31 December 2009

Outlook for 2010

Jilly over at jillysheep has prompted me to think about what I might want to achieve in 2010. This is not something I normally do, as I have always been content to drift with the tide and see what washes up.

But in 2010 I would like to:

  1. Win the lottery jackpot (minimum £2m)
  2. Lose 50 kilos (I keep telling you I'm hugely overweight)
  3. Do all the cooking (like I used to)
  4. Get the bathroom rebuilt (probably requires #1 as a prerequisite)
  5. Get the house rewired (also requires #1 as a prerequisite)
  6. Get the whole house tidy, uncluttered and clean – and keep it that way
  7. Get the two-thirds of the house which badly needs it redecorated (another that requires #1 as a prerequisite)
  8. Go on at least three 2-week holidays, one railway-based, one to Europe and one naturist in the sun
  9. Travel from Thurso to Penzance by train.
  10. Have a good sunny summer and be able to walk skyclad all summer around my garden

That list was a joke! Yes, I would like to do all those things but the chances of achieving them are at best 1 in 14 million (ie. the chance of winning the lottery at any one attempt. If I win the lottery (odds over the year probably 300 in 14 million) all except #2, #3 and #10 become relatively easy.

OK, so let's be realistic. What do I stand some chance of achieving?

  1. Lose 15 kilos
  2. Get out to the shops (even the dreaded supermarket) at least once a week (ought to be easy now I'm retired)
  3. Cook 3 meals a week
  4. Go out to take photographs at least once a week (also should be easy)
  5. Write 2 weblog posts a week
  6. Get the heating fixed (like Jilly, we have an annoying intermittent and unsolved problem)
  7. Grow a year's supply of chillies – on the study windowsill (given that we use a lot of chillies and said windowsill space is limited this will need a very prolific variety)
  8. Get my Anthony Powell Society work up to date, and keep it that way
  9. Get the sitting room and dining rooms properly tidy and inhabitable
  10. Rejuvenate my fish tanks
  11. Go away on holiday for 2 weeks
  12. Make some major progress on my family history (yes that's vague; first I have to take stock of what I've got)

And if I actually manage to achieve half of that lot I should be satisfied.

I don't make New Year's Resolutions – that's just setting oneself up to fail, because they are always so unrealistic – so I'm not going to start this year and I'm not even going to commit to trying to achieve any of the above. They are what I would like to achieve. It's a "wants list", not a "must achieve or else list". One reason I took early retirement was to get away from the incessant round of unachievable "must achieve or else" objectives. That way come madness and depression. 2010 is about relaxing and finding a life again.

Happy New Year to everyone!
Please don't go out celebrating and get frostbite. :-)

30 December 2009

Lowestoft Tiles

Lowestoft Tiles, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This is a mosaic of shots I took when Noreen and I were in Lowestoft for the day in September 2008. Round the edge is a selection of tiles used as part of the paving in London Road, Lowestoft. There is a line of tiles each side of the street (which is pedestrianised) some 10 feet from the shop fronts and spaced a few yards apart. Some were extremely dull; these caught my eye. The local planners, despite all the other dire things they've done to an interesting Edwardian seaside resort and port, should have credit for these tiles as they certainly are an unusual and interesting touch to an otherwise boring shopping street. All the tiles appear to have local themes: Lowestoft pottery, fishing industry, holiday resort, marshland, boating, etc. These are just round the corner from the decaying railway station (shown centre). It's original buildings are approximating to semi-derelict (although still in use) but they retain some of the old decorative arcading and the original 1950s(?) BR station sign overlooking the "town square".

You'll get a better idea of the tiles if you follow the links to the individual images:
1. Tile 1, 2. Tile 4, 3. Tile 7, 4. Tile 6, 5. Lowestoft Central Station, 6. Tile 8, 7. Tile 2, 8. Tile 5, 9. Tile 3

Created with fd's Flickr Toys

29 December 2009

28 December 2009

Today's Quote

When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.

[Enrique Jardiel Poncela, Spanish playwright and novelist, 1901-1952]

By courtesy of quoteland.com.

2009 Meme

2009 Meme, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's Flickr meme is: For this coming New Year how about 12 pictures, one for each month of the old year (ie. 2009) to represent something about what happened to you that month. Here is my year in 12 pictures.

