Bizarre… I have this kind of weird back-brain obsession with Berwick upon Tweed – ever since seeing it nestled there when I was on the train to Edinburgh, then subsequently having a weird dream about a freaky 70s weekend break. But I digress. I just got an email, I presume it was spam although I don’t know why anyone would spam me with this… anyway, I don’t think I know a Rachael and Alex. But this is the email: http://www.pleasantland.org/postcard3/
Monthly Archive for July, 2003
Update on the car stereo situation:
The bad news – I arrived at the shop just as they’d installed the last CDA-9812.
The good news – they still had a CDA-9813R
The bad news – it was £50 more expensive
The good news – the shopkeeper said he’d give it me for the same price as the 9812.
The even better news – _and_ still honour the £10 discount he promised me the day before.
The bad news – it’s not much different from the 9812, just a bit more control over the EQ (but you need a post-doctorate to use the EQ
functions) and some stuff where you can save preferences for each disc that you play.
The worse news – it doesn’t come in the same funky colours as the 9812 (black with red buttons or silver with blue buttons). It comes in black with green buttons.
The good news – at the flick of a switch (well, several minutes fiddling with buttons actually) the green buttons turn orange.
The bad news – I think I preferred green.
The good news – it fucking rocks!
The bad news – I think I need to buy some new speakers to really get the most out of it.
(I could go on…)
In other car news… Phil Smith did the business, my Saab is looking almost as good as the day I bought it (except for the growing rust-patches around areas where the paint’s chipping) and it’s working better… both the windows now open! He even managed to find out what was causing the bunny-hopping stalling nightmares – the exhaust pipe from the engine was loose, and letting in air.
Yesterday was a day that should never have happened. It all started off so well – getting ready to go on holiday, got the car washed, bought a bike rack, took the car to the garage (OK, they couldn’t do it that do, but nothing seemed to be problematic) – I was very definitely getting things done.
I think it started to go wrong-ish when Gill went to the bike shop to collect her new bike – total misunderstanding between her and the bike shop owner – when she’d said last week “I’ll have that one, and I want that baby seat on it” he’d taken it to mean… well, I don’t know what he’d taken it to mean, but he hadn’t got the bike ready, or the baby seat. So Gill was thoroughly pissed off, and would have to wait another day for her bike.
Then we drove across town to get somebody to finally fix in the car stereo I bought off EBay about a year ago now. On the way, the car reverted to its favourite summer behaviour of stalling while I’m in the middle of driving it – lots of fun and stress ensued, as we stopped dead in the middle of a roundabout, nearly causing a pile-up, then bunny-hopped off down Abbeydale road (luckily this time it didn’t stall as I was in the middle of parking – last time it did that I ended up wresting with the powerless-steering, trying desperately to avoid a wall).
So we got to the car hifi place, and they said to come back in an hour, and we went off, and we did (come back in an hour). And they said they hadn’t fitted it because the front panel was broken and wouldn’t stay in place. After some conversation I persuaded them to fit it anyway, I’d stick the panel on with tape or blu-tak or something. OK, said the guy behind the counter, but it’s your risk if it doesn’t work. half-an-hour later… it didn’t work. The whole bloody thing didn’t work, the stereo was a dud – either it never worked from when I bought it (which I kinda suspect, as I did try wiring up the power so that I could eject my CDs from the changer, but nothing seemed to happen), or in the ensuing 12 months it had deteriorated or been bashed about or something. Anyway, the guy took pity on me and only charged me a tenner (instead of £21) which he said he would refund if I got anything else done there. So… well, of course I want something else done. I want to buy a ridiculously expensive stereo which I have the money for and at the same time can’t really afford, in fact one of these fits the bill extremely well. Oh, the internal struggles and mental anguish.
Meanwhile, the car’s in the garage (no, not that garage, the expensive one – this time I took it to Phil Smith, the local Saab breakers yard/repair shop which has the benefits of being cheap, dirty and in Sheffield). I still won’t be very cheap – after all I am getting new motors for passenger window plus sunroof, heater repaired, replacement arial fitted, trim fixed back on, new mirror fitted, a fiddle around with the engine to try and stop it stalling at inopportune moments, and I think something else which I’ve forgotten. But they quoted about £180+VAT, which at least shouldn’t kill me, or at least not any faster than buying car audio equipment is now killing me.
