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The bear went over the mountain, which nobody can deny [27 Jul 2015|10:36am]
One of the joys of clearing and cleaning my desk, apart from the sheer pleasure of throwing away ninety per cent of what was on it, is the discovery of random scraps of note. I am really not a note-taker; I have whole notebooks that I carried about for months or years just in case, and they remain entirely blank; but every now and then I am moved to scribble something crucial on the classic back of an envelope. And then, because I am not a note-taker and have no system, they tend to be left on the desktop until lost under a heap of accumulating papers. And then rediscovered months or years later, and - well.

This one says:

"Don't try to eat what I eat."

They called it the catharsis, mostly because they didn't speak Greek.

People, I have no idea. But isn't it lovely? I should preserve it in imperishable crystal, to be an heirloom of my house.
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What, all my pitted cherries and their jam? [26 Jul 2015|04:39pm]
[Some of you will not have seen what I did there, in the subject line. Others will now be whistling frantically, or performing other superstitious gyrations. So it goes. My inner monologue is not so much informed as earwormed by my teenage obsessions; sometimes that spills over, in a structure or a rhythm or a pun. I remain hopeful that even for those who don't know the original, some hint of layering remains, a suggestion of texture, of currents below the surface, something.]

Anyway: I made sour cherry jam yesterday. The sour cherry season is short, and the fruit is concommitantly expensive; those two pounds will likely be the only sour cherries to come into my hands this year. Which is why I'm barely even tempted by a cherry-pitter; I can pit two pounds with the butt end of a chopstick, and not lose patience. Quite. (That is about my limit, though, so it may be as well that two pounds butts also against my financial limit.)

Anyway, cherry jam: chop the cherries after pitting them, and tip 'em into your new maslin pan with the zest & squeezings of a couple of lemons. Clap a lid on, bring them warmly to the boil to draw the juices out, and then simmer for ten minutes or so. Add a pound of sugar per two pounds of fruit that you started with, and boil until the setting point. Pour into warm jars (you'll get about a pint and a half, per two pounds of fruit), seal according to your local traditions, and you're done. In my case, done for the year, alas. Unless I try making sweet cherry jam for contrast.

In other news, of course I ordered the sexy blank keyboard, so today is all about reorganising the office. Increasing chaos will eventually morph into clarity and order, or I'm an uncle eleven times over. *nods*
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The deeds of the day [23 Jul 2015|12:01pm]
Just list-making, to see if that helps. I forget stuff, y'know? Sometimes I make whole courses and forget to serve them. Food has been found waiting, after guests are gone.


Sweet tomato chutney - done!
Kashmiri potato curry - done! (Mmm, dum aloo...)
Pork vindaloo - doing as we speak. (I am all about the slow cooker this week. It's really interesting.)
Cauliflower with cumin and ginger - to come. (Mmm, gobi sabzi...)
Something with leftover chicken - to be considered.
Rice - to do

Cauliflower, obviously.
Wine. Also obviously.

Bathroom - done!
Cooker (while everything's still happening in the slow cooker, before I need the stove)

Knives. All of them. (Maintenance: it gets me every time. I'm good at getting things done, but really bad at maintenance. Watering the garden, cleaning the cooker, keeping the bike's tyres pumped up. And the knives sharp. I have really good knives; it's a shame to let them dull. I let them down.)
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An expat sends a desultory postcard home [22 Jul 2015|04:39pm]
I was going to play a game of Good News, Bad News - but if the good news is that there isn't really any bad news, then certainly the bad news is that there isn't any good news either. I have been feeling sub-par all day, and in that way that pets are said to grow to look like their owners, then most certainly days grow to suit the mood of the people who are obliged to live them.

Really I just wanted to spend all day asprawl on the sofa watching Game of Thrones, but I am not - quite - doing that. I am not particularly doing anything else, either. Have I started a new novel? Possibly: if fifteen words and a mild notion count as a beginning. It will probably go no further; I do a lot of this, striking sparks that never catch. I just like space opera, and I don't want to die before I write one. So this one I did at least commit to electrons, rather than letting it drift out of my head as readily as it had drifted in.

Am reading Archivist Wasp, which is excellent. Something of the flavour of Sabriel, I find, but harsher, less grateful to the throat: a cruder tea from further up the mountain.

