Friday, January 30, 2009

It is finished!

I have just finished "Twenty Years After", which I started some time back in November. Blimey, it isn't half an epic book!

To be honest, I'm at something of a loss as to whether it's a really good book, or a really bad one. It's too damn long, for one thing (as I mentioned before, Dumas was paid by the word, and it really shows). And it takes far too long to get going - there is a section of about 200 pages at the start that is just D'Argtanian travelling around to see his three friends, one after another. It frankly seems interminable.

But around half way through (400 pages in!) there's a scene where the four musketeers are finally all together in one place and suddenly it's a different book entirely. Suddenly the plot starts to move, the whole thing lightens up, and it becomes really quite exciting.

And, for all that it's an action novel, albeit a really long one, the book also fits in some marvellous courtly intrigue, with factions, wheels within wheels, and all sorts of scheming. I like this.

I guess, at length, I can't recommend the book. It's not the worst book ever, nor even the longest ("Wizard's First Rule" by Terry Goodkind comes close on both counts), but it's just not a patch on "The Three Musketeers". Still, despite this, I'm inclined to read on into "The Viscount of Bragelonne", or perhaps try "The Count of Monte Cristo" by the same author.

But not right away!

#6: "Twenty Years After", by Alexandre Dumas

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #17: Cherry Tomato Sauce with Cheat's Fresh Pasta

And so, we come to the end of the "Quick Pasta" chapter, and it ends how it starts: with a tomato sauce. This was another fine meal, and very simple to cook. Curiously, the pasta dishes that are based around tomatoes don't seem to suffer from the lack of meat the way that the others do.

Anyway, this brings the score to 4-3 against for the "Quick Pasta" chapter. The winner was "Classic Tomato Spahgetti", while the clear loser was "Pasta al Pangrattato".

The next chapter is "Tasty Stir-fries", which on the face of it should be a winner. (That said, the same was true of "Quick Pasta".) The first dish to try is "Chicken Chow Mein", which is obviously a classic.

Incidentally: my fish count for the year currently stands at 4. In addition to the anchovies (bleagh!) I had in the Pasta al Pangrattato, I also had tuna sandwiches for lunch three days last week. I'm still not a fan of tuna, but it was a reasonable substitute for the meat/salad sandwiches I've been having for the past five months.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Also, a new policy

That package I had to pick up from the Post Office was from Amazon, containing four more books for my big pile, two of which I intend to read by the end of February (along with "Twenty Years After" and the next volume of "Pathfinder").

Just before Christmas, I visited Borders and picked up a couple of books. While there, I was given a voucher for my next visit, entitling me to 15% of my purchases. Fantastic, I thought.

However, when ordering from Amazon, I found that they had a 20%+ discount on just about everything in their stock, and had that permanently, without the need for a voucher. Since I very rarely need to buy a book for immediate reading, it's pretty clear where my business will be going in future. (It's unfortunate, since I do quite like visiting bricks-and-mortar bookstores. But I'm not willing to pay £8 for a paperback, on average, for the privilege.)

And, of course, that's about par for the course when ordering online. Things are just routinely cheaper, and at least as good. And so, my new policy, motivated purely by financial reasons: I shall no longer visit stores, and instead purchase online. Four exceptions: 1) My weekly shop will still be in a 'real' store. I buy quite a lot of fresh fruit and veg, and am unconvinced that they will do as good a job of selecting them. 2) Game books will still be bought from my Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS). That's one store I really don't want to see go, and am willing to pay a premium to that end. (If he does close anyway, then it's the internet for me.) 3) If I'm buying something that does require specialist advice, and I can't get that advice online (perhaps because there's an intersection between the specialist and personal taste, as with beds), then it will need to be a 'real' store. 4) On those rare occasions when I'm buying clothes, that will still be done in a 'real' store. Again, this is an area where I like to see exactly what I'm getting in advance.

Oh, and note: the policy is that I won't visit stores, not merely that I won't buy things there. Partly because I don't want to waste their time, but mostly to avoid impulse-buys.

