The Beard

Warning, this post contains a horrible excess of hair.

Normally, pictures of me would be fairly well hidden, but I’ve been told there needs to be some documentary evidence of The Beard. So, then, after a week, here we are:

The beard

The only reason it exists is because I was worried that the cellulitis could have spread to my face if I cut myself shaving. So the reasonably sensible thing to do was stop shaving until I was sure that the infection had passed. I now have a beard of many colours (seriously, I have bits of jet-black and ginger in this thing. WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?).

The decision has proved almost universally popular with everybody in Durham except for me. I’m looking forward to this upcoming weekend, wherein I will take a fresh razor blade and shave the entire thing off. And then in a bid to re-establish my hipster credentials, I shall make cronuts, perhaps with a bourbon vanilla pastry cream filling. Oh yes.

(also, yes they are new glasses, but they’re not that much different to the older ones, only slightly more hipster, coming from Warby Parker.)

Back to work tomorrow, and for the first time in over a week, I will wear shoes! AND SOCKS! Standards have slipped around here, I tell you.

Two Wednesdays

There were two potentially life-changing events last Wednesday. The first happened in the afternoon when I signed lots of bits of paper and then became the owner of a house over four thousand miles and an ocean away from where I was born. The second was the period between 20:00 and 22:00 where I was running a high fever and we were wondering whether I would have to be rushed into the hospital on a suspected MRSA infection.

Thankfully, the latter, while stubborn and annoyingly impervious to the first round of drugs, doesn’t seem to be MRSA. Hurrah for keeping a foot. Still, I’ve spent most of my first week of homeownership confined to bed, with incidental trips back to Urgent Care and then Duke ER when it looked like the infection was spreading up my ankle. I haven’t quite got over the craziness of handing over a credit card whilst laid up in a hospital bed (this past week has cost me over $300 so far), but thank goodness I have health insurance, I guess. Also, I don’t think I’d have got through the week without Tammy watching out for me - even if her medical diagnoses were somewhat hampered because she couldn’t simply cut me open like her normal subjects (she’s a pathologist’s assistant, so most of them tend to be on the dead side, too).

In my absence, work has begun on the house - contractors started today on the foundations and the fireplaces, while on Thursday, the entire roof will be ripped off and replaced with shiny new energy-efficient shingle. And apparently, it’ll take at most two days unless they uncover something hideous under the existing roof. After that, it’ll be pretty much done. We have a few shinies that we’re splurging out on, but we’re not trying to go too crazy. Indeed, our new couch didn’t cost us anything except the petrol between Durham and Cary.

We hope that after we’ve got things set up (and the water gets turned on!), you’ll all pop by @314Driver sometime soon…

Hard Drivin'

I think I’m almost over the jetlag now. Took a lot longer than expected, and my lunch-time encounter with a person that wanted help building a computer that could interpret his out of body events to predict the future did make me wonder if I was hallucinating after being awake for about forty hours. Fun times.

Barring any unforeseen complications, I will own a house from Wednesday at 2pm. Stripping the roof starts a week Monday. If all goes well, we’ll be moving at the end of July, or if things go really well, a little before that.

(on that note, if you happen to be living in the Triangle area and are looking to rent a three bedroom, two bathroom house that’s merely a block away from Fullsteam and Motorco, why not get in touch with me?)

The new house will be taking over our current house’s Twitter account in the coming days - follow along at @houseofpi. I’ve been picking up little sensors here and there with the idea of creating a tweeting, data-collecting house. And then Tom Coates got there first. Damn his eyes. But I figure that there’s room on Twitter for a few tweeting houses, so get ready for a feed full of temperatures and humidity values. I know that’s what you want. It’s also quite handy that our new house has the same number as our current one, so I don’t have to come up with a new name.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to trawl Amazon to try and find a decent deal on a mattress in the Memorial Weekend sales. Who knew that they were so expensive?

A Return To London Village

It would be fair to say that I had a few expectations for this trip to London. Not once, though, did I have a thought that I might find myself on the 1938 to Bedford in order to get to Luton Airport. And yet…

Every time I’ve visited London in the past few years, I’ve been struck by an urge, or a melancholy feeling: I should have lived here. Unlike New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, I feel like I could cope with the scale of London Village (to be fair, I guess I did cope with LA for half a year, but I was starting to go crazy at that point). There’s so much to do, so much to see, and if you ever got bored on a Saturday, you could just head out and lounge on the lawn in front of the Tate, or see what’s happening at the ICA. They even seem to be getting Mexican right at long last. Well, they seem to be improving, at least.

In lieu of actually living there, then, I did the next best thing: rent out a place from Airbnb in Shoreditch. Home of Doctor Who, Rough Trade, and the greatest concentration of hipsters east of Williamsburg. It didn’t disappoint: Thomas The Tank graffiti, neon outfits, a vintage market full of East German army wear, and a shopping centre constructed from shipping containers. Of course.

