Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Year in 2015

2015 barely seemed to get here, and now it is at an end. Which seems really strange, but I guess that's just the way of it. Actually, it has been a bit of a strange year, in that I'm left wondering just where the time went.

Anyway, time for another end-of-year round-up. And, as usual, we have the headings...

My Year in... Work

Work has been hard-going this year, but mostly successful. Not the heady heights of late 2013, but little cause to complain, at least for most of the year. Alas, it didn't end well, for reasons I can't go into here. Hopefully, the issue will resolve itself early in the new year. Oh, and there was no call to travel, again.

Probably of more note have been the developments with LC's work. She has spent 2015 working at a high school near Stirling on a year-long contract, which was generally been good. However, at the end of November she managed to get a permanent position near Edinburgh, which is excellent news. So congratulations to her!

My Year in... Health

A middling year, in that the IBS continues to annoy, my neck is never quite as good as perhaps might be hoped, and now my teeth have decided to be a worry (though it's entirely possible that some or all of these are bound up together - the IBS in particular seems to delight in coming up with new effects that leave me wondering "what fresh hell is this?"). But there hasn't been anything serious, which is good news.

The aim of losing weight was slightly more successful than last year, but still not going well. Sigh.

My Year in... Gaming

2015 has been a mixed year for gaming as well. I've run a good few games that have been mostly successful, but I've also had a couple of disappointments. Sticking to the positive, though, I've been very much enjoying my "Firefly: the Lost Episodes" games, and look forward to continuing them into the next year.

On the playing front, this year has been particularly poor, though - I basically haven't managed to get to the other side of the screen, which is a shame.

I'm also a little disappointed that both of the games I play have almost entirely ceased publication. But then, I'm not actually sure that more books really improves things. And anyway, there's always Pathfinder.

For 2016, it's hard to see what will happen - this will depend on where we end up living. So it might prove to be more of the same, with both the "Firefly: the Lost Episodes" and "Eberron: Dust to Dust" campaigns carrying on (and in which case it would be nice to play a session or two on the other side of the screen). Or next year may well see me playing my last, which would be a shame.

My Year in... Band

Band has actually been quite enjoyable this year, mostly, despite a very disappointing competition season. And although we've been downgraded, and lost a number of people as a result, there's a sudden optimism that we'll be able to promote our learners and that things are looking up. Which is odd, but definitely good.

My Year in... Resolutions

As always, the wrap-up of annual goals, and setting of goals for next year, are handled in another post.

My Year in... Travel

There have been several trips this year, taking in no fewer than four countries (or three if you only including independent countries).

In April, LC and I took our annual spring break, heading up to Banff for our anniversary. Which was a good trip, if a long way to travel.

In June, we spent a weekend in the Republic of Ireland, helping out at a church weekend for one of our partner churches (or 'helping' in my case). That was another good trip, but a strange one - it seemed no sooner had we arrived than it was time to pack up and come away. It was also odd driving home, when we crossed the border to Northern Ireland and I suddenly discovered that the hire car's speedometer was marked in metric only!

July saw us spending just over a week in France. Six days of this were spent in La Tranche Sur Mer with my family, and then three days were spent in Paris. Again, my biggest take-away from this one was to do with driving - I really didn't enjoy driving the hire car around the outskirts of Paris. But apart from that it was a really good holiday. The highlight was probably the day we spent at "Puy du Fou", which was great.

Almost immediately thereafter, we found ourselves heading to England for Grandad's birthday party - 90 years old!

And just a few more weeks after that, there was our trip down to Bridgnorth for Bex's birthday party. Another long drive for a fairly short visit, but good to see the extended family again.

Finally, in the recent October break, LC and I spent a few days in a parallel dimension, having driven up to Fort William. That was again a good trip, blessed with really great weather and a steam train.

So 2015 has been a rather busy year, really!

My Year in... Faith

There's not too much to tell, except that this year saw me asked to lead an occasional Bible study - the result of the normal leader being called away for much of the time due to work commitments. That went well, but felt a little odd.

2016 will see me tackling the second volume of Don Carson's "For the Love of God", and consequently going for another read-through of the whole Bible.

Otherwise, there's not much to tell. Things are proceeding much as they have done this last age.

My Year in... Love

2015 has been one of those quiet years where there's not a huge amount to say. LC has been rather stressed out by work, and I think we've both come to find the flat rather oppressive (though perhaps for different reasons). 2016 will see significant changes in both these areas, which means hopefully we'll be able to find a better equilibrium.

My Year in... Departures

This year has, however, been marked with some sadness. We lost Leonard, and we lost Terry, and we lost Christopher...

And then we lost Jack. The passing of LC's Grandfather was one of those devastatingly sad things that you can know is coming and yet you can't actually be prepared for. At the end, though, he passed as well as maybe can be hoped - he fell asleep and never woke up again, with LC's parents with him so he didn't pass alone. I did think the funeral hit exactly the right note, with the minister's observation that we had to say two things: thank you, and goodbye.

Adieu, Jack. You are missed.

My Year... Overall

2015 has been a good year, for the most part, but also tough at times. In particular, the last couple of months have been difficult, and I've felt an increasing discontent with things generally. There's been nothing I've been able to point to as being the issue, but everything has just been... not quite right. I think a lot of that has been down to a combination of generally crappy weather (which has had a greater impact than it really should) and an impatience to just get on with things, and the house move in general. In reality, it's a good thing that this has taken longer than was hoped, in that LC's new job may change our analysis of what's the right next move. But it has been frustrating nonetheless.

It's fair to say 2015 hasn't been as good a year as 2014, but it's also important to note that despite that this was still a good year. 2016 looks hopeful, despite the uncertainties. A lot will become clearer once we've decided where to move, and even moreso once we've actually moved.

As with last year, this will be my last post of this year, so I'll end off by wishing anyone who still reads my nonsense a very happy New Year, and all the best for 2016.

End of Year Update on Goals

With the year rapidly coming to an end, it's time for the end-of-year wrap-up. And so my first post on the topic is the update on my goals for the year:

  • Weight: This one had some small progress, but fell well short of the target. Still, that's a little better than last year. Once again, this goal rolls over to next year, and does so unchanged.
  • Books: Done. The final list of books will be posted tomorrow, but the headline figure is that I have completed 60 books this year.
  • Games: Done. I actually completed this goal back in November, when I ran the ninth "Firefly: Lost Episodes" game of the year. Added to the three "Eberron: Dust to Dust" sessions that I had run by that point, I made the target of twelve game sessions. Unfortunately, the December session of "Eberron: Dust to Dust" was cancelled, but the "Christmas Game" did take the total to thirteen sessions for the year, just over the total. I never got a chance to actually play this year, which is unfortunate, but this still counts as a success.
  • Work: Done. Work was quite difficult this year, but also quite successful. All in all, I'm happy with that.
  • Band: The goal for this year was to see one of my learners break into the main band at some point during the season. In the event, he started competing quite early in the season, and played at pretty much every competition thereafter, including the World Championships. So this goal was completed quite quickly and surprisingly easily.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: Ongoing. The house move had to be put on the back burner for various reasons, but almost all of the preparatory work is now done. We're therefore hoping to get moved early in the new year.
  • Experimental Cookery: Done. It's been a bit tricky keeping this one going, as finding interesting and attractive recipes, and doing so on a weekly basis, has been difficult. However, the final tally is 52 experimental cookeries, which is good.
  • The Imaginarium: Done. Again, this was completed, with the final tally being 62 entries in that blog this year.

So, that's six goals completed, one failed, and one ongoing. I'm happy with that, though a little concerned at the repeated failure.

I'm going to set a much more restricted set of goals for next year, and so am able to do that now. I'm dropping the Experimental Cookery goal - I'll continue with the series, but I'm not going to attempt one a week, nor even number the entries in 2016. Likewise, I'm not going to set a goal for the band, nor for work (that wasn't a good goal anyway). And the Imaginarium will, I think, take care of itself, so no need for a formal goal there.


  • Weight: This is the same goal yet again: I'd like to lose a stone and a half next year.
  • Books: And, again, the same goal once more: 60 books. I only have three of my sub-series picked out, being 12 books from The List, 12 Pathfinder books, and 6 Pathfinder Tales.
  • Games: The goal here is simply to continue both the "Firefly: Lost Episodes" and "Eberron: Dust to Dust" games. One or both of these may come to an end in 2016, but it's hard to know at this time. I'm not going to set a goal for either the total number of sessions, nor for spending any time on the other side of the screen, though of course the latter would be pleasant.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: The goal here is simple: to move home in 2016. The target is actually to move as soon as is practical, but these things always take considerably longer than you think.

And that's it. The goals for next year are probably a bit trivial, but given the difficulties I've faced with the first for the last several years and given the upheaval represented by the last, I think that's enough to be going on with.

I also need to note that the Gaming goal is provisional, based on the results of the house move. If we remains within the Falkirk area, it can continue unchanged. If we end up moving further afield, however, this goal may cease to be relevant and so will be dropped.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #52: Spicy South Indian Chicken Curry

For Christmas I received a new cook book, "The Hairy Bikers' Complete Mum's Know Best". I also received a new pot suitable for cooking many things. And so, for the final EC2015, I made use of my new book to cook something in my new pot. The chosen meal was a very hot, very dry curry.

The recipe was quick and easy to make, though it did remind me again that we really should get a spice grinder - there was really too much to do with a mortar and pestle. But once the paste was made up, it then became just a case of adding things to the pot in order, which isn't exactly challenging!

The resulting meal was very nice, but near-nuclear in heat. Seriously, my mouth was burning for twenty minutes after eating! So, that's not entirely ideal. LC felt also that it needed more of a sauce, rather than being the very dry curry that resulted. I can't say I disagree.

And that's that - the last experimental cookery of 2015. I'll still do some in 2016, but I'll not be numbering them, nor will I aim for one a week. It's a fun series, but it's also a bit of a hassle coming up with something new every week.

