Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Musicals We Don't Live In

Following from this post, here's some things that didn't happen on Christmas Eve, but maybe should have:

Jim: ... and I never ever sway drunkenly!
Me: What never?
Jim: No never!
Me: What never?
Jim: Well... hardly ever.
Entire Pub Acting As Chorus: He hardly ever sways drunkenly! We'll give three cheers and one cheer more for this bloke who's wearing a pinafore.[1]


Also not happening:

Me: You're a bum
You're a punk
Stan: You're an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed
Me: You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot[2]
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last
Stan: I could have been someone
Me: Well so could anyone
You took my dreams from me
When I first found you
Stan: I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I've built my dreams around you[3]



This is all just as well. We know what happened the time Dean started a new dance craze using just a flat cap and a Kate Bush sample.

[This has been in drafts for 4 days because I'm unhappy with the formatting]

[1] Later I was not described in these terms by my sisters and my cousins and my aunts:
He butcher's G&S so terribly
that now he is the ruler of the Queens Navee

[2] There's a terrible version of this song by Ronan Keating (who, despite his best efforts can't get the sheer roughness and toughness of Shane Mac Gown's voice) and Marie Brennan (sister of Enya and formerly of Clannad, and a voice who I have much time for, but simply isn't Kirsty MacColl) where this line is changed to "You're cheap and you're haggard"
[3] This didn't happen because of course I always begin by stepping out of the pub and in my worst best brogue declare:
They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It's no place for the old
When you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for me
You were handsome...

Yes I always sing the Kirsty MacColl part. Why? It's tradition.

Monday, December 29, 2008

In Which It Turns Out I'm The Wrong Sort Of Goth

[It's that time of the year when I dump emails and drafts into this blog to stop them hanging around for ever. This has been sitting there for maybe 4 months because it doesn't really have a conclusion, but just rambles for a short while]

I'm not actually a goth[1]. If I were one, apparently I'd be the wrong sort. The evidence: I prefer The Cure to The Sisters[2], prefer Les Daniels, Kim Newman and George Martin to Anne Rice, like Byron more than Shelley[3], and like Ted Hughes poetry over Sylvia Plath.

As it happens, I liked Ted Hughes as a kid mainly for The Iron Giant[4] (not poetry). Later, as I grew up into a teenager I preferred Sylvia Plath's poetry and in fact read and re-read her Bumper Fun Size Book Of Every Damn Poem She Ever Wrote[5]. It was only later when Hughes died and I finally got around to reading Tales From Ovid and, er, Birthday Letters that I finally made that decision. I say "er" because that is of course the collection of poems about his relationship with Plath.

[As I said it rambles. I did have an idea for finishing it, but can I find Birthday Letters, Tales From Ovid, or Bumper Fun Size Book Of Every Damn Poem She Ever Wrote? No I cannot.]

[1] There's not quite enough black in my wardrobe, I don't use eye makeup, I don't attend goth events very often and most importantly, I don't self-identify as a goth.
[2] And worse still don't get worked up about the differences. Not entirely coincidentally, when I logged into Youtube while grabbing a couple of links for this, it thought I might be interested in a Siouxsie and the Banshee's video of them covering a Beatles song.
[3] My choice for a tiebreak between the two is of course a swimming contest.
[4] It has a giant space-bat-angel-dragon in it. I say no more.
[5] Better known as Collected Poems.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Secret Diary Of Major Squick 5f

We join Major Squick at the end of this series of diary entries. To recap, he has been ordered into the hills in disgrace, to patrol for bandits. Having caught them by dressing some of his troops as local women he returned only to march his cross-dressed troops past the Governor and the Rajah. With both he and his fellow officers thinking his career is over, he meets with the Colonel...
23 J__ 18__

My luck has not run out! The Governor and the Rajah are both of the Modern Persuasion and thought that an irregular female militia would be just the thing to discourage banditry. After all the men are scattered about the fields and forests all day, while the women are concentrated in the villages, and able to form a reaction force.

The Rajah has requested that I be sent on secondment to take advantage of my hands-on experience with female militia to raise a battalion in his own state. For the 12 months I am there, I will be given the local rank of Major-General. The Colonel and I have agreed that it is best for all concerned if I keep a discreet distance from the regiment for a while. I will even wear local uniform which tends to the gaudy side.

I am sure the remaining members of my family that accept correspondence from me will be pleased to learn that I have achieved general-rank, even if it is only in the forces of a native state. For myself I can hardly believe it. Only when I am immersed in my new role, and in my outlandish costume, will I feel General Squick.

The Rajah has perhaps been inspired by Lakshmi Bai, who had a bodyguard regiment of women; nevertheless it apears that the Major, or for the moment, the General, has fallen on his feet. More Major Squick in the New Year.

(Major Squick begins here; link to all of Major Squick here. )

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Secret Diary Of Major Squick 5e

Against the odds, and my expectations, Major Squick has succeeded in capturing a group of bandits. However, it looks like there will not be a happy ending...
22 J__ 18__

It seems the luck that has supported my military career has finally run out. I had hoped to make a discreet entrance to the compound with my irregularly uniformed troops. However the Governor of M__ and the Rajah of K__ were inspecting the regiment as we arrived and we had no choice but to march past them. The Sergeant-Major turned so red I thought he might expire of apoplexy.

Someone has left a loaded pistol on my desk. I must have a word with the adjutant to encourage the officers to be more careful with their personal arms.

I see the Colonel first thing tomorrow morning.

Major Squick is oblivious to the meaning of the loaded pistol; that he should (metaphorically) fall on his sword.

(Major Squick begins here; link to all of Major Squick here. )

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Secret Diary Of Major Squick 5d

Previously Major Squick has attempted to trap bandits by disguising his soldiers as women. This has gone wrong and now he must try to repair the damage, at some personal cost.

20 J__ 18__

Success! It seems that the bandits had only just returned to their camp, and in their haste had neglected to search the baggage before beginning to make unwelcome advances to the "local women" they had captured. Just at the moment when they penetrated the disguises, I and my detachment arrived and took the bandits from the rear. We captured them all without a fight.

There was however one casualty, myself. In the excitement of the skirmish, I was knocked from my feet and landed on an asp, which bit me in the behind. The surgeon, seeing this occur, swiftly pulled down my breeches and sucked the poison from the wound. Other than a slight fever, and my current inability to sit or lie on my back, I have suffered no ill effects.

Somehow in the chaos, the uniforms of the disguised men have gone missing. They will have to march back in their current clothes. I hope the Colonel will forgive this breach of discipline in the light of my successes; I am sure the Sergeant-Major will not.

Sucking the poison from a snake wound is usually not a good idea as you tend to end up with 2 poisoned people; the surgeon is either lucky or an expert.

(Major Squick begins here; link to all of Major Squick here. )

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Secret Diary of Major Squick 5c

We rejoin Major Squick when the obvious flaws in his plan become apparent to him - slightly too late for him to do anything about.

19 J__ 18__

My plan has gone terribly wrong! The bandits have abducted the men disguised as local women before they reached our ambush site. We waited until well after sunset, thinking that they were delayed, being unable to march at their usual rate due to their feminine attire. Eventually we backtracked and discovered that the cunning bandits also engaged in daylight robbery. My tracker suggests that the bandits cannot know the error they have made; the attack was over so quickly my men were unable to get their rifles out of the baggage, and, unlikely as it seems, the disguises continue to fool them. One of them seems to have kept his wits about him, and has been leaving clues to their travel. At first light we will follow them and hopefully find the bandits in their camp.

Major Squick has once again been too imaginative. I can't believe that this will end well.

(Major Squick begins here; link to all of Major Squick here. )

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Secret Diary Of Major Squick 5b

We return to Major Squick 2 weeks later, during which time he has unsurprisingly achieved nothing.

17 J__ 18__

Despite my best efforts, bandits have robbed several parties of travellers while I have found no trace of them. I have come up with a ruse to capture them inspired by an acquaintance "Sweet" George S__. While acting as a Political Officer on the North West Frontier he found himself being hunted by a group of Pathans. The Pathan is a great hunter and tracker, and S__ knew that in order to slip past them he would have to take extraordinary measures, in this case adopting the local dress of a woman. He had several close shaves and a number of adventures both fortunate and unfortunate while travelling. He eventually arrived at Peshawar, where the sentry would not believe his story until he lifted his skirts!

My stratagem has been to ask for volunteers to dress as women and move slowly and loudly through the hills. Meanwhile I will take the rest of the detachment and set up an ambush at the site where they will camp. When the bandits attack the camp, hoping for easy pickings from defenceless women, they will be taken by surprise by the rifles in the baggage and unable to escape as I will surround them with the rest of the troops.

