Enjoy your Sunday, folks!
I have have just arrived back on British soil. To my Facebook friends, this comes as no surprise. To the rest of you – hah, tricked you! Didn’t I do well?
I have spent the past week with my mum visiting my dad in Dubai. And WOW what a place. But you know what? I’ve been on a plane for eight hours. I’m exhausted. I’ll tell you all about my adventures later.
Phew, it’s nice to be back on home soil!
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I was determined to get in to central London on Sunday, in order to experience Chinese New Year 2011, London style.
You will also be aware that I was sadly disappointed.
Whilst there was food in abundance, lion dances parading from shop to shop, and lanterns laced above our heads, Chinatown was rammed with people (prams = BAD IDEA, people), so good luck actually seeing over heads.
Oh, and to the chap behind me who shoved me in the back whilst we were all trying to get out of New Loon Moon – Yes, you were pushing me, no, pushing didn’t help, and no, threats don’t work on me either. Yes, you were right to feel embarrassed and shut up after I pulled you up on that one. Weren’t expecting that from a girl half your size, were you? Jerk.
I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too at first: Why can’t people just put their rubbish in the bin?!! Well, maybe it’s because…
My other major irritation with Chinese New Year in London is that there was advertising EVERYWHERE. The paper lanterns were sponsored by Lebara mobile, children carried red balloons festooned with Lyca Mobile logos, and lo and behold – Kung Fu Panda 2 fortune cookies. It all just felt a bit tacky and was, in my honest opinion, a massive anticlimax. On the upside, I managed to get three buffet box take-aways for £9. With that in hand, I bustled through the insanely large crowds (well, that’s what you get when you have a completely free event) and retreated to home.
What about you? Maybe you aren’t as jaded about your Chinatown Chinese New Year experience as I was. Maybe you are 6’5” and therefore actually managed to see a lion dance. Maybe you were one of the many pushchair-users that rammed me in the ankles – we need to talk.
Wow. I honestly don’t want to say too much, because I really think you should go and read this book yourself. All of the reader reviews are right: it’s fascinating, it’s educational and most importantly, it is very very readable.
I’ve seen Ramachandran talk live (at the Royal Institution) and the enthusiasm and showmanship that he presented then really comes through in this book.
I actually got two copies for Christmas – one from Ben and one from my dad. Confusion over Amazon wishlists – Ben obviously doesn’t know how to use them! Bless him. So rather than send the book back, we gave one copy right back to my dad (as he is all about consciousness, phenomenology, and the mystery of the mind).
Now, it took me three weeks to read this. It took my dad one flight back to Dubai. He reads insanely fast! But he says he couldn’t put it down. He’s a very brain-modular sort of person, and his favourite chapters were towards the end, when Ramachandran discusses qualia, and the source and purpose of consciousness.
Personally, I’m all about the earlier chapters, when Ramachandran looks at a variety of different neurological phenomena. He presents us with a variety of case studies, each with very particular forms of brain damage, leading to very unusual problems. There are his famous “phantom limb” patients – people who, following an amputation, can still feel sensation in their absent limb. Later, he returns to the subject of phantoms, by discussing the mindboggling (but increasingly rare) phenomenon of pseudocyesis, or false pregnancy.
But I don’t want to discuss this book at length – I feel it would detract from your own experience when reading it.
If you like Oliver Sacks, you will love this. If you like “unusualness” and maybe even mystery stories, this is for you. Go get it. There are even some optical illusions you can play with (just don’t do them on the train – you’ll look like an idiot).
Don’t fancy reading? Ramachandran has also presented his cases in a two-part BBC4 documentary.
OK, as we’re now well into January, I need to note that this is the third and FINAL part of my Christmas haul. Also, by making this the final part, it might kick me into writing something other than “cop out” posts (i.e. easy writing )
First up, a little’un – my mum is one of those people who buys lots of little things for people (as well as “full on” gifts): she’ll see something that reminds her of you, and she’ll just buy it. So amongst everything else, I got from her a pack of paper napkins with stars on, and a tin of Wasabi peas (nom!). The Twiglets are just a Christmas staple.
Next up: last time, I mentioned that Ben’s sister had gotten me some beautiful tiny spoons. These are them! There are six in total. Not sure what to use them for (they are SO small and SO pretty) but they look great, right? With their shiny metallic enamel…
Another Christmas staple is BOOZE. We were lucky enough to add four bottles to our drinks…corner… this year. The Wolf Blass is from Ben’s parents, the Laphroaig is from Ben’s sister and her partner, and the Gran Reserva came from Ben’s work.
