Friday, October 07, 2016

The Long Dark Velux Window of the Soul

Being one of the 50 million people who don't watch The Great British Bake Off, I have to say that between Channel 4 and Love Productions they have concocted a Top Gear scenario that, going by past efforts, is destined to fail. Essentially Paul Hollywood is The Stig but with less screen presence and worse lines. Expect Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc to replace Mel and Sue and your nan to replace Mary Berry.

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The Daily Express regurgitated its regular 'We're all going to die under 20 foot of snow' article last week. When I say 'regurgitated' I actually mean it. The much-derided article that appeared in the paper and on line was essentially an update of the same piece, written by the same 'journalist' from September 2015, with some added bits like: 'we narrowly got it wrong last year' - 'Narrowly' being the Express's definition of 'last year was the warmest winter on record'.

The thing is, without wishing to sound like a weather bore, they're claiming this impending Winter of Death is going to be caused by a constant arctic airflow, covering the country in sub-zero temperatures like 1963. Now, severe winters in this country are usually caused by a blocking high pressure, somewhere over Scandinavia, which forces east and north easterly winds, directly from Russia and Siberia, straight at us. This is very cold air that is also quite turbulent which means low pressure areas can form along it, dropping lots of snow all over Europe.

Northerly winds, which are cold but not as bitterly cold as easterlies, have to pass over 3000 miles of ocean and oceans warm air up - maybe only marginally, but enough to turn it into shower producing weather - the key word there being 'shower' (a little like the forecasts run in the Express). It's not impossible for a northerly air stream to have a deep depression on it, but it's considerably less likely. Anyone who has paid any attention to the weather forecasts in the winter will remember or know that with most northerly winds come showers to north facing coasts - so Cape Wrath might be a freezing nightmare in January, but no one lives there apart from the armed forces and they're trained for that kind of nonsense.

There's also the 'Boy Who Cried Wolf' factor here. If newspapers continue to stupidly forewarn us of impending apocalypses then when one does come along people will probably ignore all the warnings.

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Many people I know think that I have become a Luddite over the last 15 years. They're probably right. When I worked in comics, I was as close to being an early adopter (or whatever they were called) as I was ever likely to become. Unfortunately my innovative ideas and approach to technology was an unmitigated failure (despite being years ahead of the field) and I lost interest in the advancement of things like mobiles, PCs, wifi and all those terms I avoid using that are common place now.

As a result, every facet of my life is NOT connected to my phone or my PC. I am not 'synced' with everything. I don't run my entire life through my phone and as a strange consequence I get really angry when I'm forced to change my passwords to something that according to various reports is easier to hack than individuals weird choices. The pattern of the new - insisted upon - passwords is clear - at least 8 characters, two of which must be numbers - that narrows down the possible combinations for a hacker by about 90%, whereas if you had a password something like 'IthinkStingsmellsofsick' (which isn't any of my passwords, I just thought it up right here and now) I'm guessing unless you're Trudy Styler then no hacker is going to even go there.

The thing is without wishing to sound like someone from the 16th century, I could see it all coming. The internet isn't a safe place to do your business. It isn't a safe place to store passwords, bank account details, or every photo you've ever taken, including the questionable ones of your wife and the dog... We get a reminder of this fact about every 12 months when all the biggies are broken into and information is stolen.

Plus, at least 52% of the population of this country alone are fuckwits and probably have passwords to suit their IQs. If you depend on the 'cloud' and the 'net' and your electronic devices, you ain't arf gonna be fucked if we have a mother of electro-magnetic pulses or a rogue state decides to target the west via the thing that'll probably hurt them the most - the internet.

The fact that Japan has mobile phone lanes on pavements is an indictment of how stupid the world is becoming... And it's only going to get worse.

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Is it me or has The Guardian softened its anti-Corbyn stance? They still attack the man, but with less ferocity and there's even a modicum of support for him at times. I wonder if this has anything to do with the loss of a third of its readership since the neo-liberal Katherine Viner took over as new E-i-C.

The Guardian had become an extremely expensive anti-Labour paper and one that I personally would have dumped years ago, but the newspaper is fantastic as covering for the floor of the duck shed and nothing absorbs duck poo and pee like an established broadsheet.

Apparently though, if I was to obtain the Daily Mail or Express, maybe even The Sun, I'd only have to wave it at the duck shed and all the shit would be attracted to the paper as if by magic...

