Saturday, 29 September 2007

Misleading or just pointless?

In the picture, you see Tesco's Finest Black Cherry Yoghurt with Channel Island cream, which is delicious, but contains 210 kilocalories. The dish on the right has Low Fat yoghurt, yet contains 225 kilocalories. Admittedly the Black Cherry one is only 150 gm, while the one with honey and coconut granola is 165 gm, but that's not really the point.

Seems to me, by putting "Low Fat" on the label, they let you think it's a low calorie item, where in fact it contains just as many calories as the high fat item with added cream to its left.

Why bother telling us it uses low fat yoghurt if that's not intended to make you think that eating it is doing you less harm?

I think this vindicates Which? magazine's stance in favour of a traffic light colour scheme for food marking, and seriously undermines the supermarket's view that it would confuse people. I believe the food industry wants to confuse people because that helps them sell more, though to be fair I'm not sure exactly how it does that.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Coventry latest!

The Bishop of Coventry will be installing 7 canons during our service, so it will be longer than usual, though I have no idea how much longer. And they're expecting a congregation of 600, god's teeth! (All for meeeeee! says Jen!) The psalm will be Psalm 150 to a setting by the Brazilian composer Aguiar, which is simply brilliant and totally different! I don't think any of you live remotely near Coventry, but it would be wonderful if you could come. Ah well...nice to dream!

Could I induce you to look at to see when and where we're singing? You never know, you might like it! And it's possible we'll be near you some time soon.


On 3rd November it's a significant birthday of Jenny's, as well as the day we sing Choral Evensong in Coventry Cathedral. We're really looking forward to that, although the choirstalls are miles apart, and it's very hard to hear what the other half of the choir are singing. Curiously, that's a function of the acoustics of the building, and nothing to do with how loudly we sing. It'll be Rose responses, because Jenny especially requested them, Rawsthorne Mag and Nunc, and an anthem that's yet to be decided, but might be Bainton - And I saw a new heaven and a new earth.

Lorna and Richard are coming, and we've booked ourselves into a hotel for the night, with dinner in a nice-sounding restaurant in Kenilworth. (Astonishingly, according to Google, there isn't a single decent non-ethnic restaurant in the whole of the city of Coventry! Would you believe it? Any number of Indian, Italian, Chinese of course.) But we also wanted to include the choir in the celebrations, so I'm trying to sort out having them back to the hotel for drinks and canapés.

The sticking point is the venue. If there are only about 15, we could upgrade our bedroom to a suite and entertain everyone there, which would be a lot cheaper than hiring a function room, but if numbers exceed about 20, the suite will be too small. And most of them haven't replied to my email inviting them, so I've no idea how many really will turn up.

Fortunately, the big day itself is some weeks off, so I'm not getting too het up yet. Only a little bit.

The end of the wasps

So yesterday as I dressed, I saw the usual dozens of wasps coming and going. (Off topic: I have my own dressing room. We didn't plan it that way when we bought the house, but for most of the time we've been together, I've got up much earlier than Jenny, and in the dark winter mornings it was just kinder to use a spare room to dress in, rather than switch the light on when she wasn't really awake.)

This morning, lying on the floor doing my back exercises, I thought "No wasps! Where are my wasps?" In the whole 10 minutes I was exercising, I think I saw 2.

I thought they were killed by the first frosts, but we haven't had a frost yet, though it has been pretty chilly.

I'm not exactly heart-broken about it; just curious really. And it will mean it's time to clear up in the loft. The nest is somehow in a piece of roof void left over when the loft was converted to a room. There's obviously a small gap which waylaid a few of them, leading them away from the real exit, as we have several dozen tiny corpses littering the loft. We've not bothered clearing them up as we don't use the loft much and we knew there would be more and more as the year progressed, so bringing out the dead would be a sisyphean task. I guess now's the time.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Fillet of Little Dexter

Talking to Lorna and Richard on Saturday night, I mentioned the bœuf en croûte I was planning for Sunday, and rather cheekily, Lorna invited herself and Richard to my Sunday dinner. Actually I was quite happy with that as it is rather sad going to all that trouble and not sharing it with anyone. They agreed they'd bring something for Richard to eat, so that was OK. I phoned Jane and she agreed to come too, so there were four of us.