#60: "Dune", by Frank Herbert (a book from The List, and also the book that sees me complete that goal as well! This may also be the last book of this year, though there's a possibility that this month's Pathfinder may yet arrive in time to be read before Friday. We'll see.)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

LC and I went to see the new Star Wars film last Thursday at midnight. I've held off on doing a review since then, as it's one that I do think should be watched un-spoiled if at all possible. That said, a week on we're now past the statute of limitations for spoilers, so here we go.

Seriously, if you want to see it unspoiled, you should probably stop reading now.


I thoroughly enjoyed the new Star Wars film, which felt much closer to the original trilogy than any of the prequels. Indeed, I watched all seven Star Wars films over the course of eight days (in a really odd order: I, VI, V, VI, VII, II, III), and AotC and RotS are actually quite painful in places - they're just so bad. TFA isn't - it's at least as good as RotJ. (Not as good as either SW or ESB, but then nothing could be.)

Having said that...

TFA very much feels like a "Star Wars Greatest Hits" compilation - we have another desert-dwelling kid who turns out to be powerful in the Force, we have another plucky droid with a secret message to deliver, we have a desperate escape from a planet in the Millennium Falcon, we have another attack on a Death Star-like superweapon, we have X-Wings and TIE Fighters, we have the shocking death of a mentor-figure, we have parental angst, we have a Jedi master - hidden on some remote world he is, hmm? - we have a new rebellion (sorry, Resistance) against a new empire (sorry, First Order)...

And so it goes. This actually works out quite well for anyone seeking to run an RPG in this new era - there's almost no need for any official support, since virtually everything already exists, even for the ancient d6 system. So that's cool.

The other thing that I didn't like about the film was that Captain Phasma has joined Boba Fett, Darth Maul, and General Grievous on the list of characters who look cool, are heavily-hyped, and then turn out to be a waste of screen-time. I felt this character was not only a wasted opportunity, but was actively mis-handled - apply just a hint of pressure and she folds like an umbrella? Lame.

But I liked the three new leads (Rey, Finn, and Poe - I'm assuming the last will be a bigger character in VIII). I liked the new droid BB8. And I thought the direction they took the new Darth (okay, "Knight of Ren") was particularly interesting. Plus, it was good to see Luke, Leia, and Chewie again - I thought they were in the film just enough to anchor it to the originals, without over-shadowing the new heroes. So that's cool.

I have much more mixed feelings about Han, though. On the one hand, I was very happy to see him "going back to what he does best" - the EU applied way too much hyperbole to Han Solo (and the Falcon), making him the best of the best of the best, and I much preferred him as the cynical smuggler made good, and by extension as the solely-wounded failed 'husband' and father ('husband' because it's not clear is he and Leia married or were simply lovers). And while I thought he was a little too prominent in the film, that made a lot of sense in light of his death. Which was cool.

And so, that's that. I'm hoping to see it again once more in the cinema, probably in glorious 2D this time, and then will certainly get it on blu-ray some time around May. And now I'm looking forward to "Rogue One" and also to Episode VIII, rather more than I have looked forward to a new Star Wars film for some time. Well done, Disney - as with Marvel, you've treated it right.

Though the 20th Century Fox fanfare was a miss.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #51: Tonkatsu Pork

The penultimate Experimental Cookery of the year was another entry from "The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure". Once again, it was very nice but very unhealthy - breaded pork steaks shallow-fried, and served with a sauce. The sauce, in particular, was very nice, and I may well make that again even without the steaks.

There's not much more to say, really. It did what it said, it was very nice, I'll probably make it again, but it doesn't make the top nine. The end.

I don't know what the final EC2015 entry will be, but I'm determined that there will be one more, and indeed that there will be one more. I'm hoping to tackle it this weekend, if only to get it done.

#59: "Red Dwarf: Last Human", by Doug Naylor

(I'm still working my way through "Dune", which I should get finished by the end of the year. But even that's now looking a bit doubtful! I still haven't received the Pathfinder for this month, so may or may not get to read that. We'll see.)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Congratulations to the BBC

I must congratulate the BBC on this year's wonderful Christmas advert, featuring a poor lonely sprout on his travels through winter, before being properly honoured at Christmas. They've successfully joined this blog in the modern era of 2006. Next thing we know, they'll be scheduling a Christmas special of "The Office"...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Death of the Christmas Present

I had to abandon my initial version of this one - it turned into an entirely different rant than I'd expected and intended. Sometimes that happens, as my thoughts disappear down a rabbit hole.


'tis the season to go shopping, and as a consequence of this there has been a great deal of swapping of wish-lists. Because at this point most Christmas gift shopping now boils down to asking the person what they want, going on to Amazon, and buying that exact thing. Which isn't exactly the stuff great Christmas songs are made of, I'll grant you.

But there's a growing problem even with the Christmas list. We're increasingly moving towards a world where everything has become a digital download. Want a book? It's very likely you want it on Kindle. Want some music? That'll be MP3s, then; CDs are pretty much obsolete. Want a video-game? That'll be a "season pass" for a download. A movie? Well, we're not there yet, but we're not all that far away from DVDs and Blu-rays being a thing of the past. (Indeed, blu-rays were already yesterday's technology before they even came out. We just haven't caught up yet.)

All of which rather sucks for the whole "need something to unwrap" thing. Which isn't exactly ideal - and it's not going to change. In fact, I think we may be coming to a point where, beyond the age of ten or so, the giving of actual presents will just become a thing of the past. Which is a shame.

(As a consequence of this, one of my gifts this year is going to be a nice, shiny USB thumb drive - 32GB, if I recall correctly. Which isn't actually the gift at all, although it's a generally useful thing to have. But, instead, it's going to become a useful physical token which I can reuse as a gift at each Christmas and birthday - load it with the appropriate digital downloads, wrap it up, and there's at least something there to be handed over. Of course, it's still a bit of a cheat, but it's as close as I have to a solution.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #50: Bulgogi Beef

Another quick and easy Asian Adventure from the Hairy Bikers, this one was pretty much a matter of marinating thinly-sliced steak in soy sauce overnight, and then frying it for a few minutes. The results were extremely tasty, especially given how easy the meal was to produce.

And so #50 in this series was a resounding success. Two more to go!

24: 100 Episodes In

Last night I reached episode 100 in my re-watch of 24. Obviously enough, this means I've now completed the first four series plus four episodes of the fifth.

Thus far, it remains much as I remembered - it's a really, really good show, if rather far-fetched at times. And thus far I remain of the opinion that the third season was the best, though that may change. Certainly, I had forgotten just how good series four was!

Of course, the worst thing about revisiting a show of the calibre of 24 is the cruel reminder that it has ended, and that we just don't have anything that quite hits the same spot. For a while there, it looked like "Homeland" might be it, but that turned out not to be the case. Still, better to have a show that shows us just what television can do, rather than not have one at all.

1999 All Over Again

"The Force Awakens" opens in the cinemas tonight, and LC and I have tickets to a midnight showing. Which is all rather exciting - as is so often the case, it seemed ages away when it was first announced, then it gradually crept closer, then the tickets went on sale, and then it was suddenly here.

This will be the fourth Star Wars film I've seen on opening day: I was too young for the first three, but in 1999 I left work early to see "The Phantom Menace" as soon as possible, I went to a midnight showing for "Attack of the Clones", and then just went to a regular evening showing for "Revenge of the Sith". (I've also only been to two midnight showings before: AotC as mentioned, plus the first "Spiderman", which I actually saw in an advance screening, which was nice.)

Part of the reason for going so soon is simple impatience - I want to see it as soon as possible, and anyway my next viable opportunity would be Saturday which is a veritable age away. But part of it is also a desire to avoid spoilers, which will become increasingly difficult as time goes on.

Indeed, I've even avoided reading any of the reviews of the film for this reason - one of the reviews of AotC dropped a massive spoiler in the text with no preamble, about which I was not best pleased. But the other part is that I don't trust the reviews to be accurate anyway - as with any J.K. Rowling novel, or a new season of Game of Thrones, or similar, I suspect many of the reviewers are reviewing the name "Star Wars" and not the merits of the movie itself. Indeed, they could probably have written their reviews without bothering to see the film.

Today is in many ways like that day back in 1999 - a new Star Wars trilogy is beginning, a new hope that this time they might have gotten it right. And, if only for a brief moment I'll be back to those Saturday mornings where, week after week, we'd get up early to watch the first film (on Betamax no less!). It's going to be weird having the Disney logo instead of the 20th Century Fox fanfare that nature intended, but then we'll be off on the adventure...

But, mostly, I still trying desperately not to get my hopes up. After the crushing disappointments of the Star Wars prequels, and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", and the Lord of the Rings prequels, and SPECTRE, I've found it's best just to assume everything will suck until I've seen it.

Which is probably wise, but I can't imagine it will survive once the text "A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away..." appears on the screen. And we'll be back to 1999 all over again.

Please don't suck...

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #49: Chicken Shichimi Katsu Curry

This was great, but oh-so unhealthy. It was the second recipe taken from "The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure", and was a nice, simple meal to prepare - bread some chicken and then shallow-fry for a few minutes on each side. And, of course, make up a curry sauce and some rice to have with it.

The result was extremely tasty, and the whole meal was pretty quick and easy. But we won't be having it too often - it's just far too unhealthy! And in future I think I'll use the deep fryer instead, as that's a bit more controlled and rather safer than a precarious frying pan.

But I'm well pleased with this week's meal. Next week should be another exploration of the same book; I'm sure there's something that we can find to tempt us.

Not Historic Enough

Last night featured a brief respite from the crushing normality of life. Due to a complete lack of other things to do, I found myself watching Reporting Scotland, and there was a feature on the search for someone for the new £10 note. Apparently, they wanted someone who was a Scottish historical figure and who had made a noteworthy contribution to science or innovation.

"Huzzah!" I thought. "It could be me!"

