Thursday, November 14, 2013

The A to Z of me

Well hello there. Long time no see. I wonder whether my little slice of internet has been feeling neglected? Perhaps. But now, because of being tagged in a meme by Lara, AKA @apluckyheroine, I’m popping in to drop an alphabet based compendium of me on you.

And so, without further ado, here goes; the A-Z of me…

A is for Atheist – I don’t believe in God, or any of the associated stuff. I don’t mind if other people do, as long as they’re not using it as an excuse to have a fight with someone who holds different views. One life is enough for me, I don’t need a sequel.

B is for Basketball – Tricky one this, because lots of things I really like begin with B. But I couldn’t think of a sneaky synonyms for basketball, so it gets to be B. Basketball is the only team sport I’ve ever enjoyed playing, and I didn’t realise quite how important it was to my wellbeing until I had to stop playing for a while (see K is for…) But now I get to play every week. And lose. Our team hasn’t won a game yet this season.

C is for Cam – Obviously. How could it not be? My little boy. The best thing I’ve ever had a hand in making. Hilarious, beautiful, considerate and clever. Manic, mischievous, infuriating and cheeky. He is more amazing than I have the words to express. I love him.

D is for Dad – This came as a package deal with Cam. I’m his dad. I tell him I love him and he says “thank you”, which is also what he says when I give him a dose of Calpol, or his Weetabix. Being a dad is a huge part of who I am now. The most important job I’ll ever have, and I love doing it.

E is for Eloquent – I’ve lived in the South West of England for almost my entire life. It would be entirely reasonable to assume I sound like a farmer. Thankfully, I don’t.

F is for Facial Hair (I know that’s cheating a bit) – Sneaky synonym number one. I have a beard. Someone once told me I should definitely never get rid of it or “you’d look like someone who touched goats inappropriately”. Now, I’m of the opinion that ANY physical contact with a goat is inappropriate, so I figure I’d better keep the beard. Also I quite like it.

G is for Grilling – Sneaky synonym number two. I don’t mean the function of an oven where you leave the door open. I’m borrowing American terminology. Grilling is barbecue. Proper, delicious barbecue. Slow cooked joints of meat infused with wood smoke and spices, tender to the point of melting in the mouth, slathered in hot barbecue sauces that have you licking the plate clean. If you want some proper barbecue, come to my house, I’d love to cook for you.

H is for Happy – I am, generally, pretty happy. I don’t think I need say any more on the subject.

I is for Ironing – Or, rather, not ironing. The only time I iron anything at the moment is if I’m attending a wedding, christening or funeral. That might all change if I get a job in an office where I have to wear nice shirts, but even if that does happen I’ll still think ironing is one of the most ridiculous activities we undertake as humans.

J is for Junk – I’m a bit of a hoarder of useless crap. Partly this is because I’m quite sentimental, and I attach memories and feelings to physical objects, which then makes it hard to part company with them. On the other hand, I have no such attachment to the Hippo Bag full of gravel which is sat in the lane behind our house, and has done for a number of years. Does anyone want some gravel? Free to collector. Probably contains some cat poo.

K is for Knees – I, like most people, have two of these. Wonderful joint, the knee, until it goes wrong. In 2008 I tore my ACL playing basketball. It’s a serious injury and means your capacity for lateral movement is almost zero. Irritatingly, it also doesn’t heal on its own. A very nice surgeon removed a piece of tendon from my hamstring, drilled a new hole in my tibia and fibula and threaded the piece of tendon through to make me a shiny new ACL. I love it, it means I can do all the things I used to do, but now I appreciate them a lot more. Thank you NHS.

L is for Lefty – I’m left handed. It has had no negative impact on my life, aside from an inability to use scissors, or write with a fountain pen. I am also, politically, left of centre. I like it over here, I think it’s where the nice people are (Disclaimer: there are nice people on the right too, I know some of them)

M is for Misanthropy – You disgust me. Not you personally. You in your capacity as a member of the human race. Sometimes I look at us all, collectively, and think “what the fuck are we doing?”

N is for Nice – I try to be nice to people whenever I can (even though it seems like a massive contradiction to what I’ve put for M). It’s nice to be nice, and it also makes you feel good. I wish more people would try being nice to other people, rather than only being nice to themselves.

O is for Overweight – I could do with losing a few pounds. I have recently dipped back below fourteen stone, which isn’t too bad for a six foot tall man, but I’d like to weigh a bit less.

P is for Pedant – I am prone to pointing out errors in people’s writing. Some people are grateful, others think it makes me a prick.

Q is for Quiet – I am quite quiet in person. It takes me quite a while (or a few quick drinks) to feel sufficiently comfortable to be really chatty with new people in social situations.

R is for Reading – I do like a good read. There isn’t enough time in the world for all the reading I’d like to do. Whether it’s the escapism of fiction or the joy of learning something new in non-fiction, I’m incredibly grateful for whatever evolutionary tweak allows us to have a language and to translate that language into a set of arbitrary symbols which other people can then understand. Wonderful.

S is for Shy - *goes all coy*

T is for Tired – Standard, as I have a young child.

U is for Unemployed – I currently have no job. To be honest, in the short term, it has been quite nice. I’m sure I’ll soon feel differently once the money runs low though. I’d like to work as a Communications Officer, so if you’re hiring one, do let me know…

V is for Velocipede - Bikes are ace. Bikes are fun. Bikes let you go twice as far as walking, for a quarter of the effort. If you ride your bike often enough, you can eat as much cake as you like, and still not be fat. If that’s not a good advert for them, I don’t know what is.

W is for Writing – I like writing. Words are my friends. When I was younger I thought I might be able to write for a living. That didn’t quite pan out, but who knows, maybe it will one day?

X is for Nothing – I know nothing doesn’t begin with X, but neither does anything about me. My car has Xenon headlights, but that’s not even slightly relevant.

Y is for Yet – As in, “I am yet to work out what I really ought to be doing with my life”. Tips on a postcard please.

Z is for Zzzzz – You may be snoring by now, having read all about me, but I’d wager you’re not snoring as loud as I do. Pity my wife. 

