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Tiny Product Reviews

Interim post while I try to get my head around a more complex post. Here are some new things I tried recently and what I thought of them, etc.

Tragically I have lost the packaging for this drink but it’s for the best

Something or other “Buzz”. Came in a small bottle, free, from a man at Wimbledon station who was handing them out to disinterested passersby, and to me, who bounded over shouting “FREE STUFF?”, as two years of working near Liverpool Street station conditioned me into accepting any promotional food or drink as Bonus Breakfast.

Appearance: dark brown liquid. Energy effects: Who cares, this stuff was remarkably horrid.

I mean that. I won’t say I’m a connoisseur of energy drinks, but I’ve done a lot of very boring jobs in my time and consumed a wide variety of caffeine-based fluids in order to prevent myself from snoozing on my keyboard, not to mention my years as a club casualty, and this is objectively the worst-tasting caffeinated beverage I have ever put in my mouth.

Taste: initially I thought it was like flat cola, which would have been fine I guess since that’s basically what Fentiman’s Cola is, but no. No, after a second cautious sip it produced a burning sensation as well. I think on reflection the best way to describe the taste is “highly concentrated cola syrup mixed with bleach, with a soupçon of God’s wrath and the overwhelming sensation of regret”.

Verdict: please love yourself and don’t touch this shit.

EDIT: A put-upon friend who received the same freebie but luckily didn’t drink it informs me the brand is “Buzz Shot”, although Amazon claims this is actually a beer pong game.

Baxters Meal Pots

In my eternal mission to find hot food that will keep me alive in my trek through the wastelands of high-volume night work without causing me to bloat up into an angry sphere of lard, scorch my taste buds off with salt, or lead to me wishing that they had due to the unspeakable vileness of the product, I am profoundly grateful to have run across these.

Pros: they’re incredibly compact and will fit in my bag. They take about 2 minutes to microwave and the design is such that there’s no opportunity for spattering the inside of the microwave with crap. They’re pretty conservative on the calorie front, which means I can also alleviate my paid torment with crisps and not become a pork balloon.

Oh, and they taste pretty nice too.

Cons: I am persistently terrified that the metal can lid keeping the contents fresh will spring up and either cut me or cover me in goo when I open them. When heated in the microwave the pot is just hot enough that carrying it back to my desk becomes an exciting challenge. And at around £2.50 a pot they’re somewhat pricy compared to the alternatives.

The site show four flavours (Italian Style Sausage and Beans, Malaysian Inspired Chicken Laksa, Mixed Mixed Bean Chicken and Quinoa, and Vegetarian Three Bean and Chipotle Pepper), all of which I’ve tried. The Malaysian “Inspired” Chicken Laksa, so-called I suspect because if it was merely called Laksa the entire nation of Malaysia would rightfully rise up as one person and call bullshit on it, is a welcome change from the more tomato-based dishes and full both of tiny noodles and little slices of baby corn, in addition to the usual. I’m not a huge fan of quinoa but the stuff doesn’t actually ruin the one it’s in either.

Verdict: surprisingly nice for canned lunches, low-calorie, robust packaging, would prefer it if they were about 50p cheaper but we can’t have everything. Looking forward to seeing how/if they expand the line.

Realm & Empire (T E Lawrence Sweater)

This is I admit a bit of a swizz because the specific product I’m talking about is sold out pretty much everywhere, but I’m going to take the quality of this as an indicator of the rest of their products.

I’ll also be honest and say I bought this from eBay for £29 as opposed to the recommended price of £75 and probably wouldn’t spend £75 on a sweater unless I’d won the bleeding Lottery, but some of the rest of the people on the internet have rather higher incomes than me.

Print quality: pretty good. I’ve grown used to sublimated prints recently thanks to their popularity in high street clothing, so it’s noticeable when something is a surface print now.
Clothing quality: good. Really good. It’s so soft and warm and thick and the stitching is really robust and excuse me I will just hide inside this forever.

In an ideal world the Realm & Empire badge on the yoke wouldn’t be there as it looks out of place and detracts from the rest of the garment but on the whole: Fantastic.

It’s not a good picture but you get the idea.

And now I shall return to grappling with the less frivolous post. Adieu!

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How Can You Not Like An Entire Medium?