It's almost no longer too soon to be drinking. And I have a glass of tomato juice chilling in the fridge. (I am making Indian dishes in the slow cookers large and small, for tomorrow's dinner, and one of them required me to drain a tin of tomatoes. Which I did over a bowl, just because I dislike waste; and after I had put the drained tomatoes to use I looked at the contents of the bowl and thought "There's got to be something I can - oh, wait. That's tomato juice, isn't it? Duh." So there will be a bloody mary in my very near future. And I thought there was no good news. I am a most unreliable narrator; I don't even realise when I'm lying to you, sometimes.)

And m'wife just phoned, and she is clearly being awesome all over her new boss and the entirety of Albany, NY; but she is still there until tomorrow evening, and I am still here. I nearly bought a camera today, but then I didn't. Again. And the nonstickery is wearing off Karen's old pans, so perhaps I should give some thought to replacing them... (Heh. As though I already hadn't. I kinda like the All-Clad TK range, for Thomas Keller is one of my culinary gods, or at least touchstones; but All-Clad is crazy costly. I do like buying sets, but maybe I'll go back to patrolling Ebay, and pounce a piece at a time as they come up...)

Was there anything else? I dunno. I am quite glum, but you guessed that. Actually I feel like I've been glum for ever. And time is dribbling away and I'm getting nothing done. Nothing that wakes.

EtA: oh, and I remember the other thing I meant to say. Whoever it was who thought that tiles were the way to go, to surface a kitchen counter? Idiot. That is all. (Of course they were always going to be a nightmare to clean between. How can they possibly not have realised that?)
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What the shop wasn't called [20 Jul 2015|03:29pm]
Nihilistic Iron Works

(Actually, I swear it was, first glance. But of course I looked back, and by then the train had moved, and from this different angle it was called Artistic Iron Works. Which is just so disappointing it can't conceivably be true.)
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Bereft (unless you can be Batman) [20 Jul 2015|10:02am]
Cotopaxi, schmotopaxi: SFO and the Airporter have stolen my wife away.

She is gone on business for four days. To Albany, New York. And without me.

Feels weird, being in the house alone. And not in a good way. I have bread to bake, boxes to crush, hummingbirds to feed, all sorts of stuff to do this morning, but I'm all unfocused and anxious. On top of being anxious on my own account.

You know that thing where you tell yourself, uselessly, to get a grip?

Yeah, that.
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Imadeit [17 Jul 2015|04:02pm]

(Okay, I assembled it, from a flatpack probably from Flatland, where the mental geometry is peculiar. But I did it all by myself, though the instructions said "this will need two people". Which, as is traditional, was the only comprehensible part of the instructions, and the only part with which I failed to comply. In honesty, it all went together fairly easily, apart from the bolting in of one crucial segment, where not one of the four bolts would find its hidden nut until I had tried and tried and tried again, seventeen times per. Genuinely, that added an hour to the construction time. But no matter: it is done. And I am feeling marginally cocky, not because it was in any way difficult, but because people are always surprised that I can do these simple practical tasks, and I enjoy surprising people. It's like being able to wallpaper.

And, like wallpapering, it leaves me unconscionably knackered after. I am not only more tired than you imagine, etc.

Still: here is a pic of the new kitchen cart in situ, furnished for the occasion:


And now I want a drink.)
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I hope you like jammin' too [15 Jul 2015|01:22pm]
Not in fact what I am waiting in for, which is a different delivery entirely; but my new maslin pan came, while I was hangin' out on the couch proofreading for Laura Anne:


It's very lovely. And seemed astonishingly cheap, a hundred bucks off list price; and came with a splendid lid not mentioned on the product page, so it's win all round, I feel. Unless there's some dreadful flaw that only shows in the jamming. I would hurry up and jam, just to fling defiance in the teeth of prognostication, but I have other things to do: they also proof who only lie and wait.
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A question! Of history, and horsing! [13 Jul 2015|03:32pm]
So we read, in the records of the Frost Fairs on the frozen Thames, about carthorses and carriage horses hauling freight and noblefolk up and down the river; but would the horses have needed special shoeing (crampons!) to give them purchase on the ice? Or do we assume that the surface would have been either snowy or else churned up enough to offer a grip to normal horseshoes? Or would sacking over the hooves offer better friction? Or...?

(This question brought to you by the rather delighted realisation that on Mars, Christmas comes but twice a year.)
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Take a wok on the sticky side [12 Jul 2015|05:28pm]
For lack of a jam-pan, enter my favourite stovetop utensil. A wok is splendidly the right shape for jam-making. Just don't try to pour out of it; I find that not to work so well.

