Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Public Service Announcement

I've now taken the link to my crappy MP3, mentioned here, down. I'm assuming anyone foolish enough to want to download it now has. If you feel like you've missed out on something then e-mail me and I'm sure I can send it to you direct.

That is all.


Autumnal Swan

Autumnal Swan, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

As this is a colour photograph it seemed a bit out of place in yesterday's post but I liked the shot so here it is, alone, today.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Back To The Village

The Ancient House

I'm so relaxed at this moment I am in danger of dissolving and running down the back of the sofa and collecting in a small pool amongst the seat springs and fluff that accumulates there. We left London on Friday lunch time on a slow commuter train from Liverpool Street out into the wilds of rural Suffolk. For those who don't know the area if you imagine Hobbiton you won't be far wrong. Most of the residents are quite short and rotund and the countryside is rolling green interspersed with farmland. After a change onto a yet tinier train we arrived at Sudbury from where, eventually, we found the 'bus station and thence we crept through the countryside to Clare. Clare is a beautiful village with a rich history. There is a priory founded in the mid 1200s and a the ruins of a castle built by Richard Fitz Gilbert. Our abode for three nights was The Ancient House, a small cottage next to the church. The main structure dates from around 1400 with the pargeting that adorns almost every exterior surface being dated 1476. As was typical with buildings of that time there isn't a single right angle in the place.

T Cooks Through The Crooked Door

There is a 19 inch vertical drop in the floor of the bathroom corner to corner as you get an impression of here:
Sloping Floor

The building is incredible and as with all Landmark Trust houses there is no T.V., no 'phone and no radio. You have no choice other than to switch off and relax. I read and Tinseltroos knitted. One of the items that interested us most was the guest book. All Landmarks have them and every visitor is encouraged to write a few words about their stay. There may be a name here that you recognise:

The Guest Book

During the weekend proper we also went for walks, visited the majority of the pubs and had a roaring fire one night. My birthday managed o be pretty washed out but I did get a new wooly hat hand-made by the mistress of mayhem herself which I am delightedly modelling here:

My New Hat - A Hattest Hat

Here are a few more photographs from the weekend. Now I'm off to enjoy my few last precious moments of mini-holiday before the hell and madness of work descends again.

The Living Room

The Hallway

Wooded Path

Priory Walls


Fruit Offering

Morning Light

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Escape To Victory

I shall be away from my keyboard for the next 4 days as Tinseltroos and I head out into the Suffolk countryside for a long-weekend. It will in fact be my first weekend of any kind for a while and boy do I feel like I need it.

The reason for the excursion, apart from the for the gosh-darned hell of it, is to celebrate my thirty second birthday. It has actually snuck upon me rather this year. We booked the holiday in the middle of what we laughingly referred to as our "summer" and at the time it seemed an eon away. But as work mounted up and I lost track of time it has suddenly veered into view just ahead of me. I must say it cannot come at a better time, I haven't needed a holiday this much for a while. Work has been pretty hectic/frantic in one form or another since the last holiday I had in May. That together with needing to give my eyes a break from looking at the same chunk of film mean I am counting down the minutes until I can bolt out of the studio today.

The weather forecast for the weekend isn't great but to be honest a change of scene, whether raining or not, is what I need most as long as I get to spend some time with my beloved. I have re-oiled my aging Drizabone stockman's coat and I now have a waterproof hat so it will take a pretty hefty amount of rain to dissuade me from doing a little exploring. I shall go and track down an Ordnance Survey map of the area we're visiting this lunchtime to guide us whilst we're out and about, if the weather permits. Otherwise we'll just have to stay snuggled up indoors with a fire, good food and our books which wouldn't be bad. I am told that there are a couple of good pubs in the village too which is the final piece in the jigsaw of contentment.

As we'll be in Constable country (not an artist I care for much but he assuredly knew picturesque countryside when he saw it) I may even take a sketch pad with me. I'll certainly have a camera. Expect pictures next week.

Have a lovely weekend everyone and I'll be back, a little older but probably no wiser, on Monday. I will almost certainly be a touch fatter too if all goes to plan.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Special Place

As I have only had two days off work in the last six weeks my social life has, inevitably, dwindled to practically nothing. My routine is terribly simple:

Q. Am I awake?

If the answer is "Yes" there is a followup:

Q. Are you at work?

If the answer is "No" then I go to work.

