Warm woollen mittens

Despite the title, I do not bear much love for any form of hand-sheath – despite some of my ancestors making their living from glove making (the “g” is, to the best of my knowledge, not silent: though late Georgian Chester may have been a hotbed of licentiousness…).  I would prefer a world in which gloves and mittens could be completely replaced by the firm stuffing of my hands into my pockets: which, as a man, I can reliably anticipate having available, unless sailing rather closer to nudity than is generally considered acceptable in a public space.  Sadly, there are occasions when I need to use my hands – and I suppose my even older ancestors did embrace bipedalism, at least in part, to free their hands and may not appreciate my attempts to turn back the evolutionary clock when its a bit nippy out.  My greatest need to use the glove maker’s art is when cycling, as I am not one of the cool kids who can operate a bicycle ‘hands-free’, but need to have both hands firmly on their bars where wind chill further reduces the temperatures being experienced by my out-of-pocket fingers.

No, I am alluding to the librettical output of Oscar Hammerstein II (“This Time Its Lyrical) but popularised by Julie Andrews during a thunderstorm.  What I had failed to realise, until researching this post, is that old Oscar had a rather fine collection of middle names: between the “Oscar” and the “Hammerstein” his parents managed to fit the words “Greeley Clendenning Ritter von“: which may have been partial compensation for otherwise having named him as a sequel to his grandfather.  The mittens were just one of a rather eclectic litany of favourite things which Maria seems to have accumulated during her time at the convent but I thought “doorbells” might be too obscure a reference, even for me!  To be fair, I’m not sure it was Oscar’s finest hour poetically but it did have a catchy tune…

Having finally dealt with the important business of the introductory remarks, we can now move, safely and smoothly, into the main body of the symposium…

This blog, despite my somewhat erratic commitment to its continued growth, exists thanks to a return to a favourite thing from the early 90s: the writing of mildly amusing skits using pointlessly obscure vocabulary and references.  In those halcyon days, I was applying my muse to the minutes of team meetings and spoof eulogies for departing colleagues: now, of course, no topic is out of bounds.  This post also marks a return to a favourite thing from my past (from much the same era): baking.  In the distant days of the late 80s and early 90s, I would bake for birthdays and attempted moderately complex icing regimes.  I was also briefly paid (at cost) by a colleague to make bread pudding for her.

I realise baking has become rather popular of late, as a result of many folk spending their evenings staring at the haunted goldfish bowl to watch other people doing it in a tent (by “it” I mean baking – well I assume I do, I’ve not watched the show).  This televisual pimping, to the best of my knowledge, had nothing to do with my own return to the form.  Instead, as with so many activities, my return was sparked by an alcohol and Thai-curry fuelled conversation in the Guide Dog.  This blog has already mentioned the development of curried porridge which continues to be a regular staple of my breakfast table.

Anyway, it was while reporting back on the success of this culinary enterprise to the chap who bears significant responsibility for its existence as co-author for the original idea (and many of the other more foolish ideas generated in like manner) that the idea of creating hot flapjack arose.  I seem to recall he was somewhat sceptical about my porridge but felt that flapjack would be the more natural marriage bed for oats and chilli to consummate their long-standing, if until recently unrequited, love.  Never one to reject a foolish idea without putting it to the test, I spent some time researching flapjack recipes which I felt could form the basis for my new creation.  Given its origins in the Americas, I decided to marry the chilli with chocolate to honour the Maya and added in some dried cherries to provide a thin veneer of “health” to my creation: it was also, entirely accidentally, vegan.  I have to say that chilli, chocolate flapjack has proven a huge success and I am now onto the fourth generation product.  As well as chilli flakes, I have experimented with chilli chocolate (which I’m afraid lacked the necessary cocoa content and was purged in generation three) and chilli-infused olive oil to create triple-chilli flapjack.

While the flapjacks have been a taste sensation, they have been a little lacking in the structural integrity department.  Generation four was the most friable, indicating that the problem was the need for a wetter (rather than a drier) mix for improved cohesion: the base recipe was rather unclear on the addition of water.  This slightly crumbly nature is not normally an issue except that in the conversation that led to its creation, the flapjack was supposed to act as the tasty, load-bearing substrate for some 38 candles to mark my friend’s impending natal day.