And perfect for this cold time of year, this adorable, tiny hot water bottle came from Angharad – you’ll notice that stars are a recurring theme in our household, and Angharad made me “squeee!” with this. Needless to say, it is frequently full of hot water and stuffed up my jumper.
And finally, this little beauty came from my aunty. It’s a wooden cat, decorated with burns and wood-stain. It’s a little hard to make out from photos, but he’s sitting bolt upright, staring upwards. It’s hand-made Indonesian, and I like to think that, like me, this little kitty is staring up at the stars.
Well, that’s it, folks! There were other gifts involved, but I can’t list them all. Thank you to all friends and family – I’ve had a wonderful festive season. I hope you all did too. The decorations have come down – but fear not, they’ll be back before you can blink…
As previously stated, we didn’t actually get much sight-seeing done in our 4-day Welsh holiday. This was mainly owing to the pathetic Welsh weather, but also due in large part to our comfy cottage.
But that is not to say that we didn’t go outside AT ALL. We climbed the hill to Paxton’s Tower on more than one occasion, to make the most of the lovely view:
And on the way home on Friday, I spotted this on the map:
Our main “daytrip” though was to the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, which we could see from the lodge. Arguably, January is not the ideal time to go to a botanic garden (as a lot of the plants are brown and lifeless) but we had the advantages of it being free entry throughout January, and hardly anyone else was there. OK, so some bits were closed (problems with frozen pipes! Oh noes!) but there was still the magnificent tropical, domed shaped glasshouse, which was chocca with vibrant colours:
And the local wildbirds had taken advantage of the warmth and flowers by setting up inside the dome:
The gardens are definitely worth a look in if you’re in the area, as there was plenty for us to see, even out of season. There is also a lovely little cafe/restaurant, a gallery (we met the resident artist! Hannah Lewis Davies) and of course the obligatory gift shop. OK, so the gardens aren’t free all year round, but at £8.50 per adult, you can’t really lose.
So concludes my tales of Wales (guffaw). I would have loved to bombard you with ten times as many photos of what we saw, but that would be overdoing it. If you fancy leafing through the near 200 photos I took (some good, some bad!) that didn’t make the grade, you can find them right here.
As always, thanks for reading
Well, I promised you a post devoted to the food I made on our holiday, so here we are.
WARNING: CONTAINS MEAT. Please turn away if you are a vegetarian, vegan, or just a bit squeamish.
Whilst we ate a lot of junk (mainly sausage sandwiches, crisps, service station chocolate, and the metre of Jaffa cakes that Ben’s nephew & niece gave him for Christmas), there were a couple of beautiful creations, made by my own fair hands. OK, those were also fatty piles of calories, but hey, we were on holiday, and it was cold!
First up, I made my own spin on eggs Benedict. So much a spin, in fact, that you can’t really call them eggs Benedict. An English muffin, a slice of fried middle bacon, a fried egg, and a glob of creamy parsley sauce. We had three each (champion!! Did not need to eat anything until 9pm that evening)
OK, looking at that, I do feel a leeeettle bit sick. But they were amazing, I swear to god.
But let’s cut to the chase: there is only one real reason I wanted to write this post, and that reason is PIE.
I did, in fact, make the pie of a lifetime. Ben says it was the best thing I’ve ever cooked, and I will have a hard time EVER topping it. This makes me a happy housecat. But what made it so good? It all comes down to Kennington farmers’ market…
Every weekend, there is a farmers’ market outside the big church in Kennington, and just down the road lies FWR, the bike shop where Ben gets all his bike repairs done. So, one afternoon, nearly a year ago now, Ben was in Kennington having has bike looked at, and he decided to pop to the farmers market. Needless to say, he came home with three pheasants, a duck and a rabbit. Thankfully, they were all plucked and gutted.
Well, two of the pheasants met their end in the oven over the following weeks, but the final pheasant, and his two other woodland friends, remained in the freezer for many months. Then, a couple of months ago, I decided enough was enough, and chopped them into little bits.
Let it be known that I would be a pretty poor butcher.
However, I’d make a fairly awesome pie chef. I fried up the chunks of game with some cubes of black pudding, then threw in some roughly chopped garlic, a glass of red wine, a good glob of chilli jam and about half a pint of gravy (just for good measure). I let the gamey stew simmer away for about 2 hours, tasting and throwing in herby loveliness along the way. And then? I stuck it in a tupperware box and straight back in the freezer. D’oh.
But then Paxton’s lodge came around. I packed my tupperware box of game stew and a roll of puff pastry (ready made – what do you think I am?!) and on our last night at the cottage, it was only an hour of preparation until pie loveliness. I kept singing “I don’t think you’re ready for this pieee” at Ben (in the style of Destiny’s Child, as you do), which may have gotten annoying, but there we are.