Cooking the meat was slightly more of a challenge than it needed to be, since you're supposed to use the thick end of the fillet, but Cruickshank sold me the last bit he had, which was thin end. For those who don't know, you roast the meat first, until it's almost done, then let it cool, and finally layer it with pre-fried mushrooms and onions inside a wrapping of puff pastry. Since the pastry takes half an hour to cook, that's just long enough to get the meat back up to serving temperature without actually cooking it any more.

Problem: thin end fillet is going to cook more quickly than thick, so I can't just go by the times in the recipe. Answer: visit Merlin Mica Hardware in Royston and buy a meat thermometer. I roasted it until it was just shy of 60° C in the middle, then let it cool before wrapping it up.

Next problem: I used frozen puff pastry from a pack we'd used half of 6 months ago, and when I tried to roll it out it was dry and fragile. It hadn't occurred to us to stick it in a poly bag when we put it back in the freezer, and it had simply dried out somewhat. Fortunately I was able to use it, as by then all the shops had shut, else it would have been bœuf en croûte without the croûte.

I did a Delia Smith favourite for starter - compôte of garlic and sweet peppers, which was pretty good, but I had forgotten just how much it cooks down, so we had about a tablespoonful each. Silly, as there was another red pepper in the fridge which I could have used. Well if you invite yourself for dinner, I guess you take your chances!

And the beef was just stonking. An absolute killer. Definitely worth the hassle of driving out to Comberton to buy it. I'd cooked far too many roast potatoes, all of which vanished, and a big pile of purple cauliflower ditto. Then a goodly portion of fruit salad disappeared too. You know you've done OK when there's not much left over, and I felt dead smug. Still do, as a matter of fact.

Both Richard and Jane had an early start, so they all disappeared about 10.30 and after clearing up, I settled down to watch some Aubrey Manning (Earth Story is a 10 year old documentary about the geology of the earth which I can watch forever).

And woke up at 2 am. Fire out, DVD stopped, cat out galavanting, whatever. Didn't feel too great this morning, of course, though I didn't think I'd been too reckless. Dirty glass, I reckon.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

How nerdy is that?

I think I've just earned myself extra nerdy-points, here's how. Living, as we do, in the Neolithic, we still use a VCR to record TV programmes we would otherwise miss. There's little enough worth watching on the box, so it's a shame to miss the few things that don't make you just lose the will to live.

So the other day, being awake, we noticed that a particular tape was consistently rejected by the VCR. We put it aside and today I decided to investigate. Easy answer, the tape had broken and was now completely wound onto one spool.

Being the sort of bloke I am, I fetched a screwdriver and took it apart. It was no surprise that various small bits of plastic fell out as I opened it up, but I figured I should be able to work out how it all went back together once I'd sorted out the broken tape.

It was clear that what had parted was the join between the clear leader tape and the dark recording tape, but I decided against joining it back together with sticky tape. I think these things are subject to quite a bit of stress when the rewind unexpectedly hits the end. I dismantled the empty spool, discarded the leader and clipped the real tape directly into the spool. A bit of a bodge, as I'm pretty sure the factory uses a special tool to spring open the slot, while I just shoved it in. Anyhow, it seems firmly enough held.

Poking around, it wasn't hard to see roughly how it works, but I was left with one small L-shaped piece that had fallen out when I sprang the 2 halves apart. I resorted to Google, where I quickly found Although the photos didn't really help, the text, describing what happens, did, particularly since I knew that my mystery component had originated in roughly the middle of the cassette.

I dropped it into place, screwed the thing back together and stuck it in the VCR, where it would happily play, so that's fixed. So I'm a happy bunny, pleased with myself for fixing something that was broken. So let's not even think about the fact that I spent a small amount of my precious Sunday fixing something of zero effective monetary value.

Another foodie post

With Jenny at a conference in Scotland, I'd invited Lorna and Richard to dinner last night (Sat). I forgot to change the alarm, so was awake at 7.30, but by the time I realised I was early, I'd already made my tea, (tea things by the bed, of course!) so just carried on.

