Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Open Daze

From my sister who has lived this...
So here we are on our way to a University Open Day.  We travel eagerly to some god-forsaken place we’ve never been to before (and in truth would never want to go again), in search of information to make our Informed Decision on where to send our little darling after he has finished goofing off at school while pretending to study for A levels.

After my research on the net (I still have nightmares about the UCAS website), we (and I use the term loosely – it was me and a sleepy adolescent nodding occasionally while he recovered from another Chekov-induced coma), trawl through the various courses and the relevant entry requirements. Mmmm... this one looks good… oh, you need 680 points plus the ability to stand on your head while riding a llama through the Gobi desert… ditch that idea…

But ‘we’ eventually decide on the obligatory six course choices.  As a dutiful parent I then sort the necessary arrangements to make the horrendous journey with offspring in tow to the University of Lower Trugville somewhere off the M395.  On arrival we eventually find our way to the Registration Desk (using the ‘map’) and discover the welcoming committee. 

“Hi there!  Welcome to Blah Blah Uni - I’m Lucinda / Georgina / Pipkin / etc….” 

(Why is it always some gorgeous, leggy vision that my son makes a beeline for?)

“What course are you interested in?" she purrs… My son pipes up: “Dictatorial Studies with the opportunity to take Joint Honours in subjects such as Hagiology and Tenemus studies.” 

Wow! “Son, since when have you been interested in this?” I murmur.

“Well only recently, mum …”

Yeah, yeah, yeah… methinks this is just an excuse to goof off for another three years.  Perhaps this is the new Media Studies…

We are duly shown where to go for the introductory talk by the Vice-Chancellor / Principal / Head of Faculty / Chief Cook and Bottle Washer.  This is where the really big sell rears its ugly head. Lovely lecturers. Lovely students. Lovely campus. Lovely degrees. Lovely…  But have the oddest feeling of déjà vu.  Did I not meet this chap selling time-shares in Torreador les Palmtrees?

After sitting through the ‘chat’ we then go off on the campus tour. Always around the best features of the uni, which could invariably be viewed more comfortably from my computer chair using the 360º views on the web.  But we trudge obligingly round ooohing and aaahhing at the various facilities, at cheerful, smiling second-year students dragged out to display the quality of scholar they attract. How much do they pay them, I idly wonder.  And then the super-lovely sports hall where the gorgeous, leggy vision happens to mention her interest in rock climbing, running and basketball.  At this point I notice said offspring adopting the stance of a seasoned rock climber and basketball veteran and nodding in a knowing way… Get away, lad! The most exercise you do is walking to the car and back again!

We consult the map again to find our way to the Student Talk.  My son sits, there with avidly interested, as the delectable Lucinda / Georgina / Pipkin recounts the downside of student life: numerous bars and clubs all within easy reach (all selling really cheap beer), the endless parties, student clubs, rag weeks, time off from lectures.  I watch fascinated – my son is riveted.  This is the most attention he has paid to anything since he was breastfed.

We chat afterwards.

 “So this is what you want to do, ehh hmm? –  three years here?”

“Oh but mum,” he says, “there’s a Thick Sandwich.” 

I’m interested now. BLT or perhaps tuna and mayo on wholemeal?  I am peckish and it’s been four hours since breakfast.  No. All this means, dear reader, is that said darling does a work placement during Year 3.  (Oh good. A break from the crippling fees, accommodation and upkeep of the little darling I think, but wait - don’t get too excited. You still need to pay fees to the university of choice during this year.)  I retaliate: “Yes… well… I remember your work placement in Year 10 – trying to chisel you out of bed to get the bus to ‘work’ eight hours a day like the rest of us – while all the time you were bemoaning the institution of work and how it should be abolished.  I can’t think of anything that has changed your attitude since then?” “Oh mum, this is different.” Harrumph.

