Archive for January, 2011


Ninja ratio

I don’t know who first came up with the Ninja ratio and if I’m honest, with it being 5 in the morning and all, I might be making it up right now. I am certain, however, that the more Ninjas there are in a film, the better the film will be. It’s that simple.

When I came in on Friday, I was greeted with a pile of the world’s weirdest selection of movies. There was what looked like a generic Will Thingie comedy – you know who I mean, he played Mugatu in Zoolander – about incompetent police officers, some David Lynch thing which wasn’t actually directed by David Lynch, and a subtitled offering called Goemon. These bizarre pieces of cinema had all been carefully selected by my husband for the following reasons:

The Other Guys = it seemed pretty stupid.
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done = it was guaranteed to be strange, and I must like David Lynch because he directed the original ad for the K12.
Goemon = we’d enjoyed Casshern and it was by the same director. Also, the box said there were Ninjas.

All of the films were a really pleasant surprise. The Other Guys because the humour in it wasn’t overly slapstick or infantile, My Son… because it was nice to see a cast which wasn’t made up entirely of supermodels who couldn’t act, and Goemon, because there were hundreds of ninjas and the visuals looked like an anime computer game come to life.

It reminded me why I used to go to the cinema once a week to watch… anything. I think we’re so used to walking into a screen and knowing exactly what’s coming – we’re there to see a remake, a sequel, a spin off – that we forget what made the beginning of these franchises great in the first place. The first Indiana Jones film was awesome because it was new and different – no one had made an adventure film like it since the 20s. Then when people ran out of ideas they dug up the original cast and set them to it again almost 30 years later. LotR broke the mould by introducing fantasy to the mainstream and was followed by a stack of knock offs that could have been ripped from a poorly led D&D game.

My point is – we love things that are new and original. Why is it we’ve come to be scared of anything that doesn’t fit neatly into a franchise?

My new method for picking films will be to largely ignore the publicly acclaimed and to use the ninja ratio. You can’t lose.

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Special sofa-cake

The new sofa is a deadly force. Not only is it big enough for two to snooze on, but it’s also comfortable enough to make me want to spend every waking minute here. This morning I gathered S-, some cake, my Nintendo DS, the laptop and the remote for the hi-fi. With the exception of the odd toilet break, I haven’t got up yet.

Because of this, I haven’t done anything of note today and thought that I would cheat by sharing another awesome cake recipe in lieu of an actual blog post. This one came about on Saturday because my storage jars in the kitchen aren’t quite big enough to contain a whole packet of oats or flour, and because I inherited some soft brown sugar that was in danger of becoming anything but soft. So that none of this went to waste, or made my shelves look messy – I hate open packets or powdery things because I inevitably spill them everywhere – I tossed everything into a bowl with some eggs and the dregs of a bottle of oil which needed using up and baked it.

The result was fabulous.

 

Lovely, moist oaty cake

 

 

300g brown sugar
200g oats
200g self-raising flour (or plain flour and a tea-spoon of baking powder)
150ml of vegetable oil (rape seed oil, or nut oil would add a really lovely flavour)
5 eggs
a large chug of fresh ginger, shredded
Enough milk to make a good batter

Mix everything together, bake for around half an hour – or however long it takes for the cake to be done – at around 200C.

Wait for a little whilst the cake cools and then eat lots of it with tea.

Well…

… some of you will know already, but for the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances who don’t, I’m 26 weeks pregnant.

This is the only time I will be mentioning it because I don’t want to become one of those gushing fools who talks about nothing other than tiny socks and how junior can only have organic air – or whatever the new fad is.

Regular service will resume at 5.30am tomorrow.

In the meantime, rest assured that I am enjoying the new sofa, the cat and far too much tea. And am both outraged and impressed that my full tank of fuel cost exactly £45.

Useful

I woke up the other day with that ‘spring cleaning’ itch I get when I decide I need to pull my life together and be a grown-up for a change.

The problem is that now I’ve got a lovely little cottage with a garden that is about to be fertile again, I can’t solve this problem simply by moving and arranging my things into new rooms. No no, this time  I need to actually clean out my junk and decide what I do and don’t need on a day-to-day basis.

