Spain

Spain – Salou and Tarragona

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The missus and I haven’t been overseas together in ages. Probably since Australia I think. I’m always on a bloody plane somewhere lately! It was her birthday at the beginning of June so I decided to ship us out to Spain for a week, she got to choose the location. For something done on a whim it turned out to be a pretty incredible holiday. She booked one of those Thomson package holiday things in a little place called Salou, the people were as you can expect, a bit like someone had done a talent scout across Britain’s council estates, admitted defeat and just picked anyone. I can say that because I grew up on estates so fuck off! :p

The hotel was lovely, a 4 star behemoth with an all you can eat buffet. I could never eat all that some people could eat. Standing next to them in the queue made me feel a bit ill their plates were stacked so high. I think I’ve found the answer to why Britain is getting fat! The first day we arrived in the afternoon and had to wait for our rooms so we got a couple of Jack Daniels and sat by the pool. Nice way to break it in. Second day tried more of the same but the people were shit and the music was shit and I can’t sit down all day, I’m too restless. So then we spent our days either down at the beach walking the huge length of it or sitting in cafes watching the world go by. A special mention goes out to the Villa Alexandra where the food is literally, actually and totally to die for!

On her birthday we went to Tarragona, a neighbouring town about 20 minutes and 25EUR away (I love the EUR, I wish we had it in this country!). It’s where the Romans originally settled in Spain so there are a ton of old ruins there. While looking for these ruins we were walking up a main road which was incredibly loud so I pulled us into an alleyway and followed it down. To be met by this:

I think this is the town hall and it’s in this gorgeous little courtyard area full of cafes and amazing apartments that I would really like to live in:

With ace side streets ripe for bombing up and down on a scooter:

This led us to the only ruin we had time to see, it was the old entertainment stadium where they either raced horses or watched people kill each other for fun:

And saw this little guy:

Here’s an overhead view of that area:

From which I took this:

And this impressive panorama that turned out great after stitching:

The tunnel in the above picture is this:

Which leads to another building which has a fantastic model of how the town used to look:

You can climb to the top of that which is about as high as the Monument in London I reckon and I took this panorama:

And some other pics:

Here is the old amphitheatre. I bought the wrong ticket so I wasn’t allowed in!

Tarragona is just the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Probably helped by the gorgeous weather but it trumps anywhere we went in Australia for sure! We’re going back there next year for the missus’ 40th and I think we’ll spend the whole week there with maybe a day trip to Salou. So kind of the reverse of this trip really.

Back in Salou, they had an evening dancing water fountain show thing. I went to the place I thought it was. I was wrong! But, I got some great pictures and when I went to the actual place for the dancing fountains, well, I wasn’t impressed. It was good but not brilliant. I was perfectly happy with the pics I took of the smaller one. Less people too. Nobody filming it on a fucking iPad!

It looks like a portly tummy there but it’s just my shirt rolled up (over my portly tummy!)

So, there you go! One package holiday completely veered away from to do our own thing. The package served to take us to a place we probably would never have chosen and that would’ve been a damn shame, so thanks Thomson!

I’ve booked two more holidays this summer, just some short breaks in Yorkshire. One to York and one to Bridlington. It’s not quite as alluring but hey-ho!

Cambridge

I’m in a really good place right now!

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That’s a bold statement huh?! Especially for someone who hasn’t blogged in ages! I’ve noticed a pattern over the last 12 years I’ve been blogging, when I’m feeling good, I blog less. Now that’s not really all that great for two reasons; One, when I look back through my old journals/blogs, I often see negativity and think my life has just been a big bundle of misery and Two, it doesn’t present the best online persona as someone who’s just angry all the damn time. So, in the interest of balance, I’m writing a nice, positive blog.

So, why is being in a good place such a big deal to me? Well, anyone who’s known me for longer than a 6 month period will probably know I have depression and have done for quite some time. I’ve become quite good at hiding it and not making a big old hoohah out of it, not out of shame or anything, just trying to not let it define me and not letting people judge me for it. But I also know it’s probably never going to go away and because of that I make a really concerted effort to enjoy the good times. I’ve also become quite good at maintaining my moods and heading bad ones off when I feel them coming. I have a lot of tools in my box and I feel more on top of it than I ever have before.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that last summer I had a vasectomy. It was a horrible experience, the operation was a disaster and the recovery took ages. It really fucked with my head and my body. A couple of months ago, I went to see a reflexologist about my sinuses. During treatment she hit upon a sore point in my foot. I hadn’t told her about my op at this point. She mentioned it was the groin area trigger point but more specifically, the vas deferens. Reflexology works, as I understand it, by unblocking energy blocks. By releasing stuck emotions, energy, “stuff”! I don’t know how it works, but it does. It actually really does. I have felt absolutely amazing since I started monthly treatments. It feels like it’s cleared away a whole ton of crap!