After a brief lunch break, it’s back for the course chat from some bespectacled professor who specialises in Quodlibetic studies and talks ad nauseum on course options, points required, lectures and seminars, personal tutors and dissertations until the pain is so bad I will sign up for anything if I can escape and get back to normality.

It’s finally over at last and we trudge back to the station to relive the torturous journey home. 

“So, son, what do you think?” 

“Yeah - looks great.”

And then I ask the inevitable question... “So, what will you be qualified to do once you graduate?” 

“Well, after that you go on to take…”

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Granola – 2 sets of measures – first is the same as the original – second is half measure.

  • 3/4 cup grapeseed oil [8 fl oz] [4 fl oz]
  • ½ cup real maple syrup [4 fl oz] [2 fl oz]
  • ¾ cup raw honey (or regular honey) [8 fl oz] [4 fl oz]
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract [1/2 teasp]
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract [1/2 teasp]
  • 3 cup oatmeal [12 oz] [6 oz]
  • 1 ½ cup lightly toasted sliced almonds [6 oz] [3 oz]
  • 1 cup toasted pecan pieces [4 oz] [2 oz]
  • 1 cup wheat germ or ground flax seeds [1 oz] [1/2 oz]
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes – or dessicated [3 oz] [1.5 oz]
  • 1 teaspoon of good cinnamon [1/2 teasp] [1/4 teasp]
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves [I think we can figure out this in smaller amounts]

Optional: 1 cup dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries or golden raisins.


1. Preheat the oven to 130. Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a medium saucepan, stir together the oil, honey, and maple syrup. Place over low heat and bring just to a simmer. Do not boil! Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (except for the cranberries/raisins if you’re adding them). Pour the warm honey mixture over the top, then toss to coat the grains and nuts. Divide the mixture onto the cookie sheets. Flatten the granola with the back of a spatula.

3. Bake the granola for 20 minutes; remove the pans from the oven and stir. Spread the cereal again and bake 20 minutes more until golden brown. Cool the cereal completely on the pans so it becomes crisp.

Stir in the cranberries or other dried fruit. Store in an airtight container. Sprinkle over yogurt or add to home-made muesli – add fresh fruit…

Cooks Tips...

Can’t find a shallot to hand? Use a quarter of a small onion - not perfect but if it takes longer to drive to the supermarket to buy a shallot than to eat the meal... you know what I’m saying?

Grated zest of lemon - same applies - use a splash of bottled lemon juice and if anyone asks ‘shouldn't there be lemon zest in this? they obviously (a) have far too experienced a palate to be eating your food anyway or (b) have ‘super-vision’ eyesight in which case they are probably aliens and you should remove their food and call Mulder and Scully immediately.

Fresh herbs, not dried? Nice but not always essential, apart from when you need to “…tear a few leaves of basil and scatter on the soup before serving…”.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

1 How many proofreaders does it take to change a lightbulb?

Proofreaders shouldn’t change lightbulbs - they should just query why they don’t work.

2 How many Russians does it take to change a lightbulb?

What’s a lightbulb?

3 How many Sharons does it take to change a lightbulb?

Eight. Two to change the bulb and six to dance around them.

4 How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?


5 How many workmen does it take to change a lightbulb?

Six - one to change the lightbulb and five to make tea.

6 How many Irishmen does it take to change a lightbulb?

Six - one to hold the bulb and five to turn the room around.

7 How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Who said they needed help!

8 How many mice does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two - but don’t ask me how they got up there. (Dr. Palfi - Laughologist)

9 How many sociologists does it take to change a lightbulb?

None - it’s not the lightbulb that needs changing - it’s the system. (Prof. Laurie Taylor)

10 How many senior managers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Surprising only one - that’s all the senior managers it takes to screw anything up.

11 How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Who cares - I’ll just sit here in the dark alone already.

12 How many folk singers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Twelve - one to change the lightbulb and eleven to sing about how good the old one used to be.

13 How many pre-menstrual women does it take to change a lightbulb?

Three. Why? Because it just does, alright!

