Tuesday, 30 December 2008

New Year is just around the corner

George: “Isn’t it wonderful? I’m going to jail!”

So this year is nearly done with. It’s been okay. Not great, but okay. If you were to ask me for a highlight though…hard, very hard indeed.

And none of us know what next year is bringing, but if everything that we are hearing in the media is true…well lets just say we won’t dwell on it here. We can reserve that for the sleepless four o’clock in the mornings that most of us have occasionally.

What would life be like if it were worry free? Would we worry about not being worried? Knowing me I probably would.

Perhaps I should make it my New Year’s Resolution not to worry, but then I’d just worry about breaking it.

I’ve broken pretty much every resolution I’ve ever made within hours of making them, but ask me what my strong points are and I’d probably include ‘determined’ and ‘resolute’ – but then I’d also include ‘outgoing’ and ‘cheery’. None of these would be a lie. There are times when I am all of those things and other times when I am none of them. I think most people are like that and it depends a lot on circumstance.

One year I gave up smoking at the last ‘dong’ of midnight, bravely crushing my remaining four Benson and Hedges into a mess of brown tobacco, white paper, and fluffy yellow filter in front of an audience of drunken revellers.

By noon the next day my body was screaming, by two I was looking for a shop (any shop, any price) that was open to buy nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, anything that I could get my hands on, and by ten o’clock the next day I was smoking again. I tried to give up smoking on numerous occasions after that and then five years ago I managed it. Not as a New Years Resolution, but as a result of a really bad bout of flu. It wasn’t easy. I spent eighteen months on nicotine gum, then another year on plain gum, and I have ‘porked-up’ nicely as a result.

Each New Year I toy with the idea of starting smoking again. I’ve resisted it thus far but maybe this year. I’m often tempted. After all I can have a cigarette any time I want, it’s just that I don’t want one right now. I bet it would help me lose weight though.

So with 2009 just around the corner here are some resolutions that I’m toying with:

1. I will stop looking at women who are half my age in a certain way.
2. I will not embellish my stories to make them more interesting. I will simply stick to the facts. However unbelievable and extraordinary they may seem to others.
3. I will stop looking at women who are three-quarters of my age in a certain way.
4. I will not worry as much as I could, or as much as they want me to.
5. I will not put LOL in any texts or mails I send, or use silly emoticons ;o)
6. I will stop looking at women in a certain way.
7. I will not order a ‘Fruit Bat’ at McDonalds or ask the servers not to call me ‘mate’, even though they are not my ‘mate’, will never be my ‘mate’, and should be calling me ‘sir’ and not ‘mate’.
8. I will stop saluting Magpies when I see them as it often causes me to swerve all over the road.
9. I will not expect people to laugh at my hilarious jokes. It isn’t their fault they are humourless morons.
10. I will stop looking at women.

I think it was Eric Zorn who said; “Making resolutions is a cleansing ritual of self-assessment and repentance that demands personal honesty and, ultimately, reinforces humility. Breaking them is part of the cycle”.

Actually I know it was because I checked. He’s damn right though. In which case maybe I will resolve to do them all.

Get ready to cue the old guy with the sickle and egg timer (no not me).

Monday, 29 December 2008

Beach Sculpture

Beach combing

I love beach combing. I like to find things and bits of things, wood, plastic bottles, rope, sacks, anything at all really, and then build strange beach animals. After I've built them I leave them for the tide to wash away.

Next year I resolve to get to the beach more and build more of my animals. The reason? I enjoy doing it and enjoy the thought of people looking at them and wondering what kind of idiot spent time making it only for the sea to wash it away again.

I resolve that in 2009 I will make at least six beach sculptures.

Game on.

The Beautiful Llyn Peninsula

Went for a walk yesterday and discovered that my MDA had a landscape facility. It is a little tricky to use but I managed these.

I'll make mincemeat of you!

We had lots to eat over Christmas. Most people do I guess.

Christmas dinner was Lobster, then Goose with trimmings, and Christmas pudding and cream laced with Brandy to finish.

We had dinner in the evening. We generally do anyway, but this year we had no choice as we had to muck-out Chester, my daughters horse, on Christmas morning. Very enjoyable - no it really was. My daughter Holly (apt name for this time of year) is quite often asked if she was born at Christmas. She wasn't. We tell her that we named her Holly because she was conceived whilst we were wrapping Christmas presents in November. It isn't true but it grosses her out.

As usual Gaynor made mince pies, but this year I made the mincemeat. It's a bit of a cheat but it is delicious.