When I started dating the missus, she was doing her yoga teacher training. As the amazing, wonderful, supportive partner I am, I read loads of the texts she had to and learned quite a lot about the body from a non science angle. The recurring theme throughout all of these things is that the feet are incredibly important. They are for grounding. They affect every part of your body. Look after them! I also have a strange obsession with the two world wars and have read tons about them. A recurring theme from the soldiers in the trenches is look after your damn feet! And I don’t think that was just to avoid trench foot!! On some weird subconscious level, they knew the feet were key to their survival.

So, yeah, if you feel like crap and the docs can’t help, try reflexology. The worst that can happen is you get to sit down for an hour and have someone massage your feet. Oh boo fucking hoo! 😉

Off the back of that, my general confidence is quite high at the moment. This is mostly brought on by work. I’m doing really well, my projects are going well, I’m doing some interesting stuff, I have a client budget ($1m) that allows me to be quite creative for the first time in ages, I’m learning some new software that I think will change the face of ERP systems for the future. I’m just really enjoying what I do at the moment. It’s fun. I stated on my LinkedIn profile that I’m probably the number 1 consultant in the UK at what I do. And I think that’s fairly accurate. That puts me quite high up the ranks for the global market too, something which has been kinda affirmed for me which I’ll go into later in this post.

Before I go on, the last thing I want to cover is the bread making. This has come to a grinding halt. One of the downsides of enjoying work is I’ve been caning the hours for the last 6 months which in turn has accelerated my RSI downfall! Basically, my wrists and shoulders are fucked. I’ve been using computers excessively for 27 years!! I basically can’t really knead dough at the moment. I’ve asked for a mixer with a dough arm for my birthday in July and then I’ll continue. In the meantime, I got this really great wrist strap that has a metal bar in it that forces my arm into the correct position. It’s amazing. It hurt like crap at first but I’ve settled into it now. I’m having regular massages, doing regular foam roller exercises and when I get back from my holiday to Spain next month, I’ll be buying a new office chair. Hopefully all of this will keep the RSI at bay for a bit longer so I can continue to work in IT. It was literally so bad I couldn’t sleep, but that seems to have gone away now which is great.

So, all of this positivity and great feeling tied in with all the treatments and the self maintenance I’m doing has helped make me feel really focused and “in the zone”. I’ve been able to look at my life objectively, especially important as my career may come to an end sooner than I would like, and I’ve made a decision that I think is one of the most important decisions of my life.

*drumroll*

We’ve decided to move to Australia!!!

Well, we’ve decided to apply for our visas to move to Australia!

Moving to Cambridge has been the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I’ve really hated it. I’ve tried to love it, really. When we came back from Aus last time, we decided not to move there because it wasn’t the right time and things weren’t in the right place and we came back committed to making Cambridge work for us. It just hasn’t happened. The move last year certainly helped, but it’s not been enough. On top of that, I actually don’t think moving anywhere else in the UK will be all that much different. The country is full and suffering. The government sucks. I will never be able to afford a house here. My career has gone as far as it can. The weather has been appalling for the last 3 years pretty much. The cost of living keeps on rising. It’s just full of hate, hate and more hate. I’m almost ashamed to be British at the moment.

I watch a lot of those relocate down under programs. I know it’s not all fairy tales and cake, the Aussies can be quite brutal, but I’m from the North, I can take it! I’ve been looking into the visa process and everything really is lined up right now for me to apply and get a good point score and hopefully sail through independently without having to rely on sponsorship and be tied down with restrictions. I’ll be writing up the process on a dedicated page so I can track everything, as much for my own benefit as it is for clarifying it for other people should a search land them here. But what I’m hoping for is a generally better quality of life, I want to live by a beach, I want a short commute to an office, I want a good group of friends, I want some fucking hot weather and BBQ’s and to do outdoor activities. Seriously, it feels like the government have turned off the gulf stream just to keep us inside and controlled by the TV! I want to do even better work in my career, I want to have the money I spend on rent be on a fucking nice place not some utter piece of shit that’s falling apart. I want space. I want community. I want busy. I want tranquil. I’m sick of going to country parks for some peace only to find them now overrun with screaming children and their feckless fucking parents!

