Monthly Archives: November 2016

Ice cream for breakfast

Ice cream must contain all the calcium and vitamins of milk, and with the addition of honey and walnuts it has to be positively healthy. It It also tastes good.

I can’t think why you don’t see it recommended as breakfast more often.

It’s difficult to write a follow-up to that; I’m just sitting here thinking of a brave new world where we have ice cream for breakfast.

At the risk of treating this like Twitter, I think I’ll leave it there, as I really can’t think of anything more to say.

 

Thoughts about renewable energy

I watched The Apprentice last night.

At one time I used to watch in the hope that I might learn something about business. I’ve not learned anything I can use, though I do now know that every year proves there is a seemingly endless supply of idiots.

If I can find a way of converting idiots into electricity I may have found the next big thing in renewable energy.

Talking of which, we drove past another solar farm today.  It seems like every time we drive north from Nottingham we find another new field of black panels. Land use has changed considerably over the last ten years in North Nottinghamshire – first we had willow, then we had miscanthus. Currently we seem to have a small forest of wind turbines springing up and the latest fashion seems to be to cover acres in photovoltaic cells.

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Solar farm in north Nottinghamshire

When I see that I feel more comfortable about using electricity, but then start to worry that we won’t need it, because if we cover the land to generate electricity there will be no food to cook.

I’m a bit worried about food, after listening to a radio programme tonight. In order to halt global warming we need to scale back on meat production (mainly on account of the methane produced by cows) and would, they calculate, only have 19 grams of meat a day. That’s 133g a week, about the weight of two moderate burgers.

In the Second World War the bacon and ham ration ranged between 113 and 227 grams. However, there was also a meat ration, controlled by price – between 1 shilling and 1 shilling and two pence (5 – 6 pence in modern terms). I’m struggling to find a comparison of prices – one I found suggests that could be about £1.50. It’s not a lot, but compared to 19 grams a day it’s a positive feast.

To add to the complexity of looking into the future it also seems that grass fed beef (as generally reared in the UK) is worse for the environment than intensively raised beef fed on maize and soya (as raised in USA). It’s not about the method or the food, it’s about the fact that grass fed beef takes longer to grow to full weight, and thus spends more time emitting methane.

Now, methane is the main component of natural gas, so is it just me, or are other people thinking that some sort of gas-collecting nappy on a cow might be an alternative to fracking? Ah, just me…

That’s not the end to it of course, there’s also milk to consider. If they were telling the truth (and I fear they are) we will only have enough milk for four cups of tea a day.

Four cups of tea a day?

I could see myself as a vegetarian, but I don’t see myself cutting down to four cups a day.

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Under threat – my cup of tea

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bollywood and black skies

Today we had Bollywood dancing, chickens and black storm clouds, just to name a few things. And pom-poms. They are becoming the bane of my life. Julia says we need 20 per wreath and as everyone will want to make a wreath that’s 140 pom-poms. While Julia and some of the team were out measuring climate data (our penultimate session) I was left in charge of the pom-pom squad. I made six. The other three broke the plastic rings several times, failed to achieve pom-pomness in  a number of different ways and, finally, managed to break the only one they actually made.

Yes, they broke a pom-pom. Not the plastic ring, an actual woolly pom-pom.

That sound you can hear is my spirit breaking.

In the afternoon, with a squad of three, Julia managed four pom-poms.

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Proper free range chickens

The chickens are looking good – we finally have a distinct farmyard flock – feathered in a variety of blacks (from their Minorca fathers) and with a selection of head feathering from their Polish ancestors. They are looking quite distinctive, though they could probably do with a bit of new blood in the coming year as they are all the offspring of one hen and (possibly) two cockerels.

Weather has been iffy, as you can see from the photos, though it hasn’t broken yet, there are still a few autumnal leaves about and our Albanian taxi driver brought us some lemons picked from his father’s orchard when he visited last week. They always look much nicer than shop lemons, which I suspect are selected for thick skin and travelling qualities.  The Albanian lemons always seem thinner skinned and better-flavoured.

Finally, dancing. The whole group is practising for the dance at the Christmas Party. They are full of determination and have been watching instructional videos to get more moves. You have to admire their perseverance and work ethic. Originally just two of them were going to dance, after doing some belly-dancing at a project they attend on Fridays, but it has now spread so we have five dancers.

What with dancing and our rendition of I’ve got a lovely bunch of Coconuts this is going to be a party to remember, even before we get to the song about the coat of many colours.

As you look at the dance photos hum the tune of Jai Ho.

Now try to get it out of your head.