I was clearly in need of a Plan B and so decided to make a birthday cake which would more reliably provide the necessary load-bearing structure.  I then began to worry about the ability of a single cake to safely bear 38 candles without the cake, audience and venue being destroyed in an almighty conflagration.  So, I decided to make two birthday cakes to spread the fire hazard and vitiate the need to have a bucket of wet sand on hand.  As it was boring to make two of the same cake, I ended up making two different cakes, though both retaining the Mayan theme of dark chocolate and chilli: a chocolate brownie cake and a dark chocolate mousse cake.  I had a grand time spending an otherwise dreary Sunday morning baking away in my tiny kitchen creating cakes from recipes I had never used before and which I was adapting (a) to include chilli and (b) to use ingredients I had to hand and was looking to use up (rather than attempt to fit yet more one-off ingredients into my tiny larder).

I was then left with the challenge of how to store and then transport, on foot, two cakes (plus a box of hot flapjack: I am never knowingly under-catered) to the Guide Dog to celebrate the milestone birthday.  I came up with a complex system involving cake tins, very old paper plates, slings of baking parchment, a fair amount of tin foil and a rucksack which worked surprisingly well.

Come the fateful day, I transported my cakes and enough candles to burn down much of Bevois Valley to the Guide Dog: which seemed to be tempting fate in a location named after a chap famed for dealing with a dragon.  As it was the evening of the Swing Steady Session, I did feel some pressure to participate and justify my presence with quite so much non-musical luggage.  So I attempted to play a piece entitled Joseph, Joseph on the house guitar.  On the plus side the song only uses five chords, though I did only know 40% of them at the start of the piece.  It also required some use of swing in my strumming while madly attempting to encourage the recalcitrant fingers of my left hand to form unfamiliar shapes across the frets of the guitar.  I believe I can report that it wasn’t a total debacle: there were no fatalities and I am unaware of anyone embarking on a new course of therapy as a result of my playing.

At the interval, I inserted the candles into their little mounts – from which they indolently lolled rather than standing proudly to attention as I recall the candles of my childhood doing.  A whole team of people then attempted to light them and it became clear that that my instinct not to place all 38 candles onto a single cake was wise.  Even spread across two cakes, there was quite a decent blaze going and I did wonder whether I should have found a little wicker figurine to sacrifice: maybe just a tiny wicker heart to keep a rather disturbing Mayan vibe going.  We settled for extinguishing the inferno fairly rapidly to avoid reducing one of the world’s finest pubs (it may be the finest, but I have yet to try them all and I’d hate to be premature) to a fine ash.

Burn baby burn

Danger illustrated…

We could then tuck into the cakes to discover if they were edible and whether my chilli dosing had been broadly appropriate.  I believe the cakes were something of a success: I certainly enjoyed the leftovers over the next few days and no-one has reported any ill effects from their consumption…

So much fun did I have, that in today’s less than lovely weather – I think even the ducks are starting to mutter that they’ve had enough rain now – I’ve returned to baking the chocolate mousse cake to enjoy at home: without the fig leaf of a celebration to cover the gentleman’s agreement of my hedonism.

Given my desire to support my entire body weight in various improbable configurations using at most two hands, I shall have to keep this restored habit of baking for self-consumption to a relatively infrequent pleasure: maybe once per lunar month.  While I was rather lazy today, not having the desire to get drenched acquiring ingredients not currently in stock, I think I may create a plan to bake at least one new (perhaps experimental) cake per month.  I could be persuaded to share the results of my applied chemistry, but you will have to come to me…

Feliz día de Andalucía

I’m sure each of my readers will be celebrating the historic day in 1980 when Andalucía voted to become una comunidad autonóma and eagerly await La Madre Reférendum slipping through the shutters with her traditional gift of jamón.  As you tuck into your toast, olive oil and orange juice, surrounded by happy juvenile cries of ‘Olé‘, spare a thought for those of us who share this date with our birthday and so only receive a single set of presents.  They tell us that there are twice as many, but who really falls for that old line?