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Mentioned briefly in a blog entry that ended up being deleted (because it read like a drunken rant) is the fact we've discovered one of the reasons why some houses in the part of Scotland we want to move to are so cheap. They're all riddled with damp, woodworm, rot and anything else you can think about that eats wood, concrete and probably people.

The house the wife had set her heart on turned out to be four walls surrounding a big pile of rotting shit and then the house I fancied ended up being even worse than the one the wife liked. Don't get me wrong, the part of Scotland we want to move to is still one of the cheapest in the country and we'll be able to buy a place near the sea or in the forest for much less than we would in most of England; but unless we're prepared to take on some kind of restoration project (which tend to be bottomless pits of money), we're going to have to be more realistic about our aims. Or so we thought...

Our new favourite is a Georgian style terraced house with established gardens (and a duck pond) in the place where The Wicker Man was filmed - Whithorn. It's not the most attractive of small Scottish towns and is pretty much isolated - 22 miles from the nearest large town and 40 odd from the nearest station; but it is only 3 miles from the coast and one of the better drinking establishments in southern Scotland and less than five miles from my personal favourite beach. We've even had someone go and look at the place for us and now we're nervously wondering if we can bring all of our plans forward by a few years.

And I've got to hope that both of us have the cajones to relocate there, because I think my dad would be disappointed with his three sons - not generally, just for their lack of spirit of adventure. My parents embodied everything that was good about being an inquisitive Brit in a post-war world. They lived in a pretty ravaged London and decided to do something daring - they moved to a new town. After a few years in a new town they decided to emigrate to Canada. While in Canada they moved around a bit - not like nomads, but like people searching for the right place in a new land and then (and I now believe that some of my mother's family conspired to bring them back) moved home and discovered newer new towns. Instead of staying in one place, they were always getting itchy feet - which might not have been good for their three boys, but they had very few selfish traits so this one is easily excused.

Bored with factory work and having climbed the management ladder as high as he could, my dad, ably assisted by mum, decided to do something quite extraordinary for them - they went into the pub business. What made this even weirder was that I was 15 when they did that and I could count on one finger the number of times my dad had been in a pub since I was born. That isn't strictly true because every New Year's Eve between 1970 and 1975 us and some friends always went to the Crossroads in Weedon, which back then was just a large pub that sold food - a very rare thing in those days, but the point is my parents were not pub people; they hardly drank and I thought they were antisocial because they didn't have that many friends (which wasn't the case at all, but how many teenagers really take any notice of their parents lives?).

After a few years of pubs, they went into clubs and moved back to the county of my birth, before ending up in Maidstone for nearly a decade - the longest they were anywhere. Then back to Northampton, for the third and for mum, last time. Even after we lost my mother, Dad's wanderlust never deserted him and he moved up to the area where my eldest brother lives and spent his last days pottering around Southport. He used to joke that perhaps he had some kind of geographical Saint Vitas Dance.

Now, let's look at the distinguished careers of Ron Junior, Steve and young (hah) Phil.

Ron: lived in Daventry for twenty odd years, moved to Liverpool and apart from moving down the road to Southport has been fairly static since 1969. The fact he's moved from West Northants to Lancashire is commendable when you consider...
Steve: has lived in Northamptonshire since 1969... and in just four houses since 1979 and all within leaping distance for the Hulk. Even yokels think he's a yokel.
Me: I ventured to London for a while, but only to live with my folks, then it was back to Northampton. I managed to move to Wellingborough in the late 80s, but was back here by 2000. I think I'm vying with my middle brother for the crown of lacking in the spirit of adventure and we're all at an age now where our old man was just starting to think about slowing down...

That's why it's imperative that the wife and I ensure that our dream (which has been there for 25 years) is finally realised. I might not have that long left and I'd rather not spend it wondering what if or always thinking I can put it off for a while. I'm just about fit and able enough to enjoy some isolated wilderness, bracing sea air and sporadic wifi. I'm still able to work and if necessary (or possible) I'll work in the local Co-op or Aldi to earn enough money to pay for the dog insurance and council tax.

I also don't want to think when I'm on my death bed that I spent too much of my life in what is essentially just a bit of a shit hole, regardless of what Alan Moore might think.

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What is it with people no longer using paths/pavements? It's like people have decided - whether they're on foot or on a motorised arsehole scooter that the road is much safer than the path and the looks you get from them when you almost run them over is priceless. It's like people either have forgotten that cars can kill people, or they're so cocksure and confident of their position in the legal structure of the world that they know you're going to stop for them or drive round them.