Cheats mincemeat:

1. Take a jar of mincemeat and empty into a bowl.
2. With a sharp knife quarter about 20 glacier cherries.
3. Mix into mincemeat.
4. Roughly chop 10 walnut halves and 12 almonds and add it to the mix.
5. Grate the zest from the skin of a tangerine.
6. Add to mix.
7. Grate the zest from the skin of a small lemon.
8. Add to mix.
9. Sprinkle in 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder and another 1/4 of nutmeg powder.
10. Pour an egg-cup full of Amaretto and add to the mix.
11. Stir vigorously.
12. Taste.
12a. Add another egg-cup full of Amaretto if you wish (I did).
14. Give mix to chef to make pies crowing constantly about how fantastic the mincemeat is.
15. Eat when cooked with thick double cream.

Our freezer is still bulging with food and this wasn't helped by the supermarkets reducing all their meat on Christmas Eve - I just can't resist a bargain.

Try the mince pies you'll love them.

Christmas Day at the stables

Wokfest in Wales

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Christmas has come and gone.

So it has come and gone and it was good. I have been writing some blogs but it is a faff using the MDA and I thought GeeKay, who has been my editor whilst I'm in Wales, deserved a Christmas break.

I'll upload them when I return to the real world.

Till then...Toodlepip.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Our sparkly tree

I'm not a pheasant plucker

Clarence: Look, I'm giving out wings!

Life in the countryside is so, well, so rural.

I've had a pheasant hanging in the shed for a week or so now. It was given to me by the farmer up the lane. It was dead but not vacuum packed and standing on a blue polystyrene tray like every other pheasant I've ever cooked when he very kindly gave it to me But then this is the countryside, and how hard can preparing a pheasant be to a man who gutted freshly caught mackerel last summer?

Today was the day. I took the pheasant down from the shed, where I'd been hanging it from the neck as instructed, and placed it on the preparation table. I knew that first I had to pluck it before chopping off the head, removing the gullet, opening it at the rear, putting my hand deep inside and pulling out everything that was soft and gooey. No problem. I began to pluck thinking of the succulent, bacon wrapped, roast bird that I was going to cook for dinner; perhaps I'd serve it with parsnip chips.

At first it went okay, the feathers were coming out easily enough, but suddenly it all went horribly wrong. As I tried to pull out the gloriously coloured tail feathers the bird ripped in half spilling its guts and gore everywhere.

It smelled and I gagged, I gagged a lot, actually I threw up and very nearly passed out. I had to sit quietly for twenty minutes trying to forget all about it.

Maybe I pulled too hard.

Anyway, I gave it a decent burial this morning and will be visiting the local butcher later for a replacement so that I can say with some degree of honesty that the pheasant was delicious when the farmer asks me.

What worries me most though is that we keep some chickens up at the farm and my daughter hatches birds from eggs in an incubator. The last batch contained two males who will be ready too eat at Easter...oh well.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Lighting up time

Decorated the Christmas tree and put up the outside lights last night. The tree looks great, but then it should do, it cost a fortune even without the new lights. Yes, new lights again. Why is it that you can never find the spare bulbs?

The outside lights were a bit more challenging. Hanging lights in the dark, in the rain and wind is not to be recommended. Yes the weather changed and made the weatherman right…eventually. I only fell off the ladder once.

Christmas tree and outside lights. What a mix! Victorian tree (Dickens and Prince Albert) and trailer trash, fried chicken, flashing, chasing lights. We have an illuminated smiling snowman on the roof.

But we don't have a steam train like the people up the lane by the stream.

Steam trains? What the hell have steam trains got to do with Christmas? I think NOTHING! But you see them everywhere. Why? It must be an American thing. Or perhaps it's because B&Q sell them and we just buy them.

Who knows? And you know what? I don't care. Christmas lights, trains, snowmen, bunnies, holly, ivy, goose, turkey, mistletoe, bah humbug, Santa, pud, cake…I love it all. At least until the day after boxing day when reality kicks back in.

It really is a wonderful life - at least for a few days.

It can rain and blow…and I don't care…because it's almost Christmas. The cottage is lit as brightly as an airport runway, the tree stands in the corner threatening to fall over with the weight of baubles that hang from its branches, the fridge and freezers contain every food known to man (and some that don't), the presents are bought, and I have alcohol in such volume that if I don't have a six foot, talking white rabbit for a friend by Christmas day then I should have.

Talking of presents (was I), I was in Leidl today and found the most fantastic Christmas gift; a hotplate that holds six mini woks so that you can cook individual Chinese meals at the table…FANTASTIC!

So fantastic that I bought it. Perhaps I'll give it to myself.

Christmas lights, Christmas trains, and individual woks! How cool am I?

No...Please don't answer that.

Friday, 19 December 2008

From my MDA - experiment

I'm going to need to write my blog from my MDA over Christmas. I'm spending the holiday in North Wales and we can't even get Freeview at the cottage let alone G3.

Please excuse any spelling mistakes and the brevity of blog over the next couple of weeks (did I hear a sigh of relief go around)...it ain't easy with this stick thing and my eyesight!

Painting my Wagon

George: Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!

