September Garden Update

They say a photo speaks a thousand words so if I say we’ve gone from this:to this:

and this:

to this:

Well, I’m still not sure it conveys the amount of digging, moving, carrying, loading, unloading, building, muscle ache and expense. Or maybe it does. We’ve carried 3 bulk bags of ballast through, 2 of the red shingle, 1 of sand, 2 giant bulk bags of the cream/gold (below), and a pallet load of 20kg bags to make a whole ton of the Yorkshire Cream (up top), a pallet load of stones, and various smaller bags of bits and pieces. A neighbour shouted out to us the other week: “Every time I see you, you’re shovelling shingle.”

Raised beds to the left are for flowers. The beds to the right will be for a few veggies, or I’m thinking I’d like to grow blackberries and chard. We’ve shrubs in the back bed on the left, and grasses on the right. Don’t look like much now but give it a few months. We’ve planted two cypress trees.

The central back bed I decided to make decorative. I needed somewhere to put my seahorse. I’ve some more pieces I want to pick up for this — some glass floats, shells etc., but I love it so far. The light on the lighthouse revolves.

We’ve more screening to put up and I’ve some more plants I have my eye on. Also planning a seating area with a pergola so there will be some more updates to come.

Death Note Dismay

Netflix’s effort to create a live-action adaption of the Japanese Manga series Death Note (first serialised in magazine form and later as anime and then live-action television) is overall disappointing.

I dislike when the conception of a character changes, so in that regard would like the opportunity to see the live-action film released in Japan in 2006/8, and while the relocation might call for altered nationalities, I would have preferred a cast reflecting the original personas more. Not that there is anything wrong with the performances of the actors giving the story line and the limited time to execute it — and there lies the real problem, as I will explain further on.

It’s sad the cast does their best with limited material. In this revamp, Nat Wolff fits the lead role of Light (Yagami), and Margaret Qualley the lead female, Mia — a necessary change for the better. The anime characteristics of the earlier ‘Misa’ (who is erratic and immature) would never fully translate to a western culture. She was the most irritating female protagonist/antagonist (she reflects both at various times in the plot) I’ve seen in a long time.

In particular, although Lakeith Stanfield did a good job of perfecting the glances and mannerisms of ‘L’ the character dissolves into volatile instability in a way the original ‘L’ (Ryuzaki) never did, and it’s a shame they took his personality in that direction.

Ryuzaki’s story in the anime was expected and logical but no less onerous for all that and ‘L’ remains for me the most compelling character of the whole series and concept so I would have liked to see everything about the adaption more fledged. The interplay between Light and Ryuzaki is lacking in the Netflix edition, which at heart is not in any way captivating, or inspiring conviction.

The best thing may well be Ryuk as voiced by Willem Defoe, but I was sorry the whole mythology of the Shinigami wasn’t explained to the uninitiated, and the skilful twists of the plot compacted to such a momentary suggestion of the source material. I’ve read criticism that the film feels rushed and I wholeheartedly agree. The sheer haste of execution means none of the sub-text is examined and barely disclosed. I recommend checking out the anime series though for a serial running for 37 episodes it requires commitment.

August Garden Update

Long overdue but after another busy weekend I thought I’d provide an update on the rest of the tiers. Please excuse the lurking piles of rubbish.

To recap we’ve gone from this:

To out of control:

and now we’re finally fully tiered:

 

The top tier is my herb garden with a lower level mostly decorative. There’s a wollemi pine in the planter. Herbs include rosemary, various thymes, sorrel, chives, garlic chives, sage among others.

On the far left we’ve a bank of various lavenders at the top, blueberry plants and wild strawberries in the middle, and an embankment of many different foxgloves.

To create the tiers, we’ve used a mixture of rustic sleepers and Marshall’s croft stone walling. A layer of ballast had to be laid for each section of wall and back-filled with gravel for drainage.

More soon!

Peach Custard Pie

Four years of upheaval not only interfered with my writing, but other pastimes. I used to enjoy baking and cooking to a greater degree than has been possible recently. Having had a chance to cook the other weekend, I thought, completely off the topic of writing, to share one of my favourite and easy dessert recipes. I found it in a cookbook many years ago (couldn’t tell you which one) and have adapted it a bit over the years so now make it following my own notes.

Ingredients at a glance:
Shortcrust Pastry
1 large tin of peach slices and/or fresh, or a mixture of both.
1/4 pint soured cream or yogurt
2 eggs
4 oz sugar
1 oz plain flour

Ingredients in more detail:

Shortcrust Pastry — I have to admit I tend to cheat with this, mostly because I’ve found a store bought one I like. Jamie Oliver has often said store bought pastry is fine so if it’s okay for him it’s good enough for me. I do sometimes make fresh pastry with a lot less fat than the recipe states. In fact, I often use less fat and sugar than most recipes stipulate. Atora suet or its equivalent (beef or vegetable), also makes good pastry BUT only if baking and eating fresh. I wouldn’t advise freezing suet pastry; it’s never the same.

Peaches — it’s fine to use tinned or fresh and I have used a mix of both when I didn’t have quite enough of one or the other. This recipe also works with other fruits. If using particular moist fruits drain first on kitchen paper. If using fresh peaches, peel or don’t depending on preference.