Before pie could be assembled, of course I needed to make some sides. I had some basic ingredients at my disposal, so peeled some potatoes and carrots, and boiled them separately. The potatoes went straight into a tray of hot duck fat, and into the oven at about 180 degrees C. The carrots went into a roasting tin, with “rustically” chopped brown onions, a whole bulb’s worth of peeled garlic cloves, some chopped chillis and lashings of olive oil. That tin went in alongside the potatoes.
And now, the piece de la thingy, Landmark Pie. Easily done: big glass dish, pie filling in, topped with puff pastry. I pricked the top with a fork to let some steam out (as you do). Into the oven. 45 minutes later, this is what we were left with:
This pie was nearly a year in the making. Truly epic. I miss it already.
The diet starts today.
Ben and I ventured to Wales this week. Predictably, it rained pretty much the whole time we were there, but that was ok because:
- I had my new wellies with me
- We were staying in the gorgeous and cosy Paxton’s Tower Lodge
OK, maybe that needs a bit of explaining (the lodge, I mean. Not the wellies)
This is Paxton’s Tower:
While Paxton’s Tower is a folly, erected in honour of Lord Nelson, and now maintained by the National Trust (not that it needs much maintaining, to be honest), the Lodge has been lovingly restored by the wonderful Landmark Trust. If you’ve never heard of the Landmark Trust (and three years ago, I hadn’t), they are a charitable foundation that restores historic and architecturally interesting buildings for the enjoyment of the paying public. But unlike the National Trust, English Heritage and so forth (where you pay an entrance fee, have a look around, then buy a cake and souvenir and leave), Landmark Trust properties are for living in. Yes, you can rent one for your holiday.
Ben and I have been to one other Landmark Trust property before (the equally wonderful Tangy Mill out in the wilds of Kintyre), but this time we decided to go somewhere… well, less Far Away. We wanted to go to Castle of Park, but they were already booked up for the dates we had free. Ben had been to Paxton’s Tower Lodge once before (4 years ago now, so before we met), and liked the building and surrounding area, so we thought we’d give that a go.
And it was lovely! Apart from the typical Welsh weather, Carmarthenshire is quite nice indeed, but definitely the crowning glory of the stay was our accommodation, no doubt about it. We hardly got any actual sight seeing done, because the cottage was so lovely (and it was cold and wet out). Every evening was spent curled up on the sofa, knitting, whilst Ben poked at (and cursed at) the open fireplace.
(Still working on that bloody Firestarter jumper!!)
A lovely big kitchen meant that I could Get My Cook on – we did eat like pigs. OK, I know, I know, I made a resolution to lose weight, but you didn’t expect me to diet on holiday, right? That aside, I have a separate post put aside for my adventurous cooking, so watch this space.
Other evening activities included trudging up to see the tower (which is lit up at night), and of course Airfix. What? Oh yes. Ben got a Mk 1 Ford Escort Airfix kit for Christmas (from his sister and her other half).
Which reminds me: I have a bone to pick with Airfix. What the hell did you do to the paints, dude? You used to supply tiny tins of top-quality Hummel paint with your kits. And now you have what amounts to shoddy, thinned down nail varnish. Hummels gave a smooth, even coverage in one coat. Three coats in on the bodywork, and the paint job is still streaky. Before you ask: Yes, I did stir the paint before use. Thoroughly disappointed on behalf of my foreman (I was delegated to paint duty, whilst Ben did important cutting and sticking).
Aaaaaaaaaaanyway. We did have some small adventures in wet Wales, but this post is running on a bit now, so probably best to leave those for another day. Deal? Here’s a picture of me in the lodge’s loft bedroom, to make up for it:
I got this little gem from Ben’s sister for Christmas – once upon a time, I expressed a wish to have a pet squirrel (they are ADORABLE) and she has remembered that ever since. So here was my first step!
From one of the brains behind the beautiful The Gruffalo (book is brilliant, the short film is lovely), here is a short book about squirrels. Whilst it is not advised to actually attempt to keep a squirrel as a pet (have rats instead), this little number is worth having a read for its wonderful illustrations alone.
Apparently based on a 1910 children’s encyclopaedia entry, this book advises plenty of nuts, and a large cage preferably with a trapeze. It’s charming and entertaining, and 10p from each book sale goes Save Our Squirrels!*
There’s not much else to say without spoiling the story, and I can’t exactly show you illustrations, so instead, here are some photos of me, feeding squirrels in Battersea Park.
