Tuesday, October 30, 2007
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
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.
There is a 19 inch vertical drop in the floor of the bathroom corner to corner as you get an impression of here:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Making Some Noise (Silently)
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.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Zeitgeist and Me
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?
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Dinner and a Why-oh-why
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":
- LEDs (anywhere).
- A digital display (for anything).
- A USB socket (Why, Gibson, why?)
- More than two cutaways (Yes B.C. Rich, I'm still looking at you).
- More than 24 frets (only dogs can hear those notes).
- Automatic self-tuning (You again Gibson?)
- More than 4 knobs.
- More than 2 toggle switches.
- More than 6 strings (Mr Vai, this means you).
- Non-standard pickup shapes.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Band on the Run
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.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Two Miracles and a Realisation
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.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
The Best Food in the World
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.