Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Dirty, Filthy Fun

Get your mind out of the gutter, you lot! We had a fantabulous day in London yesterday that started at the Wellcome Museum. It was an exhibit on DIRT. That’s right. DIRT. According to their website:
Bringing together around 200 artefacts spanning visual art, documentary photography, cultural ephemera, scientific artefacts, film and literature, the exhibition uncovers a rich history of disgust and delight in the grimy truths and dirty secrets of our past, and points to the uncertain future of filth, which poses a significant risk to our health but is also vital to our existence.
Following anthropologist Mary Douglas's observation that dirt is 'matter out of place', the exhibition introduces six very different places as a starting point for exploring attitudes towards dirt and cleanliness: a home in 17th-century Delft in Holland, a street in Victorian London, a hospital in Glasgow in the 1860s, a museum in Dresden in the early 20th century, a community in present day New Delhi and a New York landfill site in 2030.
Highlights include paintings by Pieter de Hooch, the earliest sketches of bacteria, John Snow's 'ghost map' of cholera, beautifully crafted delftware, Joseph Lister's scientific paraphernalia and a wide range of contemporary art, from Igor Eskinja's dust carpet, Susan Collis's bejewelled broom and James Croak's dirt window, to video pieces by Bruce Nauman and Mierle Ukeles and a specially commissioned work by Serena Korda.
It was very exciting as the entrance said Warning contains human remains and I thought Woohoo! We’re in for a good time now. And we were. The exhibit was very interesting and there were all sorts of gross but cool stuff to look at. There were German propaganda posters that said:
JEWS ARE LICE
THEY SPREAD TYPHUS
Frightening stuff But the best bit for me was seeing a genuine single lens microscope that belonged to one of my top favourite scientists Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek (yes I have a list of scientists I adore.)  Read more about him here if you don’t know who I mean. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonie_van_Leeuwenhoek He was awesome and was the first to really look at things like protozoa, bacteria, cells, sperm and see tiny things that the naked eye could not see.  

The regular Wellcome Museum collection which was collected by eccentric genius (are they any other kind?) Henry Wellcome was full of thousands of weird and wonderful things (though he collected millions in his life.) Their website says:

  Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936): Pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector

Henry Wellcome had an early interest in medicine and marketing. The first product he advertised was 'invisible ink' (just lemon juice, in fact). In 1880, he joined his college friend Silas Burroughs in setting up a pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome & Co. They were one of the first to introduce medicine in tablet form under the 1884 trademark 'Tabloid'; previously medicines had been sold as powders or liquids.
Anyway—there were all sorts of weird stuff from rows of amputation saws to a variety of prosthetic limbs—some dating back to the 1800s to shrunken heads to fertility dolls from other cultures to Napoleon’s silver handled toothbrush to Charles Darwin’s carved walking canes to Admiral Nelson’s cut throat razor to Florence Nightingale’s moccasins. Some weird and wonderful stuff. All free.

Then it was off to some health food shops to buy some nice things that we can’t get locally like pomegranate molasses and sweet potato and buckwheat noodles and sriracha—my new favourite Thai hot sauce. How I love the sweet/sour/garlic-y chilli flavoured goodness in that bottle.

Next off to the Illustration Cupboard (which is an awesome art gallery but really is like a cupboard) to see an exhibit of Shaun Tan’s work. He’s here visiting from Down Under to promote his new book and we were seeing him later that night! Double cool with knobs on! I highly recommend his books. Check out his website http://www.shauntan.net he’s also just won an Oscar for Best Short Animated Film for The Lost Thing, which was adapted from the book of the same title. Way to go, Shaun!

Then off to Gosh! Comics for a bit of geek time then to our favourite restaurant to eat their amazing food. I adore Tibits—their healthy buffet of whole foods makes me weep with joy. And they now have gluten free bread rolls which make me want to do a little dance.

Then off to Waterstones to hear one of favourite illustrators Shaun Tan be interviewed. And we got tickets half price due to my Waterstone’s card. Woohoo! Bonus. The interview was so interesting—he showed slides of his illustrations and talked about how he did his art, how he was inspired and his childhood. Then we queued for him to sign our book and a postcard we picked up at the Illustration Cupboard.

Then a very late train home, enjoying our new autographed illustrated version of the Wizard of Oz by Robert Ingpen that we picked up at the Illustration cupboard. It contains the most original illustration of the progression from “meat” to tin of Nick Chopper a.k.a. the Tin Woodman. I have never seen anyone ever attempt to show him as each part is gradually replaced by tin. It is truly a fantastic, beautifully rendered illustration.

