Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Only Good Dalek

Spiderman has a book in his library called The Only Good Dalek. In my heart I know the rest of that phrase is supposed to be The Only Good Dalek (is a dead Dalek) but it immediately conjured up an image of a really nice Dalek who had trouble fitting in with his peers. It made us both laugh and we decided that the Derek was perfect for a Dalek and so the tale of Derek the Friendly Dalek was born.

The Only Good Dalek
Once, a long time ago on the planet Skaro, there lived a little Dalek named Derek. Derek was a friendly little Dalek, but being friendly was not high on the list of what it means to be a good Dalek and so he was often alone. He had learned that the feelings he had or the thoughts and dreams he possessed were wrong, so he mostly kept his mouth shut and tried to blend in. It was hard because he was lonely, but to even admit being lonely was a serious crime to the Daleks because it smelled of having feelings and Daleks weren’t supposed to have feelings. It was bred out of them by Davros to make them the ultimate killing machine. On top of that, Derek also suffered from feeling ugly. He hated the dull grey Dalekanium metal they were forced to wear. He longed for a splash of colour! Once he found some red paint in his shed and painted his body armour a lovely shade of cherry, but that only drew scorn from all the other Daleks. After that, they wouldn’t let him join in any of the Dalek games (which basically consisted of exterminating things.)

Derek at school

 School was the absolute worst. Every day the Dalek teacher would place an object on his desk and ask the little Daleks what they should do with it. This was their cue to shout “Exterminate!” and blast it with their laser. Once, it was a puppy and whilst the others were busy exterminating it, Derek was thinking, “If only I could take it home and give it a cuddle! I’d call him Spot!” Another time it was Dalek Khan who was ancient and half mad. The others thought he was useless because he could no longer fight in battle and ought to be exterminated, but Derek thought, “I think we should listen to our elders, they are so wise and have such stories to tell!”

 Soon it was exam time. Each Dalek would have to approach the table and an object would be placed before him. He was to identify it and exterminate it. The thought of this made Derek feel rather ill and he told his Mummy that he had a tummy ache and needed to stay home from school, but she was a good Dalek and didn’t believe in tummy aches (she only believed in exterminating) so she sent him anyway.
When it was his turn, he slowly wheeled himself up to the table. The teacher put a vase filled with roses on the table and waited for the correct answer. “Say it! Just exterminate it!” he thought to himself, but that was not what he really wanted to do.      

“Well…go on boy!” the teacher whined in his metallic voice.

“I’d like to….”

“Just say it boy!”

“I’d like to bash the rose petals….”

“And then?”  He could hear that H the teacher was growing impatient. Derek looked through his eyestalk at the lovely red roses. They were just the same colour as his body armour. He extended his plunger and took a deep breath and smelled their sweet perfume.

“We’ve not got all day!”

“I’d like to bash the rose petals and then….soak them in water and make rose water perfume for my Mummy!” he cried.

There was a collective GASP in the room and then suddenly, every Dalek turned on him and shouted, “EXTERMINATE!” and shot him with their lasers. Within seconds, Derek had been reduced to a pile of dust and all the other Daleks were awarded top marks in their exam and went on to invade other galaxies and lived happily ever after.    

                                                                 The end

 We also thought you could sing a wee song about him to the tune of “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer.” But we haven’t made it up yet. Maybe next time.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Bring it on down to Veganville!

This is a clip from Saturday Night Live where Justin Timberlake plays an all singing, all dancing block of tofu who extols the virtues of a meat free diet. This makes me scream with laughter (which is a bit of a problem as I am watching it at the public library and they frown on screaming laughter here.) I found it incredibly
Ok, not the dancing block of tofu (but who knows what tofu gets up to when the fridge door is closed) but the meat eater who calls you a hippy moron or thinks that if you just taste meat again you'd want to eat it.

 Paul McCartney once said, "if slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be a vegetarian." For me, kindness and compassion taste better than suffering, simple as that. We eat a delicious, varied diet full of flavour and nothing had to be afraid, feel pain or die to fill our plates.