I think my work here is done…

More on Oatcakes and Urban Decay

Stoke on Trent Part 2

By lunchtime it had been a moderate day. We had bought a few pots and photographed a bottle kiln, but the choice was poor and the cafes at two of the shops had closed down.

The success of the day trip was in the balance. Would we have to write it off as a wasted day, or could I, with the help of the trusty tourist map, pull something out of the bag?

Not far away was a group of potteries/shops that we hadn’t visited before, so now was obviously the time to change our habits. After all, we couldn’t make things worse and with satnav, what could possibly go wrong? (Note how I have swung from scepticism to over-confidence in just a few months).

The clue, I feel, is in my use of the word “over-confidence”.

Do you realise that there are still parts of the UK that aren’t accurately served by satnav. I do, because for several years navigating the new course of the A46 near the farm was as tricky as getting out of the Bermuda triangle.

If you ever enter  ST6 3PF into your satnav leave your diary free for a few days and take sandwiches. The route was populated by phantom roundabouts and one-way streets that had not been there when the satnav was programmed. I say that charitably, as the signs on the one way streets looked as if they had been there since before satnav was invented. Maybe it’s a hard life being a street sign in Stoke.

Finally, after photographing some bottle kilns, we found the William Edwards factory shop. This is a small shop on the edge of the factory. It specialises in high quality goods, and is a touch cramped for a fat man. We bought a few mugs for presents and spoke to the excellent lady who ran the shop, who told us that Middleton Pottery was just along the street, and that they had a tea room. See Pies and Prejudice for a fuller account of what happened there. Food was good, there are plenty of activities on site and I’d quite like to work there. However, the shop was even more cramped and pottery was unexciting.

We’ve been to the Gladstone Pottery Museum with the kids before. It was good, with exhibitions on toilets, a model sewer and drawers full of encaustic tiles. I’m not a great one for fine china (as if that’s a surprise to anyone who reads this blog) and if there are two things I love it’s historical toilets and encaustic tiles. I’m not sure if they are still there, and the website doesn’t seem to say, so check before visiting if that’s where your interests lie. The Middleton Pottery offers a factory tour and Victorian office but also has a few wildlife and sustainability tips. It also has a derelict factory at the end of the street.

Finally, thinking we could miss the traffic on the way home, we set off, found another deficiency in the satnav and found ourselves passing the Dudson shop. I nearly carried on, but Julia thought she’d like to look round a shop full of odds and ends of hotel ware. So, U-turn and waste time as traffic builds up…

I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s actually got loads of great (brightly coloured) stuff and it’s cheap. It also had plenty of room for fat people and a cheery woman on the till. I bought more there than we bought anywhere else (as you will see when I start photographing food seriously). No tea room, but they do have a museum on another site. They are also in sight of the Moorcroft shop (I managed to keep her out of that one!) and just round the corner from the Moorcroft museum.

The Moorcroft Museum used to be free, and I see from the website that it still is, which I find an admirable quality in a museum. We will be going back to Dudson, and will doubtless fit a Moorcroft visit in, despite the fact I needed oxygen and a bank loan last time we went to the shop.

All that and we still managed to sneak home before the traffic built up too badly.

 

The Moonstone, pom-poms and birthday cake

I finished reading The Moonstone yesterday, I’ve been eating birthday cake and I’m in the middle of a massive pom-pom production session, so at least the the title was easy today.

Julia and Vicki have birthdays on successive days (though the years of birth are not quite so close) so we always have a surfeit of birthday cake at this time of year. I like the word surfeit. King John was said, in some reports, to have died of a surfeit of peaches at Newark in 1216 (they have been commemorating the 800th anniversary of his death recently), though it is more likely he died of dysentery. Henry I died of a surfeit of lampreys.

Lampreys have always seemed an unlikely thing to surfeit on, but it seems they were popular in the middle ages, and still are in some parts of the world. King John fined the City of Gloucester the equivalent of £250,000 for failing to provide his traditional lamprey pie one Christmas. In more recent times Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation pie was a lamprey pie provided by the RAF, and her Diamond Jubilee was marked by the gift of a lamprey pie from the City of Gloucester. Sadly, from a historical point of view, the latter pie was made with lampreys from the Great lakes in North America, as we don’t have many lampreys left, and they are now a protected species.

However, back to The Moonstone. It’s an irritating title because the Moonstone of the title is a yellow diamond, and not actually a moonstone.  T. S. Eliot called it “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe.” While some of this praise might be open to argument, it’s certainly long. Similarly, it introduces many classic elements of the modern detective novel, including a country house setting, red herrings, a quirky policeman and a twist at the end. It’s just a shame that the twist in the end is such a long way from the crime.

