard for all 2020’s Frankenlunches, I then prepared a ‘live’ pasta course with walnut pesto, mushroom and chilli.  Experiments during the week had pinned down the key driver to the successful conversion of dough to pasts via a machine: make sure the dough isn’t too thick or it braids.  I’ve also worked out how much pasta to prepare per person for a ‘starter’: around 50% of the lowest value discovered through internet research.

For the main, I had planned to cook scallops but one of our number was a better vegetarian than I (not hard, I’ll admit), so I simultaneously prepared a vegetarian alternative.  This used King Oyster mushrooms in lieu of the scallops which are not a bad substitute in appearance and have a decent texture and absorb flavours in a not dissimilar way (and the name, at least, maintains a seafood vibe).  Due to chronic indecision, I did not decide how I was going to cook the scallops (both real and simulated) until they were in the pan cooking.  I used elements of several recipes and my own slightly drunken ideas: the champagne was history by this stage and I can confirm that the client was more grateful than I’d appreciated (or deserved).  I kept it fairly simple with a ‘sauce’ formed from garlic, chilli, butter, lemon and a little white wine, which worked rather better than its rather ad-hoc creation deserved, served with a rocket and watercress salad.

For dessert, we started with a memory of Lundy and an apple and forest fruits crumble (just once, I’d love to visit this fruitful forest with its eccentric seasons!).  This was followed by a dark chocolate nougat semi-freddo: though I will admit that I did not make the nougat.  However, I do have a sugar thermometer and I rather fancied giving this a go but it does seem to need an electric mixer or more than the standard issue of hands.  John Lewis does have a Kitchen Aid mixer heavily reduced at the moment, but do I have the room?

The first Frankenlunch appears to have been a great success: I had fun and the guests were all convincing in their expressions of approbation (and none were professional actors).  I rather like the lunch format, it somehow seems more relaxed and to carry less cultural baggage than an evening meal and its associations with the dreaded dinner party of sitcom and stage.  As the meal neared its end, without anyone bursting(!), I did a quick and dirty calculation of the cost of the food.  I reckon that in terms of ingredients, I probably spent a little under £40 in total: so £8 a head for a five course lunch which seems infeasibly good value.  There would be some cost for electricity in the cooking and chilling and some costs in consumables (baking parchment and the like) but I think these would be mere pennies.  There was some labour involved – mostly chopping and beating – but only a couple of hours of prep and some more time cooking live.  The costs compare very favourably to the £9.50 I paid for, an admittedly very nice and filling, pizza last night when I arrived home from the excellent Personal History of David Copperfield.

One of my friends, and guests, does seem keen on me monetising my limited culinary skills: I can follow basic instructions (mostly) and even go off-piste to a degree (usually when I have either forgotten to acquire an ingredient or have something already in the larder which needs using up).  My divergence from any given recipe has usually proved successful, or at the very least interesting and/or educational.  His original plan was for me to sell slices of Frankenmas cake to young people at the gates of their place of schooling which I can’t help feeling could bring me into conflict with the law and some parents: a middle-aged white man trying to ply minors with rather alcoholic fruit cake would probably be viewed amiss.  I think the latest plan is to have paying guests who take their chances with the menu and my ability to deliver it.  They will also be exposed to my sense of humour and rather informal approach to meals, which may not suit all comers.  I believe my friend sees himself as my agent in this new role, so I feel he has an incentive to keep me safe from unwanted legal entanglements…

I have already started thinking about February’s Frankenlunch and am considering making the project more challenging by not repeating a dish during 2020.  This seems like a great idea now, but future-me may be cursing current-me by the autumn (or indeed, well before!)…

The Lundiary: Lundy-parture

It is my sad duty to report that today’s will be the final instalment of the Lundiary.  I think it will be important to dwell less on the lack of future episodes of my adventures on Lundy and more on the fun I had while I was there and have subsequently shared with you.  Nevertheless, you may wish to read these final words with a loved one or trained psychiatric professional: just in case you are over-taken by grief…

Lundy-parture

In which our hero leaves the island and is cruelly forced to return to his real life…

I rose before dawn to watch the sun come up over the Bristol Channel and make the most of my last hours in this alternate reality.  As I come to leave the island, I can’t help noticing how little of the entertainment I brought with me I have consumed: I haven’t even finished one book!  Instead, the island and my companions would seem to have provided all the entertainment I needed: albeit, not always wittingly..