Enjoy the clip--especially the happy ending. As he says, "it's never too late to change."

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Full Frontal Nerdity

The British Library rocks my socks. They host so many interesting events. We have seen illustrators Anthony Browne, Peter Sis and Emily Gravett  as well has author Neil Gaiman. We’ve been to Sci-Fi panel discussions on what really is possible--this event is where I was introduced to my biggest girly crush Helen Arney. She is the most amazing geek songstress and player of the ukulele. The day after the panel discussion, I went out and bought my first ukulele.  Once for my birthday we went to the British Library for a dramatic reading of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol that featured a Victorian conjurer. Their events are always varied and never boring and always cost less than a tenner. Plus the British Library is just a hop, skip and a jump from King’s Cross Station. What could be easier?
Last night was no exception. We went to the last part of the Festival of the Spoken Nerd tour which stars Helen Arney the ukulele player of my dreams (and physicist by day), Steve Mould science presenter and comedian and BBC1 presenter of Britain’s Brightest and lastly, Matt Parker the only stand up mathematician in the UK.

It was a night full of comedy and maths and science thrills. They told us about how the British library uses robots to retrieve their books, how the books are kept in a place with reduced oxygen to prevent fires starting (this was demonstrated by attempting burn a copy of the Daily Mail in a Perspex box that had been filled with dry ice. The CO2 makes the lighter go out and keeps the paper from burning.) We heard about the collection of weird patents the library keeps--condom advent calendar, anyone?  Plus interviews with real scientist working with the Heritage Smells project who are using centrifugal devices to smell out decay in books and other items.

At the interval we could do some sniff tests to see if we could name certain household items by the smell (I got coffee, orange and lemon but could not get cucumber or mango) or scan items in a high tech machine that would tell you what you product was *really* made of (2 people who thought they had leather wallets were disappointed as well as a man with a tie that turned out to be rayon not silk.)  You could hear various animals from the BL’s sound archive and guess what they were-- there was a walrus who sounded like a beat box and a haddock who purred and a bird who could imitate a fax modem form the 1980s. There were handmade alcoholic cocktails made by a  company called Alchemy Dreams. We tried the one called Musty Books which contained elderberry, vanilla, bergamot and pine needles mixed with a double measure of 19%abv handmade liqueur and was meant to recreate the sweet old paper smell of a well- loved book. And it did--it tasted like an old book smells. 

The show was so much fun, but the highlight for me was speaking to Helen Arney afterwards and thanking her for the recent songbook she’s put out with the ukulele chords to all of her cool science based songs from Voice of an Angle (which I urge you to download from here . She very kindly personalised it to me and my 2 ukes Ruth and Tallulah at Thomas‘ request. But when I mentioned Ruth and Tallulah she remembered me! That thrilled me to no end and I was on cloud 9 all the way home.

Thanks again to British Library for bringing culture and fun and books (and bespoke alcohol) into our lives once more! 

Friday, 22 March 2013

The coffee goblin, the monkeys that push the train and people

Last night we took the train to Letchworth to the Broadway Cinema. Every time we go to the train station we have to pass the Tesco Express that happens to have a Costa Coffee inside.
Outside the shop is this enormous replica of a take-away Costa Coffee Cup. It is life size--well my life size as I am fairly short--and every time I see it I am overwhelmed with an urge to crawl inside the big cup and wear the plastic lid as a hat. I want to crouch down in the cup like some sort of demented coffee goblin and when people pass by, I’d like to rise up (with the lid balanced on my head) and saying “would you like some coffee?” in my best Keefus voice. If you went to high school with me, you will know what I mean by a Keefus voice. Anyway, the whole purpose would be to freak people out (in particular drunk people) and have a laugh.   There is an episode of Blackadder II where he gets drunk and sings the song about little goblin and every time I see the giant Costa Coffee Cup o’ Fun I want to sing (again--in the Keefus voice)

See the coffee goblin
Isn’t the goblin sweet
With his little nosey-wose
And his tiny feet

And then laugh maniacally like a crazy person. Mwa ha ha ha ha.