That was harder than I expected, but quite entertaining. Not only that, while I was writing it I thought of another blog post I could write, so that's nice.

Now then, who shall I tag to do their own version of this? How about: Ben @ Mutterings of a Fool, Sharmila @ Have Kids Still Tripping, and Markus @ misterdoctorbeckymark2

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Redundant

It’s not a nice word is it? Redundant. Unnecessary. Superfluous. Disused. Outmoded. Unwanted.

All very cheerful terms, to describe a very cheerful thing.

I’ve been made redundant once before. In 2010, a couple of years after the banks all started imploding and collapsing in on themselves like dying stars, the resultant economic black hole had expanded from its beginnings in the City of London and reached such crucial financial outposts as Bristol.

Actual black holes are reputed to suck in everything around them. Nothing can escape. Even that speediest of speedy things, light, isn’t speedy enough to escape the clutches of the black hole. Its fiscal equivalent feeds on jobs. Thousands and thousands of jobs. By the time my job was “reviewed” and, ultimately, “rationalised”, the job losses at my company alone came to around 20,000.

I didn’t fear redundancy in 2010. I embraced it. Redundancy knocked on my door and I welcomed it in, made it a hot cup of tea and told it I would happily be made redundant. Because I was young. Because I was (in marital terms) single. Because nobody depended on the money I was paid. Because of course I would get another job, how hard could it be?

People who had worked at the company for decades were concerned. Their CVs had last been updated when MS DOS was but a twinkle in the pre-pubescent mind of Bill Gates. Some had probably been written on papyrus.

But I was convinced I’d be fine.

And I was, more or less, correct. I was unemployed for about two months.

Now, in 2013, the job I got after I was made redundant the first time is* making me redundant. Sorry, it’s making my ROLE redundant. A distinction I should imagine will keep my spirits resolutely afloat when I drag my arse into the Job Centre for the first time. At least I only have to go once every fortnight…

I'll have a new one of these soon. Mine won't be courtesy of The Telegraph though, like this photo is.

Anyway, yes, today I was formally entered into the consultation period which it is “more than likely” will lead to my exit from the company in somewhere between three and eight weeks’ time.

How do I feel?

Dunno.

Alright. Then not alright. Confident. Then scared. Sure of my abilities. Doubtful. It changes by the hour, by the minute, by the second. Changes when I look at job websites overflowing with “opportunities” which barely warrant the name. Changes when I think about the array of fixed costs I can do nothing to reduce, which zip from my bank account like electronic ghosts. Changes when I hold my baby boy and wonder whether, soon, he’ll be seeing a lot more of me than he currently does. Changes when I think about that black hole, which still no-one has managed to sow up and stop.

I’m trying to think of it in positive terms: a new beginning, a chance to do something I’ve always wanted (what have I always wanted to do? Nothing, I don’t think).

But it’s not always easy to be positive about something so overwhelmingly negative.

Pretty soon I’ll be jobless, and the best thing about it is going to be keeping my curtains closed all day and tweeting pictures of them to George Osborne.


*Almost certainly, although strictly it isn’t set in stone just yet.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fiction: Love

Hello there. A person I know is running a writing competition at the moment. You can find details of it here: @DustandLove's Competition. Should you wish to enter, I'm sure that would make him very happy indeed.

Here is my entry to the competition. It weighs in at 300 words exactly, although it was originally quite a bit more. Apologies if there are now bits which don't make sense, though I think I've made it so there are not.

Love

Brian, across the road, lives alone. His wife’s dead, and his son moved out long before we moved here. He doesn’t see him, or even speak to him. Hasn’t for years, apparently.

Like most lonely old people, Brian loves a chat. He doesn’t need much of an opening to tell you about his army days, or the many years he spent with his wife. The one thing he doesn’t often talk about is his son. The one time he did, he described him as “a little shit”, but didn’t say why.

There’s a sadness in Brian’s face, a permanent feature, sitting beneath the white beard and deep within the wrinkles. I wonder whether it was one specific thing which put the sadness there, or many. I don’t suppose I’ll ever find out.

Most evenings I watch the news. Tonight, the headline story is a violent armed robbery in the city, the CCTV footage grainy but dramatic; the perpetrator remains armed, unidentified and uncaught. Police advise nearby residents to keep their homes secure. Don’t allow entry to anyone you don’t know. I’m not worried, but I check the house just in case, it’s only sensible.

Later, as I’m going to bed, a car comes into the road at speed, its tyres barely maintaining traction as the driver hits the brakes. Peering out of my window I see a man emerge. He doesn’t look grainy now, even in the poor light. It’s the fugitive, and he’s approaching Brian’s house.

The old man comes to the door, and I’m terrified for him. Why open it? But the two men embrace, before Brian furtively ushers the man inside. He looks up, sees me. I drop the curtain quickly, but not before I’ve seen that the sadness is gone from his face. Brian is smiling.

-

I would love to receive feedback, good or bad, on the story in the comments area below. Go on.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Energy

Would you mind helping me out with something, oh reader?

I'm not sure how I feel about something, and I'd like to canvass some opinion. 

Here's the thing: every month, a direct debit for £89 whooshes silently from my bank account and into the coffers of NPower. In return for my £89, I have sockets which dispense electricity, lights which illuminate my family's home when we flick the switch, and toasty warm radiators when the temperature plummets in the winter months (for the record, it's not on yet, I've only got back into wearing trousers instead of shorts in the last fortnight).

A lot goes into that bill, you can see what proportion is spent on what by looking here.

Eighty-nine pounds. On the face of it, that doesn't seem too expensive for such a crucial product: energy. And it's not. When that bill lands on the mat, I groan, but not because it's really expensive. Just because it's a bill, and the only post I ever get is either telling me how much money is going into my account (not enough) how much is coming out (plenty) or how much is left (less than nothing, generally).

But we all need energy. Heating and lights are not things I would ever want to have to make do without (although there are those who do, and that's another blog post entirely). Energy is an essential. 

A socket, in my house, right now.

The thing I'm unsure of is this: do I think it's okay that the suppliers of our energy are making a shedload of money by selling it to us?