So I rushed through to the Spare Room to fill out my application form online, only to have LC crush my latest life's ambition. She feels I'm just not historic enough to qualify, by virtue of not being dead.

How disappointing.

#58: "The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy", by Jem Roberts

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #48: Seared Asian Beef, Best Noodle Salad, and Ginger Dressing

This week's Experimental Cookery sees us returning to "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals". There aren't too many things in that book left that I'm inclined to try, but this was a good one. Quick and easy, and it tasted nice. The dressing was especially nice, with the combination of strips of ginger and the heat from the chilli. The salad was also okay, although there was a bit too much of it!

I do have two criticisms of the meal: there wasn't enough steak relative to the rest, and the noodles weren't terribly pleasant. In future, I think I'll forego draining them, and thus leave them warm.

Otherwise, this was a success. We'll no doubt try it again, although I think we'll mix up the selection of vegetables a bit in future!

I have no idea what's on the menu for next week. I do want to fit one more cake in before the end of the year, but other than that I'm flexible.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #47: Chow Mein

This is actually the third time I've done chow mein as an experimental cookery, but the first time involving pork rather than chicken. The recipe comes from "The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure", which was a fun series and is a lovely book - but is also a book I really don't envisage using terribly often. Unfortunately, it seems to rely quite a bit on fairly obscure ingredients, and I'm not hugely inspired to go hunt them out. A shame.

Still, last night's meal was a joy - quick and simple to put together, and both filling and flavourful in the eating. Which is pretty much ideal, really. I definitely enjoyed the switch of meat, as I've become a little bored of having chicken in everything! I'm quite certain we'll be having this again.

On Tuesday I'm planning a return to Jamie's "Fifteen Minute Meals" for one week only, and them I'm hoping to harvest at least a few entries from the "Asian Adventure". We'll see. Anyway, there are now five more entries to come in this series this year, at least one of which I hope will be another cake of some description.

Monday, November 23, 2015


This week's "Doctor Who" was well made, well scripted, and well acted. And I hated it.

The reason I hated it was very little to do with the show, and much more to do with spoilers. (Oh, yeah, there are going to be some spoilers in this post. If you don't want to know, skip to the end.)

For the past week, there have been interviews everywhere about Clara's exit from the show, about how she definitely won't be returning, and detailing the sequence of emotions we were supposed to feel during her departure. Many of which were right there in the headlines, so it wasn't as if I could choose not to read them - by the time I knew the article was about DW, I'd already read the spoiler. And, indeed, there was a whopping great spoiler right before the show started.

The net effect of all of this publicity was that the show itself left me completely cold. Oh, she's going to die. Oh, it's going to happen like that. Oh, they're emoting all over the place. Oh, I don't care.

Gee, thanks.

The thing is, some people like spoilers, and more power to them. And some people don't mind spoilers, and that's their prerogative, too. But some people like to avoid spoilers, because knowing this stuff reduces their enjoyment of the show - they like the surprise that's just been ruined.

Now, it is fair enough that complaining about spoilers needs to be time-limited. If I complain because someone says, "Darth Vader is Luke's father!", then I'm going to look rather foolish. Indeed, complaining about being spoiled on the most recent series of "Game of Thrones" would be a bit much - yes, I haven't seen it, but I've had adequate opportunity to do so; if it really matters to me to see it "clean", I really need to take responsibility for doing so promptly. Because people will discuss it, and it's not practical to expect them not to.

But at the same time, there's a limit to how soon it's reasonable to expect people to have seen it - there's a difference between discussing the plot details of a film the week after it is released versus doing so immediately after the first showing.

And, of course, in this case we're talking about spoilers for a show that hadn't aired yet. That is, spoilers for something I couldn't have seen "clean". Thanks, BBC.

(There's a bit more, but I'm not going to comment further right now, because Spoilers!)

#56: "Waterloo", by Bernard Cornwell
#57: "Dragons at Crumbling Castle", by Terry Pratchett

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Help! There's a big scary yellow thing in the sky. I don't know what it is, but I'm sure I don't like it!

Experimental Cookery 2015 #46: Turkey Burgers and Chips

Alas, this one was a disaster. It just didn't work at all. Which was a real shame, since I'd had high hopes.

This recipe came from the "Hairy Dieters: Eat For Life" (the yellow cover), and seemed pretty easy - slice and then lightly fry some leeks, grate some courgette, then mix those with turkey mince, salt, and pepper, and you've got the basis for some tasty burgers.

It turned out that I had a mucky pink sludge. There was way too much moisture in the thing, and it just wasn't pleasant at all. I cooked up two of the burgers... and the binned the whole lot. Not only did it look nothing like the picture in the book, it was just nasty.

The chips were nice, though.

Genuinely Scary

I was genuinely scared by the cover of the Daily Mail this morning, with the picture of the 'robocop' police officer. And not just because of their idiotic labelling of a human woman as 'robocop', which is about what I'd come to expect from the Daily Mail, but rather what the picture represents.

I actually don't have any issue with the new "shoot to kill" policy with regard to ongoing terrorist activities. Nor, indeed, do I have any great issue with the increased prevalence of police armed with firearms while on routine patrols - I would very much prefer not to see this, but I broadly trust that these weapons will only be issued to people properly trained to use them, and I broadly trust them to only use those weapons where it is genuinely appropriate.

But what does worry me a great deal is the increased militarisation of our police forces, which is most easily seen by a quick glance at that newspaper this morning - that's not a picture of a policewoman; it's a picture of a soldier.

Though, actually, the problems started quite some time before that, the moment the first member of the police referred to 'civilians' meaning not the police.

The thing is, it's actually vitally important that the police are civilians. They're not, and must never become, a body apart. It's actually difficult, perhaps impossible, to over-state just how incredibly important that principle is - because the moment the police are a body apart is the moment we're under martial law. And that's a Very Bad Thing.

It is, of course, appropriate that the police maintain some special units for dealing with terrorism, and that those units be appropriately armed. It's also appropriate that in areas of heightened security (such as airports and, yes, Wembley stadium last night) such units be deployed visibly.

But that must be the exception, not the norm. The creeping militarisation of the police must be resisted. And this practice of using the word 'civilians' to set the rest of us apart from the police must stop.

#55: "The Long Mars", by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #45: Lamb Lollipops, Curry Sauce, Rice & Peas

And so Wednesday rolled around, and it was once again time for an Experimental Cookery. This week's recipe was a return to "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", and to one of the recipes he did on the TV show of the same name.

As I've come to expect from this book, the meal was quick and easy but took considerably longer than fifteen minutes to make. Just getting out the ingredients and washing those that needed it took several minutes, which is always a bit of a cheat. But no matter - it was still quick enough for a weeknight meal.

The end result was fine. I think it had a little too much balsamic vinegar, but that was my issue. But Jamie's trick with the poppadoms and the microwave just doesn't work for me at all. Oh, and there was an awful lot of it!

But the meal tasted nice, and it certainly hit the spot. I'm not sure I'll make this again, though - I'm not sure why not, but it didn't quite grab me as much as some others from this book. But you never know, I guess.

#54: "One Hundred Years of Solitude", by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (A Book from the List)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #44: Caramel Sticky Toffee Cake

This week, in my ongoing quest to prove Sheldon wrong, I made half a cake - as you may recall, it was his contention that one couldn't make half a sandwich but rather that it should be a "small sandwich", but...

This recipe came from the BBC website, and was in fact Tamal's own recipe from his final Showstopper in the GBBO. I was certainly tempted by that particular cake, and especially when the judges said he'd basically created a new classic. Plus, I definitely thought "I could do that", so... (Though not the decorations. I'm not entirely crazy!)

So on Tuesday evening I gathered my ingredients and set to work. This involved chopping lots of fruit (seriously, lots of fruit), coating it in flour, then mixing up a cake batter, combining fruit with cake, and then baking in the oven for an hour or so. Easy enough, if rather time consuming.

So it came out of the oven, and it was a thing of beauty - my best cake to date. So I started in on the caramel sauce for the topping while the cake cooled a bit, and then it was time to transfer it to the cooling rack.

And then disaster struck. Because as I was transferring the cake, I managed to drop it a bit. Fortunately, it went on the work surface and not the floor, but less fortunately it hit the surface and exploded. And suddenly my cake resembled the second Death Star more than the first.

My exclamation of despair attracted the attention of Lady Chocolat, who abandoned her work to see what had proved this Vader-esque cry. So great was her sympathy that she proceeded to take a picture and post it on the internet. Which was much appreciated.

Anyway, I recovered from my despair. I reassembled the battered cake somewhat, and completed the task - cool it, cut it in half, spread the caramel sauce, then re-sandwich. Then, I left it all to cool overnight, before spreading the rest of the caramel in the morning.

And it worked. It still tasted great - he really has hit on something there - and although half of the cake was rather battered, it was still edible. And, really, who cares when you're about to chew it up anyway?

That said, the cake had been intended for consumption by other people. And so I proceeded to cut the good half from the battered remnants, and took only the assembled half-cake with me. And that's how I made half a cake.

But I think I might be giving up cakes. That's two in a row that have gone wrong, which is just sad. Either that, or I'll have to make lots of them, until I master the art...

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Big Stupid Brother

So, two weeks after TalkTalk get hacked by a bunch of teenagers, our wonderful government decide it's a good idea to require ISPs to store our entire browsing history for a full year.

I feel safer already.

Monday, November 02, 2015


I really must learn: never look forward to anything, assume everything will suck. Because the lower your expectations the better than chance you won't be disappointed.

Lady Chocolat and I went to see "SPECTRE" on Friday. I had, indeed, been looking forward to this film a great deal, after enjoying "Skyfall" immensely. I hadn't bothered to read the reviews going, and have now done so, and they raise a question: did the reviewers see the same film as I did?

There will be spoilers from here on out. So if you don't want to know, you should probably skip to the end, where I list two more books I've finished.