All of which nonsense, founded on a few grains of truth, is by way of introduction to the annual post celebrating the author’s improbable survival of another year clinging by his very cuticles to this precious turquoise marble as it spins through the uncaring void.  I either remain one step ahead of the assassin’s bullet or have discovered a way to blog from the Halls of Mandos (and, at a stroke, dis-intermediated the whole disreputable gang of mediums and spiritualists).  However, I think readers should probably apply the most famous insight credited to one William of Ockham and assume that I continue to draw breath for the time being.

As is my middle-aged way, I have planned nothing out-of-the-ordinary (well, ordinary for me) for the day – though I have broken with tradition and had a mid-morning hot chocolate, rather than the usual green tea (with lemon), to create a very mild (almost imperceptible) aura of occasion about the day.  I have opened my birthday cards and they both look lovely: serried ducklings and some Purbeck scenery.  The Royal Academy have caused to be delivered their latest magazine by way of a gift and the sun is shining brightly upon my upturned apple cheeks.  What more could a chap with very limited storage space ask for?  Well, other than a pocket dimension and the return of his lost youth, obviously.

Unusually, I started my birthday with the breaching of the day itself for, as birthday eve morphed into birthday proper, I was enjoying a glass of Auchentoshan at the Talking Heads.  I had somehow failed to go home, despite the jazz finishing not long after 11: I can only assume some locals had managed to overcome my normally taciturn nature and inveigled upon me to share a few words.

The jazz gig itself had been somewhat forgotten and so was rather thinly attended, but it had the most glorious atmosphere – with a hint of being at something secret and slightly illicit.  There was a relaxed vibe as the ‘Bent Brief Gang’ were re-united and having a ball playing together: their sense of fun was contagious and I was soon infected.  I think the gig has a serious chance of making it into my best gigs of 2018 round-up in a few months time.

IMG_0138

The Bent Brief Gang in simultaneous action!

At the gig, I was also gifted with a copy of the Observer’s Book of Music which is even older than me and the score of that classic hit of yesteryear ‘O can you play the clarinet‘ (I bet that kept up morale fighting Rommel in North Africa!).  The former, falling open at a random page has introduced me to the most excellent word ‘purfling’ (from the verb ‘to purfle’) which you should all expect to form the basis of a forthcoming post.  I shall be applying my bass voice to the latter (transposed down an octave or two) once I’ve been fortified by a bite or two of lunch (or dinner, if you prefer).

Given that I have now had sufficient birthdays to use an entire deck of cards, I’ve decided that this is my ‘Ace of Spades’ birthday (using standard Bridge suit-ranking).  So, next year I get to play my Joker!  Consider this a warning!

Hawai’i

It’s been a long time coming and the build up has been almost unbearable, but the waiting is finally over!

Yes, it’s National Public Sleeping Day!  At last, we can all indulge our long supressed desire for a nap on a park bench, pew or bus.  Though, if any of my UK-based readers fancy the first option I suggest they wrap up warmly: today’s title does not refer to the ambient temperature outside Fish Towers.

OK, I’ll stop toying with you.  As the title makes clear, my forties are now consigned to history and I have made it to the age of fifty (50).  This feat of derring-do (or don’t) would have been more impressive if achieved further back in history (if only because of the temporal engineering on my part that would imply).  It would also have had a lower probability had I spent those years living in other parts of the planet, those regions oft referred to as the ‘global south’ (which, in terms of life expectancy, seems to include parts of Glasgow).  If Jeremy Hunt continues on his current path, turning the UK into an improbable exporter of doctors whilst offering succour to big sucrose (and not only in the form of magic pills), my half century may once again come to seem worthy of note: still, his commitment to defusing the pensions time-bomb is undeniable.

Given my long history of insomnia, I do feel it rather tactless of the powers-that-be to designate my natal day as a celebration of sleeping of any form, let alone in public.  Then again, given that I largely ignore the personal significance of the day myself, perhaps they felt I’d left the field open for them.  My only concession to the day so far has been to open my birthday cards: so many had poured through my letter-box that I had to move to a second hand to count them all!  I suspect this is another sign of my antiquity, I’m sure the younger generation would just exchange photos of portions of their anatomy via Snapchat or write on each other’s Facebook walls to mark the arrival of a culturally significant milestone.

