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.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Fifty Hades of Bibliocide

Can you imagine a town without a bookshop? Try it. Hideous, isn't it? Bleak, barren, a Ray Bradbury dystopian purgatory. Now type 'Workington, Cumbria' into Google, and imagine no more. Welcome and bienvenue to Fifty Hades of Bibliocide.

Once, we had a bookshop... The Derwent Bookshop... jingly bell as you shouldered open the magnificent ivory and golden doorway (metaphorically speaking - council funds were strictly limited) to a haloed cornucopia of narrative dynamite. I found it as soothing as I did exciting. But then, anathemous infamy: it closed down. Nobody was reading. Either because technology swept through like a horde of rats scampering through intellectually stifled terrain and feasting on the incertitude or suspicion of all matter papyrical were it not for wrapping one's Friday piscine supper, or nobody actually read in the first place and it was a doomed enterprise from the start. I'm praying it's not the latter. Rather, books have been killed with Kindleness...

Puns aside, it is depressing. The only place one might purchase a book in Workington now is WHSmith and charity shops. The problem with charity shops is that it is highly improbable they stock the precise title for which one was searching (unless you really were looking high and low for a battered and suspiciously stained copy of E.L.James); and WHSmith is a pre-vendor of books: somewhere to browse whilst stocking up on biros and fluorescent sticky notelets, then finding the nearest true bookshop, parting with your tender there.

Thus in shameful want of an adequate biblionic market, Workington folk must hoof their way to nearby Cockermouth (no jokes, please; we've heard them all) or Whitehaven.

Cockermouth must be given a short paragraph of its own to gently, reverently, place victory laurels upon its Wordsworthian brow after a monumentally successful re-opening of their bookshop after the 2009 floods. The inundation of biblical magnitude gutted the property and left residents unable to order copies of Her Fearful Symmetry and whatnot. Now, after three and a half years, The New Bookshop has shown that God will have to send more than a Flood to dampen their reading habits.

Now to arguably the the best bookshop in the world, ever: Michael Moon's bookshop in Whitehaven. Lunatic in name and nature, it gives one the opportunity to navigate somewhat creatively (i.e. become lost) but it is also a bibliophile's Elysium of old, leathery tomes enshrined in bookcases; where there remains no more space on the bookshelves, on the top they go, spiralling towards the ceiling in precarious, yet precious arrangements. Drapes semi-conceal corridors beckoning with coquettish 'come-hither' glimpses of the treasures behind the bridal veil. Room upon room appear, each with its own alcoved jumble of subjects exhaling aromas of decades-old, centuries-old, tales, perfuming the air with their heady promises of ageless wonders. Stairs, chambers, steps, darkened passages stuffed with books, positively bloated with opera... I was completely enamoured from the moment I first set foot in this Arcadia. I was also in a state of pecuniary deficiency. It's rather like turning up to a school sports day without your trainers or going on a substantial car journey without a David Bowie CD - woefully underequipped and plain silly.

Had the cathedral-esque demand for tranquillity in such distinguished companies as Donne, Shakespeare, and Churchill not instilled in me the veneration they merit, I would have indulged in squeals of unmitigated joy. As it was, I contented myself by mentally staging a coup de librairie in a despotic attempt to rule the Moon. Hell hath no fury like a frustrated bibliophile...

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Distracted Creativity

I read somewhere, quite recently, that easily distracted people are more - oh, there's my passport! - creative than focussed people. I'm not sure how much truth there is to this but I thought - nails need cutting - it's true that I spend a lot of time starting one thing and not finishing it because - mmm, coffee - I suddenly feel the urge to draw pirates, cartoon toilets, and invisible kangaroos (surprisingly easy to sketch).

There should definitely be some way of accurately recording a person's stream of consciousness because the results would be fascinating, delightful, bizarre, potentially scary, and certainly humorous in a stratified mesh of thoughts, ideas, memories, and fantasies.

