Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Book Review: Moab is my Washpot,

the autobiography of Stephen Fry, copyright 1997, available from Arrow Books.

Just go read it.

(Miss Melville: you need to read this because there's a great section about the nature of truth and The British Personality that I think may prove vaguely relevant to your cultural studies. If nothing else it's a great jape to lump it in your Biblio.)

Stephen Fry is brilliant with words, we all know that. He's not just clever or witty with them, as are many charming punsters. He genuinely loves them, knows them intimately, and understands their origins and many changing usages through time. As such, he chooses his words very carefully and very deliberately (yet maintaining a tone of chatty spontenaity -- there is nothing stilted or contrived about his style). Each word is there because it is the only one that will do. It is the correct word for that space, and no other word could fill its function. For the reader, it's like looking at a painting by a Dutch Master, every brush stroke doing exactly what it is meant to do. It's a joy, a genuine joy to read, never mind the content.

And the content is just as good. He goes back and forth between personal anecdotes and grand cosmic thoughts, in a sort of conversational way. It's an easy read, and yet still thought-provoking. His section on music and the way it effects him, the way he affects music, and the social consequences therein, is breathtaking.

I don't understand the title. I know it's from Psalm 108, but I don't understand its meaning or relevance. If anyone else does, please share with the rest of the class.

Overall rating: 4 bungling buggerers

(Oh, and this bit is funny. Apparently once instead of committing suicide, Stephen Fry once went to Belgium instead, as a sort of punishment. Go watch "In Bruge" and tell me if that's not the funniest thing you've ever heard in your life.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Movie Review: In Bruges

Pirate and I went to see 'In Bruges' yesterday out at Cribbs. It was surprisingly good. From the trailer it looked like one of those films that could go either way, and be really good or really, really awful, but would never be anywhere in the middle. It was bound to be an all-or-nothing film, and I'm delighted to report the former.

It was well cast, well scripted, well acted, and well filmed. It weird, no doubt about that, but then, anything with Ralph Fiennes in it is always weird. And funny, you can count on that, too.

Basically it's the story of a couple Irish hitmen sent to Bruges by their crime boss for Reasons Unknown, and if I tell you more than that I'll spoil all the fun. It's kind of "Lock Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels" meets some weird French art film meets, hell, I don't know what. Go see it and you tell me.

What struck me most about the film was the impressive balance it struck: it was funny, but it was not a comedy. It was emotive, but it was not a drama. It was intense, but it was not a thriller. I really don't know how to classify it. It drew on a dozen genres and avoids slapped with an over-simplifying label. To say that I laughed and I cried is a cliche', but damnit I did those things. And how can it be a cliche' if it happens so rarely?

The other thing that impressed me was the gentle handling of the characters. They weren't caricatures, they were almost tangibly real (except Ralph Fiennes, but no one wants him to be real anyway; he's better as a walking comic book). I don't want to make this sound like some sloppy, sentimental movie. It wasn't. But it had it's sentimental moments. They were touching without being saccharin.

And the humor, god the humor. Least P.C. film I've ever seen. Here's a great line: "God, I'm at a party with a couple skanky hos and a racist midget. I'm going to bed." At times the humor was very dark indeed, and at times rather off-color. You could almost describe it as "black and blue." (Sorry, couldn't help myself there.)

And the got the details right. Do you know how many films are spoiled by idiots getting the details wrong? I saw "21" recently, and came away pissed off because a dude in Boston, Massachusetts leaves his bike outside without locking it and it's still there when he comes back out, and the university leaves an official letter to him taped to his dorm room door. THAT SHIT DOESN'T HAPPEN, and it just distracts and detracts from the film. "In Bruges" gets the details right, from shirt collars to criminals needing to read maps mid-chase in a foreign city.

And they cast it right. They didn't cast beautiful people who Look Like Actors. They cast people who look like people and are good actors. I wish Hollywood would wake up to massive improvement this would make in their fucking films.

Overall, I recommend it highly. It pulled me through a variety of powerful emotions, from cracking up, to awkward nervous laughter, to terror, revulsion, suspense, more nervous laughter, relief, and hope. It was fun and it made me think. It got the details right, and I strongly suspect it's one of those films that you can watch a dozen times and spot something each time that you hadn't noticed before. "The Graduate" does that. "Cabaret" does that. This one might, too. I'll have to watch it again and let you know, but I've got a good feeling about it. I'm giving it 4 1/2 glasses of Leffe.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Kick me when I'm down

They ate my Oreos, the cunting fucking cunts!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I don't have words to express my outrage. It was bad enough deciding to race a boat that they knew I couldn't participate in, and in doing so effectively kicked me out of the boat club and cut me off from racing in what would have been my last competitive season. That was bad enough. That was heart-breaking.