During the night, N had prepared a limerick to be added to the house’s Log book: once again with a nod towards both the weekend’s theme and my more prophetic writings in this diary:

To Lundy came seven, all told,

Of whom one would return to the fold

What fell to the rest

None dared to attest

Lest the blood of the listener run cold…

 

I like to think we have provided a useful corrective to the slightly saccharine sweetness and one-upmanship of many of the previous entries in the Log…

I broke fast and performed some final packing.  I felt it was important to organise a group photo in our “garden” using the deckchairs that came with the house (alibis don’t make themselves!).  The sundial acted as a tripod for my phone, using its timer and a mad dash by the photographer (me) – as all selfies were taken in days of old. No doubt future historians will analyse this photo to identify which of the group were still alive at this stage and which are but bodies that have been posed to give the semblence of life…

Finding that I was on the fourth flight out, I had a couple of final, precious hours to enjoy the warm sunshine bathing the island.  I took the opportunity to visit the church (entry to which did not cause my spontaneous combustion) and to wander down to the slightly unimpressive castle (not one of Henry III’s finer offerings, perhaps he was too busy bickering with his barons) with its views of the southern tip of the island and across the blue waters separating us from the north Devon coast.

Then it was time for the short stroll up to the heli-field and the flight back to reality.  The waters of the Bristol Channel were crystal clear as I flew back to the cows of Hartland Point, who seemed singularly unimpressed by my return.

The long drive back was broken in Chittlehampton (a Swiss Littlehampton?) for a pub lunch, in North Devon’s CAMRA pub of the year.  To reach this pub from Hartland, one has to drive through Umberleigh – which I felt I could remember, from the Flanders and Swann song Slow Train, as having fallen to the axe of Dr Beeching.  A little research revealed that, Umberleigh-verbly, the village still has a working station with regular trains to Barnstable and Exmouth.  (No, I’m not sorry: I think that pun may be my finest ever work!).

I arrived home in time to enjoy a little supper before an hour of antagonist training to return my body to its fighting, hand-balancing best.  I then adjourned to South Hampshire’s CAMRA pub of the year – The Guide Dog – with its range of well-kept hoppy ales to ease myself back into my real life.

Before tucking myself into my own bed, I found myself wondering if any of these events had really happened – or was it all just an amazing, implausible dream?  Somehow, when my days have dwindled to a precious few, I must ensure that this diary is returned to the island as the definitive record of these events…

 

To A Louse

This marks the second occasion that GofaDM has used this one poem by Robert Burns: and, this second outing is even referencing the same (and final) verse.  This post was inspired by the usual collision of recent events and some unifying juxtaposition: in this case, the line “To see oursels as ithers see us!“.

I am possessed of an age, level of privilege and laziness that means I don’t really adapt my persona very much to different audiences.  I am a tad less frivolous at work – though probably tone it down less than people might imagine (or fondly hope) – and I will adapt my content (f not the presentation) to somewhat suit those who have the misfortune to encounter me in the wild (again, this adaptation is much more limited than most would consider desirable).  However, having somehow arrived at a semi-viable public face, I really haven’t made the necessary investment to generate an alternative.

On the whole, I don’t spend very much time considering the impression I make in the minds of others.  I generally try to be polite (that would be my upbringing) and would not like to be considered thoughtless: though recognise that I will often fail in this latter wish given the all-too-limited scope of my thinking.  As I’ve noted before in this blog, I seem to be more memorable than I consider entirely explicable: my relative generous nasal inheritance and height can only explain so much and I otherwise consider myself to be entirely unexceptional.  Admittedly, as I have to extrapolate other people (animals, aliens etc) from the contents of my own head, I am doomed to be the least interesting character in my life: though I can still spring a few surprises.

