Sunday Evening Sad

Well, it finally happened. I’ve slipped into self-parody, and I watched the first episode of Last Of The Summer Wine this week. And you know…it wasn’t bad? Including a few gags that you’d be a little surprised to find going at 20:30 today, let alone in 1973.

(I also made it through two episodes of The Owl Service, which I liked…but dear God, some of the costume choices must have been questionable for a children’s show in 1969, surely? Alison doesn’t wear trousers or a skirt for the entire length of episode one. Just a little awkward)

Continuing a theme, though, I would like to register a complaint about my situation in this country. Why is American cling film so bad? It doesn’t stay in the box, the the cutters don’t really cut…and it doesn’t stick to anything except itself. It somehow manages to fail at everything. And this isn’t just me fondly remembering British cling film with a ‘halcyon days’ filter, as I have a roll of it here too — and it just works as you’d expect. Except I have to ration it as I won’t be getting extra supplies any time soon. I just don’t understand how the equivalent is just so bad here, across all types and brands.

I have watched three men in a tin boat and I’m complaining about cling film. Yep, I’m definitely in my 40s now. Also, we spent the weekend prepping for the cold days ahead and DIY. Ah, middle age…

Oh, but I did make Nutella Aero! That counts for something, right?

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All The Books

There’s absolutely no way I can keep this pace up, but as we come to the end of January, it turns out that I’ve read 81 books in the past 31 days (and probably around 10 deep learning papers on top of that). I guess the Winter nights have seen me head back to the bookshelves (as I write this, the snow is coming down in big clumps). I would like to put something together like for what books I get through during 2021, but you can’t get an API key for Goodreads anymore. So I’ll just keep a list instead.

(and yes, I’m already trying to work out where the next set of bookcases will go. My end goal is something like Eco’s, naturally.)

We finished It’s A Sin this week! Cheery! Although I did enjoy the parts where I had to pause and explain Isla St. Clair, Larry Grayson, the Generation Game, and other bits and pieces of 80s Britain along the way. And although I knew it was coming, seeing this advert again brought back childhood terrors:

(One thing you can say about Britain is that we used to know how to make Public Information Films that would instil the Fear of God in children across the land)

Anyway, good series; I feel that knowing that RTD planned it as an eight-part series hurts it a little — things feel a little too compressed at times, and I think the dropped plan for the final episode (which would have brought Jill into the present day) would have rounded things off better than cutting the story in the early 90s. Or maybe I just wanted it to end on a bit more of a happier note.

And I think that’s it for this week. Next week should see at least one experiment up on the blog. Maybe two if I can summon up a little more effort to get motivated than I normally do these days. A dark Winter indeed…

  1. When I started this entry last night, the figure was at 7. Then I stayed up to 2am reading Piranesi from start to finish. I may be slightly regretting not splitting it out over two days this morning. [return]

The Screw And The Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Given that news broke this week that Adam Curtis has a new series coming out next month, it seemed appropriate to go back to what seems to be his first producer credit outside of That’s Life. Yes, that’s right, it’s time for a film about a day in the life of…Selfridges in 1983 (or more likely 1982).

Wait, come back! Yes, it doesn’t hit the tradition Curtis bingo spots (no Eno here), but it’s hilarious. There’s a terrifying harridan ruling the cosmetics counter, a hat-seller that admits he hates hats, a hairdresser segment that you wonder how it got broadcast, the man whose name is Morris but only answers to ‘Norman’ due to his love of and aspiration to be Norman Wisdom…easily the archive highlight of the week.

Hmm…anything else happen this week? Anything? It’s amazing how much space there is for everything when you don’t have the ravings of a wannabe Mad King spewing out into cyberspace and the airwaves. And that’s all we need to day about that.

Because other things happened this week! Let me tell you of one of those scary adventures. I was going to make a sandwich. I like sun-dried tomatoes on sandwiches. But sometimes, the oil in the jar solidifies in the fridge. No trouble, you just run it under the hot tap for a few minutes (it helps if you have my hot tap, which can actually sear skin off hands if you’re not careful). What can be a problem is if you idly set it down on top of the garbage disposal, only to find that it is a perfect fit for the hole.

What then followed was thirty minutes of panic, attempts to pull it up using tongs, spoons, knives, and forks. The end result was that I somehow managed to get it more stuck. I was somewhat resigned to having it stuck there forever, until somebody suggested an approach that both seemed over the top, but also maybe the only way I was ever going to get it out.

And thus, on Thursday lunchtime, I used a power drill to punch a screw into the top of a jar of sun-dried tomatoes.

It actually worked, though! I had it out within a few minutes once the screw was secured. However, I threw the jar away rather than risk metal shavings. So the end result was no sun-dried tomatoes and I was sad. Adventures in lockdown life.

