Time flies when you’re distracted by a tiny wailing potato baby.

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Next week, Aoife is going to be one year old.

One year. That has come on much faster than I expected.

So, next weekend we are having a party for her. She’s still a bit small to really grasp the idea of it – she was oblivious to Christmas – but we thought it would be nice to do something, especially when that something gives us an excuse to eat a lot of food. So, there are going to be an infinite number of pancakes, probably some cupcakes and at least one tray bake. There will also be sushi, but as my brother hates fish the majority of it will be vegetarian. Finally, there will also be shabu-shabu. Basically we will spend 99% of the time in the kitchen, eating.

To quote Will Graham, this is my design.

I’ve also been thinking that it’s a good time to stop posting as many pictures of her online. There’s an anonymity to babies, both in their appearance and their awareness, that makes it easy to forget that she has an identity (albeit a newly-developed one) all of her own. As she starts to grow into an individual (again, in terms of her appearance and personality*) we’ve been discussing that it’s probably a good idea to start giving her a bit of privacy. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop talking about her – she’s far more interesting than I am – but we can do our best to give future-Aoife a break by not sending her off into her teens with a decade’s worth of sometimes-embarrassing photos hanging over her. YMMV for that sort of thing, but at least I had the choice of who saw my baby pictures and terrible childhood hairdos, if anyone saw them at all. That, and when it comes to educating her about maintaining her own privacy, she won’t be able to hoist me up as a terrible hypocrite for having catalogued every moment of her life to that point.

That’s not to say she won’t hoist me up as a hypocrite at all. Obviously it is my duty as a father to make her feel that the world is both desperately unfair and that it is all my fault. I’m just saying she doesn’t need any extra ammunition to get the job done.

 

*being one, her personality dial is currently set to “TYRANT”.

Edge Lit 2012

With Alt.Fiction moving date and venue this year, the space it left behind – in terms of both – was filled by the start of a new single-day convention based on the same template. With Derby being a relatively short drive down for me, I thought it was worth partitioning off the time and heading down for.

My day started before Edge.Lit, with an invite to join some friends at a cafe just round the corner from the venue which Vick intended to review. It was worth getting up early for. They served strong coffee in larger-than-anticipated enameled tin mugs, organic bacon cooked to perfection, and scrambled eggs on toast that came in a portion almost too generous for my half-asleep digestive system to handle.

The cafe and the excellent food were merely backdrop to the company, though, and it was great to sit with a table of friends that I mostly “see” online and just talk nonsense. There is a definite tendency towards the ridiculous in our conversations that I adore and wish I had access to all the time. I don’t think there’s any other situation where the conversation could flow naturally from Vick’s glass allergy to perverted carnivorous parrots to a general agreement that “épicerie” is French for “epic recipe”.

Breakfast done, we strolled down to the Quad and Edge Lit began. In stark contrast to my first time at the Quad (where I stood around looking awkward until the panels started) I immediately ran into people that I know and a conversation started that didn’t really end so much as bubble along through the rest of the day.

I only managed two of the panels, being How do I internets? (paraphrasing loosely on the title there) and Publishing Today. I would have liked to have gone to more, but had spent most of the night awake with a sinus-trying-to-climb-out-of-head headache and I was terrified that if I sat for any longer in a dark room with a comfortable seat, I was going to nod off and wake up later with a drawn-on moustache. The panels were entertaining and interesting, with an informal Good Morning TV setup instead of the standard table with microphones. Mark Yon of SFFWorld and Lee Harris made moderating look easy, and the panelists used the time really well.

I think the meta-message (if you will) for aspiring writers in the audience was how well the authors did in their panels. There’s a certain skill to presenting yourself well in public and particularly on stage, and those two panels were prime examples of how to do it right. Sarah Pinborough wrote a blog post about advice for writers which includes the advice to “be charming”. It’s absolutely spot on, and it’s at little cons like Edge Lit where you really get to see that come to the fore. Granted the audiences aren’t very big, but I doubt there were many people leaving at the end of the day who would not be willing to champion the authors they met there.

