Friday, 28 December 2007

Save Mr Splashy Pants

If, like me, you think that Mr Splashy Pants is a screamingly funny name for a humpback whale, you might want to see what all the fuss is about.

I am not the King of DIY

The Universe has a number of ways of ensuring we keep our feet firmly on the ground. One of the most popular, as I'm sure you're already aware, is gravity - "it's not just a good idea, it's the law". Only slightly less well known is what is often referred to as a Kick in the Teeth. Usually delivered in response to some small pride, or minor hubris, it's a way of reminding us not to get too big for our proverbial boots.

Let's be clear about one thing right now. I am not the King of DIY. I'm not even a resident of the kingdom. Even if I knew where it was, I wouldn't be able to find my way there, or get over the well-made hand-built fence to get in.

I'm patently rubbish at DIY. My dear old dad did his best, teaching me everything he knew about hammering screws into bits of wood; it just didn't stick. These days, even the most trivial DIY jobs require a full weekend of my time. They also need three or more increasingly desperate trips to the local DIY stores to buy the tools that are necessary for the job, or to buy whatever is needed to bodge-fix the errors I make, or the things I break whilst attempting to do the usually-laughably-simple job.

The past few days have seen something of a sea change. Only yesterday I was disproportionately pleased with a relatively minor bicycle maintenance success. Today, I've been wrestling with the hot tap in the bathroom, which has not been leaking for quite some time. Quite the opposite in fact, to the extent that even with the tap fully open, there was barely a trickle of water coming from the faucet. Every visitor to the house has commented on this, with some helpful hint about the cause (low pressure, or a furred-up tap) but with no offer to resolve the problem.

Earlier this morning, I succeeded in fixing this very problem, and it only took a scant few hours. And with only a single trip to a DIY store (to purchase an excellent tool called a Boa Constrictor multi-purpose strap wrench - you'll have to google it; their home page is knackered. I thoroughly recommend it; I'll doubtless be buying another one, when I attempt the next job that requires one, and I can't find the one I bought today). But the happy news is that the tap now gushes on demand, after a swift and easy turn of the tap.

I spent some time this morning turning it on and off, waiting for it to break, or leak or something. I even left my tools out for an hour or so in case the tap was waiting to break when I wasn't looking.

The second time I tripped over them, I put them away. Or started to, until I remembered another unstarted project: the Curtain Pole Job.

Last winter, in the height of the cold, I had decided that my kitchen needed a draft-excluder curtain and so, after several weeks dithering and deciding, a suitable one had been sourced and left on the back of a chair, where it would be most in the way whilst it waited to be put up. Some months later, it had been moved into a cupboard, where it could be conveniently forgotten about and nothing more said about the matter. But in that time a secondhand curtain pole had also been acquired; this had spent the remainder of the year leaning against the wall by the back door.

Today, though, the King of DIY was in the house. Today was surely the most auspicious day to attempt to hang the curtain.

And so it was, slightly dizzy with previous success, that I decided to tackle the Curtain Pole Job.

I assembled my tools, laid out my mismatched screws, and began my symphonic attack on the engineering block walls with my trusty hammer drill.

I will spare you the details of the process. Suffice to say that I successfully hung the curtain pole, and curtain, at the correct height, without further incident or injury, without breakage or bleeding or damage.

It was beginning to look as if the King of DIY was resident in the house.

I put all my tools away, tidied up after myself, and admired my handiwork. Yes, it's only a curtain hanging over a door, but I don't mind admitting that there was a happy little smile playing about my lips.

Flushed with success, I lifted a fresh pint of orange juice out of the fridge for a victory toast. Looking around for a glass, I spotted the frying pan I'd used for my lunch time double-fried egg sandwich, cleaned and drying on the draining board. In the spirit of tidying up, I responsibly put it away, stretching to hang it in its place on the ceiling mounted pan rack (helpfully installed by the previous owner of the house, naturally).

Twisting to reach the high hook, I felt my left elbow nudge something and knew instantly that I'd knocked the orange juice over. A quick glance over my shoulder was sufficient to confirm the truth. I watched helpless as the bottle hit the ground in that slow motion that often accompanies such incidents.

I even had time to think that cleaning up broken glass was hardly fair punishment for my mild successes.

But it did not shatter. Instead, I watched it tumble, spilling its contents onto the floor, and fall onto its side.

Now I had a dilemma; which was the more urgent task? Should I abandon the pan in order to pick the bottle up before more spilled? Or should I accept the inevitable, and calmly replace the pan before turning to the bottle?

Pondering the matter, I continued with the hanging of the pan, and lost in my thoughts, fumbled it so badly that by the time I had turned back to the spilled orange nectar, the bottle had emptied itself fully over the floor. Fully, that is, except for a mockingly small amount trapped by the neck of the bottle.