I said it for a while with people in company cars versus any motor vehicle over 10 years of age. The driver of the company car knows you own your car and it's all you can afford and you might not even be insured, so they (and white van drivers) treat you and the road like they're doing you a favour being on them. People dicing with death by playing a kind of ignorance chicken are essentially saying 'fuck you, you wouldn't run me over'.

Perhaps we should, a couple of times, just as a deterrent.

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That leads me nicely to NIMBYism.

I'm walking the dogs earlier in the week and the place where I sometimes park the car is being dug up for essential gas main repairs. This meant I had to park somewhere else; fortunately there's a lot of available places to park, which are safe to let the dogs out onto. So it isn't really a problem. Two minutes of inconvenience and frankly the dogs have no real concept of time.

At least three people made this the major topic of conversation when bumping into them along the walk. One man, a slightly elderly chap with a couple of lovely old dogs, was incensed - "It's bloody inconvenient. I've parked up there for twenty years. I don't know, they should think about other people before they do these things."
"They're doing gas main repairs."
"Well, they could do it some other time."
"When? After it's blown everyone up, or when it best suits you?" This wasn't said like it sounds, it was more in a jokey manner than to highlight his selfishness. He still didn't have an answer to that and I expect he'll give me a wide berth for a few weeks.

The thing is, that was exactly my next door neighbour last year when they were replacing all the gas pipes along our road. It was all so inconvenient and annoying and when I didn't agree with her and pointed out that there would never be a convenient time for everyone, so for peace of mind it's best to be inconvenienced for a few days than have a catastrophe, she just looked for someone else to agree with her at how bloody inconsiderate British Gas were replacing pipes when she didn't like it...

We're surrounded by these kind of selfish, self-centred, complete and utter wank splashes and we have governments and newspapers to thank for it. At some point they will rise up and bite the establishment on the arse... except, actually they'll bite it on the foot, because half of these idiots couldn't find their own arses with a map and a torch...

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The wife likes Jürgen Klopp. She thinks he's a bit sexy.

I've hated Liverpool since they unceremoniously dumped Gerard Houllier (a very nice man) and became this football club that believed it deserved success, so spent the next twenty years whining about it.

The problem is, I like Jürgen Klopp too. He's so refreshingly different as a football manager and he also has a really wicked sense of humour and I'm sure he's a bit sexy (Problem is I think he looks like my mate Kelvin and he's a nerd) ...

This has created another problem. I can't hate Liverpool the way I have for the last 19 years. It's been easy, especially with the Fat Spanish Waiter in charge and that innocent Stevie Gerrard in their side; but those times have gone and we're left with an exciting looking team (not as good as mine, but knocking at the door) and I'm left with a dilemma as my best friend supports Everton and my solidarity with him about Liverpool is being put to the test.

What has to happen is Klopp needs to be tempted to manage Real Madrid or Barcelona and I can go back to hating Liverpool...

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While I'm burbling, I've been having a kind of existential musical crisis for the last eight months or so. This thing is - why do I like (the) Cardiacs?

My only encounter with the band prior to this year was hearing a bit of something around 1980 (when they were a 'punk' band call Cardiac Arrest) and instantly dismissing it as shit (probably... you see I'm not even sure I consciously heard them at all). Therefore they never ever fell on my radar again and my circle of friends didn't really find them either and those that did didn't share their discovery (possibly for similar existential reasons).

I've harped on about Sing To God, the band's magnum opus double album from 1996 for best part of 2016, more because I can't believe I never heard it before and also whether it would have had the same effect on me had I heard it in '96.

Cardiacs are a pronk band. I'm not sure I agree that they're a prog punk band, but equally I'm not totally sure how you'd describe them. One of my favourite descriptions was my own - 'kind of like what you would have expected Pink Floyd to have become had Syd Barrett never left' but equally the wonderful 'there's more inventiveness in one song than some bands have in an entire career' is also a fabulous way of generally describing them. I'm not a musician, but I get the impression that even if you didn't get it you can still admire it.

We've been robbed of the genius of Tim Smith (the man behind the band); he's still alive but has been inactive because of serious ill health for nearly a decade and is unlikely to make a Lazarus-type return. Discovering his work - the magnitude of it - has been a welcome treat in a grim year, even if I'm not sure why I like it, only that some of it is remarkable.

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Curries.

Is the internet really just a load of rubbish?

Is it just one big Chinese whisper?

