Monday, 15 July 2013

Schrodinger's Potatoes

Yes, it should be a cat really, but a few weeks ago - when Andy Murray was playing in the Wimbledon final (a negligible detail vital in padding out this post) - my brothers and I were all in the kitchen preparing aliments for the weekly roast. In charge of par-boiling the potatoes, I realised I had to momentarily disapparate and so left the spuds under the watchful eye of Brother the Younger, giving him the very specific instruction of: "Just don't let them boil."

When I come back I have a peek and quickly put the lid back on. A few minutes later I check again. A minute later Brother the Younger checks. Brother the Elder pipes up telling us if we leave the potatoes to their own devices, they will boil. To which Brother the Younger says: "But how will we know if the potatoes are done if we don't check them? It's like Schrodinger's cat: we won't know until we take off the lid."

"Good point," I say.

"Listen to the water bubbling and time it," Brother the Elder suggests dryly.

"Good...point," I repeat, standing closer to the hob and straining my ears for the death-squeals of par-boiling potatoes.

"But doesn't it depend on the amount of water used, how many potatoes are in  the pan, the quality and size of the pan..." Brother the Younger launches into a theory of the potato-time continuum in which surely the size of the chunks of potato must have some bearing on the time taken to boil. I'm still listening to the potatoes. Then I have an idea.

"But I don't want them boiled," I exclaim. "I want them par-boiled! How will I know when they're par-boiled if I don't check them?"

"Oh, for God's sake."

Game, set, and match. 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Bag-Packing Philosphy

Ladies and gentlemen, if I could give you one piece of advice, strategic bag-packing would be it. The long-term benefits of strategic bag-packing have been proved: you could save, oo, several nano-seconds per trip, and also nobody will bother you because they think you're nuts.

Each week, I go to the supermarket and whoosh round with my trolley, placing items into it with no real care or arrangement, save for the eggs and fruit - because nobody wants a squashed banana. No, here in the trolley, all foodstuffs are equal: noodles rub metaphorical shoulders with cheese, carrots fraternise with face-wash, and there's a veritable party going on between the herby sun-dried tomatoes and the mammoth-sized piece of cod. It's the grocery equivalent of the Roaring Twenties. (Apart from the eggs - they're the grocery equivalent of Cinderella: they can't go to the ball, but if they do it won't be spells that are broken.)
However. Once at the till, the game changes. You've got to be on the ball. Some food is more equal than others. Heavy and bulky stuff go on first, get them out the way; they go at the bottom of the carefully arranged and outspread bags UNLESS there are boxes of tissues, in which case they go directly into the trolley - they ain't taking up valuable veggie space. The fruit and veg have an entire bag to themselves; there's a dairy section, a meat section, a fish section; there are subdivisions within classifications; bread and croissants go last so as not to squash them. Save the shopping, save the dinners.

Today, it was all ruined, quite horribly, in fact. To the extent that I will have nightmares about mangled raspberries and stabbed yoghurt-pots for quite some time. Queueing up to purchase one's shopping, at the end of the tills I could see Volunteering Bag-Packers. Not competent Volunteers; oh, no. Child 'Volunteers'. People forced to be there. People who would rather be playing videogames. People who couldn't give a caramelised sweet about other people or their shopping. The worst sort of people to pack your bags.

The youthful pre-teen asks: "Do you want your bags packed?"
NO! I inwardly, seethingly cry; NO! You don't know your arse from your aubergine!
But you can't say no; it's a fundraising, charitable deed. If you say 'no, thanks, I have arms and would like my eggs with their shells intact', you will be booed by fellow shoppers, even if they secretly agree with you. You will be evicted from Morrisons with the disgrace of tutting and pointed fingers. The NSPCC will be called and your name will be put on their list of Child-Haters and children will be permitted, nay, encouraged, to hurl packets of broken biscuits at your head as you try to lead a normal life, wondering what would have happened if only you'd said 'yes'.
So you must submit to the indignity of spring onions limply protesting beneath pots of Muller rice and cry dry tears for the croissants now inhumanely stuffed between a butternut squash and a bottle of washing-up liquid. The mushrooms will be paté by the time they arrive home. All this you must suffer for benign civic duty. And then give them money for it.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

My what I would like to call Miranda blog-post but I'm not called Miranda

Everyone has a Gary in their life, even Spongebob. My Gary, however, spells his name with an 'i' and belongs in the past with the Spice Girls and a boyish haircut when I was going through one of those embarrassing tomboy phases every girl goes through at some stage... No? Just me who wanted to be called George then (I blame Enid Blyton). Moving on. My Gari is a local celebrity on a small scale - he plays football for the Reds and is blessed with good looks. Don't worry, he won't read this; he's probably forgotten all about me, and if he does read this I'll just claim Alien Hand Syndrome. I didn't write it, my hand did. Oh look, it's doing it now.