January: A new project boss; there were no prisoners taken
February: Snow
March: Daffodils; there's hope at last
April: Spring blossom
May: Anthony Powell Society Collage Event
June: Attended the Garter Service at Windsor, thanks to our friend Richmond Herald
July: The company pension crisis broke, which has led me to early retirement from 5 January 2010
August: Was taken up with preparations for the conference and writing my conference paper
September: While in Washington DC for the Anthony Powell Conference we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary -- eeekkkkk!
October: Anthony Powell Society AGM at which Patric Dickinson (3rd from left in this old photo) spoke interestingly about Dorothy Varda
November: Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivée; an antidepressant is definitely required
December: More snow coincides with my last real working day
All in all an interesting year but a demanding and, at times, a stressful one.

As always the photographs are not mine (except for 3, 5, 10, 11 which are mine) so please click on individual links below to see each artist/photostream. This mosaic is for a group called My Meme, where each week there is a different theme and normally 12 questions to send you out on a hunt to discover photos to fit your meme. It gives you a chance to see and admire other great photographers' work out there on Flickr.

1. Umm, Jack Hanna sure tastes good !, 2. Snow in the Chilterns, 3. Daffs, 4. Spring in Pink, 5. Power Collage, 6. Img0051768, 7. House of Cards, 8. Balloons just waiting to be blown up, 9. Flower Candy, 10. AP Soc Members at Wysall, 11. Anti-Depressant, 12. gloom, with more sheep

Created with fd's Flickr Toys

24 December 2009

Recipe of the Day: Almond Biscotti

No, I don't intend to write a recipe every day but I have long wanted to do recipes more regularly than I do - as I try things out and they work well. And now that I've retired hopefully I will have the time to return to cooking more frequently.

Original photo and recipe by madstfri

Biscotti (which is only Italian for biscuit) are the nice little almond morsels one sometimes get given with coffee or with a dessert, especially in continental cafés. They are dead easy to make and I suspect may become a Christmas tradition in our house.

For 25-30 biscotti you will need:

2 large eggs
175g sugar
50g butter (preferably melted)
200g blanched almonds (toasted if you can be bothered)
250g plain white flour
30g ground almonds
1 teasp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 teasp vanilla essence
1 teasp almond essence

Blend together the eggs and sugar.
Add all the other ingredients except the almonds and blend to make a sticky dough.
Now add the almonds and mix them in.
My recipe says to let the dough rest in the fridge for an hour; but I don't bother.
Cover a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment.
Spread the mixture onto the baking sheets making a long shape about 6-8cm wide and 1cm thick. Don't worry if it is uneven; no-one will even realise.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 175°C for 25 minutes. (If you have a fan assisted oven, you'll want to use the fan if you have used more than one baking sheet/shelf.)
Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet for 10-15 minutes.
Carefully remove the baking parchment and cut with a sharp knife into approx. 1cm slices. Angle the cuts to get the authentic look.
Now return the slices to the baking sheet, with one cut side down, and re-bake at 175°C for for 10-15 minutes.
Cool and store in an airtight box.
Serve with coffee or ice-cream desserts; or use as presents.

You can use a food processor for all the mixing, it's much quicker.
If using a food processor go gently when mixing in the almonds as you don't want them smashed up.
Do not be tempted to over cook or you will get a hard result.
The biscotti will be a bit soft after the first bake so you will need to cut them carefully.
How long you make the second bake depends on how crunchy you like the end result. I find 10 minutes is about right: crunchy when cold but not too tough on the teeth.
There are a number of variants on this: some add a small amount of instant coffee, or citrus rind. Or you can leave out the ground almonds (if so add just a small amount more flour), the vanilla essence or almond essence.
For a really rich result you can part dip the biscotti in melted dark chocolate. Personally I think they are scrummy and rich enough without.
The end slices, which may not be good as presents, could be used for that Christmas Day trifle.

23 December 2009

Knitted Hair

Just a small pre-Christmas amusement today, or an idea for that very late pressie!

Ever wanted a moustache (or beard) but couldn't grow one? Now help is at hand. At least two crafty people are knitting/crocheting facial hair as accessories and selling their wares on the intertubes ...

Wife of Brian


In case I don't post anything tomorrow, Happy Christmas and a Successful 2010 to all our readers.