Bob Parkhurst in particular makes a very convincing woman. This wheeze is so cunning, nothing can go wrong.

Typically, even when attempting to do his job, Major Squick does so in a transgressive way. Sadly it is so outrageous that the bandits would almost certainly fall for it as it will be completely outside their comprehension.

(Major Squick begins here; link to all of Major Squick here. )

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Why We Don't Live In A Musical

Once or twice Jim has asked "why don't we burst into song and dance like that?" while watching a musical. Allow me to explain:

This evening Dad and I were watching Oliver Twist. Bill Sykes (BOO! HISS!) turned up on screen. "Is that his Nancy on his knee?" he asked. "Yeo ho," I replied,
And his arm around her waist!
And then we stopped, unable to remember what happens next[1]. I've never been in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta as I have an awful singing voice; my Dad played a pirate (in the first part) and a policeman (in the second) in The Pirates of Penzance, but that would be over 40 years ago. Neither of us has sat down and memorised The Mikado. So essentially, we don't spontaneously burst into song and dance routines as we haven't practised and rehearsed enough to improvise.

Here's what should have happened (link):


[1]
Chorus: Then man the capstan — off we go,
As the fiddler swings us round,
With a yeo heave ho,
And a rum below,
Hurrah for the homeward bound!
With a yeo heave ho,
And a rum below,
Yeo-ho, heave ho,
Yeo-ho, heave ho,
Heave ho, heave ho, yeo-ho!

Solstice

Well thank God for that; it's the shortest day. Now the days get longer! Not that you can actually notice until mid-February, but still. It does mean it's the Christmas season in earnest; two weeks of being jolly and pleasant and polite in company. But there's other things to look forward too; films on TV! Not the usual Christmas films but the special ones involving my friend Stan. Here's the list from two years ago; some of them will be repeated (endlessly), but here's a few that I've not mentioned before:

Iron Stan

Stan is captured by terrorists and put to work in a secret cave. He builds a flying suit equipped with a cabbage firing bazooka and escapes. Getting home he builds a better suit and renames himself "Gold-Titanium Alloy Stan" and generally does good and defeats bald men with beards while drinking a lot.

King Stan Vs Stanzilla

Stan gets a monkey suit AND a lizard suit for Christmas. Unfortunately he gets drunk and stumbles through his scale model of Tokyo, wrecking it.

Tequila Stanrise

Stan drinks cocktails and listens to the Eagles. His best friend wants to put him in jail. They both fall for the same woman. Hijinks ensue.

The Day That Stan Stood Still

Remake of the 1951 classic. Stan turns up on Earth with a giant robot dressed in underpants. There's some kind of threat that requires mankind to not nuke themselves or maybe save the environment or something. Hardly any drinking takes place.

The Stanford Wives

Stan moves into town to discover all the wives are fawning, submissive and impossibly beautiful. Maybe they're robots, maybe they've been reprogrammed by a psychologist, maybe it's just a metaphor for gender conflict; trying to figure it out drives Stan to drink.

Stanship Troopers

Stan joins the Mobile Infantry and fights Bugs, and comes to the conclusion that the only good Bug is a dead one. As a result he becomes Hero of Planet P and gets lots of free drinks.

Stanship Troopers 2: Hero of the Staneration

Stan gets trapped in an outpost surrounded by Bugs and full of convicts and assorted troopers. Is there a traitor in the tower or have the Bugs been able to build a human replica or is it just the convicts trying to escape? Whichever option it is, it's the kind of situation that calls for a drink.

Stanship Troopers 3: Stanauder

Stan gets in a barfight with a general and is sentenced to death. Meanwhile the singing Sky Marshal has a religious revelation which threatens to bring down the Staneration. The solution? Flying armoured suits made of Gold-Titanium Alloy with cabbage-firing bazookas crewed by condemned criminals!

The Secret Diary of Major Squick 5a

For the latest extract from the Diary of Major Squick I have deciphered a number of entries which form one continuous narrative. I'll be posting them as I get the time between now and Christmas.

3 J__ 18__

In a fit of high spirits at New Year, I suggested that the Afghan Hounds be raced against each other, with the houseboys as jockeys. It seems that the Colonel's wife was unhappy to discover that her prize Afghan Hound dogs had been used in such a way, especially as they had been scheduled to be put to the Governor's Daughter's bitches the next day, but were too weary to perform. Until his wife has calmed down, I have been ordered to take a patrol into the hills to look for bandits who have been plaguing the province.

The Colonel has not yet inspected his wine cellar, and the water in the fountains were barely pink at all by the time he saw them. The missing paintings I have replaced from my own collection until I can find decent replacements - fortunately the Colonel never looks at them.


As we can see, Major Squick has been propelled into action as the result of his own foolishness and debauchery. We can only hope that he manages to achieve something useful and constructive, although I can't help suspecting that he will spend the time in a hilltop tea plantation committing more outrages.

(Major Squick begins here; link to all of Major Squick here. )

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mixed Spice And Cheese Wrapped In Bacon

I made mincemeat, back when I did the stir-up Sunday post. What I forgot was that there wasn't any mixed spice when I made it. So I mixed my own, and it smelt like mixed spice and the mincemeat is pretty good, if I say so myself.


Mixed Spice

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon ground coriander
1/3 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/3 teaspoon grated nutmeg
a few cloves

Put the cloves and caraway seeds in a pestle and mortar and grind up until they are a fine powder, or you get bored. Add the powdered spices and grind a bit longer. Make sure it's evenly mixed. Makes a bit more than 2 teaspoons of mixed spice.

In other recipe news, Stan was asking about cheese wrapped in bacon. The rest of us think he may have dreamt it, but Google is free so I had a look. The most obvious thing from looking through the first few result pages for the string cheese wrapped in bacon is that people love stuffing "things" with cheese and then wrapping those "things" in bacon. Popular "things" seem to include hotdogs (yuck[1]), dates and chicken fillets (yum). Still top two, just cheese in bacon:

Pan fried mozzarella wrapped in bacon with chutney and sesame seeds - I've seen this chef on TV and he generally seems to have an idea of what he's doing.

Goats Cheese Wrapped In Bacon - I can't vouch even as half-heartedly as for the previous one but the recipe looks simple and easy and makes sense.

Baked Cooleeney Wrapped in Bacon - I've never heard of Cooleeney before, and it's not helped by being spelt "Cooleney" on that page. It looks to be Irish, but I'm not doing a great deal of research on this.

After that Google goes quiet for a few pages recipe-wise, although I found a page where someone was preparing for Christmas smoked cheese wrapped in bacon, halloumi wrapped in bacon, 2 types of stuffing wrapped in bacon and sausages wrapped in bacon (Pigs in Blankets? - it was talking about these that lead Stan to asking about cheese wrapped in bacon) and they're threatening to do roast potatoes wrapped in bacon, which will either be terrible or genius and I don't know which.

So cheese wrapped in bacon: is Stan in a coma, mad, back in time or just drunk? The jury is still out.

Update: If you google for "cheese wrapped in bacon" this post comes up on the first page now. As a summary of google posts about cheese wrapped in bacon, that's pretty ungelpful. Sorry if that's how you got here.

[1] I say yuck, but for all I know a cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped, battered and deep-fried hotdog could be delicious. I feel the experimental method coming on...

Friday, December 12, 2008

So This Is Christmas

Clues to the season:

1. There's frost everywhere outside
2. I've been getting Christmas cards in the post.
3. I'm already sick of Noddy Holder shouting "It's Christmas!"

The Fairytale of New York is being overused as well. Favourite Christmas song for this year so far? Bo Pepper's I Haven't Got You Anything (This Christmas) for these lyrics:
I ain't got no money maybe I will make a card
Or fashion a penguin out of a block of lard
I hope it's not too hard

If anyone wants to give me a lard sculpture, please put it in a coolbag and tell me to keep it in a fridge.

UPDATE: Within mere minutes of posting this I came across The Black List 2008 - Hollywood producers favourite un-produced screenplays. What should be there at number 3?

BUTTER by Jason Micallef
“A small town becomes a center for controversy and jealousy as its annual butter
carving contest begins.”

You know why that's unproduced? It should be called LARD, that's why.

Monday, December 08, 2008

My Face And The Growths Upon It

As ever I have grown a beard as we enter the cold part of the year. However this was thrown into difficulties as I have another tradition - when I go away I shave it off[1]. Since I was only off to France for the weekend, and it gets bloody freezing, I just trimmed it.

Clearly I won't be impersonating Santa Claus this Christmas Eve. Worse still, I traditionally shave it off on Christmas Morning[1], so there won't be time to grown anything out of the ordinary. Which is why it's aggravating that as soon as I get back, I find 10 Very Good Reasons Why You Should Grow A Giant Beard and Wondermark's Hierarchy Of Beards.