I also firmly believe that everyone has a Stevie, and if you don't you should certainly think about acquiring one - who wouldn't want a pint-sized Heather-Small-singing coeval you can regularly shove off a stool in the name of comedy? (I haven't done this, and if I did I would at least have the good grace to take her to A&E.)
My Stevie is in Spain, only she's not Spanish and I've never seen her in a flamenco dress, although I have seen her decked out in Princess Fiona kit. We once conspired to ask for a celebrity's autograph on something entirely inappropriate (it was the only thing I had in my bag) and we regularly have competitions involving words, cats, and moustaches - although we've never attempted to combine all three. Stevie, Stevie, Stevie...!

The thing is, I have a Stevie and I have/had a Gary/i (slash - funny word - 'slash') but I don't have a mother determined to see me  married at any cost, despite references to little sprogs - "we'll keep these books for the grandchildren" - which is a good thing, and I'm very grateful: it'd be far too socially perilous for me to enter into any sort of conventional relationship. I couldn't cope with an extra person to know inside out, trying to recall whether it's grapefruit or kiwi they're allergic to; I have lapses in concentration putting the shopping away. With so much ultimately useless but super interesting information stored up here I might even forget I am married. I'd be terrified of being arrested for spousal neglect. And as for children, one is not fit for motherhood when one thinks  'Baby changing facilities available' means a forthcoming baby swap-shop event.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness

Reading the news this morning made me realise what a miserable world we live in. At times. You can't pick up a paper or turn on the radio without being informed of oppressive regimes, some new strain of disease, natural disasters, or Dan Brown publishing a new novel. Although that could be shoved under the natural disaster heading. There are global tragedies, national problems, personal difficulties, and - to top it off - those tiny little straws that end up breaking somebody's back.

So enough. I hereby declare war on all forms of miserableness, wretchedness, and sorrow, in the form of a list of things that make me happy. Perhaps it will cheer others up too; also, they're free (if you happen to own any Eddie Izzard DVDs) and, in most cases, only require a little imagination.

1) Watching a dozen sheep jump over an embankment, give themselves a little shake, and see their wool jiggle like jelly.

2) Bubbles. Both the action of blowing bubbles and the word itself. Go on, say it aloud. Also, puffin.

3) Racing butterflies: either on foot or cycling. You may need some decent weather for this. As you will for the following suggestion.

4) Rolling around in grass. If you have a garden, great. If not but there is a park nearby, go there; just watch out for, erm, leavings.

5) Drawing Vampowls: a concept which I invented this very morning. Fat, angry owls with fangs - how can it not  make you smile?

6) Pretending to be somebody else for a while, complete with voice and actions, from Marilyn Monroe to James Bond. Surprise someone with your best Sean Connery impression. My personal favourite is a 1940s radio newsreader.

7) Singing (in one's head - manners still count) different songs to go with the rhythm of chewing. I find Jingle Bells goes particularly well with crunching an apple.

8) Eddie Izzard. No explanation necessary.

9) Writing very silly sketches involving terrible puns, bizarrely named characters, and usually a platypus.

10) Making, as a tribute to Miranda Hart, Fruit Friends, Dairy Mates, and Celebretables. And a new take on A Clockwork Orange in the form of a Digital Tangerine.


Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Accidental Gardener

Perhaps 'haphazard' would serve better than 'accidental': I certainly don't seem to mind where I fling soil, weeds, and the occasional poor little earthworm (I did apologise). I have no plan, no grand design, but plant little shrubs where whim takes me and sow seeds where fancy leads me. Or when given orders.

Sun shining, its tendrils bathing the garden in sublime aureity, I brought out the big guns to plant a quince tree - quince! I thought it belonged only in fridges, The Owl and the Pussycat, and Renaissance recipes! - and herbs. As I strode to the battleground I had a sudden thought which demostrates a clear over-watching of Poirot, a thought after which I had to reason with myself that just because I had left the door to the garden shed open it did not mean someone was going to opportunely murder me with a hoe.

While I worked, I mentally named the birds around me I could see and hear from all sides: robin, blackbird, swallow, greenfinch, helicopter... Helicopter? That's not a British bird. Pah.

I moved on to the next task of weeding. Odious little growths. I declare I hold quite a Lady Macbethian murd'rous loathing towards weeds: "Out, damned weeds; out, I say!" I feel she would have made a formidable horticulturalist. Replace the blood with soil and there you have it. Greenfingers. Although surely brownfingers would be a more appropriate appellation in such circumstances?