A tale of two salesmen

In some ways, the timing of my impending house move is absolutely ideal - it's just far enough past Christmas to be a nice time to be taking a break from work anyway, my letter's insurance expires at just the same time as my new home/contents insurance kicks in, and I'm sure there are other reasons. However, in some other key ways, it's not so good. Specifically, it comes just after the January sales gradually come to an end (since most of those have finished by the end of February, at least), and it's quite tricky buying furniture when you haven't yet fully weighed up the use to which each room will be put. Still, there is one thing I knew I would be upgrading as soon as I moved, and that is now done: I have just bought a new bed.

My previous bed-buying experience was less than successful. Yeovil is not a town well-stocked with appropriate stores, and the sales staff at those stores I did visit were less than helpful. In fact, at the first store visited, I waited for some twenty minutes for a sales assistant who never quite showed up, before losing patience and going elsewhere. I wouldn't have waited so long, but buying a bed was one of the non-negotiable aspects of the move.

Unfortunately, partly as a consequence of the failure of sales staff in Yeovil, and partly because it simply never occurred to me to do otherwise, I bought entirely the wrong bed for a rather larger price than I should have paid. It's fair to say this was not a shining moment in my story. (The problems? Well, it's too small - I should never have gone for a single. It's not very comfortable, partly due to the constant fear of falling out, partly due to the mattress. And it's rather low quality, which means that a mattress that should have lasted ten years is already suffering.)

And so it was that, very soon after realising my mistake, I made myself the promise that as soon as I moved to my 'permanent' home, I would invest in a new bed. I would wait until then so that I could be sure just how much space was available, but once the move was made... I then somehow ended up renting my current appartment for two and a half years longer than was planned, but never mind.

Anyway, yesterday I was driving en route to the party I was attending and my path happened to take me past a bed specialist that I didn't even know existed in Falkirk. What's more, they had a big sign out front stating that their sale ends on Monday. This rather settled my agenda for today.

However, Dreams was not my first stop. That honour fell to Bensons for Beds, purely because I had a parcel to pick up from the Post Office, and Bensons happened to be very close. Now, Bensons were the store that so disappointed me in Yeovil, a store that I had decided at the time I would never enter again. But then, so much else was a disappointment about Yeovil, perhaps it wasn't Bensons as such that was the problem?

And so, I went in armed with my research, and a bunch of questions that needed resolved. I also went in prepared to walk away quite quickly if things didn't go a whole lot better than was my previous experience.

Fortunately, they did. Whether because the people of Falkirk are just friendlier than their Yeovil counterparts, or because the economy has forced it upon them, I was approached almost immediately by a salesman, Paul, who quickly and efficiently got down to business, without being pushy about it.

So, we set about answering the questions. What style of bed did I want? Well, that was actually an easy one, since I already knew I was leaning towards a divan. What I hadn't quite weighed up was whether I needed integrated storage or not. My gut feeling was that it would be a benefit, but given the extra cost it turned out to be a nice-to-have that I would do without.

What size? I had, in fact, already ruled out both a single and a double. My research had turned up an interesting factoid, which is that these are 75 inches in length. As I am myself six feet tall (actually, 71 and a half inches), and since the use of space is never perfectly efficient, this means that my feet would often be hanging in empty space. It's not good. (Lying diagonally across a double works, but has other logistical problems.)

Which meant the choice came down to two: the King size or the Super-King. Now, much of the advice I'd read on the subject was aligned: get the biggest bed you can afford. But at the same time, there's just me, and frankly the Super-King strikes me as another instance of this over-consumption that we've imported from America. Frankly, it's just not necessary. Still...

That was quickly settled by seeing the two together in the shop. It turns out the Super-King is a monster, and would just be a waste of space (and money).

And then there were mattresses. What filling? How firm? This one required a bit of trial and error, but quickly reached an ideal solution. An ideal bed was picked out, costs were discussed and tallied (at some length - oddly, Paul kept checking things based on a double where I kept specifying King size, and kept talking to me about 0% finance, where I was quite clear that I'd be wanting to pay it off on delivery anyway). Oh well, never mind.

It all seemed good. I thanked him for his time, said I'd think about it, and left. While leaving the car park, I almost turned around and went back in to buy then and there.

