Archive for March, 2013

Interview with a Danda

See what I did there? Interview with a vampire, interview with a Danda… Here are a few basic facts about your favourite Danda before we get started.

1. He likes ice cream.
2. He drives a taxi.

Hello, Danda. How are you feeling on this fine Sunday morning?
Yeh. Alright.

Rumour has it that you recently watched The Sweeney starring Ray Winstone. Was it your opinion of this film?
Unprintable.

What is the silliest thing anyone has ever asked you in your taxi?
I was driving under the Picadilly underpass with some Americans in the back and one of them said to me, “Is this the tunnel where Princess Di was killed?”

Regale us with a story from yesterday’s taxiing.
One of our local colourful characters, Jeannie, was spotted walking down the middle of the road waving her hands at cars to try and stop them. She was walking all shuffly because her knickers had fallen down around her ankles. I did not stop for her, unfortunately.

How do you feel about Laura’s new project in which she aims to live more responsibly?
So far, the cooking’s good.

What is your favourite book in the world?
Well, the books that I can read and re read and still enjoy almost as much as the first time I read them, are the Flashman books.

Would you say you have become “reliant” on tea, much as one would on drugs?
Yes.

What is your favourite thing Laura has cooked?
Oo, so many to choose from. Er. Thai chicken curry.

Why won’t you let Laura have a chicken in the garden?
Cause I’m mean.

What is your opinion of Laura’s blog and is it your favourite blog in the world?
Laura does a blog?!

How do you feel about breakfast?
Don’t eat breakfast.

And now, the question that stumped Gordon Brown in the incident now known as BiscuitGate…. What is your favourite biscuit?
Chocolate digestives. No problem with that one.

…Cor, is that it, Laura? Not exactly Jeremy Paxman, are you? There was no really hard questions at all was there.

And that, my friends is the end of this interview with Danda. I feel we can all learn something from the things we’ve read here.

Hearts on stuff

Although I had an interview with Danda planned for today’s blog, he’s having a major lie-in and, sadly, the prerequisite for my interview is that he is conscious. So I’m whipping out my back-up blog idea, which is to show you pictures of hearts I have found on stuff, because they pop up in unusual places. All you need is love and all that….

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Ok, I made this one. But I thought it was a good place to start.

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Milk splat heart

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Egg heart

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Latte heart

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Train ticket heart

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Flat white heart

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Another milk splat heart

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Cake heart

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Garlic heart

And now, to finish, another man made heart but it’s full of chocolate so I wanted to show it to you. Mmm…

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I am the Queen of everything

Well… Sort of… I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award. That’s basically the same thing, right? Thanks to Maggie Thom for the nomination!

So here we go, let’s do this thing.

The Rules of the Award:

1. Post eleven facts about yourself.

2. Answer the questions the tagger has set for you and create eleven questions for people you’ve nominated.

3. Choose eleven people with fewer than 200 followers to give this award to and link them in your post.

4. Go to their page and tell them.

5. Remember, no tag backs.

11 Facts about me:

1. I had braces on my teeth when I was about twelve. Once I got a scarf stuck on the top ones.

2. Once, my gym knickers fell out of my bag onto my desk in front of the Maths teacher. That was pretty horrific.

3. I totally want to live on a farm.

4. I once went out with a man who got irate if he tried to run in front of me to open a door and I said, “It’s ok, I’ve got it.” He said I was emasculating him by not letting him open the door for me!

5. I used to own loads of jodhpurs and tell people I went horse riding a lot. I went about twice ever.

6. I want a chicken in my back garden to get eggs from!

7. I know the man who voiced Pingu.

8. I am going to Italy’s Amalfi coast in three weeks and I am very excited!

9. I love walking along the river. Sometimes I dream of just taking a month off work and walking along the river every day until I get to the sea.

10. I once got roared at by a lion in the wild. Epic.

11. My ideal career would be some kind of farmer/baker/pianist/human rights lawyer. Any ideas how I can get those all into one?

11 Questions from Maggie Thom:

1. What makes you smile?
When children are at that stage where they can’t quite pronounce things properly but they just sit babbling away to you and it’s anyone’s guess what they’re going on about. Hilarious!

2. What’s your favorite song?
Oo, hard one. Songs I like always remind me of something so it’s less about the song, more about the memory. I’m pretty keen on the Lion King soundtrack cause of the Namibia memories.