My own mind wanders from intergalactic ponderings to offended grammatical sensibilities with no clue as to how one thought is attached to another, like a drunken bloke on a stag do with no recollection of how he got from Devon to Glasgow with a defibrilator and a Latvian phrasebook. For example, I spent most of last night attempting to finish a book of critical analysis yet ending up imagining what sort of cars Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley would each own in accordance with their situation and character had Jane Austen written Pride and Prejudice today and set the story in modern day Derbyshire. Which led on to Top Gear, fleetingly, thence to singing the Catalan national anthem with my own lyrics, and then back to a conversation I once had during which the purpose was to debate which chocolate bar you'd least like to be mugged by.

Admittedly, this is more likely to be viewed as simply imagination, since nothing was physically created. Bingley would definitely have a Bentley Continental; very comfort orientated, I feel. But I do write a lot of stories (and blogs) when I should be doing something more useful - what are we having for tea tonight?

The problem is I get distracted while being distracted which is the whole premise of the stream of consciousness - shut up, clock! Gong elsewhere! - and so really it's no surprise that it's like one of Salvador Dalí's paintings up here: ideas spawn ideas - ideaspawn; hm, jelly - and sometimes I have to break off what I'm writing (having previously been distracted) to jot down....

And of course, it's all very well if one is sat in a safety cushioned room - Darcy would have an Aston, Vanquish - where you're no threat to others, but it is terrifying to think that people like me could be and are actually in charge of operating machinery and knives and knitting needles. Many a croissant has fallen in battle after Captain Creative has gone off to faff with flowers in an aesthetically pleasing arrangement - I think he'd have a Land Rover as well. And a Jag. How are we allowed to drive unsupervised and remain in control of the remote when we are those most at risk of channel-hopping or not even concentrating on what it is oooo! Wispas would be sneaky; it'd be a silent snatch and run job but then they are full of holes (though not quite like an Aero) so maybe a Yorkie mugging would hurt more...but then why would it mug one in the first place?

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

I Am a Mole, and I Have a Digging Problem

'Moles are small cylindrical mammals adapted to a subterranean lifestyle.'

So begins Wikipedia's article on moles. The choice of the word 'cylindrical' has conjured up unfortunate images of several moles aligned nose to tail in a Smarties tube, and the phrase 'a subterranean lifestyle' might as well just be synonymous with 'a cellar generously stocked with Bordeaux and smoked ham', in my mind.

But moles. It is mating season here (so I am told), and molehills have started popping up; little brown mounds of earth only hinting at the terrors below. I'm sure my dad didn't believe me at first when I told him there was a molehill. He asked: "Are you sure?"
"Quite sure," I replied. "Unless there's an enormously confused submarine with a curious periscope buried out there."
I'm not sure I expected a response to this.

Of course, digging is what moles do. Come hell or high...won't high water flood them out?
What they should do is set up a mole syndicate, something to ease them off the destructive effects of tunnelling. Diggers Anonymous.

"Hello, I'm a mole...and I have a digging problem. I  dug twenty metres yesterday. My paws hurt and are dirty all the time but I can't stop." Other moles could lend a friendly (tiny) ear, suport them to quit.

The alternative is worse: mole traps or deterrents. Which is precisely what my furious papa purchased to declare subterranean war on those velvety lawn-wreckers. It is, in fact, called the 'sonic mole repeller' - meaning it either only repels those pesky sonic moles, or it refers to the high-pitched whine it makes. I suppose it's sort of like Dr Who's sonic screwdriver but way less cool, more static, and (I am truly desolate about this) no alien in a bow tie. Just a distinctly irked father testing out his new mole deterrent toy in the dining room.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Very Unnecessarily Obese Schoolchildren

This week some politician or other (I forget; I don't pay that much attention) has come under fire for a comment that implies that deprived families spawn the most obese children. Or words to that effect. I don't think that any child should be clinically obese when what they ought to be doing is swinging from monkey bars and scraping their shins climbing up trees. So, I have sought to come up with a way to ease the strain on the chubby children's patellas.

Jamie Oliver was obviously a source of inspiration, changing the eating habits (eventually) of  many a schoolchild from within the educational system. Pat on the back. But let us go further, and instil in children from a very young age what is good, healthy food and what is not. My idea is actually so simple, I don't know why it hasn't already been done. David Cameron, get ready to add this to your next manifesto: we petition for The Very Hungry Caterpillar to be a mandatory piece of literature on the curriculum.