The film starts very well, with a lovely action sequence in Mexico City followed by a very impressive opening sequence - I particularly enjoyed the nods to the previous Daniel Craig films here. Good stuff.

And then the film continues very well, the Bond being grounded by 'M' for his antics in Mexico, then the revelation that he has a hidden agenda (which was great), and then he's off to Rome. And Monica Belluci is great, too, for all of the ten seconds she's on-screen (or so it seems).

And then Bond is off to the grant meeting of the ultra-secret Secret Evil Organisation. In a secret location. Secretly.

Indeed, it's so secret that they film the evil bad guy in the shadows, so we totally can't see that it's Doctor Evil. Though the effect is somewhat ruined by an appearance by Frau Farbissina.

Anyway, the Secret Evil Organisation's main order of business is the selection of a secret assassin to kill "The Pale King" (ooh, mysterious!), and then it turns out Doctor Evil knew Bond was spying on them all along. And so we have an Exciting Chase!

The next bit is actually quite good again - the film starts to bring together lots of threads from the previous Craig films, weaving them into a coherent whole. Good stuff. And, yeah, some of it doesn't quite work, but it's not particularly objectionable.


After following the plot for a good long time, and dealing with the Secret Evil Organisation's deadly WWE assassin, Bond and his latest love interest complete their train journey. They've tracked Doctor Evil to his hidden lair, and are all set to confront him.

The big problem with this is that it's an obvious trap and Bond equally obviously has no plan beyond "go in and get captured". Seriously, that is the full extent of his cunning approach. Basically, it's exactly the same problem as in Skyfall, except that this time it's Bond, rather than Silva, who gets himself captured for no reason.

But worse is to come. Because, in a rather spectacular show of self-parody, Doctor Evil proceeds to explain his Evil Scheme to Bond. He then places Bond in a deadly-and-yet-inexplicably-easy-to-escape situation. And then the BIG revelation. Actually, two of them: it turns out that Doctor Evil is secretly Bond's (adopted) brother all along! And, further, it turns out that although Doctor Evil has been going by one name all along, he's actually chosen to go by another. Yes, he's Khan!

Anyway, Bond escapes using the gadget that Q gave him way back at the start of the film. And, somehow, this causes the hidden lair the explode in a huge fireball. I can only assume it was secretly a Volcano Lair in disguise. And Bond and his love interest head back to good old Blighty for tea and biscuits. Good show!

(Oh, yes, one more thing: during the gratuitous torture scene, Doctor Evil declares that this will damage Bond's sight, hearing, and balance; while that will destroy his ability to recognise faces. In the event, both of those things do precisely nothing. Are we to assume, then, that Bond is actually made of rubber, like most modern action heroes? Or is it just that his mojo is so concentrated as to be beyond parody?)

So, we head to London for the final showdown, complete with obligatory bad-guy-falling-off-things, love-interest-in-peril, and buildings-exploding. It's all very exciting, I'm sure, though by this point I'd lost interest - the whole last hour seemed like something tacked on to the end of a better film.

And then it ends. Bond rides off into the night in his newly-restored Connery-era car with his love interest, with Doctor Evil safely stored for the next sequel. The end.

What's most annoying about "SPECTRE", in my opinion, is that most of it was a good film. Up until Bond gets off the train, I was actually enjoying it - lots of good spy stuff, lots of good action sequences, and fairly solid characterisations. Good, good stuff.

But that last hour was just half-baked. Indeed, it was pretty much "Quantum of Solace" all over again - they had part of a good script but it needed another few passes to make sense. Only where QoS has the excuse of the writer's strike meaning they couldn't get that extra work done (and is blessedly short), "SPECTRE" had every advantage lavished on it. It should have been better.

Oh yes, and one more thing: I'm now really sick of the movie approach of calling the villain one thing only to reveal them as another - as done with Khan in "Star Trek: Into Darkness", and again here with Doctor Evil. It's really not as clever as the writers seem to feel, especially when that big reveal was known over a year ago.

Anyway, that's that. And now I'm off to ruthlessly crush any optimism I have for the new "Star Wars" - it's critically important that I go into that one expecting "Attack of the Clones" all over again...

#52: "Louise de la Vallière", by Alexandre Dumas
#53: "Pathfinder: Dance of the Damned", by Richard Pett

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dear PC World

For the game yesterday I felt I needed a print-out of the adventure, rather than trying to run it from the tablet. (In retrospect... yep, this was the right call.) And so on Saturday afternoon I set it printing, which it duly did.

Very, very slowly.

Anyway, about half past midnight, the printer came to a halt having used up not only all four of the fitted ink cartridges but also the entire content of the replacement blue cartridge we had in stock. Which meant that we couldn't finish the print job that night. (We actually also needed more paper, but that was less of an issue.)

So on Sunday morning I went out to PC World bright and early. And, luckily, they still stock the required cartridges. (It's now a very old printer, so that's becoming less certain each time.) Huzzah!

This is necessary context for my two-part rant.

Firstly, I'm disgusted to find that PC World now have their ink cartridges fastened to the shelf with security tags - I wasn't able to select the item I wanted, take it to the till, and proceed to pay; instead I had to find an assistant, get them to get the item for me, and then take that to the till to pay.

The big problem with that is what it says about PC World's assessment of their customers. Apparently, their baseline assumption is that we'll steal those cartridges if they're not locked down. Well, frankly, I don't like being treated like a thief. Find another way.

But, if we get right down to it, I can understand that measure. I guess they probably have been seeing a lot of ink getting stolen, and so have take counter-measures. Disgusting as it is, there's probably reason behind it.

Secondly, though, what is totally unacceptable is that there weren't any assistants available on the shop floor. I had to go to the till to find someone, in order to take them across to the ink cartridge I wanted, for them to then go get the required tool, in order to free up the ink cartridge, so that I can take it to the till and thus pay. All of which took about ten minutes for a process that should have taken seconds.

That's a joke, and a bad one at that. If you absolutely must lock down your stock so customers can't get it, then you absolutely must have staff on hand to get it for them. And those staff absolutely must have the required tool on hand to unlock those security tags.

(Though, also, there's a related rant: dear PDF vendors... printer-friendly PDFs, damnit!)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Interesting Times

I'm not hugely interested in the upcoming Scottish elections. Partly due to politics fatigue, partly because I no longer see any hope of a better society through politics, and partly because I think they're mostly a foregone conclusion - it's hard to see any outcome other than another SNP government, with only some small doubt over whether it will be another majority or a return to minority governance.

However, the one thing that does interest me somewhat is the question of what will happen with the Tories, the Lib Dems, and, especially, Labour.

Here's the thing: for a long time, Labour was the big party in Scotland. And part of that success (though by no means all) was due to them being the only viable alternative - for a long time, they could capitalise on the "anyone but the Tories" vote; this later shifted to the "anyone but the SNP" (which brought in a different group of tactical voters, but the result was much the same).

But the problem is that a tactical vote only works if the recipient looks like they have a chance of winning. Thus, the "anyone but the Tories" vote has now shifted pretty definitively to the SNP. And the "anyone but the SNP" argument no longer works, as Labour have just shown that they have no more ability to win against them than do the Tories or the Lib Dems - anyone who voted for Labour tactically might as well have voted for their real preferred party.

So, I wonder just what impact that might have. How many people have tactically voted Labour in the past in order to cut out the SNP? And how many of those voters, seeing now that it won't make much difference, will instead swing back to their preferred Tories or Lib Dems?

(I suppose there's still a chunk of anti-Tory voters who are also anti-independence, who might therefore still tactically vote Labour to try to keep both Tories and SNP out. Though I wonder how many of those there truly are. I also wonder whether any such voters might be swayed by the knowledge that an SNP vote isn't a vote for independence - at the most, it's a vote for another referendum, where there's still a majority for staying.)

So that's a matter of some (fairly academic) interest to me: will Labour's vote hold, or will they now start to lose ground to the Tories? Have the Lib Dems hit bottom, or will the Alistair Carmichael fiasco hurt them still further?

Oh, and if Labour do continue to slide, will Kezia Dugdale be forced to resign, leading to another new leader, or will Labour stick with her as the best available option? But I guess that one depends on just what Labour do with their list nominees, and so depends on who is available as a potential successor.

Update on Goals

And so we near the end of October, and it's time for the penultimate update on goals. The next update will come with the end-of-year round-up.

  • Weight: Some more, slight, progress. I won't reach my target with this goal, but at least I should end the year having lost some weight.
  • Books: By day 300 I should by rights be at 49.3 books read. I'm currently reading book 52, so I'm still well ahead on that one. I'm also up-to-date on all the sub-lists, and indeed have finished two! The question now is less whether I'll reach the goal, but rather how many books I'll exceed it by, but we'll find that out at the end of December!
  • Games: As I suggested in my previous update, I'm essentially caught up on this goal, largely by virtue of starting a second campaign. I now have seven Firefly "Lost Episodes" run and two sessions of "Eberron: Dust to Dust". I'm due to run the eighth Firefly "Lost Episode", "Bucking the Tiger", tonight, which will bring me back on target. Huzzah!
  • Work: This is back to progressing at a reasonable pace, which is good.
  • Band: Done.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: This has had some movement, but has proven to be a bit tricky. In particular, it looks like we won't be starting the move process 'properly' until early next year, with a likely move some time around Easter. That's not terrible. What is less good is some of the news that came out of a recent meeting, but I can't really blog about that until all this is done.
  • Experimental Cookery: By this point I 'should' be at 42.7 entries in this series for the year. As I've now done 43, I'm pretty much on target. So I'm hopeful that this one will hit the goal.
  • The Imaginarium: As with the "books" target, I should be at 49.3 entries by this point of the year. I'm currently at 52, so, once again, I'm ahead of target, and fully expect to meet this target with some ease.