I’ve been doing a lot of investigating and I think Melbourne is the place for us. Sydney is too hot, expensive and busy. Tasmania is too isolated, economically stagnant and cold! Melbourne, and particularly St Kilda, gives me beach and city, cafes, culture, retail, people. More importantly, it’s an absolute breeding ground for the type of work I do. It’s incredibly specialised and whilst the software I support is used heavily in Aus, the main area of the business partners is around this area of Melbourne. I got in touch with one of them and was given an incredible recommendation following the work I’ve done with them over the last 5 years. As I mentioned above, my global reputation is clearly doing quite well. So I’m trying to arrange a couple of interviews when we go on holiday there in January.

In the meantime I’ve got a lot to arrange to apply for the visa. I need to pass the English test with a high score and I need to get my skills certified as I don’t have a degree. All that takes 6 months but should be done when I get back in Feb. Then I can file for my visa and if invited, it’s another 4-6 months for the approval. Once approved, I think we’re going to go and activate it so it’s good for five years and then really have a good hard think about it. I just figure that as now is the best time for the visa application, it makes sense to apply and get it. Then make the final decision later. No point planning for something so incredibly uncertain. Of course, if one of these companies decides to offer me a sponsorship/immediate job offer then I’ll go straight away! We’ll see…

It’s a really slow application process but I’ll keep the blog updated as it progresses. I’ve told everyone I think needs to know and now it’s a case of fingers crosses while I fill in the paperwork and jump the hoops. Wish me luck!

Cats

Little People In Furry Zip Suits

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Read a book about cats. It was called Cats. It was written by a cat counsellor. Seriously. She said not to treat cats like little people in furry zip suits. I call bullshit! I present Johnny Park (who the missus sometimes just calls John) and Aurora, who I call Princess, Roo, Roobs, Trouble, Rubble, Tee-Rubble, Rora, Roratyroo etc etc!

Bread

Project BreadHead: 13 Scottish Oatcakes

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Second bake for this weekend from my Project BreadHead is a batch of Scottish Oatcakes! From Scotland. Obviously.

Ingredients:

Medium/fine oatmeal (I used medium), salt, bicarb of soda, melted butter, hot water.

Mix the oatmeal, salt and butter together in a bowl. Add enough water to turn this into a dough.

Cut the dough in half, roll out to about 5mm thick, cut into four quarters. Fry on a very low heat for 5 minutes, flip over and fry for another minute.

This one was super quick to make and I can see this being done for the odd breakfast here and there.

Bread

Project BreadHead: 12 Barley Bannock

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Oh my goodness! It’s been almost EIGHT WEEKS since I last made bread! How did that happen?! Well, busy work project, a holiday and the temptation of the breadmaker! So I’ve made up for it this weekend by making two at once!

First up from my Project BreadHead is the Barley Bannock, a flat bread from Scotland.

Ingredients:

Barley flour, wholemeal plain flour, salt, cream of tartar, margarine, buttermilk and bicarb of soda.

If you don’t have any buttermilk (I couldn’t find any for love nor money) then add 1 tsp of lemon juice to some milk and leave it out for about an hour to sour.

Sift the flours, salt and cream of tartar into a bowl. Add the margarine and rub into breadcrumbs.

Mix the milk and bicarb together and when it starts to bubble, mix it into the flour. Make a soft dough, not too firm though.

Lightly flour a surface and pat out the dough to about 2 cm thick. Mark the dough into four wedges.

Add to a lightly oiled griddle/frying pan and bake for 10 minutes on a low heat.

Turn over and bake for another 10 minutes.

Serve warm!

This bread is delicious. Goes well with soup!

Random

Ten Years Darn Sarf!

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Ten years ago today I packed a bag, got on a train, left home and never returned.

I have been told by many people when I relay this story that it was a really brave thing to do. It never felt brave. It was just the right thing to do. I needed to get away. A sequence of events was triggered and I followed them through. I often feel like I was lucky rather than brave. Why did I get this chance to escape when so many thousands of people in Dewsbury are left behind, to rot, continually abused and brought down by their feckless families?