[1] What do you mean why? It's a tradition.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Stir-Up Sunday

If you'd asked me a few months ago "Is there a traditional day for making Christmas Pudding?" I'd have said "I expect so, there's traditional days for everything else[1]." If pushed I'd have said "Mid-October maybe?"

Turns out it's the last Sunday before advent, or, as it happens, last Sunday. And everyone knows this (even my parents, who make Christmas Puddings in mid-October to give them more time to mature, and also from when it used to be half-term and Dad could get us to help to stop us running wild for a couple of hours[6]).

Everyone else also tells me it's called Stir-Up Sunday, because you make sure that everyone gets to stir-up the pudding and make a wish. Actually it's the other way round. The Collect for the day, in The Book of Common Prayer says:

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It's because the words stir-up and fruit appear in the service that people began to stir-up their puddings on that Sunday.

Am I the only one entertained by this?

Those of you who stirred up on Sunday, how was it?


[1] Everything else includes such things as planting parsley[2], slaughtering animals[3], make your one bet of the year[4] and find it difficult to get a drink in Ireland[5]
[2] Good Friday
[3] Midwinter
[4] Usually the 2nd Saturday in April
[5] Good Friday
[6] Our Ancient and Traditional Christmas Pudding Recipe came from the Bon Viveur column in the Daily Telegraph in the late 60s. After researching this information I now know this means it's a Fanny Craddock Recipe. Excellent! Why don't modern TV Cooks dress like that?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Cook, Then Type Up The Recipe And Put It On The Internet Late At Night Because I Can't Sleep

Sausage and Lamp Chop Hotpot

4 sausages and 2 barnsley lamb chops from the farmers' market
2 onions from the farmers' market
1 clove garlic
1 dessertspoon cornflour
1/2 lamb stockcube
4 potatoes from the farmers' market
some herbs from out the garden
somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 pint of hot water
a dish of dripping
a very generous tablespoon of oil
some butter

Brown the sausages and chops (sausages take longer) in the oil in a casserole dish. Remember to turn the oven on at 120C. Put the meat aside. Slice the onion and garlic. Find a dish of dripping and heat it up in the casserole. Brown onion and garlic, then add herbs, stockcube, salt, pepper and flour and stir, then add the liquid and cook for 3 or 4 minutes to make a thin sauce. Put the meat back in, and if you're very lucky the sauce will just cover it. Slice the potatoes (to maybe the thickness of a pound coin?) and cover the top, dotting with butter. Put the lid on and cook for 1 1/2 hours, then turn up to 160C and take the lid off for the last 30 minutes to brown the top. Serve with leeks from the farmers' market and lager from the supermarket* to great admiration.

Serves 2 generously.

* What?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fiat Lux

So Sandwich Christmas Lights were successfully turned on, and the parade had, amongst the usual stuff, 4 marching bands, an ambulance, a fire engine and dogs pulling carts. Plus there were fireworks, which I missed (assuming hearing all the bangs and seeing green and red flashes reflected off every building in sight is missing them).

We didn't seem to have a countdown. As my Dad was either at the top or the bottom of the ladder to the master switch I'll have to ask him about that. The button that the official turner-on uses - not connected to anything. You'd have to run wires 100m and then disconnect them as soon as everyone has gone. Nope, all done by men in florescent jackets on ladders around the corner.

The Christmas Lights can be seen from now until Twelth Night, assuming someone remembers to turn them off on time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Time Travel To The Thirties!

Many of you have asked me how I would perform if I were flung back in time to the Thirties and became a housewife. Until now, I've only been able to answer by giggling nervously and wiping my floury hands on my apron. However the internet is able to answer all questions[citation needed] and today I've found this one, thanks to the 1930's Marital Scale. Just quickly tick the ones that match me... "Flirts with other men at parties or in restaurants" - well who doesn't? "Good sense of humor--jolly and gay" - that's me too! "Has spunk--will defend her ideals and religion" - And again. Right let's see what the result is...

6

As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Poor (Failure)

Take the test!



Oh no! I am a terrible 1930's housewife! Of course I'm male which might skew the results a bit. Yeah, it's definitely trying to fulfill an inappropriate (and outdated for that matter) gender role that is tripping me up on this one.

35

As a 1930s husband, I am
Poor

Take the test!


Well damn. Have to stay single until the Forties then.

Monday, November 24, 2008

This Evening

I've spent the evening running around Sandwich with a bucket of lightbulbs, chasing a cherrypicker and directing traffic (except for the bloke who pushed past and nearly had his car crushed by a piece of farm machinery). It's an unusual hobby, but I like it.

The Christmas Lights Carnival and the big turn on are this Friday 28 November.

Update: From the state of my boots this morning, somewhere in town is a dog the size of a pony. A large pony.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Cake Is A Lie

(Pulled out from email and social network in case I missed anyone)

I was talking to my parents about Christmas arrangements. "Do you want me to make a christmas cake?" I asked.

"Erm..." said Mum. "You can make it, but I won't be having any," said Dad.

"Shall I make some mincemeat?" I followed up.

"Ooh yes," says Mum. "Definitely," says Dad. I think that's fairly clear. Nevertheless, I'm still thinking of making a christmas cake. That will inevitably leave no one coming round over Christmas, and none of them wanting cake.

Last night I discovered Claire soaking a christmas cake in brandy. It's not for her, and her Mum will make her own. So someone is getting a Claire christmas cake. I don't know who.

So this leaves me two questions:

1. Is anyone likely to turn up over the Christmas period wanting cake? (I'm thinking Christmas Eve in particular)

2. Who is the mystery cake recipient?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Brother: Future Love Messiah

The Supreme Court of Nepal has legalised same-sex marriage, as this article from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law reports. As it happens my brother is in Nepal, having joined a pilgrimage in support of peace and freedom (no, seriously). Obviously I questioned him over this. My email:


Nepal has legalised same-sex marriage, while you're there. Is this a
coincidence?
(Link)

(Real international lawyers think that's what the ruling means).

His Reply:


No co-incidence.
I brought love to Nepal whilst walking for peace.

There we are. And to think we knew him when he was known as The Regular Smut!


My brother confronts an angel. Or maybe temptation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On Supervillains

In the pub on Saturday night, the conversation turned, as it inevitably does, from buying houses to evil geniuses taking over the world[1]. I've been thinking about Supervillains, and there's some overlap between the two. Lex Luthor and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, for example, occupy such similar niches that if they existed in the same world, they would inevitably come into conflict.

The question came up as to why one would take over the world. It's a fair question. If your ambition is simply to take over the world, what then? Give it back and try again? Trying to take over the world for the sake of ruling the world is crazy, and, worse still, one dimensional characterisation which is not conducive to story generation. One might wish to simply have one's enemies[2] bow down before you, or one might be unnaturally driven to conquer[3], but in most cases the drive to rule the world would be the desire to remake the world so it better reflects the desires of the ruler.

In which case, why take over the world? Seriously. Running the world is a lot of work, and taking it over sets a bad precedent; once it's proven to be possible everyone will be at. Also, and trivially, you can't go down the pub boasting about it (as I pointed out). Aren't they supposed to be a genius[4]? Isn't there a better way to change the world? Isn't more efficent, more effective to set up the conditions so other people do the hard work of changing the world? A genius should be able to influence those who's ideology is useful to them; make other people want to change the world.

To which I add that this is the 21st century. If there were supervillains with high technology, wouldn't details leak onto the internet? College students would download templates for making nanofabricators. Criminals would build stealth suits and impenetrable armour. Terrorists would be getting blueprints on plasma guns. Obviously, this would be illegal and the government(s) would crack down on...

Well hello! Open-source supervillainy aimed at polarising society. Forcing the government to become repressive. Limiting advanced medical technology because it can be used for bio-terrorism[5]. Destroying server banks that are upgrading themselves to AI status. Confiscating laptops and pendrives with illegal body upgrade templates. Burning city blocks to destroy unlicensed nanofabricators.

And then someone offers an alternative.

You know, there's a story there. And by some coincidence I'm writing it.

To be continued...


[1] Via the Kingsway Tunnels being for sale in London, subterranean hotels and secret bunkers.
[2] The teacher who said you'd never amount to anything, that bully who mocked your glasses, the cool kids who laughed at you behind your back, the review board who said your experiments were unethical and you were mad, mad!, your ex- who, well, is your ex- and that guy who nearly ran you over this morning; you know, the enemies who will regret it when I RULE THE WORLD! NOT LAUGHING NOW ARE YOU? Ahem.
[3] I note that this is the motivation chosen by Austin Grossman for his novel Soon I Will Be Invincible.
[4] Jim's suggestion of putting the pub in your secret bunker is brilliant, but too flawed for him to qualify as an evil genius.
[5] I note for your attention the following technical name for one misuse of a medical fabricator: Vampire Transform.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Dedication To The Aesthetic

It seems to be dump finish everything in my brain drafts folder or notebook on the blog week. When if I run out of ideas there might also a post on all the things in the notebook that I'm not going to develop further, but might be entertaining for a moment.