Spiderman can easily entertain me by using his Keefus voice to make up slogans for Costa Coffee (like it doesn’t costa much to buy good coffee) causing me to laugh really loud and people to turn and stare and he then pretends he doesn’t know why this mad woman next to him is making such a ruckus. Such is the history of our courtship and marriage.

When you get on a train here they make this peculiar sound like Ooooooo Oooooooo Ooooooo when they start to move which Spiderman explained to me is the sound of monkeys pushing the train. 
You’ve heard of horsepower? Well, trains are run by monkey power. FACT. You cannot see the monkeys, they must keep out of sight or they get fired. But you can definitely hear them. If the train is delayed then the monkeys are on a banana break. If the train is going incredibly slowly a monkey has fallen off and has to run to catch up. This make for huge amounts of speculation about what sorts of monkeys they are and how many you need to push a train. On the way home no monkeys could be heard pushing the train and so Spiderman said it was evil genetically engineered butterflies  with a poison dart attached to them pushing the train (this was based on a crazy dream I had had the night before) so I was a bit freaked out.

Anyway, the reason we had to pass by Costa Coffee and indulge my fantasy of being a coffee goblin and catch a train pushed by monkeys was that we were going to the cinema but not to see a film. What? What else do you see at the cinema? Well, hold on and I’ll tell you. We went to see a PLAY. A play at the cinema, are you clinically insane? Yes, but hear me out. The National Theatre was beaming to cinemas worldwide a live filming of a play that was being acted on stage. It was like going to London to see a play, but only going to Letchworth and having more comfortable seats and a quicker journey home.
The play we saw was Alan Bennett’s People about a beautiful old home crumbling around the eccentric owner. Her sister wants to turn the home over to the National Trust, but that would mean it would be open to the public and as it is said in the play--PRE--people ruin everything. It is a wonderful witty play about decay and redemption (whether you want it or not) which includes the most  creative staging of a porn film being filmed there as it is a “period piece” and they need a cheap location. There is also a magnificent scene where over the course of a song the crumbling, decaying house is cleaned, repaired and restored to its former glory and hoards of tourists wearing headsets listening to the AV commentary wander through. It was cleverly done and spectacularly poignant. The cast was outstanding, everyone playing their part to perfection.
What an amazing idea to broadcast live a London play--so many more people have the chance to experience good theatre this way. There were lots of rather old people there who looked too frail for a trip all the way into London, but were up for a night in Letchworth.

It was a blast. On the way back as evil butterflies pushed us homeward and we passed the giant coffee cup I hummed to myself (in my best Keefus voice) and thought about how lucky we are to live here. Truly all of my dreams have come true.  

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The only dog that doesn’t make me sneeze

Everybody loves K-9 the robot dog from Doctor Who don’t  they? How could you not?

A  few months ago when I made my decapitated head of the Jabberwock for school, Spiderman asked me a question. He held the head (and went galumphing back--sorry wrong story) and said, “If you changed the shape a bit, this could be the head of K-9. I wonder if you could make one?” I know a challenge when I hear one and so I agreed to give it a go. He made me promise if it didn’t go well and my perfectionist self felt the least bit stressed  I would  abandon the project. For this reason, I really took my time and did not rush. My crafting theory is often once I get a cracking idea in my head I want to stay up all night getting it done all in one go. This project needed to be different.

I started with proper research not just a dream I had (which, to be fair, is the basis for most of best ideas.) You can actually find plans on our old pal google for building a model for K-9. This gave me a few patterns for size and shape. I also found where people had attempted to do what I was doing--sew a model not build it out of metal. I looked at where they had made shortcuts--particularly in the recessed bits on his sides. Many just used a dark panel to suggest a recessed bit rather than attempt to sew a sunken panel which I quickly decided to magpie and use that idea on my K-9.