Today, Ed Milliband gave his speech to the Labour Party conference. In it, he said a Labour government would freeze the price of energy until 2017. Almost immediately, the Guardian (yes, sorry, I'm a bit lefty) comments section was full of people saying things like "it's a nice step in the direction of re-nationalisation" and others saying "re-nationalisation is just a return to the outdated politics of the 70s, when Labour fucked the country right up and there were power shortages".

Thing is, I don't remember the 70s, because I hadn't been born. I can well imagine that it was a bit shit, three day working weeks, strikes on all days ending in y, that sort of thing. But is there a reason, intrinsic to nationalisation, that the supply of energy couldn't be publicly owned? I don't know. What do you reckon?

What I see at the moment is a few, very large, companies who can pretty much charge what they want for energy, because what are we going to do about it? Unless we want a return to using candles to light our homes, to using an open fire to heat them, we can't decide we won't give one of the energy suppliers our custom. They can charge what they like, make as much money as they see fit, and we have very little say over it. That doesn't seem fair to me. 

But maybe it is. What do you think?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fiction: Voyager

I wrote the following bit of fiction after reading about the Voyager 1 probe leaving our solar system, I'd love to know what you think of it, even if it's really bad (which it might well be, I've never written anything sci-fi-ish). Cheers.

A picture of Voyager 1, courtesy of www.space.com

“Let’s start with a question: which single person is responsible for the greatest number of human deaths in our recorded history? Here’s a little clue, in case you’ve been asleep for the past few years: it’s not any of the first few names you’re thinking of. Hitler? Too obvious. Pol Pot? Ditto. None of those depraved motherfuckers managed to rack up as many corpses as this guy. Worst thing? Dude wasn’t even trying to be a killer, he was just an explorer.”

Ian’s finished, and he’s looking at me for an answer, his usual smug grin spread across his face. He knows I don’t know, and he loves it.

I shrug, “Man, you know history ain’t my thing, it could be Elvis Presley and I wouldn’t have heard. It’s got to be whoever you’re holding responsible for all this though.” I wave a hand in the direction of the armoured glass window separating us from the outside world. Earth, and that’s about all that’s left out there now. Barren and scorched, there’s nothing left of the lush, green world I grew up in. Everything’s grey now. At least it makes camouflage easy.

The grin gets wider as Ian soaks up this tiny victory, uses the feeling to nourish his soul for a moment. “Sorry man, trick question. No-one even knows the guy’s name. Whoever signed the order to go ahead with the old Voyager program. Death warrant for humankind that one, not that he ever could have known. Or she. Could have been a woman. Not sure NASA was much into the equality struggle in the sixties though. Leave that to the hippies I guess.”

So it’s going to be a Voyager day. Great. Ian’s favourite. I’ve heard it all before, more times than I can remember. Still, if it keeps the conversation away from some of the other great debates (Slayer or Metallica, Android or iOS) I’m not about to complain. Not that it would make a difference whether I complain or not; Ian is a great talker, but listening isn’t a strong suit.

“Anyway, mister or missus NASA signs the papers and Voyager is go. The scientists and engineers beaver away for a while and in ’77 the thing’s ready to be flung out into the abyss. Past Saturn and Jupiter, sending us the digital postcards as it goes. That big red spot on Jupiter? A storm big enough to envelope Earth, made of superhot gasses. I tell you man, that film Twister? Would have been a lot shorter if they’d been chasing that storm! But photos of Jupiter and Saturn were just the starters for Voyager, it’d been built to last, and the NASA boys wanted it to keep on going. So they aimed it at the edge of the solar system and away it went.”

I’ve got pretty good at looking like I’m interested in what Ian’s saying, when I’m actually keeping an eye on the monitors for any hostile movements outside, so these history lessons really just wash over me now. That’s good, as they tend to last a while. I don’t have anywhere better to be right now, or ever, and most of the time the background hum of Ian talking is preferable to the background hum of the micronuclear generator keeping this place going.

“It’s sort of funny when you think about it, some people worried about the gold disc on Voyager being an invitation to any megalomaniac aliens to come and get scrappy with us, in the end it wasn’t what we had to say that mattered, it was where we were saying it.”

He’s stopped talking, and is staring at the semi-automatic rifle he has in his hands. Before all this happened, he’d have loved to get his hands on something like that. Ian had been one of those guys who really enjoyed a bit of simulated war. Airsoft, paintball, Call of Duty online with a battalion of other players who were well off enough to know damn well they’d never be called upon to look down the barrel of a gun that fired something more real than a plastic pellet, thimbleful of paint or a collection of visually accurate pixels. Until now. And that same semi-automatic weapon, the pinnacle of human design, full of carbon composites and Computer Aided Death, suddenly looked like bringing a knife to a gunfight once the BHLs showed up.

That’s Beyond Heliosphere Lifeforms, by the way. Named after the theoretical limits of the Sun, our sun’s, influence on space. Once you’re out of the heliosphere, you’re really in outer space. You can also stop worrying whether you’ve applied suncream. A tan is the least of your worries though, because it turns out there’s a whole lot of other intelligent life in the galaxy, and they’re mostly just as capable of being nasty fuckers as we are.

The only reason we didn’t hear from the BHLs before is because of Interstellar Law. Any species with the capacity for interstellar travel is forbidden from entering another inhabited solar system, until such time as the inhabitants of that system send something physical outside of its boundaries.

Something like a 700kg, nuclear powered space probe called Voyager, with a gold disc attached to it which spells out just what galactic n00bs we are.

The rest of the universe gave us just over a year to get ready, and turned up on the same day that those cheerful, clever bastards at NASA proudly announced to the world that Voyager had left the solar system a year before. It was Friday the 13th too. Typical.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Breakfast - Pancakes with Maple Syrup and Bacon

Breakfast, apparently, is the most important meal of the day. What you eat when you get up sets the tone for the coming hours.

My usual breakfast is a bowl of Tesco Value Cornflakes, drowned in about a pint of milk. I think the flakes are made by collecting the dust which falls from the overalls of the factory workers and squishing it together with a bit of glue. But at 31p for a big box that lasts me a week, I can't really complain about their relative lack of quality.

This morning I thought it'd be nice to have something a little less dull.

Pancakes.