“Oh you’ll never amount to owt so why bother?!”

“Eee look at you thinking you’re better than everyone else!”

“What do you want to study Business Studies for? You’ll never need to use it!”

A selection of delightfully encouraging sentiments that still ring about in my head from time to time. No amount of therapy gets rid of this either.

The worst thing about this, is that it’s still happening to others. I see it happening daily. People not wanting to better themselves because they feel it will cause friction with the elders. So they sacrifice and live in abject fucking misery. It’ll never stop. For every one of me that gets out, another 5000 will stay forever.

But let’s talk about the sequence of events that led to my eventual train journey. I had left school with a couple of A-Levels and was working in a shop. It was crap but I threw myself into it. I had nothing else. One day I saw the video for Foo Fighters – Learn To Fly. I became obsessed with this band. At the same time, the internet was really kicking off. I joined the Foo Fighters postboard, made some friends, chatted on MSN and Yahoo, met up with a few people etc etc. I met a girl online. I was invited down to London as it was neutral ground. We stayed in Kensington because we knew somebody else going to uni there.

Back in September last year, the missus and I went to London to see Noel Gallagher and on the second day the weather was great so we went for a wander. I suggested going to Kensington for lunch. I took some pictures on my phone:


The station

The B&B I stayed at

The pizza place I ate at

It was a nice flashback and made me plan this post.

So that relationship didn’t work out but then I met another girl, as you do! She lived in Surbiton. Continuing the sequence of events I ended up with an ultimatum of stay in the North or leave. I chose the latter, phoned the girl and asked if I could stay with her and her dad. Green light! So I packed up and I left. Sometimes I wonder if my head was clouded with love or if I just used everyone involved as a means to an end. The latter makes me seem like an horrible bastard but I suspect that’s because it’s the more likely answer!

I moved to Surbiton and experienced the incredible summer of 2003. I was working as a games tester at Electronic Arts. My life had changed beyond imagination in just a few short months. When my contract ended I got a job at Jessops (lamented elsewhere in my blog) and met a guy I became pretty good friends with. My relationship with the girl ended at the same time he needed to move house and we moved in together. See, it really is just a flowing sequence that I had very little say in!

From there I met my current missus (7 years together next month), got my first job in IT, got my second job in IT and became the super whizzy international travelling superstar financial systems consultant I am today. With a move to Cambridge mixed in there somewhere too.

This week I had a holiday. We went to London to see a band and spent a few days in London too. We went back to Surbiton, I visited the office (the company I work for is still in Surbiton), we had fish and chips at the the old Good Life chippy, walked down the Thames, went to The Bentalls Centre. It was lovely. I’m so glad the weather was absolute shit or I’d have moved back there and then! Surbiton is a funny place. It’s the first place I’ve ever considered home, despite moving there at 21. Dewsbury is not my home. Yorkshire has a strange beacon calling but I think that’s over romanticised fiction. Seriously, if these book learners had any idea!! I ended up leaving Surbiton, partly because of cost but partly because it has quite a few bad memories. It’s a place where I arrived as this young kid with problems and grew into something else. And in a way, I guess I had to leave that home like most people have to leave their childhood homes. Nice to visit though.

Back in London, I decided to celebrate. My love of the Foo Fighters is still going strong. I already have one tattoo of their logo but decided I wanted another. So I got one!

Fu Fa-ee-ta-zu

Without this band, I wonder if that sequence of events would ever have kicked in. There’s this terrible parallel universe I picture that keeps me fighting and working hard in this universe so it never happens and it shows me still stuck in Dewsbury, miserable as fuck, married to a girl I got pregnant by mistake wondering what the fuck happened and why didn’t I just leave when I was given the chance…

What’s the point of this post? I’m hoping it underlines everything and I can just move on. I’m a bit sick of thinking about where I’m from and how bad things could’ve been. On the one hand it helps me work hard now but on the other it keeps me tied to the past, constantly thinking about it. I wish I could stop the negative voices in my head. I wish I could be a source of positivity to all around me. I wish I didn’t feel so fucked up that I’m damaged and will never fully realise my true potential and that all I have now is all I deserve and there will be no more. I wish I could make decisions without second guessing them, over thinking them, questioning whether I deserve to be in a position to accept the result.

My word of the year this January was adventure. Feb 15th 2003 I went on an adventure. It was awesome! I have many more adventures planned for 2013 and beyond. Stay tuned to find out what they are!!