Have you ever looked for a curry recipe on the net? Were you ultimately slightly disappointed by your efforts to replicate that authentic Indian taste (or are you just used to bland Bangladeshi copies of the real thing)?

The internet has more recipes on it than I've got cells in my body and a huge wadge of these are Indian food recipes and if you need a recipe or some inspiration it is, at times, a very useful resource. The thing is has anyone really scrutinised some of these sites?

I first noticed something a bit weird when I was looking for a paneer jalfrezi recipe a couple of years ago and became slightly bemused by the fact that 22 of the first 25 recipes were all essentially the same, just presented in different ways with absolute minimal variation in the ingredients. And some of these sites were allegedly reputable places, with proper sponsors and shit like that. They surely didn't all cook this particular dish that way? Why was there no variation, at all? Why did every single recipe have carrot in it?

Then there was the other recipes, ones which were as inspirational as piles. When I look for ideas from recipes, I don't want a list of the vegetables you can use in a vegetable curry, I want to know what different types of spice combinations people use for their own (regional) variations of classic proper Indian food. So when I see a website which purports to be by some cook who originates from Gujarat, Karnataka or Kerala, I do not expect to see them promoting recipes which use shop bought curry powders or Patel's (other makes available) curry paste. That's like cheating at golf...

The thing is the more I searched, the more I tried different recipes the more I concluded that everyone - Asians included - must have aversions to hot or spicy food. Not only were all these recipes photocopies of a previous recipe, none of them were anything other than mediocre. They were meh. They were perfect for people who like their spicy food a bit milky...

A few weeks ago I stumbled on a website which had a recipe for a South Indian variation on Shahi paneer; which is essentially a Gujarati dish of thick gravy with cheese. Historically, for me, it is very nice, despite how it sounds, but usually as one of a variety of things - Thali style - not as an only course. I figured by adding some vegetables I could turn it into a wholesome main meal curry.

I had to take a double take at the ingredients because the first thing I saw was all the spice measurements were in TABLESPOONS not teaspoons. This curry had six Kashmiri chillies with the seeds removed, a tablespoon of coriander, a tablespoon of crushed garlic, 2 tablespoons of a garam masala mix involving cinnamon, cardamom, a clove, cumin seeds, black pepper, turmeric and a few other things. What I'm saying is it asked for FOUR times the spice I would normally put into a curry.

The outcome was most definitely a WOW! All of the spices were tempered by double cream, and it simply blew us away. It was really spicy, but because the seeds had been removed from the chillies it wasn't blisteringly hot; in fact the heat was lost by the flavours.

I've done six curries since then; five of them have been better than the one before and even saag paneer has taken on new dimensions. The last one didn't work so well, but it was the first one where I varied my spices to try and find new flavour combinations and sound like fucking Jamie Oliver...

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I have to say that a little of me dies everyday I see some new act of hate occur in the country. It seems that being nasty no longer is something racists are privy to. Today, I got slightly pissed off at the driver of a BMW sports car cutting up other drivers and attempting to push in front of me because the driver, an attractive blonde woman, purposefully got in the wrong lane and then was prepared to rudely push her way in without any regard (or thanks most probably) for the people behind her.

So I thought 'I'm not having that' and stuck to the bumper of the car in front of me and didn't let her in.

I've been sworn at by experts. I've rarely been on the receiving end of a tirade like this. I think she thought I was going to acquiesce because she almost ran into the side of my car - with dogs in the back - and she starts honking her horn and ranting and raving at me through her open window.

I let the window down on the passenger side and heard her calling me something, so in my usual relatively quiet voice, I said, "So it's my fault you stupidly got in the wrong lane?" I turned away and started driving as the lights had turned to green. For the next 200 yards, on the slip road, I swear to whatever celestial beings there are it was like having Regan from The Exorcist in my rear view mirror. She was flicking the vees, making wanker gestures and generally acting like you'd imagine Phyllis Diller to be like having an anxiety attack (one for the kids there... eh?).

This continued as she sailed past me onto the dual carriageway and I ignored her.

I did create the situation, but honestly, you would have thought I'd accused her of being an air hostess blonde or a Corbyn supporter.

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Doug is still systematically chewing his way through what's left of our house. He's lovely. I could kill him on an almost daily basis.

I grew a butternut squash. I think it's technically a miniature butternut squash.

I had massive success with my tomatoes this year. I have started eating tomatoes. I'm only 54.

I've been kept busy with mushrooms and a new drying machine. If I lived in Scotland I could turn it into a business...

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