This is where sentimentality becomes a massive burden. I don’t like having things which serve no useful purpose and typically, if something is precious because it belonged to someone who will not have belongings again, said item sits on a shelf being revered and gathering dust. This fear of loss and breakage produces a kind of  loss in itself – if the item is not used and enjoyed, it is forgotten and relinquishes all connection to the person who had it, loved it and above all used it before. After a while, it ceases to be special, and simply becomes clutter that was once precious. And when that has happened, you might as well just put it in a box and take it to a charity shop for someone else to enjoy because all of that special connection to the past which made you keep it in the first place is gone.

So, with this thought firmly in mind, the cull of clutter begins. The CDs and DVDs were easy to get rid of and after a realistic assessment of books, I managed to clear a shelf of those too. Fabric is harder because there could conceivably come a time when I do need the various scraps I’ve been hoarding, however I managed to part with some bits and pieces that I never really liked anyway and am heartened that I could at least make a start. Wool poses a similar problem, but I at least found a new home for my collection in the space the books once occupied. The magazines and paperwork fell easily to recycling, as did anything of my husband’s which I haven’t seen him use in the past year.

Then things grew difficult:

  • The picture’s Great Granddad painted – there are those I want framing, and those I’m not too bothered about hanging. What to do with the later?
  • And the soft toys which have lived in the cupboard for the past five years without a thought – how can I part with childhood friends?
  • And worst – the tea service.

Ah, the beloved tea service. To me, it sums up my Yorkshire heritage. Mass produced and treasured still, bought as seconds because one colour of paint was missing from the pattern then passed reverently down the female line, it is thriftiness, hospitality and family all rolled into one.

And it lives in the cupboard, the cups full of dust and spiders.

The thing is though, it could easily serve a purpose. I have thrown tea-parties in the past, but too big for my six-cup ensemble to handle. In day-to-day life, too, it falls short as my own tea drinking needs require a vessel that is somewhat larger and less prone to being tipped over by the cat.

Then, when emotionally steeling myself to do the most daring spring clean ever and take said service to the charity shop, S- decided to have a winter barbecue party. And I had an idea.

Since when did teacups need to be used for tea and tea alone? I needed some small bowls for dips and pickles and such and when laid out on the table with their pseudo-Indian pattern, my china looked amazing alongside a bowl of poppadoms.

It’s sort of like crafting – when I started sewing, I found myself more willing to give other crafty things a go. A creative floodgate opens, so to speak, and after the teacups were highly praised by guests in their new role I began to look at other things differently. Suddenly, I didn’t want to throw anything out – I just wanted to do more things with the stuff I have.

The problem now, is finding enough time in which to do it…

Awesome cake

I don’t normally do cake – partially because others do it so much better, and partially because I can never remember just what I threw into the Victoria Sponge mix – but last night’s emergency pudding turned out really well so I thought I’d share the recipe.

You don’t have to add the thyme if you think it’s a little weird (as some of my guests did when I told them what the green bits were), however I loved it so much that when I make this again, I’ll be adding twice as much.

White Chocolate, Raspberry and Thyme muffin cake

125g self-raising flour – ideally wholemeal if you can find it
25g oatmeal
50g sugar – I used white granulated, but I think golden castor would be better
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 egg
50g melted butter
100ml molk – I used unhomogenised Jersey milk, but full fat would also work well
100g raspberries – the frozen ones from Waitrose are amazing
75g white chocolate – cut into chunks, or pre-made chips
1 tsp freshly chopped thyme – I will add 2 for the next cake.

Mix together all your dry ingredients and – if you’re using frozen fruit – the raspberries.
Add the egg, milk and butter. The batter will be lumpy and unattractive, and turns out best if you don’t over-stir as this breaks up the raspberries.
Spoon into a loaf tin or, if you prefer, muffin cases.
Bake at 200C for around 35-40 minutes. You may want to cover the cake with tin foil mid-way to stop the top looking burned as this mixture does brown very quickly.

Story time

The following occured between 10.30 and 11.00 am.
____________

It was just before lunch when, tangled in the various cables required by the drip stand and bed, the porter and I finally reached our destination and checked our patient in with the specialist staff.

“Can you find your way back from here?” he asked jokingly, taking off in the opposite direction. I nodded, thanked him for his help and waved goodbye, continuing on my own merry way.

My feet had been pounding these corridors since April last year and whilst this particular specialty wasn’t something I was familiar with, the x-ray department next door was one of my regular haunts. Or at least it had been until the staff began to notice my quietly skulking presence and informed me that sitting there during my lunch hour would not imbue me with super-powers.