*It’s great that they’re donating, but as the book costs £9.99 RRP, you would have hoped the publishers could have been a bit more generous…
I love DreamWorks films. Big time. The Road to El Dorado is one of my favourite films of all time. But Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is one I haven’t seen quite so many times. In fact, before today, I had only seen it once, in 2003, when it came out in the cinema.
So I was overjoyed when I had the opportunity to watch it at my leisure in my own home. DreamWorks films have a dry sense of humour that sets them above Disney in my eyes. Plus, they have adopted a particular, angular drawing style which I get on quite well.
I have no idea how true this incarnation is to the original Sinbad tale. Probably not at all. But you know what? I don’t really care. It is an exciting, cartoon romp, which is good fun for kids and adults alike. There are sexy sirens, an exciting chase scene with the Roc (not the wrestler), an unlikely and begrudging love interest, a moral tale, a charming crew on the ship, a delightfully comic dog, and of course, a token “strong but gentle” muscley, shirtless black guy. Oh, yes.
Nothing earth-shattering, and I still prefer Road to El Dorado, but still a welcome, enjoyable distraction.
Well, at the start of 2010, I resolved to read more. And I think I’ve done pretty damn well. Here, as we stand at the edge of the abyss, and the last dregs of 2010 filter away, I can happily say that I have read quite a few books this year.
It’s been tricky, too: throwing myself into a scientific discipline at the last minute (shut up, physicists: psychology so is a science. It has ology and everything) meant that I faced a lot of academic reading, in the form of text books and journal articles. But in between all of that, I have managed a grand total of 39 books this year – 23 non-fiction, and 16 fiction (where I’ve listed text books, that’s where I have actually read them, cover to cover). And this is what they were:
- 30.01.10 – Nicky Hayes – A First Course in Psychology (nf)
- 09.02.10 – Matt Ridley – Nature Via Nurture (nf)
- 01.03.10 – James Hogg – The Three Perils of Man (f)
- 07.03.10 – Adam Phillips – Monogamy (nf)
- 22.03.10 – John Marzillier & John Hall – What is clinical psychology? (nf)
- 24.03.10 – Aldous Huxley – Brave New World (f)
- 30.03.10 – Terry Pratchett – Nation (f)
- 22.04.10 – Walter J. Freeman – How Brains Make Up Their Minds (nf)
- 15.05.10 – G. K. Chesterton – Father Brown Stories (f)
- 19.05.10 – Russell L. Ackoff, Herbert J. Addison & Sally Bibb – Management f-Laws (nf)
- 20.05.10 – Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (f)
- 26.05.10 – Siri Hustvedt – The Shaking Woman or A History Of My Nerves (nf)
- 29.05.10 – Terry Pratchett – Thud! (f)
- 02.06.10 – Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (nf)
- 23.06.10 – Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (f)
- 29.06.10 – Joseph Conrad – Heart Of Darkness (f)
- 02.07.10 – David Hume – On Suicide (nf)
- 05.07.10 – *Iain Banks – Complicity (f)
- 22.07.10 – Jonathan Weiner – Time, Love, Memory (nf)
- 26.07.10 – Christopher Fowler – Spanky (f)
- 14.08.10 – Robert Winston – Human Instinct (nf)
- 22.08.10 – Iain M. Banks – Consider Phlebas (f)
- 28.08.10 – American Psychological Association – Concise Rules of APA Style (nf)
- 08.09.10 – Andy Field & Graham Hole – How to Design and Report Experiments (nf)
- 13.09.10 – Nick Braisby (ed.) – Cognitive Psychology: A Methods Companion (nf)
- 20.09.10 – Ken Kesey – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (f)
- 07.10.10 – Steven Pinker – The Language Instinct (nf)
- 12.10.10 – *Paul Broks – Into The Silent Land (nf)
- 21.10.10 – Daniel Levitin – This Is Your Brain On Music (nf)
- 31.10.10 – Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia (nf)
- 07.11.10 – The Poetry and Short Stories of Dorothy Parker (f)
- 10.11.10 – Alain de Botton – Status Anxiety (nf)
- 11.11.10 – Richard Bach – Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (f)
- 14.11.10 – Richard P. Feynman – The Meaning of it All (nf)
- 29.11.10 – *Andrew Solomon – The Noonday Demon (nf)
- 04.12.10 – Iain Banks – The Bridge (f)
- 26.12.10 – Axel Scheffler – How to Keep a Pet Squirrel (f)
- 27.12.10 – Dr Liz Miller – Mood Mapping (nf)
- 29.12.10 – Michael S. Gazzaniga – Nature’s Mind (nf)
And I’ve just started the first one for 2011. How about you? Did you chomp through some good reads this year? Which were your favourites? I’ve put an asterisk by my three absolute favourites this year, and massively recommend them.