I left training camp early and came back to Bristol, but I left behind in Reading the cooking equipment that I'd brought along. We were staying in University of Reading dorms, which are self-catered (ie you cook your own food rather than eat in caffeterias), but we had to bring our own pots and pans. I brought the biggest pots and pans. I brought the only pot that was big enough to cook pasta for 8 people, and the only pan that was wide enough to saute enough ground beef for spaghetti sauce for pasta for 8 people. So as a favor, as a fucking favor to the fucking cunts who kicked me off the team, I left my giant pots, pans, strainers, mixing bowls and wooden utensils behind for them to use for the remainder of the week. I also left behind some food that I'd bought but wouldn't be eating and couldn't be arsed to carry back to Bristol.

And then there were the Oreos.

I love Oreos, and they're one of the foods that (as you know) I've whinged that I can't get in the UK. At least not in any of the stores around here.

While in Reading we shopped at a gigantic 24-hour Tesco, and while walking down the cookie isle looking for caramel digestives and jaffa cakes, I saw them. Their gleaming blue, black and white packaging containing the promise of bitter, crumbly, fake-chocolate cookies sandwiching tasteless filling of lard and sugar within. Heaven. The kind of heaven that soaks up cold milk like Jeebus-krispie soaks up gay-hate rhetoric from the foaming mouth of Pat Robertson and turns into a slimy, mushy, fake-cocoa and fatty, sugary pile of slop on your tongue and leaves little black crumbs in the bottom of the milk. That kind of heaven. I bought a bag. (Obv.)

I made a big deal out of how I happy I was that I had found Oreos. Everyone knew of my Oreo obsession. When I left I made it extremely clear to everyone exactly which food I was leaving behind that was to be designated "communal." I even wrote down exactly what was mine and what they were entitled to. That was in one area of the kitchen. In another area, in a different cupboard, I forgot my beloved Oreos. It was a frantic, emotional morning, out of sight out of mind and all that. And I'm notorious for forgetting shit, just ask my 10th grade art teacher.

Before I'd left, but after it was too late to go back for the Oreos, I smacked my forehead and realized my error. I was really pissed off at myself, both for general stupidity and because I was looking forward to getting home, having a serious cry, and tucking in to a bag of the least nutritious, best-tasting comfort food that Ceiling Cat ever put on the face of the Earth, and now through my own idiocy I was depriving myself of one of the only comforts I had to look forward to.

I made a big wail over the whole thing and begged my Captain L and Coach O to bring my Oreos back to Bristol on the weekend with the rest of my cookware. This was not a case of accidental misunderstanding. They promised.


I know it's just a bag of cookies, but talk about adding insult to injury. First they gave me the broken heart of a lifetime when they told me they were racing a boat that I couldn't row and were thereby depriving me of the triumphal comeback that had been my sole motivation to keep training since I wrecked my back,
and then, in my moment of despair, they took away my one stupid comfort, a taste of home that I hadn't had in years. A simple, simple joy; a taste of home. The cunts ate my Oreos.

How could they?

Fast and Furious

After some months of not having much to say, I suddenly find myself with an abundance of material in my head, clammoring in my brain to be let out on the ether. The next few days may be a bit of a jumble. I just thought maybe I should warn you.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

As the hippopatomus of time

flatulates on the marathon runner of style as it ambles along the road of BBC comedy, so goes the great Humphrey Lyttleton.

RIP you sarcastic, sodding, talented genius.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Baking disaster

Did I tell you about the 2-fold baking disaster I endured while attempting to create the Pirate's birthday cake? No? Well let me tell you about it now. I would love to know if any of you have experienced similar problems, because I am completely flummoxed by what went wrong, and I really want to try this recipe again.

The recipe was for an orange cake with white chocolate frosting. Sounds tasty, yes? I thought so too.

It was an odd recipe. There were no leaveners in the batter. Rather, the butter and suger were creamed together, then egg yolks, flour, and fresh squeezed orange juice added. The loftiness off the sponge was meant to come from the egg whites, which were beaten in to a meraingue and then folded in to the batter.