The fact of the matter was, however, that I couldn’t find my way back. The logical path to the corridor just seemed to lead through a maze of waiting areas, full of silent people whose blank eyes watched me as I went.

“Excuse me,” the voice which finally broke the quiet was high and sharp, and cut across the wide expanse of the room without difficulty.

“Yes?” I replied, somewhat hesitant. I didn’t know where I was at that moment in time – I couldn’t be trusted to give directions.

“What’s happening to my husband?” Relief. I had no idea, and a valid excuse.

“I really don’t know, I’m afraid. I don’t actually work in this department – I came down to drop off another patient. I can go and fetch one of the specialist-”

“Don’t give me any of that crap. You work in this hospital. What’s going on?”

“I work making beds on one of the wards… I haven’t been in this department before today and due to data-protection, information isn’t shared between different areas, unless it could help with medical care.”

“My knowing what’s going on with him will help medical care.”

“Perhaps it would,” I allowed, keen to get her off my back and return – via the x-ray room of course – to my home turf, “But I still don’t know anything. I’d be happy to find a member of staff for you who does.”

“What bloody cheek!” the woman cawed, thwacking a sheepish looking man beside her with the back of her hand in what I presumed was supposed to be a gesture of shock, rather than violence. I wasn’t sure if the wincing beetroot-coloured gentleman was, in fact, the afore mentioned unfortunate husband, or an innocent bystander. In any case, the only thing which prevented me from offering to take him along to x-ray with me was the fear of similar broken limbs.

And then I was suddenly struck by the absurdity of the situation. Here I was – lost and hoping to magically collect superpowers before home-time – being confronted by an equally lost woman whose coping method seemed to involve making everyone in the room stare in her angry direction. And in such surreal situations, there’s really one thing you can do…

The laugh escaped through my left nostril first, but thankfully I managed to halt it before it had chuckled the full length of the right. The woman’s eyes grew to thrice their original size and crossed slightly.

“Are you laughing at me?”

“No, not at all. I just managed to stifle a sneeze.”

“Because your incompetence isn’t funny.”

But, oh Lord, it was. Everything was funny and the laugh escaped from the right nostril.

“Excuse me, I need to go and fetch a tissue.”

I fled, down whatever corridor led me furthest from those bug eyes and her misplaced rage. All the while I was grinning like an idiot, holding the insane laughter at bay as best I could. After about ten minutes of wandering aimlessly, I somehow found my own ward again and dipped into the safety of the staff room.

“What are you smiling about?” asked the nurse who had originally sent me on the errand. We had both been stoney faced and scowling before I left, though now we looked something akin to those comedy and tragedy faces which theatre builders seem to like so much.

“A woman just shouted at me for having no knowledge of her husband.”

There was a pause as we soaked up the innuendo. And then I let go of my burdensome laugh.

Day off

The Jones sewing machine is back in action, and to celebrate, I thought I would salvage the scraps of fabric I didn’t use on the disastrous curtains of a few weeks ago.

Mum was given this rocking chair by a friend, back in the days I thought Savage Garden were cool. When I moved out, she very kindly passed this lovely item of furniture on to me – something the cat will forever be grateful for.

I don’t actually mind the floral fabric, but S- hates it, and in all fairness, it was looking a little tired. Armed with 50 new needles in varying sizes, I loaded up my precious machine and set about turning the chair into something a little more modern.

Truth be told, I wanted the stripes to go vertically, but there just wasn’t enough fabric in that direction. The covers took all of about five minutes to make and would never be mistaken for a professional job, but I’m actually really pleased with how this has turned out. When coupled with a few scatter cushions…

… it really does have the look of something a bit more contemporary – exactly what I was going for.

So, smug girl and her ancient machine are off to rearrange the furniture now, displaying the shiny new chair beside the matching curtains. Hooray for recycling!

Petrol prices

I just put slightly over half a tank of petrol in my Micra and was horrified to note that said fuel cost £37. I might be rose-tinting this slightly, but I could swear that not too long ago, a whole tank cost only £30.

What’s really getting me worked up though, is the fact that no one seems bothered about it. Doesn’t anyone else remember the fuel protests of ten years ago? I might have missed the point of them, having been too young to sit behind a wheel, but wasn’t everyone super-cross that the cost of petrol was due to go up to – shock horror – £1 per litre? Why aren’t we protesting the cost of petrol now? It’s cripplingly bad!