As the next piece of fiction needs some more work, let me instead draw your attention to this music video which has clearly been taken out of a 1970 film; Pull Shapes by The Pipettes. (YoutubeLink)



It's that Phil Spector manufactured Girl Group Pop that has often been imitated but never improved on. Except it isn't. Sadly this film doesn't exist so we can't add it to the ever increasing list for movie night. The Pipettes are a 21st Century Brighton-based group, as a swift listen to the lyrics will indicate[1] (in addition, I'd tend to say "Throw Out Some Shapes" rather than "Pull Shapes" but I'm not really down with the hip kids who live in Brighton so what do I know?)

I'd considered starting this post with their song ABC which has less lyrical anachronisms, and has early 60s cartoon images which are as spot-on as the live action in Pull Shapes but in general it's not as impressive to create an accurate 60s-style cartoon as an accurate 1970-style live action. Nevertheless: ABC (Youtube link)



(I love the line "He knows all about the sonic spectrum, damn it/ but he don't know if it's groovy".)

Did I say we can't watch that film? Well that's not quite true. Does this look familiar at all? (Youtube link).



Russ Meyer's classic and somewhat incoherent sexploitation film Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Well no wonder Pull Shapes looks like it's a scene in a 1970 film.


(The title of this post has been stolen from Sarah who has previously requested more dedication to the aesthetic.)


[1] Actually they sound like a 21st Century London-based group, which is interesting as Gwenno who takes the lead on this song is Welsh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Secret Diary of Major Squick 4

While studying Major Squick's Diary a letter that had been stored in the journal fell out. Showing quite how bad I am as a researcher, I have no idea what page it came from, or where it fits in the (very loose) chronology.

Most of Squick's adventures so far have been impulsive or accidental. This letter seems to show that not all of his career was the result of misjudgement and overindulgence - indeed he seems to have had a reputation as a man of action. The letter is addressed to Squick, but has been annotated in the margin in Squick's unmistakable and nearly illegible handwriting.

The Resident's Residence,
V___,
Sultanate of V___,
11th M__
18__


My Dear Squick,

Although already deeply in your debt for arranging my acquittal in that unfortunate trial for fraudulent bottomry, it seems I must ask for your aid again. I have a problem, and it seems only you can help. If this letter finds you in time you can not only save my honour, but this time also release an innocent man. You see, I have accidentally condemned my man servant to slavery as the result of a bet.

I was at the court of the Sultan of V___, celebrating the Hindoo New Year by observing the cobra and mongoose fights. Flush with the winnings from a number of successful wagers, it seemed my luck continued at the billiards table. Afterwards, the Sultan suggested that we celebrate my luck at his private feast. To my surprise, the Dowager Sultana and her entourage joined us, albeit veiled and from behind an ornately filigreed and unusually decorated screen, which represented, it seemed, the wall of the hareem. [Here Squick notes "D.Sultna of V___ rumoured involved in many unnatural acts during Great Mutiny, but nothing ever proved - no witnesses."]

As well as the usual entertainments - Eunuch Clowns, a Fakir who had a most unfortunate accident with his Bed of Nails and Belly-Dancers in various states of dress - he pit his champion wrestler against the Sultana's, who won. Through the medium of her maidservant as spokeswoman, the Sultana offered a wager - a purse of gold to anyone who could beat her champion, against a keepsake; anything she desired that we had with us. As you know, I'm always willing to take up the challenge of grappling with a man [Squick: "As we well know"] and agreed to the terms. However, when I stood up and put down my pipe, I felt overheated and slightly dizzy. [Squick: "Hasheesh or Opium in the Tobacco?"] After stripping to the waist, I felt much better and put up a good show against the champion. However, eventually he pinned me. I submitted, and then the maidservant announced that the Sultana most desired what she called "My Man-Slave". I protested that he was no slave, but being as we were in the Sultanate, the Sultan was able to declare he was. Being still trapped beneath the body of the wrestler, I found myself at a disadvantage and, unable to muster a coherent argument, conceeded, after which I swiftly found myself ejected from the palace.

This is a situation that only your unique skills can resolve [Squick: "More than you suspect!"]. I'm sure you recall Simpkins, my man servant, a tall, well built fellow from Ireland with dark hair and goatee beard. I have been barred from the palace, but I have bribed some of the servants and one told me "The White Slave services the Sultana Morning, Noon and Afternoon and for Tiffin" which I take to mean that she has made him her personal attendant during the daytime. I have discretely arranged for swift horses and a steam launch to be available to allow the two of you to escape the Sultanate if you succeed in releasing Simpkins from his bondage. [Squick: "Jack is as discrete as an elefant in musth - someone will be watching. Better to head for Nepal on foot, disguised as Tantric Monks."]

I feel you are the only man in India who can pull off this escapade [Squick: "No Jack - an escapade is taking a couple of tarts to the theatre, getting drunk and knocking a policeman's helmet off. This is an escape."]; if I do not hear back from you by the 17th I shall have to attempt the rescue myself. [Squick: "Good G_d no! Then there will be two of you to rescue!"] If you can possibly aid me and Simpkins in this affair, I will be eternally grateful.

Your Friend,

Jack B___

(Major Squick begins here; link to all of Major Squick here. )

Some more of Major Squick's Diary has come to light, this time in the Americas. Susan de Guardiola, who blogs on topics of interest at Rixosous, discovered a page detailing Squick's time as an airship crewman on the HMS Ophelia. If I weren't a lazy and terrible researcher, this information would undoubtedly give me clues to more of Squick's life.

In related news, I have been appointed a Rixo Person. You may wonder what this means[1]. Well, in return for being legally obliged to nag Susan at least three times a week you get a badge, decoder ring and a booklet on how to perform the secret Rixo handshake (demonstrated here). Also you get a license to pun. Which I will resist using. No, really.

[1] Other than that I spend too much time on the internet, obviously

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

You Know, I Should Work In Television

Ferran Adria, Head Chef of El Bulli, which keeps getting the World's Best Restaurant award from the World's Best Restaurant Award Association[1] was interviewed last week while selling his new book. Whilst talking about McDonalds the article says
Indicating that he was concerned that McDonald's would use his comments for marketing, Adria nonetheless suggested said [sic] that if the fast-food giant hired 10 of the world's top chefs they would not be able to make a better burger – for the price.

To which I have two responses; firstly that this calls for the Experimental Method and secondly, I'd totally watch that TV series.

[1] I've not done a lot of research for this post. Does it show?

Monday, November 10, 2008

On Stories

"Stories are like swordfights," she said, "Sometimes it's all about making a point as quickly and clearly as possible." She lunged.

"Oof," I said.

"Sometimes a story is about showing your edge," she said, executing a short series of slashes, "or your mastery of groundwork, or your ability to choreograph different elements into a pleasing whole." She stepped back and we raised our swords to form a single line. "Sometimes it's all about taking a moment and watching a perfect instant of time, an instant that will inevitably be punctured." Another lunge.

"Some stories are all about character," I gasped, retreating.

"They are," she agreed, "but you and I know both agree that the way to demonstrate character is through drama and action."

"Sometimes there's a twist," I said, making a fine circle parry.

"And another twist," she said, riposting, "when the story has two edges."

"The false edge," I said.

"It's not a perfect analogy. But sometimes a story is about endurance, about being taken to emotional depths, and then coming back up, bruised and bloody to a new understanding." She stood en garde, voice as blank as her facemask.

"What about stories that leave you warm and fuzzy inside, glowing with desire?" I asked.

Her voice changed not at all. "We'll discuss that later". She attacked.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Answer Is Wales

Mum and Dad have been in Wales and brought back a variety of items, including some very tasty cheese, a mug decorated with a penny farthing and the number 6, and some glass coasters from a gallery in a famous Welsh town. "Maybe we could call them the Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch coasters", I said.

"They were actually made in Nottingham," said my Dad.

"Nottingham coasters?"

"Lets just call them 'the coasters'."

French Onion Soup Revisited

If you happen to have both leftover onion soup and a whole bunch of leftover toasted breadcrumbs, you could do worse than getting a bowl of hot soup, pouring a handful of breadcrumbs on top, grating some cheese onto that and then toasting for five minutes.