It wasn't a bad plan anyway, since I had to buy fish for the evening (Richard is veggie) and I knew I needed to get up to the fish stall on the market fairly early. He's quite pricey, but the fish is superb and of course, lots of people know it, so by lunchtime there tends to be a limited selection left.

I didn't really know what I wanted to serve, but had no difficulty deciding when I saw wild river trout on the slab. He gutted them for me, and I was away in minutes. Good start.

Then I went to the butchers (Cruickshank's) in Comberton, where I got some fillet of Little Dexter to make a bœuf en croute Sunday. The link takes you to a farm somewhere, and I only leave it like that because there's information about the breed. I've no idea where Pike End Farm is.

Anyhow, it's a bit of a faff going to Comberton, so while there I decided to get some of their delicious smoked gammon, then bought a slow-grown chicken rather bigger than I really wanted, and finally a half leg of lamb, the latter two for the freezer. The gammon will keep in the fridge until early October, so there's no need to freeze that.

In the afternoon I went to Bury Lane Farm Shop where I try to buy all my veg. I had to make 2 trips because I didn't plan things properly, but that was OK. I'm trying to find ways of buying less at Tesco, so this is a good option. And their eggs come from a farm nearby too.

I wanted to do the fish as simply as possible, so as not to overwhelm the flavour, so did a Jamie Oliver recipe. I slashed the sides, then rubbed in a gloop of thyme, salt and olive oil, and put a bunch of thyme inside, then roasted them for 10 mins. They were simply delicious, not so much for having been brillliantly cooked, but for being such good fish to start with. What I got right was not overcooking them.

Now I need to nurse my hangover so as to be able to get tonight's dinner right. Compote of garlic and sweet peppers; bœuf en croute with roast potatoes and steamed purple cauliflower; fruit salad (left over from last night and bulked out with more fruit).

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Message to the Aga Cookery Support Desk

OK, I know several of you out there have been cooking on/in Aga's for years, so I'm sure you can help here. A good friend of mine moved in with her man a couple of years ago, and found she was in charge of a 2 oven Aga. As far as I know, she's never cooked with anything other than gas or electricity all her life. She's finding the Aga a real challenge, and I wonder whether any of you in the know could offer some guidance.

To be honest, I've not spent that long talking to her about it, but it does sound to me as though she can see the end of her tether. One thing she said was that one oven was blazing hot and the other was tepid and only good for warming plates.

Is there any kind of basic tutorial she could read to outline the fundamentals? I suspect her Aga was already there when her man bought the cottage, so all documentation is likely to have gone the way of all flesh ages ago.

Does an oil-fired (I imagine it's oil-fired) Aga have tubes that need to be cleaned out from time to time? What sort of servicing, if any, does it require?

Is it just that there are only certain combinations of dishes you can cook, so you have to be more careful how you plan your menus?

The impression I get is that she would cheerfully dump it in a skip and install a conventional cooker, which I'm sure you'll agree, would be a real shame.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Just for a laugh

Following DJKirkby's lead, I took the nerdiness test. I'm nowhere near as nerdy as she is!

I am nerdier than 77% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

It doesn't surprise me I'm only mid-level. Whenever I take a computer apart I end up tearing my hair and swearing. A true nerd would reassemble it by pure intuition, I'm sure.

There's a more in-depth test, but I don't have time to take it right now.

Edit: OK, I took it! says I'm a Cool High Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!

Quite a lot of good things!

After the excitement of Sunday evening, we elected to take a day off and slept late. Jenny had a good excuse, of course, and I was pretty sure my boss would be understanding. There was masses of washing up for me to do, even after I'd loaded the dishwasher, since everything had just been dumped in the kitchen. I took several bites at it, finally being able to see reasonable stretches of worktop by lunchtime.

Lunch was leftover Chinese, of which there was rather too much, so we ended up completely bloated and incapable of doing anything in the early afternoon. However, Jen had an appointment of some sort in Royston on Tuesday, so had already decided to take that day off. Being off on Monday too, meant there was a need to go into the department and download some work onto her memory stick, so we did that on the way to Addenbrookes.

The hospital surprised us pleasantly once more, by not fussing about her checking in half an hour early for her appointment, and then calling her after only 15 minutes. They drained her (impressive!) blisters and gave her a proper dressing, then let her out, so we really didn't have to wait long at all.

