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
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.

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.