I let myself down a little bit with the dealer’s room. I always try and show support at conventions by buying something, but with my contract ending before the summer and nothing on the horizon until September the long dry spell of August just seemed a little too close to add even more to my TBR pile. I’ll make up for it another time, I guess.

Just like with the cafe we ate at, the big draw of the convention was not the content. As Lee Harris put it, you go to conventions – even the little ones – to be with your people. I got to sit and chat with Damien Walter, who I met briefly at Alt.Fiction but was too busy being destroyed at Trivial Pursuits to talk to, and it turns out he’s just as awesome if not more than he is online. I also met Vicky Hooper, editor and writer and gamer and – most important of all – Mass Effect fan. I got to hear Catherine Hill’s incredible, hilarious rant about why Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a pile of nonsensical shit*, and deliberate over Vick’s latest round of experimental fudge flavourings.** I also found out that it’s not just me who has had short stories accepted but not really in the last twelve months, where editors will say “we like it but don’t know where to put it, do you mind if we hang onto it?” and then never contact you again. Although I well understand the frustration, it was heartening in a way to find out that it’s not just me.

I ended the day pretty early, mostly due to the fact that I was really, really tired and wanted to get home while I still knew driving was within the acceptable limits of my ability. Had I been feeling a bit more alive, I do not doubt that I would have been there until late o’clock, and that it would have been awesome.

 

*for future reference, all James Franco roles will be in the format of “Scientist James Franco” or “Drug Dealer James Franco”.

**the concept of bringing multiple flavours and asking me to state a preference is the wrong thing to do. As long as it’s not salted licorice, I will eat anything sweet by the fistful.

A list of things, both good and ropey.

OK, where to begin?

Doctor Who – can you really claim that “magic is just science you don’t understand yet” when the science is total bobbins? No? Thought not. Anyway, I would have loved the meeting where they reviewed the script and cast.  “Alright guys, we’ve got two smoking hot redheads and several HD cameras.  How can we best ruin this for everyone?”

Also, slightly questionable morality in letting self-confessed, proud murderers loose in a spaceship. Just because the Captain reconciled with his son, does that instantly reform the rest of them? No? Thought not.

York – I love York, it’s brilliant.  All twisty-turny and full of unique little businesses and nice restaurants.  Hull might have had a growth spurt in the last few years but that just means it has a new shopping centre with a second GAME store.  No competition.

Tokyo Joe’s, in York – not the fastest service in the world, but they do some excellent sushi.  Their mixed sushi bento does not skimp or cut corners and you get a decent amount and variety for a very reasonable 13.50. Very tasty.

Continue reading “A list of things, both good and ropey.”

Kung Fu Origin Stories

I woke up this morning wondering about how Kung Fu origin stories come into being. There’s always some sort of legend, or a young, unformed talent who does something or witnesses something that forms the seed of their school of kung fu – like the classic Wing Chun story of the nun Ming Na watching a crane fighting a snake and being impressed by the economy and beauty of their movements.*

These stories all invariably take place in the far distant past, with a hazy lineage of teachers stretching down to the present day, or at least until 1970 when suddenly they branch out faster than a pyramid sales scheme.

It amuses me to think of someone in China opening their first martial arts school back in the days of yore** and trying to sell this kind of story.

“How did you become a master of the wandering bun fist, sifu?”

“One day, I was running across the city with a delivery in my arms when I saw a man being attacked by four cutthroats. I set about them, using only my kicks to strike as my arms were full of packages for the delivery. I defeated them, and seeing the man was okay, I ran as fast as I could to deliver the food. The man who was attacked was a city official, and seeing me defeat those men so easily convinced him that I should be elevated from the level of humble baker to master…that is how Wandering Bun kung fu was born.”

“Come off it, sifu! You tripped over someone’s dog four weeks ago and hit your head – when you came to you’d decided to open this place. The only reason they let you, and the reason everyone comes here, is because your wife is super hot and she can make those dumplings that have dumplings inside the dumpling.”