This has of course left me somewhat short of things to talk about. The over-riding set of emotions I'm carrying around like over-stuffed panniers concern how things are going at work (you can guess roughly how well by the number of days I've had not here. Hint: More days off equals happier work environment.) Unfortunately I can't really discuss ( a polite way of saying "rant") here about all that because of the general secrecy and other blither that surrounds what we do.

Instead I thought I'd briefly rattle on about one of the things I love about living in London so much. I've lived here for nearly ten years but it's only been in the last few months that I've actually moved right into the very heart of the city. before that I lived about 4-5 miles from the centre which is close but not quite right in the thick of the action. Now however I live in an area that it is possible to identify on the oldest existing map of the city dating from the mid 1500s and that is a rather comforting sensation. To know that the area I live in has been constantly occupied for half a millennium is strange and due the nature of Londoners and London being what they are the actual layout has changed precious little in that time. Looking at the map from 1593 that's atop this post I can see quite clearly the road off which I live and moreover can trace the route I'd take if I were to walk down to London Bridge (then the only way across the Thames) and I find it really no different than it is today. Thanks to the Great Fire of 1666 scarcely anything is left standing predates that aside from the road layout but the is still plenty of ancient material around. For example, my route into work takes me across the top of Lincoln's Inn Fields where the charter of the Bank of England was signed in 1694 in what is now Newcastle House. That building still exists today. The knowledge that wherever I walk I am steeped in centuries of tradition, where people have lived and worked, walking the same routes I do and seeing many of the same sites is a wonderful counterpoint to all the amazing modern developments. The foundations run deep here. As the city grows ever upward toward the sky we can look around and down into the earth and see back to the past. London is a city out of time and I feel so much at home here, temporally as well as spatially.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Making Some Noise (Silently)

More of the apologetic, sorry for not writing more, blah, blah ,blah, but once again work has conspired against me and any kind of free time this week. It's my birthday a week on Sunday and Tinseltroos and I are taking a long weekend then in the countryside. At the moment that's the main focus for maintaining my sanity as I'm working on two projects simultaneously as well as trying to write an advanced lighting course for the company. Yesterday was made worse by the two leads I'd had on getting a guitar falling through, so I'm back, once again, to square one in my search. It's very interesting that early '80s type super-strats seldom turn up on eBay in the UK. I know that the whole LA rock/glam metal scene was never as big here as it was on the other side of the pond but I'm pretty amazed at how massive the difference in availability of the sort of guitar I want as opposed the sort that I don't is. Once again more eBay searching will have to be done.

In better news I did finally get around to connecting up my Line 6 Pod guitar amp emulator thing to my laptop so I can record electric guitar fun straight into Garage Band. I did a quick pastiche of "Runnin' With The Devil" on Monday night as a proof of concept. It worked a treat so now, when I have time, I can actually record some music. The Pod is great. Not only does it mean I can play guitar without upsetting any of the neighbours, I can also download other people's presets for matching other players' tones. As you might imagine, Eddie Van Halen's tone is a popular one for people to try and match and there are some really good ones. If any of you have a Pod and want a Van Halen "brown sound" tone then I can very much recommend the "Edward Van Whalen" preset on Line 6's website.

Well that's about all I have for you now, let the rest of Thursday be productive and let the clients like what I've just sent them. Fingers crossed.

In cross-posting fun I did write a piece for Tinseltroos' blog about Tom Ford's new fragrance for men here because it made me so cross.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Zeitgeist and Me

I just don't seem to be part of the current cultural zeitgeist in stuff. Mostly this doesn't matter since I don't really need more stuff but occasionally it does become a bore. An example of former occurred today when I visited the Cycle Show at London's Earl's Court with my pal Wichie. He's in the market for a new mountain bike so he had his little eyes wide open and juicy nose was held aloft sniffing out the perfect down-hill machine that his hard-earned could get him. I was just there for the experience and to see what the world of new bikes is like. I am not in the market for buying a bike since I have just built one, a fact which has been recorded at seemingly unending length on this blog, somewhat in the manner of a very dull Norse epic. I am also not currently riding my new bike, a machine Wichie has described as being "like an Edwardian crotch rocket" thanks to the huge workload I currently have. I have had two days off in the last four weeks, and that doesn't leave much time, or inclination quite frankly, to go out and cycle.