So that's that. Things are now looking considerably better than they have before - four goals are now at or ahead of target, with a fifth set to catch up tonight. One goal is actually complete. Two goals clearly won't be completed this year, although one of those isn't unexpected (and we will have made some very significant progress towards it). Only the weight goal remains an issue, and I do expect to end the year having at least made some progress. Assuming, that is, the last 65 days work out as hoped...

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #43: Thai Green Chicken Curry

For this week's effort I'm revisiting a curry I actually did earlier in the year, but again using a different method: this one comes from the Hairy Bikers' "Great Curries". That's a book I like looking at, but there is actually very little that grabs me as a must-cook.

This was quick and easy to put together, especially once I'd got all the ingredients washed, trimmed and otherwise ready. Then it was just a matter of adding them to the wok in the right order.

The resulting meal was very nice, and was by far the best of the three versions so far - it wasn't so over-poweringly hot as Jamie's version, and also benefitted from a made sauce rather than a bought one, putting it ahead of Lorraine's version. So I expect this to be my go-to version from now on.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The End of the Union

I'm actually in favour of English Votes for English laws, at least in principle. It is, actually, dead right that politicians from England should be the ones to decide policy on matters that don't affect Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, just as the devolved assemblies deal with devolved matters here (and there).

But there's a big problem with EVEL as it is being implemented. Actually, there are two.

The first big problem is that there are very few truly English-only matters. Because of the way funding in the UK is determined, any change made to (say) the NHS in England has a direct effect on Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland - if the budget is cut there, the badget is similarly reduced here. Likewise education, likewise policing, and so on and so forth.

That's not an insurmountable problem by any means. There are a couple of fairly simple solutions: they could reform the Barnett Formula so that those knock-on effects don't happen; or they could split decisions about allocating the money (UK matters) from those on spending the money (England-only).

Naturally, they're not doing that. Instead, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs are going to be excluded from votes that have critically important consequences for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Our budgets are going to be determined in votes on which our voices are entirely excluded.

Which ties in to the second problem.

As a consequence of EVEL, it is now effectively impossible for an MP from a Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish constituency to ever again be Prime Minister, Chancellor, Home Secretary, or indeed most of the other "great offices of state". The Foreign Office remains open and the now-vestigal Offices for the three other nations, but that's about it. (And, for the same reason, they couldn't be leader of any party with serious ambitions of forming a future government.) Of course, there's no legal impediment, but as a practical matter it would be unthinkable to have a PM leading a government who was himself barred from voting on most of that government's policies.

Having formally lost any input into the budgets that so crucially affect their constituents, and having practically been barred from high office, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish MPs are now second-class citizens in Westminster. They're not equals; they're there to make up the numbers.

And with that, this is no longer a union of equals. As of now, Scotland is a colony.

(Incidentally, the was EVEL should have been implemented is as follows: set up one or more English assemblies, whether for England as whole or for different regions, that would then deal with local matters. Then replace the House of Lords with an upper house that deals with UK-wide matters - each regional assembly would send a number of representatives to the UK body, which would be responsible for oversight, setting the budget, and dealing with any international matters. That would have given us a nice, modern solution, would actually have been a nice, stable arrangement, and it might actually have led to the union enduring long-term. As it is, we've got a badly-considered fudge, and the clock is ticking.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Unfortunately, as a consequence of another disappointing season the band have been downgraded back to Grade 4B - the lowest 'adult' grade. Even worse, due to a quirk in the system this is actually the hardest grade to get back out of - because it's the grade for "everyone else", it's difficult for any one band to stand out from the crowd.

Still, it's a fair reflection of the way the band has been playing. Indeed, one might argue that we should never have been moved up in the first place - in the year we went up, we actually missed out on doing so on merit by a single place. The deciding factor was that we'd recruited a bunch of new players from a higher grade, pushing us up. But when it came to it, almost all of those new players were no-shows, which meant we didn't actually get the benefit. So, really, we were always a little higher than we perhaps should have been.

Anyway, we did briefly consider appealing the decision, because again we're expecting several new players to join the band in the near future. But that has changed again - our lead drummer from last year has decided to leave (apparently, he'd been wanting out for some time, but didn't want to let us down), while some of those newer drummers have chosen to go elsewhere.

So Grade 4B it is. Which, in theory, should mean that next season is a bit more relaxed. But, on the other hand, I think there's likely to be a big push to get back up again, so maybe not...

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Welcome Back Marty McFly!

Now, where's my hoverboard?

Yes, today is "Back to the Future Day" - the date in the far future to which Marty and Doc Brown travel in BttF2. (For real this time. There have been plenty of hoaxes along the way.)

Although, if we're being really technical about it, he arrives at 4:29pm on the 21st, in California. With an eight-hour time difference between the UK and that part of the US, then, that actually means the key moment is actually very early tomorrow. Which is, of course, heavy.

It's always weird when we reach the dates associated with "far future" films: there was Judgement Day (Aug 29, 1997), and then 2001 (of course), and then "Transformers: the Movie" ("The year is two thousand and five..."), and now this. It's almost as if time passes...

Batman's Secret Identity

Superman regularly gets a lot of shit for maintaining a 'secret' identity that amounts to wearing glasses, combing his hair differently, and stooping a bit, but I'm really not convinced Batman's cover is really any better.

Seriously, we're looking for someone who:

  1. Lives within an easy drive of Gotham city centre.
  2. Can treat millions of dollars not merely as disposable income, but so trivially that he doesn't even need to consider throwing it away.
  3. Has a sizeable period in his bio where he was off the grid - the time he was away learning all those martial arts he knows.
  4. Regularly appears to be suffering significant physical injuries, perhaps from some sort of extreme sports.

There aren't all that many people worldwide who fit any of those criteria. The list of people who fit them all has one entry on it.

The only reason Batman isn't unmasked immediately is that the police in Gotham fall into one of two camps: those corrupt to the point of uselessness, and those honest coppers who don't want Batman unmasked because he's an ally (that is, Jim Gordon).

Experimental Cookery 2015 #42: Meaty Bolognese Sauce

This week's experimental cookery was an alternate take on a Bolognese sauce - I have been using Jamie's version for some time, but I did find that the Hairy Dieter's chilli con carne was a better version than Jamie's, so it made sense to at least try their Bolognese. This one came from their first book (the white cover).

In truth, it was a mistake to cook this up on a weeknight - it took about forty minutes before everything was in the pot and simmering, and then a further hour simmering. Had I realised this, I would either not have bothered or would have made very sure to get started on it the moment I got home, rather than making today's lunch first.

The end result was nice... but not any better than Jamie's version. That being the case, we'll be sticking with that, unless and until I try another alternative.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Holiday in a Parallel Dimension

Last week was the October break for the schools up here (or, at least, the one where LC works), and as a consequence I took a much-needed break. It's been a long time since the last one! We spent a few days at home getting caught up on things, but then went up to Fort William from Wednesday until Saturday.

Our expectation had been that the weather would most likely be fairly grim, this being Scotland in October, but in fact it was absolutely ideal - wall-to-wall sunshine, barely a cloud in the sky, and although there was some fog most days it soon burnt off. In hindsight, that should have been a clue...

We were staying in the Premier Inn in Fort William, largely because we needed somewhere to stay and at least with them you know what you're getting. Plus, the breakfast is pretty legendary. And so, when I checked us in on Monday I also took the opportunity to order breakfasts for each morning. Which was fine, but gave rise to the second clue.

On arrival at breakfast on Thursday, I happened to glance at the sign-in sheet to discover something rather odd: I was listed as Rev S. Vader (or, you know, my actual surname). Which was odd and surprising, since I had checked in via the website, had made sure to get the details right, and the computer really shouldn't have gotten confused by this - human error would be understandable, but not from a computer. (And, yes, since getting home I have checked that my details are indeed correct on my account on their website.)

So, something was very odd.

And then there was the third clue. As you know, I don't talk about my work here (mostly), and there are quite a lot of things I simply can't talk about here. However, there is a bit of software that I wrote that is installed worldwide and is actually widely used. I can't say what it is, of course, but the nature of the thing is that you've probably used it, and you probably never gave it a moment's thought. (Which sounds a lot more mysterious than it really is. Just because I can't talk about it publicly doesn't mean it's necessarily interesting, you understand!)

Anyway, near the hotel was a site that I would normally expect to find my software in use. So, we went over and took a look... and they didn't have it. Nor, indeed, did they have the competitor's kit installed either. Instead, they were managing without a system at all, using seriously old-school manual techniques!

Honestly, it was like going back in time. Or...

And that was when I realised the truth: somehow, probably while passing through Glencoe, we had slipped into a parallel dimension, into a realm where I had entered the ministry rather than becoming a software engineer! Truly, it was the only possible explanation that made sense!

(Rather depressingly, it also seemed to be a rather better world, what with the better weather, the happier people, and the more relaxed way of life. Even the beer tasted better. Oh well.)

The rest of the holiday was good, too. We travelled on the steam train to Mallaig, which was fun, and we went up to Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness (alas, the monster doesn't exist in that dimension; at least here we still have some wonders!).

Then, on Saturday, and before returning to this dimension, we went for a walk in the countryside near Fort William. Now, LC had looked this one up, and said that it was a short drive - two miles out of FW to a single-track road, and then another mile along said single-track road to the car park.

So we set off, left Fort William, and then we drove. And we drove, and we drove, and we drove, and we drove, and we drove, and we drove... And then we had to carefully navigate the car around some highland cattle who had blocked the main road (but had considerately left the passing place clear). And we drove, and we drove, and we drove, and we drove... And finally we reached the single-track road. Then we drove, and we drove, and we drove, and we drove, and we dodged some sheep, and we drove, and we drove, and we drove... and then we reached the car park. Huzzah!

Anyway, we then changed into our walking boots (which proved to be a good idea) and then we went for our walk, which took us to the Steall waterfall. Which was lovely, but did involve crossing a bridge made out of a couple of bits of wire suspended above a long drop. (I may upload a picture later, if we have one that's suitably terrifying.) Still, we survived that, though on the return we did elect to ford the river instead rather than recross the bridge.