“Yeah…those are pretty tasty. But can we stick with the mugging story? Sounds a lot better.”

Not sure why all this occurred to me…but it did.

*Personally I always found that odd because birds tend to go apeshit over the slightest threat, so unless economy and beauty is a mistranslation of “start flapping its wings like mad, screaming so loud my dog’s ears started to bleed and jumped up and down on the snake until it was not just dead but flat” then there’s something deeply wrong with the analogy.

**unspecified, like a fantasy novel.

It’s what’s for dinner!

So despite this whole marathon thing, I still really like cross-training.  I know I should be out on the road more working on that actual running thing (first 10K race is on the 9th!) but I’m still not back up to a level of fitness that I’m happy with and the gym gives me a bit of a helping hand.

For starters, it means I can work on incline running.  This place is pancake flat, and although there’s a reasonable swell heading out the west side of the town, it’s a path next to one of the main roads and I fancy training without having an asthma attack into the bargain.

Following that, I know what I’m like with regards to overtraining.  I’ve injured myself several times in the past doing completely avoidable things, like injuring my left calf muscle – I wasn’t drinking enough water (I guess) and it seized up on me while I was on a rowing machine maybe eight or nine years ago, now I have to spend five minutes stretching it before every workout to make sure it doesn’t try to leap up under my knee again.

Between that and the rest of the twinges and aches that remind me of the bloody-minded stupidity with which I previously approached fitness, I’m taking the long view with regards to building things up.  Lots of low-impact interval work on the bike and stepper and the ever-joyful 900 calories per hour painfest that is the rowing machine gives me the range to keep building up my general fitness without pounding all my joints to dust.

I will do more road miles.  Just not right at this minute.

On a side note, I made spaghetti carbonara for dinner.  It’s the first time I’ve ever made it and I considered looking up a recipe until my brain kicked in and said “it’s eggs and cream, dumbass, just cook the damn thing“.

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I still don’t understand the instructions on the dried spaghetti you get in the UK, though.  It suggests boiling the spaghetti for 11-12 mins, when 6-7 is more than enough.  I can’t imagine what it must look, feel and taste like with an extra five minutes in it.

Cooking for beginners.

On the way home, I thought about what I wanted to cook for dinner.  Inspired by a friend’s tale of having made “tomato burgers”, being really big meatballs baked in passata, I thought meatballs might be the way forward.  We didn’t have any spaghetti, but that was fine – linguine is about as good in a pinch – and I got to thinking, how do I make meatballs, and what kind of sauce should I make?

Meatballs, it turns out, are the easiest thing to make even if you’re improvising.  You shape meat…into balls.   I added an egg to help as a binder, and some very finely chopped onion and seasoning, but otherwise it was like making balls of meat.  I can’t dress it up as anything more advanced than shaping spheres from minced flesh.  I’m sorry.

For the sauce, I was momentarily tempted to buy passata ready to go.  But then it occurred to me that we have tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, and access to a blender.  It almost seemed like I was pre-equipped to make my own damn sauce.  So; olive oil, garlic, onions, a bit of frying, a yellow pepper, more frying, tomatoes and paste, a big chunk of pecorino chopped up into little bits, and a handful of black olives, more heating, stuck in the blender and given a thorough homogenising, seasoned and reheated – sauce.

Interestingly, it came out orange, presumably from the cheese and pepper in there.  It looked like I’d made a carrot-based soup more than sauce for pasta.

Anyway, it was very tasty.

This weekend my good friend Allan gets married, so I will be up in Scotland helping to celebrate the happy union of he and his fiancee.  Everyone say it with me now:

Awwwwwwww.

When do we get our Robocop bodies? I’m still waiting, world!

Because I like knowing things, last week we bought a blood pressure monitor so that I could keep track of the effectiveness of the medication I’m on.  Short version; it’s not really doing the business.  Still, it seems to have a short-term effect so I guess we’re kind of on the right track.  Nevertheless, my Excel spreadsheet looks a bit like a rollercoaster at the moment, which means we’re not all the way there.

