All posts by Monnow Man

Bridge

Found a nice picture of the thirteenth century Monnow Bridge here. It was taken in the summer and I can tell you that at the moment it looks distinctly grim in the bleak February sun. The site it’s on, incidentally, is that of a Geo, a sort of German counterpart to the American National Geographic magazine.

Ladybirds

I imagine that most of us don’t associate ladybirds with the middle of winter in these northern climes. However, perhaps someone can explain the following: One evening about a month ago I noticed a ladybird creeping up the wall next to the lamp on my bedside table. I thought it odd, as it was the middle of winter and besides, how did it get into the house when so few windows are opened?

Imagine my surprise when, earlier this week I saw a ladybird creeping around (the same one? I should have counted the spots – damn) in the same place. Is it a sign? If so what? Perhaps it is a sign that God/fate/providence/supreme being of your choice is fond of playing absurd jokes.

On the subject of cosmic jokes, I can’t help but squirm (in a mature and manly way – not a giggly girlish way) with anticipation at the release of the film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now that Stephen Fry is on board (as the voice of the Guide) it is getting even more interesting. Pencil in the release date of 30th June.

Vanity, family and sign language

Been looking for suitable episodes for inclusion in this blog, but on a “quality is better than quantity” principle”, I’m restraining myself from adding lots that is uninteresting or unamusing. Added to that, since starting work again, I haven’t had many opportunities when at home to muse, cogitate and generally allow myself to be creative. So no stories or rants for the moment.

An update on what the family is up to: K is pretty much a full time housewife now. Little A is keeping her busy. Little A herself has a cold but still manages to be charming. K is teaching her sign language to help her communication skills. She can now sign “more” by patting the palm of one hand against the clenched fist of her other hand, after doing which, she copies our praise by clapping , grinning and saying “yaay!”. I wonder if she will follow every new sign that she acquires with applause. Never mind – it’s very entertaining.

Big A has done the first of her AS level exams. All very strange to me. What happened to waiting until the June of the Upper Sixth?

I was at a lodge meeting last weekend. Passed off reasonably well – a second degree ceremony. Nice to have some work to do. A bit disappointed that I didn’t get “Heimat” on DVD for Christmas. Compensated by wearing a Bavarian shirt to work today.

Mum is completing the sale of her house in Chiswick next Friday and moving to a temporary rented place just around the corner. It’ll be nice to have all my immediate family in the same neighbourhood. It also means that my ties to London are now weaker. It will now be the four-times-a-year lodge meetings that will bring me back, although I don’t know if visiting central Staines qualifies as going to London, unless, of course I stay overnight with friends.

Got a new mobile phone, a Sony Ericsson K700i. Very nice – loads of memory (40mb), camera, radio etc. I can synch it with my contacts and diary on my PC, download music to it to listen to while stuck in dentists’ waiting rooms (and unwilling to read dog eared editions of old golfing magazines).

That’s your lot.

Work. Moi?

Well, I’m working.

I’ve secured a three month contract as a PC Support Anlayst at a Gloucester company. It’s second line support: fixing software, setting up new PC’s, etc. within a very structured helpdesk system. Not very intellectually challenging or varied but I’m not complaining.

My day now starts at about 6.40 am when I am woken either by my alarm or Amelie shouting “Woof!”, “Baa” or other favoured animal noise. A kiss for a still slumbering K., then a breakfast of Allbran with a handful of almonds then a drive through the damp darkness of three counties: Monmouthshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire for 45 minutes until I reach the “Park and Ride” in Gloucester. There, I park the car and get a free bus trip into the centre of the city. By the time I arrive at work, the sun has risen, but it’s rare that we see it at the moment, thanks to the blanket of cloud. I have yet to perfect lunch, but am likely to settle on a quick dash past the cathedral to M&S for a pack of sushi, thence to the only big bookshop for a browse and a return to eat my sushi at the desk.

The drive back is unremarkably similar, even to the extent that, like the outbound leg, the return is in darkness too.

Little A. had her hearing tested at the hospital in Abergavenny today and it was pronounced in fine working order. We had always thought as much, but it’s good to have the reassurance of a professional.