What a filthy fun filled day!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Overheard On a Salt Marsh

This was--far and away--my favourite poem as a child. I loved the sinister conversation between the creepy Goblin and the beautiful Nymph. When I was 3 years old or thereabouts I could recite the whole poem from memory except I said "Give me your beads I besire them" (instead of desire them)

Every summer I like to make a stop motion animated film with my Digital Blue camera. This cool camera is made for kids (and I'm just a big old kid at heart, right?) that can make stop motion films and add visual and sound effects if needed. Spiderman recently bought be a microphone to connect to our laptop so I could record myself playing the ukulele to be able to improve. Bless his heart--he paid £4 extra for one that looks like an old fashioned retro mic --I feel like I'm actually at the BBC during the 1940s. Anyway, armed with a new microphone I decided to record the poem and animate a film to go with it. Stop motion animation is a tedious process--I have no idea how Nick Park of Aardman Animation does it--it is 15 frames a second. that's right--15 clicks of the camera button to get one second of film. I tend to do 3 clicks per shot then move the character and do 3 more clicks etc etc until I have made one second of film. There is a small blip where I had moved stuff about 3 times before I realized the camera wasn't connected properly and I couldn't be arsed to go back so the Barbie does a bit of an abrupt move towards the end, but it is for funsies so who cares?

Right, are you sitting comfortably? Turn your volume UP (or ON as the case may be) otherwise you'll not get the full enjoyment.

Overheard On a Salt Marsh by Harold Monro
Animated by Spidergrrl
Staring my Irish Princess Barbie and some troll gonk I found at school

video

Enjoy!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Fetch!

Yesterday I had a play date with a friend from church and her pair of rascally 18 month old fraternal twins. They are from Germany and so mostly speak German, although they understand a reasonable amount of English (more than I can understand in German) and communicate through facial expression and gesture and song and play. I can say useful things like nein (no!) and I smile a lot so it is mostly fine.  

We were sitting by the river watching the ducks when all of a sudden Arthur takes off his Bob the Builder hat and throws it into the middle of the river! We were shocked and could not figure out why he had done it. His little face was just laughing and laughing and then his little face fell and he got very serious and sad and said something in German. His mum said that he thought that if he threw the hat in the ducks would bring it back to him. We all had a laugh and tried to cheer him up as the yellow hat slow sank and no duck was kind enough to capture the brim in its bill and return it to us. So we sat by the water and waved goodbye. Bye bye hat. Auf Wiedersehen hut. After a while of feeling quite sad, he pulled himself up and said in German, Well I can wear other hats.

Then we went to the swing park and had a marvelous time and ate a picnic lunch. While we were swinging Kiki kept saying something to me and the look on her face said I was clearly not responding. So i asked mum to listen and she said she was asking to be pushed harder so she could go higher. Then her mum turned to her and said Heather cannot speak German and her little eyes got so wide! I'm sure she did not believe it.

At the end we stopped by the river to say another Auf Wiedersehen to the yellow hat which was by now at the bottom of the river.It was a wonderful afternoon filled with joy and laughter. Children that age are so full of joy. Every little thing is such a big exciting thing. If only we could all keep that sort of joy and wonderment in our hearts as we grow older.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Hans (Very) Christian Andersen

I wrote a while back about our groovy Hans Christian Andersen poster that was all shimmery and luminescent. Spiderman, being the best reference librarian in the world (even better than the orang-utan librarian from Disc World), tracked down the poster on line and found out all about the illustrators and the process of making it all shiny. Fascinating stuff.

The painting was originally called Hans Andersen’s Dreams and created by a set of twins named Anne and Janet  Grahame Johnstone. They worked together on every piece of art passing it back and forth between themselves until the end product was a true collaboration between them and one sister‘s work inseparable from the others. . When Janet died, Anne carried on, but had to learn how to draw animals--particularly horses--that had been her sister’s speciality. They led fascinating lives and if you want to read more go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_and_Anne_Grahame_Johnstone

The illustration was used on the cover of the Complete Works of Hans Christian Andersen --our copy in fact. Maybe that is why the print seemed so much like an old friend when we saw it. As soon as we got home from the wedding Spiderman rushed and got our copies of books that contained HCA stories. He went into the back room to put something away and I said, “Um, have you looked at the cover of the book you just gave me?” We were both stunned that there was the print. But it was all flat and 2D and some of the upper images had been excluded to make way for the title. The shiny silvery one we bought was much nicer. But what was it made from?

Spiderman to the rescue again. The process is called dufex and it was developed by FJ Warren in the early 20th century. It involves printing images onto aluminium foil-lined paper or cardboard, using UV formulated transparent ink which allow the reflective shine to be retained. Engraving techniques are then used to add a range of light reflective textures to the foil.  Now you want to know the *really* weird coincidence? The original dufex factory was here in Hitchin. So the painting has truly come home. 