Pancakes are ace. Everyone KNOWS this to be true, and yet most people in this country still insist on eating them just once a year. This is one area where Americans are better than us. They understand that pancakes are not just for using up the flour, sugar and eggs before lent. Pancakes can, and should, be eaten whenever the mood takes us.

Quick. Cheap. Tasty. What's not to love?

Here's a recipe which my mum gave me, for Scotch pancakes. I don't know where she got it from originally, I just remember it being scrawled on a Post-It note in the kitchen of the house I grew up in. It's probably the exact same recipe as everyone else already uses, but I'm going to tell you about it anyway.

Ingredients

9oz self raising flour
2oz caster sugar
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
Some milk

How?

Put all the ingredients, apart from the milk, in a big bowl, like this:


Now, add a bit of milk. Not too much. You want the batter to be quite thick, so take it easy. A little splash, then do some whisking. Like this:


You're aiming for a batter which is thick enough to drop off the end of the whisk slowly, but which does drop off. Like this:


The bottle of wine in the background is for when you add too much milk and need to drown your sorrows.

Once the batter is the right consistency (or it's the wrong consistency, but you're drunk enough that you don't care) you're ready to make the pancakes.

I use our Cuisinart sandwich press/contact grill/cook everything thing, heated to 180 degrees centigrade. If you haven't got something like that, just heat up a big non-stick frying pan with a good flat area. Don't use a wok. That would be silly.

Pour the batter onto whatever hot thing you're using. A blob about 6cm across will spread out to make a good size pancake:


Leave them on the hot thing until bubbles start appearing and popping on the surface of the pancakes:


Once those bubbles are there it's time to flip them over. They ought to look something like this:


You should have enough batter to make about 12-14 pancakes. Depending on how gluttonous you are this will serve anywhere between one and four people.

Once all the pancakes are cooked pile them on a plate while you cook some bacon.

Stack the pancakes on top of one another, with the bacon sandwiched between them. Pour some (lots of) maple syrup over the top. If you're feeling particularly healthy, as I was this morning, maybe pop a little bit of butter on the top of the stack too.

Here's what mine looked like this morning, just before I devoured it:


Hot damn. That's a good breakfast.

In the unlikely event that you don't want bacon with them, these also go really well with some fresh berries, or you can throw a handful of dried fruit into the batter before you cook them. Whatever really, the pancakes themselves are just the start. They're definitely a better start than a bowl of nasty cornflakes.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jamie Oliver and the Big Fucking Flatscreen Telly Conundrum

Food, or a Big Fucking Flatscreen Telly (BFFT)? That’s the dilemma. Every day, people with little money can be seen wandering the aisles of supermarkets across the nation, a concerned look etched on their face, as they weigh up the pros and cons of the two options.

Celebrity chef and owner of big lips Jamie Oliver has had enough! He just can’t understand why poor people are making the wrong decisions. He’s not judgmental,but…

Food, obviously, is great. But you can’t use it to watch Jamie Oliver’s programmes about how terrible poor people are at eating the right sort of food. Still, maybe you’re too tired from working overtime to supplement your terrible wages to want to watch them anyway. Maybe you just want to collapse on the sofa with a takeaway, which you can buy at any of the plethora of takeaway establishments in any town. In my town, there’s a market once a week (which no-one who works can get to) and a farmer’s market once a month. Poor people don’t all have “local markets” to walk past and get their mange tout.

On the other hand, you can’t eat a TV. It’s alright until the glass breaks, at which point you find yourself with a mouthful of pointy shards and blood, and a floor covered in glass. Worse, you’ll probably waste that glass, because there’s so much of it in your BFFT. If you’d only thought to pop to the local electronics market, you could have purchased a smaller TV, with just enough glass for your evening meal.

Perhaps Jamie knows of a recipe that uses stale remote controls, since poor people probably have them in abundance. I suppose we’ll have to wait for his new series to find out.

Jamie (can I call you Jamie? I’m going to.) is sort of alright I suppose, generally, but he is understandably viewing the world through the filter of a £150,000,000 bank balance. Because that’s what he has, apparently. In the world of the rich, and even in the world of the not poor, the BFFT has become the boldest symbol of the undeserving poor.

Poor people's TVs can only show Jeremy Kyle. True fact.

“They can’t be REALLY poor, have you seen their BFFT? Of course you have, it’s so big you can see it from the MOON.”

“If they’re so poor, why don’t they sell that TV and use the money to buy some tasty* quinoa?”

The BFT is wheeled out in TV programmes about benefits. It’s referred to by celebrity chefs when they’re on their high horse (which they have mounted in order to PUBLICISE A TV SERIES).

Here are some things I just thought about BFFTs:

1.     It is pretty much impossible to buy a TV which is not a BFFT. A SFFT (Small Fucking Flatscreen Telly) only costs a few quid less than its big brother, to encourage you to supersize your TV in the same way that McDonalds encourages you to supersize your meal. It is impossible to buy a non-flatscreen TV in 2013, unless you own a TARDIS.
2.     BFFTs are worth the square root of bugger all once they’re about six minutes old, because the new model has come out. If you sell your BFFT to Cash Converters, they’ll probably offer you about £6.50, or perhaps a week’s supply of mange tout.
3.     I bought a BFFT once. I had a job when I did. I might not have a job next week, who knows?

There’s a hashtag going on Twitter at the moment: #AskJamieOliver. I think I’d like to ask him whether he still thinks he’s not judgmental, because I think he is.

Oh, and: “I’ve got some mouldy bread, do you have a recipe for that?"

*overrated.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Room 101

I used to quite like Room 101 when Paul Merton presented it. That’s because he’s really flippant and sarcastic, like me. Paul Merton definitely wouldn’t be in my Room 101, apart from that time he did that programme about China, because that was a bit rubbish.

Anyhoo, now they’ve changed the format of the programme so that it’s some kind of competition. Three celebrities(ish) plead their case for each of a few things and Frank Skinner decides which of them gets their things shoved in the Room of Doom.

If I went on the programme (which I will, obviously, once I’m a (sort of) celebrity) I’d choose Frank Skinner as my thing to put in the room. Every time.