Reading The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg at the moment. Recommended if you want to know how the English language evolved. I’m surprisd at the extent to which the language was nearly snuffed out by the Scandinavian and Norman invasions. Had it been, we might be speaking a variant of Danish today. Did you know that the words “they”, “their” and “them” are 8th century Danish? Nor did I.

Relocation and linguistic vandalism

Today a moan:

As a frequent user (and sometime manager) of recruitment websites that allow you to configure customised daily emails containing jobs filtered according to your criteria, I have become something of a connoisseur of the technology. You can appreciate then, my exasperation at receiving emails every morning from a particular site which does not allow you to exclude certain words, or more specifically, locations from the criteria. This results in an email containing jobs in other parts of the country to which you can neither commute nor wish to relocate.

The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this is done deliberately to ensure maximum exposure to jobs in the hope that some candidates might be tempted to relocate.

Oh, and another thing. There should be a requirement for the people (agents) usually who write these job ads to have passed a course in written English with stringent demands in the areas of spelling, grammar, punctuation (especially apostrophes!) and clarity. If you read, as I do at the moment, several hundred job ads every day and appreciate the beauty of the English language, as, again, I do, you may understand my annoyance at the numerous daily acts of linguistic vandalism these ads often contain.

Apparently, bad English can lead to delinquency and violence, according to an editorial in the Nation newspaper in Barbados recently, though I may have missed the part where the scientific evidence for this claim is cited.

Furniture

The UK parent division of Courts, the furniture retailer has gone into administration. Shops have closed and there have been reports of violent incidents involving furious customers who have not received their goods.

It appears Courts will live on outside the UK.

Real meat, Spam and Jung

To continue yesterday’s food theme, I found The Real Meat Company after they got an airing on BBC2 last night. They offer meat which has been reared humanely and is properly hung and probably tastes a lot better. When I’m back in the earning way, I’m tempted to celebrate by ordering something nice from them.

Lycos Europe has launched a screensaver called “Make Love Not Spam” which sends traffic to the websites advertised in the junk email we all get. The idea is that the spammers’ bandwidth bills go up as the websites respond to the fake traffic. Yes, we all want to hit back at the spammers, but is it legal and does it only generate more bandwidth, slowing down the net for everyone?

If you are in a profound mood, Melvyn Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 series on the history of ideas was good this morning. It was about Jung, the famous and influential Swiss psychologist who had a famous spat with Freud. He rocked the psychoanalytical boat by suggesting that sex wasn’t behind absolutely everything and believed that the natural outcome of therapy was a spiritual worldview, contrasting with the Freudian perspective which saw a materialist/rationalist worldview as the ultimate outcome of successful psychotherapy. He also influenced some of the thinking behind the New Age movement and created a branch of psychotherapy, to the extent that if you meet a shrink at a party, your opening gambit can be “Are you a Jungian or a Freudian?” And did you know, he wrote a book on flying saucers? Oh yes.

Anyway, listen to the programme again here or download it in MP3 format and burn it to a CD for your in-car listening pleasure.

Wales meets Spain in a wok

Today, I thought I would share with you what I conjured up for dinner this evening. It will probably score points with the low carbs diet brigade as it is substantial and tasty but has no starchy ingredients like potato or pasta. The quantities of ingredients and cooking times are approximate – you’ll just have to adjust to suit your taste or what’s in season. This particular dish came about because I found some very cheap organic leeks and turkey on sale at the cheaper of the two Monmouth supermarkets:

Ingredients

2 Turkey Breasts – you could also use a similar quantity of chicken I suppose – cut into chunky strips
3 or 4 organic leeks – yes, yes, you can use non-organic, but go with the pretentious flow here – cut into half inch segments at a 45 degrees slant. (Leeks are the national vegetable of Wales.)
6 unusually large (I mean an inch across at the bulb) spring onions cut to 3 inches long and halved lengthways
4 or 5 tablespoons of flour
A liberal sprinkling of dried Herbes de Provence
6 er.. inches of chorizo sausage cut on the diagonal into slices
Dry (at least Amontillado) Sherry
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and a pepper mill to hand.