Went to London last week – on the train back, I was tempted to blog. But I was too engrossed in my book, and now I haven’t the time and inclination to write much, except that I met up with Jan and his friend Katarina, who was going to test a friend’s theory that nerd sex is the best sex there is – she approached some non-descript middle age grey man at a bus stop with the sole intention of seducing him to see what the sex was like. Weird, a little scary but at the same time kinda exciting. Anyway, together we went to see Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which was a great feel-good documentary about the unsung heroes of Motown, the musicans. Then I met up with Zaid for some interesting conversation and brain stimulating stuff.
On the train back, I was feeling kinda emotional and intellectual and slightly melancholy and all those things, and was getting inspired by the scenery. Note to self: when getting the 20.25 train from St Pancras at this time of year, take a look West as the train approaches Bedford – incredible sunset, a dark indigo sky with a thumb-smudge patch of deep magenta-red just over one small hillock, and peering through the middle of it the top millimetre or two of a vast seething sun the like of which I’d seen before in India and Egypt but rarely in this country.
But, like I said, what kept me from blogging was my book, Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami. A very easy read, but beautiful, deep and… different, in a way that perhaps only a book translated from Japanese to English can be (I often wonder about the effect of language upon translation – all of the German books I’ve read are interminably hard to plough through – The Tin Drum was worthwhile, but I’ve rarely got beyond page two of any other Gunther Grass I’ve tried. Hesse is great, but best when, as in Siddartha, brief. Swiss and Austrian books don’t seem much better. But Czech books somehow manage to be equally deep but much lighter fare. Hmmm. I digress).
The book revolves around three characters: our narrator, K, is a twenty-something schoolteacher, who in typical narratorly fashion doesn’t give away much about himself (and indeed professes to be unable to write about himself objectively). The hero (I guess) is Sumire, a deeply impractical woman who was at college with with K, who shares his obsession for literature and is determined to be a writer. Miu is another woman in her late thirties, who runs a wine import company, seems incredibly sophisticated, but has hidden and obviously sad mysteries to her life. K loves Sumire, mentally and physically. Sumire loves Miu, mentally and physically. Miu is unable to have physical relations, but has a lot of affection for Sumire. Sumire and Miu meet at a wedding, and when their talk turns to literature, Sumire’s talks of her current obsession with the work of Jack Kerouac and Miu says “wasn’t he one of those Sputniks?” – hence the book’s title. She later discovers that Sputnik is Russian for Travelling Companion, after adopting Sumire as her travelling companion through Europe, the spark behind this beautiful paragraph on page 129 of this 229-page book:
“And it came to me then. That we were wonderful travelling companions, but in the end no more than lonely lumps of metal on their own separate orbits. From far off they look like beautiful shooting stars, but in reality they’re nothing more than prisons, where each of us is locked up alone, going nowhere. When the orbits of these two satellites of ours happen to cross paths, we could be together. Maybe even open our hearts to each other. But that was only for the briefest moment. In the next instant we’d be in absolute solitude. Until we burned up and became nothing.”
And then, on page 149, something else which I instantly associated with my vague desires to be a writer and with this blog:
Which explains my stance as a writer. I think – in a very ordinary way – and reach a point where, in a realm I cannot even give a name to, I conceive a dream, a sightless foetus called understanding, floating in the universal, overwhelming amniotic fluid of incomprehension. Which must be why my novels are absurdly long and, up till now, at least, never reach a proper conclusion. The technical, and moral, skills needed to maintain a supply line on that scale are beyond me.
What I’ve written here is a message to myself. I toss it into the air like a boomerang. It slices through the dark, lays the little soul of some kangaroo out cold, and finally comes back to me.
But the boomerang that returns is not the same one that I threw.
