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…

The Lundiary: Lunday!

In this strange temporal limbo, which I have seen best called ‘Winterregnum’, where days do not seem to follow each other in their usual, disciplined manner, I almost failed to realise that today is – technically – Sunday.

This means it is time for the next instalment of the Lundiary when finally the fabled isle is reached…

Lunday

In which our hero arrives on the island, talks geology and cooks dinner.  Nobs are hobbed and a warden is heckled…

Rising early(ish), I betook myself of an exceeding hearty breakfast: when I’m paying for bed and breakfast, there is only so much I can use the bed – particularly given my chronic insomnia – and so need to maximise my value through the breakfast portion of the deal.

It was then time to continue north and west to the very edge of the land in order to cross the water to Lundy.  This short journey did offer the observant passenger a couple of items of interest.

  • A sign to Griffin Loveland: given the current shortage of living lion-eagle hybrids, I must assume this business is not proving a financial success.
  • A small wooden hut selling jam (and chutney) which I’m afraid left me singing (a slightly modified) version of the 1990 hit by Beats International: Dub Be Good to Me

Tank fly boss walk jam nitty gritty

You’re listening to the boy from the big bad city

This is jam hut!  This is jam hut!

And then we made it to the edge of the land, the Grey Havens of North Devon, to be greeted not by Círdan the Shipwright, but by A and H: the two last members of the Fellowship who had driven down that morning and had been the first to arrive on site.

The Hartland Point Heliport was rather more agricultural than I had been imagining.  It comprised 3 or 4 wooden sheds and a field, which at the time was playing host to a small herd of cows.  The bovine occupants of the facility seem to take the comings and goings of a noisy helicopter very phlegmatically.  The chopper flits back and forth from the mainland to Lundy throughout the day until all the necessary passengers and cargo have been transferred in each direction.

Check-in included a weigh-in for the passengers, unlike the airlines I usually fly with who only check the rest mass of their luggage.  Very fully clothed, to reduce the weight of my luggage, and in my hiking boots I came in at a very reasonable 80kg. This turned out to be a very useful weight as it was precisely what was needed to complete the carrying capacity of the second flight of the day: and the first flight available to a mere civilian.

While my own check-in went smoothly, poor A despite being the first man, measured by both name and arrival time, had his check-in “lost”.  As a result, he found himself spending many hours of (low) quality time in a hut at Hartland before being carried to the island on the last flight of the day – some 4 hours after my own departure.  My mind turns, as it does on such occasions, to Matthew 20:16.

Oddly, A is not my only friend who appears to be all-too-forgettable and has only a fugitive existence in the minds of others.  Am I drawn to forgettable people? Or am I somehow draining them of the ability to become fixed in the memories of their fellows?  Is this another facet of my terrible humanity: am I literally being memorable by eliminating all competing memories in the minds of those who meet me?

In the relatively brief period I was detained at Hartland, and after the largely inaudible safety video, ironically drowned out by the noise of the very chopper it was trying to keep us safe in, I found myself in conversation with A and H.  It was noted that the lanes of North Devon looked the kind of place where the fae might be encountered and mention was made of hobgoblins. This led to speculation as to the meaning of the modifier “hob” to the word “goblin”. Facetiously, I suggested it meant “hot” (from my extensive knowledge of the kitchen) which somehow led to speculation about the hobnob – which would clearly by a nob at, or close to, the point of maximal excitement (as well as a biscuit).   I couldn’t help but notice that, at this point, several members of the Fellowship began to worry about spending 72 hours trapped on a small island with a mind that could so readily (and rapidly) move every conversational gambit towards the gutter.

However, there was no time to dwell on such matters, as I was called to another shed to have my luggage weighed before boarding the chopper.  This is always a nervous moment as I lack functional scales for the appropriate weight range. We were allowed 10kg of hold luggage and 5kg of hand luggage (which also goes in the hold) and my total luggage barely made it to 5kg.  I couldn’t help feeling that this represented a waste of 10kg of allowance, an amount which could cover a good 16 pints of Steam Town West Coast IPA (to give but one example).