Bread

Project BreadHead: 11 Cornish Saffron Breads

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All caught up with the recipes I’ve done so far. I’ve tested some of the others later on in the book to vary things up a little but didn’t take any pictures. I’ll re-do them in order. Now though, here’s bread number 11 from Project BreadHead. Cornish Saffron Breads!

I had been looking forward to this for a while. The saffron strands needed here cost an arm and a leg so I was really hoping this would be nice. I was rather disappointed to find out it wasn’t! Well, not to me. I thought I’d made it badly but I let a few other people try it and they liked it so I guess it’s just me!

Ingredients:

Salt, yeast, caster sugar, milk, white bread flour, ground almonds, dried fruit, saffron strands, cinnamon, nutmeg and unsalted butter.

Make up your milk and heat half until boiling point. Place the saffron strands in a bowl and pour over the milk. Leave to infuse for 30 mins.

Nothing much happens, just turns the milk yellow. Like crap Coco Pops!

Heat the remaining milk until lukewarm. Mix 50g of the flour and (non activated) yeast in a bowl and stir in the milk. Leave for 15 minutes.

It grows pretty quickly so make you have a big enough bowl.

Mix the remaining flour, almonds, spices, sugar and salt together. Pour in the saffron mix and the yeast mix. Add some softened butter. Mix to make a soft dough. Knead for 5 minutes. Leave to rise for 2 hours.

It should double in size. Knock back and knead in the fruit.

Divide in two and shape to loaf tin size. Then place in two loaf tins. Leave to rise for 90 minutes.

Bake on gas mark 5 for 20 mins. Make a glaze with milk and sugar and as soon as the loaves come out of the oven, glaze them. Leave in the tins for 5 minutes to cool then turn out on to a wire rack.

I knocked my tins accidentally while moving them to the oven. That knocked some air out so they were a bit stodgy. That didn’t bother me really, I just thought the flavour was a bit rank. Oh well. Can’t win them all!

Bread

Project BreadHead: 10 Lardy Cake

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Well, as you can see from previous posts, life has been a little hectic recently. After spending a couple of months working at 29% capacity, I spent the last two at 110%. And that doesn’t include all the hours I spend on pointless non-billable admin! In November there were 165 work hours on a 9.00-5.30 rota. I worked over 255! Didn’t leave an awful lot of time for anything else, that’s for sure!

Things are quietening down now though so I made bread number 10 from Project BreadHead. Lardy Cake! It sounds gross but it’s not. It’s actually really quite delicious!

Ingredients:

Mixed spice, caster sugar, light brown sugar, salt, mixed fruit, lard, yeast, white bread flour and sunflower oil.

Mix up your yeast and leave for 15 minutes in a warm place so it goes foamy. No point starting with dead yeast!

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast and the remaining water. Knead for 10 minutes and leave to rise, covered with cling film, for an hour.

Knock back the dough and knead gently for 3 minutes. Roll out into a rectangle. Take half the lard and cover two thirds of the dough with small squares.

Sprinkle over half the sugar and half the dried fruit and mixed spice. Fold the bottom up and the top third down and seal with a rolling pin.

Turn the dough 90 degress. With the remaining ingredients, repeat the last two steps. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for 45 mins.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6. Brush the top of the dough with sunflower oil and sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake for 30 mins or until golden. Cool on a wire rack and serve warm.

Like I say, this was actually really nice. I had to keep reminding myself this was a bread not a cake. Even though it’s called a cake. But it’s not. Anyways, enjoy!

Random

Of Christmas And Of Gratitude

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Merry Christmas! Ho ho ho! Etc etc.

Yes indeed, it’s that time of year when some dirty old bastard stands atop my chimney and empties his sack. Oh and Santa visits us too! Ho hum!

The last few months have been full of varying degrees of introspection. Emo-neering if you will. I haven’t yet worked out if it’s because I’m getting old, feeling unwell or if it’s the state of the UK economy but I’ve been interested in the plights of other people. Random people. People I don’t know. I’m incredibly anti-social, not entirely out of choice, but I can usually tell on sight if someone is worth the effort of my concern or not. Most folk aren’t. But lately I’ve started feeling a little more compassionate. I bought a Big Issue and I gave money to a homeless chap in Highgate. I’ve always had a soft spot for the homeless, but I usually never carry cash and just walk on. I’ve made a point of always having a couple of quid on me, just in case.