I did do a fair bit of dreaming as well. I made sketches and wrote ideas for how I would make certain parts. I started to collect bits and bobs  like buttons for his eye stalk and some plaid elastic for his collar. I started saving every bit of cardboard I could find as I knew he would need it inside for stability. I bartered an old radio antennae by doing a bit of sewing for a friend. I found some cool heavy duty metallic silver fabric at the market and I knew I was ready.

So here, after months of planning, is the result. Our very own dog. I am chuffed to bits with the results and cannot stop giggling every time I see him. I like to say (in my best fluffy bunny voice)
            Me: Wook at you, you are such a good wittle doggie!
            K-9: (in my best John Leeson imitation) Affirmative!

Here he is in glorious Technicolor, from every conceivable angle. I have him on the bed  in some shots because he’s only about 23 inches tall from ears to bottom and I wanted to get a good view. Enjoy!

The whole she-bang


 Look at that sweet face!

 Here he is from the side

Here’s the other side with the computer screen

This is his tail made from a radio antennae (thanks Steve!)

Last, the computer keypad on his back

What do you think? He’s not super durable (no rough-housing , thank you) in the sense that he is held together with copious amounts of thread and hot glue as well as cuckoo spit and dream clouds. Okay, maybe not that last bit, but as I say about the spiders, he is “a looking at pet rather than a playing with pet.” He’ll be perfect for what we want him to do which is sit beside the sofa and make us smile.


Thursday, 7 March 2013

It’s all in how you say it

This is a transcript of an actual conversation between me and Spiderman this morning:

Me: I had the strangest dream last night.
SM: You? Have strange dreams? Never!
Me: Shut up! Seriously. It was all about a new form of art called basing.
SM: This basing wouldn’t be free, perchance?
Me: Yes, I’m getting to that. We were a family and we had discovered a fun new activity to do with the kids called basing.
SM: By kids you mean the spiders?
Me: No...proper kids.
SM: (leaning over the spider tanks) Don’t listen to Mummy, girls. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
Me: You know what I mean. Human children. Anyway, we were into basing. Which was some sort of metal-work activity that produced a sculpture. You take pieces of base metal (hence the name basing) and blow torch them and the heat makes the metal turn different colours--each base metal made a different colour. Then you did something manually and created a sculpture. I never could quite see what we were doing--all the “camera angles” of the dream were the backs of our heads sitting in a circle around the table.
SM: Right….
Me: Anyway, basing is a very expensive hobby (the price of scrap metal is very high--why do you think thieves are always stealing lead off of roofs and such?) and we were very excited that we found a bunch of materials on FREECYCLE and so all we had to do was go over to the house where they were giving it away and pick it up! We had to borrow a truck because there was  so much metal. They even gave us the blow torch! Think of all the basing we could do for free!
SM: Skip to the end.
Me: I’m getting there. Our kids went to school after half term and told their teacher that they had been freebasing with their parents and so the school called Child Protective Services on us.

Strange narrator appearing out of nowhere to say:

We interupt your regularly scheduled blog to bring you this. Freebasing, for those of you who don’t know is (according to Urban Dictionary)
A method of inhaling drugs by holding a flame under a metal spoon filled with cocaine or any crushed pill. One holds a flame under the spoon and collects the fumes from the crushed pills in an empty bottle and the inhales these fumes by taking a hit off the bottle
You may now return to your regularly scheduled blog.

SM: (laughing)
Me: Because the kids were quite young they couldn’t explain it properly so all they kept saying was, “After you heat it up, you can see all the colours” which clearly did not show us in a favourable light. Then I woke up before I found out if the children were removed into protective custody because of modern art.
SM: you are so weird, but I love you.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

This is my island in the sun

I was inspired by a recipe on my new favourite blog Including Cake to mash up 2 recipes I already had to create this--Tropical Dhal. Her recipe was red lentils cooked in coconut milk with some fried red onions and sliced mango on top. It made way more than we can eat, plus I had a dahl recipe where it makes the perfect amount for 2 if you add lots of roasted veg to it (which I usually do) but this time I just subbed in the veg from another recipe where you roast sweet potato, red onion, a pepper and chopped mango in a hot oven. Whoa it was lovely! It was beautiful to look at to boot with all those bright yellows and oranges. I had been waiting and watching with my eagle eyes to find mangos at the market. Finally, I found 3 for £1 and we have eaten them 3 different ways this week, but this has been my most favourite.