As it turned out my pre-expo pep talk of "You don't want a new shiny bike, you don't want a new shiny bike." turned out to be utterly superfluous. 99% of the bikes were horrid. Thousands of gears, ugly, lumpy frames, enormous elaborate suspension set-ups and garish paint-jobs. If you cycle down rocky mountain paths at breakneck speeds I'll allow you all but the garish paint-job, it's necessary to not dying whilst pursuing that particular hobby. But I suspect that much in the manner of most 4x4 SUVs being sold to people who will take them no further than the local Tesco's, most of these mean down-hill dirt-bikes are more likely to be seen plying the North Circular than the South Downs. And it's a shame.

There was one exhibitor who did delight my tweedy old-fashioned tastes in all things cycling and that was Witcomb Cycles. Ernie Witcomb and his son Barry have been hand-building lugged steel frames in south London for over 50 years. Nothing has changed in the styling, the odd concession to modernity aside, they are pretty much indistinguishable from a road bike of the 1940s. They are beautiful works of craftsmanship, each frame individually tailored to the height, weight and riding style of the customer. Of course such attention to detail and bespoke design does not come cheap (upward of £1500 for a frame alone) but it is a pleasing sight to see someone making things on a small scale, with care and tremendous skill rather than shipping the whole operation off to a sweat shop overseas with an "it'll do" attitude.

So I left the cycle show only £4 lighter; I couldn't resist this Fullers London Pride water bottle. It's one of my favourite beers and I like the irony of the logo appearing on a container for water.

On my way home I stopped off at the last of the central London guitar shops I had to visit to see what the world of guitars has to offer me. And it was, once again, a very depressing experience. There were countless practically identical standard Stratocasters, plenty of 1960s pastiche guitars by Burns and Hofner and the usual none-more-metal, none-more-black heavy metal machines. In other words nothing that appealed to me. What I'm after, to replace the Flying V, is a 1980s style superstrat with perhaps just one humbucker and a Floyd Rose trem. I don't really want one of the modern styled Jacksons or Ibanez models as they're a bit too pointy, too Steve Vai and not enough Eddie Van Halen. Try as I might I have yet to find anything that comes close to the pretty basic, but solidly constructed, guitar I seek. I have had a tip-off that an out of town guitar shop may be getting one Charvel San Dimas style guitar in next week but if that falls through then I'm back to scanning the eBay listings. If anyone has any pointers to a not-too pointy superstrat type guitar in the Kramer Baretta or Charvel San Dimas tradition that are available in the UK then drop me a line will ya?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dinner and a Why-oh-why

Last night, as it had been cold and rainy all day I made veggie burgers for T and me. Having made it up as I went and as I was quite pleased with the result, I'm recording it here for the benefit of my sieve like memory. I finely chopped a medium sized onion, half an aubergine and a red pepper and combined this with 2 burger buns worth of bread crumbs, a good sprinkling of smoked paprika, cumin and a large beaten egg to bind the whole shebang. Season to taste. I then pan fried them in olive oil before serving in a bun with salad, mozzarella, mayonnaise, basil and sliced tomato. I'll definitely be doing those again.

In other news, as I've begun the search for the replacement Atrocity Axe I've been reading a couple of guitar magazines, trawling some fora and so on to glean as much information as I can on the guitar state-of-the-union before making any purchases. I've been a little out of the loop in electric guitar and the dazzling array of shiny planks on offer has had me shaking my head a few times in disbelief. Here is my non-exhaustive list of "Things that an electric guitar does not need":
  1. LEDs (anywhere).
  2. A digital display (for anything).
  3. A USB socket (Why, Gibson, why?)
  4. More than two cutaways (Yes B.C. Rich, I'm still looking at you).
  5. More than 24 frets (only dogs can hear those notes).
  6. Automatic self-tuning (You again Gibson?)
  7. More than 4 knobs.
  8. More than 2 toggle switches.
  9. More than 6 strings (Mr Vai, this means you).
  10. Non-standard pickup shapes.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Band on the Run

Last night Tinseltroos invited a couple of like-minded chums over for a screening of High School Musical 2. I, not liking musicals very much, and positively hating the two songs I'd heard from the first one took the Flying V, my head-phone amp and a laptop and hid myself in the bedroom - as far away from Zac Efron (I had to look that up) as possible. I cannot remember the last time I just sat down and played guitar solidly for nearly two hours. It felt great and I managed to learn all of Running With The Devil which pleased me greatly. I felt I was restoring balance to the universe and natural harmony to the flat by counterbalancing the singing and dancing (and occasional hysterical laughter from the audience) in the living room. I also played Iron Man, as much of Eruption as I could remember and a little bit of Mr. Brownstone to honour twenty years of Appetite for Destruction. Rock truly is a gift that just keeps giving.