Soured Cream/Yogurt — the original recipe stated soured cream but it’s not something I have available as often as yogurt. If you want an especially rich dessert there’s no reason not to use cream, and for a more healthy option use a vanilla or natural yogurt.

Eggs — I’m sure the original recipe stated egg yolks, I forget how many. Again, if going for a richer dessert then use yolks but I’ve found this works fine using the whole eggs.

I tend to use 3 or 4 ozs of sugar. The actual recipe stated more but I always use less and even seem to recall halving the original amount. I made this the other weekend with 4 ozs and thought it a bit too sweet so I can’t imagine using more. Depends how sweet your sweet tooth is, I suppose.

1 oz plain flour — definitely needed to make the custard ‘set’.

Instructions:

Preheat oven to around gas 6 (that’s 200c and about 400f, I think — better check). Roll out dough and use it to line a 8-9 inch shallow pie dish. I use a fluted flan pan with a push-up base.

Arrange the peach slices in two concentric circles, one inner, one outer, slightly overlapping.

In a bowl, beat together the cream/soured cream/yogurt (whichever you’re using) with the eggs, sugar and the 1 oz of plain flour. Pour over the peaches.

Bake for approximately an hour, or until the custard sets. The tip of a knife should come out clean.

If the edge of the pastry looks as though it will burn it can be covered with some foil mid-way through cooking. I usually get away with it going a bit brown.

Note: this recipe also came with a streusel topping. I really don’t bother with it but, if wanted, make a crumble type topping and sprinkle on half way through the cooking time, or sprinkle with a little brown sugar and cinnamon or, as I often use, some finely chopped nuts with or without a little sugar and spice.

Serve warm or cold.

So, to recap: pastry in a flan dish, line with fruit, beat the rest of the ingredients together, pour in and bake. It really is simple.

 

 

 

Experience something bitter, something intoxicating

2011? How was this 2011? Seems like yesterday and still one of my favourite stories because I got the writing and story just as I wanted. Thinking of including it in a collection.

I also remember sshhhing the husband while putting on the final polish.

My inspiration was the title of the anthology and the ‘Green Muse’ painting by French history painter and illustrator, Albert Pierre René Maignan.

***

Bitter and Intoxicating

Émile beheld the rough lines of age and labour in the hand before him. The network of passing years bisected by a scar and punctuated by torn cuticles threatened to entrap him in a labyrinth of wanting. If only he could capture the essence of that hand, the person it belonged to, in a drawing.

Garden update July 2017

A few weeks ago I promised to take anyone interested along with me in my latest and probably hardest garden project to date. I have to admit when we first saw our garden space we thought this was the smallest garden we’d ever had. Now it’s taking shape we’re realising it’s far larger than we first thought, and a lot harder work. There’s more than what I’m going to show today finished, but it’s difficult to reveal all at once when there’s stuff piled in the way making photo-taking impossible.

What I can show you is one side of our first three tiers, which, if you remember, we’ve taken from this (top view looking down):

with the help of these:

to this (view looking up):

Can’t wait for the plants to establish. Further along we’re getting on with the herb garden, and a lavender bed among other things. I’m shoveling dirt in my sleep and can barely keep my eyes open when awake.

Not so lovable Groot

Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favourite films. While I didn’t adore the second installment, I still found much to enjoy, but the trouble with any follow-up is the level of expectation and the pressure to surpass that first experience. It’s a problem every creative person understands too well.

That’s not the subject of this post. Most of us love Groot, but did you know he wasn’t always the adorable character you may think you know and love?

Bad Sex Award

Many have heard of the yearly Bad Sex in Fiction Award, which has been going since 1993 — the purpose to ‘honour’ an author for producing an ‘outstandingly’ bad sexual scene in what might otherwise be an excellent novel. The prize doesn’t include erotic fiction and mainly exists to throw light on often unnecessary sections of sex given a superficial treatment.

This is part of an old post where I drew attention to the 17th Annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award that went to author Jonathan Littell for some hilarious passages in his novel The Kindly Ones. However, some of the sentences aren’t as good/bad as they’ve been in some years and this is a translation from the French, which can affect some meanings. It’s also difficult judging for oneself when reading these lines out of context. Read more on the book and the award at BBC News.

Cringe worthy? Spiteful? Personally, I think it would be a fun award to win and, as they say, any publicity is good, although I’m not sure that’s always entirely true.

However, this I wish to put forward my own contender/winner even though it’s for a book published some years ago:

“She kept a secret spring surrounded by sweet moss, and there he was refreshed.”

And the winner is…

Stephen King for this line in his 5th Dark Tower novel ‘Wolves of the Calla’. It does read slightly better in context but made me roar with laughter so unless that was his intention (and even if it was) this has got to be a dodgy euphemism if ever I heard one. Otherwise, I love the Dark Tower series and finally got to read the whole series in one sitting. I love the character of Roland but my hero is Eddie.

I’m going to keep the award in mind when constructing such sentences.