At least, that was how it was supposed to work. Here's the odd bit: I could't get the egg whites to beat stiff. I've made meraingue dozens of times before, but for some reason on this occasion I could not get those little puppies stiff. They just got all foamy, but stayed very wet and soupy. That was the strangest thing I'd ever seen... until I tried to make the frosting.

The frosting called for melting some white chocolate and folding it in to some creme fraiche. Except the chocolate wouldn't melt. I kid you not. I was using Green & Black's white chocolate, and I put it in a double-boiler so as not to over-heat it, but it wouldn't melt! It got all pasty, like mashed potatoes. I thought maybe there was some wierd additive in the chocolate, so I tried again with another brand, Nestle Milky Bar. Same result. I mean dude, WTF???

I wound up beating the creme fraiche stiff with some powdered sugar and a touch of nutmeg and just using that for the frosting. And actually, it was marvelous. So good, in fact, I'm going to do the same for my wedding cake. But I still want to know why my white chocolate wouldn't melt. Damndest this I ever saw.

Has anyone else ever had these problems? I'm baffled.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tasty snack (and so simple even Ziggy could do it)

5 ingredients (6 if you count the oil as an ingredient, which i never do):

2 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 can chopped tomatoes
dozen or so fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
2 big handfuls baby spinach
1 egg

  • Heat oil in shallow pan
  • Add garlic, sizzle 1 minute
  • Add tomatoes, basil, simmer on med-high until tomatoes are thick and much water is gone (about 5 mins)
  • Add spinach, stir until all spinach is wilted.
  • Dump into serving bowl
  • Add 1 more Tbs oil to pan, heat, and add egg.
  • Fry egg (I like my yolks runny.)
  • Slide egg on to spinach/tomato stuff in bowl.
  • Eat (remember to blow first, it's hot.)

So there I was thinking, If eggs and spinach go well together, and eggs and tomato go well together, and spinach and tomato go well together, how bad can this be???

Answer: not at all. In fact, it's awesome. The vitamin C in the tomato helps your body to get the most out of the egg, the egg is full of protein and vitamin E, the spinach is full of iron, and the oil and garlic are both good for your heart. This is the most nutritious thing you will ever eat! And if you want to make it a full meal, dump it over some pasta and *boom* Robert's your father's brother.

You're welcome.

Everyone's an expert

If you suffer from back pain or have recently given birth, you've no doubt experienced this phenomenon: everyone, absolutely bloody everyone, has an opinion on your condition (or how you should be raising your baby), and they are all convinced that there opinions are more correct than the countless medical professionals you've been seeing. And then they get pissy when you ignore them or tell them to mind their own beeswax.

And before you get all huffy, this isn't just about unsolicited advice in the comments box, it's about every fucking person I meet who feels they have to give me their 2 cents worth, and then by way of legal disclaimer, point out that if I ignore their advice and suffer a re-injury that it's my own fucking fault and all sympathy goes out the window. That's my favorite part. The old "if you don't do as I (random person who's never met me and has no medical qualifications) say you'll suffer for it and it will be your fault for not taking my advice, which is obviously so much better than everyone elses!"

So for the benefit of anyone else out there thinking of telling me exactly what I'm doing wrong regarding my back:
  1. I'm not doing nothing about it. After regular physical therapy, pilates, and an on-going course of chirpractic therapy and daily exercise and stretching I am at a point that I could live a completely normal life with only a few tiny adjustments (such as not carrying a heavy grocery bag in one hand, but using 2 lighter ones to balance the load instead).
  2. I know problems don't clear up overnight (how could I not???), but symptoms sometimes do.
  3. If any medical professional, at any time had ever said to me "if you go back to rowing you'll damage your back forever and i strongly advise against any further rowing or sculling" I would have taken that very seriously indeed. But every medical pro I have seen has strongly advised me to continue!!!!
  4. This is because of the nature of my injury. I have a degenerate disk. That means one of my spinal disks has no fluid in it. The fluid is what makes the disk firm. Now it's wilted and soggy and cannot, on it's own, maintain the proper spacing between the vertebrae (L4 and L5, specifically). "On it's own" means that I need my core muscles to compensate by holding my spine up properly. Rowing is an excellent core-strengthening exercise, and keeps a lot of movement in the back. I've now had 2 professionals tell me that the best thing I can do for my back is keep rowing.
  5. Of course I have considered the problem of pregnancy and child-rearing, and asked my doctor and my chiropractor about it. They both said that I will likely suffer fewer back back problems during pregnancy than the average woman for the very reason that I'm doing so much to strengthen my back and my core now. As for babies, same rules for lifting heavy objects apply.