I wish I could say that I allowed myself a small sigh. I think I may actually have said a naughty word or two. But I hung my head and accepted the punishment for my hubris.

Now, cleaning up a nearly-full pint of orange juice from the floor, the plinth under the cooker, and the cupboard doors in one thing. But one of the cupboard doors is currently missing, the result - you guessed it! - of a failed bit of DIY seven or eight months ago. So it was that the front contents of the corner cupboard (also known as the Tupperware Graveyard) were splashed extravagrantly with sticky orange juice. To whit: two stainless steel steamer inserts (and lid), one Le Creuset casserole and lid, one further pan lid, three assorted bowls (two of stainless steel), a Pyrex jug, and countless tupperware reusable containers.

It dawned on me that the Universe had realised that gravity was not sufficient, and had given me a nudge. Not quite foot-dental contact, but in that area.

To what I hope is my credit, I believe I smiled.

I am not the King of DIY. But I do have a decent hot tap in the bathroom, and a draft-excluder curtain in the kitchen.

And that orange juice was past its date.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Pimpin' my girl

I've just spent a satisfying few minutes restoring Flora to glory.

Although we all know it wasn't a few minutes (because I am not the king of bicycle maintenance).

Nevertheless, she now has the bullhorn aero-bar handlebars with reverse action brake levers that I have craved for years, and a lovely mottled purple cork tape, to go with her frame. And I replaced the brake cables as well, all by myself.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The Conservation of Mass

Have you ever noticed that whenever you lose weight, someone else gains it? Or - more often - that someone has managed to lose weight at the precise time that you have found it?

These observations lead naturally to the theory of conservation of mass, which states that there is only so much bodyweight in the world, and as someone loses bodyweight, so someone else must gain it.

Word of the day: disfigurement

disfigurement [dis-fig-er-muhnt]

See dyscalculia.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

The Steak and Ale Pastry Sandwich

Today I discovered a completely new species of pie.

I dined this evening in the Greyhound pub in the village of Siddington, Gloucestershire, where I ordered - with a certain amount of anticipation, and not a little drool - the steak and 6X pie (for this is an establishment selling the fine ales of the Wadworth brewery).

Having not eaten pie for a seemingly long time, my expectations of the imminent feast were quite high, if a little guarded. One can never completely predict the nature of a pie in an unfamiliar establishment, as has been noted elsewhere.

In short time, the plate arrived resplendent with what can only be described as a pastry sandwich. Indeed, at first I mistook it for a baguette, and was about to summon the waiter briskly back to the table with a tart complaint about the wrong order.

My rebuff died on my lips as I fully beheld the construction before me. A piece of puff pastry - a sizeable piece, one would generously allow - had been baked in the oven until tall and crisply robust. It had then been sliced in a plane parallel to the plate, as one would a croissant, perhaps, or a curly roll.

The so-called filling of tasty steak and Wadworth's Finest had subsequently been sandwiched - there is simply no other word - between the pastry pieces. By which I mean it had been poured over the lower piece, and the other piece had been perched with some ceremony and gravitas atop.

The whole was presented with a reasonable portion of chips, peas and a generous quantity of gravy - the latter due in no small part to the fact that two pieces of pastry with flat edges will not contain stew for any length of time, however thick the gravy sauce.

I was quite surprised, a little put out, but fundamentally undaunted (and rather peckish). So I tucked into the thing with as much relish and gusto as could be summoned.

It was, on balance, rather pleasant. For my money, the filling could have been a little more peppery, a little more spicy. The steak itself leaned towards wholesome rather than tender. And the gravy could have been richer. But seeing as it wasn't my money that was paying for this feast, I smacked my lips and cleaned my plate.

It wasn't a True Pie, though.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Consistently cold

Consistency is good. Except where sub-zero temperatures are concerned.
Unless you're polar bear, I suppose.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

How cold?!

Taken when I got in the car this morning. Before setting off, obviously. Be safe out there, folks.

Friday, 7 December 2007

A Short Review of Unusual Candy

Nutter Butter (by Nabisco)
"Peanut Butter Sandwich COOKIES"

The exciting thing about these little chaps - apart from the name, natch - is that they're shaped like a peanut. A peanut that has, cartoon-style, being placed under a steam-roller, and emerged basically the same shape, but considerably flatter than before. They are, as their descriptor suggests, two layers of biscuit between which a peanut butter-filling has been inserted. The biscuit is on the powdery side of crunchy, and the peanut butter is typically claggy in the mouth. But these are tasty, cheerful little cookies, and commendably easy to eat.