So that's another two pints of strawberry/balsamic/pepper jam potted up. And a fascinating scientific question raised: why does jam appear to get cooler as it boils towards the thickening/setting point? It's not what marmalade does, at all; but seriously. Both the last batch and this, I clocked at 214F when they were nowhere near setting, and then at 209 when they were nearly ready. At which point I abandoned the thermometer and went by eye. There's precious little pectin in this, which must make some kind of a difference: but it's thickening up, water is boiling off, why in the world is the temperature dropping?

And in other related news, some of those strawberries were horribly ugly before they went into the pan. Now they are a shimmering delight to the eye. So here is your beauty tip of the day: when in doubt about your looks, have yourself drawn and quartered and boiled with sugar. *nods*
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I am a T-shirt [09 Jul 2015|02:57pm]
The subject line is a lie. I am not a T-shirt. I am depressed.

Barry, on the other hand, is too a T-shirt. How else would he fit so well in the T-shirt drawer?


EtA: see, he fits this way round as well. Totally a T-shirt.

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Strawberries were never this interesting [09 Jul 2015|09:58am]
So we have all these strawberries. It can happen, hereabouts.

Monday's strawberry-and-rhubarb jam is nice. I am pleased with it. But I had no more rhubarb, so yesterday I made strawberry balsamic jam with black pepper.

This, O my people. This is the thing.

Take a kilo of strawberries; hull, halve, quarter if they're huge.

350g of sugar. Stir together, and leave the fruit to macerate for a couple of hours. Stir it every now and then, if you like that sort of thing.

Dump it all into a broad pan, bring to a boil, squeeze in half a lemon and seethe it, stirring every now and then, until it's ready to set. You can do saucer-tests to confirm this, or use a spoon, or just go by eye and ear: when it's sizzling on the bottom of the pan when you draw a spatula through it and it doesn't immediately flood back, when you can actually see the bottom for a moment there, it's pretty much ready. It'll be a soft set, because there's not much pectin in it, but it shouldn't be runny even so. I disavow runny jams.

When you're tolerably sure that it's ready, turn the heat off, and stir in two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.

Jar it up (you'll get about three half-pint jars out of this), seal it according to your preference (I am all about warm jars, screw the top on and don't worry about it; other people are all about ten minutes in the waterbath or you'll all die; my entire continent has not died yet, but who knows? Maybe tomorrow we will) and it would technically keep for a year or more but I bet you eat it before then.
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Only the facts stood between him and a brilliant acquittal [05 Jul 2015|11:59am]
My first USian Fourth of July, Karen sat me down and made me watch 1776. She didn't have to work too hard, as I am known to love musicals, and am constantly fascinated by the slightly weird approaches that authors sometimes take to those things they choose to celebrate. My version of Evita will forever feature Che Guevara selling insecticide; if you wanted to memorialise the birth of America in song and dance, of course you'd choose to feature a pack of middle-aged men in a closed room quarrelling over minutiae. What else?

Also, as Bob at least knows, July 4th is my half-birthday, which I have traditionally marked with a party. When the whole of America is celebrating me, it seems churlish not to do the same on my own behalf. So, here was a new element in the tradition; every Fourth, we include a showing of 1776 within the day-long joviality.

Alas: since that first time? I have never yet managed actually to sit and watch the lovely thing again. Hosting a party involves, y'know, duties. Mostly kitchen- and barbecue-related, for me, but duties none the less. I get to see snatches; sometimes I even get to sit down for a bit; but the whole thing, beginning to end? No chance.

Still: that was yesterday. There was pork and lobster and salmon on the grill; there was chilli on the stove; there was bread buns and lots of fruit and sunshine. Mad brought a particoloured cake:


(It was just as hybrid on the inside, yes. White chocolate and dark, and om nom nom.)

And today I am making small-batch strawberry and rhubarb jam; tomorrow I will probably be making larger-batch strawberry and balsamic jam. Strawberries are plentiful hereabouts.

