Domestic issues

And following on from the Dwarf Bread biscuits…

The oven exploded. Really. Soft boom and orange flames. We were heating it up before putting something in so we didn’t lose the food but… The oven exploded. I didn’t know they could even do that. Lit up the kitchen beautifully.

The rest still works. It appears to be the element, although I have my suspicions as to what else went with it.

So now sandwiches are featuring heavily in life and we’re learning just how much can be cooked in alternative ways. February is not the best time to be eating cold food, but needs must and all that.

It’s valentine’s day – the household can romantically grill pasta over a candle and boil soup in the kettle. No, perhaps not.

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Life by numbers

Every now and again I come across something where I think, “Why have I not heard of this before?” I think this says more about my ignorance than my awareness.

An example was the BBC announcement of the death of Hans Rosling:

To put this in context, as part of my recent studies I should be aware of historic health statistics and the means of public education. Also, the household has been raised in a Western European education system, is reasonably well informed and will only take NICE approved remedies at face value. Yet we hadn’t heard of Hans Rosling.

Part of the issue of public information is that a lot of it comes from TV adverts and the household doesn’t have a telly (although we do have a licence) so our public information comes from the BBC news or the sides of buses. (NICE are the independent body that advises the NHS on what works – they do this from metadata analysis of research).

Have a look at the clip if it works. I want to know what the orange countries are bouncing around! I think The Netherlands is one of them…

Also at this time of year is the Great British Bird Count. The bird feeders were filled in readiness and yes, five squirrels were recorded simultaneously dangling with a foot on each of the struts while helping themselves to the food. We got some birds too but not as many as we’d like. This may be due to the new neighbours moving in with cats.

And in terms of arbitrary numbers and what counts as a statistic the household were surprised and amused yesterday to be planning a route across Europe and receive, “Warning – this route passes through Belgium.” We didn’t know it was so offensive!

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Wider life

Been to Reading Museum again. Well, it’s free and needs appreciating. That and some time not staring at computer is also good for me. I also go just to make sure that no one’s removed the Bayeux Tapestry as not modern enough or whatever else accountants come up with these days.

Their star exhibition at present is a collection of paintings by Ray Atkins of the bright-and-colourful-but-wouldn’t-want-it-on-the-wall school of art. Some I could ‘get’, but ones where “you can see the washing line” – no, no you can’t. The paint is an inch thick in places and I did wonder if he had shares in the company. However, something he records, in a lasting medium that photography could never claim to be, is the building of the Reading IDR (Inner Distribution ring Road). Not the most picturesque of scenes and some of the locations have some artistic licence to geographical interpretation, but it’s an important record of something that’s a hefty part of the town. He’s also got the 1960s buildings going up, which if you stand in the middle of the gallery you can piece together painting by painting. The curator and I agreed that a map would help.

Also saw a collection of World War I biscuits. They were made by Reading’s ‘Huntley and Palmers’. I had my suspicions as to where Pratchett’s ‘Dwarf Bread’ and ‘Dwarf Battle Bread’ came from and I think this confirms it. For a start, most biscuits would start to crumble after only the first 100 years. The 3 inch square biscuits were used as picture frames and other items normally carved from wood. One example that had been stapled together was sent home with a label, “Have gone on hunger strike. See reason attached. Mind your toes.”

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Aloe vera

Something that apparently isn’t a greeting.

News from the botany front: Aloe veras flower. I didn’t know that – I thought they only reproduce by growing then splitting, hence a single aloe vera quickly becomes a deskful.

So here’s a picture:


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Food standards

Following on from ‘Thought for the day’ on 3rd Jan, we’ve had cause to have another look at the cupboards. Things have moved on in diet – I can now have the milk-based ancient hot chocolate that I couldn’t digest before. What’s more, as the Dutch stroopwafel was best before 3rd Jan we had no choice but to eat them. We found that the point of a guiness mug isn’t that it can contain a whole guinness, but that when full of hot chocolate the stroopwafel will balance inside the rim, meaning the whole thing is warmed through before it’s eaten. There’s a photo somewhere but the computer isn’t having it.