Biggest surprise of the trip? Blackfriars is finally open after three years of construction. No longer is there a diversion from the Tate to the South Bank - you can walk along the waterfront all the way back to Waterloo (okay, so you do have to leave the riverside to actually get to the station, but you get the idea). Second biggest surprise would be Tabea flying into Luton on our final night in London en route to Ireland.

So, not only did I get to see Blackfriars open, I even ended up leaving from there on a train to London Luton Airport (hoho), and then a very early trip back to London the next morning in order to see Stacie off at Heathrow. And then came home and went to bed. Let’s not do that again in a hurry.

One thing that did sadden me a little: the encroaching invasion of America. Every time I come back, there’s more seeping in. Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, and now Chipotle. It seems a little wrong for me to complain, seeing as I now live in the US, but I do feel as if parts of our culture are being a little subsumed with all this. I wonder when Asda & Boots will drop the façade and become Wal-Mart and Walgreens.

(insert standard rant about how the history of the 80s computer games world in Britain is vastly different from the US or Japan’s, despite the Internet’s attempt to minimize cultural differences. Also, Transformers UK.)

Anyway, back home now. London is still London. Lots of new buildings, but the South Bank is still reassuringly concrete and alien.

Dinner

It’s apparently the ninth best restaurant in the world right now. And we ate there on Thursday night. Dinner by Heston is seemingly the result of Heston Blumenthal’s research for all his TV shows in the last last ten years; a restaurant dedicated to recreating British dishes from yesteryear. No 21st century food here, not even 20th century; the age of the dishes ranges from 1390 to 1890. Which, at first glance seems to be at odds with Heston’s usual modus operandi of grinning like a madman as he uses liquid nitrogen and gellan to make a liquorice enveloped salmon. But if you’ve ate at The Fat Duck, glanced through his cookbooks, or caught him on Channel 4 in the past few years, you’ll know that this has been an interest, or perhaps an obsession, of his for some time now (and you’ll be able to buy the book at Christmas time, of course).

Dinner, then, isn’t the Fat Duck slimmed-down and shoved into a fancy London restaurant. Well, apart from the triple-cooked chips. And the ice-cream trolley which can come along to your table and make instant ice-cream using liquid nitrogen (though even here, the mixer on the trolley is hand-cranked to give it a semi-vintage feeling). Oh, and a £70,000 clockwork spit-roasting contraption in the kitchen that’s Alton Brown’s nemesis: it only exists to make the roasted pineapple for the Tipsy Cake dessert.

(to which I say hurrah, as I find Brown’s uni-tasker crusade to be intensely puritanical and mis-guided)

Okay, so that’s the pitch, but how was it? You can take a look at the menu to see what’s on offer. Stacie got the marrowbone as a starter, whereas I took a long hard look at the menu and realised there was something in every dish that I wouldn’t eat. I’m a picky eater, although picky in odd and annoying ways. Anyway, I’m told that the marrowbone was great. For the main course, I had the fillet, while Stacie got the spiced pigeon. And…well, it was a hunk of meat on a plate. A great hunk of meat with amazing beef gravy and triple-cooked chips, mind you.

But, this is me, so the important thing was always going to be pudding. As a lover of pineapple upside-down cake, Stacie was always going to order the Tipsy Cake, but I went for the brown bread ice-cream (what I didn’t realise until after was that choosing this meant that my entire meal came from 1830). This was served on an olive oil shortbread and drizzled with salted caramel. And was amazing. I seriously don’t think I’ve ever had an ice-cream that was that smooth and so perfect.

And then Heston walked by. Admittedly, he did have Jeremy Clarkson in tow, but it was a wonderful cap to the night. Does it deserve to be almost ten places above Alinea in that latest listing of restaurants? I…think not, but it’s not quite aiming for the same thing (and only about the third of the price!). Plus, you know, you can book on OpenTable rather than having to fight the insanity of Chicago’s reservation system.

London Fragments

Boy in Shoreditch loudly proclaiming that he was going to buy a Hawaiian shirt on the back of advice from the shop across the street

The doorman at Mandarin Oriental who must hear tourists every night awkwardly asking: “Excuse me, we’re here for Dinner?”

German tourists must love all the VE Day newspaper clippings in Poppies while they’re eating their fish and chips. Nothing beats a restaurant full of war memorabilia

The queue for Bowie at the V&A snaking around the classical statues

The girl on the 8 bus, hair pulled out and curled, crying before getting out at Liverpool St. Station

New high-rises being built here, there, and everywhere

Blackfriars!

If They Were Me

Hand-made chocolate box!

