Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #12: Glam Mac & Cheese

As you may have noticed, I'm once again behind on the Experimental Cookeries for 2015. Oh well - hopefully I'll find time to catch up sometime over the Easter break.

This one comes from Lorraine Pascale's first book, "Baking Made Easy". It was a nice easy meal that took about an hour from start to finish, largely due to my unfamiliarity with the method. But there wasn't anything difficult about it at any stage - just time.

The result was very impressive, actually - between the addition of pancetta and spring onions to the macaroni, and also the breadcrumbs on the top, it was extremely tasty and satisfying. It was therefore the best mac & cheese I've ever had (sorry LC, but it's true!).

All in all, a triumph!


LC and I went to see this on Friday.

It's a good enough film, I suppose, though it's very much a "girl's film", so not surprising that I wasn't the biggest fan. Though I was amused that the royal palace in the film was also the palace on Naboo - I guess "a long time ago..." does indeed mean "once upon a time..." Anyway, if you take the previous animated version, remove the songs, and instead film the thing in live-action, this film is pretty much what you get. Which is, as I said, good enough - though the cartoon version did at least have the benefit of cutting egde (for the time) animation to marvel at.

That said, I'm not entirely happy with a film where the protagonist basically does nothing to help her circumstances, but rather endures all the awfulness that people foist on her, until such time as first a fairy godmother appears to whisk her off to the ball and then a handsome prince arrives to rescue her. Never mind arguments about blue dresses and unattainable waistlines (that, apparently, the lead actress did actually attain, but I digress)... what kind of a message is that for a film to send?

Still, the "Frozen Fever" short was amusing.

The Latest Atrocity

As you know, my life is a constant battle against the forces of evil. My main enemy is the Sock Conspiracy. And the Greeting Card Industry. Okay, my two main enemies are the Sock Conspiracy and the Greeting Card Industry. And pasnips. Three! My three main enemies are the Sock Conspiracy, the Greeting Card Industry, and parsnips. And spider-thieves.

Plus, there's the ever-present threat of falling into a Monty Python sketch, and nobody wants that, especially unexpectedly...

Anyway, this morning the Sock Conspiracy struck again!

For Christmas, I received seven pairs of Doctor Who socks. Naturally, these were not all identical socks, but instead had a variety of designs - some featured the Doctor Who logo, some K-9, some the Fourth Doctor, and so on. This means that most days this year I have been wearing some sort of Doctor Who socks. And this morning was no different.

So, I took today's pair from the sock drawer and placed the first sock on my right foot, as is my wont. (I've experimented with wearing socks on my elbows, but it didn't end well. In the end, I concluded the feet were probably best.)

I then reached for the second sock, intent on putting it on my left foot, only to discover, to my horror, that it didn't match - although my right foot bore the be-scarfed visage of Tom Baker, the second sock was clearly marked with the TARDIS!

The horror of this revelation is hard to put into words. So shocked was I that I was forced to return to the sock drawer in a futile bid to find the other mis-paired socks. But, alas, they are gone.

And that's the story of how I came to be wearing Davros socks this morning.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Worrying Few Minutes

It's fair to say I had some concerns about the match against Gibraltar that took place yesterday. It should always have been an easy win, but... Scotland have such a nasty habit of doing poorly against the supposed smaller teams. And with all the commentators casually wondering not about whether we would win but rather by how much, there was a little peice of me that was just desperately hoping we wouldn't come unstuck.

And then Gibraltar went and scored their first ever competitive goal, a scant minute after we had ourselves scored. It was a horrible time.

In the event, we then proceeded to score a further five goals without reply, thus recording a final score of 6-1, so I needn't have worried. But, still, the thought of another disaster was strong for some time.

We're now halfway through the qualification sequence, and also halfway through the "six wins" I figured we'd probably need to qualify - indeed, we're actually one point ahead of where I thought we'd need to be.

Still, it's a horribly tight group, especially with Germany dropping some points. So there's a lot still to be done. But, for the moment, so far so good.

Musings on the Cross of St George

One of the things I noticed when we were down South at cousin Rob's wedding was the English flag flying. Now, this may not be entirely surprising, especially to readers in America (if there are any!) - the English flag flying in England? Who would have thought!

But, actually, my experience has been that it's actually not all that common - it's not terribly common to see any flags flying in most of England, and when you do see one it tends to be the Union Flag. In my experience, the Cross of St George seldom makes much of an appearance.