Method

1. Use the Herbes de Provence, salt and pepper to season the flour. Coat the turkey strips in it. Mix the remaining flour with a splash of sherry and a little water to thicken the sauce later.
2. Heat about an inch of the olice oil in a wok and when very hot, fry the turkey in batches until they just begin to brown. Put the turkey aside.
3. With some fresh oil, but only a little this time, caramelise the spring onion halves in batches on both sides and put aside
4. Stir fry the leeks and chorizo. Once softened, lower the heat and add a generous splash of sherry.
5. Throw in the turkey and spring onion halves. Stir gently and cover to allow to braise for about three minutes.
6. Stir in the flour and sherry mixture and allow to thicken for a minute or two. Grind on some black pepper and salt if necessary.
7. Serve with a glass of Spanish red wine to hand.

Note: Be careful about the timing – the vegetables should be softly sweet and al dente, not slimy (overcooked) or crunchy (undercooked).

Instead of sherry, and interesting variation might be to use a dry white vermouth. I can report that this works very well with leeks, so it’s a safe bet that it would be a success.

Heimat: Happiness is a TV series from your adolescence

I have been excitedly anticipating a DVD release for a year or two now and last week it finally happened. The Extended Edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King? The Director’s Cut of Donnie Darko? No. It’s actually a very long German television series from the 1980’s called Heimat.

Heimat was part of the furniture of my adolescent mind for several weeks and was a drama that followed the lives of a family in a small, rural town in Germany between the first and second World Wars. Pretty dry stuff, you might think. Well, it does take some effort to get into, but you soon become so attached to the characters that when the series ends you feel you have lost old friends. A beautifully crafted work of art, it looked good, with occasional use of black and white, as well as being well acted and scripted. Heimat gave us a thoughtful and moving insight into a rarely exposed culture and historical period. Its German perspective was a refreshing antidote to the usual British and American TV diet.

I actually signed up to a mailing list which attempted, a couple of years ago, to persuade Edgar Reitz, its director, to get it released on DVD. I monitored progress on the campaign and eventually it was announced that a DVD would be produced.

I remember my French teacher at Hampton School, a Sudetenland Jew who still bore a German concentration camp tattoo on his arm, telling me that he felt it to be the best thing he had ever seen on television in any genre; and he was not a man given to hyperbole. Did Heimat perhaps give me a sentimental disposition towards some aspects of German culture that would nurture a blossoming relationship with a certain German au pair I met in London only a few years later?

Anyway, after that sort of wait, you can imagine, then, that if someone doesn’t buy it for me as a Christmas present there will be petulant tantrums! Heavy hints have been dropped within K.’s earshot.

And yes, it does have subtitles.

Available on Amazon.co.uk:
Heimat (Slimline) [2007]
Update: May 2008

Apparently Heimat was highly regarded by Stanley Kubrick.

Curry and an ex-Cabinet Minister

Spent the weekend in London.

We indulged in a curry just off Chiswick High Street. The food was reasonably good. Each dish was actually distinctive in flavour and didn’t appear to have been made by using the “one pot” method of just adding cream/almonds/coconut/sundry spices to a ladleful of curry-ish sauce that forms the basis of all dishes. Maybe, however, that was because we chose the house “specials”, for which the cooks had to make a little more effort.

Our hors d’oeuvres were marred by a slightly posh middle-aged man demanding to know why he was still waiting for his take away when another customer who came into the restaurant after him had already received his order. “I mean”, he ranted, “Did I order something that’s particularly hard to cook?”. The put-upon waiter checked and explained that that particular customer had ordered over the phone quite a while ago. Ranting middle-aged man shut up at that point, but three minutes later rejoindered “Now wait a minute: that’s not true!”. So on it went, spoiling the enjoyment of my lamb tikka and K.’s prawn poori.

I know that there is a good book to be written about the peculiarly British ritual of the visit to the curry house.

Walking back to mum’s place through Chiswick, I was nudged and whispered at conspiratorially by K., who insisted that the small, bearded man carrying a takeway in a paper bag a few yards ahead of us was Robin Cook. I’m still not completely convinced but can’t deny that whoever he was, he did look remarkably similar to Tony Blair’s former Foreign Secretary. This put me in mind of the time I followed Kate Adie, the BBC foreign correspondent as she pushed a trolley around Chiswick’s Sainsbury’s. It’s hard to tell famous people from behind.

I have just remembered that blogs are supposed to have links to cool websites, so here’s a site I visit regularly:

World Wide Words