I can see you are dying to see the painting. So here it is. It is not our best photo as the luminosity is really hard to capture. But you’ll get the idea. Click on it to enlarge it. How many stories can you name? Before we got home from the wedding we correctly identified 16 stories at a glance, but after many hours of research we have identified 44.


Here it is in close up. Sorry for the quality. That might be easier for identification purposes.  This is the top—click to enlarge.

This is the bottom—also click to enlarge.

If you only know the Disney versions of stories like The Little Mermaid then it is well worth taking a look. HCA was a pious man who struggled with his sexuality (and excessive masturbation that he recorded faithfully in his journal with a + sign) and many of his stories are moralistic tales with sins like pride or vanity being punished in the most startling ways. Check out The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf and The Red Shoes if you don’t believe me. Most of his stories were wholly original, but a few were based on older variations or there is a Brothers Grimm story that is similar.  But my favourite has to be The Tinder Box with the 3 dogs with the giant eyes--eyes as big as saucers, eyes as big as mill wheels and eyes as big as the round tower of Copenhagen.  He also does many delightful anthropomorphic tales where an inanimate object like a shirt collar (who is a big flirt and tells the scissors she must be a dancer with such great legs) or a darning needle (who fancies herself an embroidery needle and when the eye snaps off she tells everyone she’s a brooch) tell their stories (and again are often punished for their lying and thinking better of themselves than they should)

Here are the 44 we have identified so far:
* means it was one of our original 16 identified
**means there is another version similar elsewhere
In a Thousand Years
*  **The Wild Swans (similar Grimms)
Ol’ Shut Eye
The Angel
*The Snow Queen
*The Flying Trunk
*The Nightingale
The Storks
*The Red Shoes
Little Tuk
*The Fir Tree
*The Steadfast Tin Soldier
*The Tinder Box
*The Little Match Girl
The Old Street Lamp
Under the Willow Tree
The Flax
The Elder Tree Mother
*Great Claus and Little Claus
* The Little Mermaid
 *Thumbelina
The Darning Needle
The Shadow
Little Ida’s Flowers
*The Swineherd
The Pen and Ink Stand
The Snowman
The Drop of Water
The Candles
The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep
The Naughty Boy
The Bottle Neck
The Lovers
The Shirt Collar
*The Ugly Duckling
*The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf
The Silver Shilling
Brownie and the Dame
The Snail
The Galoshes of Fortune
** The Rose Elf ( version of Isabella and the Pot of Basil)
*The Emperor’s New Clothes
The Bronze Boar
*The Princess and the Pea  (which actually is the Princess ON the Pea in the original translation)

How many can you identify now?  


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

5-7-5

Last year on this date
I decided to journal
In haiku format

Karen from New York
And her daughter Gwendolyn
Each keep a journal

They write in it each night
And share what they have written
Mother/daughter time

I watched them write it
When we saw them in Cardiff
On our holiday

They write a few lines
And each talk about their day
But not in haiku

I chose haiku form
To challenge myself and build
Vocabulary

It’s really quite hard
To get the syllables right
And make it all fit

Just write your 3 lines
5-7-5 syllables
And now it’s a poem

Please give it a try
It is highly addictive
And quite hard to stop

I told them at work
They said I should get a life
And everyone laughed

I really don’t mind
Because I know I am weird
And they’re just teasing

Their idea of fun
Is to get completely pissed
And act like a twat

Don’t know about you
But I’d rather write haikus
Ya know what I mean?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Blueberry Orange Quick Bread

Spiderman and I definitely have a sweet tooth, but it is certainly not as sweet as it used to be. I can’t eat tooth achingly sweet frosting without feeling ill and I refuse to make a recipe that calls for more than ¾ cup sugar. I can’t justify it for my heath or my teeth. But I do love a bit of sweetness. I got a good deal on blueberries at the market on Saturday and so I thought I’d try my hand at a gluten free version of Blueberry Orange Quick Bread. This recipe originally came from my vita mix cookbook. What I liked about it, besides the fact that it was low in sugar and fat was that it used a whole orange pureed as the liquid component so you got all the fibre as well as the juice. I just subbed in gluten free flour and a bit of xanthan gum and kept the rest the same. The loaf didn’t rise up at all--duh, it wouldn’t as there was no gluten in it--but it was a moist, compact, lightly sweet, bursting with marble sized blueberries and hint of orange quick bread.

Sorry there are no pictures. Someone (naming no names) thinks he accidentally left the camera on  after downloading some photos and the batteries are all run down. But nobodies perfect.