Of course, there's a very easy explanation for the likely cause: it was the last weekend of the Six Nations tournament, and England were in with a good chance of winning. So, not terribly surprising that the pubs would be flying the flag.

Anyway, I was a little surprised to see the flag so prominently. But my reaction to it: good.

The unfortunate thing is, the English flag seems to have been appropriated by some rather unpleasant sorts: the BNP, the EDL, and the like. To the extent, in fact, that the Labour party managed to get themselves in a mess recently by tweeting about "white van man" in Rochester.

And there does often seem to be a reluctance amongst many English folk to engage in any public display of patriotism. Perhaps it is that association with the less-savoury sorts. Or perhaps Oscar Wilde's, "patriotism is the virtue of the vicious", or Samuel Johnson's "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" have sunk in. Or perhaps it's just my impression as an outsider, which is of course limited. But where most Scots are quite comfortable with the Saltire, and the USA is positively festooned with the Stars and Stripes, it does seem that poor St George gets an airing only on sporting occasions.

But, during the Independence debate, Alistair Darling rightly pointed out that the Saltire didn't belong just to the "Yes" camp but to all Scots. And, similarly, the English flag doesn't belong to the BNP and the EDL, and those who would use it for their agendas. It belongs to all Englishmen (and women, of course).

So, frankly, the more reasonable, patriotic English folk fly the flag, the better. Don't let them have it.

(Or do. It's not really my business, either way.)

This Week's Mug: This week, I am using another of the mugs I picked up in France, this time bearing the pictures of those valiant Gauls, Asterix and Obelix. Oh, and their pet Dogmatix. It's a yellow-ish mug that also bears an image of a pyramid and some heiroglyphics, that probably spell out something hugely witty, like "I can't believe you Googled the meaning of this", or something. I picked up this mug while on a trip to the Asterix Park which is... okay, I guess. My strong advice with this park is to make sure you visit it before going to Disneyland - it's good enough in itself, but it pales somewhat by comparison, so if you do this one second it will seem a let-down. Anyway, a nice fun mug for the last week before my holiday.

#14: "Gone With the Wind", by Margaret Mitchell (a Book from The List, and the first candidate for book of the year for 2015)

Friday, March 27, 2015


It has been a tough week. I was going to do a write-up of the wedding from last week and also some other stuff, but never quite found time, largely because I've spent the week battering my head against a rather knotty problem. Fortunately, I have had a breakthrough which means that I should be able to have a rather more relaxed weekend than I was expecting. Huzzah!

Hopefully, normal service on the blog will resume next week.

This Week's Mug: The mug for this week has been a "Boys' Brigade" mug. This is actually the replacement for a mug I received as a gift for helping run a BB camp in France, way back in 1998, which was itself a replacement for a BB mug I had had for many years previously. The mug is cream-coloured, banded with "The Boys' Brigade" written in blue and red.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Public Transport and the Daily Commute

For the past week, LC's car has been off the road, and as a consequence I've had to make other arrangements for getting to work. This has involved borrowing a car for a few days, getting a lift one day, and finally getting the train and bus to work today.

To give a picture of how this works out: we live 0.7 miles from a train station, and I work 2.1 miles from another on the same line. So you'd think it should be easy enough, right - a quick walk, a train, a shuttle bus, done.

Alas, it's not quite so simple, because that shuttle bus doesn't exist. Instead, there are two options: I can walk the 2.1 miles at the far end, or I can continue along one more stop and then get the bus back. Either way the time works out about the same - it's about 85 minutes for the journey end-to-end. (The bus is therefore preferable. Rather than walking, and having to cross some extremely busy roads, better just to let someone else take the strain and spend the time reading!)

There are two other factors to consider, however. The first of these is cost: today's journey cost me £12 for a return train ticket, plus £1.50 for the bus ticket one-way. That gives a total cost for the day at £15 (if I were to get the bus back, but I'm hoping someone will be kind enough to run me down to the station instead - something I can ask once but couldn't rely on every day). And that therefore puts the cost at £75 for the week, which is more than 1.5 times what I spend on petrol for the car. (That cost could, of course, be reduced somewhat by season tickets and the like, but I doubt it would ever get close to equal.)

And the second issue is of timing. The bus that I need is pretty regular and also appears to be pretty reliable, but the trains are only once per hour at 'off' times and once every half-hour at peak times. That meant that in order to get here before 8:30, I had to get the 6:55 train, and so had to get up at 5:45, which is an absurd hour. On the flip side, leaving work at 16:36 (which is what the inbound journey allows), the first train I can catch is the 17:38, which gets me home about 18:20. That was the time I got home last night, and while I did manage to get to band, it was only after a fairly stressful 45 minutes, and I was a few minutes late.