14 How many hippies does it take to change a lightbulb?

Three - but that’s only if it wants to be changed, man.

15 How many members of the Scottish Labour Party does it take to change a lightbulb?

Members of the Scottish Labour Party don’t change anything.

16 How many Zen Buddhists does it take to change a lightbulb?

During the new moon the pollen filled wind flows through the blossom on the trees.

17 How many Kensington girls does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two. One to fix the gin and tonics and one to phone the electrician...

18 How many amoebas does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two ... no. four... well .... eight ...... sixteen ....

19 How many supermodels does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only one - she sits still and the world revolves around her....

20 How many bridesmaids does it take to change a lightbulb?

Don’t know? Neither do they - that’s why they have wedding coordinators....

21 How many software programmers does it take to change a lightbulb?

None. It’s a hardware problem.

22 How many priests does it take to change a lightbulb?

None. We live in eternal darkness. (Anglican priest to Catholic priest, episode of Father Ted)

23 How many Spanish men does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only Juan. (Dr Danielle Forster, University of Leeds)

24 How many of Snow Whites dwarves does it take to change a lightbulb?

All seven. (Kit and the Widow)

25 How many ‘Venusians’ does it take to change a lightbulb?

None. They get a man to do it. (Sally - Third Rock from the Sun)

26 How many moths does it take to change a lightbulb?

None. As soon as it goes dark they all just leave. (Quote from It’ s A Bug’s Life movie 1999)

27 How many accountants does it take to change a lightbulb?

Two. One to change the lightbulb and one to check it was done within budget. ( ICAEW magazine Spring 2003)

28 How many real men does it take to change a lightbulb?

None. Real men aren’t afraid of the dark.

29 How many Californians does it take to change a lightbulb?

Twelve. One to change the lightbulb and eleven to share the experience.

Saturday, March 12, 2011



and the grazing cattle occasionally gave voice to a murmur, perhaps of appreciation. The mist was thick and insidious. It had softly and quietly followed him, and preceded him, and surrounded him and now he was lost. Sheridan couldn’t even tell which direction he had come from.

It wouldn’t matter if he was late. Nobody noticed if he was at home or not these days. He felt quite at ease in the mist. No-one could see him. Even though sounds carried, it was impossible to tell where they came from. Totally private and completely alone. Nobody watching him, waiting for his next move.

Too damp to sit down though. He had to keep moving. And if he were lucky enough not to simply move in circles, he would arrive at either the village or the Hall, his home. The steep sides of the narrow valley made it difficulty to climb on a dry, clear, day. In the dense mist and with the tough clumps of grass slippery underfoot it would be a fool indeed who attempted it.

As he moved cautiously (no use to fall and risk injury) he realized that he was indeed moving toward home. His footsteps slowed almost to a standstill but there was no denying it, the stunted trees gathered in three small corpses were too familiar. Too soon the great iron gates of the Hall would be visible despite the mist. He would have to surrender himself. Would he get a back in the house unnoticed?

Cook had her back to him as he entered the kitchen. His footsteps sounded loud in the flagged floor but the hissing of kettles and crackling of the fire were louder. She didn’t turn. Didn’t see him. The butler came into the room from the cellar but Sheridan had just closed the door to the back stairs behind himself. The butler didn’t see him. He ran lightly the full length of the stair and reached his room. His hand stretched toward the door handle.

“There you are Sheridan. You returned just in time!” The voice from behind him was stern and harsh.


but still no sign of our ace reporter, Nick... where the hell is he now?

I’m Nick’s editor and sometimes the job doesn’t seem worth the ulcers. But then Nick gets me a story that puts all the other sheets on the fish and chip shop pile. So I forgive him all the life shortening, gut wrenching, worry I go through every time he’s out on the streets. Worrying isn’t the only thing I do for the boy.

Babysitting – but you should see the babies! They turn up here every night to wait for Nick. All shapes and sizes.