The brief flight was a glorious thing: the helicopter is so much more elegant as a way to travel than the aeroplane.  There is none of the desperate hurling a chunk of metal down a runway and then straining into the air. There is just a gentle lifting followed by a lean back and then forward.  The ride is quite noisy, but I think I shall insist on all my future airborne journeys being made by helicopter. 

After a mere 10 minutes, I emerged, blinking, into another (cow-free) field and was given back my hand luggage.  I was now committed to spending the next 72 hours on the island – I was trapped! – and probably had a fair wait until the rest of the expedition arrived.  It was 11:30 on Friday morning and I (felt like I) was monarch of all I surveyed!

Checking into the ‘office’, I discovered that our house would be ready in about 20 minutes, so performed some reconnaissance of the main conurbation on Lundy.  OK, I had a look around the pub, The Marisco Tavern (which also serves as the restaurant, library, departure lounge, lecture theatre etc), which was not yet serving beer, and the surprisingly well-stocked shop and started planning possible menus for the weekend.  It was then time to wander down the steep path to the Georgian splendour which is Millcombe House which was to be my home for the next 3 nights.

It was great to be able to explore the house on my own: it has a large kitchen-diner, a formal dining room, a sitting room and a drawing room: from which there were views of the sea.  There were also four bathrooms of various forms and seven bedrooms plus a utility room. The drawing room held a fully functional brass bell, I assume recovered from a shipwreck, which clearly I was compelled to ring (and I was not alone in this compulsion).  The house also had, mounted – in pride of place – on the landing above the stairs, the creepiest painting of small children I have ever seen. Luckily, I understand the tropes of horror movies and was reassured that I am not an attractive blonde (and haven’t been for nearly 50 years) while quietly cancelling any plans to visit an unlit cellar on my own.

After a couple of hours spreading my DNA to every room of the house (don’t be too swift to judge, we are all constantly shedding our dead cellular coating), I was finally joined by H: the second of our party to make it to the island.  The rest were on much later flights so, after showing off the delights of my new new demesne to my first subject, we went for a stroll down to the landing stage (where in the summer, visitors arrive by boat) and up to the southern lighthouse (one of three on the island).  This walk took in some excellent views and some rather fine rock formations. Thanks to some light Wikipedia reading in the week prior to the expedition, and some remnants of my schoolboy knowledge of geology (from a time when, it must be admitted, the rocks were quite a lot fresher than they are today), I was able to provide some vaguely reliable geological input to the conversation.  Well, I could at least safely recognise the granite and slate portions of the island…

Not too long after our return, almost everyone else made it to the house and we headed up the shop for victuals before it closed.  The decision was made to eat “in” for two evenings and breakfast and eat “out” for lunch and the third evening. Given that there would be no fresh supply-drop to the shop until we left the island, I felt it important to “stock up” our larder.  I quickly cornered the island’s entire supply of cooking apples (well, if I’m honest, apple) and most of its eaters too. Sadly, I fear we may wind up eating my position: rather than converting it into massive profits. We returned to Millcombe, laden with food and wine, to finally be reunited with A – and soon after our hold luggage was delivered to our door by Land Rover.  Again, FlyBe could learn a thing or two here – not forgetting A, but home delivery of one’s heavier luggage (again, not a reference to A).

With everyone safely arrived, it was time to pick a bedroom (all of which were named).  As the only unattached (both to another human and my sanity) member of the expedition, I found myself with a choice of four rooms.  For the first night, I have chosen Christie: probably not named for Agatha, but with an odd number of people in the same house on an island off the coast of Devon, and with murder in the air (or at least on my mind), it seemed appropriate….  