Hmmm… I often mean to horde quotes from novels, I admire the way that Niina seems to have a quote for just about every book she’s read (hey, she even has some, lots, for Sputnik Sweetheart!), but somehow when I’m reading that’s not really what’s on my mind. Well, this time the quotes (combined, obviously, with my mental state at the time) were so compelling I couldn’t ignore them.
Jeez, I just posted that Merriam Webster entry while reading through my email, and then I open up the next day’s (today’s) word – even more fascinating, useful and, err, relevant to my current situation:
The Word of the Day for Jul 27 is:
luftmensch LOOFT-mensh (“OO” as in “foot”) noun: an impractical contemplative person having no definite business or income
“The son …,” wrote American author Irving Howe, “is leaving to be a luftmensch ” a starving poet, a painter without pictures, a radical leader without followers.”
Did you know?
Are you someone who always seems to have your head in the clouds? Do you have trouble getting down to the lowly business of earning a living? If so, you may deserve to be labeled a “luftmensch.” That airy appellation is an adaptation of the Yiddish “luftmentsh,” which breaks down into “luft” (a Germanic root that can be tied linguistically to the English words “loft” and “lofty”), meaning “air,” plus “mentsh,” meaning “human being.” “Luftmensch” was first introduced to English prose in 1907, when Israel Zangwill wrote “The word ‘Luftmensch’ flew into Barstein’s mind. Nehemiah was not an earth-man …. He was an air-man, floating on facile wings.”
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
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Â© 2003 by Merriam-Webster,
I’ve been subscribed to Merriam Webster’s word-of-the-day email for a while now, usually it’s words I already know, though kinda interesting to read of their origins and stuff. Recently though, there’s been a run of fairly interesting and novel ones. I especially liked this word, from Saturday:
The Word of the Day for Jul 26 is:
usufruct YOO-zuh-frukt noun
*1 : the legal right of using and enjoying the fruits or profits of something belonging to another
2 : the right to use or enjoy something
When they sold the land, the Arnolds retained the usufruct to pick the apples in the orchards they had planted.
Did you know?
Thomas Jefferson said that “The earth belongs in usufruct to the living.” He apparently understood that when you hold something in usufruct, you gain something of significant value, but only temporarily. The gains granted by “usufruct” can be clearly seen in the Latin phrase from which the word developed, “usus et fructus,” which means “use and enjoyment.” Latin speakers condensed that phrase to “ususfructus,” the term English speakers used as the model for our modern word. “Usufruct” has been used as a noun for rights that seem the legal equivalent of having your cake and eating it too since at least the 1630s. Any right granted by usufruct ends at a specific point, usually the death of the individual who holds it.
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
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© 2003 by Merriam-Webster,
Been meaning to write about last Saturday’s dinner… cooked some Kedgeree (amazing stuff… as ever, it’s the butter that makes all the difference) and for dessert, an awesome vegan plum tart. The tart pastry was a weird mix of flour, ground almonds, oil and maple syrup. Maple syrup is a big staple of the vegan cookbook I’ve been using lately, bloody expensive one but… mmm… I’ve develped a semi-permanent taste of maple syrup in my mouth. It’s lovely. And to think, when Bant brought me back a jar of maple syrup from Vermont I left the bloody thing on the shelf until it was past the sell-by date. I get through about a bottle a week now.
Just gone through another of those cycles… been getting increasingly down, finding it hard (impossible) to get started on any work, sleep patterns all weird. So today I broke it with the traditional day’s sleep, and now I’m still in bed 24 hours later and buzzing with ideas and excitement, but wary that none of them ever get anywhere. I was supposed to be in London today, feel like going there now, but am not sure what I’d do once I got there – I want to do new things, meet new people, hang out and just discover excitement lurking around every corner. But I know that if I did go, I’d just find somewhere to kip and follow the old routines, so I’m staying in Sheffield for the night. Beyond that, I’m really keen to travel alone, expose myself to danger and find new experiences that way. I was thinking how great it would be to visit Southern Iraq to visit the Marsh Arabs and see how the marshes are gradually returning, but I think I should leave that a couple of years yet. In the meantime, I’m really tempted by the whole arab world – was thinking it would be nice to go back to Egypt, but that seems a bit touristy for the kind of trip I’d like to take. Beirut is somewhere I’ve heard amazing things about. Hmmm. Tempting, yes. And closer to home, I feel like taking up some new hobbies, doing some acting again, following a new career (I’ve been quite tempted to study law recently, I’ve a strange feeling I’d be rather good at court-room conflicts, but of course I’ll never really bother to do all that study and working my way up, so scrap that idea), just going out into the wildest weirdest wonderful places and meeting lots and lots and lots of new people and doing crazy things.