22 December 2009

Recipe of the Day: Leftover Pheasant Casserole Soup

For an excellent supper or lunch you will need:
Remains of Sunday's pheasant casserole. (This will be largely vegetables in sauce, 'cos you ate all the pheasant, right? It'll still make good soup.)
Leftover potatoes, chopped into 5mm dice
2 small or 1 medium onion, chopped finely
Some vegetable or chicken stock or a couple of glasses of white wine
Small glass of port, brandy or similar (optional)
Cream (optional)
Chopped herbs (optional)
Grated Parmesan (optional)

Sweat the diced potatoes and onion in a drizzle of olive oil until the onion is somewhere between translucent and caramelised (according to your taste).
Meanwhile put the remains of the casserole in the blender and whizz until smooth.
Add the blended casserole to the frying onion & potato.
Bring gently to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes, adding wine or stock as required to keep it of a soupy consistency.
At this point you can turn out the heat and leave the soup until you're almost ready to eat.
When ready return the soup to the simmer, add the port/brandy and the tomato paste.
Season to taste and return to the simmer.
Serve in a tureen or individual bowls with a swirl of cream, chopped herbs and grated Parmesan, and accompanied by good crusty bread and butter.

21 December 2009

Welcome Yule!

Today, 21 December, is Yule, the Germanic peoples' mid-winter festival held on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year - and doesn't it feel like it this year with snow falling, as I type, across much of the UK. Wikipedia has a reasonable summary of the origins of Yule - there are others here and here - so I won't repeat them except to say that like most pre-Christian festivals it was a time of feasting - indeed in many traditions it was the major feast of the year. And like many such events it was also a health and fertility rite which has descended to us in the form of Wassail, only on this occasion it is predicated around rebirth - the rebirth of the sun from it's winter retreat and thus hope for the year to come.

Most religions have their mid-winter festival of rebirth and or light. Light to lighten the darkness of winter and celebrate the rebirth of the sun, the giver of life. Hence the bonfire traditions, the burning of the Yule log (yes, originally a big log, not a chocolate cake!), the Scandinavian feast of St Lucia, etc. So the old pre-Christian Yule has become assimilated by the Christian church, along with the Roman Saturnalia, St Lucia and New Year to make their feast of Christmas.

So in concelebration with our wise, pagan forebears I wish you all

God Jul and wæs hæil

20 December 2009

Recipe of the Day: Pheasant Casserole

The pheasant is a stupid bird and if it weren't for gamekeepers it would probably be endangered. But it has two saving graces: it's colourful and it makes good eating. They're in season now and, especially if you live in a country area, are likely to be easily available and fairly cheap. While pheasant is delicious roasted, it makes a scrummy casserole for a cold, snowy winter's day. This is what I did this evening ...

For two hungry persons you will need:

1 plump pheasant (hens are best)
5 small-medium onions (red onions for preference)
2 courgettes
1 yellow pepper
Handful of mushrooms
Quantity of ripe tomatoes
1 fennel
Garlic (to taste)
Tomato paste (optional)
2-3 tsp dried mixed herbs (or bouquet garni)
Olive Oil
2 tbsp butter
Wine glass of port
Salt & pepper

This is what you do:

Take a large enough casserole (with a good lid) and drizzle a little olive oil over the bottom.
Peel and quarter the onions and put them in the casserole.
Halve the pheasant (cut it down the middle with a good pair of kitchen scissors); rinse and place in the casserole on the onions.
(If you can be bothered to brown the meat and onion, now is the time. Personally I never bother unless I want the meat floured to give a thicker sauce.)
Roughly chop the garlic.
Core the pepper and cut into 8.
Cut the courgettes into 2cm lengths
Halve the mushrooms
Quarter the fennel.
Quarter the tomatoes, unless they’re cherry tomatoes when halve them. (I used a large quantity of very ripe cherry tomatoes; you could use tinned tomatoes.)
Put all the veg on top of the pheasant, tomatoes last.
Add the herbs, a very little salt, pepper to taste, followed by the port.
Drizzle a bit more olive oil over and put the butter on top followed by the lid for the casserole.
Cook in the bottom of a moderate oven for 60-90 minutes (until pheasant is thoroughly cooked and the veg is soft).
Serve with roast (or garlic) potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, and a good red wine.


In the unlikely event there are any leftovers, use them for soup.

You can basically use whatever veg you have to hand, although go easy on the root veg as you want the variety of flavours and colours - this should be a colourful as well as rib-sticking dish.

Never had Jerusalem Artichokes? They’re tubers (like knobbly potatoes) of a plant which is related to sunflower. In season in late autumn and winter, you'll find them at good greengrocers but not in most supermarkets. Roast or steam them like potatoes but do NOT peel them (just scrub them clean); they’re softer than potatoes and caramelise better. They're especially yummy roast and make a good variation with Christmas dinner. Oh and if you have a vegetable garden or allotment they’re dead easy to grow - we had them in an odd, otherwise useless, corner when I was a kid and never needed to replant them as you never get all the tubers out!