3. Extrovert or introvert?
Extrovert.

4. Singer in the car?
Don’t drive.

5. Weirdest thing you’ve ever done?
Made underwear out of lined paper for my barbies. I didn’t like how naked they were under their skisuits and thought the pin stripe pattern would look nice.

6. Your favorite dessert?
Oo. Um. Anything Italian and homemade. Homemade panna cotta. Homemade tiramisu. Homemade semifreddo.

7. Best book you’ve ever read?
Tender Is The Night. F. Scott Fitzgerald.

8. Best advice you’ve ever been given?
If you put your thumb and first finger out on both hands, the one which looks like an L is your left.

9. The neatest and best thing you’ve ever done for someone else?
Pass. Too boasty.

10. Something you’ve done that’s a lot of fun?
Spent a day on a farm learning how to make jam, chutney, ketchup and lemon curd.

11. If you could be anyone famous who would that be?
Clive Stafford Smith. He’s a lawyer. He’s amazing. Look him up.

My 11 nominees:

Blog The House Down – some baking, some eating, some cookies, some spinach…. It’s all going on here.

Lovefoodlovefashion – pretty things to look and to taste, what more could you want from a blog?

Greenlightlady – beautiful nature photos. Sometimes I look at the pictures of flowers and sigh, remembering that once, we used to have flowers in England, before the long winter of 2013.

Kindredspirit23 – a lovely man living with the after effects of a stroke three years ago. He’s good at fiction too.

The Better Man Project – I just like this blog. It motivates me.

20 Something, Huh? – food for thought in one’s second decade.

(un)certainties – life in a foreign land and exiting the world of money for a gift-economy existence. Good luck, guys!

Someone Fat Happened – “When a man is tired of [Maggie’s blog], he is tired of life,” Samuel Johnson

Dorset Explorer – who knew stories from retirement could be so entertaining?

The Waiting – what?! You’re not already following this blog? Come on, get involved. This blog is like a small rabibit in my heart (it will make sense when you get there).

Dan Bohmer – once a soldier in Afghanistan, now a dad at home with a little one on the way soon!

(I forgot about the 200 follower rule here and just picked people I like most. Sorry, Liebster gods.)

My 11 questions for my nominees:

1. Where should I go next on holiday?

2. How do you feel about Michael Buble?

3. Do you think that’s really his name or did he just say the word bubble in a French accent and liked it?

4. What is your favourite fairground ride?

5. If we were on the bumper cars, would you bump me? (Bear in mind that I do not enjoy being bumped.)

6. Bungee jumping or skydiving?

7. Tell me an interesting fact about beetles.

8. I’ve got a friend expecting a baby girl in July. Any name suggestions I can pass on?

9. Do you know anything Abel and Cole? Are they unethical?

10. Do you have a farm I can come and work on?

11. Some friends are getting married in a little while. What should I get them?

Figure this one out!

I had a slightly mental dream again, everyone. Get your dream analysis heads on and figure this one out.

So I was doing a dissertation in the dream. It was about migration and what encourages it, or something like that. I had printed the subject of the dissertation in big purple letters then cellotaped it into a lined pad that I was taking notes on.

Somehow, by who-knows-what genius on my part, I had organised an interview with Prince William and Prince Harry for my research. I met them in a little pub somewhere with one of my friends, I don’t know who. This friend had brought along one of her friends who just wouldn’t shut up, basically. She was rabbiting on about the environment and the state of the country and what were the princes going to do about it and didn’t they have a responsibility and blah blah blah.

At first I let her go on and on because I was hoping she’d give me a go. Eventually I just stopped her and got all stroppy. I was like, “Ok, could you give it a rest? I don’t know if you realise but I arranged this meeting. I’ve got a dissertation due and I need to interview them as part of my research. I mean, these guys don’t have very much time so could you let me get on with my stuff now, please?!”

Suitably admonished, she stopped talking but laughed at me a bit. The princes looked a bit surprised at my outburst but told me to start with my questions.

So I flipped to the page in my notepad where I had cellotaped the title of the dissertation and I couldn’t find it! It was my turn to talk and I couldn’t find, nor remember, the dissertation title! I knew it was something about migration.

I kept trying to ask them stuff from memory, I was going, “O, it’s about migration and how we encourage it in this country.”

They were going, “Immigration? O yeh, and the benefit system?” The loud mouth sitting next to me kept saying things about immigration and immigrants.