But what are the chances that of that ever happening?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Dining Party

The Menu

Starter
French Onion Soup

Main
Half a Roast Pheasant
Roast Potatoes
Steamed Leeks
Boiled Carrots
Toasted Breadcrumbs
Quince Jelly

Dessert
Apple Crumble
Ice Cream

And to continue the evening
Leftover sweets from Halloween

To Accompany
Choice of Wines [1] also Apple Juice and Water

Notes: Pheasant season is 1 October to 1 February. These pheasants were fairly small, but then again I'm spoiled as Mum often gets them from the cousins' farm at Christmas time. All of this menu was very simple to prepare. The most complex and time consuming bit was the soup and I did most of that the night before; and so:

The Recipe

French Onion Soup, or as I actually referred to it, "In the style of" French Onion Soup. Served 6 with plenty left over but would probably do for 10 (as I originally was catering for).

Ingredients
several big knobs of butter
plenty of olive oil[2]
9 or 10 onions
4 cloves garlic
a spoonful or two of sugar
2.5 pints of chicken stock
2.5 pints of beef stock[3]
a very generous glass of brandy
french bread
melting cheese (Raclette in this case)

Thinly slice the onions and garlic. Heat the butter and oil in a huge pan. Cook the onions and garlic with the sugar gently until they go just golden. Unless you have a really enormous pan you'll need to turn and stir fairly often. Add the stock a bit at a time to avoid cooling it off too much (or heat the stock, that would probably work too). Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. You can serve it then, but it doesn't hurt at all, and may help to leave it overnight.

Before serving, heat up and add the brandy. Put cheese on rounds of french bread and toast under the grill. Fill each bowl with soup, making sure you get lots of onion in and float rounds of cheesy bread on top. Serve immediately.

The In-Joke

Those of you who were there may prefer to refer to the soup as "French and Breton Folk Onion Soup".

The adventures of Sous-chef Vas and Sous-chef Sam

Vas: Well we've peeled and chopped carrots and apples.
Sam: We've peeled and chopped lots of carrots and apples. Can we do any proper cooking?
Head Chef Neil: No

(In addition Sam helped me lay the table and generally sort things out, and I will be happy to offer Jim a reference as a pheasant bisector)

What Next?

What next indeed? Well the huge extended-Italian-family pasta pot, previously seen being used in the style of a French onion soup pot, is currently being used as a pheasant stock pot. Game soup? Pheasant pie? Pheasant risotto?

My cooking will probably be on display again over Christmas.


[1] In one case the official wine of the world beach volleyball cup or something like that. Some of the male guests were imagining something like these ladies coming off the beach and jumping into the pressing tub (presumably after washing their feet). Their enjoyment of the wine was very slightly marred by being reminded of the beach volleyball scene for Top Gun.
[2] Those measurements for the fat involved are very imprecise. That's because I fairly lightly covered the bottom of the pan with oil, threw in some butter and then, after putting the onions in, added some more oil as it didn't seem to be enough, all while weeping due to onion fumes, so I didn't really notice how much I put in.
[3] Robert Carrier's 1963 Classic Great Dishes of the World suggests just beef stock, but this combination of homemade chicken stock and beef stock from 2 cubes worked out just fine.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Secret Diary of Major Squick 3

India is a most curious country. A man can walk around town in but his drawers without an eyebrow being raised, but serve coffee rather than tea for tiffin and matronly ladies have stern words with you. One can use ones veranda to bathe in asses milk (and I must remember to have the houseboy to scrub the tub again) without comment, but if you move your own chair to better view the sunset, the servants complain and insist on spending half an hour moving it about themselves. Mr K__, who has only the one wife, is not welcome anywhere, as she is a native of the country; meanwhile the Rajah of H__ cannot attend half the events he is invited to, despite having a harem rumoured to consist of 100 women, 40 boys and a specially trained cobra.

I haven't yet been able to identify the Rajah, but it seems possible that Mr K__ is Mr King, the father of Captain Athelstan King. Captain King, as I'm sure we're all aware, was immortalised in lightly fictionalised form in the book and film King of the Khyber Rifles.

(Major Squick begins here; link to all of Major Squick here. )

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Secret Diary of Major Squick 2

Major Squick's Pick-Me-Up and Sovr'n Remedy for the effects suffered the Morning After The Night B'for, as well as experienced on sundry other occ'sns unrelated to overindulgence, namely nausea, headpain, aversion to light, aversion to noise, furrie tongue, impolite breath, general malaise &tc. &tc. as well as providing healthful benefits to convalescents, expectant mothers, growing children and ladies of A Certain Age, in addition to which it offers aphrod'scl properties

2 fresh eggs
Juice of an orange
Juice of a lemon
2.5 fl oz brandy
2 teaspoons all spice
some old ale

Beat the eggs, lemon and orange juice and brandy together. Add the all spice. Add old ale to achieve correct consistency.

I can't recommend this as a remedy, as a breakfast or, indeed, at all. One thing we can tell from this is that Major Squick had a very strong stomach.

Assuming of course that this was not intended as a purgative.

(Major Squick begins here; link to all of Major Squick here. )

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Secret Diary of Major Squick 1

Over on another site, I was suggesting British Authors for the benefit of some curious colonials. As it happens, just as I was suggesting a series on a 19th century cavalry officer, some unpleasant scenes in Iain (M) Banks books were described as Major Squick.

This reminded me of a volume I'd picked up in an old map shop[1] glanced at, and then stuck into the "to read" mountain. I ran and looked, and it was indeed the diary of Major Squick, who seems to have gone out to India after committing some sort of act that barred him from polite society in England in the 19th Century. It's not easy to read, so I'll probably only post it a little at a time. Here is the first excerpt, originally published here:
12th M__ 18__

Had a visit from Captain V__ and Mr S__. S__ seemed surprised that I had two umbrella stands - one the foot of a gorilla, the other the hoof of an elefant. V__ found the gorilla stand distasteful. Perhaps it is just as well he did not see the furniture in my private study.

S__ tells me that rumours of that dreadful affair at Lady M__'s that led me to seek my fortune in the East Indies have followed me here. The Vicar's Wife had been sent to her Aunt's for a rest cure. It seems she left her Relative's house on the Moors (by the pantry window) and made quite a scene of herself in the village. The young man involved has gone for a soldier and is now in Bombay where he has been spreading wild stories.

V__ told me a most entertaining story about The Bishop, involving a Eunuch, a Famous Actress and her Punkah-Wallah. It seems the Actress had...

(Page becomes illegible)

S__ is right tobe surprised; it's peculiar that Major Squick would have even one umbrella stand, let alone two. This is, after all, the British Raj; umbrellas come with a servant to carry them, they disappear with the servant to be dried and reappear when you make it known that you're going out. Does Major Squick have visitors that the servants know nothing about, or does he just like to show off umbrella accessories? Hopefully this will be addressed in future entries.

[1] "You can have that for 50p", said the owner, after I'd spent far too much money on maps of the German Pacific Colonies and the Republic of Gran Colombia. I haven't been able to find that shop again.

Which Side?

So, on Saturday we were bringing up songs that got stuck in our heads, and I mentioned that on the train I'd had a medley of early Madonna going on in my brain (and where the hell have I put my mp3 player, anyway?). It was suggested that this showed my gay side[1].

Well, maybe, but back in the 80s I seem to recall Maddona had a fair amount to offer heterosexual male adolescents. Or to put it another way, it's not the mermen that I watched in this video.

The mermen still aren't the most interesting thing about the video.

Not that I have anything against mermen, of course.

[1] Which presumably I got from my Mum.

In Which A Journal Is Confused With Journalism

I got a press release sent to me! For this site to use!

Sadly I won't actually be using it as the most exciting thing is that it's a press release! Sent to me![1] I'm not really interested in the story it's detailing. My problem here is not finding subjects to fill pages, but actually sitting down and bothering to type about them. (Sorry, copy-paste shortcut, did you say something?)

On the other hand, this isn't the first time Night of the Hats has been mistaken for the fourth estate; this review was linked to from the press page of Dead Horse Morris. (But not this review which looks at the same thing from a different angle).

[1] I've reviewed and even re-written Press Releases, and this one is pretty well written, and the details check out, so it looks like it's real, even if they've just grabbed my email from a blog search of some sort.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Load Of Cobbler

Generally I find baking cakes peaceful, relaxing, contemplative, almost meditative. As it turns out, it's not quite so easy to maintain concentration when my Dad is preparing squid behind me.

"Is that the pen? Yes, I see why that's the pen. And there's the ink sac."

"It really does have ten-tickles!"

"Rings or strips... I'll do one as rings, the other as strips."