In the evening we had choir practice, so roasted Sunday's pork early. I took extra care not to drop it! We also did Jamie Oliver's balsamic roasted potatoes and onions, which was a bit of a disappointment. To start with I used new potatoes rather than the charlottes he recommends, but I still think they should have been OK. But then although the balsamic vinegar did reduce and go sticky, the end result was much too powerful for the other flavours. I found the whole thing somewhat underwhelming.

While we were rehearsing, we left a Mopsa's clafoutis in the oven on the timer. This would have been Sunday's pud. This is essentially fruit cooked in a batter to make a rich pudding. Jenny used some of the blackberries we picked on Saturday, together with a couple of chopped nectarines, and it was simply magnificent, served with double cream. We were so impressed we phoned Lorna and Richard and insisted they come over and have some! Thank you, Mopsa. Brilliant! One question: it was slower to cook than we'd expected, but then we did put it in a ceramic dish. Would it have been better in a metal dish?

Wow! Thank you Blogger! The RCD on our main circuit board just tripped, taking out the power completely. Fortunately, once the power was restored, the Autosave feature meant I could just go to the Dashboard and Edit this post again. I've lost nothing! Impressed.

And the good stuff just goes on! At work, my boss said staying home with Jenny was just what anybody would have done and he wasn't happy with me taking the day as holiday, so I was to self-certify. I try not to mix work with this blog, but I was really quite moved. Thanks, boss.

And finally, we've just reheated the last of last night's clafoutis. It's just heavenly. Yummmmmmm!

Monday, 17 September 2007

Good weekend with a bad ending

Somehow, through a careless oversight, we only got through 2 bottles of red on Friday evening, and then went to bed relatively early, so the first Saturday for ages, I felt great when I got up in the morning!

It was really pleasant to not have anything specific to do this weekend, too; just relax and get on with enjoying ourselves. The weather on Saturday was sunny and warm, and we meandered around doing various small jobs. In the afternoon we went blackberrying, which we've not done for years, and in about half an hour, picked a couple of pounds. Such fun, even if we did hang ourselves up on the thorns and get stung by nettles. Then in the evening we had what's likely to be the last barbie of the year, and sat out on the patio, reveling in just being there, being washed away by the perfume of night-scented stocks.

Sunday I tinkered with Jen's 500, as the petrol tap had been leaking and I wanted to oil the speedo and rev-counter cables. The rest of the day we just pottered around the garden, not really trying too hard, just tidying up mostly. We put in some red cyclamen, hoping they're hardy, but not entirely convinced. Time will tell.

Then we started cooking, and that was when disaster struck. Jen had browned the pork joint in a roasting tray on the hob and was lifting it out onto a chopping board when it slipped, tipping a good deal of boiling fat over her left hand. She immediately put it under the cold tap and kept it there, but it didn't look good. This wasn't a trivial burn.

We phoned a nurse friend, who asked some pertinent questions and advised phoning Addenbrooks (nearest hospital with an A&E) but they just transferred her to NHS Direct. Fortunately a nurse phoned back, but the end result was what we'd feared - a visit to A&E.

I phoned Jane to tell her not to come to dinner after all, and Lorna and Richard to say not to come over for a drink, then off we went, taking fruit, juice, books, ice-pack, etc. In the UK, you generally expect to spend a good 4 hours in A&E, so I wasn't expecting to be home much before midnight. And we'd not eaten, so I hoped the fruit would be sufficient.

Addenbrooks was remarkably quiet, and it wasn't long before Jenny was seen. They cut her wedding ring off, then eventually put some gloop over the 3 fingers that were burned, and encased the whole hand in a sterile plastic bag. With an appointment for 3pm this afternoon, that was it. We were in and out in an hour and a half. Thank you, Addenbrooks! You exceeded all my expectations! Of course, we'd have preferred not to have to go back today, but it's reasonable they would want the injury to stabilise before doing a proper assessment.