Still, the bastardised version of Room 101 being peddled by the BBC isn’t really in keeping with Orwell’s original idea; a sort of torture therapy designed to break your resistance to the suggestion that you should submit to the totalitarian state in the novel 1984.


This meme I’ve been tagged in, by Body Pump addict Lara from over here and here, wants me to tell you what would be in my Room 101. I'll be honest, I've struggled with this. There is so much in the world which fills me with rage, or upsets me, or causes me to think that humans are a hopeless cause, that I could fill Room 101 and then spill into rooms 102, 103 and 104.

So I've decided I'll be flippant and sarcastic in my answers, because I don't want it to get too heavy...

1.  Stubbing your toe - you know that moment, when you misjudge a step, or don't see something in the way of your foot, and smash your big toe into it? When suddenly it seems the force you are able to exert on an object via your toe is practically infinite? When you scatter expletives like the seeds of a dandelion clock, filling the air with phrases which would have your grandmother reaching for a bar of soap to ram into your mouth? That. That can go in Room 101. 

2.  Football pundits - Imagine being locked in a room where everyone was a football pundit. A room where everyone said "good" when they meant "well", as well as other assorted linguistic nightmares. I don't like football, and I really struggle with people wot don't talk good. So, Room 101 for you.

3.  Food waste recycling bins - Harbourers of maggots, reservoirs of juices from the decomposing cells of unwanted foodstuffs, a constant reminder of how bad we are at not wasting things. Food waste recycling bins are horrible things. Also, they smell bad.

Now, since I'm already prattling on, how about my personal hell. My Room 101 as Orwell intended? It's small. A ten foot square box. The walls are smooth and unadorned. The floor and ceiling are the same. It's just me, and no-one else. Nothing else. It's light, but there's no visible source. It is silent, odourless, textureless and deeply, deeply boring. If I lick the walls they don't taste of anything. What could be worse, mentally, than a room full of nothing? That's my idea of Room 101.

Thanks for reading, and if you'd like me to tag you to take part, let me know and I'll happily oblige (unless I've just stubbed my toe).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Steps

I grew up in the 90s.

The 90s were a bit of a funny decade, from what I remember. In the early part of it, lots of people lost their jobs, lost their homes and went to big parties in fields. All three of those things were probably a bit shit, but the last one was made good by little tablets which made everyone think the 90s were great.

Then, in 1997, everything changed. You probably know what I'm talking about. The dawn of a new era. A paradigm shift in the way we lived.

Not Tony Blair and New Labour.

Steps.

Look at them. Awe inspiring, no? (Photo courtesy of http://www.pop-music.com)

Remember those guys (and girls)? Inspiring lyrics, easy to copy dance routines, brain achingly uplifting. Wow. Momentous.


I think Steps were probably aware of how much of a game changer they were, which is why they decided to be called Steps. See, steps (without the capital letter) are a bit of a game changer themselves, and they're currently changing the game in my house.

Yes. The boy is walking. A bit. Sort of. He's quite good at falling over. And very good at tentatively letting go of things, taking two faltering, carefully considered paces, then dropping to his knees.

Both my wife and I were present for his first go at it (well, we're happy to assume it was his first go...) and it is one of those moments that reminds you how magical it is to be a parent. A big moment. A window into how things will be from now on.

Soon, we won't be crawling around the floor with him, chasing him out from under the table and watching him laugh as he leads us through gaps which we are really too big to get through. Walking is big. Walking is one of the things which makes us unique as a species (I know there are other bipeds, feel free to not point that out...).

Those first steps are a literal and figurative move toward a whole new chapter in our son's life. Unlike Steps, I think this will be a good chapter.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Pulled Pork

I do love a bit of barbecue. For me, the weather doesn't need to be doing what it's doing right now (blazing, eyeball melting sunshine) to make me want to tear open a bag of charcoal, light it up, and introduce some meat to the resulting heat.

It's not just about sausages and burgers for me; anything you can cook in a normal oven you can cook on a barbecue, it's just about knowing how.

Some food tastes better from a barbecue than it can ever taste done in an oven, and I want to share one of those things here: pulled pork.

It's a long time favourite in the US barbecue belt, and it's becoming very popular in the UK too. I've been doing it for the last couple of years now, it's simple, easy and delicious.

My recipe is adapted from the Weber Complete Barbecue Book, which you should buy if you want to progress from incinerating sausages.

Here we go then.

Ingredients:

The Meat:

1 Pork shoulder joint - a 2.5-3kg one will serve about eight people, generously.

The Rub:

2 tbsp mild chilli powder
2 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp sea salt
4 teaspoons garlic granules
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh ground celery seeds
1 teaspoon mustard powder

The Sauce:

275ml tomato ketchup
175ml cider vinegar
100ml lemonade (not diet)
50g light brown sugar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon of your favourite hot sauce
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Other:

8 big soft white rolls
A big tub of coleslaw, or make your own (I can't usually be bothered...)

How You Do It:

First off, if you don't have a smoker, you can do this in an oven. It won't have the benefit of being smoked, but it will still be tender and lovely. It just won't be quite as lovely, and you can't pretend to be a Good Ol' Boy in North Carolina while you're cooking. Sorry, that's just how it is.

Mix all the ingredients for the rub together in a small resealable tub, like this:

All ready to rub your meat. Fnarr.
You may use all of it, but if you don't, it'll keep until next time (and there will be a next time, this stuff's addictive).

Take your pork shoulder and use a good sharp knife to trim the skin off. You should leave a layer of fat, around a centimetre thick if possible. This will help keep the meat moist while it cooks. I haven't left a layer of fat in a couple of spots on mine, because my knife skills are WEAK.

A big lump of pig. Skinned.
Place the meat in a nice big bowl, with room to move it around. Pour some rub over the top of the meat, like in this amazing action shot:


Then, rub (obviously) the rub into the meat. Don't be shy. You want the rub to coat the meat, but also to penetrate it as much as possible. Really work it in there. Get it into all the nooks and crannies, like this:


Once it's all nicely coated in the rub, cover the bowl in cling film. If you're going to be cooking it in the next few hours, leave it out to come up to room temperature. If not, pop it back in the fridge.