Tropical Dhal

Preheat you oven to 220C/425F and put your roasting tin in the oven to be heating. This is the secret to making these veg roast in 20 minutes.

You need:
1 sweet potato, chopped (I don’t bother to peel)
1 red onion, chopped
1 red or orange pepper, chopped (red would look better, but all I had was orange)
I ripe mango, peeled and chopped in large chunks
1-2 TB olive oil

Coat all the veg in the oil in a mixing bowl. When the oven has preheated, carefully take out the hot pan and tip the oily veg into it and it will make a satisfying sizzle sound! Put it back in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. In the meantime do this:

Heat in a large saucepan the following ingredients:
1 tin light coconut milk (or cheat like I did and puree 2 cups “milk” and 1/3 cup desiccated coconut in your blender)
Half a tin chopped tomatoes (roughly 200g)
¾ cup red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 tsp garam masala (I used ras el hanout which is basically garam masala but with dried rose petals in it)
Bring to the boil then cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until liquid has absorbed which is about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes of roasting, check the veg to see if the sweet potatoes are cooked through (mine were) --if not back into the oven they go for a few more minutes.

Top the dahl with some tropical roasted veg,  then eat and feel like you are on some kind of island paradise.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Zombie Prom

I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner. I do tonnes of sewing and I have never had a proper pin cushion. Well, I did have one when we lived in the US but it was in the one box that got lost when it was shipped to us. All my sewing and craft stuff was in the box which breaks my hearts, but after all these years I can hardly recall what was in the box. Occasionally, I will wistfully remark, “Remember those tiny cookie cutters shaped like leaves that I used to use with clay? I miss those.” But other than that…not too much.

But I have never gotten around to making a new pin cushion. I’ve always used a sparkly red star shaped box  that was meant to hold a tea light candle. A girl named Amy bought it for me years ago as a gift for being her class Teaching Assistant. But there were problems with it. If you knocked it over (which I did all the time) then pins went EVERYWHERE which made me swear like a bloody sailor as I picked them up. Then a few hours later when Spiderman found the one pin I had missed which was still carelessly lying on the floor waiting to plunge it self dagger-like into your foot he would swear like a bloody sailor.

But no more. I had a dream about making one that strapped onto the wrist. Like a corsage a boy would give you if you were going to prom, but with pins in it. Like a Voodoo Corsage for a Zombie Prom. The only thing was it had to be made out of materials I already had. It had to be FREE.

So I mooched around my scrap boxes. I found some lovely leafy blue and green fabric (left over from making an apron) for the wristband. I found some green, royal blue and turquoise felt that kinda matched the fabric. I have loads of elastic scraps. I knew I could do it.

I did a quick shifty round the old internet just to get a few ideas. I could see what I wanted it to look like, but needed to know a bit of technique to make it. Here is the end result:
view from the top

view from the bottom, plus a tattoo

the whole shebang

I love it. It is really comfortable because I used wide elastic. Some websites I visited called for using a hair band but I think that would have been thin and uncomfortable. Besides, I didn’t have a hair band so that would break the rule of making it for free.

So no more pins on the floor which makes everyone happy. Plus I feel all special like I’m going to Prom (even if  my religious fanatic of a mother told me the dress showed my “dirty pillows”) and then when I got there I was elected Prom Queen and it was happiest moment of my life until some bullies dropped a bucket of pig blood on my head and then I killed everyone with my telekinetic powers.

Sorry…got a bit carried away there….that was something else entirely….