Rooms chosen and some initial unpacking accomplished, we walked back up the valley to the Marisco Tavern to check out the beer offering (two shades of brown – I don’t think the good news about hops has made it to North Devon or the island, yet – but entirely potable) and to learn something of the island and its fauna thanks to a talk by one of the wardens.  I found myself at the back of the lecture room, sharing the ‘naughty’ table with A and H. Having already explored a little of the island, and seen a fox moth caterpillar, H and I felt able to contribute some positive interjections to the talk and ask cogent questions. H though went somewhat off-piste when, following the discovery that the island contained the remains of a pair of Heinkel He111 bombers, asking what we should do if the Germans arrived.  The poor warden seemed somewhat nonplussed by this query and suggested the coastguard be contacted. In an attempt to save a slightly embarrassing situation, I suggested that as members of the European Union they would be entirely welcome: well for the next few weeks at least. A diplomatic incident narrowly averted, the remainder of the talk proceeded along less controversial lines.

While the talk focused on the island’s fauna, reference was also made to its very wide range of fungal inhabitants: more than 60 species and still counting!  While it is most famous (like Barbour) for its wax caps, it does boast a number of highly poisonous fungi. As a child, I was something of an expert on deadly fungi (and plants) but sadly have failed to remember whether their use is traceable during a post mortem and have no access to the internet to check at the moment….

All this learning helped to build an appetite, so it was time to return to Millcombe and for me to don my virtual toque and dust off my internal Profanisaurus.  I do enjoy cooking for others, but rarely do so as I’m usually out of an evening: perhaps I should introduce the five course breakfast (with wine) as a concept? (Though I fear it could impact adversely on productivity for the rest of the day.)  One of the joys of cooking in such a large kitchen, with only limited forms of alternative entertainment available, was that I had plenty of volunteers to take on the role of commis chef. Cooking is even more fun when someone else does all the tedious chopping et al while I can focus on supervision and standing over a hot stove looking imperious.  I believe I offered H her first exposure to rubbing in, an experience she seemed to relish.

There proved to be a small challenge to my cookery as while the kitchen was very well stocked, it did lack any scales.  There was a sort of measuring cone, but one labelled with relatively obscure ingredients. I think there must, once, have been another primary cone, but the cone that remained gave no clue as to what volume of flour or caster sugar represented 4oz but had you totally covered for cornflour and icing sugar.  I was forced to muddle through, taking a guess at the relative density of related dry goods of different granularities.

We ate in the kitchen and the food seemed to go down pretty well: nothing like hunger to reduce the critical faculties, well hunger and plentiful red wine!  My quorn-based spaghetti bolognese was pretty successful, though if I had my time again I’d have used a third tin of plum tomatoes to increase the sauce to spaghetti ratio.  My apple and summer fruits crumble was, frankly, a triumph though the few remnants clinging to the dish proved hard to dislodge.

For our second dinner in, it was decided that we would make use of the formal dining room, which would give us all a chance to make use of the formal wear we’d brought to the island.  In jest, I did propose that I could roast a nut – an injury oft associated with over hobbing of a nob – but practical considerations, lack of a memorised recipe and the contents of the island’s shop, meant that I will need to come up with a more sensible plan. 

Leaving my team to set the dishwasher(!) in motion, we retired to the sitting room to consume beer and attempt to make both music and fire (I know where my expertise lies and stuck to the beer).  We were all safely tucked up in our respective beds (so far as I know, I think any swinging was limited to the music) before the power went off on the island at midnight. I myself shall attempt to sleep, despite some concerns about grinning, blue-eyed Aryan toddlers gruesomely murdering me while I am unconscious…

By next Sunday. the week should have returned to a more regular rhythm and GofaDM will regale its readers with further island adventures…

The Lundiary: Lunday Eve

In the real world, the frenzied preparations for Frankenmas are reaching their climax – amidst the traditional worries that the festival has become too commercial and that we’ve lost its true, horrifying meaning.  I myself may put up my Frankenmas tree later today, decorating it with silvery lightning bolts and, indeed, actual bolts.  Meanwhile, here at GofaDM, it is Sunday which means its time to turn off your phones and out the cat: this is no time for interruptions.  Yes, it’s time to settle down in a comfy chair for the next, thrilling instalment of the Lundiary…

Lunday Eve

In which our hero travels to darkest North Devon and starts a narrative….