A Life Lesson Learned

I’ve had more than one run-in with ‘celebrity’, but this incident was my first. A few years ago I was working in an office and answered the phone. When I realised with whom I was speaking, I experienced a ‘gulp’ moment where time slowed enough for ‘I really don’t want to be dealing with this’ to pass through my mind. I had heard enough ‘rumours’ to square my shoulders and straighten my spine, preparing for a not-very-nice-guy. Still, I am, if nothing else, generous, prepared to give anyone the benefit of the proverbial doubt…in this particular instance short lived. The moment of good grace passed with the first words to come out of his mouth, the ‘conversation’ something like this:

“Get ****** *******.”
“I’m sorry, she’s not at her desk right…”
“I want to speak to her.”
“… now. Maybe I can help, or take a message?”
“I am ******* **** so Go.Get.Her.Right.Nowwwwww.”

My cognitive reasoning instantly translated this to: “I’m a toffee-nosed blowhole who expects the world to bow instantly to my every whim. I’m so full of my own self-importance, I kiss my reflection first thing in the morning and last thing at night because no one else is good enough to kiss me, at all…except maybe my feet, when they are down there grovelling.”

I went to fetch the person in question (the toilet of all places) because it was my job and because, unfortunately, she was the other side of a similar coin. They deserved working together. She had the art of obsequiousness down pat when it served. Alas, in the real world, people management escaped her skillset.

“You got the photocopying done?” she asked one morning, staring at the pile in my arms. “You got it done ‘today’?”

“Yes,” I replied, somewhat puzzled.

“However did you manage that? ***** never does the photocopying for me that quickly. She sometimes makes me wait days.”

To clarify, some offices have had a photocopying departments, particularly if a lot of duplicate documents or leaflets were regularly sent out.

How did I get my photocopying done in a blink where this other person couldn’t? Compare her, “Get this done,” to my “Good morning, *****. How are you today? How’s your daughter?” In reply, I’d listen (and I do mean pay attention) to how well the woman’s daughter was doing, how proud she was of the young girl’s latest achievements, all of which swiftly concluded with, “I’ll put your work up next.”

No, I did not wish this woman a good morning in order to get my photocopying. Her doing so was an amazing bonus, but that was not in my mind the first time I said hello, or when I asked how she was anytime after. It’s called respect and being polite. I didn’t see her as the ‘photocopying woman’ as did so many. I saw her as someone deserving the same regard as anyone — a lesson the other two people of this blog could have done with learning before anyone gave them a job.

No one is generally more important than anyone else. If I were famous I would not expect someone to hurry off the toilet barring a life or death situation (that call…was it important? No, not at all). I wouldn’t turn up without warning and expect to jump the queue. It’s a crazy world where a recognisable name or face expects preferential treatment, particularly if it’s to the detriment of others. It’s odd we bestow such care, not on a nurse who maybe saved a life that day, but on people (famous, or not) who treat others with rudeness and arrogance. Respect should be earned. The person who does the photocopying or served coffee that morning, are all the same. My father served coffee for a time, and though he might have ended up in the Tower of London, had the Queen turned up he would have expected her to pay and to wait in line. He would have been polite, he would have been respectful, but he did not like any individual having privilege over another. Maybe the picture he painted with this declaration was more allegorical than actual, but, as a child, that was something I would have been tickled to see. I never knew if he exaggerated, but the principle sure stuck in my mind.

Garden update June 2017

It’s been just over a month since I first mentioned my garden, usually the one part of my personal life I don’t mind sharing. Some, particularly those who hang out with me on Facebook, will know I’ve had many types of gardens including a large landscaped one. This time we’ve started with the smallest space we’ve ever had (a somewhat deliberate choice), and nothing more than a pile of…well, mostly clay. One cannot call it soil. There are ways to work the ground to make it nutrient rich but we’re not at that stage. First, we need to create tiers.

A month has gone by since I showed you an expanse of ‘dirt’, held up by choosing and awaiting delivery of supplies and the weather. We’ve had a lot of intermittent rain as evidenced by the sudden flash growth of unwanted greenery. To create the tiers we’ve decided to break the garden into thirds. One stone wall either side of the steps and a sleeper wall at the far end as we want a small veggie patch. The tiers will also be in thirds.

Before we even get to creating the tiers we’ve had to attack the plants that have taken over. These are dock leaves:

Dock leaves. Dock leaves everywhere!

No one wants these things. They grow large and the roots are thick and deep. Fortunately (or not depending on viewpoint), we’ve had a lot of digging out to do so taking this lot down was the least concern. May not seem like it, but it didn’t take long. That’s the Dear Husband with a spade and shovel hiding at the edge of the photo. He did the shovelling and I’ve been swinging the mattock (a type of pickaxe) to help ‘hook’ soil down so he can move it out of the way in order to create a trench.

This is only the beginning of the first. We need to fill this to a required height of ballast (arriving this week) and compact, then add a layer of sand to set the walling in, then back fill with gravel before packing the soil back to create the layers. We also need to mix the clay/soil with good manure and compost before shovelling it in, repeat three times to make three tiers. The good thing is, because of the required height and depth, we won’t be creating too much pressure. I’ll let you know how we got on.