I was getting all annoyed but trying to be polite about it, given that I was chatting to the princes. I was going, “No. Not immigration. Migration. It’s not about immigrants as such, it’s slightly different.”

The princes were waiting for me to tell them what it was about but I was flipping through and through my notepad and couldn’t find the dissertation title.

Then they had to go and Prince William took out a notepad and jotted down his expenses, paying for everyone’s drinks, then they left.

And then, on the floor, in a pile of papers, I found the dissertation title and I realised it wasn’t specific enough. It didn’t really have a clear focus. I started to worry about the deadline being in April as it’s March now and there’s not much time and I didn’t have anything written yet.

I text my friend Sophie (who was in the last crazy dream) to ask the due date then I heard someone calling my name and it was another friend Bianca, by some chairs. She waved me over and everyone I went to uni with was there, plus one girl I went to school with. Everyone looked a bit upset and sniffly as it was our last day at university but I just kept thinking about how my dissertation didn’t have a focus and what on earth could I write about.

By the chairs but a little way off was a policeman looking stressed. I started imagining his thought process and decided to write my dissertation like a diary of the policeman’s thoughts. Then I realised that’s more a story than a factual investigation. I played with a few more ideas but couldn’t settle on any.

Then my alarm went off. For the first few seconds, I thought about what I could write for my dissertation. Then I remembered I finished studying last year, there was no dissertation. Phew!

Wierd.

Any ideas, people?

AND to China and Namibia

Ok, everyone, it’s time for Rambler5319 to take over again as it is Wednesday. Get your thinking caps on as last week’s challenge is answered….

First off remember how we finished last week:

And finally on a lighter note – can anyone tell me how it is possible to use the word “and” five times consecutively in a sentence? That means you have to write a sentence that will have “and and and and and” in it with no words in between. Answer next week folks – you didn’t think I was going to give it straight away. Have a think and see what you come up with.

And the answer is:

In UK we have a lot of pubs with names like the “Coach & Horses”, “Dog & Partridge” and so on. Sometimes there are companies called, say, “Smith & Jones”. The answer to the puzzle goes something like this. The owner of the pub called the Coach and Horses was having a new sign made to hang outside. When speaking to the sign writer who was going to do the job he said to him, “the old sign was badly done so when you make the new one I want you to make sure you put a proper space between coach and “and” and “and” and horses. I’ve put quote marks round the “and” just so you can see that when it appears like that it is being treated as a noun (i.e. a word on the sign) and when it is without it is being used as a normal conjunction just joining parts of the sentence together. In ordinary usage the quote marks wouldn’t be there and you would have the 5 consecutive ands in the sentence and it still makes sense. It’s all in the way you say it, where you make a slight pause. You read it as “between coach and and (pause) and and and horses.”

Now onto this week’s subject: China. No not the country of China, the material for making cups, saucers and things like a china tea service or dining set. It can also be used to make mugs. I was given a real china mug recently. Now I have plenty of ordinary mugs: they have a fairly thick lip compared to a cup. Cups can of course be just ordinary thickness or they can be china cups in which case much thinner and more delicate to use. They also often seemed to have handles I couldn’t get my finger into to hold even when I was younger. My gran would only ever have a cup of tea in a china cup. Also my Mum used to leave a china cup at my house, along with a tea cosy, so that when she came over I would make tea (of course brewed in a teapot with the cosy on) and hers would be poured into her own china cup. She didn’t like to use a mug or an ordinary cup. They both said the tea tasted different depending on whether you drank out of a china or non-china cup. Of course I thought it was all just psychological and there was no difference at all. That’s how it continued for many, many years until recently – until I made a mug of tea in my new china mug. Because the lip is thinner and the material it’s made of being different I think I too can actually sense a slightly different taste or at least a different experience. Are there any china cup/mug folks out there?

I’m not a coffee drinker but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk of wanting to drink coffee out of a china cup/mug. Btw, a couple of days ago, I had a pot of tea at a local National Trust Museum place where they made it using those old fashioned things they call tea leaves. I ordered the same type of tea I drink at home and I tell you what – there’s definitely a better flavour from the leaves when compared with tea from a tea bag. Anyone out there a “leaves” person?

Here’s a pic of my new (china) mug.
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(You will notice my standing in the family has now been recognised – I was overcome with emotion as I realised I have now been recognised as a GENIUS!)