The title is what I have previously asked naysayers of poetry and comics, because I am tragically attached to both mediums as a means of communicating everything from useful scientific information to single outbursts of relatable emotion to involved and complex narratives driven by well-rounded characters, as well as their on-brand uses as “goodness me i’m in love” and “biff bang pow”, respectively. Also the quality of the individual use varies, so “goodness me i’m in love” can be frankly transcendental in its multifaceted delicacy and “biff bang pow” can address deep and pressing social issues with the use of well-rounded characters and complex narrative structures, etc.

After some rethinking of my position I think I have to give ground to the “but I don’t like comics” and “I don’t like poetry” crowds. Not because poetry and comics are nothing but juvenile/adolescent wank and all the other epithets hurled unpeaceably at them by people who aren’t interested in trying anything new, but because people who have tried something repeatedly and still don’t like it do deserve to have their preferences honoured.

I speak now of the moving image.

The main reason I’m making this concession is that it has been pointed out to me that I basically don’t like TV.

You can’t “not like TV”.

I know, that was my initial response. I watch plenty of it. I’m currently watching and adoring Great British Sewing Bee. I am antsy for the third series of Hannibal. I religiously tune into whichever variation of a wipe Charlie Brooker is presiding over at any given moment. I tried with Russell T Davies’ most recent experimental televisual event but in the intervening years between him wowing my pubescent self with Queer As Folk and the now, the shine has badly come off that one character voice he writes and I’ve grown aggressively bored with witty speechifying.

My point is, I watch the stuff. And that was my argument.

However, the Resident Australian is privy to exactly how I watch TV, because she lives in my house, and the answer is “you don’t”.

There may be an endless stream of IVT3 British Detective Thrillers on in the background. There may be near-continual QI. Hugh Unspellable-Doublebarrelled may tell me how to make cranberry-stuffed goose face six times over the course of one day without complaint, but I’m not watching and I’m barely listening. It’s there to make companionable noise and I don’t overly miss it when it’s gone.

Quick! Name some TV you like!

I did that as well. RomeBand of Brothers. A slew of Classic Dr Who (pre-Davison). State of Play (the original, of course). Like all right-thinking human beings, I appreciated The Wire, although unlike the majority of the internet I actively disliked Breaking Bad. But wait! There’s more! Blandings! Jeeves & Wooster! Blackadder! Young Ones! Black Books! Spaced! The Granada adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories!

Everything David Attenborough has ever touched. Sewing BeeBake Off. A swathe of panel quiz shows so broad as to be verging on the indiscriminate. Brian Cox waffling about space. Carl Sagan waffling about space. Pretty well anyone waffling about space. Half of BBC4. Howard Goodall waffling about the history of music, as many times as I can get away with. Have you noticed how often the BBC like to use bits of Song 2 by Blur and Clubbed To Death and Dog Days in their programs? It is a lot. I’ve noticed because I dwell at the bottom of a pit filled with cheap documentaries about castles and food travelogues and Lucy Worsley trying on endless costumes and Brian Cox’s enormous hands conducting invisible writing across the screen.

So you don’t hate TV?

Well.

I don’t seem to have the greatest relationship with the combination of moving pictures and spoken word. I mean, I love radio, but most of the time, TV demands too much of your attention. It says “either stop wanking about on the internet for a minute, or miss something important”. It complains that I’m cooking or unpicking things, and it positively throws an advert-vomiting tantrum every thirty seconds on most channels anyway.

Okay firstly, you like movies.

And most of the time I can only concentrate on them if I go to a cinema and have no option but to watch through to the end on a screen large enough to hold my attention and with no opportunity to pause it and go and do something else.

Secondly, do what everyone else does and just binge-watch dramas.

You’d think that would deal with my distinct dislike of episodic structure (if you look at the list of things I do like, the majority of them have self-contained plots within each episode, with RomeThe Wire, State of Play and Dr Who as stand-out exceptions – in those cases the plots took up the entire series at a time but were intended that way. There was no “easy jumping-on point to a longer-running thing”, you either watched the whole thing, or you didn’t). In fact it just makes me cross and fidgety. I’ve tried binge-watching episodic TV before – Rome – and even with that quality of writing it proved annoying. The Wire deserves a special credit for getting me through one series per sitting (and then I ran away half-way through Season 3 because the tension was unbearable), and State of Play for being short enough that, as with The Wire, I just treated it as a six-hour movie. The structure was such that it was possible. Not so with most.

So you have exceptions to the rule.

Undoubtedly. I actively enjoy having episodes of Hannibal doled out every week because one episode a week is about all I can handle in terms of emotional investment.