16 December 2009

Another Fun Meme

Another Fun Meme, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This wek's Flickr meme is called "Another Fun Meme" and asks us to choose between the following options; my choices are in bold. Of course being male I had to add the word "sex" to everything! ;-)

1. pig or poke; definitely much more fun; not into zoophilia.
2. strawberry or raspberry; marginal here but on balance raspberry wins.
3. chocolate or vanilla; really not into anything kinky, see pigs above!
4. man or mouse; not into men.
5. head or tail; not into tails.
6. top or bottom; see above.
7. fight or flight; flight is fun; mile high would be even better.
8. round or square; for comfort if nothing else.
9. old or new
10. black or white
11. science or arts; well I am a scientist by training.
12. natural or artificial; you can't beat Nature!

As always the photographs are not mine so please click on individual links below to see each artist/photostream. This mosaic is for a group called My Meme, where each week there is a different theme and normally 12 questions to send you out on a hunt to discover photos to fit your meme. It gives you a chance to see and admire other great photographers' work out there on Flickr.

1. So I had an abortion, 2. sex & food, 3. Long Knee Socks, 4. Kathys shirt, 5. Thoughts, 6. Untitled, 7. Hover Lovers, 8. M[useum] O[f] Sex, 9. Old Time Arcade Sex Appeal Meter(1), 10. Shades of white, 11. Plasticity - 100 years of plastics, 12. afterglow natural massage candle

Created with fd's Flickr Toys

13 December 2009

End of an Era

The time has come for this long-in-the-tooth rat to abandon the good ship SS Work. I've been offered, and accepted, early retirement. It's been in the offing for some while but has been confirmed only in the last couple of weeks. I leave officially on 5 January 2010, but my last full working day will likely be Friday 18 December, followed by a couple of part-days the following week to complete handovers etc.

This opportunity, brought about by the upcoming demise of our final salary pension scheme, is a bonus and the push I needed. I had always planned to retire around now, and certainly no later than age 60, so this is one of the few things in life so far I have achieved more or less as planned. (In fact I’ve planned very little in my life, being content to drift into whatever has been available; one reason I’ve not made it higher up the various ladders.) There's lots else I want to do while I'm still young enough (and vaguely fit enough) to be able to. Have no fear, I shall certainly not be idle in my retirement.

33 years with one company is a long time. I've learnt a lot, had many enjoyable times and worked with many excellent people. There have, of course, also been some not so good times and some very stressful times; the last year or so has been an especially bumpy ride, although ultimately a successful one. I look back not in anger but more in sadness at the passing of an era, for my infamy shall precede me no more.

So roll on Christmas and a new beginning. Although it's what I want, it's actually quite scary!

11 December 2009

My Crush Meme

My Crush Meme, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This week's Flickr meme was to share 12 hotties: 12 hunks or honeys; famous or not-so-famous. Here's a selection chosen using the names of my former and present friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Any similarity persons living or dead is purely accidental.

Alice, Allison, Jackie, Sophie, Tamsin, Wendy, Jill, Tracey, Christine, Claire, Maria, Joanna.

As always the photographs are not mine so please click on individual links below to see each artist/photostream. This mosaic is for a group called My Meme, where each week there is a different theme and normally 12 questions to send you out on a hunt to discover photos to fit your meme. It gives you a chance to see and admire other great photographers' work out there on Flickr.

1. Bad Alice From Reality to Wonderland, 2. Allison, 3. Jackie C full body on stairs, 4. Freud's Fiasco II: Stepping into the light, 5. IMG_2847C, 6. Interiors IV, 7. Jill, 8. Tracey Felix, 9. Christine, 10. Claire - Big Pieces Contest's Winner / Contestant #18 - Tattoo Art Fest (279) - 18-20Sep09, Paris (France), 11. Maria Ozawa, 12. joanna

Created with fd's Flickr Toys

06 December 2009

Thought Provoking Scientists

The current issue of Scientific American contains the usual thought provoking features from its four regular, heavyweight opinion writers. Here is a taster of each of their articles:

First, Jeffrey Sachs on the challenges of tackling birth control and food production in tandem.
The green revolution that made grain production soar gave humanity some breathing space, but the continuing rise in population and demand for meat production is exhausting that buffer. The father of the green revolution, Norman Borlaug ... made exactly this point in 1970 when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize: “There can be no permanent progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for increased food production and those that fight for population control unite in a common effort.”