Here’s a pic of my normal mug

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Those of you who know of the Pink Floyd album Dark Side Of The Moon will recognise the mug decoration. (Worldwide sales of the album up to 2005 are estimated to be around 50 million. In 1998 the Recording Industry Association of America certified it as 15x Platinum meaning 15 million sales in the US.)

Because of their heights and different thickness of the sides the mugs are of different capacities: China mug smaller in height but larger in diameter.

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I was curious to see what their different volumes would be so I got the ruler out as they’re quite similar but you can see obvious differences:

Ordinary mug (inside measurements) – 8.8cm high/deep, 7.5cm diameter

China mug (inside measurements) 8.2cm high/deep, 9.0cm diameter.

Now do you remember back to your school maths (or math in US) for the formula for the volume: πr2h.

Substituting my figures gives –

ordinary – π x 3.75 x 3.75 x 8.8 = 389cc

china – π x 4.5 x 4.5 x 8.2 = 522cc

where π=3.14

Now I know you wouldn’t fill to the brim but it does mean I have to fill the china one to a lower height or I could be drinking nearly a third more with every mugful!

So what’s special about bone china? Basically it’s to do with how it’s made. It has a very strong construction which is why it can be made thinner than other porcelain. It is called “bone” china because quite simply bones from animals go into the making of it. (This is why some ethical/green folks won’t buy porcelain made like this.) The first attempts at making it were in the late 1740s but it wasn’t until the 1790s that Stoke-on-Trent based Josiah Spode developed what turned out to be the best mix of the various elements required to make it: 6 parts bone ash, 4 parts china stone, 3.5 parts china clay. (Some of you may have heard of Spode china.) That mixture has remained the standard ever since.

Sadly in 2009 the company went into Administration (bankrupt) and was bought by the Portmeirion Group (which owns Portmeirion Village). Head of this group is Susan Clough-Williams who is the daughter of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis who was the architect of the Italian style village called Portmeirion in North Wales. Some of you may remember that the 1967-8 TV series called The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan (as Number 6) was filmed on location at Portmeirion.

(A 2009 updated version, starring Sir Ian McKellen & Jim Caviezel, which aired on the American cable channel AMC, was filmed in Swakopmund in Namibia. It’s about an agent who wakes up in a strange place and doesn’t know how he got there or why he is there.

If you didn’t catch it here’s part (10 mins) of the first episode to give you a taster.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LXsb4COaEM

Perhaps, I wonder, has LLM been there or know anything of the place? (He gets to the Village at about 4m 10s so you can see the residence buildings then a bit later the town itself.)

And there you have it: this week a journey from AND to china to the Dark Side of the Moon to Portmeirion to Namibia.

Showering and shopping

Yesterday, I was having a working-from-home day. There’s a lot to be said for staying at home in your jarmies to work. But I also had my instructions from Simon Gear to follow. He had asked two things from me in his book, Going Greener.

Eat fresh fruit in season to avoid the air miles, flying things across the globe so I can eat it all year round.

Shower rather than bath to save on water.

I adapted the first one slightly, given that I was looking for vegetables, not fruit. But the message was the same. Buy as locally as possible to avoid the air miles, one of the most environmentally-damaging things I probably take part in, on a day to day basis.

I decided that, actually, I would shop entirely British for eveything I needed for my planned cottage pie. So I approached the vegetable section. I needed tomatoes, carrots, potatoes and herbs.

Well, I almost gave up on the tomatoes and the herbs! All the tomatoes were from Portugal and Spain. After searching all through the different varieties, I found one variety of vine tomatoes that was grown in Britain. Phew! The cottage pie could make a start.

The herbs were from everywhere but Britain. Jordan, Egypt, Spain, Morocco, Mexico… Nothing. As I wandered off, I saw pots of herbs with little British flags printed on their labels! Hurrah! My cottage pie could have flavour! I got myself some thyme and some chives and suddenly, the world of reducing my air miles and shopping British smelled fabulous!

Next was potatoes and these weren’t hard to find. The carrots were also British, not too much trouble there.

I didn’t need mushrooms but in my excitement that so many of them were British, I got some anyway.

I learned, at this point, that lots of vegetables are from Israel. The other British ones I saw were chicory and lettuce, neither of which I needed but will keep in mind.

The beef mince was easy enough because the nice stuff in Waitrose happens to be British beef so no compromises needed there.