Also, I am reading about Kim Philby and his friends. The author has not in fact used the phrase I made up for the subject line above, but I think he should've done. It seems as accurate as anything. (The point I've reached, Philby has just been readmitted to MI6, despite almost everybody believing him - and rightly - to have been a Russian spy for the last twenty years or so. Yay Kim! It's a masterstroke. It's not going to last, alas, but right now he's making a splendid comeback.)
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Reviewed! In Locus! Again! [02 Jul 2015|05:04pm]
Rich Horton has reviewed the latest issue of Lightspeed, the "Queers Destroy SF!" special, in Locus. Unlike Lois Tilton's recent review of the same issue, Rich's is not apparently available to read free online; and it's rude to quote the entirety of what he said about my story, "The Astrakhan, the Homburg and the Red Red Coal", besides being self-serving; but a money-quote is quite legit. So try this:

This is a very well-told story, using the old ‘‘bar tale’’ format nicely, with some really effective SFnal ideas

That last bit is my actual favourite. Sometimes I have to remind myself quite forcefully that the Mars Imperial project totally counts as SF; sometimes other people notice for me.

[Oh, and if you want to read the story itself, it's online for free, here; and Rahul Kanakia interviewed me about the project here.]
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Bargains! [02 Jul 2015|10:28am]
Just sayin', people, but from now through to July 6th, all my books are 50% off at the Book View Cafe bookstore, just to celebrate my winning the Lambda with Bitter Waters. Which is of course not a BVC book, but hey. Go me.

The code is Chaz-50, but actually the discount is just being applied automatically to everybody sans need of it. Buy early, buy often. Tell your friends.
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Self-disinterest: or, how you should buy other books besides my own [01 Jul 2015|06:18pm]
My favourite publisher Lethe Press is having a sale, all through their catalogue; many books are reduced, some are half price. And yes, I have a couple of titles among the crowd, and one of them might have won a Lambda, but I'm not linking to those; for once, this is not about me. Help a small publisher out, and cash in on some really good books...
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Mr Brenchley +/- his new glasses [30 Jun 2015|04:33pm]
Good news: my new glasses are in, sooner than expected!

Bad news: progressives are weird, people.*

Good news: not so weird as I was led to believe!

Bad news: still weird, though.

Bonus good news: no, there are no photographs. Just apply your mighty intellects and imagine. 3D-laser-sinter-printed frames, British Racing Green, tolerably roundish. There must be a word for this shape: possibly gibbous? It must apply to more than moons and pregnant women, but those are the only two iterations I recall.

Bonus bad news: I may have a headache by end of day, from all this tipping and tilting and squinting. My neck's not up to much at the best of times, which this isn't.

*Please to note judicious use of comma. "Progressives are weird people" would also function grammatically, but would not be a sentence I would type.
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Not usually what we mean by Ealing Studios [29 Jun 2015|05:52pm]
Julie Taymor's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Rendered in film. This I want to see. (Hat-tip to nineweaving)
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Lines to live by [28 Jun 2015|03:40pm]
The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.

These may be my favourite four lines in all of Housman. The anthems for doomed youth are too susceptible of parody to take quite seriously (What, still alive at twenty-two, a fine upstanding lad like you?), and the anxious pastorals are just a little too conservative for me; but sometimes his poetry displays the same relentless determination as his scholarship, a ruthlessness with the human condition that is itself of the human condition, and then he can be magnificent. Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale: I'd wear that on a T-shirt.

(In parenthesis: I wonder who it was who wrote the inevitable doctoral thesis on the influence of ale on successive generations of academic literary England? You can track it forward from Housman through Tolkien and Lewis; and I am sure backward from Housman too, though there you are outside my province. But I am utterly determined that the thing shall have been done.)

(And while we're off the subject: I was musing on the quatrain per se, and wondered if an equivalent three-line stanza could be called a terrain. And indeed it cannot, because it's called a tercet instead, but that didn't stop me thinking about it, because the whole of the Lawrence-on-Mars story is about the influence of language on landscape, or possibly vice versa; and I did once have a splendidly stoned conversation with my best friend about the influence of change-ringing on the English landscape, as the sound of the bells rolled thunderously down the canal and we may even have been in Shropshire at the time; and really all of literature, as all of life, it's all about the terrain. Which brings us neatly and inevitably back to Housman, so. Not off the subject at all, actually.)
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More information [26 Jun 2015|11:27pm]
So after the First World War, A E Housman's brother Laurence acted as director of the Glastonbury Festival - though I suspect not this one.

In earlier news, before the war, "[George Bernard] Shaw took round the hat and the proceeds were given to [Laurence] Housman (as the youngest) with instructions to go to Paris and find Wilde, pay his rent and outstanding debt ... give no cash to Wilde, and report back to the Cafe Royal. Several times he made this journey before Wilde's death."

Fortunately, as we now know, Wilde didn't actually die. And some little time after, A E Housman followed him to Mars - but Laurence, I fear, remained below
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