Blueberry Orange Quick Bread
If you want to make this with regular flour just use 1 cup white and 1 cup wholemeal then do the rest the same.  To make it gluten free, but with other flours then you need 1 1/3 cup wholegrain flour and 2/3 cup starch.

Preheat your oven to 160C/325F. I just set my dial to between 150 and 175. Grease a loaf pan.
Sift all the flours together in a large bowl and whisk to combine them.

2/3 cup buckwheat flour
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1/3 cup teff flour
2/3 cup tapioca starch
1 tsp xanthan gum

1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Place all the liquid ingredients in your blender. But not the blueberries, obviously.

2 TB butter or margarine
¼ cup water
½ cup sugar--I used Demerara
1 egg or one flax egg (Mix 1 TB flax meal with 3 TB hot water until it goes all gooey)
1 orange peeled and pulled into segments
¼ inch strip of orange peel
1 tsp vanilla essence

To stir in in a minute:
1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries--frozen is supposed to help them not to “bleed” so much all over your dough. It didn’t work this time as my blueberries were enormous--the finished bread looks like a Jackson Pollock painting

Blend until the orange is fully liquefied. Mix the wet with the dry and fold in the blueberries.
Bake for 60-70 minutes until a knife comes out clean.

That’s it! The loaf seemed very delicate when it came out of the oven--I was afraid it would crumble. Thankfully it did not. I let it cool in my loaf pan for about 10 minutes then I *carefully* tipped it out onto a wire rack and let it cool for several hours while I went to church. When I got home it was easy to slice with a serrated knife. The taste was moist and lightly sweet and the blueberries were all exploded like paintballs throughout making it look very pretty. I am storing it in an airtight tin.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Invitation

Yesterday I received an invitation in the post. It read “I am writing to invite you for a cervical screening test” like it was an invitation to a Tupperware party or a night at the opera. In the UK you only get a PAP smear every 3 years and as many woman are still suspicious there are loads of campaigns to convince you that it is important. Your invitation comes with a leaflet explaining what to expect and why it is important. When 15 minutes of fame celebrity (and I use the term loosely) Jade Goody got cervical cancer her tearful pleas on telly made something like 30% more women have a PAP smear. That was truly her most valuable contribution to society.  If you ignore the letter then others will follow until you are buried under a pile of paperwork and have no choice but to go if only to stop the deforestation of the planet that you are singlehandedly responsible for from your mountains of invitations and leaflets.

I have no problem having a PAP smear done. In the US I had one every year since I was 18. They are not a party, but a necessary part of being a sexually active adult. There is one tiny problem, though. You see—I don’t actually have a cervix anymore. Nope. When I was up for the big op last year, my surgeon asked me if I wanted to keep it. Like a balloon from a really disappointing birthday party, presumably. I toyed with the idea as I had read that some women are less orgasmic without one.  He did say that if I lost my womb but kept my cervix I could expect unexpected breakthrough bleeding or spotting—a.k.a. mini periods and so I declined graciously and opted for a total hysterectomy. That’s not like a valley girl having a hysterectomy—“it was a total hysterectomy, gag me with a spoon”sort of thing. That is the proper name for it. A subtotal hysterectomy takes the womb but leaves the cervix and may or may not take the ovaries and fallopian tubes. A total hysterectomy takes the cervix and the womb and may or may not take the ovaries and fallopian tubes ( I kept mine with the understanding they would probably fail early.) Lastly the skater version—the radical hysterectomy where they take the whole shebang. Dude, that’s radical. Now that the anatomy lesson is over, back to the story.


So I’ll nip over to my local surgery (don’t be freaked out like I was the first time I heard that. All my US peeps are probably thinking surgery means cut, artery, spurt, murder psycho, but a surgery here is just the doctor’s office) and I’ll politely mention it and see if they can write something in the national medical database so I don’t have to keep getting letters until the age of 64 which is when my invitation says they’ll stop sending them. Why 64? Who knows. Probably what Paul McCartney was thinking when he wrote the song.
   
When I get old
and don’t need a smear
Many years from now.

I am tempted to go ahead and make an appointment and then when they put you in stirrups and have a squinty I can leap up and shout “Ha ha! Made you look!”  since there would be nothing to see. But Spiderman says he doesn’t think the NHS has a sense of humour, so probably not. And I lied about the stirrups. I had 3 smears since I arrived and NONE of them involved stirrups. Maybe if you went to a posh Harley Street gynecologist you might get them, but free smears on the NHS involve a nurse practitioner at your local surgery and you lying on your back like a dead bug and a metal speculum that had been kept in the fridge.