No, really. The Very Hungry Caterpillar might have an insatiable appetite but he generally eats the right stuff: an apple on Monday; two pears on Tuesday; three plums on Wednesday; four strawberries on Thursday; and five oranges on Friday. (This is actually beginning to sound like a Craig David song. Just without sex.) He goes off the rails a bit on Saturday, but we'll get to that. By the end, then, he turns into a beautiful, sparkling specimen of a butterfly - a great nutritional lesson for kids. I suppose the only way they'll manage to become as colourful as the butterfly is if the juices of various fruits squirt all over their little faces, but that's a given. Even as an adult I can never munch on a plum without getting the juice all over my hands.

The fruit may also want to be tempered with vegetables of some description or what's liable to happen are incidents of a pants-filling nature. Then again, if a child is wolfing down five oranges in one go, I think that constitutes as rather abnormal behaviour.

And the Very Hungry Caterpillar does indulge in a fair few fattening items which aren't really part of a typical caterpillar's diet (for example, one sausage, one lollipop, and one piece of chocolate cake), but there's that wonderful word 'editing'. Just omit the part about the cupcake and ice-cream, and we're away. Bring out a special edition for cutting down on child obesity. Or blame the fact that the Very Hungry Caterpillar felt so awful with his poorly tummy after eating all that food on the rubbishy food he gobbled. Well, he wasn't ill after eating those five oranges, was he?

So that is my plan. Because an added benefit is that a child isn't as statistically likely to be mugged by the school bully for sticks of carrot. Plus, they'll be much more able to run away.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Discarded Christmas Tree Project

My delicious homemade truffles
First of all, a belated felicitous New Year to you all (I'm still operating on Spanish time). So, after a festive season that has kept me très busy entertaining, cooking, gobbling truffles, and having the excuse of drinking before midday, it was time to take myself  off up to Scotland to be the knightess in a shining silver threaded coat.

My crazy Catalan friend has decided to brave the icy winds and almost constant drizzle, and will be studying in Edinburgh. I was to help her look for a flat, which was about as useful as a chocolate teapot because I too was about as clueless as she about the city. We carried about four maps between us and at times it was so windy the large map required a headbutt or two in order to be folded. The woman who'd given us the maps was the owner of the B&B where we were staying and she owned a delightful cat called Hugo, calling to mind Paris, compounded by the impressive architecture in Edinburgh.

We could have simply wandered the streets of Edinburgh ourselves, but my friend was in the know: she knows of the free tours in the cities of Europe. Well, technically they are free - a donation is always welcome depending on how much you feel the tour is worth. It's a jolly good idea though and we enjoyed it immensely, after three hours with a knowledgable, amusing, and beardy Australian - I fear he may have been forced to grow the beard to keep his face, unused to such low temperatures, snug. Much history was reeled off, many of the dates now fled from memory, but the imagery of blue naked wildmen keeping back the Romans will not likely be forgotten hurriedly. Nor shall the far too vigorous and enthusiastic descriptions of torture methods for political dissidents, which include nailing an ear with a three-inch nail in the middle of the market place and slivers of bamboo forced underneath the fingernails as possible until the nail popped off.
An expensive private school provided names for the houses in H.P.

There was also the creepy churchyard where many a ghost is said to roam, bodies still with plague buried, and the inspiration for some of the characters in Rowling's Harry Potter stories, most notably Tom Riddle. Woooo, chilling.... 

So, kings dying, beheaded queens, bishops having stools thrown at them, plague, mutilation, ghost stories, and literary phenomena; this sort of information works up an appetite. To luncheon, ho! During which a gauntlet for a truffle-off was hurled down. Time and place of duel yet to be confirmed. I'm sure I'll win.

Without a doubt, however, the merriest time for me was the Discarded Christmas Tree Project. Aim: strike as many different poses with as many discarded Christmas trees as possible. Success rating? I'd give a good 6.5. It's just a shame not many people got to witness the sheer genius and creativity of the activity; there were so many trees around that there were more than enough for the population of Edinburgh. In fact, I'm pretty sure there were more trees than people.
Bizarre tree-thief