At the moment, despite the fact I’ve saved up over £1000 to enable me to keep my car on the road for another year, I honestly don’t think I can. Whilst my little nest-egg would easily pay for the tax, MOT, service and insurance, the fuel would be a crippling blow to my soon-to-be-tiny weekly budget. And there’s nothing else I can cut out of my life to give me a little more cash to play with. I guess the fact that I won’t be commuting will help, but not-driving isn’t really an ideal solution…

In other news, this weekend’s Norwich trip – fondly dubbed Christmas 2 – was amazing. It’s incredible how festive it’s possible to feel in the presence of a tree, the Muppet’s Christmas Carol and too much food. Thankfully, everyone loved their homemade gifts, though I wish I’d baked more for the boys. I guess there’s always next year…

It reminded me just how much I love all the people I stayed in touch with post-university, and just how much I miss them all in day-to-day life. When you go from seeing people daily – or at the very least, weekly – to seeing them once every few months, it’s always a bit of a wrench. Part of me wishes I’d stayed in Norwich, but with everyone scattered to the winds now, I doubt there’d be much more regular contact with my little posse. I suppose these meetings serve to remind, rather than recreate – brief snapshots of a moment in time that didn’t last nearly as long as I wish it had.

Euch. You can tell I wrote this over two days and finished at hideous am. I’ve turned all miserable and poetic on you…

Time to post this, eat my grapefruit, then go and earn some more petrol money…

Last Night

Last night I had a dream that someone stole my baby.

Mind you, in my dream the baby was a turtle. And whilst said amphibian-child was in the hands of an old lady who wanted to take it to a coffee morning, Artemis decided to eat a bag of drugs rendering her in need of instant medical attention from my work colleagues. They began CPR, later concluding that this was impossible because my stinky kitty has deformed ribs.*

Meanwhile, some snotty kid I went to school with had decided to walk to Poland to find the turtle-child. Except that Poland was a tiny hamlet in the north-east of Scotland called Craigdam so it wasn’t actually that far and none of us liked him anyway…

Despite the fact that all of this is utterly ridiculous, I woke up  worried about the turtle to the point of near hysteria, and terrified that the cat was going to die. Thankfully, Stinky-bum-McWhiskers (as S- calls her) is perfectly fine, and according to the internet, no one has ever given birth to a turtle anyway. Still, I go to work feeling as if I’ve been up for  half of the night fretting and as a result, I am absolutely exhausted. I’m having real trouble forcing my shoulders down from around my ears where my stiff neck informs me they’ve been since the dream began.

Roll on March 1st. Roll on days of sleep and putting my feet up, and eating something hot for breakfast which isn’t microwaved porridge oats.

Off I go!

_____

*I don’t know whether she really does or not, but in my dream they were all different sizes and perfectly straight.

Küki

And now for another thrilling installment about that oh-so-exciting household item, the sewing machine. I promise, I’ll write about something ‘cool’ again before too long… *

I took the Jones down from its shelf yesterday, threaded it up and set to making my final remaining gifts for Christmas 2. As ever, the ancient machine performed valiantly – the second I cranked the handle, a row of perfect stitches appeared through ever-increasing layers of thick wool fabric. After five minutes of pleasurable sewing, where – for a change – what I wanted to happen, happened, I had done all of the machine stitching on the two items which had been causing me the most worry.

As it turns out, I should have panicked less about the quality of stitching and more about the quality of design. I’ll show you what i mean after the weekend…

In any case, both gifts are functional, but I think neither is pretty. Also, I’ve discovered that even with my beautiful Jones CS, I can’t sew in a straight line. The parallel bars which were meant to run through this project are at somewhat drunken angles and due to my increasingly-limited range of thread colours – I really need to top up Nan’s supplies! – are rather visible on at least one side of the fabric…

No matter. I’m a great believer in the power of buttons. If you use enough of them, even the ugliest project can take on a küki** sort of charm. I wonder if ebay sells them by the kilo… I don’t think the Quality Streets tin I have full will be enough…

______

*You can’t see me, but I’m raising an eyebrow in a sceptical sort of way to indicate that I’ve never done a cool thing in all my life.

**Küki = Cooky. It’s a slang word and I’ll spell it how I like! If I want funny German dots I’ll have them, thank you very much!