This was all inspired by my mother, who was put on a 24 hour monitor for her blood pressure; they found that she has generally normal levels, but every so often it’ll spike up, reaching up towards stratospheric levels.  I blame Dad, and the fact she hasn’t had a normal sleep cycle in almost a decade.

Lisa and I are off to Hull today to look round the area with a view to seeing where we want to live.  Found a couple of flats to rent so far; it’d be nice to actually buy a place – vuxenpoäng, and all that – but unfortunately I’ve yet to solidfy a solid source of income that would make that possible.  Considering how close we are to moving, it’s going to be best that I try and find something in the Hull area now.

So, the BBC is defending its choice to put the BNP on the air, citing that there is sufficient public support for the party to consider them eligible to take part in Question Time.  Really, there was no question of them ever pulling the plug on Nick Griffin’s appearance.  It’s generated so much press for the show, and the BBC in general, that the director general must be literally rolling on the floor of his office in glee.

I get really wound up by the vox populi defence.  Extending the premise beyond giving racists political credibility on the basis that some people are racist, perhaps we should have shows that offer general medical advice include a crystal healing guru and a psychic who can tell you where your nearest snake oil shop is.  Yes, it might lead to a few people dying from their ultimately untreated condition, but fake medicines are a big industry, so obviously it’s what the people want.

Stop. The. Presses.

Box of food has just arrived from Japan Centre.  Win and awesome; we now have another three months of rice in stock, just in case the apocalypse happens before the calendar ticks over to 2010.  Most important of all, though, is the single packet of Shigekix Super Sour sweets that I get every time we make one of these orders.  Basically it’s just sugar and gelatine dusted with vitamin C (which gives the intense sour flavour).  I can’t help myself when I get, and usually end up with a numb tongue from the assault on my taste buds.

Time to lose the power of speech, people!

Italy – land of scary drivers and excellent food.

So I’m not really planning on doing any big holiday report posts for the ‘blog.

However, I guess a quick pick of the photos and a short set of accompanying text might be edifying.  I’ll link the full Flickr set of images at the end for anyone who’s interested.

Continue reading “Italy – land of scary drivers and excellent food.”

Damned nose!

Been wandering around all day with a head like an angry bear, due to waking up with a headache I’ve been unable to shift.  Always fun.

I kind of flaked out on making dinner last night, and Lisa ended up cooking her own, so to redress things I made a nice lunch today of soba noodles in broth.  I always get a bit frightened cooking Japanese food, as my normal approach to seasoning is the classic student approach of adding enough fistfuls of pepper/garlic/chillies to completely kill every other flavour and claiming that you have created a dish with bold, invigorating flavours.

Since we ran out of instant dashi, I had to make my own stock.  It’s kind of awesome, as it involves boiling kombu and dried, flaked bonito in water and then straining off the resulting liquid.  What you end up with is water with a pale, pale yellow tinge to it, and the slight odour of fish – basically the total opposite of what my cooking instincts would consider suitable stock (maybe with some garlic and chillies, though…).  So I added mirin, salt, sugar and soy sauce, then tasted, then a little more mirin, then tasted, then a little more sugar, then tasted, and then I thought to myself that if I kept on with the tasting and adding, I was going to gallop away from the light, refreshing broth I was meant to be aiming for.  So I stopped, and instead made the noodles.

One of my only real gripes about Wagamama is that they purport to serve a number of soba dishes, but they use the same noodles they use for their ramen and just call it soba.  I did call my server’s attention to the discrepancy once, just to be an awkward little bastard, but it was like telling a termite that its nest is two feet too far to the right of where it should be.  Anyway, I found some actual soba noodles in Sainsbury’s, which led to me deciding to make them for lunch.

I was really tempted to go for the classic cold noodles and cold broth to dip them in, but I know Lisa’s tastes tend towards a hot meal such as ochazuke (rice covered in green tea) or ramen that she can guzzle down.

So, yeah!  Soba noodles in broth, with spring onions on top.  Yum.  I’d have taken a picture but we ate it all up in about a minute flat.