Getting cereal bars was fine because I know Jordans is a British company but a surprising amount were from America.

I wanted to pick up some tupperware to keep left over cottage pie in (another instruction from Simon Gear is to freeze down individual portions for emergencies then you never end up eating rubbish takeaway or bowls of icecream for dinner) but the tupperware was made in Vietnam so that was out.

I must say, it was a bit of a faff checking the small print on everything I bought but I felt sooo much better leaving the shop and knowing I’d made the effort to reduce my personal environmental impact. I also didn’t wrap my vegetables in plastic and I brought my own bags to pack my shopping in.

And now for the second challenge. This one, I knew, would be more of a mental hurdle than anything else, due to the simple fact that when it is cold and wintery, I like to have a hot bath and listen to an audiobook and pretend I am a lady of leisure.

As Simon rightly points out in his book however, when taking a bath, you use more than twice the water of a shower and, disgustingly, all the dirt that was on your feet ends up in your hair, and vice versa. Now I know this, of course I know it. But I like to pretend I don’t, due to the lady of leisure thing already mentioned.

Yesterday, despite the current cold snap and flurries of snow, I resolved to stop being a water-hog (one who hogs water, not a pig who lives in a river) and get a shower instead.

I put the plug in, to test the theory about how much less water it uses, turned it on hot and danced around a bit to some music to stay warm. After a few minutes, I could stop dancing and just enjoy it because it was quite nice actually. The cold from outside was like a test of strength. If I was tough enough to handle the cold, I could do anything!

At the end of my shower, which took 5 minutes instead of the requisite 30 for my lounging around bath sessions, the water was only just approaching my ankles. It was barely a tenth of what I use for a bath. I felt great, tinged with guilt for all the other times when I had bathed instead of showering.

And that was that! Two more boxes ticked on my quest to become more useful!

Careers advice

When I was in my late teens and still at secondary school, there was a lot of talk about forward planning for a possible career. We had talks from people who gave us advice about this or that, there was a careers advisor on hand most days near the sixth form common room and we had various computer programme things that asked you questions and suggested possible careers that might match your likes or dislikes.

I didn’t know for definite what I wanted to do. I had played with different careers in my mind – popstardom beckoned at one point, the literary life at another, not to mention my brush with TV presenting fame.

I hadn’t settled on one for definite because my main thoughts, in my last year at school, were on the gap year I had planned. So I just kind of let these career talks go in one ear and out the other. I had my place at university sorted, I was off to study theatre and English literature when I got back from Africa, although I didn’t really know what I could do with it as a career. I just liked them!

One day though, I must have been wondering what career the computer might suggest if I took the questionnaire. I secretly love stuff like that as it often comes up with something hilariously off-kilter. In a free moment between classes, I decided to take the careers questionnaire.

It took a long time. Long, long, long. And it went on and on and on about things that were so similar to one another that I thought that surely I must have answered it already.

“You enjoy working in a group.”
Agree

“You enjoy working with other people.”
Agree strongly

“You get on well with other people.”
Agree

“You like to lead a group.”
Neither agree or disagree

“You like to be in charge.”
Agree slightly

“You are good at taking control.”
Agree slightly

“You like to fix things.”
Disagree slightly

“You like to take things apart and figure them out.”
Disagree

“You work best alone.”
Neither agree or disagree.

And so it went on. Click, click, click went the mouse, on varying degrees of agreeing or disagreeing with certain statements. Until finally, five billion questions later, I got a little egg timer on the screen while it came up with my results.

I waited in anticipation, thinking about all the things it might suggest for the career I was best matched to. Based on the questions I had been asked, I thought it might come up with things like ‘Team leader on expedition of huge world importance similar to that of Shackleton,” or “Queen’s best friend,” (is that a job title?) or “World famous travelling sensation.”

Think, think, think, went the egg timer and then, finally, up popped my results!

I’ve long since forgotten what my number 1 most suitable career came up as because right there, sitting in the number 2 spot, was the word ‘Embalmer.’

You’re thinking, no, surely not? Is that what I think it is? Well yes, it is what you think it is. The person who embalms dead bodies and gets them ready for burial.

At number 2! That high up! Did I fall asleep during part of the questionnaire and accidentally click ‘agree’ on the statement “You like working with the recently departed”?!

Laura Maisey, Future Embalmer.