You may be getting the idea by now that I think it’s a little longer than it needs to be. It is. So are many classic novels. Moby Dick, for instance, could do with being reduced in length and a spot of energetic abridgement would definitely improve Don Quixote. I may have touched on this before, but the book, in my hand, would open with the body of Don Quixote lying on the library floor (probably beaten to death with a big book of heraldry), as the crumpled Detective Sergeant Sancho Panza looks for clues. I don’t know what my ending would be, but I do know it would be a lot closer to the beginning than Cervantes managed – about 300,000 words closer to the beginning in fact.

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Varnished frames – almost ready

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Pitifully paltry pile of pom-poms…

Yes, despite all setting to work in the middle of the day, we managed just these 16, well 15¾ really, as one is still to be cut and tied. That’s enough for one wreath. Of course, the process isn’t quite as linear as wrap, tie, trim.

It’s more in the region of wrap, stop and help someone, wrap, stop and help someone else, wrap, stop and try to rescue one, sweep away a pile of woolly scraps as the attempt fails, wrap, tie, swear, find the scissors, hack, look for a decent pair of scissors, stop and help someone, trim, try not to look too disappointed, start again…

As Julia pointed out, as I moaned my way through the afternoon, the best days of my life are like a pantomime villain.

“How’s that?” I asked, in my role as perennial straight man.

“They’re behind you!”

Man with a pink Glue Gun

I’m getting in touch with my feminine side today. It’s not something I set out to do, but as I using a pink glue gun for craft activities, it’s sort of unavoidable. Added to that I am leaving a definite hint of fragrance as I move. That was definitely unavoidable.

The lack of diversity in rural gene pools isn’t something I’m qualified to discuss from a medical point of view, though with a family tree that rarely married anyone outside walking distance, I’m not one to point fingers.

However, there does seem to be a peculiarity in the farmer’s family in that they all seem to fear the natural smell of toilets. To be fair, having worked extensively with manure I’m probably desensitised to the smell. They, on the other hand, insist on booby trapping the toilets with sprays that fire a blast of corrosive scent whenever they detect movement. It wouldn’t be so bad if they positioned the things properly.

In recent days I’ve nearly been asphyxiated by one that faces directly into the sink, and fired a blast into my lungs as I washed my hands. This morning I was hit again, this time by one positioned to go off as soon as you open the toilet cubicle. I opened the door to check all was well for our visiting group when a blast of spray hit me.

We’ve had complaints from schools about kids getting a faceful of chemicals, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect. Like so many things, we move it and explain why, they move it back.

At the moment I am still coughing, and still reek of cheap scent, though at least my eyes aren’t running now. It’s at times like these that I wonder how we can use so many aerosols in a place called The Ecocentre. The answer, I fear is that ecological principles are outweighed by the chance to make my life miserable.

That’s why I smell like the toilet in a three star hotel.

Why, you may ask, the pink glue gun and the pursuit of craft activities?

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Pink Glue Gun and mask making

The answer to that is money. A group made a late booking, Julia is working today, and I have stepped into the breach. We will be making autumn masks again today and I have just been making the blanks.

You take a paper plate, make a cut from rim to centre and then overlap the cut edges and glue them in place. It make a cone shape, though you can’t really see that in the photo. Here are some pictures of finished masks, and a link.

 

The pink glue gun is because Julia has a pink one after I complained she kept leaving my black one blocked up. Once we had two, the inevitable happened, and we managed to pack the black one away and forget where we put it.

I could make excuses for that, but in this case it really is down to my lack of organisation.

 

Ciabatta

Today, it was ciabatta day for the bread group on the farm, and as I’ve missed a few sessions I thought I’d have a look in.

It’s a tricky dough to work with, and thus has a high potential for comedy. This is particularly true by the time it has had olives, rosemary or sun-dried tomatoes worked into it. The latter are particularly problematic because they can, in the hands of a novice, produce a loaf that looks like the result of a splenectomy.

Things have changed a lot since the early days,when the results were a bit hit and miss and often ended up on the bird table. These days we have a group of quietly determined bakers producing loaves which generally look like the pictures in books, so that we hardly ever have to use the words rustic or artisan. (If you aren’t familiar with the terms artisan denotes that the loaf looks hand made. Rustic means it looks like it’s been hand made by someone using a shovel.) Fortunately they still aren’t perfect, and I am grateful for that, as it makes things more interesting.

 

As you can see, ciabatta is open to a number of interpretations, including the rosemary shadow effect – I might try that next time I bake.

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Ciabatta with the shadow of rosemary

Counting down to Christmas

“A friend of mine used to say, ‘You cannot change the past, but every moment is an opportunity to change your future.”