One other thing…I have had this house for over three years now, even if I haven’t actually quite lived here that long. As of this weekend, it finally has curtains. The kitchen cabinets still don’t have drawer pulls, mind you…

GIFs From Yesterday

For various reasons, I had the need to create one of these GIFs this week (as to which one was first, I’ll leave that as an exercise to you, dear reader). But once I started, I couldn’t stop. Well, I stopped after three. But! It made me think about the Americanness of most animated GIFs, so I’m thinking of running an occasional GIF session where I redress the balance by making memes out of old Dennis Potter plays1. Consider this post a warning of our shared dark future. “Love to Ann!”

Love to Ann!

Halcyon days

utter nonsense

  1. Oh no, I’m not joking about this. You wait until I get to the Blackeyes GIFs [return]

If I Lose You / If I Lose You

Sure, everybody (rightly) loves Sea Shanty TikTok. But can I point out that Life Without Buildings TikTok is also a thing?

Yes, that’s right, a British band that was obscure even at the time (I don’t think I’ve ever heard them outside of…when I play them), currently a big sensation with The Kids, most of whom probably weren’t even born when The Leanover came out. On the one hand, I feel old. On the other:

It feels like I’ve embraced normcore. I know some people that are continuing to dress up for work even though they’re at home, as a way of keeping the separation between work and free time clear. That makes a lot of sense, and I hope it works for them! I…gave up around April or May last year and my slide continues. I bought (and was given) a bunch of nice jumpers last January which I refuse to wear. There is a good reason for this: due to how I sit on my work chair, the chair itself, and my psoriasis, I have discovered that I’m in danger of rubbing away the fabric on my left arm really quite quickly.

So I’ve been building up a collection of cheap jumpers from Amazon and the good clothes are put up away until a better time awaits us. And I have definitely got over any embarrassment about wearing tracksuit bottoms to go shopping. Not that I do that much right now either, mind you…

Finally, I think it’s a year since I saw New Order for the first time! A weekend where I wandered the streets of Miami with an odd, severe virus that left me exhausted and very ill…look, if I was the vector into Florida, then I’m very sorry, and I didn’t know…

Are We Supposed To Work During An Attempted Coup?

Quiet week, really, eh?

Okay, so I didn’t really expect to be living in a time when an armed insurrection and invasion of the Capitol occurred. Or that I’d be watching it in real-time (although as it turns out, watching it unfold in real-time was somewhat deceptive, as it’s become clear in the days following that things were a lot more dangerous than they initially seemed Wednesday afternoon, and one officer had not noticed a Senate entrance was undefended, it could have been a bloodbath). But what’s a little sedition and the attempted assassination of the Vice-President and Speaker of the House between friends?

Still, at least we’ll always have Friday night and the Social Media Presidential Whack-A-Mole Event to tell the grandchildren. “When I was a lad, we had to open up our social media accounts! T’were all fields of whitespace and suspensions!”

Otherwise, the usual trepidation of returning to work, though this time with the added 20202021 pandemic dread. On the bright side, I did realize yesterday that it’s MLK Day next week, which is one of the few times that the US holiday schedule provides something over the traditional British Bank Holidays (no days off until Easter for you!). It does help the transition back into working while Winter deepens all around you. At least, I think it does; I’ll report back next week!

Oooh, but I did accomplish one thing this week. I actually completed Breath of the Wild. I have finished a Zelda game for the first time! What with that and my successes with Hades, I think I’ve actually got better at computer games than I was as a child, when I could only complete about 10 from a sizeable Spectrum collection — though, to be fair, Jet Set Willy is so hard that even DeepMind would struggle to get all the objects. Or else games are getting easier. Which is probably a touch more likely (thank goodness for save states).

First Snowstorm of The Year

Less than 24 hours to go now. And I can’t help but feel I squandered the days off, even if when I look over the list of things I wanted to get done over the past two weeks, I’ve done most of them and made a decent stab at those that were not completed. But still, the feeling of running out of time just won’t go away, and the looming restart of January 4th is hanging over what’s left of today like a shadow at the edge of the fog.

Apparently, I’m in a cheery mood this morning…

Let’s take a break with a picture of a biscoff & crunchie single-serving Viennetta which closed out the past fortnight of baking.

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Last Snowstorm of The Year

“You’ve forgotten how to relax,” they said, about an hour or so before I started planning this week’s baking tasks. Admittedly, only two desserts, but one essentially takes three days to complete, and the other is a recreation of something that I only found out about last week. Totally sane.

I have watched things (mainly finishing off the one-series tale of a Labour MP in 1976, oh yes), I have plotted, in all senses of the word. I have sat on a seat as the winter light shines through the window, reading of tales set in the Thames Valley (incidentally, how come it took me this long to read The Dark Is Rising Sequence?). I tidied, I organized, and yet at the end of it all, I still feel like I haven’t done enough.

There were so many plans for 2020, and almost all of them lie twisted and burned in pieces on the ground as we trundle off through the last hours of this terrible, no-good year. As for 2021? No plans, no resolutions, just hunkering down and hoping that by the middle of the year, things will start to look a little more hopeful.

Happy Christmas!

In case you were wondering, the moment I broke about not being able to go home for Christmas was, of course, during the last minute of The Snowman.