Behind the garden gate runs a lane, a public path for walkers, but I've not seen anybody go down there for years. Today, however, I did: a man with a backpack carefully wasing himself over the stile. He must have been making for the river; a beautiful day for it. Warm, tranquil, cows on the rolling hills, the sweet song of birds, the melodious voice of a startled gardener crying "Aargh! Bumblebee! Bumblebee!" One does what one can.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Existential Dentistry

Eduard Punset, a Catalan man who is considerably well-known, once quoted an American scientist who was only convinced of the difference between animals and humans when social network sites started popping up.

Although I agree with him that the probability of giraffes tweeting about their defence mechanism ('Kicked a lion in the face today#downkitty'), or penguins updating their Facebook status: 'Have just seen an orca stuck on an ice floe - mega LOLz!', is unlikey, I beg to differ from the scientist. I believe the difference between animals and human beings are dentists. Now, I know what you're thinking - you're thinking: "Well, actually, there are animals out there that perform a sort of dental service on others. Look at those birds that nimbly peck the titbits from the teeth of a crocodile. Or those little fish that clean the gums of larger fish." True, true, true. However, I bet they don't speak the Code.

For this, the Code, is the difference: our homo sapien dentist fellows speak in a foreign language, for what purpose, I know not. I can only conjecture that when they say 'upper left 7 amalgam filling, slight crumbling' this is a code red alert for 'the tooth is about to disintegrate in a matter of seconds; get behind the screen and notify the Tooth Fairy'. (They're definitely in league.) Bill Bailey says much on the subject and he gives very good advice: say odd things back. Things that will totally confuse the mouth-marauder. "The pheasant has its own agenda..." is a good example.

Either the dentists are sadists and enjoy bamboozling their patients, convincing them that their teeth are going to be extracted and fashioned into chess pieces, or they're playing Battleships, enamel style: "Lower right 4 present; lower right 3, 2, 1 present - I've sunk the submarine!"

More terrifyingly, are the words: "Lower right 8, no sign". What do you mean 'no sign'? Is this good? Is Tooth Number 8 supposed to stay hidden beneath the gum, a harmless, bony, oral Atlantis never to surface and yet encourage deluded dentists to poke at it from time to time, convinced it exists? Or is it a bad thing? Am I supposed to have Tooth Number 8? Has it remained hitherto unseen for a purpose of its own, plotting to erupt in a style akin to the eponymous creature in Alien and take over my mouth in a splenetic protest over buccal hygiene until I am forced to send in the troops to drill it into submission? Or, quite possibly, am I in possession of a rare tooth; a tooth in existential denial (what is a tooth?)?

I, for one, have no idea. But I will be keeping a watchful eye out for tentacles...


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Apostrophic punctuation.

If Hamlet's trusty Marcellus were here now, he might conclude there is something rotten in the state of Devonshire. The apostrophe is being murdered, as it lies sleeping in the garden.

Mid Devon District Council is intent on marrying the street signs seemingly for their own good and yet will lead to ruination and chaos. Their declaration of abandoning the use of the apostrophe in street signs is only for the good of the local people, they say. How much confusion will be avoided if only the apostrophe were not blemishing those signs! they cry. And, indeed, who could blame their most honourable stance against the apostrophe when Blundell's Avenue causes panic to all those who do not avert their eyes from the hideous mark between the l and the s, denoting possession. Perhaps they are far Left Grammaticals: no more possessives! their slogan. Give the people back their letters! Down with the dictatorial presence of apostrophes!

I must confess, I had no idea apostrophes in street signs were so baffling, or so tyrannical. Who are they, those who melt into quivering wrecks at a mere glance of Beck's Square yet are perfectly capable of sauntering past Bakers View? What manner of person is it who is so affronted by a correctly placed apostrophe? When asked this reasonable question Mid Devon District Council declined to comment. Perhaps it is they themselves who suffer from apostrophobia, not the townsfolk. Take them away immediately and replace them with people who can use punctuation properly without developing a rash.

How long before the full stop is persecuted? How long before the question mark the comma the semicolon are wiped from all written existence and the written word becomes something like a talkative sixyearold who cannot possibly draw breath or stop and is forced forever more to use conjunctions lest it come to the end of a sentence and have no way of knowing how to terminate it

Ghoulish, n'est-ce pas? I once signed a contract for a flat; a contract that warned me of the dire consequences should "any breeches of the conditions stipulated in this contract...[etc etc]" occur. A spelling error it may be, and no grammatical mistake, but even so. My breeches are no one's business but my own. Except maybe Hamlet's. Possessive.

Let us not march towards irrevocable entropy. Let us not have the misery of dredging the river for a drowned Semi-colon. Let us not face a stage-produced Comma wringing its non-existent hands reciting:
"To be, or not to be; that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The Tip-ex and erasers of outrageous council policy,
Or to take arms against a board of apostrophobes,
And, by opposing, end them..."

Let us have a world in which punctuation may freely roam, if correctly used, and add to the coherence of our written language. Let us keep our scriptorial demonstration of possession.