It also confirmed something for me. To whit, I'm still getting rid of the Flying V as my poor wrists are sore from supporting the whole weight of the guitar. When sat on the bed the guitar wants to slide down your leg because there are no contours to keep it in place. It really is very annoying, it's a very beautiful thing but it's so impractical and it will definitely have to go.

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Monday, October 08, 2007


Hmm, nerdiness ahoy?

NerdTests.com says I'm an Uber Cool Nerd King.  What are you?  Click here!


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Two Miracles and a Realisation

Bit of a mixed bag of a weekend. I've been at work for almost all of it and yet I've witnessed amazing things and made profound discoveries.

Yesterday was almost certainly the most improbable day of rugby union I've ever seen. I say "seen" but in the case of England vs Australia it was more "listened to" as I was still at work but could at least have the game on the radio. And what a game. An England side far from peak form, with injuries and a very poor record in the World Cup came up against an Asutralia side who had put in solid performances in the cup and were hungry to avenge their final defeat at home to the English four years ago. It didn't help that the chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union had upped the ante last week by saying, "It doesn't matter whether it's cricket, rugby union, rugby league – we all hate England." and latter continued, "I stand by that. Everyone does. All I'm doing is stating the bleeding obvious... If they want further proof, how do they think France won the right to host this World Cup? It is simple. No one would vote for England, and they were the only other country in the running." Strong words and with pre-match odds massively in Australia's favour it seemed like a dead game. And then England played their hearts out. In a game of gripping tension and boiling intensity England bested Australia in almost every department of the game. The scrum proved utterly catastrophic for the Wallabies who simply had no answer to the massive power that England fielded at numbers 1 to 3. With my hands shaking and my pulse racing the clock ticked down, achingly slowly, until as 80 minutes of play came to close England pulled off the seemingly impossible to win the match 12-10 and book a place in the semis.

I'd witnessed one of the greatest upsets of recent time. How could anything possibly top that? That was until the evening when France took on red-hot title favourites New Zealand. France signalled their intent by marching right up to the half-way line and staring the Kiwis down as they performed the haka. If proof were ever needed that the mystique of the All Blacks is waning this was it, a defining moment. In years gone by the haka epitomised New Zealand's ability to intimidate a side, to dent their will before the first whistle. But we live in different times now. New Zealand believe themselves to be the best rugby playing nation on earth, their team is used to crushing all before them and yet they have not been world champions for twenty years and will not get the chance again for another four. France played solidly but defensively and were hit hard. The Kiwis were 13-0 up towards the end of the first half. In times of yore that would have been that. The opposition would roll over and let themselves get crushed beneath the slick All Black machine. But since France showed in the 1999 semi-final that you can come back against the Kiwis from a massive deficit if you believe, the power of the Kiwis to have a side beaten before kick-off has evaporated. Yesterday the French were magnificent, they defended like lions and played a wiley game up front. They frustrated the Kiwis into making a petulent foul resulting in a sin-binning for McAlister. This allowed the French the room they need to level the match and then they powered home. One gets the impression that the Kiwis only know how to crush a willing opposition. They seem unable to play from a losing position. If they can't win easily, they can't win. France play brilliantly from a position of pressure and once again proved their mastery of the art. Frederic Michelak and my current favouite Bleu, Sebastien Chabal, came on for the final quarter of the game to, in the case of Michelak, set up the winning try, and in the case of Chabal to shore up the defenses and keep the Kiwis at bay. "They shall not pass".

This was a bigger upset than even the England game. To see either match is a treat, practically a miracle. To see both on a single day is definitely a miracle.

Rock And Roll Home

Beyond the rugby, my profound personal insight came when I realised that the Flying V I bought a while back is not the guitar for me. Tinseltroos and I have a couple of guitars out in the living room ready to be played and I noticed that I was always reaching for her Strat rather than my Flying V. I have finally realised that the impracticality of the design annoys me more than the beauty delights me and though it is a pleasant enough instrument it is going to have to go on eBay and I will begin the search for a new Atrocity Axe. I had a quick window shop on my way home yesterday afternoon and it appears that, once again, my tastes do not accord with the general populus. The current vogue seems to be for skinny indie kids in skinny jeans with fringes bigger than their heads to play 1960s style Burns and Hofner type guitars. This is all very well for those wanting to play The Arctic Monkeys but it is not going to stand up to having Hot For Teacher belted out on it. For that you need a proper guitar, built for the purpose; built like a tank. It seems that I shall have to search for something second hand. Let the eBay browsing begin.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Best Food in the World

Tasty Steak Treat

Allow me to make something clear. I adore steak. I don't like it, I don't enjoy it. These terms are insufficient to describe my relationship with the king of the meats. I adore steak. I eat it fairly regularly, at home if Tinseltroos is out for the evening or occasionally some work buddies and I will head out for a steak frites lunch at The French House. The French House fillet steak has to be tasted to be believed. Their chateaubriand is also beyond compare though as I like my meaty steaks cooked blue I have to go with a similarly minded chum if I am to have this rarest (pun intended) and choicest of treats.