The day started much as any other: filled with the quotidien elements of normal life admin along with the emails, MS Office documents and conference calls that make up my soi-disant working life.  Meals were a tad more eccentric than usual as I attempted to use up any scraps (some fairly sizeable) that seemed unlikely to survive in a viable state in my fridge while I was away.  I do feel that refrigerator hygiene is very important for any life to be considered truly civilised!

The morning was also spent with one eye on the weather forecast and another on my mental state as I finalised the packing for the expedition.  How could I best optimise the balance between warm and waterproof clothing? How much entertainment in the form of books (physical and electronic), podcasts, music and episodes of Only Connect and various BBC4 documentaries would I need to maintain my fragile grasp on sanity?  As a friend had noted the previous day, I would be alone on the island (other than for my friends and its other occupants: human and otherwise) with just my demons for company.  There would be none of my usual psychological props: cultural events or my continuing commitment to make the internet a stranger (and in my view, better) place.

Eventually, the die was cast and I just had to hope that my decisions would prove to be sound and enough to avoid my being airlifted from the island in a strait-jacket…

Despite my antiquity and two (count them, two) Geography O Levels, I am constantly surprised how far this country stretches to the west of Southampton. In consequence, I was rather glad that C+N had offered to fit me into their car for the drive into the setting sun: the distance to cover was rather larger than anything I have attempted in a single run for many years.  A significant chunk of this journey took place on the fabled A303: which I like to think of as the West Country’s answer to Route 66 – though it has yet to be celebrated in song (to the best of my knowledge), just in the name of a rifle. Thankfully, hold-ups were only modest – nobody wants to see a bare road – and so we reached our overnight billet in time for a sensibly-timed dinner.

We were staying in the Hoops Inn, a hostelry which worked hard to conceal its basketball theme from the casual visitor, in a settlement called Horns Cross.  Coming so soon after another settlement called Fairy Cross, I did start to wonder if the denizens of North Devon have some unresolved anger issues.

The Inn offered a very decent dinner: the rack of vegetables was particularly fine.  Don’t judge me, sometimes you do need to use enhanced interrogation techniques to get the best from a courgette.  The meals did have one little foible: every course (except desert – though I did only sample a single exemplar) was accompanied by a small mound of rocket.  Not just any mound, the rocket had clearly been pressed into a ramekin (or similar chalice) in order to hold a specific shape. I promptly decided to rename the inn as the Rocket and Ramekin  to more accurately capture its unique vibe: let’s face it, it had never really committed to the NBA.

It was over dinner that I first properly read the information pack about the island and where we would be staying: some might say this was a trifle late in the process.  It was the inventory that particularly piqued my interest. In a kitchen which seemed very thoroughly stocked with utensils, cutlery and crockery the inventory went out of its way to make clear that neither axes nor saws were provided.  By this stage, it was clearly too late to bring my own. This was clearly going to make dismembering the bodies significantly more of a chore…

Later in the evening D+J joined us, having had a few navigational issues on their journey to the west.  Equanimity had been restored by the time of their arrival and we shared a few (rather brown) ales together before retiring for the night.

My room at the inn was pretty decent, though the window proved unwilling to close (and I had no access to Task Manager to force matters).  As I lay supine in my bed, with the open window to my left and a hard-working radiator to my right, there was quite the thermal gradient across the room.  Despite this potential for the spontaneous generation of within-room weather, I slept pretty decently by my standards.