Sadly, it all just doesn't quite work. The journey is doable, and it's bearable for a few days, but it's not something that could be considered as a permanent arrangement. A shame.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #11: Kung Po Prawns

LC and I appear to have exhausted "Jamie's Italy" - unless we happen to get access to either calamari or lots of game (for a hunter's lasagne) I doubt we'll be doing anything more from that one. So, this week's Experimental Cookery came from Ching-He Huang's "Chinese Food Made Easy".

As with everything I've done from that book, this one required some prep ahead of time and then was very quick and easy to make. And it was very nice, too, although it didn't exactly go according to plan - the "crispy coating" on the prawns turned out to be a desultory covering, and mostly ended up stuck in the wok, and that meant that the sauce over thickened.

It was still a nice meal, just not quite what was intended. I therefore definitely plan to have this again, but am determined to do better next time!

This Week's Mug: This week's mug is a blue "Riviera Maya" mug with a scene showing tropical fish. I got this while on honeymoon in Mexico, and I don't think I've ever actually used it since. Anyway, it's lovely.

#13: "The Secret History", by Donna Tartt (the first book from The List of 2015)

Friday, March 13, 2015


When LC sent me the news, I was just stunned. First Leonard Nimoy; now Terry Pratchett. It has been a bad few weeks. And, yes, one was rather old and the other visibly ailing, but still...

It's hard to think of an author who has had a greater impact on me. Certainly, I've read more of Terry Pratchett's books than any other author, largely due to the sheer volume - only Bernard Cornwell even comes close. And I don't think there's a bad one amongst the bunch - even the very early sci-fi books are merely unpolished. So the thought that, probably some time next year, I'll be picking up and reading the last Discworld novel is... difficult.

This is probably the most stunned I've been by any famous death since Gary Gygax, and for much the same reason. A legend has passed.

Rest in peace, Sir Terry. And thankyou.

Too Big an Ask?

So, four months after I said it should happen, Stuart McCall has been given the job of Rangers manager. Good. Unfortunately, he's been given it until the end of the season, and the feeling seems to be that if he wins them promotion then the job is his, but if not they'll find someone else.

Personally, I think they should give him until at least the end of next season. With ten games to go, it's too late for Rangers to have any realistic chance of winning the Championship (barring a complete meltdown at Hearts, and there's no evidence of that happening). Which means they'll have to win through the playoffs, which in turn means playing Hibs home and away (and then, quite possibly, Motherwell home and away). I still don't think Rangers have it in them.

And yet... I do think McCall is the right man for the job, or at least is as good a candidate as any. So give him time, give him the resources he needs, and let him do the job.

(Incidentally, I'm still hopeful that Falkirk might yet get into the playoffs, almost certainly in fourth place. That's also going to be tough, as Queen of the South are doing very well too. My suspicion is that that one will be largely decided when the two teams have their remaining match this year - if Falkirk win then they'll get through; if QoS win or it's a draw then QoS will get that fourth place.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #10: Linguine alla Carbonara di Salsiccia

Another meal from "Jamie's Italy", this was one I was looking forward to and yet somewhat hesitant about - Hugh's Chorizo Carbonara is one of our favourites, so how would this match up?

This dish was nice and easy to make. It's slightly more involved than the other version, in that I had to spend a little time making sausage meatballs, grating cheese, and chopping parsley, but once the cooking started it was much the same - cook the pasta while frying the meat, whisk together the ingredients for the sauce, and then toss everything together in the right order.

This was a very nice meal... but we prefer the chorizo version - mostly because we prefer the chorizo to the sausage meatballs. Which is absolutely fine, but it does mean I'm highly unlikely to make this again. After all, why bother putting in the extra work for a result that's just not quite as good?

So, a satisfying meal, and yet a failure all the same. Sorry Jamie.

Shaken to the Core

I've been reading "Gone With the Wind", which turns out to be much more enjoyable than I'd expected. However, for the past few chapters I've been suffering a disturbing feeling of familiarity - there was something about Rhett Butler that I was sure I'd seen before, but just couldn't quite put my finger on.