Sat in the cupboard we found something that highlighted an issue with British food. The persimmons that had been bought two days earlier were off. They’d rotted. Contrast that with how the household first tasted persimmons… by buying them in identical packaging in a German supermarket, transporting them across Europe back into the UK, then eating them days later. How can something travelling that much further, uncushioned, be fresher? It’s normal now that every punnet or bag of fruit we buy starts fresh but has one that goes mouldy within a day or two. I wonder if it’s in there to ensure swift replacement.

It’s a thought that crossed my mind when noting during shopping that my fresh fruit and veg was coming from Spain, Peru and South Africa. Now, miles travelled are not the only consideration – something that grows better with less interference further away that requires virtually no preservation will be less draining on resources than something that requires hothousing miles closer. But where was the British produce? I discussed this with a German colleague who agreed that come Brexit there’s a lot of people going to have a shock when all they can find on the shelves is seasonal potatoes.

But the weirdest food label we saw this week was on venison meatballs, which presumably had seen venison at least once as they came with a warning that when eating the product, “Despite all care, some bullet metal may remain.”

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Just back (well…) from an action-packed New Year, travelling around the country, seeing friends we’d not seen for the year, for years and for one, at all, as we’d not been able to visit since he was born in 2015. He has been given Church Mice books by Graham Oakley, which every small child needs.

January 3rd was the ninth anniversary of when the household first met. Given how it met it’s a poignant time, with a reminder of how difficult but also how fortunate the time between has been, and the need of a balance between doing everything now while it’s possible but not overdoing it and bringing it all crashing down. This year we spent the day exploring Cirencester amphitheatre. A definite improvement on how we spent the day nine years ago.

In contrast here’s a doctor who went completely, unexpectedly blind 6 months after qualifying, now finding just how frightening and lonely the world really is:

We’re exploring all the English Heritage sites. So far we’ve seen all the sites in Cornwall, Hampshire (except when extremely shut) and Berkshire (there’s only one…) and now we’re looking at filling in the counties in between.

Meeting up with people over New Year was a question of fine sheduling – we visited three sets of people per day. But when attempting to meet one we got a reminder of an ambition that everyone takes for granted, but few can realise. One person was elsewhere “arranging additional care” for their Mum who is “98 and still living in her own home” in a lovely part of the world, where she has always lived. That’s a living arrangement to aspire to!

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Time and cooking

According to the Meaning of Liff, ‘Farnham’ is the feeling at 4pm when you’ve not got enough done today and ‘Gonnabarn’ is to waste an afternoon watching an old film on TV. I repute that. After having read the book repeatedly, visited the address and owned the DVD for years I have finally seen ’84 Charing Cross Road’. It’s lovely and worth the time.

Contrasting with ’10 Rillington Place’ which we’ve just seen, there are some oddities. Reading up on it afterwards they’d done a good job with the ‘mis en scene’, the subconscious background details. But it appears that no one has done any decorating until Mr Brown moves in in 1954. The yellowing wallpaper that’s hanging by a thread in 1938 is still hanging there in 1952. Not the best way to conceal things, given what was behind it. In Charing Cross Road they’re sprucing up the flat periodically with new paper and paint.

We had a reminder from a member of the household of relative ages – not only was Rillington Place new to him, but he’d not seen the Have I Got New For You episode with the tub of lard, something in mind as they replaced a panellist with a handbag yesterday. I didn’t realise the episode was 23 years old – I remember watching it fresh in 1993.

Culinary exploits continue with another lasagne pie (ran out of white sauce again). The novelty now is the collection of boxes of chicken curry. We defrosted the last meat, a single block of 5kg of chicken breast, cooked the lot, curried it in varying flavours bought on offer, then refroze it. Now we’re working our way through it.

Finished reading ‘The King’s Revenge’. Funny how selective history can be. Started to read ‘The years of Rice and Salt’, a parallel history that asks what would have happen if the Black Death had obliterated Europe instead of ‘only’ killing 1/3. Finished reading The Science of the Discworld and happily spent time learning about Langton’s Ant. Mentioned it to someone and they told me about Conway’s Game of Life.

Putting together Christmas cards, which is tricky as the household is never in the same place at once so sorting out a list or signing them is difficult. So there will be delays, but that’s ok – the post office says it’s going to be on strike anyway so no one will notice.

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