So maybe I won’t really miss this after all. Oh and in case you were worried—you can be plenty orgasmic without a cervix. Thank God for that.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Ultimate

   Yesterday we went to see the ultimate Harry Potter film at the Cineworld in Stevenage. By ultimate I mean the dictionary definition  Being or happening at the end of a process; final rather than the surfer dude version of “Dude that was the ultimate!” We have seen all but the penultimate in the series at a cinema so it seemed fitting that we see the last one there as well. The only reason we didn’t see the Deathly Hallows part 1 was I found that part of the book dragged and I didn’t want to pay cinema prices for it. But this was well worth it. It may be the ONLY Harry Potter film I have had nothing to complain about. Yes they left some things out, but it really didn’t alter the plot or leave big gaps that only a reader of the book would know. Anything that was left out was interesting but non essential. Unlike some of the other films.

Whenever I think about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I get all steamy and start muttering things to myself about “How could he possibly *know* that the stag patronus was his dad? He hasn’t had the conversation with Professor Lupin about Prongs, Padfoot, Moony and Wormtail!” Whenever I start ranting like this Spiderman just walks away leaving me on the street corner to mumble to myself like some crazy woman.

But I felt it was a satisfactory end to a series I have enjoyed—not loved, not been obsessed by—but thoroughly enjoyed. It was of course what we call a “popcorn film” where there is all this POW! BANG! CRASH! And you are shoveling popcorn into your mouth with both hands just trying to keep up, but we expected it to be. This was,after all,  the final battle between Harry and Voldemort. I liked how as Voldemort got weaker his eczema flared up. Very realistic.  

It was certainly a good end but these would have been my wishes to improve it:

While I was pleased to see they didn’t cut Neville’s role, I would have liked the line about Neville being professor of herbology at Hogwarts and still friends with gang after all these years to have stayed in that epilogue 19 years later. It was just a nice piece of detail about my favourite character, that’s all.

I would have also liked the scenes with young Lilly and Snape to have had more about her sister Petunia. All you see is her calling Lilly a freak. But in the book it was so much more. Petunia actually wrote to Hogwarts to be accepted as a pupil because she longed so much for the special gifts that Lilly possessed. It is a moment in the book where you see her as completely human and understand all the conflicting feelings of why she hated Harry, but also why she insisted he stay when Uncle Vernon tried to kick him out. The film just makes her look like the cardboard baddie that we thought she was. We had no idea the depth of Petunia until the end.

So Dude maybe it was the ultimate, ultimate film after all.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Wedding Bells

We just got back from the wedding of our dearest friends Iain and Rachel. It was a small intimate affair where they paid for the exclusive use of Caer Beris Manor in Wales—a gorgeous Edwardian building with stunning grounds filled with  trees and gardens and lots of places for spiders to hide (we spent many happy hours strolling the grounds with our catch and release cup looking for spiders. We saw many different sorts including several wolf spiders with egg sacs) and there was a bouncy suspension bridge that was perfect for playing Poohsticks! Click here to see this gorgeous place: http://www.caerberis.com If you click on “take a tour” then you can actually see our room! It is the pink one with the 4 poster canopy bed. It was lovely—and the carpet was the exact shade of my wedding dress so it felt especially romantic. It is well worth clicking on the all the links to view the grounds and the place. It was stunning and perfect to have everyone there for a whole weekend.

Now how do you get to Wales, you might ask? Well Iain and Rachel think of everything. Rachel’s dad is a coach driver so we loaded up a big ole coach and picked people up along the way and drove there. We were the first to be picked up—I mean you can’t ask for more than front door service, can you? And then we stopped off to get family and friends (including all the flowers and the auntie who arranged them) plus the tuxes and wedding dress etc. We arrived mid afternoon and had a lovely relaxed time until the evening BBQ.

Ah, but Spidergrrl, what can you eat a BBQ you might ask? And well you should. We had been a tad bit worried about how it would go food wise. We filled the suitcase half full of clothes and half full of food. Just in case. There is a line in AR Gurney’s play The Dining Room where the grumpy old man says “I went to Europe once. Didn’t like it. I filled a trunk with shredded wheat and when it ran out I came home.” But we needn’t have worried—Matt the chef was amazing and cooked us separate gourmet food at every meal. When everyone else was chowing down on dead animals at the BBQ we had peppers stuffed with saffron rice and vegetables. In our house we always secretly call stuffed peppers by the very un-vegan but damn funny name of monkey heads. But trust me—no monkeys were harmed in the making of these delicious dishes. It was nice because we could just hang out, chat with people and get to know everyone.

Saturday, Spiderman and I strolled into town and pottered around charity shops and went to a craft fayre at a church and spent time in an old cemetery. We came away with the most *amazing* embossed, illuminated framed painting of Hans Christian Andersen dreaming of all his stories—we have identified around 43 stories references so far. Best £5 spent ever. This will be worth a post in itself to talk you through all the story references. Then back for the 2:00 wedding!