This is what happens after you watch a film about a French chocolatier and off-handedly mention that you really like the look of a prop. This was made by friend Tammy as a birthday present, complete with drawers for transporting and showing off chocolates! It really does look as it has stepped out of the film, though I may need to fill one drawer with an ice pack as the summer heads our way.

To celebrate my birthday, I decided, in a fit of hubris, that I’d do a dinner. A five-course dinner where four of the courses were desserts, because that seemed to sum up how I approach things. Next time I come close to suggesting that, I need to be slapped. Two and a half days of prep work and cooking, experimenting with a gluten-free flour mix for the first time and having a stack of about ten different food chemicals on the counter. It was bound to having some major problems without practicing any of the recipes first. Oh, and buying the wrong type of potatoes and watching them turn to mush as I was attempting to roast them.

(we won’t even talk about what happened to the tofu I made. Well, made is the wrong word. Cremated is a better one)

Of all the dishes, only one came out as I planned - the first, a spin on Wylie Dufresne’s Fake Egg. Instead of making a fake fried egg, I used his locust bean & guar gum ‘egg white’ to fill up egg cups, and then made a mango fluid gel to act as the yolk. Perhaps not quite as “oh wow!” as popping the carrot yolks in the original, but it did work pretty well. Which is more than you can say for what eventually passed as the roast potatoes.

That Escalated Quickly

To return to a theme from a post or two ago; we’re looking at houses. Or were looking at houses, I guess. To sum up the timeframe: a house went on the market last Thursday. My mum spotted it online on Friday, we saw it on Wednesday, put an offer in on Thursday, and had it accepted early Friday morning. Something of a whirlwind.

note that I didn't get a good picture of the house in general

There’s a set of photos over at Flickr for those of you that haven’t seen it yet. It’s quite impressive for what we’re paying - roughly 2,000 sq. feet of house in a 20,000 sq. feet lot (yes, those zeros are accurate). And whilst it’s an old house, the electrics, water and heating have all been replaced in the last five years. I will again live in a house with water pressure.

(every time I had to go back to California, the sadness about being back in a hotel room room was tempered with the knowledge that I’d have a proper shower again, at least!)

Of course, it’s not all finished and finalised yet. The mortgage still has to be sorted out, and there’s a copious amount of inspections that may find something that calls for us to pull out of the deal. But…it looks like this may be where we end up for the rest of 2013. And beyond.

What, No Council Housing?

We’re looking at houses at the moment. Yes, slowing becoming one with the capitalist homogeny. But they’re so nice and pretty. Of course, we also live in an area that was set on the road to gentrification already, and all the fancy new construction coming to the centre of Durham is helping to increase house prices considerably. Also, I have quite a bit of stuff, enough, one might say, to almost fill a shipping container. Plus, the books, which grow at an unbounded rate (Durham County Library book sale this weekend people! Is it wrong I’m going to try and leave work an hour early on Friday in order to get to the early opening? I do not have a problem, honest). Despite being on rather decent wages (and I’m underselling that), we’re slightly restricted on what we can buy with money down, and we don’t want to extend ourselves too far.

So we’ve looked at houses. One was by a main road and too noisy to even have a conversation on the front steps, and another looked fabulous in the pictures, but in person it turned out that the photographer was amazing and the house less so.

And then there’s 648 W Club. I’m not too fussy about my houses - I can take old or new. I do absolutely love Mid-Century Modern homes, mind you, but I’m not enough of a programming rock star to stretch that far. Though there is one out by Rho that would be amazing…but no, cast it from your mind, Ian! Too far out, and just tantalizingly enough out your price range - back, back, I say! Back to W Club, a house from 1940 that has had its entire attic/loft space converted into a master bedroom suite, making it seem like a huge amount of house for a very good price.

But there’s always a ‘but’. There’s a few cracks in the walls, and the foundation has had to be reinforced with steel beams (though at least it has them). The downstairs bathroom would need to be ripped out, fencing would need to be completed, and most jaw-droppingly expensive of all, it needs a complete renovation of the ground floor’s heating and air conditioning. It is not exactly walk-in ready.

The potential, though. Already you can imagine how great the kitchen would be after a remodel, how the bare wooden floors would shine after being sanded down and polished. How we could turn the huge basement into either more rooms or even a chocolate warehouse underneath the main house. Bookcases lining the walls and secret blackcurrant bushes growing in the back garden…

…and then the cracks in the house pour open and the basement floods, or the ceiling collapses on the ground floor. Or the crack sucks Amy Pond through the Time Vortex. Dreaming is one thing, reality is a touch more expensive. We’re going to get more expert advice on the house and see where to go from there, as well as looking at other houses in the area. So, if you’re selling a house in the 27701 zip code, do let us know!

You Useless, Cretinous Morons

This is is what you have done.