Anyway, later on[1] Mum asked me to make a Pear Cobbler, despite last weeks fiasco with my Plum Crumble. Rather than say "I'm not sure I've actually had a Cobbler before", or make one of the obvious jokes, I said okay. It's turned out fine. Here's the recipe, cribbed from Nigel Slater's Real Good Food, with a few subtle changes by me.

Pear Cobbler
225g flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons cornflour
100g cold unsalted butter
3 tablespoons caster sugar
3 tablespoons double cream
Filling
1kg pears, cored and cut up into small chunks
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoon flour
For Glazing
cream and caster sugar

Sieve the flour, baking powder and cornflour. Throw them and the butter into a food processor. Whizz it until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, whizz to mix, then add the cream until it makes a soft and crumbly dough. Obviously, you can use your hands for these steps if you don't have a machine, or are pretending it's the fifties. Chill the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes, or until needed.

Heat the oven to 190C. Mix the pear pieces, flour and sugar, and put in a large pie dish. Break up the dough into bits and press over the fruit; it doesn't have to make a continuous pie crust. brush the dough with cream, then scatter over with sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes; pastry should be golden, fruit bubbling. Serves 6.



[1] As it turns out a week and a day, but I've cut the time to make this post cohere better.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

(Sort Of) Celebrating My Birthday (Again)

I half-heartedly intended to tag my birthday onto the back of a friend's a couple of weeks ago. I didn't really go anywhere with that idea, and as it turns out neither of my +1's could make it. So anyway, I'm doing something for my birthday, and this is the annotated version of the details.


From the email:

According to my calculations my 12th birthday falls on 33rd October this
year[1]. Obviously, this raises some questions. If anyone wants answers, I will be hosting an event to try and find some out on Saturday 1 November. My plan for the day is:

- A brisk walk down to the bay in the PM
- Back for tea and cakes
- Then I'll put in something to roast
- When cooked, we eat it
- Then pop down the pub, or watch a film, or maybe play a game involving trains if Jim insists.

If you want to take part in any or all of these activities let me know. Some accommodation is available. Other than that, all that's needed is a stout pair of shoes, an appetite and an inquiring spirit.

Neil
In all seriousness, this is the sort of plan for an autumn weekend my parents might have come up with 25 years ago, to get me and my brother out the house. Except the end, which would probably have been watching TV.

The mystery roast I hope will be pheasants as we're not into the pheasant season. If I can't find pheasants, and, as is possible, I'm making soup with a friend during the following few days, a chicken or two (depending on numbers) will probably be in order. If neither of those are happening, then I'll be looking for something without bones.

It's not too late for a Hallowe'en themed movie night at the end either. I've previously mentioned the train game in this uninformative post.

[1] That M C Escher calender means I don't know if I'm coming or going. The code for my actual birthday is pretty easy to break.

Friday, October 10, 2008

To Captain Hammer Every Problem Is A Nail

In the paper yesterday I found an article about a seven course menu with chocolate in every course at the Almeida restaurant in honour of National Chocolate Week (13-19 October).

We'll wait a moment for the chocoholics to calm down.

I've been talking about thematically linked seven course meals for a while now, and it's probably run it's course. I think it began when my parents came back from France having been in the middle of a tomato growing district during the tomato season and had a seven course meal with tomato in every course[1]. I'm familiar with the idea of designing your meal around the wines, although not confident enough in my own wine knowledge to actually do it. With the apple tree and blackberry bush overflowing a month ago there were a variety of apple and blackberry themed meals, and I'm pretty sure I could have gone seven courses on that.

Not surprisingly I was asked at the Great British Beer Festival, as I designed a meal around seven different beers, why I'm obsessed with thematically linked seven course meals?

I've been officially barred from being a Zen Master, which is just as well as I have no desire to convert to Buddhism. Nevertheless, as I see it everything in the world is connected to everything else. If you have or develop a method or technique for viewing something (literary deconstruction, deep penetrative radar) you can turn it on other things and see aspects which weren't visible before. If you're familiar with action TV you see the A-Team in the first act of Iron Man; if you're into Norse myth you see Volund.

Which is why, once I start looking at the world with my seven-course-thematically-linked-meal eyes, I see seven course meals everywhere. Sadly it's not of any use, unless I have a big and posh dinner party in the near future. Which is why, although I'm keeping it in my toolbox, I'm not actively seeking meal themes any more.

[1] Looking at the menu I was disappointed to see the more expensive lobster menu only had five courses and the dessert course had no lobster. What kind of chef can't make a lobster pudding?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

On Legends

I blathered on at great length on this topic on Saturday night, so I'm going to write this up so even if I bore people with it again at least it will be organised in my head.

1. There's an English folktale of Weyland Smith. Weyland is an elf-smith, and if you leave a horse and a silver coin at his smithy over night, he'll shoe your horse for you.

2. As is often the case in the British Isles, when Christianity arrived, the pre-christian gods were either co-opted as saints or became fairies. Fairies, as is well known, worship the Old Religion[A], so all the bits and pieces of the old religion were turned over to the fairies.

3. The folktale of Weyland Smith is the last remnant of the legends of the Anglo-Saxon smith-god, best known as the Icelandic-Norse version Volund. Volund was captured by his enemy, lamed and forced to make cunning things for his captors. The most cunning thing he made was his revenge, and also a pair of wings to fly away with.

4. So Volund was a Germanic God, worshipped by the ancestors of the Norse and the Anglo-Saxons. It's likely that he came with them out of Sweden when they were one people, before spreading across Germany[B], Norway, Britain and Ireland and most of the way across the Atlantic.

5. Now for Iron Age peoples, smithcraft is a powerful and mysterious thing. The difference between success and failure can be seconds or the slightest change in temperature (differentiated by minute colour changes). It's one of the earliest specialisations of skills. It's also one of the few things you can do with a crippled leg. It also gives you plenty of time to sit and think while the forge heats up, so if you were inclined that way, you might brood over wrongs and plot your revenge.

6. Bronze Age smiths often suffered from arsenic poisoning, which could also lead to lameness and also skin cancers. So the idea of a lame smith is not so unique or striking or unusual that all lame smith legends are bound to have a common source.

7. But if you're into Roman gods, my harping on about lame smith gods will have given you the key to this next paragraph: Vulcan, lame smith god of Rome[C]. As we all know, Vulcan's smithy was at Mount Etna in Sicily, so clearly he's local to southern Italy.

8. As the Greek god fans will have anticipated, Vulcan is identified with the Greek smith god Hephaestus. The centre of worship seems to have been Lemnos in the northern Aegean. He was thrown off Mount Olympos (one of which was climbed by Stan who can testify as to it's position and the likelihood of supernatural beings living there) so he's clearly a Greek.

9. Comparative mythology can be taken too far by enthusiasts. So with that warning, let's remember Daedalus and Icarus, cunning artificers, taken prisoner by King Minos, making wings to escape.

10. So it's possible that proto-Weyland came out of the Ukraine, or maybe Kazakhstan in pre-historic times 3,500 to 4,000 years ago, travelling with proto-Indo-European culture with the Greeks down into the Aegean basin and then up the Mediterranean, and with the Germanic peoples up into Germany and Scandinavia, eventually turning up in southern England 1500 years ago; it was certainly with the Anglo-Saxons back before they lived in Saxony and that angle where Denmark meets the Baltic.

11. Which makes it interesting that Weyland's Smithy is near Swindon; you can go and visit it (as comics writer Warren Ellis did this summer). A myth from out of Scandinavia has roots of actual stone in England.

Afterword: The most interesting thing is that the smithy is actually a Neolithic burial site from 3700 BC. It doesn't just pre-date the arrival of the Saxons and their new-fangled smith-god, it predates bronze-smithing, not just in Britain, but anywhere in the world. Those are big stones. You'd need to make rollers and levers and sleds of wood to move them. They had no metal. Ever tried using a stone axe? I salute them.

Final Note: Don't leave your horse and a silver coin at Weyland's Smithy. Someone will steal them. (No, you can't keep watch; that would be even worse. Do you know nothing about folklore?)

[A] Some tales from the 16th and 17th Century seem a bit peculiar, until you realise that the Old Religion is no longer pagan, but Catholic; the Fairies have had their beliefs retconned.
[B] Or possibly the other way round, from Germany to Sweden; that's not important in this case.
[C] Other Vulcan's you may be familiar with: Mr Spock's home planet and the people who live there; the British Nuclear bomber, the Avro Vulcan; the M61 Vulcan air defence Gatling gun.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mabon

Equinox is here
Day and night in true balance
Winter is coming

Yes, it's the Autumn equinox. And I'm in shorts.