The wedding itself was so very Iain and Rachel—a beautiful civil ceremony overlooking the grounds with several readings from quirky Edward Monkton about a dinosaur and the other lovely dinosaur who won his heart to AA Milne. I was reading the Milne—a poem called And Us Too which ends :
So wherever I am, there's always Pooh,
There's always Pooh and Me.
"What would I do?" I said to Pooh,
"If it wasn't for you," and Pooh said: "True,
It isn't much fun for One, but Two,
Can stick together, says Pooh, says he. "That's how it is," says Pooh.

Then there was a shed load of photos (in between the Welsh rain) followed by a slap up sit down meal. Again we were not disappointed with our meal. We had steamed veg in a peanut sauce as a starter and then roasted veg and wild mushroom risotto as our main course and then fruit salad in an orange sauce for pudding.

Then there was the DISCO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! At this point Spiderman went to hide in our room like the cat cowering under the sofa when you bring out the hoover but I boogied like the Tasmanian Devil until midnight completely sober, which is more than I can say for the rest of the dancers. But I had a fabbity fab time dancing my heart out until I smelled like a goat (as did everyone else by the end) to the awesome live band. I think what makes us such a good couple is we are perfectly happy to let the other do what they need. It would be cruel to insist that he come to a noisy place and be expected to dance or at the least sit there while I did. It would be equally unfair if he said he wanted me to watch the Mummy II with him and I felt guilty and left the party to watch a crappy film when I wanted to dance. So I occasionally popped up to say hello (and put on more deodorant) and he occasionally popped down to the bar for a coke to shout HELLO to me over the music. Perfect for us both.

The next morning we packed the coach and went back home, dropping Iain and Rachel off in Flitwick train station so they could go on their honeymoon.

It was a wonderful weekend, in a posh place with gourmet food, nature walks and spider spotting, making new friends, charity shopping and nabbing of a bargain painting and sharing the happiest day in the lives of people we love. Couldn’t ask for more.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Big Girly Crush

My new girly crush is Helen Arney. She was the ukulele player we saw at the British Library. The next day I went out and bought my own ukulele. She is the coolest, geeky, sexy, clever, witty ukulele player in the world. She is the Velma to my Velma if you know what I mean. We bought her 2 CDs and we have not been disappointed. You can go to her website here and read about her http://helenarney.com  but I highly recommend going here  http://helenarney.com/buy-my-songs/animals-with-professor-elemental and listening to some of her “science” songs. She sang You and Me and Walt Disney (about being cryogenically frozen) and The Sun Has Got His Huff On (where the sun has a moan wishing we’d stopped at Copernicus so he’s still be the centre of our universe) at the British Library but I highly, highly (must I say it again? Very well.) HIGHLY  recommend the one called Animals. Here are the lyrics to this clever, funny, sexy, surprisingly factual song.

 Animals – lyrics
Animals – complete lyrics by Helen Arney & Professor Elemental
I’ve been watching your behaviour
And I think you’re in the mood
So if you’re lonely, well I’m here to save ya
Let’s get out of here and get us a room
Let’s make love like animals
I think you know what I’m talking about
Let’s make love exactly like other animals
Get your zoology textbook out
Lets make love like rabbits, a hundred times a week
Let’s make love like hedgehogs – you know – carefully
Let’s make love like salmon living in fresh water
You do it in the bath I’ll come and pick it up later
Let’s make love like animals (like dogs, doggiestyle)
It’s been happening since the stone age (like cats – also doggiestyle)
Let’s make love exactly like other animals (but mostly dogs)
Open up that Wikipedia page
Let’s make love like Angler Fish, yeah
It’s kind of complicated but it’s worth it
You use your highly developed olfactory sense to swim towards me for several days
And then you bite me
That releases an enzyme that then dissolved your skin & your flesh & your… fins…
Leaving only a pair of genitals attached to the side of my body
For me to use
When it’s convenient.
I’ve been waiting to find someone so animalistic
Misunderstood just because I like badgers and whippets
And seagulls and snails, who incidentally fire love darts
Well I’ve brought some chocolates
If you like them I’ll dance like a squid
Or croon like a humpback whale
Let’s make passionate love, a beast with two tails
Or a porcupine – I’ll spray you with wee and if you don’t scream we’ll get to it
Actually, skip that one, let’s not do it
Let’s get it on like pygmy chimpanzees
You know – constantly
Not rest until we’ve done some things that even seem odd to me
I am the man to put the “ooh” in “zoology”
You can be my queen I’m the drone in our colony
But let’s leave the metaphor there because as everybody knows
When a gentleman bee is done his genitals explode
Oh no, I’ve said too much, now I’m alone, confused, waiting
Like a self-cloning lizard, too much pseudo-copulation
Let’s make love like animals, yeah (like squirrels in heat)
It’s like a biology GCSE – but sexy (I’ve done my naughty coursework)
I know what will get you in the mood to love like an animal (yes?)
I’ll get out my David Attenborough DVDs, yeah (mmmm, David)
So we’re sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea (oh, god yes)
This is not getting us anywhere
I’ve never seen a praying mantis in HD
God, did you see what she did afterwards, she ripped his head off and ate it! Dear god…Do you wanna?
No