Instead, I headed over to Dreams. Where I was met very quickly by Brian, their sales rep. And this time, the process of finding the ideal bed went much more smoothly. The trip to Bensons had provided the answers to the various questions I had, which meant most of the back-and-forth could be eliminated. And the Bensons price set a rather neat budget for the purchase - they had to provide a bed that was as good or better for a price that was no more than the Bensons price.

Anyway, it turned out Brian was a genuine expert on all things bed and sleep related. Once I explained what I was looking for, and also how that came about, he was quickly able to point out three solid beds, the second of which proved to be ideal. And he also had me try out a number of different pillows. It turns out I should have gone there years ago, since pillows are not all alike. Who knew?

Anyway, we talked things through, and a price was set. It turns out Dreams is much cheaper than Bensons. Basically, the bed I was looking at in Bensons, plus delivery, came to £600 even. The bed from Dreams, plus headboard, plus pillows, plus delivery, came to £624. (Which works out at about 17 pence per night.) Oh, and he threw in their extended 10-year guarantee for free, which surprised me a great deal, since I'd been all prepared for the hard sell on that one. Score one for the awful economy, I guess.

And so, four weeks on Monday I will have a new bed. Huzzah! And, added bonus, in the meantime I get to enjoy my exciting new pillow immediately. Huzzah again!

(I do feel a little guilty over Paul, though. He spent a fair amount of time helping me out, and ended up helping his competition win a sale. And he really did a good job, and knew his stuff very well indeed. Still, it wasn't as if I went in there intending not to make a purchase, and they were beaten quite handily on price. So, I guess that's all fair. I think I'll call that even - Bensons has now been redeemed from their failure in Yeovil.)

#5: "Pathfinder: A Memory of Darkness" by J.D. Wiker

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Farewell, George W. Bush

I felt it needed to be said.

Here's hoping things start to improve - we need some good news right about now.

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #16: Mini Shell Pasta with a Creamy Smoked Bacon and Pea Sauce

I must admit, I had been losing faith. With all but two of the pasta dishes cooked, I had found several that were okay but bland, one that was really nasty, and only one that was really good. I was even rethinking my plan of working through the whole book in order.

Fortunately, tonight's effort was really good. As I had thought, the previous dishes were lacking specifically in meat, and so the addition of bacon to this one resolved the problem. The only slight glitch was that the sauce was a bit on the runny side, but that was caused by the permafrost on the peas (note to self: defrost them before use next time). In any case, it was not a disaster.

So, that would be 4-2 against for the chapter, with one to go. If that one works out, it will be only a very narrow defeat. Here's hoping.

Next week, we have "Cherry Tomato Sauce with Cheat's Fresh Pasta". Should be good.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Experimental Cookery Breakfast #3: One-Cup Pancakes, Tropical Yoghurt and Mango

This one had some teething problems. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but the batter ended up far too thin, so I had to add more flour to give it some weight. And the pan didn't heat evenly, although there was no mystery to this, just some annoyance.

Anyway, there's nothing much to pancakes, and they did taste fine. I was somewhat less impressed with the tropical yoghurt and mango - perhaps the mango was a bad idea, being so far out of season. Whatever the cause, it didn't really gel.

Still, I'm inclined to give him the mark for this one. So, that'll be 3-0 on the breakfasts. Next up is "Frozen Fruit Smoothies", clearly a major culinary challenge. However, that one will be delayed a while, as I'll have to invest in a liquidiser first.

After that, it's eggs, in a multitude of forms.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

And everything else improved, too

Perhaps as a sign of my renewed fortune in what has been a bad year thus far, I have found that "Twenty Years After" has improved immensely, largely by virtue of things actually starting to happen. In fact, so great is the improvement that I actually considered buying the first volume in the epic-length third part of the trilogy (a book so long it itself had to be split into three parts, the last of which is "The Man in the Iron Mask").

And, added bonus, this morning for breakfast I had my porridge with very dark chocolate and orange marmalade. It was very much a winner.


It's a bit like...

As you know, I don't talk about my job here. So, let me tell you about my job...

Imagine, you're doing a jigsaw. Not one of those jigsaws for 6-8 year olds that have 100 pieces or so and are Noah's Ark or similar (with all the lovely animals). No, this is one of the 5,000 piece monstrosities that is mostly sky.