While, I believe, we are all supposed to view ourselves as the hero of our own narrative, I tend to view myself as, at best, a half decent NPC still waiting for the main protagonist(s) to arrive.  I am, perhaps, living my life as some sort of Vladimir or Estragon doomed to forever wait for a companion who is maddeningly late and may, conceivably, not arrive until I myself am late…

Several incidents in recent weeks have led me to believe that the “me” that exists in the minds of others can vary markedly from the idiot that I have been sharing my life with for nearly 54 years.  They appear to believe in the existence of a far more virtuous and emotionally useful human being sharing my body than I have ever had any reason to believe might exist.  Pace Terry Pratchett, I generally assume I have all the empathy of a ‘well aimed half-brick‘ though have come to realise that being physically present and either listening, or providing some form of distraction, can offer a degree of modest utility in the right circumstances.

I fear that most (if not all) of my soi-disant virtue consists in me indulging my general propensity to seek divertissement and any more positive outcome is merely an unintended byproduct…

Cultural events and gigs are generally very successful in replacing the ululating nonsense circulating around the inside of my skull with something more pleasant.  Indeed, the last couple of weeks, with its rather short commons in this area, have on a couple of occasions forced me to spend an evening in: alone!  I really don’t understand how people manage to do this on a regular basis: I would very rapidly need to be sectioned.  (It is worth noting at this stage that I would be a terrible flatmate: I have lived alone for far too long!)  (N)YTMG – at least in its initial very basic form – was a natural outgrowth of my regular gig going.  It now acts as a very handy tool for me in planning my life (to the extent that this occurs) and I hope encourages and/or helps others to attend more gigs, thus increasing the likelihood of future gigs and so delaying the day when, for lack of any alternative entertainment, I find myself running (probably walking briskly or cycling, if I’m being honest with myself) amok with an 8.25″ cook’s knife.

Other humans are also a source of fascination and their skulls tend to be filled with rather different nonsense than my own.  For a relatively small investment of polite interest, many are willing to share at least some of this content with a third party, viz me.  Over time, this leads to some of them becoming friends which seems to increase their willingness to share their nonsense and, even better, join me in the creation of new nonsense.  My fond hope when starting this blog, nearly a decade ago, was that it would become a way to generate new foolishness through interaction with other people.  That hasn’t really happened, but going into the real world and as a result meeting and interacting with other people in the flesh has proven far more successful: who’d have guessed?  (Probably most people, certainly those with any knowledge of human evolutionary biology or anthropology.)

I find myself trying to maintain functional acquaintance with a volume of people which now safely exceeds Dunbar’s Number.  This is enormous fun, though quite the challenge for my middle-aged brain.  Luckily, you almost never need to refer to anyone by their name – and never in their presence – and so the fact that it may not be readily accessible to me is far less of an issue than might be imagined.  All of these people – and more besides who I don’t yet know but who seem to know me (or who I have unforgivably forgotten) – have some impression of ‘me’ which I imagine has at least some connection to the ‘me’ that I project, with some vague intentionality, into the world but is mostly their own invention.  All these impressions will be different and none are likely to be terribly representative of the ‘real me’: even assuming that such a thing can be considered to exist.  Given the odd (to me, inexplicable) positivity with which people generally seem to respond to my presence, I am forced to assume that their versions of ‘me’ are a significant upgrade to my own.

Were I the sort of man to make resolutions, and were I the even more insane type who would choose to do so in the depths of winter, I might plan to be more like the much better ‘me’ that other people see (or confabulate).  Sadly (or happily) I’m neither of these people.  However, inspired by having now listened to 70% of the available episodes of the quite excellent How Do You Cope with Elis and John, I have arrived at the rather nebulous thought that I ought to take better (by which I mean some) care of my mental health.  Given my progress with other major projects, I think we can all expect to see some real fruits arising from this thought at some point in my mid-70s: at around roughly the same time that my own personal Godot forcibly enters my life via the medium of a high velocity bullet to my grey matter…

 

 

The Lundiary: L’un deux Trois

With mere seconds to spare, our hero remembers that today is Sunday and the world is owed its next fix of the Lundiary.  So, without further ado, here goes…