Back home, it turned out Lorna and Richard had fed Jane, so when I phoned to say come over for a drink, all 3 arrived, which was lovely. I hadn't felt guilty about dumping Jane at the last minute, since we'd had no choice, but I didn't much like doing it, so it was very gratifying to find that Lorna and Richard had stepped into our shoes. Thanks guys!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Contemporary Dance - Pilobolus

I might have done this before, but my memory is so bad I don't remember. I love contemporary dance, and I came across this link to a remarkable performance by the dance group Pilobolus at the TED talks in Monterey, California in February, 2005. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and there are loads of talks/performances on their website. You can waste hours, but there is some very good stuff there, too. I hope you agree that this performance is exceptional.

Marcus Brigstocke anti-religion rant

I found this on Evanescent's blog and thought it was so funny and so good and so right I just had to post a link to it here. He actually posted it on 5th, but I only saw it today. Hope the links work.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Ow! Ow! Ow!

On Thursday Jenny is at Imperial College in London, and will probably be late home, so I decided I'd cook her a cassserole which can just sit in the oven until she arrives. Scooting around Tesco yielded half a kilo of oxtail, so I set about making one from a book of Andalucian (southern Spain) recipes.

This involved, amongst other things, crumbling up a couple of dried chillies. Now I know that with fresh chillies you must resist the temptation to scratch your eyes and all that, but these were dried, so when my nose itched, I didn't give it a thought.

I know what you're thinking - "Ewwwww! He picks his nose while he's cooking! That's disgusting!" Well actually, it was a scratch, not a pick, but in any case, when I do anything like that, I always, but always, wash my hands before continuing the cooking. So there!

A moment or two later, I realised I'd hurt myself, though I didn't immediately make the connection. When the pain continued, however, I joined the dots. Pain is a great persuader, and I'm persuaded it's not a good idea to put your hands anywhere near anything remotely sensitive for quite a while after processing chillies in any form! I can just, on second thoughts, I'm not even going to think about going there!

And I can assure you, the inside of your nose, even only just inside the nostril, is really, really sensitive!!!!

My brother Ned

Last night I had a long conversation with my younger brother, who, with his girlfriend, has just bought a house in London. Most of the chat was of how the previous owner had spent much of the past 40 years 'improving' the house and how expensive it was going to be to rectify.

Part of this was the heating system, which seems only to have had a low-med-high controller on the boiler, but no other thermostat at all. And no way to heat the water other than through the central heating, so even in summer, the heating had to be on. To mitigate this, there was no insulation whatever in the loft, and in fact there was also a 10 cm wide, metre long gap in the ceiling above the hot water tank, presumably to let all that excess heat out into the loft.

As well as replacing the heating system, they'll have to rewire, of course, and there are floors that need to be replaced and some work will have to be done on the roof. Begins to feel as though not much will be left untouched apart from the walls. Oh yes, and there's extensive replastering on the list of tasks.

Eventually we got away from housing disasters and he told me of a morris dancing trip to the west of Ireland he'd been on a year or two back. Inevitably there was a lot of drinking going on, supplemented by a still, erected in the street outside the pub, but the landlord himself.

This consisted of a household hot water tank with a gas ring beneath it, and a long pipe rigged up as a condensor, leading to a plastic bucket to catch the potcheen (sp?). You just dipped a plastic glass in and took some, far as I can tell. Neddie reported how his knees buckled when he took his first sip!

The best bit was the cops. The place was simply heaving with cops as well as revellers, yet it was amazing how they completely failed to *see* this totally illegal still, parked openly out in the street!

Monday, 10 September 2007


The sun was shining when we got up, but by the time we'd checked out of the hotel the sky was grey again. Nothing daunted, off we set for the ferry queue, which was about the same as it had been on Saturday. It didn't occur to us that it would have been quicker to drive north of Poole Bay, since we were going to Kimmeridge which is rather beyond where we'd been on Saturday.

This was a weekend of not thinking. On Friday I'd discovered, on arriving at Lorna's school, that I'd left my slip-on shoes at home. Since I like to drive barefoot, I'd simply not noticed that I'd not put them in. This meant I either had to wear proper shoes and socks, for which it was really too warm, or some rather ratty thongs that I generally reserve for scratting about in rockpools. Hardly ideal, but no-one complained.