The conclusion of The Resident Australian was that exceptions to the rule rather proved the existence of the rule. “It’s notable when you like something on TV because most of the time you hate TV.” TV here of course standing in for “episodic narrative”, drama or comedy variety, because that’s how most people use it.

This makes for difficulty in particularly wanting to join in with fandom culture any more, because wildly popular though cooking TV and BBC4 history documentaries are, their fans don’t tend to be the active fandom kind. Now that Marvel Movies fandom has moved into a mindset where it’s vital to watch at least two TV shows (Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter) even if you don’t want to drag the immense, unwieldy 616 Marvel comics canon into the matter, it becomes less and less appealing to write for.

Arguably, the shorter and less drawn-out a TV series is, the more inclined I am to at least try it. For the most part, I’m perfectly happy to squander my leisure time on either radio drama, which doesn’t demand my eyes as well as ears, or books and comics, which don’t demand my ears as well as eyes.

Any further evidence for your all-consuming disdain for 100-year-old technology, oh hater of the moving image?

Yes. I only watch Youtube videos that are more involved than kittens falling over about once in a blue moon and I’m actively pissed off by ones that involve people talking.

What about Vines?

Same deal: kittens or GTFO. And stop talking.

Sorry, people who don’t like comics or poetry: I’ve been somewhat unfair to you. Let’s agree to meet in the common ground and stop trying to force each other into areas we don’t have time for.

Filed under: content: real life,

Dick Bruna Faun

I am quite fond of Miffy. I am quite fond of fauns.

This happened:

Click on image to buy

click to see buying options!

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Between the Shores Pre Order!

 

Between the shores is an erotica anthology in which my short story Vine (under my nom de Naughty Stories, Melissa Snowdon) is featured, a long with a roaring collection of other BDSM erotica which, unlike 50 Shades of Grey, is heavy on consent. The negotiated kind, not the coerced kind.

For the technicalities I’m going to leave you with the publishers:

Between The Shores

available from:

Soon, Smashwords will distribute the ebook files to other retailers like Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Scribd. Be sure to check our Buy Page for the most up-to-date purchasing options!

Our Createspace paperback version will be released on our official publication date of March 23.

(Please note the current word and page count refer to placeholder files: the actual anthologies will be over 100,000 words each. Also, the file formats available on All Romance Ebooks will include .epub, .mobi, and .html as well as .pdf.)

Obviously this is terribly exciting and you should run, not walk, to preorder this magnificent thing.

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The Empty Plate: Representation and Desperation

Please bear with me. I’m about to use the phrase “some young people of my acquaintance” and make myself sound roughly a million years old, which I suppose in comparison to these people ten years my junior I might as well be. I’m also going to throw out the relevant quote at the beginning of this post and then explain myself as I go along.

I’ve listened to so many life-histories; I don’t know why, I always seem to pitch up when they’ve had a drink too many, or a knock too many, or something. It’s loneliness that rots them, every time. A starving man won’t notice a dirty plate.

The Charioteer, Mary Renault

 This comes from the exemplary and heart-rending novel by Mary Renault and is spoken by a disillusioned gay man who has spent a sizeable portion of his adult life interacting with the gay scene of the 1930s and 40s, both in the UK and overseas, as a member of the Merchant Navy. As with many things in that book, I found this line in particular very close to home the first time I read it, but the full impact of the phrase “A starving man won’t notice a dirty plate” has only come into focus for me recently.

I waste many valuable hours of my life on a social media site called Tumblr. Unlike most of the social media sites I’ve wasted my adult life on since 2001, this one has a marked skewing towards a younger demographic, both younger in the sense of age and in the sense of life experience and emotional maturity. It is viewed – not always correctly – as a safe haven for gender and sexual minorities, people of colour, free-thinkers, and other youth whose treatment by mainstream internet society may not always be the kindest. It is fair to say that the dogged bigotry of the internet doesn’t exactly fade away in these circumstances, and the site is also rife with racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, death threats, exhortations to suicide, and the tedious teenage tendency to accuse anyone and everyone of being “fake”.