You’ve no doubt all seen the stats. 75,000 kids woke up on Christmas Day in temporary housing. It’s awful. My own brother was booted out of his house just before Christmas. He has a missus and two very little kids (1 and 3). He got “lucky”. He knew someone who had a spare house (yay capitalism!) and he’s staying there now. But by all accounts it’s a bomb site. Needs completely re-decorating. The arrangement is that my bro does the work and the landlord pays for materials and discounts the rent. The suspicious mind in me wonders if in two months when it’s all done up and looking lovely if he will still be living there or not. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

I feel incredibly sorry for all those who didn’t get to wake up in some form of “home” yesterday. And even sorrier for all those who woke up without a roof. At least it’s been pretty mild these last few days, if quite wet. Whatever the reasons for the rise in homeless families, it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure everyone has a home. And that’s not questionable, it just fucking is! (Naturally I blame Thatcher for selling off all the council homes. I’ve been praying that she gets a dose of MRSA while she’s in hospital this Christmas!) But what are the government talking of doing? Cutting welfare even more. Dictating what someone can and can’t spend their money on. Sure, there are some incredibly feckless fucking people out there who piss the money away on fags and booze. I grew up around many of them. I’m waiting for the announcement that any claimant who bought their kid a present this Christmas is claiming too much and should have their allowance cut!! But if the council houses hadn’t been sold off then the government wouldn’t be giving money directly to claimants to give to private landlords who are choosing a rental value based on how much a claimant can get out of the government.

My brother lives in a town where rents should be about £300-£350 for a 3 bed semi. His last landlord asked how much he got from the council. He said £450. Landlord charges £450. Brother is desperate and agrees. Council realises mistake, cuts benefits, brother can’t pay landlord, landlord kicks him out. Repeat. This system isn’t working. The government can very easily save billions by taking control. Building cheap flats and houses, moving tenants around (I believe that as a council tenant, you don’t have the right to a home for life and you should downsize if your circumstances dictate, but that’s a rant for another time) and taking full control of rental allowance. The government shouldn’t profit out of social housing. There should be no landlords profiting out of the welfare system, then not declaring tax. Keep the money in the system and the government wins. The people win. But the Tories are hell bent on making life miserable for anyone they perceive beneath them. It’s got to stop! It’s fucking criminal!

It scares me how ridiculously socialist I’m becoming lately…

This Christmas is particularly poignant for me. It marks ten years of not having Christmas at home with my family. Back in 2002 I had met a girl and spent Christmas with her and her dad. Seven weeks later I had left home and moved to London (more on this in the coming weeks). The relationship ended and I was almost homeless. Some friends pulled through and I moved in with them. But as is the case in a student town, the people go home around the holidays to see their own families. Having spoken to my family less than a handful of times in the last ten years, this wasn’t something I ever did.

As I opened my presents this year and sat down for a big Christmas dinner with my missus’ family, it struck me that it really wasn’t all that long ago that I spent Christmas Day alone. I could usually always find a straggler for Boxing Day to have dinner with, but Christmas was pretty depressing. One year I had terrible flu which resulted in the food tasting like cack and I went back to bed with a bottle of wine at 1pm and stayed there until the 27th!

Yesterday I felt incredibly blessed. I feel blessed that I’ve found stability. Blessed that I’ve turned my life around. Blessed that I’ve found someone to share these great days with and blessed that I’ve been welcomed into the family where I feel genuinely loved. Something I never really felt with my own family.

As I thought about my niece and nephew, I thought back to my own Christmases as a kid. To be fair on my folks, they were absolutely fantastic. I used to get sooooo many toys. There were four of us kids and we each had a corner of the room stacked full of presents. Bikes, keyboards, action figures, Scalextric sets, books, chocolate, all that stuff. You couldn’t want for more (materialistically speaking). I look back at when I was about 15 and trying to be all cool, I asked for CD’s. £100 of CD’s doesn’t really take up a full corner does it? Without sounding like a bumper sticker, music is my life! Had I known that over the next fifteen years I would’ve amassed a collection of over 1000 CD’s, I would’ve asked for more toys instead. But I was trying to be cool. Had I also known that the people I was trying to impress at 15 wouldn’t be in my life once I hit 18, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to be cool.