― F.E. Higgins, The Eyeball Collector

 

We are having an indoor sort of day today. It’s grey and drizzly outside, with a moderate wind and temperature down around 4° C, so you can see why indoors seems good.

They say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, but on a day like this I’d dispute that. The right clothes will keep you warm and dry, but it won’t necessarily cheer you up, and it’s cheerfulness that’s lacking on a day like this.

Inside we have a plentiful supply of good humour. We have been planning for December, making party invitations for the Christmas Party, practising belly dancing (not me!), rehearsing songs and making picture frames (by covering plain frames in pieces torn from paper napkins).

One of the group, who I will allow to remain anonymous, wrote some song lyrics on flip chart paper whilst it was on the floor. You know how permanent marker goes right through cheap paper and stains what is underneath? Well, it’s not a great problem when it goes through to another sheet of paper behind the first one. But if you are resting on the floor you end up with a hieroglyphic design on the floor, and that can be a problem. Julia has managed to remove most of it, but we now have a patch of very clean floor…

This afternoon we will be making pom-poms ready for wreath making.

I used to work for a market-leading company you know. Suit, briefcase, company car, expenses. I even had a Filofax once…

…and this afternoon I will be making pom-poms.

Oatcakes and Urban Decay

Stoke on Trent Part 1

We’ve been meaning to go to Stoke on Trent for a while, as time is getting short for the 2016 visit.

We need more plates for our everyday service (the kids, on the few occasions they have washed up over the years have done so with heavy hands) and we often manage to find a few Christmas presents while we’re over there.

Additionally, I’ve been looking for some decent single plates for food photography on Pies and Prejudice and I haven’t had a Staffordshire oatcake for a while (about 20 years now I actually think about it). Now I have a food blog, today seemed like a good day to break the oatcake drought.

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Staffordshire oat cake

I also thought I might get some pictures of urban landscapes, as Stoke still has a great stock of old industrial sites.

For once, everything seemed to (almost) go according to plan.

Aynsley provided slim pickings, though we did replenish our everyday service. Portmeirion was also a bit flat, though we did get a few pictures of a bottle kiln.

That’s a bottle-shaped kiln, not one for making bottles, there are 47 still standing, and they are all listed buildings now, though they aren’t all actually bottle-shaped.

Our third call was also disappointing (so many places seem to be in decline or making their pots in China) so we looked at the map we’d picked up from Aynsley and typed a postcode into the satnav.

That was how we ended up at Middleport Pottery, and that’s a story for part 2.

Poppies and the end of the beginning

The poppy project is starting to take shape. Apart from that, it’s been a strange day – D minus 47, or minus 13 if you count days we will actually meet.

Fortunately the group is taking it well, with a few mutterings about farmers and plenty of discussion about what they are going to replace us with. It’s a little sad to be so easily replaced but that’s just how it is. In another way, I was thinking that it’s good that we have taken them to this point and they feel happy to embark on a new venture.  If this had happened a few years ago I’m sure we would have had more trouble about the change.

We’re not finished yet, as we’re still looking for somewhere to go, though we’re driven by optimism more than reality.

Dave, one of the founders, came to visit. He was working with Julia at the council when his contract came to an end and she decided she was fed up of constantly re-applying for her own job. The rest, as they say, is history. He’s been ill for a while, but is now on the way to recovery. That brightened the day, as the group always likes to see him. We’re going to get Men in Sheds to help repair his old electric wheelchair, which is currently refusing to go in the same direction as the joystick.

It seems like a small enough fault, but in the context of a man who likes to get out and about this represents the very narrow margin between sightseeing on a river bank and being featured in a high profile emergency rescue.

He’s challenged me to a wheelchair race when he gets it fixed, so watch this space.

Vicki brought the poppies in from the Barnstone Brownies, so the display is looking good. She’s really put a lot of effort into this, with making poppies and doing research – shame we won’t be able to build on it for next year. I’m thinking of burying the poppies after we’ve used them. It will be both an artistic statement, and an ancient military tactic: there is so much salt in them that the new tenants, with their promised landscaping, may find there is a permanent bald patch where little will grow.

We’ve also been doing a bit of packing, some Christmas planning, and rehearsing the Christmas entertainment. That might be better expressed as Christmas “entertainment” as a bit of Bollywood style belly dancing, a carol (yet to be decided) and a rendition of I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts is going to have an uncertain effect on the audience.

Finally, we have a picture of me wearing a hat from the lost property. According to Julia I look like the oldest of the Lost Boys. I’m not sure how to take that. If it’s a reference to Peter Pan it’s probably OK, but if it’s a reference to the film I’m not so keen.

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The Oldest Lost Boy