It is not enough to produce more food; we must also simultaneously stabilize the global population and reduce the ecological consequences of food production – a triple challenge.

Next, Michael Shermer on the psychological differences between conservatives and liberals.

[Jonathan] Haidt [psychologist; University of Maryland] proposes that the foundations of our sense of right and wrong rest within “five innate and universally available psychological systems” that might be summarized as follows:
1. Harm/care ...
2. Fairness/reciprocity ...
3. Ingroup/loyalty ...
4. Authority/respect ...
5. Purity/sanctity ...

Self-reported liberals are high on 1 and 2 ... but are low on 3, 4 and 5 ... whereas self-reported conservatives are roughly equal on all five dimensions, although they place slightly less emphasis on 1 and 2 than liberals do.

Instead of viewing the left and the right as either inherently correct or wrong, a more scientific approach is to recognize that liberals and conservatives emphasize different moral values.

Thirdly, Lawrence Krauss on filtering out bias in news reporting.

I reflected on something I had written a dozen years ago, in one of my first published commentaries:

“The increasingly blatant nature of the nonsense uttered with impunity in public discourse is chilling. Our democratic society is imperiled as much by this as any other single threat, regardless of whether the origins of the nonsense are religious fanaticism, simple ignorance or personal gain.”

As I listen to the manifest nonsense that has been promulgated by the likes of right-wing fanatic radio hosts and moronic ex-governors in response to the effort to bring the US into alignment with other industrial countries in providing reasonable and affordable health care for all its citizens, it seems that things have only gotten worse in the years since I first wrote those words ...

I worry for the future of our democracy if a combination of a free press and democratically elected leaders cannot together somehow more effectively defend empirical reality against the onslaught of ideology and fanaticism.

And finally the always slightly off-the-wall, zen-like Steve Mirsky on knuckle-cracking research.

Most known knuckle crackers have probably been told by some expert – whose advice very likely began, “I’m not a doctor, but ...” – that the behavior would lead to arthritis ...

“For 50 years, [Dr Donald Unger] cracked the knuckles of his left hand at least twice a day, leaving those on the right as a control ...

Finally, after five decades, Unger analyzed his data set: “There was no arthritis in either hand, and no apparent differences between the two hands.” He concluded that “there is no apparent relationship between knuckle cracking and the subsequent development of arthritis of the fingers.” Evidence for whether the doctor himself was cracked may be that he traveled all the way from his California home to Harvard University to pick up his Ig Nobel Prize [in Medicine awarded in 2009] in person.

The good thing about all of this is that these guys are working thinkers and are tackling some really knotty issues; moreover they write clear and concise single page articles such that you come away not just understanding the issue but being able to form your own opinion, whether with or against the writer's standpoint. We need more people like these guys: clear concise communicators with the vision to see the issues and the brain-power to tackle them head-on without recourse to vested interests and politics. More power to Scientific American for allowing them this freedom.

03 December 2009

Smelly Meme

This week's Flickr meme was to share 12 of our favourite smells. I thought we'd done this before, but anyway here's a selection ...

1. Christmas Spice
2. Sea
3. Baking Bread
4. Coffee
5. Old Roses
6. Lavender
7. Grapefruit Oil
8. Pine/Cedar Wood
9. Cherry Brandy
10. Christmas Roast
11. Sex
12. Bitter Almonds

1. Mulled Wine, 2. Danish North sea shore, 3. Fresh Baked Bread, 4. Within the crowd of coffee beans, 5. Jacques Cartier, 6. Lavendar, 7. Grapefruit Essential Oil Massage Candle, 8. The Buttermere Pines, 9. cherry brandy, 10. Roasted Turkey, 11. after SEX, 12. sunny almonds

And here's my slightly off the wall version ...

1. i always wanted a dog for christmas, 2. Sea of sin 04, 3. Woman of Bread, 4. There's a rabbit in my coffee!, 5. Old Rose Socks, 6. Lavender Sky, 7. Grapefruit Moon Kickoff gigger, 8. cedar, 9. Cherry Brandy, 10. 7870 - vietnam - Roasted piglet snout, 11. Sex is Like Pizza, 12. The Saga of Peaches

As always the photographs are not mine so please click on individual links below to see each artist/photostream. This mosaic is for a group called My Meme, where each week there is a different theme and normally 12 questions to send you out on a hunt to discover photos to fit your meme. It gives you a chance to see and admire other great photographers' work out there on Flickr. Mosaics created with fd's Flickr Toys.