Sometimes I wonder where it all went wrong with my family. I think it was my depression and the internet (and my dad’s affairs and the house reposession and and and!). The internet opened my eyes and made me realise something wasn’t right. I imploded and I left. The people I grew up with weren’t the right fit for me. I have no desire to go back there, less desire to stay in touch. But in spite of the blessedness I felt yesterday, there will always be that little spot of emptiness, desperate to be filled, reserved for the family I always wanted, destined to remain empty. Choosing not to have kids of my own has always felt like the right decision but I expect the next few years to be quite rocky. I guess I’ll just have to overcompensate with my brothers kids!!

Birds

Inspired

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I have a confession to make. So I’m supposed to be a photographer. I haven’t taken any pictures for fun in ages. My failed exhibition pretty much ruined my desire to have fun in photography. That’s something that happens every time I decide to turn art into profit. So, no more!

Earlier this week the temperature hit about -8C creating a wonderful frost and the morning light was just delightful. The missus has found her old point and shoot and has been taking snaps so I pointed her in the direction of the garden with a few ideas. She did really well but I hate point and shoots and decided I’d give it a crack too with my SLR.

I really enjoyed it. It was pretty cold out there in my hat and fingerless gloves, but fun nonetheless!

First up is the window of our new garage. I toyed with cropping to panorama but decided the guttering was a nice feature.

BBQ aka home for spiders.

Spiders webs on washing lines. Awesome!

I really like this one. The bokeh is ace!

Think the birds need to use the microwave on Defrost!

Later that day, the missus said she saw a funny looking bird on the bird feeder. I came running to look but missed it. She described it, didn’t sound real! Today, it came back:

I ran out with my telephoto and got as close as I could. Our new garden is massive so this is telephoto at full and cropped right in. Not the best quality but a pigeon came flying down and scared it away before I could get any closer. I think it was last Christmas when I got the bird feeders and it came with a bird spotting guide. In our old garden which backed out on to a farm we were flush with birds. We saw every one on the list except one. Which is this fellow! He’s a Greater Spotted Woodpecker. I’m so chuffed to finally cross him off the list.

Photography is fun. It should stay that way. Hats off to those who have fun while making money but me, I just can’t do it, it changes the way I feel about the subject and my approach to capturing it and that’s just wrong. And the output shows. Hopefully these pictures taken for fun also reflect this.

Bread

Recipe: Individual Stollen

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It’s almost Christmas!! And that means…STOLLEN!!

I mentioned in my last post that I make stollen every year. One year I make a loaf, the next I make individual muffin sized stollen, each with their own little piece of marzipan. This year it’s the latter and I’ve gone all out. Rather than just making muffins, I bought a dariole mould and some galvanised buckets!

The Project Breadhead book has a stollen recipe but I’m not using that one as it’s specifically for a loaf so I’ll do that next year, then modify the year after to individual stollen. The recipe I’m using is from an old Waitrose magazine we have, modified through the years.

Ingredients:

175g mixed dried fruit
50g glacé cherries, chopped
50g ground almonds
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp vanilla extract
375g strong white bread flour
1 sachet dried yeast
50g caster sugar
1 medium egg, beaten
65g unsalted butter, melted
150ml warm milk
200g white marzipan
Icing sugar

In a bowl mix the dried fruit, cherries, almonds, nutmeg and vanilla extract. Cover and leave to stand.

In another bowl, add the flour, yeast and sugar.

Add the egg, 50g of the butter and the milk. Mix to form a dough and knead for ten minutes. Leave to rise for 90 minutes.

Knead in the fruit and leave to rise for 20 minutes. It won’t rise much as it’s just too heavy!

Prepare your dariole mould/muffin tin by greasing or lining with parchment. Preheat the oven to gas mark 5. Cut the marzipan into ten equal pieces. Roll out the dough and split into 10 pieces. Add the marzipan to each one and then roll into a ball.

Squeeze the dough balls into the dariole mould/muffin tin and leave for 20 minutes. Bake for 20 minutes.

Yum!

If you’re taking it an extra step, remove from the muffin tins and place in the galvanised buckets! Brush with melted butter and dust liberally with icing sugar.

Dariole mould and buckets available on ebay by the way!

We’ve had two of these already and they were delicious. The rest, you can wrap in plastic and put in the freezer until Christmas. Defrost overnight and serve up for breakfast on Christmas day while you open your stockings!