Anyone else have any advice for me? Thought so.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Allow me to clarify

I wasn't taken out of the boat because my back was acting up and they considered me a liability. My back didn't start hurting until Monday, and the Henley decision was announced on Sunday night, shortly after my coach admitted that "the quad is going more quickly than I expected."

The decision to put a coxed 4 in Henley rather than a quad had nothing to do with my condition. It was based on the fact that in the coxed 4 category there is an "Intermediate Division," whereas with the quad sculls the lowest division you can enter is "Elite." Coach wanted to put our boat against the softest available competition. That was the ONLY reason, never mind that it just happened to fuck over one of the longest-serving and hardest-training (by his own admission) members of the squad.

And as for my back, it gave me problems purely because training camp is an extra-intense training environment. I hadn't been on the water in a few few weeks (because the university was on spring break), and though i'd been doing a lot of land training (cycling, hill sprints, etc.), my back objected to going from no rowing to rowing 3x a day overnight with no buildup. I predicted that would happen, and so was not surprised. I was surprised by the cascade of other problems it created.

After I got back from camp I went to see my chiropractor ("Miracle Mike"), who massaged out my hip flexor properly, put things back where they belong, and within minutes I was fine. The next day I was back to fighting fit. So I'm fine, it was just a case of over-doing things a bit, and I'm back to training. But not back in the boat, of course.

I'm currently in the process of looking for a partner to double with me at Henley. Tonight I'm going on the water with a woman from a neighboring boat club who is also looking for a doubles partner. We'll see how it goes.

The Bristol Uni boat club may have effectively thrown me off their team, but I am determined to make that THEIR loss, not mine. Bristol uni can go to hell.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Back early

If the point of training camp is to experience pain in places you didn't know you had places, then this one was a cracking great success. On every other level, it must be said, it was a pathetic and agonizing failure.

It started out well enough. On Sunday I took my single out in the morning and racked up 16k before either the double or the coxless 4 managed the same distance. I felt good. In the afternoon I went out with the quad scull. God it felt great to go fast again! My back was pretty stiff, but I still managed a good outing with some race starts. By the end of it, though, my back had gone into complete spasm and I couldn't move. Coach O had to carry the boat for me.

That night it was announced that the top crew boat the club would be racing would be a coxed 4. That would be the Henley crew. This is fine, except I can't row in a coxed 4. A coxed 4 ("4+") is a sweep-rowed boat, not a scull. And because of my back problems, I will probably never sweep again. I am now, and for the rest of my life, a sculler. So what it boiled down to is I had just been thrown out of the Henley crew in my final year at Bristol and my last ever year to row competitively at Henley. "Heartbroken" doesn't begin to describe it. I was devastated. I sat in my room alone all night and cried.

Monday morning I was still crying, and had a chat with O. He understood how felt, but had to make decisions that were best for the team, and he thought the team stood the best chance of winning in a 4+ (never mind the fact that we don't actually have a coxwain, that's just an insignificant detail!), and it was a shame that a, I had been left out of it and b, that I train the hardest out of anyone on the crew. He promised me that if I could find a doubling partner from another club that he would do everything he could to help us with training and drive us and our boat to practice regattas. I personally am of the opinion that it's absolutely SHIT that

a, I have been with Bristol for 3 years and now, at the end of my career, i have been effectively abandoned by my squad. There is no more racing for me with Bristol.

b, participation is not a factor in selecting crews. When I was an undergrad it would have been inconceivable that someone who spent 3 years on the squad and did all the training would be denied even a chance in competition.

c, apparently all the hard work and painful physical therapy I've put myself through since I ruptured my disk back in November of 2006 has been for JACK. SHIT. All that effort, and here at the end I get NOT. A. FUCKING. THING. The only thing I got was screwed.