No
No

I guess we’ll end up being the same animals we’ve always been.
Pandas.

Now buy some CDs or download some songs and she can be your big girly crush, too!



Chocoholic Fish Ate Kit Kats

This from yahoo news:

Aquarium staff have managed to wean a chocoholic giant fish onto a healthier diet after inheriting the gourami, raised entirely on Kit Kats by its owners.
At first, staff at the Sea Life London Aquarium were baffled by the 4kg fish's refusal to eat until they learned it had been fed nothing but chocolate.
The team then stuffed crushed Kit Kat pieces inside grapes to get the 40cm-long gourami named Gary to "take a break" from his daily fix.
"I have never heard of a fish being fed chocolate, let alone being brought up entirely on the stuff," said Gary's handler, Rebecca Carter.
"Gouramis usually eat a diet of fruit but Gary doesn't appear to have suffered any ill effects from his chocolate addiction," she added.
"However, we would not recommend feeding fish confectionery of any kind."
Gary is not the only unusual creature to come to the centre from private owners.
Close by the gourami lives Ed, a catfish with decidedly cat-like tendencies.
Ed will only accept being hand fed and likes to be stroked on the head at the same time.
He has also learned to head-butt a lethal puffer fish who vies for his food, staff said.
But aquarium staff warn that Gary and Ed's peculiar interest in food highlights a more serious issue.
They have nicknamed one display the "tank busters" tank, because it houses a number of large fish that simply grew too big for their owners to manage.
"Many people don't do the right research when they buy fish and end up unable to care for them," said Ms Carter.
"We're delighted we could find a home for Gary but the fact is we simply do not have the space to accommodate the vast number of re-homing requests we receive."

Who thinks it is a good idea to feed Kit Kats to a fish, hmmm? Raise your hand and let me see you. Where do people come up with these ideas? But then where do people come up with the idea to filter some kinds of alcohol through fish bladder? This is called isinglass and is still used today to refine certain wines and beers.How do you do that? "I was thinking to myself that the bladder filters urine so maybe the bladder of a fish can filter my Guinness?"  Or how about cochineal a.k.a. carmine? It is made from crushed up bugs. I can see it now--"Ew I accidently crushed some bugs. hey, that's a lovely red colour. How can I exploit that?"  These crushed up bugs were used as dyes by the Aztec and Mayan peoples of old. But haven't we come a long way, baby? Evidently not as this dye is still used in many products, including cosmentics. Red lipstick, anyone?

So I guess feeding a fish Kit Kats doesn't seem so weird after all.

Monday, 1 August 2011

(Not) like a chicken with its head cut off

As I have mentioned before, our dear friends Iain and Rachel are getting married soon. Saturday was Rachel’s hen night. This was slightly different to the many hen nights and stag parties we saw in London (there were lots) as ours only involved a small amount of alcohol and did not include stupid looking costumes and later vomiting all over them. Or strippers. Rachel’s plan was a sensible and fun sounding one but one that included something almost as terrifying as sharks for me--travelling alone in London to parts unknown. Most normal people can do this, but I, as I have mentioned in previous posts, have gotten lost going to my own house. FACT.

Spiderman was his usual supportive self printing off map after map and talking me through them and frowning and  shaking his head whilst he watched his wife run to the toilets AGAIN to be sick at the thought of having to go to London Bridge on my own. It was like having “Delhi belly” without the benefit of a lovely trip to India, if ya know what I mean. This is a truly ridiculous phobia because I can comfortably speak in front of crowds of thousands but the idea of navigating alone in an  unknown part of a crowded city makes me shit myself. Literally.

This was the plan:
At 2:00 many of the hen party were going to a posh placed called Vinopolis for a wine tasting and those who didn’t want to do that there was a cool museum called The Clink right around the corner that was used as a prison from 1144 and now housed all sorts of spooky stuff and real torture equipment. Well you can guess which one I wanted to go to. Then we were all heading to Covent Garden to eat a slap up meal at 5:30 and then at 8:00 off to see the play The Woman in Black--a real Victorian style ghost story. Easy right? Except the getting there. And the worry when I looked at the menu for the restaurant.