And that was the holiday. We then returned to the car, drove back to Fort William (which was, oddly, much shorter going back), and had a quick lunch, and then drove back through the dimensional rift and home. And all is well.

Oh. Then I baked some scones for the guys at work. Those were nice.

A Really Quick One About the Rugby

If it didn't hurt, it wouldn't be Scotland. And that's all I have to say about that.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #41: Spanish-style Chicken Bake

I meant to post this before disappearing off on holiday, but didn't quite find the time. And so it appears now, somewhat delayed by my venture into a parallel dimension (but more on that in another post). This experimental cookery came from the first Hairy Dieters book (the white cover).

This meal was almost ridiculously quick and easy to prepare, though it did involve three twenty-minute bake stages, each of which had just a minute or two of work beforehand as things were arranged, turned, or added to the pan.

The end result was a very nice, and surprisingly filling, meal, and one that I'm sure we'll have again.

And that's about all I have to say about that - there's as little to say about this meal as there was effort in its preparation.

#50: "D&D: Out of the Abyss", by Wizards of the Coast
#51: "Wars of the Roses: Trinity", by Conn Iggulden

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Haka

I just watched the start of Scotland's Rugby World Cup match against Western Samoa, and more specifically the two national anthems followed by the Samoan's Siva Tau (their equivalent of the better-known Haka). And it does occur to me that something is a little out of joint here.

See, the Haka and its equivalents are just being treated as a little local colour to the events. And I agree that they're no bad thing in themselves. However, they are also descended from the warrior traditions of those regions, where they would be performed before battle, for the dual purpose of firing up one side while trying to demoralise the other. Hence the chanting, the shouting, the gurning, and the staring.

So one side performing a Haka while the other does not is surely an unfair advantage? (And it's not as if New Zealand, in particular, need any more advantages!)

So perhaps Scotland, when we come up against a team performing a Haka, Siva Tau, or similar should respond by painting the faces blue, while the team captain strides back and forth giving Mad Mel's "Freedom!" speech from Braveheart?

(And England, not to be outdone, should use the St. Crispin's Day speech from "Henry V". Which, frankly, is even better.)

Friday, October 09, 2015

Inglorious Failure

And so it's all over. Last night Scotland played Poland in their penultimate qualifying match, while the Republic of Ireland played Germany. The assumption was that Germany would beat RoI, meaning that if Scotland could just beat Poland then we'd only need to beat Gibraltar on Sunday and we'd be third in the group - and get at least a play-off place.

Naturally, therefore, we went and conceded a goal in the third minute of the match. And then, having somehow (and probably undeservedly) managed to turn the match around, we then managed to lose a second goal with the last kick of the game, and so snatched a crushing 2-2 draw from the jaws of victory.

Though it didn't really matter. The Republic of Ireland managed a surprise win over Germany, meaning that it was out of our hands anyway - even a victory would have left us relying on RoI also beating Poland in their last match (in Poland). Which isn't impossible, but seems unlikely - especially since this is Scotland we're talking about.

But let's face it: the RoI result is an irrelevance. The damage was done by our utter failure to defend a (pretty poor) free kick in the last few seconds of the game last night, and also, most especially, in our failure in Georgia. Those failures cost us five points, and the difference between second in the group and a poor fourth.

So where do we go from here?

Well, I suspect there's likely to be a clamour for a new manager, and indeed the pundits on the radio last night seemed to think that Gordon Strachan might well choose to walk away himself at this point. But I really hope that that doesn't happen, and that he chooses to stay on.

Because the truth is that Scotland were abject under our previous two managers, and GS had actually worked wonders in turning them around. And while this campaign ended in a poor failure, it has actually been a vast improvement over what went before - Scotland actually had the dubious distinction of being the first team who couldn't qualify for Brazil 2014, so to keep our challenge alive until the second-last game is a big step forward.

(And, anyway, it's not like there is a long list of potential successors. Again, the usual question: if you get rid of the manager, who do you get in his place who would be better? I can't see any answer to that.)

So I very much hope GS stays on to continue the job. I do wish, though, that I could say I was hopeful that next time would be different... but I'm just not. Simply put, we don't have, and aren't producing, players of the quality required in the numbers that are required. I'm not sure there is any manager who could take us to Russia 2018.

Maybe we really should start lobbying for the amalgamation of the various leagues in the UK, and the institution then of a true UK football team. After all, if Scotland isn't going to be independent, then we're one country. And if we're one country, why do we have four teams?

(Depressingly, in order to find the link for that post, I read back through my posts tagged 'football' only to find that I predicted we'd miss Euro 2016 way back in 2010. Sometimes, I hate being right.)

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #40: Italian Meatballs with Chunky Tomato Sauce

This week's meal comes from the first "Hairy Dieters" book (the white cover). It was fairly simple: meatballs in tomato sauce isn't exactly a challenge! But it was a little odd grating up some carrot to bulk out the meatballs.

Still, it was simple and pretty quick, and the end result was nice. I don't think this book has let us down, certainly not very often. So, a success. (Still, I think I might stick to other meatball mixes in future - these were nice, but the carrot wasn't entirely convincing.)

(And, yes, this meal does put me a day behind schedule. Oddly, I'm not hugely worried about that!)

#48: "Pathfinder: Turn of the Torrent", by Mike Shel
#49: "Beyond the Pool of Stars", by Howard Andrew Jones

Friday, October 02, 2015

Memoirs of a Geisha

Last night, I finished reading "Memoirs of a Geisha". I had previously seen the film, just over a decade ago, which I found to be difficult viewing - it's a happy, romantic film about child abuse and prostitution, which really doesn't sit well. So I was curious to see how (or if) the book differed.

And the answer is it didn't, much. The plot-line of the book was essentially the same, and although the book was longer and therefore more detailed, a lot of that detail was actually conveyed quite effectively in the film - if you give a loving and detailed description of something in a book, this can be translated to film in seconds simply by showing the thing itself, which they did.

So, the book was well-written and presented, in the same way that the film was well made and acted. But it still remained a happy, romantic story about how a young girl was abused and then had her virginity sold to the highest bidder. Which remains more than a little problematic.

#47: "Memoirs of a Geisha", by Arthur Golden (a book from The List)

Thursday, October 01, 2015


It has been a difficult few days. Not absurdly so, I should point out - I'm conscious that with all the terrible things going on in the world this barely rates, but still harder than usual. And, naturally, things have decided to go wrong in unison rather than sequentially.


In the run-up to my six-monthly check-up I was very worried about my teeth, to the point where I actually feared some of them would be coming out in short order. These fears were essentially dispelled at the check-up, where in fact they were given a clean bill of health. Which was good news, if rather surprising.

Then, last Friday, I bit into a slice of birthday cake and suddenly found myself in significant pain, pain that was then renewed when I bit into my lunchtime apple on Monday. Not good. So yesterday I went back to the dentist and explained the issue...

and there's still very little to see. The dentist did apply something to try to deal with any jangling nerve-endings, but it does seem that things are, actually, basically okay. Still, a stress I could really have done without. Because...


Our internet stopped working on Monday for no apparent reason. After trying a few things, I concluded that it was probably the router, but by then it was too late to go out and get a new one. So on Tuesday I did just that. But, time being tight, I didn't get a chance to try it until last night.

Surprisingly, the new router made no difference whatsoever to the issue. This is perhaps not the worst thing, since it means we haven't lost another router in fairly quick succession (they seem to last two years, if we're lucky). But it still didn't answer the question.

So I called tech support, and spent in excess of an hour on the phone while the agent worked through his on-screen trouble-shooting process. Painfully. Slowly. (Seriously, he seemed like a nice guy and all, but I really wanted just to shout "Get On With It!" I don't need a lengthy explanation of the test you're about to run - just run the test already!)

Anyway, at the end of all that we didn't get our internet fixed. Grr. We have an engineer booked to come out on Saturday. Though I may just have hit on the solution this morning - unfortunately, I needed the internet to investigate whether my idea might be right.


We've also had a small problem with our shower, in that some of the plastic fittings in the "riser rail" were cracked. The rail therefore needed replaced. So we ordered the appropriate kit, which arrived on Tuesday. So far, so good.

Alas, while fitting the new kit LC discovered that one of the parts was not quite what we needed. Annoyingly, finding any indication of the exact part we actually need has proven insanely hard. Eventually, we'll have to photograph what we have, what we need, and email customer services. Once the internet is working again...

(In the interim, we do at least have a working shower - the old parts are still useable, if not great and not going to last. Still, annoying.)

The House Move

Perhaps the biggest stress, though, relates to the house move, which is proceeding apace. We had someone visit to discuss some of the factors involved on Saturday, and while I can't discuss the outcomes of that here (until the move is complete, at least), it does mean that our plans are having to change, possibly quite significantly.

Which is okay; it just means that the process isn't going to be as smooth as I'd (maybe foolishly) hoped, and that it's probably going to take a good bit longer than I think LC had hoped.

But one more annoyance I didn't want to deal with, on top of a bunch of other annoyances I don't want to deal with.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #39: Hearty Spanish Paella with (not-)Sherry, Chorizo, and Prawns

As I said, I wanted to venture into a different book this week - this week's recipe comes from Lorraine Pascale's "Home Cooking Made Easy". I should also perhaps note that I've done paella before, at which point I noted that I'd want to try some other variants before settling on one.

This method was both quicker and easier than the Hairy Dieters one, and was also better - the use of chicken breast meat instead of thighs was an improvement, plus I didn't feel the need to remove the mussels from the whole! (We did use white wine in place of sherry, as I didn't want to invest in a whole bottle of something we'd almost never use.)

However, I did feel that this is a meal that would be much better reserved for a large number of people - the recipes I have are for six people, and cutting it down to two is difficult. Plus, it doesn't seem like it will reheat easily, which cuts down on the ability to make up big batches.