Otherwise, so far today, I’ve done the laundry and visited the gym and supermarket.  Errands still need doing, even if the earth has returned, after some fifty round trips of the sun, to roughly the same relative position it held when I burst forth (to the sound of trumpets – or so I fondly like to imagine) from the temporary accommodation kindly provided by my mother.  However, I am not a total curmudgeon, and will be going out later today as there is something I want to see taking place in a cavern buried deep beneath Waterloo Station – the fact that this happens to coincide with my birthday is (I assume) a happy accident.

Whilst I am now so old that I can remember the days when caramel was unsalted (a state of affairs which younger readers will find hard to believe), I comfort myself with the knowledge that I remain much younger than my brother-in-law (and most of the hills).

30, at last!

Yes, the irresponsible years of my twenties are finally at an end and I must finally face up to being 30 (though still some distance from being an adult).  It’s been a long journey – at least partly because I have chosen to make it in hex – but today I must wave goodbye to 2F (whilst, obviously, retaining two Fs thanks to my corrupted Welsh roots).

After thirty, there’s not much in the way of a landmark birthday until the telegram from the Queen.  Actually, telegrams are long dead and even the telemessage (I think) has gone the way of the dodo, so I wonder what you now receive on reaching your century.  A Tweet from the Queen?  Perhaps she writes on your Facebook wall?  Anyway, I’m not willing to wait and so during 2014 I shall be switching to base 7 so that I will reach 100 in 2015.

Don’t say you miss out on changing number-base humour on this blog – well, I have the number-base bit covered at least.

You might ask what I am doing (or have done) to celebrate this milestone (or, millstone).  My day has yet to involve cake, alcohol or candles – though some of these may occur later.  I did slightly upscale my morning porridge by the use of stewed apple, blackberries and extra-thick half cream – but otherwise it has been a fairly normal day.  Once you have seen 2F birthdays come and go, the novelty value does start to fade a little.  I did go into town and treat myself to a new colander (the handle has fallen off my old one) – I went for the cheap white plastic offering (a snip at £3) and the only option made in the UK (so I’ve done my bit for the balance of payments deficit for the day).  Given how thrifty I’d been with the colander, I bought a CD (I do like a bit of physical media) – Drenge since you ask – which I am listening to as I type (some proper, dirty rock which I assume is aimed at those in their very early thirties).

For the last several years, my birthday has always had a bittersweet edge and not merely because my feet are that bit closer to the grave (or urn) and some much needed rest (though I do worry that my insomnia may pursue me into the next life).  I am much younger (and I mean much younger) than my brother-in-law (I need to give credit to my sister here, she could easily have found a younger spouse but forwent that option for me) – and I do like to bring this up in conversation from time to time (well, it is becoming increasingly hard to find other older people for this purpose).  This always becomes more difficult for the (roughly) six months starting from today as our ages – as recorded in years using the traditional rounding down approach – are superficially the same.  I have to wait until September until there is clear, blue, integral water between us again (though, I am still much younger even now).

Actually, I am going to the flicks tonight, which you might like to consider a celebratory nod to my natal day, where cake is virtually certain and alcohol possible (candles unlikely – though if I keep forgetting to charge my bike lights, I may need at least one for the purposes of navigation and safety).  I am going to see a movie about vampires – well, it’s good to have a plan B in case my other attempts at immortality don’t work out (OK, not entirely sure if acting childishly and keeping this blog really count as serious attempts at becoming immortal – but I had to start somewhere).  Let’s face it, I’m not really a morning person and avoiding sunlight hasn’t been a huge issue in recent years – especially given my proclivity to holiday on the Celtic fringes of this fair (but damp) land – and I am only (mostly) vegetarian.  Plus, I look really cool in black and like to wear shades (my eyes have always been a disappointment to me – and the presbyopia really isn’t helping).

Ill-prepared for wealth

Listening to the radio earlier in the week, I chanced on reports of gift giving from Angelina Jolie to her husband, Brad Pitt.  They are both rather rich, and frankly could buy anything they might need – or even want – themselves, but I suppose the exchanging of gifts is an important piece of human social bonding.  I would have thought a small token would suffice, but apparently not.