L’un deux Trois

In which our hero shows off in front of a bunch of strangers, a roaring fire is finally achieved and a formal dinner is enjoyed…

I wake to once again find everyone in full possession of their mortal coils.  I am anticipating a blood bath tonight…

[At this point, shrew damage to the manuscript is severe and only the following cryptic phrase can be made out: Ed]… coffee dipstick…

After breakfast, and a final larder re-stock from the shop (cornering their last remaining bottles of Lundy Single Hop Pale Ale), A, H and I set off on an organised walk led by the traumatised warden from Lunday evening’s talk.  This helped to fill in some more of the island’s fascinating and turbulent (even before I arrived) history. We were assailed by ponies (having abandoned their hospital grazing), finally got to see the very limited remains of one of the downed He 111s (the last 75+ years have not been kind, as my father will attest) and I had my first good look at the west coast of the island (sadly no sign of any IPA: maybe it comes from the ale-equivalent of aquifers deep beneath the ground?).

It was whilst walking along the greensward covered clifftops of the west coast, perhaps inspired by the climbing skills of the local goats, that conversation with the warden turned to my life in hand-balancing.  For some reason, I then decided to demonstrate both a QDR and a Grasscutter to the party – almost all of whom were complete strangers. My performance was somewhat compromised by the uneven terrain and my overly restrictive clothing (we can all be grateful I did not decide to disrobe to a more practical level but remained in “hiking casual”) but I suspect it was the first time that Lundy has seen such an outdoor display.  I was forced to recognise that I am a terrible show-off given even the slightest pretext. So far as I know, the only photographic evidence of this particular foolishness is held in the cameras and clouds of the aforementioned strangers: though either A or H may have captured the scene in the furtherance of some future blackmail scheme (though frankly, the expedition probably holds more fertile grounds than me balancing on one hand).

On the walk back to the pub for lunch, I took the opportunity to score my third lighthouse: a hattrick!  The Old Lighthouse is no longer operational: it was built at the highest point on the island – which is good – but in a location frequently hidden by fog – not ideal for a lighthouse and so was replaced by the lower, but less fog-prone, North and South Lights.  This meant that I could ascend the rather steep spiral stairs to enjoy the views from the lantern – and the island looked glorious drenched in November sunshine. Surrounded by all that glass, it was positively toasty up there, and so with my stomach crying out for lunch I did not tarry but hurried on back to the Marisco Tavern for a much needed repast.

It is perhaps at this point that I should mention the urinals at the Marisco Tavern.  They are not part of the tavern itself but lie adjacent to an outbuilding. They are roofless (as I am in pursuit of a pun) though are mostly surrounded by a chest-high wall (depending on the height of your chest and which side of the wall you are standing: it is effectively rather lower for the voyeur than it is for the active player) and, during the daylight, afford glorious views to the east as a chap divests himself of surplus fluid (and also views, glorious for a certain audience, to the west if you are standing to the east).  In many ways, quite the finest experience of its kind I’ve had, though, should it be raining and blowing a hoolie, the micturator will be exposed to the full fury of the weather – which I would imagine can teach a degree of bladder control in the Lundian drinker… I’m afraid that while the ladies’ equivalent is also outside, it is fully contained in the outbuilding which the urinals flank.

Returning home, and with fresh – if sub-optimal – kindling purchased from the shop, A once again set about his stove-based attempts at arson.  After much endeavour, and using our remaining large chunk of purloined wood, our larceny and his endeavours were rewarded with a proper blaze. So much had been sacrificed for this exothermic reaction but, in that moment, it all seemed worthwhile!

The afternoon was also a chance for me to actually attempt to play some of the various, small musical devices I had brought with me to the island.  The bones provided rather too much of a challenge and the fetish eggs rather too easy – and thus lacking in satisfaction. Against this background, I turned to the woodwind in the hope that it would represent the baby bear’s porridge of the musical scenario.  With H cracking the rawhide whip of sarcasm at my faltering efforts and A providing a consistent rhythmic base, I managed to produce a half-decent stab at the folk tune Four Up (penned by our old friend Anon, transcribed by D) on the descant recorder.  Clearly, my music-making has been lacking this stricter approach to teaching: though I’m not sure I’m ready to book music lessons with a dominatrix just yet…

Before dinner, the company came together to consider what we should write in the Millcombe House Visitors Book (or Log, as it was rather nautically named).  To maintain the theme of the weekend, I hurriedly composed a limerick on the cheery topic of mass murder (reproduced below) and we added to this a (N)YTMG sticker: you always have to be thinking about the brand!