Wonka Runts
"Artificially flavored CANDY"

One has to love a candy that is so proud of the fact that it's artificially flavoured that it's displayed prominently on the box. These little chaps also contain two new flavours - pineapple and mango - in addition to the "ordinary" strawberry, banana and orange. Amusingly, the candy is shaped like the fruit it tastes of - presumably in case you can't tell that yourself.

And let's be clear about this; your tastebuds are in for a rare experience. The moment one of these little chaps hit my tongue, I felt my mouth explode with horror at the aggressive sweetness and chemically-enhanced flavours. They are astonishing in their falseness, impressive.

Suffice to say that I did not manage to swallow any of them.

Butterfinger (by Nestle)
"Crispety Crunchety peanut-buttery"

The Americans do seem to enjoy their peanut butter candy, and this is apparently a giant of the genre. The milk chocolate hides brittle layers of peanutty flavour that crunch between the teeth. I think this one takes a little getting used to - as much as any peanut butter "candy" does for the British palate. But there's something compelling about it, the brittle textures and mildly buttery flavour.

Goobers (by Nestle)
"Nestle Milk Chocolate - Fresh Roasted Peanuts"

Peanuts in chocolate. I guess there's something tantalisingly simple about that, so much so that even the mighty Nestle can't come up with a tagline that does more than state what they are, rather than one of those funkety-rhymety little catchphrases employed by some of the other products reviewed here. But then, with a name like "Goobers", perhaps they need to describe what they are, because you really wouldn't guess.

And the point of this candy, despite the Poppets-style novelty of the cardboard box, is its simplicity. Peanuts. In chocolate. You really can't find fault with that.

Milk Duds (by Hershey's)
"Made with Chocolate and Caramel"

No need for fancy packaging or a funky marketing message for Hershey's. And why indeed with these great clumps of treacly caramel toffee in milk chocolate. Surprisingly hard to eat, they stick to the teeth and are satisfyingly chewy in the mouth. Not something to eat lots of in one session, though, as the old jaw quickly tires from the powerful chewing needed to devour them. Perhaps with sufficient training...

Nerds Rainbow of Flavors (by Wonka)
"Tiny, tangy, crunchy candy"

Another one from the Wonka label, Nerds look like the many-coloured gravel you used to see in the bottom of fish tanks. Much like the Runts, these are aggressively sweet - they taste like multi-coloured sugar - but make no claims about the flavour they may be.

I'm afraid I didn't manage to swallow any of these.

Stepping stones

I went out for a stroll this morning, after the winds had eased and the sun was peeping out between the vanishing clouds. But given the amount of rain that we'd so recently enjoyed, I was armed (or footed, I suppose) with my hiking boots (by Merrell, with Gore-Tex) so that I would be able to wander hither and thither, on and off road as the mood struck me.

So it was that towards the end of my stroll I decided to wander down the unpaved (unlaid) track of the bridleway and into the field, just because I could.

Or so I thought. As I made my way down the bridepath, the extent of the flooding meant that the drainage channel on one side of the path had filled, overflowed, and had run deeply over the path at one particular point.

I stood there a moment, faintly disappointed, but only faintly. After all, this was but a whim, and easily put aside.

But then there stirred in me a desire to push on, to explore, to see the other side of the puddle. So I cast about for a solution.

And a solution presented itself.

To one side of the path, a tree was leaning across the path, and had been cut by some passing woodcutter or sawsman, then sectioned into neat logs, perhaps 20 or 25 cm in diameter with cleancut flat edges. As I looked between them and the puddle, the kernel of an idea began to make itself known to me.

And so it was that a few moments later I skipped across my own stepping stones, splashing safely down on the other side of Lake Puddle, and striding cheerfully into the field that was at the end of my quest.

Sometimes - just sometimes, but actually more often than we let ourselves believe - some things are just meant to happen.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Cat sitting and star gazing

All this week, I've been lucky enough to wake in the Cotswolds, as friends have let me stay in their house in exchange for some light duties including cat feeding whilst they are away. They have a lovely house in a semi-rural hilly setting, and the location could not be more different than my own house.

Where I live, on the far outskirts of London, near a train line, and under the flight path for Heathrow, there is a constant buzz from one form of transport or another: planes, trains and automobiles indeed.

Here, there is far less traffic and much less noise.

I was sitting out this evening, listening to cows lowing across the valley, and staring at the stars. There are more stars visible here than I saw in the Red Center of Australia, where there are far fewer lights. Oh, there was the occasional plane, for sure, dragging itself slowly and blinkingly across the sky. But in the main it was sky and stars.

Then I glimpsed a shooting star.

If that's not the icing on the cake, then I just don't know anything about sweet, baked, breadlike foods often found hanging around birthday parties.