All in all, though, this was a success. Though I think I'm going to continue trying other methods.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #38: Gorgeous Greek Chicken, Herby Vegetable Couscous, and Tzatziki

It's a bit of a shock to think that yesterday was already the end of week 38 of the year. Fourteen weeks on Friday, and it will be 2016.

Anyway, this week's Experimental Cookery was again from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", a book that has, obviously, been doing me some great service in the last little while. And it was another good one, except...

I think when I do this again, I'm going to simply omit the peas. They were okay, I guess, but the main thing they added to the meal was a lot of moisture that really didn't help.

Likewise, in future I'm going to try to get the couscous a bit dryer, for much the same reason. I think the key here is to use a bit less water - ironically, Jamie's foolproof method of 1 mug couscous to 2 mugs water doesn't quite work for me. So I'll stick with my previous "just cover it" method.

Oh, and we need a bigger serving dish!

Other than that, this was a real success. In particular, I found the base of the herby veg to be quick and easy to make, and yet quite flavoursome, and I also enjoyed the tzatziki - we've had it before, but I've never made it. (And, coincidentally, a colleague of mine had some excess cucumbers to give away yesterday, we the tzatziki was made with super-fresh ingredients. Huzzah!)

And that was that. I think I'm going to try to use some other book for next week's Experimental Cookery, and indeed may be coming to the end of this book's usefulness (lots of fish in there!). But we'll see.

Monday, September 21, 2015


About a year ago, LC and I took a walk along the canal to the Kelpies, during the course of which we happened to notice that the path was bordered on one side by a significant number of fruit-bearing brambles. Alas, at that point we had no bags with us, and as we were at the extreme tail-end of the season we didn't ever return. However, we noted to ourself that we really should come back in a year's time to harvest a crop.

Saturday being a nice day, we went out for a walk along that same path, this time armed with plastic bags. There then proceeded a flurry of berry picking, slowed only by the discovery that my bag had a hole in the bottom resulting in the path being strewn with berries. Gah!

Anyway, we picked some berries, and then we picked some more. LC wanted to be sure we returned with at least a kilo of brambles, as that was the quantity called for by the recipe in her book. And so we returned home with two plastic bags veritably heaving with fruit. Indeed, it turned out that not only had we picked a full kilo of brambles, but we had in fact picked a kilo each, with one of us picking slightly more than the other. (Though I'm reliably informed that it wasn't a competition...)

Of course, jam making is now one of those skills that is both little-used and, for most people, in little demand. The stores can, after all, supply a wide variety of very nice jams, marmalades, and preserves, and the cost is generally less than it would take to buy the ingredients.

But it does have its uses, of course - for example if one were to suddenly come by a large quantity of free fruit. So that's convenient.

Long story short: we now have an enormous supply of bramble and apple jam, and a corresponding need for scones.

(Oh, and you'll note that this is not an "Experimental Cookery" - because it was LC, and not I, who went to the enormous effort of turning that vast quantity of fruit into jam. It's probably important that I make sure to say that.)

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #37: Beef Kofta Curry, with Fluffy Rice, Beans, and Peas

As anticipated, on Friday I took the opportunity to get caught up on the Experimental Cookeries. It's another entry taken from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", and again it took a good bit longer than the fifteen minutes, mostly because I chose to take my time and relax over it rather than to rush it to the table.

This was an excellent meal, and one we will definitely have again. I think next time I'll use a bit more chilli and curry paste, and a bit less coconut milk, in order to add a bit more heat to it, but other than that it was generally great.

I'm only planning one EC2015 this week, as I'm now hoping to stay up-to-date rather than rushing ahead in my sequence. And, again, it will be from this same book.

#46: "Liar's Island", by Tim Pratt

Friday, September 18, 2015

Mock the Week

I was pleasantly surprised to find that "Mock the Week" was back last week. It's a show I very much enjoy.

But I have to ask: why is it that there is always exactly one woman on the panel of the show?

The thing is, I don't consider myself a warrior for social justice, and for reasons I'd rather not address right now I don't consider myself a feminist either. I don't even think it's necessarily true that the panel must include any women at all - if the occasional show went out with seven men on the show it wouldn't be a disaster.

But the flip side of that is this: if the panel were assigned by any sort of merit, or availability, or by random assignment, or anything of that sort, then by now we would have seen at least some shows where that 6-to-1 balance wasn't maintained. That it is always exactly one woman on the panel tells me that someone at the BBC has decided that that is the proper level of representation for women on that show.

Which is wrong.

So I have a simple request: I'd like to see an episode of "Mock the Week" with two women on the panel, please. (Yes, I know, I'm shockingly radical.)

And, if the powers-that-be are stuck, I'll suggest who they might be: Katherine Ryan and Sara Pascoe have both been on the show many times, they're both funny, and they've worked together well before (on Frankie Boyle's referendum/General Election shows in iPlayer if nowhere else). So they would seem to be ideal candidates - though other options exist, of course.

A Fair Assessment

I've been fairly horrified by the vitriol in the media ever since Jeremy Corbyn's election. I mean, I knew it was coming, but I didn't expect it to be quite this bad. It's been particularly shocking seeing the supposedly-Labour-supporting Guardian attacking him on all fronts, and indeed the legally-impartial BBC. (Indeed, if anyone was doubting bias at the BBC, do you still?)

And make no mistake: Corbyn couldn't win. Had he appointed a woman to one of the key cabinet roles, it would have been attacked as tokenism, or he would have been accused of over-promoting someone without the requisite experience, or it would have been a snub to someone. Had he sung the National Anthem, he would have been accused of hypocrisy. He genuinely could not win.


I watched as much of "Question Time" last night as I could stomach (which wasn't much), and even on a fair assessment, Jeremy Corbyn is doomed. The problem is that both he and John McDonnell genuinely have said some extremely troubling things in the past. And, yes, some of these have been taken out of context, and some of them are perhaps excusable.

But the big problem was that John McDonnell was forced last night to apologise, repeatedly, for things that he really had said, and that he should not have said. And the next time he's on, he'll have to do so again. And again, and again, and again.

All of which makes it impossible for him to get his message across - and it would even if the media weren't rabidly opposed to him and everything he stands for.

It looks like Labour under Jeremy Corbyn really is unelectable.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #36: Turkish Flats with Shred Salad, Feta & Herbs

Damnit Jamie!

This was yet another meal from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", and it was both quick and easy to put together. And it was going really well - the mince had browned nicely, the salad was looking really good. The last step was to put the tortilla wraps in the oven for five minutes to brown, and it would be ready to serve.

And the over burnt them to a cinder. Disaster!

Fortunately, we had some more tortillas, so I was able to salvage something by blasting them in the microwave for a few seconds, but the oven approach just didn't work. And it meant losing a lot of flavour, as the juices from the mince had soaked into the original, ruined tortillas.

The meal itself was basically fine, though, except that there was way too much salad and not enough mince to make a good balance. I'll need to correct that in future. It also felt much better suited for a lunch meal rather than a dinner - perhaps the lunch after a roast lamb dinner?

All in all, a recovered disaster and something that might be tried again. But a major disappointment given how well the meal had been going to that last point.

This is the end of the 37th full week of 2015, meaning that I'm now exactly one EC2015 entry behind schedule. I'm hoping to set that right on Friday, and then I'll try to stay up-to-date without going very far ahead.

Too Late

The Guardian today has an article in which a former senior civil servant suggests Westminster need to make a big, bold offer to Scotland with regard to further devolution, in order to head off the SNP surge and prevent independence.

It's too late.

Here's the thing: I am fully convinced that there is a majority in Scotland in favour of Devo Max. I'm firmly convined that most Scots would be quite happy for Scotland to remain nominally as part of the UK, while at the same taking responsibility for running its own affairs. Had Devo-Max been on the ballot paper last year, it would almost certainly have won, and indeed I do believe that the Vow proved to be the knock-out blow in the Independence Referendum (it probably wasn't decisive, but it was probably the difference between a victory on points and a victory by KO, to use a boxing metaphor).

And, had Westminster delivered what people thought was being promised by the Vow, the issue would now be done and dusted.

But it wasn't. What people thought was being promised was Gordon Brown's "modern form of Home Rule", and "close to federalism", or what Alistair Darling agreed was Devo-Max. (Technically, the only thing that was actually promised were the things listed in that Daily Record front page with the leader's signatures attached. That is, to make the Scottish Parliament permanent, "extensive" new powers, and a timetable for bringing this about. When dealing with lawyers, and most of our MPs are lawyers, it's always important to read the small print.)

So, the Smith Commission fulfils the letter of the Vow. But it most certainly does not fulfil people's expectations. Virtually nobody in Scotland thinks it goes far enough, and all of the parties in Holyrood agree. And in politics, it's what people think that matters, not whether you've technically met the letter of what you've said.

So it's too late for more "offers" or "discussions". If Westminster wants to head off the SNP surge, they need to deliver Home Rule before campaigning starts for the Scottish elections next year.

(Of course, Westminster, which really means the Tories, have no real interest in heading off the SNP surge. They've lost Scotland already, and they know it, and they also know that the SNP have peaked - since they only stand in Scotland they can't advance much further. Heading off the SNP surge only benefits Labour, who are an at least theoretical threat to the Tories. And as for independence, as I said in another post it's easy enough for Westminster to at least delay that one for a good long time.)

#44: "Pathfinder: In Hell's Bright Shadow", by Crystal Frasier
#45: "Crime and Punishment", by Fyodor Dostoevsky (a book from The List)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #35: Sausage Fusilli and Creamy Garden Salad

This was actually Wednesday's dinner, but it has taken me a few days to write it up. Once again, it's from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", which is seeing extensive use at the moment. And, once again, it took considerably longer to put together - closer to 45 minutes end-to-end, though perhaps only 20 actually cooking.

This was basically a simple meal: pasta in a tomato-y sauce, with grilled sausage on top, and with a green salad. In the event, I over-did the fennel in the sauce quite significantly, and also over-catered the salad. The dressing on the salad was also okay, but not as good as some others we've had.