Seven friends once came to Lundy

Only one of them went home on Monday

The lack of axes or saw

Made disposal a chore

Dismembered; might they be found one day?

For our formal dinner, aided by my willing commis chefs, I prepared a mushroom and leek risotto followed by a luxurious bread-and-butter pudding with a marmalade twist.  The latter was a bit of a worry as (a) I was using a half-remembered recipe serving two which I had lost more than a decade earlier and (b) H had revealed her anathema for the conjoining of bread and butter in unholy matrimony (though was fine when either partnered with other foodstuffs or in an open relationship).  Lit by flickering candlelight and seated in the formal dining room, the group’s last supper was a huge success: perhaps aided by none of the guests banging on about some form of highly personal, if metaphorical, anthropophagy.  Everyone claimed to enjoy the food – even the bread-and-butter pud – and, had I made more, I reckon it too would have been willingly consumed.

Following dinner, C, N, D and J returned to the Marisco Tavern to play their second gig.  I found myself too tired after the day’s excitement, and opportunities to show off, and decided to stay home in front of the fire.  A and H joined me for a little beer and conversation. It was during this rather languorous evening that H was afflicted with her own prolonged sequence of out-gassing incidents.  Shortly thereafter, she and A repaired to bed and I remained to finish my beer and yet more loose leaf Assam tea. It was also now that I enjoyed my own brief encounter with our pygmy shrew housemate: who I have named Scamper (in honour of an earlier Secret Seven).

I think we must at this point address my own growing addiction to loose-leaf Assam tea.  I do consume this at home, but limit myself to two cups per day and never partake after 6pm.  In both cases, these restrictions are not purely budgetary but relate to my chronic insomnia and concerns about the impact of caffeine on my, already compromised, ability to sleep.  On Lundy, I was approaching 10 cups a day (with consumption still rising) and was drinking it all evening – with no obvious adverse effect on my sleep. I fear for my beverage budget going forward, freed as my consumption now is from all restraint…

Once again, I found myself laying me down to rest with Aunt Agatha: inertia is a powerful force!  As I prepared myself to be encircled by the comforting arms of Morpheus, I found myself reflecting (oh, the irony!) that there is a real danger of me becoming some kind of vampire, sucking the youthful vigour from those many years my junior.  Despite my antiquity, I realised that I had spent most of the weekend not with my housemates of roughly similar age but with the much more youthful (chronologically at least) A and H. Am I in denial of my middle age (and not even its early stages)?  Or is it just that sharing a sense of humour and mischief is a bigger signifier than age? The improv attitude that when presented with a stupid idea saying “yes, and…” is gloriously, and foolishly, empowering! At a time of inter-generational warfare (which I suspect does not distinguish it from any other time), I shall try and view my hanging out with the young as important missionary (or ambassadorial) work and not as desperately creepy.  I like to imagine that further adventures, worthy of serialisation, await our cabal of three (assuming we survive the night)…

The Lundiary: Lunday Too

I would certainly make no claims to be a wise man and this gift would probably not be considered suitable for a king, but on this eve of Epiphany I bring the next instalment of the Lundiary!

For those of you returning to work after two weeks away, indulging in the modern rituals of midwinter, this could provide a much needed, alternative topic of conversation…

Lunday Too

In which our hero travels to the utmost north, the island’s peace is rent by un coup de vent and a crime is committed…

I was first to leave my room and head downstairs in hope of breaking my nightly fast.  Having fortified myself with a cup of loose-leaf Assam tea, I thought I should unload the dishwasher to make myself useful to the group – and avoid an early eviction.  This did not go to plan as it quickly became clear that the dishwasher had made no attempt to live up to its name. A little investigation showed that the machine had been run using a 6 hour delay, which had taken it into the period during which the island has no power.  A little button stabbing and I was able to turn off the delay and the gurgling music of robotic washing-up began.