Now, imagine you're doing this jigsaw without reference to the picture on the box, so you can't actually see what it's supposed to look like.

In this situation, what you'll find is that there is a very long period of frustration as you're trying to find any sort of a connection between the pieces. Progress is painfully slow. Eventually, though, you'll start to get enough together so that, while you still don't actually know how it's supposed to go together, you can at least see a path to fixing it. You can at least see the shape of the solutions to all those little holes.

That's the way my job is a lot of the time. Problems everywhere that I don't understand, leading to long spells of frustration and stress. And then, suddenly, I see a way forward and, although I still don't have the solution to the problems, I can at least see the shape of that final solution. And progress can be made.

Monday was a bad day. Tuesday was entirely awful from start to finish. Today started as a bad day, and then got much, much better.

Next time I don't talk about work here, I think I'll do the "blind Lego" analogy. That one's even better.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Experimental Cookery Tuesday #15: Pasta Al Pangrattato

For the past several years, it has been my policy in restaurants to order in a semi-random manner, and to generally ensure that I include at least something that I haven't had before. This policy stands me in particularly good stead in my travels abroad, where menus are amongst the hardest things to decipher, being as they are a pure test of vocabulary without any context to help.

This policy, of course, drives my mother absolutely crazy. "How do you know you'll like whatever it is?" she asks. To this, I am quick to respond that, barring an incompetent chef (in which case all bets are off anyway), I can at least be assured that whatever I get will be at least edible. And while I run a certain risk, there is also the chance that I'll find a new favourite somewhere out there. Indeed, this has happened on more than one occasion - I wouldn't have ever tried calamari were it not for this policy.

However, the risk remains that I'll one day find myself presented with a meal that is just horrible. As has happened tonight. Jamie's book has reached a nadir, and it has done so just as I was rethinking my "fish as food nemesis" policy.

The problem, quite simply, was anchovies. The rest of the meal was a bit of a fiddle (seriously, who grates bread?), but looked like it might be quite the thing. And it was quick to cook, despite the fuss.

Oh, but the anchovies! It was immediate upon tasting, my revulsion. This was not a good meal I had cooked. And (horrors!), I had cooked enough for four nights. Oh dear.

I didn't finish, although I did get through most of the bowl. And, shocking as this will probably be to my father, I won't be forcing myself to eat up the rest of the meal. (I will take some consolation that Dad would never have cooked up such a thing, nor would he eat it - it being pasta - and so how he would act in the situation at hand is largely irrelevant, as he wouldn't ever face it.)

Anyway, that's an unassailable 4-1 against Jamie in his "Quick Pasta" chapter, levelling the rounds in our little game. I won't be having this again, even to finish it off.

Next week, a chance for Jamie to recover some pride, at least, with "Mini Shell Pasta with a Creamy Smoked Bacon and Pea Sauce". That should be good. Also, at the weekend I'll be trying my hand at his "One-Cup Pancakes, Tropical Yoghurt and Mango". Although the pancakes do seem awfully similar to the one-cup pancakes that I've known how to cook for many a year...

Also: anchovies? Blech!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

ATM Blockers

While on my secret mission this afternoon (which had nothing to do with buying new socks, obviously - I don't want to risk the ire of the Sock Conspiracy further), I was forced to expend my last cash in all the world on the purchase of parking (which was later refunded, but still). So, being a wily sort, I decided to go to the ATM to get some more.

When I arrived, there was no queue, only one person who had the look of being just about to finish. So, despite the heavy rain and high wind, I decided to wait.

Silly me! For I had failed to realise that he wasn't truly finished. Instead, it appeared he must have been doing a balance enquiry, and wished to make another transaction. Still, how long does that take?

Quite long, apparently.

Then, much to my annoyance, he fumbled in his wallet for an age, and produced another card, which he inserted into the machine after much fumbling. And the cycle began again...

At this point, I gave up, and went and bought the things I went for. (Definately not socks.)

When I returned, I swear the same guy was still at the ATM, fighting with the machine! Still, this time he didn't last long, and I was at last able to get the cash I needed.