Can you begin to smell Christmas in the air, that special Christmas smell? You can? So what is that Christmas smell, your special Christmas smell? Tangerines? Christmas Pudding? Rum Butter? Pine needles?

For me the special smell of Christmas is Hardy’s Enamel Paint, actually any strong paint does it for me.

Back it 1962 when I was five every other programme on the two-channel, black-and-white, sixteen-inch Grundig television set was a western. Gunsmoke, Rawhide, The Lone Ranger, Maverick, and Bonanza (my Mum was in love with Adam, I liked Hoss). It was a five-year-old boy heaven. Everybody on our estate was a cowboy, we all used to meet up in the evenings and on holidays and play Cowboys and Indians. We had all the gear, hats, chaps, guns, holsters, spurs, boots, bullet belts, neckerchiefs, faux-rawhide waistcoats, sheriff’s stars; we must have looked like a young Village People’s playgroup. There were never any Indians; well there was one, my cousin Ian, who wore a feather headdress and a brightly coloured bead necklace. Ian went on to become a dancer in a German bar; he died last year of Aids. I found out after the funeral, but enough about that.

The Christmas of ’62 was magical. The snow began to fall steadily on Boxing Day and it seemed to fall solidly for three weeks. The drifts were huge. On the other side of the estate by the cottages the snowplough had banked up the snow until it was almost as high as the cottage’s tiny upstairs widows. Great for tobogganing and snowmen, but not so great for playing Cowboys (and Indian). We exchanged our black felt Stetson’s for grey woollen, full-face, Gran hand-knitted balaclavas and forget all about the Cavalry for a while, or at least my friends did, they were complete in snowball fights and ice slides. But for me it wasn't that easy because that was the Christmas that my parents gave me the most incredible present; a pedal-powered stagecoach complete with four black horses and real red leather reins. God knows where they got it from, or how they afforded it; it was pretty tough for us back then. I don’t know if it was new, but it didn’t matter, it was fantastic!

I seem to remember that it was at least seven feet long from the pink tip of the lead horse’s nose to the railed shotgun seat at the rear, and apart from on Christmas Day when it was brought into the house to almost fill our living room, it resided in the outhouse at the back of our brick box semi waiting for the snow to disappear so that the wagons could roll. Wagon Train, wagggonnns rooooool! Wagon Train; Charlie Wooster, Bill Hawks, and pork and beans for supper; that was my favourite.

Each day I'd go look at the Stagecoach, impatiently waiting for the snow to be gone so that I could pedal it along the dusty path outside the row of exactly-the-same houses that was our street. I couldn’t wait to crack the whip and drive it across the dry concrete desert, past the Mesa and Cactus plant rose bushes, all the way down to Dodge City by the Paper Shop. But it kept on snowing.

One day, and I really don’t know why, I went into the outhouse and for some forgotten (probably at the time) entirely rational (five year old rational) reason, I got down the big can of bright yellow Hardy’s Enamel Paint and my Father’s three- and- a - half-inch paintbrush and painted big yellow spots all over the jet-black horses and thick yellow stripes on the stagecoach.

I like to think of it as me recognising my Surrealist inner being at a very early age, but I think I was just bored and tired of not being able to play with it , either way I got a good-hiding from my Father and I was never (and I mean never) allowed to play with the Stagecoach again. It was moved to the shed for a while and then three months later it was gone.

Childhood – such a magical time.

Twenty-two years later on another Christmas in another world I watched ‘The Snowman’ animation for the first time. A lot of people don’t remember the original TV broadcast. David Bowie introduced it, but when I mention this to people they usually don’t believe me. Here it is to prove it really did happen.

To this day I’ve never spoken to my parents about what happened to my Stagecoach. This part of my life is a little like "The Snowman", a magical episode that happened a long time ago that runs in my head every Christmas or when I smell strong paint. I still don’t know where it came from or where it went to. Almost fifty years on I suppose I could easily ask my parents about it, but what if they have no recollection of it?

It seemed and seems very real to me then and now, but it is so long ago and I was so young that I begin to doubt that it truly happened. What if I dreamt it and it’s all a false memory? What if my Stagecoach never existed? What would that mean to the existence of the boy I once was and the man I am now?

I think I’ll let it be.

Ian was a great Indian, I wish I’d been an Indian sometimes.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Pork Chops and Assassins

Clarence: Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?

I had pork chops in a cider sauce for my dinner last night and the pungent aroma of apples together with the smell of pork got me thinking of a boar’s head with a large red apple in its mouth. From here it was a relatively small mental jump to a candlelit-banqueting hall in Renaissance Italy, where shadows dance on rich red tapestries and gaily clad jugglers deftly catch brightly spinning daggers, tossing them high into the dim recesses of the cloistered ceiling, catching them up again as they reappear through the blue-grey wood smoke. Yes…very weird.