I had a slightly spooky moment when I opened up S M Stirling's A Meeting At Corvallis this morning to finish it; the Epilogue is subtitled

Dun Juniper, Willamette Valley, Oregon
September 22nd 2008/Change Year 10[1]

It's nearly as weird as when I read Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six during the Sydney Olympics.

[1] As it happens, it's a Wiccan ceremony, which is why it's on the equinox. The odd thing is me finishing the book on exactly the day that it finishes. Apart from the fact that The Change never happened of course.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Dream Diary 14

I had a dream last night, in which I was holding forth to a group of admirers about the Turkic languages. I was just explaining that a native of Istanbul could, with some effort, be understood by Uyghur speakers of western China when someone in the group tried to tell us that in fact the "mountain people" of Japan could also understand Turkish. I retorted that I felt this was very unlikely.

In the cold light of day, I'm not actually sure what that dream heckler meant by "mountain people". I'm pretty sure I assumed they meant the Ainu, the aboriginal and ethnically distinct people of northern Japan. A swift look at Wikipedia suggests that there were 15 fluent speakers of Ainu left in 1996 and has no generally accepted relationship with other languages. Similarly Japanese and the Japonic languages of the Ryukyuan islands are generally held to be a language family isolate. So even in a dream it seems I'm right. Go me.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Seven Course Meal With Each Course Thematically Linked To The Music Playing

On Thursday night I was at a supper party. The host had modestly downplayed her efforts and I said in email "I'm not expecting a seven course meal with each course thematically linked to the music playing."

But what if I were? Initially I was thinking of something a bit posh, maybe something like Holst's The Planets:

Mars, the Bringer of War - Thai Red Curry
Venus, the Bringer of Peace - Asparagus and Oysters
Mercury, the Winged Messenger - Quail
Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity - Rumtopf
Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age - (Still thinking on this. I can't get past the fact that Saturn ate his own children, which doesn't help when planning a dinner party)
Uranus, the Magician - It's either testicles or another bird (Look, he's a primal deity of the sky; I can't help it that his testicles feature heavily in the myths)
Neptune, the Mystic - Fish Course!

You can see how hard it gets. But I've got another themed one, and here's the Youtube Playlist:


1. Salted Peanuts - Salted peanuts, Dizzy Gillespie.
Just nibbles to start.
2. Frog's Legs - We All Stand Together (The Frog Song), Paul McCartney.
You can buy big tins of frogs legs in France (I assume you can get them in specialist shops elsewhere, but living in East Kent, it's not really worth my while to look it out)
3. Lobster - Rock Lobster, The B52s.
Fish Course!
4. Jambalaya - Jambalaya, Hank Williams.
5. Hotdogs, Mashed Potatoes, Green Onions and Ketchup - Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Hotdog Song; Mashed Potato Time, Dee Dee Sharp; Green Onions, Booker T and the MGs; The Ketchup Song, Las Ketchup.
I note that most of my courses are taking about 3 minutes, so the main course is a bit less hurried.
6. Peaches and Black Cherries in a Brown Sugar and Whisky Sauce - Peaches, The Presidents of the United States of America; Black Cherry, Goldfrapp; Brown Sugar, Rolling Stones; Whisky in the Jar, Metallica.
Again, time to enjoy this course. The Metallica version of Whisky in the Jar is here, as the video is how I imagine the party will be.
7. Coffee - Black Coffee, Nana Mouskouri .

But I'm sure you can do better (Honestly, it's not hard). If you have an idea of thematically linked food and music, why not entertain us in comments? If it entertains me enough, I may try your suggestion one day.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Other places I talk nonsense on the internet; or why this hasn't been pdated recently

I've not been posting here a lot recently. One reason is that I haven't had too much to say, although that hasn't stopped me before. However, one liners and posts aimed at small numbers of people are tending to go over to one of the many ways of aggravating people on Facebook. I've also begun a group blog[1] for reviewing things, mainly bad sci-fi from our movie nights. You can find this under the name Heckler and Kochk - we watch bad sci-fi so you don't have to. This is soaking up any reviews I write, and rather than writing procrastinating non-review posts as I have done here, I wait until just before the next movie night and rush out a poorly researched post, often with more theology than you might expect.

Still I've got a couple of posts lined up for here. Night of the Hats - not dead yet.

[1] Currently just two of us so I think it may usually be known as a shared blog, or possibly we're duo-blogging

Friday, June 20, 2008

Amber Alert!

Yesterday I got a fiver in my change with the words "Amber Alert" written on it.

Now I thought I was prepared for any emergency; I had my overnight kit, 8 cans of cider, a punnet of cherries, some reconstituted potato snacks, and a sequel to the The Three Muskateers with me. But I wasn't ready for an Amber Alert being sent to me on negotiable currency.

Fortunately this is the internet, so there are websites that will help you with this kind of problem. Here's an exerpt from Fafblog's In Case of Emergency post:

1. Is there an emergency?
   a. Yes!
      - Quick! Break glass in case of emergency.
         - Oh no, now I'm all cut and bleeding on this broken glass!
            - Sounds like an emergency! Quick, break more glass.
      - Okay, I broke the glass! Now what?
         - Oh no, what'd you do that for! You needed that glass for the emergency!
            - Oh, what do I do now!
               - Quick, glue your glass back together while there's still time! Then break it. Hurry, it's an emergency!

Full post (and it gets better) here.

As for the fiver, I gave that to Jim. Amber Alert Jim!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Message from Turkey

The postcard from Jim has finally arrived, 9 days after his return (13 days after the date on it). Strangely it's actually in good taste, assuming of course that gimmicky video postcards are tasteful. Take a look:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Steampunk in LA

Steampunk is an SF sub-genre. Think H G Wells or Jules Verne - Victorian technology extrapolated to the limit. Entries since the term was coined (as a reference to cyberpunk) include William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine (novel), Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comic book as this blog refuses to acknowledge the film), Howl's Moving Castle (anime) and Van Helsing (film). Now, the term seems to have reached the mainstream, or at least the restaurant column of the LA Times (via The Independent) in this description of Gordon Ramsey's new West Hollywood restaurant:
The interior, fitted out with brass and mirrors, is kind of a steam-punk take on a ’70s disco lounge, and the menu, at least at opening, is a riff on the small-plates style of restaurant, a long succession of courses molded into perfect circles or neat rectangles, big enough to share and priced relatively gently for this level of dining room at $14-$22.

So. For Steampunk it's today Gordon Ramsey's restaurant, tomorrow the world!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Earth's Defence System

For several years, a giant forked stick, a pair of elastic braces and Stan has been all that has stood between Earth and an alien invasion. However I can now reveal that there are more slingonauts in training as this video shows:


I note in addition that google currently has no hits for the word slingonaut, so I'm claiming that one as a brand new word.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Not The Audience I Was Expecting

I thought I'd stopped blogging abou funny search terms that arrived here at Night of the Hats. I thought that in future they'd just be variations on the themes I've already encountered.

I was wrong.

This morning someone searching via google.nl turned up here from this search:

strong woman squeezes his balls to a gooey mess stories

(If you plug it into google.nl, as I was unable to resist doing you'll find that there only seems to be one; the rest seem to be items using those terms, some of which are closing in on the ickness of the original. I didn't actually follow any of the links.)

Time to flush my brain with something soothing and cleansing, something that can't be turned into something weird and sexual. Something like space science. Let's see what Warren Ellis has to say about the robot exploration of Mars:

It’s hard to get excited about robots. Unless, like a singer acquaintance of mine, you have what’s termed a “clunk” fetish. Once a year or so, she asks me if I’ll write a comic about robots fucking. I imagine she’s waiting with ragged breath for the Phoenix Lander to stab its metal cock into the Martian regolith to see if the planet is wet for it. Sometime today, I think, the robot explorer will slide a probe into the rusty crust in the search for ice and biochemical presence. We already have the photo that may show exposed Martian ice for the first time — unless it’s a photographic artifact, a trick of light and lens and no more real than the Face On Mars.

Oh right. My mistake.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Martian Invasion

As you may be aware, the Phoenix Lander arrived safely on Mars. NASA have the full CGI animation of the landing as astronomy picture of the day for 25 May.

What you may not be aware of is that the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a picture of it on the way down. And you can see the parachute. Or as the Planetary Society Blog titled the photo OMG!! Parachute!!!! Photo!!!!!.

Why should you pay attention? Bill Higgins puts it like this in a thread on Making Light:


The nations of the world have a fleet of vehicles exploring Mars.

In orbit: ESA's Mars Express. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA's Mars Odyssey.

On the ground: Spirit, near the equator. Opportunity, also near the equator on the opposite side of Mars. Now Phoenix, above the arctic circle.