In my penance for whatever crime I committed that makes me think it’s a good idea to be there (there are lots of nice wildlife photos and some pleasant interior design blogs), I’ve become familiar with sides of my younger friends which I might not otherwise have gotten to grips with in more structured or long-form environments, and one of the major factors is this:

Representation over quality

It had been driving me nuts, and will probably continue to do so for a while even after this particular revelation. A lot of noise is made about the presence (or absence) of characters with whom the above demographics can identify, and in every request post and review no mention is ever made of the quality of the writing beyond whether it conforms to or subverts harmful stereotypes and tropes (such as Women in Refrigerators Syndrome, Magical Negro, Bury Your Gays/The Tragic Homosexual, and so on).

As someone who at least thinks they work hard on the actual quality of their work beyond including characters that represent the astonishing and diverse reality of human society, it’s been very frustrating seeing everything run through various demographic tests and either discarded (understandable: no matter how wonderful the writing, there are only so many times you can read about a white middle-aged man’s midlife crisis without wanting to throw bricks, even if he does cook meth while he’s doing it) or accepted on that basis (slightly harder to countenance as some of the things hailed as the second coming of TV are outright dogshit except for the casting).

But I think now I’m being unfair.

I’ve forgotten what it was like for me, as a teenager, as a younger adult, as an undergraduate, shifting through a world made up of straight white men having straight white crises all through every angle of popular and literary fiction, in every imaginable medium, with women and homosexuals and people who weren’t bloody white or any combination of the above only ever showing up to be subject rather than object – at best. Most of the time these categories were fulfilled by bad guys, tragic dead best friends, romantic prizes…

And when I was their age I did read an unimaginable mountain of shit purely because it had the scarce heroines who didn’t succumb to matrimony, the gay characters at all never mind the ones who didn’t die or who eventually found love; I read god knows how many harrowing and miserable accounts of slavery and racism purely because I was sick of seeing the same faces in my mind’s eye.

And to be fair to this next generation, they’ve been consistent. They want to see their own faces in the mirror of art so badly that they don’t care how revolting the mirror, as long as it doesn’t distort their experiences.

Or to put it in Mary Renault’s terms: a starving man won’t notice a dirty plate.

Getting used to it

The edge has come off the “lack of representation” agonies for me, over time. I discovered the internet at the close of 1999 and fanfic in 2002 and scarcely looked back. DIY media seemed like the answer to the paucity in mainstream media, and if the DIY side carried over some of the same bigotries – if it too looked a bit white, a bit male, a bit heterosexual at times – then that was surely a habit that would eventually recede when the creators started making their own work instead of drawing on properties that were heavily white, male, and heterosexual… right?

The other reason the edge has come off is that there is improvement. There are more properties with the requisite character attributions – nowhere near enough, but more than there were when I was growing up. There is also more access to them – I can watch, conceivably, damn near anything. I can read damn near anything. These were not options growing up a five mile walk from a small library, with a black and white TV that showed four channels and a parent who threw a fit if I tried to watch the actually interesting stuff that was mysteriously only ever on at 2AM. And so because things have improved so much, I can afford to be picky.

Or: the plate is a little fuller than it was, so I notice the dirt.

But we’re not well-fed. The plate is far from full. The generation after mine have grown up with the ability to read and watch whatever they damn well please. They’ve grown up on internet fanfiction not-quite-filling the gaps. Their tastes are shaped by a media that purports to pander to them, and then doesn’t – as opposed to mine, shaped by a media that made no pretence of giving me what I asked for.

Perhaps they’re in a better position to kick up a stink, to notice that their plate isn’t full, and to not tolerate the introduction of three french fries in the name of a four-course dinner. To someone raised on half a french fry it seems ludicrous and greedy and tiresome – won’t anyone see how dirty this plate is? – but I forget, they’re not used to starving for representation to the point where the hunger becomes normality, and until they’re either fed or accustomed to it, they’re not going to give a damn about the state of the plate.

With any luck, they won’t ever have to get used to being starved.

Filed under: content: essay, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Recipe: Cauliflower Fritters

Before I start:

  • I was debating whether to do the disingenuous Buzzfeed recipes thing and call them pancakes even though they are quite clearly not.
  • These have like two ingredients, and are therefore perfect.
  • Also completely gluten-free, due to aforementioned only two ingredients.
  • Someone has almost certainly done this before, but “I should try X” is one of those thoughts that plagues me when I’m trying to sleep.

Are you ready for a recipe which is hysterically simple in its construction and is therefore perfect for breakfast? A recipe which will shut up the irritating Paleo types, please vegetarians, and soothe the gluten-free? A recipe which is acceptable to even people doing that moronic 5:2 diet who are on their 2 day?