I was forty-one years old.1

But! Yes, it was not the Christmas we were expecting, but we still had a good time, with foam bullets flying here there and everywhere. And now, a rundown on THINGS THAT WERE MADE!

  • Preston Bus Station — a moderate success. It didn’t exactly match the idea in my head, but I don’t think the gingerbread would have maintained integrity if the bay sections had been too much longer.
  • ANZAC biscuits — simple but tasty!
  • Bakewell tart — I’m actually getting pretty good at these by now.
  • Pavé potatoes — Yes, I did make a Thomas Keller recipe and then slathered it with HP Sauce. You’d have done the same.
  • Tiffin — dubbed the Marie Antoinette Tiffin after I realized I had made it with Valrhona chocolate, amaretti biscuits imported from Italy, and raisins soaked in Foursquare Rum. I will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes. But I did also buy a three-year subscription to Tribune this Christmas, so maybe that offsets some of the crimes?
  • Mince Pies — I decided against going to Jungle Jim’s again this month, so instead I built my own mincemeat using this recipe from The Guardian. Complete with a single malt from Oban.
  • Sous Vide Carnitas — cooked for 24 hours and always great.
  • The Roses tin. This consisted of:
    • Dark / Mint / Milk / Orange Neapolitans — made the custom molds I had made back in September. Perfect for the Cadbury miniature machine you have stashed away in your loft somewhere.
    • Milk chocolate & hazelnut — straight out of the Roses tin circa 1984
    • Hazelnut and Caramel — from the Roses tin in 1985.
    • Muscovado Ganache — om!
    • Laddie — a bit of an afterthought, but it actually turned out to be one of the best chocolates I’ve ever made. A water ganache with a shot of The Classic Laddie added.
    • Toffee — what happens when you cook caramel just a touch too far? Why, a festive treat that you always intended to make and not something that happened because you weren’t paying attention to the induction hob, oh no.
  • Christmas Dinner — I think my favourite part of this was that there were no surprises. A standard roast dinner with everything that just came together at the right time (okay, some burning of the parsnips and carrots, but that was actually a popular outcome) and shared with everybody.
  • The Black Forest.

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Again, I feel this didn’t turn out exactly how I’d have really liked (there’s actually four more trees in the freezer. Oh, and I should probably mention that Tammy and Robert saved Christmas by loaning me their new freezer after mine apparently died last weekend), but the trees that did get sprayed do look good. Inside, they’re a mixture of Luxardo cherry, kirsch white chocolate namelaka, kirsch 71% water ganache, milk chocolate & almond discs, and supported by a dark chocolate cake. The snowmen are white chocolate panna cotta, with a Migoya-inspired liquid red cake ball inside. I didn’t come to play. Oh, and the logs are a fig & cinnamon ganache coated in velvet spray, because my log wall mold didn’t arrive in time.

There’s a few more desserts to come next week, but the week of dawn-to-dusk baking has drawn to an end. Tomorrow is Boxing Day, of course, and I will be having Mexican / British fusion (carnitas sandwiches with brown sauce. Trust me they’re going to be great), and attempting to make pickled onion crisps like a crazy man.

  1. My antipathy towards The Snowman and the Snowdog is legendary back home, but I stand by it: the mistake that the sequel makes is that the sense of loss and grief at the end of the film is the central point of the story. And that the Boy is left with the scarf at the end of the original is perfect: it’s a trinket that lets him know the night happened…but it could be easily explained away by other factors. A dog? Not so much. In short: burn the Snowdog. [return]

A Gingerbread Preston

Normally at this time of year, I’d be writing this blog entry through the haze of jetlag, having spent the weekend wandering around random airports on the East Coast and failing to sleep on an eight-hour overnight flight. This year is different, obviously. It’s nice of the British Government to unlock a secret new Tier just before Christmas…although over here the administration doesn’t seem to care that the daily death total has broken past the four thousand barrier. We just continue to countdown the days until the baby has its pram taken out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. With arms, if necessary.

But, given I’m trapped here for Christmas, we’re going to make the best of it. Including a return of BRUTAL GINGERBREAD!

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The last time I attempted something like this, it was a very 2D version of the Trellick Tower. This year, I scaled my ambitions a bit too high and tried to pull off Preston Bus Station. It’s not too bad - I had to shorten the width of the thing for stability reasons, but the curves have turned out really well (thanks go out here to Tammy, who suggested the casserole dish after I’d spent a day experimenting with other, less good ideas). There is a lot of royal icing behind the scenes to try and improve the structural integrity, and I don’t think my attempt to replicate what I call “the Arndale tiling” really came through on gingerbread once it was baked. Still, it holds together! And next year, I have plans for something that’s a little grander, but will probably be easier once I work out how to use Tammy’s new CNC machine that she’s getting for Christmas…

(yes, it’s a bit twee, but heck, it’s celebrating a fantastic building made at the height of the post-war consensus. We never had it so good)

That counts as 1 of the next two weeks’ 26 desserts. I need to start picking up the pace!

(more to come as the week goes on)