For his 50th, apparently Mr Pitt is to receive (or perhaps already has) a heart-shaped island from his wife.  All I could think was that this would be a nightmare to wrap and then a pain to maintain going forward.  Apparently, for his 48th his partner bought him a waterfall so that he could build a home above it which would constantly resound to the noise of rushing water: I presume wrapping this was entirely impossible.  I can only hope that the house has plenty of bathrooms as the sound of constant rushing water is no friend to the bladder.  My 48th is not far away, and I would like to make clear now that I will not welcome the gift of any significant geographical or geomorphological features – despite my love of geomorphology.

Luckily this is unlikely, as my family operates a system for both birthdays and Christmas where the potential recipient is required to provide a list of presents that might meet with some degree of approbation if received.  Obtaining these lists is usually difficult and for the upcoming festive season I may yet have to resort to thumbscrews.  Basically, with the honourable exception of my nephew (who has youth on his side), we don’t really want anything.

I am reasonably well-paid, though nowhere near the level of a half-decent footballer, banker or Hollywood star, and have for some time failed to spend my salary during the year.  Whilst there are many things which I can’t afford to do, none of them are a terribly high priority in my life.  Perhaps if the human lifespan were much greater I’d get around to owning a yacht, buying a pointlessly fast car or flying first class round the world (to pluck but three examples from the air) – but I find there are plenty of much cheaper sources of fun and/or enlightenment which remain unattempted to try first.  I’m also trying not to acquire new stuff that needs to be stored – though my recent house move indicated that I am not quite as good at this as I liked to imagine.  Supporting the arts and eating out both work well as I only have to store the memories.  However, I only have the energy to do so much – so I’m now trying to increase the range of charities I support as well, particularly as successive governments seem to be leaving more and more things I think of as important to the vagaries of charitable donation for their continued existence.

It is often said that the best things in life are free, which is probably not entirely true and almost certainly requires you to ignore some element of sunk cost.  However, many pleasures can be very cheap at the time of experience.  This past Sunday, I decided to attempt a whole new (to me, not the world) piece of music via the medium of song.  My chosen piece was “Arm, Arm, ye brave!” from Mr Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabeus.  Despite my stumbling (née bumbling) attempts to sing the notes while accompanying myself with only the melody line on the old Joanna this was a glorious experience (though anyone who overheard it would probably have taken a very different view).  This was free (well, I already had the music, piano and voice) and way better than any number of luxury yachts.  Plus, to paraphrase D:Ream, its performance can only get better!

In summary, I shall continue to eschew the national lottery – this both saves me money on a weekly basis and significantly reduces the risk that extreme wealth will ever be thrust upon me.

Mid-Life Crisis

Tomorrow will once again mark the completion by the planet Earth of an integer number of orbits around its host star since I was brought forth upon’t.  As is becoming traditional, I will spend much of this day in meetings – well, once you’ve seen a lump of rock return to broadly the same place in the local heavens a certain number of times, the novelty does start to wear off.

I am of an age when it would be appropriate to have a mid-life crisis – well, assuming I’m planning to stick around until my mid-nineties being a burden on the young of the future (and that sounds like a plan to me!).  Sadly, I still lack any interest in needlessly fast cars or the amorous entreaties of a well endowed, much younger woman (or, indeed, man – this is an equal opportunities blog, I spurn the affections of all) so I will have to find an alternative outlet for the angst due a chap of my vintage.

I’ve also rather failed to heed my genes and indulge in any procreative act, and so I cannot live vicariously through my offspring.  Nor, before anyone becomes over-excited, should this post be considered an appeal for a “partner” through which I can sire issue to inherit GofaDM.  These genes end here – though, on average, I suppose we should expect 25% of them to live on through my nephew (though I have yet to sound him out on taking over this post – in our last meeting, I mostly trounced him at the London Game).