Also it tastes pretty nice, which is clearly far more important.

Ingredients

This is the minimum amount and provides ratios, you can of course increase it and make more.

  • 200g cauliflower (roughly 1/4 of a medium cauliflower)
  • 1 egg

That’s it, that’s your lot. Optional extras:

  • Dried seaweed – I put this in the ones you’re about to see photos of.
  • Spices mixes/herbs – I used a paprika/garlic powder/garlic chips/onion salt mix in mine but that’s because I use it in absolutely everything
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • You could probably add Bonito flakes or really anything small and flavoursome

Method

  1. Cut the cauliflower up as small as you can, this will make life easier later.
  2. Boil the cauliflower until it is soft
  3. Mash the cauliflower until it is mush. Put in the spices/seaweed/whatever you’re adding.
  4. Mix the egg into this until it’s sort of smooth.
  5. Glob some of the mix into a frying pan/wok/hot plate on a low heat. Don’t spread it too thin or it won’t stay in one piece.
  6. When it seems like the bottom’s probably cohered reasonably well, turn it over and press it down.

The above mixture, depending on what size you make them, makes about three to four fritters, which is a perfectly adequate breakfast. I splashed some oyster sauce on mine because that’s how I roll but really I’m sure it works with just about anything salty.

mix pan serve

Additional information:

If you’re counting calories, this comes to 128-130 calories for the whole mixture outlined above.

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How to make One Dozen Thumb Cookies With F-All Calories In

Please feel free to consider this a preview from a long-running, slow-progressing project.

Ingredients

  • 1 quail egg. These seem like a bastard to get hold of but can actually be picked up in Morrissons. Failing that, one fifth of an egg you’re using for something else, or like powdered egg and water or whatever to about the same quantity. We’re not here to judge you.
  • 46g of plain flour. Not wholemeal flour. Don’t do that to yourself. That shit isn’t for cakes.
  • Half a teaspoon of baking powder
  • 6g of gingerbread spices*, this is roughly 1.5 teaspoons
  • 25g low-fat cream cheese. I use Morrisons NuMe because I’m cheap and awful, but you’re looking for around the 50 calories/30g ratio if you can.
  • 17g Stevia/Truvia/very sweet caster sugar replacement.
  • Pinch of salt for the baking powder.
  • About half a teaspoon of vanilla flavouring, less if essence.

Method

  1. Preheat yer oven to 180C.
  2. Wang some baking paper on a tray so you don’t have to lever cookies off the tray later and make extra washing up for yourself.
  3. Cream the Stevia and cream cheese together. This will likely be more sloppy and a lot less hard work than it is when doing the same thing with butter and sugar, so please rejoice in that – you shouldn’t need a food mixer or biceps that can crush a cow for this.
  4. Pop in your quail egg and vanilla, mix it all up. The business should be pretty runny at this point.
  5. Sieve over your flour, salt, spices, and baking powder, or “the rest of the ingredients” if you’re not decorating these.
  6. Mix them in. This bit’s a bit harder and you should end up with some quite doughy mix.
  7. Roll it into a big ball, then break the ball up into six. Break those balls up into twos, then flatten them with your thumb into discs (hence the name).
  8. Put your thumb discs onto the tray and in the oven for eight minutes.
  9. Enjoy delicious tiny biscuits at less than 20 calories each. (If you’re determinedly counting, the ones I’ve just detailed came out at 18.79 each or “19” if you’re not insane).

Notes for alterations:

  • To make a buttload of these (why would you do that), replace the quail egg with a normal egg and multiply all the other ingredients by four or five.
  • If you are not eating restrictively, replace cream cheese with butter, and the Stevia with 20 of brown sugar and 25g of caster sugar. Have fun creaming that until your arms hurt (or put the butter in the microwave for 30 seconds and just stir it into the sugar). If you use butter, also, reduce the flour by about five grams and don’t bother flattening the cookies – they’ll spread on their own accord.
  • Obviously you can make fewer cookies with more calories or whatever, I am not the boss of you.
  • You can replace the gingerbread spice with just cinnamon, or cocoa powder, or whatever powdery thing takes your fancy, or replace it with just more flour (which will put the calorie amounts up).