H was next down and revealed an unexpected vein of asceticism with her preferred breakfast of dry bread: though she did eventually move towards hedonism with the addition of a fried egg.  We were then joined by A and his complex experiments with a cafetiere and the island’s 3-bean-strong coffee. This appeared to be 3 beans out of a possible 5 on what I presumed to be a linear scale: though I suppose it could have been logarithmic (or even exponential).  As a non-coffee drinker, I found I was unprepared for the degree of ceremony and complexity of process needed to deliver an acceptable cup: I wouldn’t have been surprised had a pipette been produced and some titration performed. I think the final formula was to use 5/3 of the normal amount of coffee: which seemed a simpler solution than the rather time-consuming methodology had suggested.

Eventually, everybody appeared – indicating no deaths or unexplained disappearances during the night – and breakfasted in their own way before we headed off in our various directions to explore the island.  

Having already been south on Lunday, I determined to explore the far north, via the east coast where possible, to attempt to see some of the fauna advertised in the previous evening’s talk.  After leaving downtown Lundy, I first passed the ruins of the island’s hospital which was now being used by the local wild ponies as a place to graze. I couldn’t help wondering if I had been granted a vision of the future of health care on the mainland…

I didn’t see a fellow human being for a good 90 minutes – and then only at a distance – which was a joy, if unexpected on such a small island.  Instead, I saw some stunning scenery and most of the larger fauna of the island, all of which – with the exception of the Lundy ponies – were equipped with horns.  I must admit to being slightly disappointed that in their commitment to horned beasts, the island’s previous owners had somehow missed out on the unicorn: which, legend has it, would have been drawn to me (and my ilk).

I was also treated to some stunning coastal views and made several attempts to stare at the island’s beaches through my rather inferior binoculars – I think they may actually make it harder to see things in the distance – in the hopes of seeing an amusingly named seal: I seem to recall one was named for a bite-mark on its buttocks (I assume as a mammal, a seal would have at least vestigial buttocks).  I became good at convincing myself that various vaguely seal-shaped rocks were alive, but I don’t think I can honestly say that a saw an actual seal.

As I was alone, I was fully able to indulge my inner child: heading out onto every granite outcrop, running joyfully over the more even ground and leaping from rock to rock like a somewhat arthritic mountain goat.  Had there been drifts of autumn leaves, I would have kicked my way through them: sadly there are few trees and both they and the island struggle to retain their leaves given its propensity to strong wind.

Eventually, I reached the far north and it’s associated lighthouse and, as I did so, the sun burst through the cloud cover.  I spent many happy minutes sat on a seat (or flatish slab) of granite (which had retained less of the heat of its formation than I might have hoped) watching the waves crash against the island and several of its smaller rocky neighbours.  It was very easy to imagine a ship being wrecked against its shores: as I fully intended to get wrecked in the Marisco Tavern later that evening. 

Shortly after leaving the lighthouse, I bumped into A+H who had headed north via the west coast.  I joined them to return to the northern light and we then started the walk back towards the pub and some hope of a late lunch.  Our yomp back did involve a few diversions to look at sights of interest, including Tibbetts: a house which once acted as a look-out for the Admiralty and which visitors can stay in (though I’d warn you it possesses neither running water nor electrons and is a goodly hike from the pub).  As we stood in the early afternoon sun, admiring the view to the east, it was noted that the air was totally still and that the island was eerily silent. With impeccable comic timing, A’s digestive tract chose that precise moment to let forth a great burst of flatus (via the lower of the two potential output ports) irrevocably rupturing the peace: first with its own trumpet blast and, shortly thereafter, with laughter and recriminations.  I feel this is likely to become the defining incident of the expedition and I fully expect the promontory between Gull Rock and Halfway Bay to be renamed in honour of this coup de vent.