But I conquered the restaurant problem by phoning up the Covent Garden Grill and speaking to the *nicest* manager about my food needs. I was allowed to bring in a few things and order lots of yummy side dishes. Let me just say if you are ever looking for a nice place to eat in London, this was it. The wait staff as well were bloody amazing and I have written them an email thanking them for making my meal so wonderful. So now I know I had to get over the travelling one because I really wanted to go to the Clink and the play.

I decided as long as I was in London I should perhaps go in early and go to places I knew how to navigate to. Get some shopping done and boost my confidence and directional skills. So I did. I went to Planet Organic and bought a few specialty groceries --but they were out of pomegranate molasses *sob* and then to the Crocs Shop to buy another pair of Crocs. I really liked the ones I bought there for folk dancing and wanted a pair for every day wear. Thankfully they had my size. Then off to M&S to eat a bit of healthy salad lunch and off towards the dreaded London Bridge to locate Vinopolis. 

Let me say--maps are RUBBISH. They look NOTHING like the streets and my spatial senses are never very good but maps make it worse. That 3 inch wide space between the law school and the giant replica ship on the map that make them look like you’d need to stand at the law school with telescope to even see the giant ship--load of codswallop. I could have stood on the steps of the law school and spat on the ship--but obviously didn’t--but I could have.

Thank God (and I mean it--thank you God!) there were signs. Big pointy signs saying this way to Southwark Cathedral and the Clink. I followed the signs which took me on a foot path through the grounds of Southwark Cathedral and next to the market where there were lots of food stalls and someone was BBQing meat and it smelled like a charnel house. I used to think that smelled good--but this smelled like DEATH. Luckily I was out of there pretty quickly. I only got lost for a bit when I ran out of signs so I stopped into a CafĂ© Nero to buy myself some chocolate covered espresso beans (vegan and super yum!) and then located another sign. I was there early. Waaaay early so I sat outside Vinopolis chilling with some tunes until everyone else arrived. Most people were going to the wine tasting (yuck!) but me and Rachel’s auntie from Oz were going to the Clink. By Oz I mean Australia not somewhere over the rainbow. Yeah, I was disappointed too.

Anyway The Clink was awesome. Check out their website: http://www.clink.co.uk  They had lots of touchy feely stuff like you could really try out some thumbscrews or attempt to  lift an actual ball and chain. It was so heavy no wonder you could hardly escape with one on. They even had a Scold’s Bridle used on gossiping women (horrible metal cage that went over the head with a spiked bit that held down the tongue *shiver*) and even a chastity belt!!! I don’t need to tell you what that is for. But I had never seen one up close. There was a serrated almond shaped slit in the front of the iron crotch bit and a round hole behind it. I don’t need to tell you what those are for either but they can’t have made going to the toilet pleasant.  At the end you could sit in a torture chair wrapped in chains and have your photo made (I am having a bit of trouble retrieving my photo from their online site, but if I get it to work I will surely post it.)  Good times.

Then we were all off the Covent Garden Grill. I essentially ordered the Falafel Burger with all the side dishes that came with it--minus the falafel burger. If that makes sense.  I had 2 huge --dare I say “meaty”-- grilled mushrooms and a lovely mixed salad with balsamic dressing and some roasted red pepper  hummus (I had brought some falafel and carrot sticks) as well as some crispy chips that would rival McDonald’s fries. Then I brought a gluten free maple cinnamon blondie for pudding. Look for the recipe by the end of the week. The meal was delicious and the waiter really kind about making sure I got enough food.

Then we were off to the play! We were really squeaking it to be there by 8:00 But we scooted in just under the wire. The Woman in Black was really cool--a play within a play--where the same 2 chairs and a wicker trunk stood in for offices, a pony and trap, a desk, a bed etc and all the parts were played by just 2 actors plus the woman in black who kept popping up unexpectedly in the shadows to scare the bejesus out of you. And the ghostly woman in black made me scream like a wee girl in a dress and pigtails. Yes it did. Many times. It was excellent--a real melodrama with unbearable tension as the story slowly unfolded towards its ghastly conclusion. I would definitely see this again.

Then we trained home, tired but happy. We saw an extremely inebriated man who was clearly the groom on his stag night as he was wearing a pair of comedy antlers, a plastic ball and chain around his ankle and inexplicably had a plastic inflatable sheep handcuffed to his wrist.

 I was especially happy as I had not been a chicken with my head cut off--running aimlessly flapping my arms around London. I was a bird with iron filings in my nose--my own internal compass--and I found my way by myself with the grace of God. Amen.