In a dim corner a lone figure watches, his stance full of intent, his shoes pointy.

Il marchio di due is upon him.

Assassino are hard to come by these days and killing people to order isn’t really socially acceptable any more. Even so there are times when you might wish that you could bend the rules a little and remove a problem using something other than reasoned debate and logic; it’d be so much quicker and cleaner.

This type of problem solving technique wasn’t always frowned upon. Once assassination was not only popular with the criminal classes but ‘de rigeur’ in royal circles all over Europe. The Borgia family knew the value of assassination, using it as a way of removing obstacles to both political and marital conundrums, and stories of Kali worshipping Indian assassination cults abound (or at least they did in the comics that I read when I was a boy, the Magnet and the Hornet).

So how did I get from pork to assassination? No idea, but all organisations need a variety of skills to function effectively and whilst I wouldn’t generally recommend having a fully fledged assassin within an organisation (after all who knows when you might become their next mark) having an individual who isn’t really bothered about pushing the envelope a little in order to achieve the required result is usually an asset. That’s why footballers fall over and writhe in agony for no apparent reason (or so I’ve been told by Mr Quickfit), and that is why ‘Whips’ and ‘Spin Doctors’ are held in such high esteem in Westminster.

By the way the pork chops were delicious – and not a trace of poison.

Pork Chops in Cider Sauce

Preparation: 5 minutes (apart from the fresh soup)
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4 thin people or 2 fat ones

4 thick pork loin chops.
1 small onion, finely chopped.
5 or 6 fresh, chopped sage leaves.
200ml cider – swig any extra down your neck before you get caught (buy a big bottle).
295g thick celery soup – basically stock, celery and cream cooked until soft and then blitzed, or use a can as it’s much easier.
1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

3 tbsp Hemlock - (Optional as it will kill).

Process (top hole Mr Chummmers):

1. Get a big, sharp knife and score the surface of the chops lightly on both sides, making a criss - cross pattern.
2. Swig Cider.
3. Mix the onion with the sage, then mix in the butter.
4. Swig Cider.
5. Heat a large frying pan, add the chops and fry them over a medium heat for 2 minutes then turn them and spread the onion and sage butter on top. Cover and cook for another 4 minutes, longer if you want the fat to go a bit crispy but be careful not to dry them out. I stand them on their edges and hold with tongs and drink Cider to pass the time.
6. Swig more Cider.
7. Pour the measured Cider around the edge of the pan, cover and cook for 5 minutes until the chops are tender.
8. Arrange the meat on warmed plates and keep warm.
9. Bring the pan juices to the boil, add soup, whisk well while bringing it to the boil. It should make a smooth sauce if you are sober and a lumpy one if you are not.
10. Swig more Cider.
11. Add the parsley and season if necessary.
12. Serve with sautéed potatoes, green vegetables and lots of Cider.
13. Continue drinking Cider until asleep.

Wash up in the morning.

Online resources used to help me with this blurb.

i-Google – Google Translate

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

I'm out there....

"Just a minute - just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You're right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that".

So I'm out there and I've invited you in (you know who you are). I'm going to try to capture you as an audience and then take it a bit further. How far? Who knows? But Belle de Jour seemed to do pretty well out of it.

Now about the picture...

Of the three people in this atmospheric still from 'Its a wonderful life' I'd like to say that I associate myself with the Jimmy Stewart character, unfortunately if I were to say that I'd be less that the honest broker you all know me to be. If I were to have to pick one of them then I think I see myself as the poor chap on the right and for those of you that know the film (and who doesn't but just in case you don't go here to watch it http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4867975537967299162) he's Mr Gower, the pharmacist, played by H.B. Warner who almost/did (dependent on if George Bailey is born or not) kill somebody through getting drunk and prescribing the wrong prescription. Just look at the remorse in his face.

My remorse is of course not associated with prescriptions but nevertheless I still have deep feelings of remorse over a number of episodes in my life which (if you become a constant reader) I may share with you at some point in the future.

Anyway...welcome to the experiment, I wonder how long it will be before some of you feel like white mice?

Welcome follower

Welcome follower.

What a road we will travel together. Sometimes it will be wide with fields either side, the sun beating down upon our whistling happy bodies, and at other times it will be dark, narrow, cold and damp, and we will stuggle against the wind and lashing rain with little idea of where we are trying to get to.

But at least we will travel together.

Each journey begins with a single step, so take my arm and let us sally forth... onwards, onwards, onwards!

Gosh! I'm in e-space!


I'm in e-space! Here I am with my very own blog and the future opens up in front of me in ways that I could only have dreamt of just seconds ago.

So many questions flood my head. What do I write? Is my spelling up to it? Will I be able to entertain? Will anyone read me? And how on earth does this all work?

Questions, questions, questions. Maybe over the next few weeks I'll get the answers.