I believe I can promise that, next Sunday, the diary will actually make landfall on Lundy: stay tuned…

The Spirit of Frankenmas

While it would seem that I am writing as we enjoy a brief interlude, perhaps while the celestial cistern is refilled (frankly, I think the directing deity should probably be looking at the ballcock), I find myself living through a period of permanent precipitation.  As the waters rise around me, it is proving a little tricky to manoeuvre my mind into some semblance of the appropriate festive spirit.  The default faith of these isles does seem to lack a suitably watery festival: its key books do mention that a small sea was parted and a stormy lake quieted, but I don’t recall much mention of rain or broader climatic change in my Religious Studies O Level syllabus.  I can’t help feeling that there is a gap in the market here for any worshippers of Tlaloc to fill…

A week today, I shall be driving east to spend the statutory days with my family: and this year it will be nice to be to do this without a medical emergency as the inciting incident.  So, I have roughly 168 hours left to complete my welcome of the three Christmas spirits into my life (and sober up afterwards to enable safe and legal command of a motor vehicle).

One of my attempts has involved my continued creation of a range of chilli-infused Frankenfoods.  I am now on the third incarnation of my Frankenballs (or Frankenkugeln, for the more Teutonic reader) which are my hot-take on the chocolate truffle: I like to imagine that these would be a suitable offering to Tlaloc (though should perhaps be more cartioid in form to satisfy his particular predilections).  In order to retain the childish joy of offering people my balls, it has been important that I should be able to form my ganache into broadly spherical sweetmeats.  This has proven quite the challenge!

My first attempt involved rolling the chilled ganache in my hands.  To prevent sticking, my hands were pre-chilled (under the cold tap, rather than detached and placed in the freezer) and coated in cocoa: this was an abject failure.  For some reason, my body chooses to run my hands very hot (there would seem to be no major issues with my circulation: though it might explain my generally inability to gain weight) and so they quickly overcame any cooling and almost instantly melted the cocoa.  As a result, my balls were horribly amorphous and my hands became increasingly coated in melted cocoa and ganache.  As I dislike my hands getting dirty, this was not an enjoyable process and the balls grew ever larger as I attempted to bring the process to an earlier conclusion.  This would have been my last attempt to make Frankenballs had they not been so annoyingly moreish…

For the second attempt, I acquired a double-headed melon baller and dipped this in boiling water to improve its ability to cut through the cooled ganache.  This produced more even balls, though there is a definite knack to using the baller which became trickier as the remaining material became more distributed round the bowl.  However, the large problem was with the second head.  While head #1 struggled to cut through the chilled ganache, head #2 found it all too easy to cut through the flesh of my right hand.  I think I managed to keep my life blood from entering the ball-mix but they did come perilously close to going “full Aztec”.  I’ve also found that all the thinking about a baller that this project generated has left me with Skee-Lo‘s 1995 hip-hop hit stuck in my head.  Despite considerable thought, I remain unable to see how a rabbit in a hat, even one with a bat, fits into the broader life goals set out in his treatise.

Once again, after the second attempt, my thought was to leave ganache and move on with my life.   However, a chance pub conversation suggested that without a chilli-heavy starter, the Frankenballs could be a tad eye-watering and they could use an additional buffering agent.  Somehow, the idea of adding spiced rum to the ganache arose, in what passes for my mind, to creative a more festive set of balls.  I researched a range of alternative recipes to try and come up with a less stiff ganache and also acquired a single-headed baller with a thick, padded shaft.  And so we came to the Mark III: this used a different (butter-free) recipe and was chilled less severely which I think created a slightly looser ganache.  It might have been a smidge too loose, next time I shall chill it for longer, but the combination of a thicker shaft and my improving wrist action led to a very satisfactory conclusion.  I also feel that the addition of rum helped to tame the Frankenballs blood-lust: my hands even stayed mostly clean!  Having sampled the more deformed, early attempts with the baller, I can report that the Mark IIIs are dangerously delicious: people may find themselves unable to keep their hands off my balls (should I ever release them to a wider audience)…

However, it struck me that chocolate is more associated with a later festival and the current season is more about dried fruit.  (Well, that and Frankenscents – but my signature, chilli-based perfume will have to wait for next year.)  So I decided I should attempt a Frankenmas cake: this would be like the more traditional Christmas cake but the marzipan and icing would be replaced by chilli.  I feel this is a good time of year to celebrate Frankenmas as the original story by Mary Shelley is very much about a birth; though Easter could also work as it is, in many ways, also about a resurrection.