Despite that, it was a fine meal, and something I might well be inclined to have again. Though it is by no means threatening my "nominated nine!".

This coming week should feature two more meals from this book, thus finally getting me back to where I 'should' be. After that, things should hopefully start to get a bit more sane around here.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Han Solo, Rhett Butler, and the "good guys"

For reasons that should be obvious, I was thinking about Star Wars the other day, and a question crossed my mind. As we know, for the Special Edition of Star Wars, George Lucas decided it would be a better idea to have Greedo fire first, thus setting off one of the greatest controversies in cinema. He had decided that he didn't think it was right that Han Solo, clearly one of the "good guys", should outright blast Greedo under the table.

But is Han really one of the "good guys" at that point in the film?

Now, before I go any further I should note that of course Han Solo becomes one of the heroes of the films. I have no question about that. My question is about where he starts, and in that regard I do have a fairly serious issue to raise.

At the start of Star Wars, Han Solo is a smuggler, operating on the fringes of the Empire. Now that, by itself, isn't a mark against him, what with the Empire being eeeevil and since the reason he's an outlaw is apparently that he rescued Chewie from slavery. No problem there.

But where I think there is a problem is the other thing we know about Han. The reason Greedo comes after Han is that Jabba the Hutt has put a bounty on his head because Han was carrying a shipment for him, was boarded by the Empire, and so had to dump his cargo to get away. That cargo being illegal glitterstim from the Spice Mines of Kessel.

Han Solo is a drug runner for a vile gangster. He's only on the outs because of a deal gone bad. I'm really not sure how that squares with him being one of the "good guys".

(Again, I need to make clear - I have no problem with Han then going on to become one of the good guys. That's just a classic redemption arc and entirely reasonable. It's just the start point that's an issue.)

I also thought it was quite instructive to consider Rhett Butler from "Gone With the Wind", who as we know is one of the very significant inspirations for Han. (Indeed, GWtW as a whole is clearly a significant influence on SW, as indeed is the American Civil War as a whole.)

Rhett Butler is also a smuggler and a scoundrel (sorry, varmint). However, in his case he mostly smuggles food and war materiél in and cotton out, which is considerably more benign than illegal drugs. (Let's leave aside for now that he was smuggling them to the Confederacy. I don't really want to get into the question of "good guys" and "bad guys" in history, and besides...)

However, while the items Rhett smuggles may be a bit more benign, there are other things that clearly aren't. Specifically, he most definitely engages in some horrific profiteering from the war, charging absurd sums (and making huge amounts of money) from doing so - and it entirely open and unrepentant about that. But, also, he makes no bones of taking his employer's money, investing it in materiél that he then stores in warehouses in England to be brought in later at an even more inflated cost. (And when the war ends, that means he's left holding all this stuff, and therefore profiting accordingly.)

Rhett's hardly one of the "good guys" either. And, unlike Han, although he does get somewhat better over the course of the novel, he never really has the same redemption and so remains at least somewhat ambiguous. "Gone With the Wind" is actually quite an interesting read in that regard.

(Another of the many ways I think GL went wrong with the SW prequels was in the timing. I rather suspect the prequel trilogy should have ended much closer to the start of the originals. The plot should probably have had the Outer Rim planets rebelling against the Empire, probably led by Tattooine (a lush, green planet), while Alderaan maintains a studious neutrality until the last film when it finally sides with the Empire. Anakin should fall at the end of the second film, with the third film showing the emergence of Darth Vader and the end of the war, and in particular the ecological devastation of Tattooine. And we should probably see a young Han Solo seeing his dreams of a free Confederacy gradually being crushed, leaving him the disillusioned cynic we see at the start of episode IV. Oh, and the twins should probably be born some time in the second film and then 'killed' due to Obi-wan's negligence, thus bringing about the conflict between master and apprentice. Or something like that.)

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Ten Years!

Assuming the scheduling works right, this post will publish exactly ten years after this blog started! Which means I've been writing it for a little more than a quarter of my life, and in that time it has outlasted three home moves, two TVs, two computers, and two editions of D&D.


I really must think of some suitable way to celebrate. Some sort of blog birthday log perhaps?

Experimental Cookery 2015 #34: Grilled Steak, Ratatoille and Saffron Rice

That was some fifteen minutes!

Another one from Jamie's book, this took closer to 45 minutes than 15. But it was really nice, and a mostly relaxed time, so that's fine.

There's not much more to say about this one. I doubt I'll make it again, simply because of the amount of time and effort involved. But it wasn't a disaster.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #33: Lamb Kofte, Pitta and Greek Salad

This was another one by Jamie, and for the first time came close to the fifteen minutes threshold. So that's good. Sadly, the lamb did get a little burnt, but not badly.

The end result was fantastic, making this by far the most successful meal from this book to date. I'll definitely be cooking this again at some point (though it doesn't quite make it on to my "top nine").

And that's that. I have another two experiments planned for later this week, so we're rapidly getting caught up.

Update on Goals

It seems like no time at all since the last update, and yet here we are in September, and day 250 of the year. That means it's time for the antepenultimate update on goals for the year.

I've decided to add two more goals to the list, as there are two things that I've been tracking that didn't actually make the list, and they really should be on there. So...

  • Weight: This one has actually been going fine since returning from my holiday, although I'm yet to make any great progress towards my actual target - I've managed to shift the weight I gained earlier in the year, but remain 'stuck' at that point. Annoying, but not the disaster of previous updates.
  • Books: By day 250 I should by rights be at 41 books read, so I'm obviously well ahead on that one!
  • Games: I'm currently on six sessions, thus being two behind target. However, I have a second campaign starting up soon which means that I should be caught up before too long, and expect to actually end the year ahead of target.
  • Work: Work is extremely stressful, but getting back towards being manageable.
  • Band: Done.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: This is looking good, but we'll need to see how the last four months of the year go. My expectation is that we'll actually move early in the next year, but it could go either way.
  • Experimental Cookery: By this point I 'should' be at 35.6 entries in this series for the year. At the time of writing I'm actually at 33, placing me a little behind. However, I've been rapidly catching up, so hope to end this one on target. (I haven't had a chance to blog about #33 yet, but we ate it on Friday.)
  • The Imaginarium: For the past several months I've operating with a secret goal of ending the year with 60 posts on that blog written, giving an average of 5 per month. I spent a fair amount of the year behind on that goal, but have recently caught up, and expect to end the year on target.

So that's that. The last several weeks have gradually seen lots of things come back under control, meaning that of the eight goals I now have one done, four at or ahead of target, and two very definitely catching up. The only one that is of real concern is the weight issue, which remains problematic. We'll see how the remainder of the year goes.

A Good Ride While It Lasted

Some time ago, I blogged about Scotland's chances for qualification for the Euros in 2016. At the time, I said we'd need to beat Georgia on Friday to make it.

Unfortunately, we lost.

It's worth noting, of course, that it's not over yet. After all, we could beat Germany tonight, at least in theory. And even if we lose tonight, it's still entirely possible to make it to third if we beat Poland at home next month and then Gibraltar away.

But, alas, I don't think so. Of course, I don't really rate our chances of taking anything from Germany (though I'd love to be wrong). I do think we've got a decent chance against Poland, and we really should beat Gibraltar.

The problems is that I don't think that third will be enough. With the results against Gibraltar being discounted, we're unlikely to be the best third place team, which means we'll go into a playoff. Where I fully expect those matches to be seeded, and I expect us not to be one of the seeds, and so we'll have to play one of the better teams in the playoff, and I don't like our chances there.

Still, it was a good ride while it lasted. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #32: Chilli Con Carne Meatballs

This was yet another meal from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", and this one actually clocked in somewhere close to the fifteen minute mark, which is nice. It basically consisted of some lightly-spiced beef meatballs in a tomato sauce, served with bulgar wheat, and it was very nice.

Two things do occur to me about this meal in future: rather than serving with grilled chillis, which proved too hot to be pleasant, I think I'll instead add the chillis directly to the sauce to give that some extra heat; and I must remember to rinse the bulgar wheat before cooking it so that it doesn't need it afterwards.

Otherwise, I was very happy with this one, and I expect we'll have it again before too long.

#43: "Firefly: Ghosts in the Black", by Robin D. Laws

Friday, August 28, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #31: Sizzling Beef Steak with Hoi Sin Prawn and Noodle Bowls

I am never making this one again!

This was another entry from "Jamie's Fifteen Minute Meals", which I'm generally enjoying. However, unlike previous entries in the series, I'm pretty sure I could never get this one down to less than half an hour, even if you don't count the preparation work (which is considerable). The issue is that at one point the method calls for leaving a screaming hot wok unattended while getting something else ready, which I wasn't happy doing tonight and won't be happy doing in future. Plue there were at least two occasions I thought I was about to set myself on fire. It just wasn't a pleasant cooking experience at all.

That said, having survived the ordeal the resulting meal was very nice indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Just not enough to do it again.

#42: "D&D: Princes of the Apocalypse", by Wizards of the Coast

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #30: Lamb Meatballs with Chop Salad and Harissa Yoghurt

The third meal taken from the fifteen minute meals was also the quickest so far, clocking in at just under 20 minutes from start to finish. But it meant working very quickly, which wasn't the nicest of experiences.

The meal basically had four parts: the lamb meatballs, which were very nice; a tomato and chickpea sauce, which was also very nice but could have done with a little more chilli; a chopped salad that was okay; and harissa swirled with yoghurt. These items were then combined in a tortilla wrap and eaten like particularly messy fajitas.

It was all very nice, so no complaints there. And I certainly expect to try these again, though perhaps in a slightly more relaxed manner next time!

I'm hoping to fit a second "Experimental Cookery" in this week, though whether that actually happens or not remains to be seen.

#41: "A Slip of the Keyboard", by Terry Pratchett