If you have a smoker, the next thing to do is set it up for a twelve hour cook. For my smoker, this means filling the coal basket with Weber briquettes, and filling the chimney starter with them too. I find that 7kg of briquettes will reliably give me twelve hours of heat. Light the coals in the chimney, and when they're ready (a coating of white ash) pour them over the top of the unlit coals in the basket. This is known as the "Minion Method", where the coals light over a long period of time, maintaining an even temperature. Throw a handful of soaked hickory wood onto the coals, to generate the smoke.

Fill the water bowl almost to the top with hot water. Don't use cold, as this means the coals have to heat the water up before the smoker reaches cooking temperature.

You want the smoker to be at a temperature between 200 and 250 fahrenheit for the duration of the cook. If you do it right you can pretty much leave it to do its thing for the whole cook. If it goes a bit wrong you'll need to fiddle with the vents to adjust the temperature and maybe add more coal too. This is a ball ache, especially if you're doing an overnight cook, because you won't know it's gone wrong until the morning, by which point it's too late.

Once the smoker's at temperature, pop the meat in, and go and relax for ten hours (I tend to start the cook at about midnight, and go to bed)

If you're using an oven, set the temperature using your fancy thermostat and wait for it to be ready. Pull a smug face at the people using a barbecue. Pop the meat in the oven, in a roasting tin.

After ten hours, the internal temperature of the meat should be around 190 fahrenheit. Check it with an instant read thermometer, which you can buy for about a tenner. 

It'll look a bit like this:



Take the meat out and wrap it in foil for the last two hours of cooking. 

Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a saucepan and heat it gently, stirring it to mix it all together. It's supposed to be thin, tart and a bit spicy.

Once the meat's been cooking for twelve hours, leave it to rest in the foil for half an hour, then unwrap it.

You should be able to pull the meat apart easily using your fingers, or use two forks. Remove the layer of fat from the top and pick out any large lumps of fat or sinew.

If you're writing a blog post about the recipe, completely forget to take any pictures of the meat as you tear it apart, ready for serving.

Once you've finished pulling it apart, it will look something like this:


Slice the rolls and chuck a big pile of the pork on them. Add as much or as little sauce as you want. Top it off with some coleslaw. 

Eat it. Then eat some more.

Pulled pork on a roll. Oh yes.






Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Future


"Am I big enough to know how small I am?" - Babyhead

I'm quite carefree on a day to day basis. I'm not one of life's great worriers. But, sometimes, something will set me off worrying, and I can lose days to the sort of thing which I have no hope of doing anything about. 

Often, the thing I worry about is The Future, which I have capitalised for dramatic effect. Quite a broad topic, and somewhat unavoidable, like the result of a sporting fixture you're hoping to watch the day after it actually happens.

This worrisome aspect of my character has been noticeably more, erm, noticeable since becoming a father. This, I suppose, is because I no longer have the luxury of being able to stop worrying at some point roughly fifty years into the future. I now have to worry for (I hope) at least eighty years. And that's if Cam doesn't do any procreation of his own. 

Part of the trouble with The Future is that there will almost certainly be people in it. People like me, people like you, people like George Osborne, people like Eric Schmidt, people like Wayne Rooney. Countless other people. Millions. Billions. Too many. Too many people milling around on this little rock; eating, drinking, pissing, shitting, sleeping, shagging, consuming, wasting, creating, destroying. 

Did you know, that if every human currently on Earth consumed its resources at the rate at which the average American consumes resources, we would require 3.7 Earths in order to not run out of stuff? Now, I've checked under the fridge (where everything I've lost eventually turns up) and there are no spare planets under there. Fortunately, we are not all Americans.

So, no problem, right?

Well, not according to this article I read yesterday: Humans 

See, it isn't just the consumption being done by existing humans we need to be concerned about. There's around 7 billion of us at the moment. Apparently we'd all physically fit on Zanzibar, although I doubt the quality of life would be up to much. But, as a species, we are DAMN GOOD at growing our population. 

Yep. High fives all round for our procreative prowess. 

As a result of our collective horizontal jogging efforts, we'll soon (within our children's lifetimes) be sharing the planet with 9,999,999,999 other humans. Hold on, is that enough digits? I'm not sure I can even count to ten billion, or if I'd have time to get there before I died. Anyway, yes. TEN BILLION people. 

So, in The Future, I just don't see that there's enough Earth to go around. Enough water. Enough food. Enough fuel. Enough space. Enough of those little paper umbrellas you used to get in cocktails. Enough spokey dokeys. Enough, honestly, of most things.

So I worry. I worry that Cam will grow up in a world where there is increasing competition for the resources we do have. That he will see massive unrest unfold around him as more and more people wake up to the idea that we can't go on as we do now. Most of all I worry that the answer to the problem of too many people does not lie in a change in how we consume, I worry that it lies in how many of us there are doing the consuming. I worry that there needs to be fewer of us, and that somewhere in The Future we will have to confront that. 

I worry that we are not big enough to know how small we are, and that we will wander headlong into a need for drastic action to reduce our number, and we'll be too busy thinking about how important we are to see it coming.

I hope, now I've written this, I can go back to not thinking about it for a while. I am a part of the problem.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Door

Yesterday, I made my son cry.

My beautiful, perfect, delicate little boy. I scared him, and I made him cry.

“So what?” you may be thinking. “Big deal? Kids cry all the time.”

Yes. They do. My son is no exception to this rule. He cries when I try to clean his face after a meal. He cries when I put him down for a nap. He cries when I get him up from a nap. He cries when I stop him chewing on the business end of a can of athletes foot spray (how dare I?) He cries for seemingly no reason at all.

He is very good at crying when he hurts himself. His mouth goes from its usual wide crescent smile into a downturned trapezium as he emits a primal sound which leaves no doubt as to its meaning: “that thing I just did really, REALLY hurt”.

It was in the process of trying to prevent one of those cries that I managed to make him cry myself. My vicarious fear for him causing himself pain transferred into real fear for him.

I feel lucky, and fortunate, to be able to say that in Cam’s year and a bit on Earth I’ve rarely had to shout at him. Actually, I’ve never HAD to shout at him. I’ve chosen to a couple of times. The times when the dark cloud of frustration comes over me and I wish with all my heart that he would stop doing whatever it is he’s doing. Just for a moment. Please. Stop winding me up.