* Gingerbread spice

Useful in so many occasions, and saves measuring it all out each time. I go with the following shaken up in a jar:

  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp ground mixed allspice
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom (for some reason this is often hard to find, but you can buy it on Amazon)
  • 1 tsp ground cloves (again often tricky but keep trying, it’s worth it)
  • Optional: a pinch of black pepper, a pinch of wattleseed

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The Sound & Value of Silence

A little under five years ago I launched myself into a year of studying for an HNC in Music Production; almost immediately after I’d finished I got a persistent ear infection which a) continues to this day and b) has definitely robbed me of my higher-frequency hearing, basically the opposite of what you want if you’re trying to work as a sound engineer.

Both before and since then I’ve worked in a number of offices, in which I’ve worn a variety of headphones (before settling, post-HNC, on AKG K271 Mkii – ironically I have been stopped several times by sound engineers because of these headphones, as they’re apparently favoured by live sound people), for the purpose of shutting out the sounds of an office and letting me concentrate.

The coal-face of employment

Typical complaints from friends in office jobs have been that they’re too quiet and no one talks to each other.

Allow me to present my counter-argument:

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to work accurately and with speed when everyone around you is gabbling meaninglessly about what they watched on TV last night?

People bellow things to each other that could be emailed. People ask inane questions for the sake of making a noise. Phones ring. Doors slam. At my last workplace, which was a university (in which for some mad reason we were required to work in the same buildings the students despite having nothing to do with them, and to work with our office door open), the fire door continually slammed; people wandered in to yell at us about where their lectures were. Four years of intermittently working at various universities will grind down your goodwill towards seekers of further education in a way that no amount of drunken rag week incursions into evening life will ever manage.

There was a window, brief and glorious, into what work could be like: I spent a month in a basement of a research and teaching hospital, archiving their samples for shipment to a less asbestos-filled, out-of-the-way location. I worked with one other person, who sat in a different room to me: my supervisor came down once a day to check if we had enough boxes. Twice a day we crawled up the stairs to a staff kitchen where we sat in silence with tea and looked out of the window at daylight.

I am sure to the kind of people who complain of offices where no one ever talks to each other, this sounds like hell, but we did also manage to discuss perfume-making, 1980s queer literature, how to learn Spanish, and the relative merits of different types of dust mask. We just didn’t do it constantly.

Now, this year, I’ve begun another job: it is in a large, open-plan office, and there are a lot of people working on the same shift. One would expect a lot of noise, barring two things:

  1. It’s at night, and
  2. The workload is heavy.

This means that in practice, the place is more-or-less silent. People wear headphones, or they don’t, but no one starts up endless idle chit-chat. No one lurks around your desk when you’re trying to concentrate and asks meaninglessly jovial questions about your personal life. People work, and then they go home.

Cathedrals and Temple

One of the real purposes of places of worship being open between ceremonies of worship, so that any old mug can wander in, I am sure, is so that said mug can enjoy for a moment the quiet and seclusion of a place removed from daily life and from continual conversation. There is a general social agreement that we don’t raise our voices inside large stone buildings; less so in museums and art galleries, where a normal level of conversation is permissible, but in cathedrals and churches the requirements of non-disturbance hold sway. Wandering into St Lawrence Jewry out of the rain drags the wanderer out of the noise of the city (although admittedly the the City tends to be as silent as a grave on the weekends, part of its Saturday and Sunday appeal) and into hoped-for contemplation.

Meditation rooms are characterised by their silence; prayer chapels ask that we respectfully allow others to exist without being continually reminded that everyone around them has thoughts and opinions. Libraries, the highest form of temple, preserve a quiet study room into which cheerfully chatting weekday mums and excited children armed with the latest child fantasy franchise do not enter: I agree with the consensus of librarians in this country that libraries are not for miserable silence, but I applaud the decision to allow one secluded area for those of us who don’t find silence miserable at all, too.

And so on a recent history walk out of this book, I dragged my willing accomplice through the four Inns of Court and the no-longer extant former Inns of Chancery, and discovered that there are patches of silence waiting in busy, noisy London, wherever you go.

The Inns of Court seem like tiny fiefdoms, lawyerish enclaves removed from the rest of the city by enclosing buildings and roads which frequently have large wooden or metal doors drawn across them to prevent traffic from entering. They boast some of the oldest buildings in the city, and have some of the longest continuous use of any area of the city, having begun their legal trading well before the Tudor period.