It must be a good 30 years since I last made a rich fruit cake but I found a plausible looking recipe to adapt and gave it a go.  The recipe was basically very simple, though did require the tin to be double-lined (rather annoyingly labour intensive) and to be wrapped in two layers of newspaper!  I haven’t taken a physical newspaper in years, so it had to make do with some A4 work print-outs awaiting shredding.  While the Frankenmas cake cooked, the flat was suffused with the most glorious aroma: it was like Father Frankenmas was in the room.  On its emergence from the oven, in its best business casual, the cake smelled divine: it was all I could do not to drool.  Instead, I allowed it to cool and fed it with spiced rum before wrapping it and putting it away to mature.  Only after a couple of weeks, on Tuesday, did I take it to the Swing Steady Session at the Guide Dog to be eaten and act as an interval refresher.  For me, it was everything I want in a cake – moist, chilli-infused and mostly alcoholic fruit – but it also seemed to go down well with the swingers.  I have already made a Bride of Frankenmas cake for later, but have also considered stockpiling Aldi’s Specially Selected Brandy Infused Fruit Mix – which I consider a key element of its success – to last me through the next eleven months…  Let’s face it, I think we are going to need all the brandy infused fruit we can lay our hands on!

I have not just been relying on food to prepare for the twenty-fifth.  I’ve been to a couple of gigs with a seasonal flavour.  For example, last Friday I headed out to the edge of the land to the Lookout at Lepe – a very superior beach hut – for Sound Level Events‘ monthly residency.  On paper (or a screen), this was in many ways a dream line-up of local musicians for me: Tenderlore, Jack Francis and Bad Cat.  With some Christmas-infused numbers added into their usual repertoire and an appreciative audience, this has to go down as one of my top gigs of 2019.  It was a ridiculous amount of fun and I was sober(!) throughout.  I’d had to drive to the gig as Lepe is not accessible by public transport on a winter Friday evening and it was rather a long bike ride in torrential rain.  Still, it is good to know I can have musical fun without the aid of alcohol, I drank tea and ate cake to support the venue in lieu of my usual drunken excess…

Inspired by the message of the Muppet Christmas Carol, last night I took the bus to a very wet Bishopstoke for the festive Folk and Acoustic Session at Steam Town Brewery.   Despite the sad lack of West Coast IPA, I had loads of fun joining in with a bunch of seasonal songs and, coincidentally, discovering that the guitar chords for most lay well within my grasp (I just need to add a suitable G7 into my repertoire: which I vaguely remember Mr Owen teaching me back in 1978, that and English).  I may have to take my instrument east next Wednesday to ‘entertain’ my family: that’ll teach ’em!

I think after my traditional viewing of Arthur Christmas and, perhaps, of Die Hard, added to some more festive food and a few gallons of mulled wine, my festive spirit may be ready to peak in the middle of next week.  I shall aim to do Father Frankenmas and his monster proud!

The Lundiary: Prologue

It is Sunday, which must mean that it is time for the first instalment of the Lundiary!  Before we enter the Lundiary proper, today we have the prologue…

The Lundiary: The Prologue

In which we set out pertinent background information to allow the reader to understand the diary entries that follow.  We will also seek, insofar as possible, to establish the state of mind of the protagonist before he sets out on the expedition.

The writings presented below are taken verbatim from a leather-bound diary discovered, by a member of the island’s maintenance staff, concealed in the cellar of one of the houses on Lundy.  The document had clearly deteriorated with age and some text had been lost as a result of rodent damage: hungry shrews are the most likely culprit. The handwriting is generally of a poor quality.  In some places, the Institute has attempted to interpolate missing or unclear letters or words. At least one page had been savagely torn from the document, the destruction apparently contemporary with its creation.  Given what was allowed to survive, the crimes (or puns) that appeared on this page must have been of a truly shocking nature.  