I can only assume this guy was one of the dread ATM Blockers, a secret order of aliens, sent to this world with the appointed task of being so utterly inept with modern technology that they cause everyone else endless frustration. However, if this is the case, I see that they have adapted to a new disguise - no longer are they bound to the form of a harmless old lady laden with too much shopping. Avoiding them is going to be so much harder in future.

Also, I have found a new mystery. My new socks (damn, the secret's out) include three pairs with a strange quirk. The first pair bear the legend "Eat" on them. The second say "Drink". The third then say "and be Merry".

What exactly is the point of that? Honestly, what good is a pair of socks giving only part of a mildly humorous statement? I mean, I could just about understand it if they each had half of the statement, allowing one to mix-and-match to comedy effect. But when they each have a third of the statement, what is the point? Are they perhaps sports-socks for the three-legged race? Because if so, that seems an awfully niche market to me.

You may now be wondering, "why on Earth would you buy socks like that, if you think they're so stupid?" Good question. The reason is this: when I wear those socks, I'll be able to make exciting and witty conversation about how utterly insane they are. I may even mix-and-match two pairs, while carrying a third sock just to prove my point. In fact, there may be a weeding coming up at which I can do this very thing...

Revenge of the Sock Conspiracy

I'm not sure if I blogged about the Sock Conspiracy before, and if I did it was a long time ago, so I'll recap:

As we all know, washing machines eat socks. Put a load of socks in the machine for washing, and by the time the cycle is done, one or more socks (but never a whole pair) will have been taken as tribute by the beast. Such is the natural order of things, and not to be questioned.

Except that I questioned it, and found a horrifying truth. For, many years ago, I started washing my own socks, and found that the washing machine didn't take its tribute. I thought this must be some mistake, but as the weeks went by without tribute being taken, I grew convinced: it was not the washing machine that was eating the socks.

It turned out that I had tumbled to the existence of the Sock Conspiracy, a dark truth known to all women since time beyond reckoning, that was now threatened by the advent of Feminism. For what would happen is that they would take the socks for washing, wash the socks, and then eat one or more socks (but never a whole pair). (I presume they ate the socks after washing, as the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.) This, then, would create a constant need for new socks on the part of men, allowing the easy purchase of Christmas presents by women.

(This one time, at Band Camp, I was expounding on this conspiracy to one of my students, for reasons that I'm sure seemed obvious at the time, when she exclaimed, "Yes, Mum does do that!" So, I have proof! However, I haven't seen the girl in question for three years... what if she's been disappeared? Oh no!)

Anyway, having found the dark secret of the Sock Conspiracy, I found myself immune to their depradations, or so I thought. No more would I lose socks to the 'washing machine'. (I thought I'd lost one once, but it turned out I'd just dropped it.) No more would I have to wear Christmas socks in June, because those were the only ones left. I had won!


But there is a problem, a dread revenge that the Sock Conspiracy has wreaked upon me.

The last time I bought socks was three years ago, when I travelled and then found I had forgotten to pack any. Since that day, I have seen the quality of my socks gradually drop, inch by painful inch, until this day, when I find myself bereft of good socks. For the past week, I have been wearing three pairs at a time, carefully lining them up so that the holes in one sock are covered by the remnants of a second. But even that measure is proving less effective as time passes. I fear I shall soon have to wear all my socks at all times merely to maintain coverage, and one day even that shall not be enough.

I'm not sure how this could have happened. I can only presume that on that fateful night when I purchased the new socks, the checkout assistant recognised my victory over the Sock Conspiracy, and thus placed a hex on me that my socks would inevitably degrade to the point of uselessness. Alas, my efforts to remove this curse have thus far been unsuccessful.

Whatever shall I do?

Under my Umbrella-ella-ella

It is a blustery day. Sadly, I failed to weigh up just how blustery it really is before putting up my umbrella, which proceeded to turn inside out as one of the tines snapped. Alas, my umbrella is now deceased. It has passed on. It's a stiff. It is, in fact, an ex-umbrella.

However, I can't help but take a certain satisfaction that I at least got my money's worth from the umbrella:

Many years ago (well, four), Glasgow hosted the Special Olympics. And, being a piper who was at the time between jobs (literally - I had a new job, but had not yet started), I was asked by the organising committee to play the pipes as the torch run passed through Motherwell. And so, I went.