What is it about steak that has this hold over me? Well I think it's partly the simplicity and it's partly the mystique. Steak is like sushi in its total reliance on the quality of the source material (a cow). Crappy cows make for crappy steaks, although I've learned a few tricks for pepping up almost any steak but we'll come to that in a bit. The mystique of steak is the real hook that gets you. What cut do you get? I favour porterhouse when I can get it, rump when I can't. Both of these are very beefy flavoured cuts which suit being cooked little and hard. Tonight Waitrose only had rib-eye but when it is a good cut that really does me fine. I always try and get organic meat that's been allowed to hang a good while to develop its flavours. Too much meat is whisked out onto the chiller cabinets before it has had a chance to mature. Once you've chosen your cut, how will you have it done? Blue? Rare? Medium rare? Well done? This last option is not recommended if you wish to remain friends with me. For me it depends on the cut. For thick steaks with little fat I go for blue. It preserves the meat at its most natural and juiciest. Roland Barthes once wrote a lovely essay on the joys of steak frites in Mythologies where he deconstructed the whole steak experience. He describes the emotion of eating steak as taking the strength of the bull and I know what he means. The simple uncluttered joy of a piece of blue steak is as close as we pampered monkeys really get to the nature red in tooth and claw way of dining that our ancestors relied upon. There is something very grounding about eating steak, it connects you to the past and to the natural world in a way that a heavily prepared and flavoured meat or vegetable dish never can. It provides a deep sensual pleasure, something deeper than and more profound than just appreciating good cooking, it reminds us of our roots as predatory omnivores, it takes us back to the thrill of the hunt.

One also has to then choose what to serve your steak with. Again I favour simplicity. For me a steak is best accompanied by some form of potato and a green salad (with no bloody rocket in it) - just plain old round leaf lettuce. When I'm eating out, the lure of frites is generally too great to resist, but at Schossadlerflug there is no deep-fat fryer so alternative potato recipes must be called upon. I generally do potatoes the Italian way. You par-boil whole small potatoes in salted water, drain them and finish off cooking them by shallow frying in olive oil with chopped rosemary and black pepper. The final element is the sauce. There are many classics, bearnaise, pepper or garlic butter sauces are popular but I like a little one of my own devising. Once the steak is resting (a vital and oft forgotten step in cooking a good steak) I slosh a little red wine if I have any into the steak pan to deglaze it. Once it's calmed down from boiling the alcohol off I mix in a good dollop of crème fraîche and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. And that's it. A simple, but utterly delicious dinner: one that feeds both spirit and the body.

Over the years of cooking steak I have learned a few things that, I feel, improve your chances of cooking something special. You're always at the mercy of your butcher of course, so once you've found a good one keep them close, they're a dying breed. But assuming your butcher does know what they're doing these are the things I've found that get results:

1) Make sure the meat is at room temperature. If you're refrigerating it, take it out an hour before you plan to cook it.
2) Thirty minutes before I cook the steak I absolutely cover it in sea-salt. And I do mean cover it - covered to the point of not seeing any pink. Do this on both sides and let it sit like that until you're ready to cook. It has to be sea-salt too. If you use regular table salt everything will taste of iodine.
3) Heat up your pan for at least 10 minutes over a high heat. I find heavy bottomed cast iron pans cook steaks better than thinner, non-stick pans but that may just be me and my reactionary ways.
4) Just before the steak is to go into the pan rinse the salt off and pat it dry with a paper towel.
5) Into the pan goes the steak.
6) Leave it alone until it's time to turn it. Don't be tempted to move it round the pan, turn it before it's ready or any other act of impatience. How long you cook it for depends on how you like you steak of course. Any more than four minutes a side and you are no longer my friend.
7) Once both sides are done take the steak out of the pan and place it on a warmed plate. Let it rest for five to ten minutes before eating. This gives the meat time to relax and will taste better and have better texture.
8) Bon appétit.

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