After having this out with O (who is, goddamnit, a really nice guy and yelling at him is like kicking a puppy; i just can't do it), I was still a bit stiff, but took my single out again. I could only do short distances and had to come back to the pontoon frequently to stretch. I tried to do some short pieces to burn off the aggression, but only succeeded in pulling my left hip flexor. By Monday evening I was not only discouraged, I was in serious pain. Sitting in a chair, I was unable to raise my left knee off the floor. I could not walk up stairs. Another night passed crying alone in my room.

Tuesday morning I was somewhat better for a bit of rest, but I was still stiff and sore. I tried going out in the single, and actually went in circles. I had lost at least 30% power in my left leg, maybe more. The strength just wasn't there.

(Now, you have to understand my relationship with my legs. They are huge. They are like tree trunks. They are not attractive, but damnit, they work. They work hard, and they have never, ever let me down. They take everything I throw at them, and they give as good as they get. They are the one bit of my body that I can absolutely, unequivocally depend upon. To be betrayed by one's own body in the pursuit of one's dream is traumatic at best. To be betrayed by my legs is like, well, imagine if Pirate left me and married my sister. That kind of betrayal. I have never been so angry at my own body. It's difficult to know what to do with that kind of anger.)

After 2k of trying to compensate by sculling primarily with my right leg, I had a massive knot in my right lumbar spine, at the top of my glut. I came back in and rang my chiropractor, Miracle Mike. He said he could fit me in Thursday morning.

I announced to the rest of the crew that I was leaving camp early, quitting the Bristol boat club, and they could all please go fuck themselves. With a pineapple. Sideways.

The End.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Off to camp

to bust my balls* for a week, rowing 3 times a day in 50 degree rain. Arse. I will be back late next Thursday night, and I will be working all next Friday, and Pirate will be coming over Friday evening, and we won't have seen each other for 2 weeks at that point, so unless I have internet access at camp, I won't be posting again until Saturday April 19. See you then!

*and if you think for a second that i don't possess balls, you're obviously new to this blog.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fine Dining

Chef's special: Breast of pheasant, pan-seared with forest mushrooms, bell peppers, garlic, and fresh thyme, and served with homemade cranberry sauce and a watercress, tomato, and red pepper salad.

And guess who the chef was? You got it!

Fuck i love me.

(Pirate's cousin is head gamekeeper on a super posh estate oop north where Chaz and Da Boyz go shooting. He (the cousin, not Chaz) showed up at Christmas with a trunk FULL of pheasants and ducks. I still had some breats in the freezer that needed to be eaten, on account of the freezer seriously needs to be defrosted. Ditto the frozen cranberries that i'd been hoarding since december. et voila!)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The 70s Rock

In my quest to expand my music collection (remember that whinge, about a year ago), i FINALLY went and bought a few CDs. (Mostly because the Waterstones that was downstairs from me closed and was replaced by a Fopp, which sells CDs for 3-5 pounds apiece. Fab.) I got:

  • Creedence Clearwater Revival, Recollection (2 CD set)
  • The Very Best of the Electric Light Orchestra (stop laughing, damnit), and
  • AC/DC Live: 2 CD Collector's addition

What did i pay for all this musical wonderousness? 15 pounds, bitch! It's even cheaper than iTunes!!!

(I stopped short of buying Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell III. I loved BoH I & II, but they wanted 12 quid for no. III and I'm pore, damnit! Anyone out there got a copy I can burn?)

I'm on a hiiiiiii-way to HELL! I'm on a hiiiiiiiiii-way to HELL! *bangs head like deranged cockatoo*

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Set theory: shoes

There are shoes I like. There are white shoes. Somewhere, there must be an intersection of these two groups. There must. It simply has to be.


These are "orchid," by a company called Platino. If anyone can find them in white,* please tell me.

*or off-white, cream, ivory, bone, eggshell, or magnolia. I'm not picky.

UPDATE: i just spoke with the store. these shoes are made especially for Wynsors by Platino. They are not available anywhere else, and they are not made in white. Aaarrgh! It's not fair!

UPDATED UPDATE: I just bought these. Mom will hate them. I don't care. job done.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

What's the ony thing better than mating pengies???


If you're in the UK, watch the video. Seriously.

I *heart* the BBC.

And god do I love living in a country where the media has a sense of humor.

In the news...

Cycling, whistling grandmother from 'Bellville Rondezvous' ** given high military honours for leading French resistance during WWII (see photo, left).

**'The Triplets of Bellville,' American title