Then we didn't think to put in the maps of the area, despite having both OS and geological maps. Coupled with my assuming that Jenny was navigating and her assuming I knew where I was going, we kept taking the scenic route. Lorna and Richard had had a camping holiday near Kimmeridge last year, so after a while I stopped ignoring the plaintive voices from the back saying "You should have gone right there, then immediately left".

And I forgot to put in the dremel, so was unable to carve a pebble head. Not that there was time, but I didn't even give it a thought, which is pretty good, for someone pretending to be an artist.

Arriving (eventually!) at Kimmeridge, I was determined to snorkel, so after checking out the visitor centre, I went back to the car to get into my wetsuit. However, no-one else wanted to swim, and I had the distinct (and mistaken) impression that Jenny didn't want me to, so I vacillated, then decided I didn't want to be sticky and salty all the way home, so didn't do it. Once it was too late, I realised that was a mistake. I very much regret not following the snorkel trail that was laid out in the bay.

Lunch was in the New Inn in Church Knowle, which appears in the Good Pub Guide and various other celebrations. The food was excellent and the staff courteous and entertaining. I had a very pleasant glass of sauvignon blanc and Jenny commented favourably on her Flowers bitter. In an unusual demonstration of commonsense, I gave away about a third of my wine so as to minimise the chances of an off-road excursion on the way home. Even so I was sufficiently knackered to ask Richard to drive the last bit from St Albans to Royston.

In the evening, after a very welcome bath, we went to see our friend Jane. Jane moved house on Friday, entertained family over the weekend and somehow managed to produce a wonderful paella for us into the bargain. Some kind of a superwoman, I think you'll agree. We had a lovely time, but were all completely zonked, so retired early. Thank you, Jane, that was a really splendid evening!

Snorkelling in Dorset

On Friday we took a half-day's holiday, collected Lorna and Richard from her school in Stevenage and drove down to Bournemouth for the weekend, intent on snorkelling off the cliffs a bit west of Swanage.

Saturday morning was grey and overcast, which was not a promising start, but we drove over anyway, first having to queue for half an hour or so to get over the chain ferry at the mouth of Poole Harbour. As we drove westwards, the clouds burned off, and it turned into a perfect day. After parking up at Worth Matravers, we walked the couple of kilometres down to Winspit Bay, which is a minute crack in the cliffs with a rock platform just above sea level and a few small inlets.

It had obviously been pretty calm for days if not weeks, because the water was remarkably clear, and as we swam, we could easly see the bottom in about 5 metres depth. Sadly, there were not that many fish. Lots of Laminaria weed, but not much animal life.

We did see, and swim with, a shoal of many hundreds, perhaps thousands of small fish, maybe 5 cm long, which was lovely. This photo is of a much smaller shoal of slightly smaller fish. We also saw a number of fish up to 10 or 15 cm in length, some wrasse, possibly cuckoo wrasse and some of what might have been baby cod or haddock. I don't know what had encouraged the several fisherman there, since their giant triple hooks (Jenny found one in the weed and returned it) were far to big for anything we saw down there.

In the fairly warm water, our wetsuits allowed us to stay in for over an hour before we started to feel cold, so we really felt we'd got our money's worth.

On the way home we spotted an interesting looking restaurant, so booked ourselves in for later that evening. This turned out to be a real gem. Thirty Three, on the main street in Canford Cliffs, on the boundary between Poole and Bournemouth, is a great restaurant which has been open for about 9 months. The food was terrific, they have a decent wine list and the service could not be faulted. They managed to walk the line of perfect anticipation of every need without crossing over into being overly attentive. Could not have been better. Oh yes, and there was a man playing saxophone near the front. As we were at the back, it was quiet enough not to intrude, but just right to be able to listen to when we wanted.

That'll do for now. More later!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Jenny's 500

This is Jenny's Honda 500. It was her first big bike. These days a 500 is small-fry, but then they were still considered pretty meaty. She bought it in 1975 when it was 6 months old and had done 1100 miles. It had 2 previous owners already!

When we met in 1976 she'd already done quite a few miles on it, and we did lots more over the years. Gradually it deteriorated and was eventually superceded by other bikes, but Jenny didn't want to get rid of it; the significance of her first big bike was too great.