But those occasions are few. And mercifully so. How easy it is for me to forget that my boy is tiny, and I am large? That he can be loud, but that I can be so much louder? That his actions may frustrate and irritate me, but that mine may terrify him?

Whoever designed folding doors clearly did not have children. Or hated children. Tiny gaps between wooden panels are seemingly irresistible to tiny fingers which are exploring the world for the first time. Cam has recently discovered the tiny gap, which can be peered through for “peepo” purposes. Soon, the peering gives way to pushing a tiny index finger through. At the same time, a barely perceptible shift in his position means the door begins to close.

The tiny gap gets tinier.

The finger remains.

Tinier.

The finger remains.

Tinier still.

I move my foot into the path of the closing door, stopping the immediate danger. But I am trapped. Sat on the opposite side of the door to him and unable to move to his side without removing my foot and  allowing the door to close completely.

I push his finger from the gap.

He immediately replaces it.

I push it away again.

He laughs. It’s a game now.

I wish he could talk. Wish he could understand EVERYTHING I say to him, not just “what noise does a pig make?” He can’t though.

He is in a giggling, ecstatic state. He bounces in excitement. This game is fun!

All I can think of is a tiny, crushed index finger and a frantic drive to hospital. This game is not fun.
I shout, because it is the only weapon I have left: “Cameron! No! DO NOT PUT YOUR FINGER IN THE GAP!”

The laughing stops. The finger remains. The smile is uncertain.

“CAMERON, NO!”

The finger is withdrawn. The bottom lip curls and trembles. The eyes well up. The noise begins its journey from his vocal cords to the atmosphere. His eyes question me: “who are you?”

I leap up and remove him from the vicinity of the door. The bastard, bastard door. I hold him tight and stroke his hair. I whisper comfort into his ear. Tell him I love him. Tell him I am sorry. Tell him I never want to scare him.

Ten minutes later we are playing happily together again. I hope he has forgotten all about it. That I am back to being the person who hugs him, tickles him, reads him bedtime stories in the softest tones I can muster. I hope that he is not afraid of me.

I consider smashing the door from its hinges.

I hope I never make my son cry again.

Monday, June 24, 2013

I Went to Britmums Live

Right, come on, settle down children, you're back to work now. Let's take a seat on the story mat and some of you can tell me what you got up to this weekend. Okay, who would like to go first? Lewis, stop fidgeting and pay attention, do you want to go first? Go on, tell us all about it...

*jiggles excitedly*

I went to that there London on the weekend, to that there The Brewery, for that there Britmums Live! blogging conference ting!

Five hundred odd people, including about fifteen men, descending on Londontown to spend a day and a half talking about blogging stuff. And other stuff. Also drinking. Oh yes. Drinking.

I met fellow dad blogger Ben from Mutterings of a Fool on the train (strength in numbers, see) and we chatted away the journey into the Smoke. Ben knew exactly where he was going, because he is a proper man who can navigate London. I just followed him, feeling exceptionally glad I hadn't had to brave much of the public transport on my own.

We had a pre-conference beer with a few fellow bloggers (three men, about forty women at this point). The third member of our Y-chromosome triumvirate was Tom Briggs, who I've wanted to meet ever since he was kind enough to give me my FIRST EVER comment on this blog. Anyway, he's a thoroughly nice chap. You'd like him. Katy Hill liked him enough to sit next to him at the Friday night award ceremony, and if he's good enough for her, I dare say he's good enough for you.

Anyway, prior to the awards there was some conference gubbins in the afternoon. Prior to that I had my photo taken to appear in a national newspaper. Y'know. As you do. No big thing. Also in the photo were Darren from One Dad Three Girls (also lovely) and the BEAUTIFUL daughter of Me and the Tiny Three. She was lovely. So was her mum. Sensing a theme yet?

Our little group expanded to include the frankly awesome Lizzie (@eliza_do_lots), who has many websites, including this one, the absolutely delightful Lara Golden (@APluckyHeroine) who blogs over here, and the equally delightful, totally hilarious in person and on her blog Hannah Smith from www.mamabearwithme.co.uk.

I didn't feel I took all that much away from the sessions on the first day, the exception being Pippa from Story of Mum, who gave a great talk on storytelling. It was really good stuff. Also, guess what? She was lovely!

We bunked off the last session, like naughty school kids. Naughty school kids who wanted to check into their budget accommodation and try to quickly eat some food. We only managed the first of those things. Oops.

Awards happened, some extremely talented bloggers stood up and accepted some shiny things, lots of clapping, several glasses of prosecco, white wine, and red wine. Katy Hill was badgered into following me on Twitter six minutes after I tweeted that I didn't actually know who she was. AWKWARD.

We fleetingly met lots of other people (who aren't getting hyperlinks, because I'm tired now) and then decamped to the pub, where we met Andy Harris (a man who trusted me enough to take my advice on what bike seat to purchase, which was nice) of Always Time for Biscuits and the vision of beauty that is Ella Shaw from Trying My Patients. Fucking. Hot. Saynomore.

We were soon joined by EXCELLENT dad blogger Sam Coleman (@DustandLove) who made the effort to come and see us even though he hadn't been to the conference itself. I'm truly glad he did. Great chat. Great beard. Great blog.

There were more people than I've listed there, and they were all just totally great. It was like meeting up with old friends, yet aside from one person I had never met any of them before. There were laughs, there were hugs, there were surprises, there was even some drooling.

No dinner until I managed to order in pizza at about 12:20am. More bloggers in the hotel bar. More great chat. More. More. More.

It. Was. Fantastic.

The following morning, with its five am wake up call from some bastard in a tower crane, wasn't quite as fantastic. But it was okay. Cooked breakfast. Lots of water. Lots of tea. Reconvening at the conference venue. Better sessions on the second day (still not all brilliant though). Meeting more online friends in real life (special mention for @SonyaCisco and @glosswitch, two of my absolute favourite bloggers).

A bit of a blub over some of the blogger keynotes, and the conference was done.