That, too, was a rainy day, but actually that adjective doesn't do it justice. It was the sort of day that might inspire Ark-building. Also, en route to the appointed place I managed to lose my way.

And so it was that I decided to stop at the sports centre closest to Motherwell town centre to ask for directions. However, moving from the car (in the car park) to the building itself, I became utterly soaked. In 200 yards or so, I went from warm and dry to so thoroughly wet that no more water could have been absorbed - my clothing was totally saturated.

I asked for, and was given directions. But so potent were my Jedi mind-tricks on that day that the people in the sports centre felt it was not enough to merely give the assistance I rejected: some further tribute was necessary.

They first offered that I could remove my shirt, and they would dry it for me. Alas, I demurred, I was in a hurry so could not accept. And so, they instead offered me an umbrella from their "Lost & Found" box. Initially I was hesitant, as this was presumably an umbrella that someone had Lost - what if they returned seeking it?

But it was a very rainy day, so at length I accepted this tribute. At which point, of course, it stopped raining.

That umbrella has been with me since that day, and has done mighty service in Motherwell, in Glasgow, in Yeovil, in Falkirk, and even in France. Alas, those days are now done.

#4: "Pathfinder: Into the Darklands" by James Jacobs and Greg A. Vaughan

Friday, January 09, 2009

23 pounds and 49 books

I'm still seeking some proper goals for this year, but for the moment I do have two that will suffice for the moment.

The week of Christmas and New Year is always a bad time for diets. I decided to take the dangerous and unwise step of simply coming off the diet for that time, with a view to resuming it this week on returning to work. The danger there being, of course, that it's very easy to restart a diet 'tomorrow'.

As it happened, I did restart the diet on Monday, then dropped off it again for two days, and then resumed once more on Thursday. Hopefully, it will hold reasonably well for the next few months. My target, as before, is 184 pounds, which represents a drop of 23 pounds from this morning's weigh-in.

The other goal on my list is to read more. And since goals must have targets, the target is a mighty 52 books in the year, or an average of one per week. A 'book' will be defined as being the contents of one set of covers. So, a 150-page novella will count as one, as would "Lord of the Rings". A short story collection will count as one, as would the collected works of Shakespeare. However, quality will not be a factor. Neither graphic novels nor magazines will count, but since I don't actually read either of these, this is a non-issue. Oh, and the paper doesn't count either, and neither does anything online.

Oh, yes, and the measure will be books finished. Which means that both the book I was reading on December 31st (which I finished early on the 1st) and "Twenty Years After" (which I'm about 250 pages into, and have been for some time) will count, while any books that I abandon will not count, and neither will the books I carry over to 2010.

In order to track my progress, I'll be providing a numbered list of books on this blog as I read them. The first three entries can be found at the bottom of this post. However, I won't be offering any sort of a review of the books. Partly, this is pure laziness on my part. Partly it's because I wouldn't be reading the books if I didn't think they'd be good. And partly it's that if I committed to doing reviews I would never be able to keep to the 52 book target.

So, that's enough for now. I'm off to do a bit of light reading.

#1: "Excelsior: Forged in Fire", by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels
#2: "Moonraker", by Ian Fleming
#3: "How to Fossilise Your Hampster", by Mick O'Hare

Thursday, January 08, 2009

(Belated) Experimental Cookery Tuesday #14: Macaroni Cauliflower Cheese Bake

Dear, oh dear. Well, I suppose I was overdue for a complete disaster in the kitchen sooner or later, and this was it.

It was all going so well. There I was, cooking up that most traditional of Christmas fayre (not sure I understand that one, either), when I came to an instruction reading, "If the water boils up beneath the bowl, just turn the heat down slightly." Fair enough.

What the book didn't say was, "When this doesn't work, you'll end up with water everywhere. You might try to order it back, like a particularly wise king of old, but this will be no more successful for you than it was for old Canute. You'll end up with water everywhere, and a kitchen in a mess."

And so it is.

It tasted okay. But, as with the previous two, lacked meat. And it made such a mess. I won't be having this again, save only to consume the other three portions that were made.