About 10 years ago a friend persuaded me to start dismantling it with a view to rebuilding it, but sadly I didn't really have the motivation myself, and he quickly got distracted by other things, so we were left with a complete basket case. ie it was stripped down into some quite small bits and then left.

We heard of a professional restorer, and hired him to rebuild it for us. Although a British bike specialist, he'd done a couple of Honda 750s, so we thought he'd be OK with this. He came highly recommended.

He had the bike for ages, then started asking for interim payments. Eventually he delivered the bike, but it's never been right. And he charged us at least half as much again as he'd quoted. And *that* was half as much again as the bike would ever be worth. We ground our teeth and paid.

I rode it for about 500 miles while I was unemployed, but didn't much enjoy it. The carbs were out of balance so it didn't go well, and the front brake was frighteningly inefficient. Eventually I had the carbs set up by a local bike shop, and it certainly was better, but still not much good. So after another 250 miles or so, I put it in the garage, to languish, accumulating white spots of spider shit and that nasty powdery white corrosion you get on unlacquered aluminium alloy. It would look at me despondently every time I went in there, but it was just too much like hard work to do anything about it.

We discussed selling it, but to be worthwhile, we needed to get it properly set up first, and if we did that, then we might as well keep it. Edit: there was also the issue that it had cost us so much to restore, it was just too painful to write off such a huge amount of money. Of course, the money has gone, whatever we do, but bringing yourself to finally cut the ties is really hard. So of course, we did nothing.

Then a few weeks ago I came across an ex-Honda engineer who knows and loves old Hondas. He's set up the carbs for us and done numerous other small repairs and tweaks, and has had it MoT'd for us. He says it's running really sweetly now. And tomorrow we collect it. I'm really quite excited!

Monday, 3 September 2007

Ripon Cathedral

Last week we were singing the services in Ripon Cathedral, one of a series of visiting choirs substituting for the regular cathedral choir, since the kiddies were on holiday.

Ripon is in Yorkshire, somewhere near the arctic circle, I think. Ee, it were grim.

Actually, that's a complete lie. We had a wonderful time. The only downer was Tuesday when we arranged to meet some of the other choristers in a village pub for lunch. After taking the 'scenic' route, we eventually found the pub, but despite the signs in the street and the lights shining inside, it was closed. They lost quite a bit of trade. Not only Jen and me, but also the 6 folks in 2 other cars that arrived at the same time, plus the 4 we were to meet and a bunch of walkers who arrived at the same time as they did.

We drove back to another village pub we've eaten in before, only to find that one closed, too, as was another at the other end of that village. We gave up and drove back to Ripon, where a pizza restaurant we know was also closed. Abandoning the car, we walked into town, calling at the Lamb and Flag, which was open, but "Sorry, chef's day off." We had very pleasant fish and chips in the Unicorn Hotel on the main square. And 2 glasses of very nice French sauvignon blanc, 'cos we deserved it after all that!
On Wednesday we went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where there's lots of Andy Goldsworthy, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the opening of the park. Also numerous Henry Moores, Barbaba Hepworths and Elizabeth Frinks, in huge grounds. We had a fabulous time and ended up completely exhausted.

Sadly, all the Goldsworthy was protected by 'no photography' signs, so I can't post any pics of what we saw.

These are 2 of about a dozen Hepworths.

On Saturday afternoon after lunch and before the afternoon rehearsal started, I spent a happy 3/4 hour pretending to be Andy Goldsworthy myself, stitching together blades of grass to make 2-metre long tendrils which I tied to the frame of the choir school's cricket nets. Did I say we were staying in the choir school?

In true transient artist style, I took a short movie clip of it. Sadly, my copy of RAD Video Tools, which I use to convert .mov movie files to more compact formats, has taken to crashing the minute I try to use it. I'll post the movie when I've converted it. At 35 Mb it seems a bit big to try to post it straight. Edit: fixed RAD Video Tools by uninstalling and reinstalling, so here's my Grass Flag in WMV format. I admit it's not up to AG standard, but it was more an experiment to see what was possible than an attempt at a serious piece of art. It was also very windy, so if you have your sound on, you'll get a lot of wind roar from the camera microphone.

Edit: I've fixed the broken link to the Elizabeth Frink entry in Wikipedia.