Those on the ground can communicate with the orbiters, and regularly use them to relay data to Earth. Imaging from the orbiters is used to plan and understand where the rovers are going.

It's real exploration. On a very big planet, but it's a start.


It's worth repeating: This may not be the 21st Century we expected or wanted, but it damn well is the 21st Century and it's ours.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sometimes It's Just Too Easy

I was looking for a friend's Good Food Magazine down the back of a sofa and had found it. "Hooray!" said my friend, "pass it over!"

"Sorry," says I, "It's not your Good Food Magazine, it's pornography under a food cover." I flipped it open, planning to use my powers of improvisation to make whatever's there sound rude.

Quiche, tartlets and... a strawberry tart. What can you do with material like that? That's already a double entendre.

But this isn't just a rambling personal anecdote, it's an introduction to The Always Amusing Euphemism Generator which, as you might expect creates random euphemisms. Let's see:

Halfway through the project, Frank looked like he had been

wrangling the buttery yak.

Well, I'm amused. Like all random text generators on the internet you can use this as an oracle. Here we go:

Q: Oh great and powerful Always Amusing Euphemism Generator, answer this question that lies closest to my heart and that the fate of thousands rests on - the girl that I really really like, yeah? Does she, you know, like me at all?

A:
I couldn't believe my best friend was actually

savoring the sheets.

He is? The bastard!

Sub Titles may NOT be Objective Statements of Fact

I've just realised why people who have turned up on this blog looking for (for example) details on why there are two Bank Holidays in May, or the lyrics to a "Frenchman went to the lavatory" no longer seem to hang around and look through the archives when thy get here.

The description sub-title above used to read "This is not the blog you're looking for".

In an effort to be more user friendly I'll be returning to my previous habit of putting up whatever description best suits my mood, or that I've heard, adapted or made up that makes me think "that will be my blog's description! Now the world will bow down before Night of the Hats!"

Real blogging will recommence next week.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dream Diary 13

Started taking hay fever medicine yesterday and, as might have been expected, had a funny dream last night. It involved Heinleinian essence[1]. It was very strong. One drop turned a female freind of mine into red-headed super-genius.

I was going to use 2 gallons on a story.

But this isn't the strangest dream diary story I've read today; over here, while plugging his new novel, Walter John Williams had one and his dream revealed what UFOs are made of.

[1] Probably late Heinlein, but it's all a bit fuzzy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Simplicity

"Will you be entertaining while we're away?" asked my Mum shortly before I house sat for her. "One does one's best," I replied. So here are the two absolute simplest recipes from last weeks dinner.

Garlic Butter (previously noted in passing)

1/2 pack of butter (125g)
1 clove garlic
a small handful of parsley, finely chopped (more finely chopped than I usually chop it anyway)

Get the butter out the fridge at least an hour before you need it. Put it in a bowl. Crush the garlic directly into the bowl and add the parsley. Now squeeze and mix the butter and everything else together and leave to sit for a few minutes.


Garlic butter is useful for getting garlic flavour into just about anything, but I like to get really big mushrooms, lie them on their lids and put the butter between the stalk and the rim. Then bake for 15-20 minutes. Super large garlic mushrooms! Try not to spill the butter when you get them out the oven.

Raspberry Frozen Yogurt

1 large pot of Greek-style Yogurt
1 tin of the cheapest tinned raspberries in syrup
1 dessert spoon sugar

This relies on having an ice cream maker, preferably my Mum's as I actually know how to use it. Cool the ice cream maker down. Add the ingredients to it, then set it to churn for at least half an hour, until it stops being a gooey mess and expands to twice it's original size. Eat it quickly before it melts.

This works best with the cheapest soggiest tinned fruit as it just melts away into the yogurt (except for the seeds). As it's in syrup, you don't need to add much extra sugar. It's win, win, win!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Bibliomancy - Oracular Fun For Everyone!

I'm sure we're all familiar with the idea of bibliomancy, using randomly selected passages from a book to answer questions. I've now discovered the internet has made that easier with Random Bible. Let's see how it works.

Q: Oh Magic Scriptural 8-ball - that girl I like, how does she feel about me?

A: "And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other upon the six steps: there was not the like made in any kingdom." - 2 Chronicles 9:19

Q: Um, right. How about her cute friend?

A: "And there shall be eight boards, and their sockets of silver, sixteen sockets; two sockets under one board, and two sockets under another board." - Exodus 26:25

Q: Umph.

That's about what I thought (although I think I still have a chance with the friend).

The only way to top this is if there were a Sun Tzu randomiser for generals who lacked inspiration. What's that?

Q: So, Sun Tzu, we've invaded Ruritania but have got ourselves cut off from our supplies and are surrounded by enemy troops. So what I want to know is - that girl I like - what does she think of me?

A: The onset of troops is like the rush of a torrent which will even roll stones along in its course.—Sun Tzu's Art of War, ss. 5.12: Energy (suntzusaid.com)

That is full of win, but frankly all of Sun Tzu is. Don't believe me? Get your own random Sun Tzu quote here!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Sci-Fi Channel: Giving Me Several Seconds of Entertainment of an Evening.

While flicking through the TV listings on Monday I noted that the Sci-Fi channel had the film Big, and later an episode of the show Medium.

Well, it amused me. If you have any suggestions for what else the channel most likely to make me groan with annoyance while being unable to tear myself away might have shown to continue this series, I believe comments are open.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bacon Lasagna

Sometime last year I put forward the opinion that lasagna was a bit too ordinary, a little too everyday to serve as a main meal at dinner parties[1]. Well apparently I was wrong (according to the people I was conversing with) and lasagna is very appropriate for dinner.

Of course there are at least as many different lasagnas as your imagination can hold, some of which are definitely posh and for special occasions. Today I'm going to look at one of the meat sauce, cheese sauce, pasta types. A classic Bolognese sauce combines pork and beef mince; usually I use chopped bacon rather than pork mince. However sometimes I go the whole hog[3] resulting in this:

Bacon Lasagna

For the Bacon Sauce:
olive oil
8 or so rashers of smoked bacon, sliced into slivers
An onion, chopped
two or three garlic cloves, chopped
a small tin of tomatoes (cut up if not already chopped)
a dried crushed red chili or a teeny tiny pinch of chili flakes
several stalks of rosemary
a medium pinch of oregano

For the Cheese Sauce:
butter (about half a pack)
plain flour (Maybe a dessert spoon full, or a little more)
milk (3/4 of a pint of thereabouts)
grated cheese (A fistful, although don't actually grab it with your fist, as grated cheese tends to stick together when you do that)

And Finally:
some mozzarella, sliced


Fry the bacon in a little olive oil in a saucepan. Then throw in the onion, garlic, rosemary, chili and oregano and fry until the onion is soft. Add the tomatoes and a little water, bring to a simmer, season if required, then cover and allow to cook down.

If you're eating immediately, you can turn the oven on (180C or thereabouts is fine). While the bacon sauce is simmering and the oven heating up you can make the cheese sauce. My cheese sauce is a white sauce with cheese; you may have your own. Melt a big hunk of butter in a pan. Add enough flour so the butter and flour mixture become all fluffy and bubbly in the pan. Stir and cook for 30 seconds to a minute. Add milk a little at a time, stirring the mixture as thoroughly as you can. Simmer, stirring occasionally until it becomes a slightly thin white sauce, then stir in the cheese, which will thicken it[4]. Take it off the heat.

If we're lucky, we will now have a saucepan of bacon sauce, a saucepan of cheese sauce, a packer of lasagna and some slices of mozzarella. In an oven proof dish, spread a layer of the bacon sauce. Next, cover with the lasagna. Then a layer of cheese sauce. Then more bacon sauce, more lasagna, more cheese sauce. Two layers is fine, but if you want more (and have a deep enough dish) keep going. Note that you should finish with cheese sauce and put slices of mozzarella on top. If you're cooking this later, cover and put in the fridge. When you're ready to cook, it goes into 180C oven for 25-35 minutes, until the top is bubbling and has brown bits. Pull out of the oven, cut slices and eat! Don't forget to warn people that it's just come out the oven, or they may sue you as hot and sticky cheese sauce burns their tongue. Traditionally, serve with bread, salad and red wine.


[1] As opposed to having people over to eat before/after some other event, when the food is not the main attraction[2].
[2] Of course the food is not usually the main attraction even at a dinner party; it's the people. But I digress.
[3] Sorry.
[4] This white/cheese sauce is very approximate as I do it by eye. I have a weights and measures recipe for white sauce, but it's not to hand. If there's demand for it, I'll look it out. Note that you can buy white sauce and cheese sauce mixes, and that's fine, but since you need to cook the bacon sauce anyway I prefer to spend the time making cheese sauce than twiddling my thumbs.