Last night I came to Chapter 19, and the following exchange:

Rhett: “Scarlett, you do like me, don’t you?”
Scarlett: “Well, sometimes. When you aren’t acting like a varmint.”
Rhett: “I think you like me because I am a varmint. You’ve known so few dyed-inthe-wool varmints in your sheltered life that my very difference holds a quaint charm for you.”
Scarlett: “That’s not true! I like nice men.”

And now I'm expecting him to go and shoot poor Greedo under the table.

(Though this does neatly explain why the dialogue in the original trilogy is better than in the prequels - after all, if the good dialogue in the originals is nicked...)

This Week's Mug: On a less traumatic note, this week's mug comes from La Tranche Sur Mer, a small town in France where my parents spend several weeks on holiday each year. I forget exactly how I came by this mug, though my suspicion is that I probably bought it the year LC and I went with them for a week. It's a plain white mug with a design split into three parts, each showing a scene associated with the town.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #9: Wheatgerm Bread

It has been too long since I made bread. But this entry, from the "Women's Institute Big Book of Baking" represents a good chance to correct that oversight, and also to get caught up in my "Experimental Cookery" series for the year.

As with all my bread efforts thus far, this proved to be very simple but a little work - mix, knead, prove, bake... none of it difficult, but the kneading is always more tiring than one might expect.

And it's good. It's perhaps the best bread I've made to date, although the seeded loaf was good too. I'm going to enjoy some sandwiches made with this.

#12: "Pathfinder: Battle of Bloodmarch Hill", by Patrick Renie

Friday, March 06, 2015

Okay, that was weird...

I've just sat back down at my desk, and had a moment's panic that I might suddenly have gone deaf. Then I realised that I hadn't - the room's just really, really quiet.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #8: Pasta al Forno con Pomodori e Mozzarella

This week's experiment came from "Jamie's Italy", which is a book I've not really dug into until now but one which is growing on me. Though I'm not sure how well I'll be able to source some of the more unusual ingredients, nor indeed whether I can really be bothered spending hours making some of the more involved meals. But that's an issue for another day.

This was a simple pasta bake, but with a homemade sauce instead of something from a jar. And it certainly benefitted from this! The one concern I had was that the whole thing was very messy to transfer from the baking dish to the eating dishes, due to the cheese going all stringy - I had expected it to be much more, well, baked by the time it came out. Still, once that job was complete it tasted very nice.

Would I have this again? Yes indeed. But... I think I'd be inclined to cut down on both the amount of pasta and also of the sauce. The book suggested I should end up with enough for four people if I followed the measures there, and so I halved the quantities... only to end up with four portions. That's fine, except that I doubt it will freeze (or rather thaw) very well, which isn't ideal. Also, I might think of adding some breadcrumbs next time, to give it a nice crunchy topping.

All in all, though, not bad.

#10: "Firefly: Things Don't Go Smooth", by Margaret Weis Productions
#11: "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: The Jedi Doth Return", by Ian Doescher

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

State of the Band

For the moment, I'm actually reasonably happy with the way things are at band. I suspect that will change as the competition season gets going and things get a bit more fraught, but we'll see.

Of course, that's assuming that we actually will be competing this year at all, which is looking increasingly doubtful. The issue is that we may not have a drum corps with which to compete; or, rather, that while we will have a drum corps, we may not have a lead drummer for the band. The problem being that we have two people who can do the job, but one has work commitments and so cannot get to many of the competitions, while the other may or may not be about the leave the band. Realistically, if he goes then so too goes our season.

But then, given that I don't actually enjoy competing particularly, I can't say I'm too gutted about that prospect. Really, it's the uncertainty that's the worst of it.

On other fronts, the band is actually progressing extremely well. We've had an influx of learners both for the pipes and the drums, to the extent that all of our tutors are now maxed out and we'll have to turn away any further learners. That's a shame, but it's a nice problem to have.

We're also starting to see the benefits of all that hard work with our learners. Last night we had 18 pipers playing at one point... and that wasn't even all the pipers on our books! We also had a decent-sized drum corps, although there were more absences from there. If we ever have a practice attended by everyone, we're going to need a bigger hall!

Finally, I'm coming to the end of teaching one of my students. He now knows everything that the band plays, plus some tunes that the band doesn't play (yet?), and so to get the most benefit going forward he should really 'graduate' to the main practice hall to polish what he already knows. That said, he's entered into a solo piping competition in mid-May, so I'll work with him until then to make sure he's ready for that.

And that, as they say, is that.

This Week's Mug: This week's mug has a Gaudi-inspired design. I picked this one up on my first trip to Barcelona, and have barely used it since. It's very nice.