I went and got some proper barbecue at Bodean's then met up with the few remaining delegates in a bar for more booze. Among them, ace new blogger Ruth who writes A Pencil Skirt and is just as funny in person. I spent much of the evening catching up with Annie (www.mammasaurus.co.uk). She also squeezed my bum and told me about hitting seagulls in her car. Good times!

Fate brought me and Her Royal Hotness Ella Shaw back together to finish the evening, as well as gorgeous Julie from www.mamaowl.co.uk. More excellent chat and more tasty drinks. A general sense of all round winning.

So, yeah, in summary: Britmums Live, really good, especially the bits that weren't really anything to do with Britmums Live.

I hope I won't have to wait until next year to see everyone again.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Britmums Live

In just a couple of days time I'm heading over to that London, famousest place in all of England, for some blogging conference good times.
I'll be honest, I don't really know what to expect. I've been to a few conferences for work before, and I usually spend them sitting on my own, wishing away the minutes until the next time I can get a cup of tea and check Twitter on my phone. This time though, LOTS of the people who usually live in my phone will be IN THE SAME ROOM AS ME. Eek.
If you see me standing on my own, please come and talk to me. I'm really very friendly once I get past my shyness.
On with the questions for the I'm Going To Britmums Linky Meme Thing
*sings* Getting to know you, getting to know all about youuuuuuuuuuu...
Name: Lewis
Twitter ID: @babberblog
Height: 6ft
Hair: Very little on top of my head, a bit more on my face, some in other areas which I won't be displaying during the conference.
Eyes: I have two. They will likely be the bloodshot red of a person with a serious pollen allergy. Because that's what I have. Or, possibly, I've got the rage virus but haven't turned all "fast zombie". Yet.
Is this your first blogging conference?
It is. I'd only been blogging for a few months when last year's conference happened, and wasn't sure I'd still be doing it a year on, but here I am.
Are you attending both days?
Yes. Unless I get so devastatingly drunk on the Friday night that I can't face any more new knowledge. I'm sure that won't happen.
What are you most looking forward to at BritMums Live 2013?
Meeting people for the first time in real life, catching up with a couple of people I've met before, learning some stuff.
What are you wearing?
Nothing special. Jeans. A t-shirt. Trainers. I don't really do dressing up. I might bring a shirt, just in case I'm feeling flash.
What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live 2013?
A hangover. Some friends. Bloggy tips. 
Tell us one thing about you that not everyone knows
I once got so drunk at a Christmas party that when my girlfriend (now wife *fist pump*) phoned to ask if I was okay I couldn't work out whether I was stood up or lying on the floor. Proud moments. I was lying on the floor.
There we are, that's a bit about me. Come and speak to me at Britmums Live to find out much more. Some of it may even be interesting.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Loan Moan

Something which has really been invading my brain space and fucking me off recently is people who have never known hardship thinking it’s appropriate to tell people who do, or have done, or may do sometime in the future, that they shouldn’t moan about hardship.

Most recently, this has been done by whichever person wrote the Rothschild investment bank’s report on how best to remedy the fact that investors aren’t interested in buying the MASSIVE student loan debt from the government (who will use the money to line their dishonest, career politician, detached from the real world pockets, or to pay consultant friends vast sums to tell them how they can fuck up the NHS, or austerity the fuck out of everyone’s benefits payments, or just generally spunk it up the wall in some other way which makes the general public wonder what in fuck’s name we’re doing voting for these tossbags anyway)

*breathes*

Anyway. What? Oh yes. Selling the student loan book to private investors.

Apparently the private investors don’t want it. Because it’s been set up in a way which means it wouldn’t make them enough money to be interested in it.

Obviously, I’m crying into my Tesco Value cornflakes over that predicament, but there we go.

How nice to be able to turn down an opportunity to make money, because it wasn’t going to make you ENOUGH money. I’d just like something to make me any money. But I digress. Again.

Obviously, the solution to the problem of the loan book not making enough money is to shit on all the people who took out the loans (because they had no choice, because it was the only way they could afford to go to university) by increasing the interest rate.

Which is FINE, by the way. I’ve always expected it would happen eventually. It will probably make little difference to the fact that I’ll likely be paying that bastard loan back at a rate of bugger all pounds per month for the rest of eternity, before passing the remainder on to Cam like some horrible parting anti-gift.

That’s probably not how it works, does it get written off at some point? Or do they come around and chop off your arthritis riddled legs in lieu of cash? Or maybe put you to work knitting Shreddies?

So, yeah, one option is to increase the interest rates. In some truly “of the people” thinking, the author of the report recognises that perhaps this won’t go down too well (he should have asked me, I’d have told him I’m cool with it *eats beans on toast for a week*) and has included useful suggestions on how the government could bring us graduates around to the idea:


SOLD!

Oh no, wait, I mean: SHUT UP.

Because it’s stupid to suggest that the reason I ought to suck up an increase in the cost of my repayments is that my younger siblings have a worse deal. By that logic the next step will be to ask the generations who got grants for their university education to retrospectively pay some money back, because they got a much better deal than I did.

A moment of fairness: we weren’t supposed to see this report, it was all written in secret. Even when a Freedom of Information request meant it was sent into the public domain the vast majority of it was redacted (oh, how I loathe that term). It just wasn’t redacted with a dark enough pen. That’s the calibre of redaction the government has working for them. Perhaps I could get a new job as a professional redactor? I’ll even bring my own black markers.

But now the report is out there, and I know there are likely to be loads more documents, floating around the shadowy halls of power, describing ill-conceived ways of letting the plebs and proles know that they’re coming for you. The country is bankrupt and fucked and has no solution aside from taking more of your money.

Because we’re all in it together. All of us. Except those that aren’t. The twenty plus members of the cabinet who are millionaires. The potential investors (who the report suggests are the least good option to bear the brunt of any financial risk, after the government and graduates). I don’t think they’re in it with us. I think they’re eating five course meals and pissing themselves laughing at all the little people.

One day, I’d like to get the opportunity to tell them to fuck off.

Sorry, that was a bit ranty and incoherent wasn’t it? I’ll post a picture of Cam looking cute tomorrow. Cheerioh.