But I know, of course, that I won’t.
I think that part of this has to do with working from home and rarely ever going out to meet people except for my trips to London every 2 or 3 weeks. I’m socially isolated. And I kind of like it that way, at least it makes for an easy life day to day, but I think that I don’t need an easy life.
So… challenge to my readers… please help me to find some motivation and inspiration somewhere, give me your suggestions and encouragements for new things I could be doing.
I’ve been off cooking for a while, but on Saturday Gill’s friends Mike and Anita came over, and it gave me all the inspiration I needed to get back on track…
It all started the day before, I decided to make some vegan ice-cream from the wonderful recipes in the Millennium Café Cookbook, so planned ahead for a time when I had a good six hours free to keep taking it out of the freezer and giving it a stir. I opted for the coffee sorbet – coconut milk, a couple of shots of espresso, some ground coffee and sugar (plus I added a drop or two of brandy for good measure). I whisked it and I put it in the freezer… and I stirred… and I stirred… and I stirred.
The problem came at around 2am – OK, I no longer really needed to stir, as the ice-cream had pretty much set, but I was enjoying it and, more to the point, I was having one of my 2am food inspiration moments. I kept dreaming up dishes to make, and things to do to prepare for the next day. So I spent until around 4 or 5am soaking cashew nuts, making curry sauce, churning ice cream, spearing mint sprigs into rasberries and freezing them, etc etc etc.
So one night plus the following day slaving non-stop in the kitchen, and the meal was every bit as good as I’d envisaged it. It was also 100% vegan, all three courses, which kinda stunned me particularly given the richness of the food. Anyway, here’s what we had:
The starter, which was entirely my own invention, was buckwheat & wild rice blinis (made with egg replacement powder) topped with a layer of a kind of garlic cream (made by liquidising soaked cashew nuts with garlic which had been very very very gently cooked and then soaked in olive oil with parsley all night. There were probably a few other ingredients which I’ve forgotten). On top of that was a blob of white bean hummus (a left over from a previous meal, white beans pulverized with lemon juice and zest, garlic and sage) and on top of that were cherry tomatoes caramelized in strawberry balsamic vinegar (another leftover), slowly cooked red onions with thyme, and raw carrot julienned and left to sweat in some salt.
The main course, which entirely the invention of the Millennium Café (well, meddled with slightly) had a puddle of green curry sauce covering each plate, and floated on top a precariously tall stack of (1) barley and rice salad (barley, brown rice and wild rice mixed with diced cucumber and tomato, marinaded in lots of fresh mint and lime juice) (2) a thick slice of aubergine fried in a mustardy batter (3) a pile of stir-fried vegetables (green beans, red cabbage, carrot, shallots, beansprouts) and (pre-soaked) cashew nuts briefly cooked in the green curry sauce (4) another battered aubergine slice and finally (5) a sprinkling of raw bean sprouts. Amazingly, every stack except mine stood up all the way to the dinner table.
Dessert was a joint effort between me and the Millennium Café – well, mostly the latter actually. The aforementioned coffee ice cream served up with individual-sized chocolate bombs (little chocolate cakes with oozy melting chocolate in the middle) and decorated with rasberries, redcurrants and mint (I meant to throw in a bit of maple syrup too, and perhaps some brandy, but forgot. Probably a good thing).
Desperately seeking guests now, so I can try something else new perhaps I should auction a dinner party on Ebay.