And that makes it 3-1 in the "Quick Pasta" chapter, with three to go. Doesn't look too good. Next up is "Pasta Al Pangrattato", which contains anchovies. I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

How to Score Life (Or: Why I get really depressed at New Year)

In one of the earliest Red Dwarf novels (I think it's probably "Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers"), Arnold Rimmer muses on the two types of people. He posits that one group score their lives from 0, but then rate every action as an achievement. Get a 'B' on a test? Well, it's better than a 'C', which itself is much better than nothing at all. The other group, he suggests, begin scoring at 100%, but then lose marks for every failure. That 'B'? Why wasn't it an 'A'?

Naturally, the people in the first group are happier than those in the second, as their lives represent a never-ending sequence of successes and accomplishments, rather than of failures and disappointments.

For the most part, I'm a member of that first group. Sure, I'm constantly looking to improve, and constantly analysing where things went wrong and why, but that's because I always want to outdo the last great achievement. Yeah, I rock.

Except, of course, at New Year, when my thoughts inevitably turn back to the days just passed, and all the many things I didn't get done. And suddenly, it all doesn't look quite so rosy.

Hence my tradition of "go to bed, and try to forget that the last year ever happened". Because no matter how long the list of things that I accomplished is, the list of things I didn't do will always be longer.

Fortunately, it's not New Year's Eve any more.

Competitive Cookery Sunday: #11 Perfect Roast Chicken; #12 Roast Potatoes, Parsnips and Carrots; #13 Dressed Asparagus

So, in preparation for The Reason, we divvied up the cookery task. And naturally, given the nature of my family, this was soon to become a competition with almost unrivalled consequences. Who would secure bragging rights for all time, and who would be consigned to a lifetime of mockery?

Of course, of the eleven adults who were going, at least nine could quite readily put a good meal on the table. So, the challenge was great. Fortunately, I was assigned to cook on the Wednesday, and to cook one of my specialities: Shepherd's Pie. So, no fear there, then.

Until a couple of weeks before The Reason, when I was suddenly shifted to the Sunday, and to cook roast chicken, something I have not had occasion to cook for several years. Oh dear.

Still, not to worry. After all, to do other than smile winningly and say, "okay" would be to suggest weakness, which just would not do. And Jamie does tackle such things, so how hard can they be?

Turns out they're not too tough at all. A bit of preparation, a willingness to follow instructions, and a boneheaded refusal to allow doubt to enter your mind will suffice for most situations. And so, the food was gathered, peeled, chopped, parboiled, roasted, dressed, carved, and served.

People were stunned. I know I was. Most people even ate their parsnips, despite thier status as culinary nemesis. The word "amazing" was used.

That'll be 2-0 to Jamie on the "Family Roasts" chapter, and 1-0 on "Delish Veg". I may well be having some or all of these again, although I can't say when.

The first "Experimental Cookery Tuesdsay" of this year has been delayed, due to my battle with illness. However, all being well, I should be tackling the "Macaroni Cauliflower Cheese Bake" tomorrow. After which, things should be mostly back to normal around here.

Oh, yes: Did I win? Well, we didn't actually run it as a competition. That would be crazy. However, I can take my place amongst the chefs in the family, in whose mighty company I shall not now feel ashamed.

Please, just stop singing!

Once upon a time, I quite enjoyed the new trend towards musical adverts. Thinks like the "Sheila's Wheels" adverts, and Trevor and his banking singers were quite original, well-done, and generally quite enjoyable.

Of course, as with all well-received trends, this one necessarily had to be repeated endlessly, generally by people with much less talent, to the point that any new musical adverts is a whole new exercise in awfulness. The latest musical abomination is the "Take a Break" advert, which has me actively considering ripping my ears off in rage.

Please, please, just stop singing!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Well, I'm back

The Christmas holiday was mostly successful, but had a number of problems. If I were to go into the problems at any length, though, it would make for a very depressing post, so I'm not going to do that.

I was very glad when I finally got home on Saturday afternoon, but I think that was mostly due to being laid low with a rather nasty cough that continues to plague me.

Still, enough of that. On to cheerier things.