The reader must bear in mind that the document was written in November of 2019 and reflects the very different morals and social mores that existed in that far gone age.  We should perhaps try and view the writer as a product of his pre-lapsarian time: he may appear monstrous today but may have been able to pass as normal in his own era.

Our research in the archives that survive from the time indicates that the expedition was not planned or organised by the writer but rather by the person referred to as “C” in the diary.  In the end, seven travellers set out on the expedition – all of them known to the writer, but some clearly had closer acquaintance with the writer than others in advance of the events which unfold in the diary.

From his other writings, it is clear that the diarist was in two minds whether to join the expedition and only finally committed very late in the day.  It is unclear whether the diarist himself truly understood his motivations. The following rationalisations for not going appear to have been in play right up to the fateful decision:

  • A desire not to miss a range of interesting gigs in Southampton and the first weekend of the Cambridge Jazz Festival;
  • Concerns about a sudden deterioration in the condition of one or both of his parents;
  • A fear that he would be unable to conceal his true nature from his fellow travellers over the course of a long weekend, trapped on a small island.  Would his monstrous nature – previously concealed by regularly admitting its existence – finally be revealed?

In the end, two lines of thought appear to have been key in his decision to travel:

  • The fear of missing out on the adventures and narratives that would develop on the island; and
  • The fabled nature of the isle itself, appearing as it did, for so many years, in the late-night litany of the Shipping Forecast.

We now present the re-constructed diary.  It is written throughout in the first person and while some of the events described can be independently corroborated, the author should be viewed as an unreliable narrator.

The first instalment of the diary proper will be published next Sunday…

Perchance to dream

I should perhaps start by stating that I have no real reason to predict my imminent demise: though I shall leave you, the reader, to decide whether my toes will soon be turning up and my clack rattled.

Looking at the weather forecast, I could be swept or blown away today: a particular concern given my rather high surface area to mass ratio.  I’m also struggling to shift some form of cold-like infection from my lungs – and yesterday’s cold snap, brief though it was, did little to help – but I’m not expecting this to carry me off.  Similarly, there is no reason to believe that the multiple cuts to my right hand incurred attempting to form chilli-chocolate truffles (or Frankenkugeln as I have named them) with a melon baller are life threatening: merely annoying.

Nor am I planning to indulge in any unusually risky activities in the near term.  I will not, for example, be sharing a photo of my sweetheart with any trench-mates while claiming that we plan to be wed as soon as this war is over and I return to Blighty/Omaha, probably before Christmas.  I may be an idiot but I am no fool…

No, the primary intimation of impending mortality was the decision of my rather tired brain, bouncing as it was between insomnia and hypnogogia, to flash my entire life before my (closed) eyes.  Well, I say ‘my entire life’ but large chunks had clearly been forgotten beyond recall and some rather curious editorial decisions had been made about the memories that were retained.  A largely uneventful walk home from Honor Oak Park to Crystal Palace in the early 90s was given far more screen time than it justified while more major life, and interesting, events were rather rushed through.  The replay also took place in an order far from chronological: which was somewhat confusing to me and would have been incomprehensible to any other viewer.  I shall not be allowing my subconscious to write, edit or direct my life story!

My actions in many parts of this showreel were frankly mystifying to the current me, but were true (insofar as any memory can be thought of as true) records of past events.  I was struck by how useless and unworldly the young me was: which contrasts rather unfavourably with the young people I know today.  Other memories suggested a stronger strand of consistency in the self than I usually recognise: despite overcoming much of my original programming, I have changed less than I sometimes like to imagine.

In popular fiction, such a flashback – poorly constructed as it was – should be an almost immediate precursor to the sweet embrace of death.  However, in my case, I have had time to get up, eat breakfast, carry out some work for my employers and now write a blog post and still seem to be numbered among the quick.  Either this is another oddly vivid and detailed – and very dull – memory being recalled or this veil of tears may be stuck with me for longer than I was expecting.  In the latter case, I can only apologise for raising your hopes…