At Lincoln’s Inn you may find Old Hall and its chapel (only open on weekday lunchtimes), with beautiful vaults:

Old Hall

To the South of Lincoln’s Inn and New Hall there is a bizarre and elderly pub called the Seven Stars, with a window display of satirical taxidermy, a phrase I have fallen in love with and wish to have more opportunities to abuse:

The Cabinet of Largesse

 

South again, on the Strand, there is the bewildering and ostentatious lobby of a Lloyd’s Bank, intended only as a space to hold a couple of ATMs:

Often when I’ve gone to withdraw money I’ve thought “I wish this place had a fountain and pillars and mirrors and mosaics”. Petition for more unnecessarily fancy ATM lobbies!

But it is with the Inns of Court of Inner, Middle, and Outer Temple that I wish to concern myself, because those are the places in which the whole presence of the city shrinks to the glimpse you catch on the far side of the river, and the slow indignant traffic crawling along Embankment towards and from Blackfriars. In Middle Temple lies Fountain Court, where there is:

A fountain, which is illuminated at night.

And a fascinating Tudor hall replete with the requisite garish stained glass windows and massive red and white roses: having grown up a stone’s throw from Buckland Abbey (assuming you can throw a stone about five miles, and have terrific aim), which boasts an excellent quantity of Tudor remnants, the presence of Middle Temple’s hall is quietly comforting.  When night falls, if you stand with your back to the fountain and face the river, the blue lights strung in the branches of the trees at Gabriel’s Wharf are visible as an icy fuzz below the Oxo tower.

Temple Church, a late 12th-century edifice built by the Knights Templar and restored after significant damage in WWII (a phrase you will get fucking sick of as soon as you start looking into the history of London with any interest: “significant damage in WWII”), presides over another nearby courtyard. In Pump Court, glimpsed here on Google Street View between the pillars of Pump Court Cloisters, from a vantage point beside Temple Church, red-berried trees rise from the paving slabs. It is blissfully,  perfectly silent, especially after the sun goes down.

Pump Court Cloisters, Middle Temple

Pump Court Cloisters, Middle Temple

There is something to be said for the privilege and power accrued by hundreds of generations of lawyers beavering over precedents in the same spot: it makes for elegant, undisturbed premises ripe for clearing your head.

The merit

I’ve waxed wrath and often on the topic of requiring a comforting blanket of aggressive sound to cover up the aggressive sounds of the world: the AKG K271s are a security blanket preserving the mind from unnecessary interruptions and unwanted conversation as much as they are the delivery mechanism for iPod-borne pace-setters. Noise, particularly the rhythmic and repetitive kind, has a profound neurological importance.

But constantly looking for meaning in every bang, bump, misheard mumble and distance rumble isn’t a blueprint for problem-solving, nor for planning, nor for peace of mind. Sometimes it’s necessary for whatever lies in place of a soul or a basic sense of being individually human, to have the attendant thumps and crunches of existence whittled away to bird song, or the vacant silence of an empty stone hall.

Soon it will be spring, and time for spring cleaning both home and head, and I look forward to approaching the latter in one of London’s many silent spaces.

 

 

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Merry Natural History-mas!

Just in time for wondering what to spend your Christmas money on, I’ve thrown together some Haeckel illustration t-shirts on Print All Over.me:

 

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How To Make One Single Tiny Pink Rose Cake

One That Isn’t Overpoweringly Sweet But Also Makes You Feel Like You’re Eating Something Desperately Twee.

You Will Need

10g of caster sugar.

10g of caster sugar.

10g of butter

10g of butter

a quail egg

a quail egg

10g of plain flour

10g of plain flour

1/2 a teaspoon of rose water

1/2 a teaspoon of rose water

splash of cochineal

splash of cochineal

food glitter

food glitter

And a candied rose petal for garnish, if you’re into it.

How to Make It

Totally simple.

  1. Wang in your sugar and butter together and cream them together, which basically means just keep mushing them into each other with a spoon until there’s no more grains and it’s like cream.
  2. Add yer tiny egg and whisk it up with your creamy stuff until you’ve got something like mushy scrabbled egg.
  3. Pop in the flour and mix that in until the whole thing is smooth and there’s no flour hanging around.
  4. Splash in your rose water and mix it in.
  5. Do the same with your cochineal.
  6. Do it with the glitter.
  7. Scoop it into a little cake thing… patty? Whatever they’re called:
mix it like this

mix it like this

Then bang it in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes.

Once it’s out and cool, stick a rose petal on the top:

look at this tiny fucking cake

look at this tiny fucking cake

Look at the twee fucking cake you just made. You should be ashamed of yourself.

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