When the laughter finally died down, we continued back towards the pub – pausing to say hello to the huge pigs, who I assume are unaware that the island shop sells ‘Lundy bacon’ – and a much needed lunch.  At the pub, I was tempted to introduce us as ‘travellers from the north country’ but I’m afraid the expression on the barman’s face rather put me off such frivolity,

Foodwise, I went for the soup and cheesy chips, on the basis that little could go wrong with the preparation of either item.  A chose the ‘Lundy pizza’: in theory this was like a normal pizza but one that was transitioning towards a new life as a calzone, giving it a shape slightly similar to that of the island.  In practice, this item would not have been out of place in the armoury of any Discworld Dwarf, easily matching the Battle Bread of B’hrian Bloodaxe in its potential use in a combat situation.  Dropped from a new centimetres onto its plate it sounded like a hunk of granite – which I assume was one of its key ingredients – and threatened to break the plate. Manfully (or driven by hunger), A managed to consume a surprising portion of this very hardtack: amazingly without any obvious loss of dentition.

It was during lunch that H commented on my NHS glasses: these were Rayban specs which I had previously considered to be rather cool.  H attempted to convince me that NHS glasses were now viewed as peng by the young folk, but I fear the damage has been done and I will never be able to look at them in the same way again (though will continue to look through them).

We then headed back home to rest and recoup after our exertions.  A and I attempted to create man’s red flower using the rather limited remaining kindling and the coal briquettes which had been acquired from the shop on Lunday.  Whilst the kindling would burn, it somehow managed to so without creating any heat; unhelpful both for the fire’s human audience or any real hope of encouraging the briquettes to start burning.  We did consider sacrificing some of the less critical furniture to the project but (possibly) wiser counsels prevailed. We were also hindered in our twisted fire-starting by the rather porous nature of the bag of the bellows provided: their provision of air was decidedly asthmatic.  A eventually got some sort of meagre heat from the stove but its range was limited to a few inches.

In the evening, we all went up to the Marisco Tavern for dinner: a much more successful meal than lunch and none of the food could easily double as a throwing weapon.  It also gave us a chance to use the library (which lay around us as we ate) to do some further research into the island and its history. I must admit to feeling that they were a little short on decent geology texts.

The rest of the party, being actual musicians, had brought their instruments to the bar and played a session in the main bar (this had been previously agreed, it wasn’t a very small scale flashmob).  The music was great fun and seem to go down well with our fellow islanders: indeed, the band was invited back the following evening. A band should always have a name, and a A, H and I came up with a number of options: I think Heinkels Go Down was my favourite (perhaps as it reminds me of directoire knickers which I believe were known as Messerschmitts during the last war as they “came down without a fight”).  I can only ponder what 40s undergarment was referred to as a Heinkel). Another contender, was Loose Ladies of Lundy though I fear my surrender to the alcoholic temptations of the tavern has rather blurred my memory of the reasons why… 

The fireplace in the Marisco Tavern was merrily blazing, albeit exhausting rather more of its smoke into the pub rather than into the night air.  By its side, was a huge basket of kindling and another of hardwood logs and the like. These proved an irresistible temptation with A using the diversion created by the music to liberate a couple of chunks of likely looking wood and concealing them in my rucksack.  So, in many ways, I acted as the getaway driver for this daring raid: or act of xylarceny as I am calling it.

The young folk (A, H and I: the last only fitting the description if it is considered in geological terms) left before the music had finished to avoid ending up entirely kippered.  We also had a yen to look upon (and consume) some ale that was a little less brown: we had some bottles of Lundy Single Hop Pale Ale from Madrigal Brewery awaiting us in Millcombe House.  We also made an attempt to break-up the first of our recently acquired wood into a more usable form to get the fire going. The wood was cloven into smaller chunks using the sub-optimal equipment available in the kitchen (I once again regretted leaving my axe at home) but the results in the stove were disappointing.  As we lounged in the sitting room, in front of the merest hint of fire, A + H saw a pygmy shrew scamper across the room and then disappear: perhaps into a network of secret tunnels which are riddled throughout the house?

Tiredness made it desirable to head for our respective beds and I found myself without the energy to change room, so I once again slept in Christie: awaiting the inevitable murder…. 

As the days of the week return to their normal order, the adventures of the selected seven will continue next Sunday…