I could perhaps start preparing for the day of judgment, but despite (or maybe because of) an O level in Religious Studies, I’m not terrifically taken with theism.  Nevertheless, I do expect to be judged: by the older me, who will no doubt be merciless in his views on how I have frittered away my forties.  All too little roaring has gone on, I fear.  Perhaps it is time to take the second act of my life by the scruff of its neck (after a suitable break for ice-cream and/or cake), so that my older self will be suitably impressed by the performance of my current incarnation.  Quite tricky to know what an elderly Fish will find impressive, given I am not the man now I was even 10 years ago – but hey, my day job is all about forecasting so this should be meat (or vegetarian alternative) and drink to me.

I have decided (well, “decided” is a bit strong – “come to a vague view that” might be closer to the mark) that I am too risk averse and just allow myself to drift through the days and years with no firm direction.  Don’t worry readers, I am not about to take up an extreme sport – way too well supplied with physical cowardice for that, hence my body remaining quite close to “mint” condition (though, sadly I have lost the box which will reduce my re-sale value).  It has struck me that most of what I do, I do alone (no sniggering at the back!) – including, for the most part writing this blog (though don’t get your hopes up, the writing will continue) – and so perhaps I should undertake something with more emotional or psychological risk and which involves other people in a more meaningful way.  It should probably also be less intellectually based (or at least using rather different parts of my decaying intellect then I typically tend to deploy) as, enormous fun though the OU was, it did rather play to my existing strengths.  Is it time to give the world my Lear?  (Edward, I suspect, rather than King).  Is it time to bite the bullet and sing with other people in a choral context (though this is more likely to work in organum than anything more recent)?  Or start my own band, religion or political party?  (I’m not really a joiner – just ask my woodwork teacher – so I will have to start my own).

The world may well be my oyster (not that I am a huge fan of the oyster, so perhaps it could be my scallop?) but what could I do with it to gain some small measure of approbation from a nonagenarian version of myself?  Answering this question is the plan for the near future – or the interval, as I shall be calling it – before I switch to become a man of action (or at least, slightly less inaction) and to hell with the entropic consequences.

Now we are six

Well, we are as long as you consider our age modulo n (for suitable n) then we are six (obviously I am using the royal, or authorial, we here; there will be no republican micturition on this blog).

That’s right, yesterday the earth returned to broadly the same position relative to the sun as was the case on my release date (or “impact” date, as I believe it is now known in the music industry).  Given that this has now occurred on more occasions than I have fingers, I tend to largely ignore it – as evidence of which, I spent the whole of yesterday evening in a committee meeting (oh yes, I know how to have fun – I just chose not to).

The rest of yesterday was more fun (well, it would more-or-less have to be): a trip to the gym, a singing lesson in the Georgian splendour of New Square and a period instrument-based, baroque lunchtime concert from the Collegium Musicum under its leader, Maggie Faultless (which always strikes me as a very challenging name to live with).

As I cycled around, spring was in the air: snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils in bloom, and the birdies singing in the hope of love (though the skylarks seem to have been providing musical accompaniment to my peregrinations through most of the winter).  As well as the usual avian suspects, my inner twitcher was happy to spot a redwing and a yellowhammer.  My journeys to and from Cambridge now pass a brand new duck pond: complete with a growing complement of ducks.  I think this pond must be one of the more counter-intuitive consequences of the current severe drought: according to the local paper, even worse than 1976.

The fields to the east of Trumpington are being redeveloped to permit the construction of  an entire city’s worth of new housing.  A huge swathe has been stripped of vegetation and levelled (rather badly it would seem), and are now permanently covered in vast, shallow lakes of water (presumably from all the rain we aren’t receiving).  Potential buyers in Trumpington Meadows beware: I’d insist my new house was built on stilts, if I were you (if the site is this wet in what is alleged to be the driest year ever recorded, how deep will the water be in a normal year?).

In another field, a new lake or reservoir has been deliberately created by man – and this just about manages to maintain a little water in the bottom.  In the corner of the field next to this purpose-built lake, is a dip in the ground.  This has been permanently filled with deep water for months, and is now home to a thriving community of mallards.

It does make me wonder if the human race has even the vaguest idea how to collect rain water (or, indeed, to prevent its collection).  Perhaps the water companies should start hiring a few ducks…