Sometimes he shows. Then it’s a polite ‘night’ to me over her shoulder as she follows him out. But sometimes he doesn’t. And then I get the full treatment. The tears and the agony. Carrying on like Nick’s the only guy in the world. I can’t get rid of them.

He must have a strong line in goodbyes though. I’ve never seen the same one twice.

Tonight, well, tonight is something else. This one was here yesterday. He didn’t show up. She just left quietly and now she’s back again tonight. She’s different. It’s not just her looks. And she hasn’t said much either. Calm and in control but with a smile that melts your shoe leather. Dark red-brown hair and pale skin. Green eyes and long black eyelashes. She’s got the touch of broken vampire doll that others all try for but don’t quite make. She’s graceful and tall and when she moves around my tiny office I get the distinct and disturbing feeling that the air is filled with parrots and vultures. And her clothes. Like a summer rainbow and a midnight storm.

I can’t tell any more. We’re just sitting here waiting for Nick. When he shows I think maybe the tide’s gonna flow against him. He’s gonna be the one to do the waiting from now on...


a muffled cry as several objects fell from the hastily unwrapped parcel. He stooped to pick up a sheet of paper which had fallen with the contents of the parcel and read thus:

“Dear Reader,

Allow me to introduce you to this month’s offer. A delightful and entertaining game which, when shown to your friends at parties and other gatherings, will secure your position as a host or hostess of indubitable talent. This amazing and fantastic item will astound and please all manner of persons and you can be assured of its uniqueness.

For a small sum you can purchase matching sets to go with the FREE set we have sent you. Rules are simple and easy to learn.

I very much hope that you will enjoy this gift and be interested in further wonders I import from time to time.

Assuring you of my best interest, I remain,

Yours sincerely...”

He wiped his sweating brow with the back of his hand, his confused and frightened eyes feverishly scanning the name at the bottom of the hideous missive. Would they never leave him alone? Would he never find peace?


as the harsh echo of the door knocker sounded through the house.

Anastasia ran to answer the summons and dragged the door open to reveal the postman. He handed her a package and turned away without a word.

She stammered her thanks to his retreating back and took the small parcel back into the dim and dingy hallway. Her nervous fingers made laborious work of ripping off the brown paper wrapping.

Arthur had also heard the noise and had come to see what was going on. He looked up at her with anxious eyes.

“Arthur,” she whispered, “I think this is it.”

“I hope so too, darling,” He replied.

Other people were so unkind about Arthur but she loved every hair on his head, though there weren’t very many of them. And he loved her too.

“I’m sure this is the answer, dear,” she breathed.

As the last strips of paper fell to the floor, she lifted out the small tape cassette.

“It is, oh, it is!” She breathed a sigh of relief. “Finally it’s here, the answer to all our problems…”

In her hand she held the key to happiness itself. Now, at last, with the help of the people who knew everything (including how to make a man fall in love with a woman) she could find out how to re-write Arthur so that he’d be tall and dark and handsome!

And probably not called Arthur any more either.


sometimes, more rarely, the motivation to search for a truth. Jackson fixed breakfast on autopilot. Only one to feed now the cat had gone too. He filled a bowl with cereal. He though about the missing cat. Cats had it easy. No job. No cooking. No women.

He looked down at this bowl – pondering the next move. He remembered it used to be milk. The niggle squirmed back. It interfered with thinking about breakfast. He forgot food and stared out of the window, scanning the opposite roof tops as if the inescapable but invisible thought sat out there. Acknowledged but not yet understood. It flowed into his mind with the warmth of a memory of a sunny day. Like an old friend who lives far away. You might think they’d call and with a sixth sense you’re right and they phone.

‘I deal in clichés.’ That was Jackson’s favourite line. It was an admission he made frequently in public. He got it in before his colleagues could. His friends required explanations a little more demanding, but it was easy to dress it up for them. To stretch it to a vitriolic passage of spiteful self-analysis and liven it with disparaging descriptions of exactly how he made the clichés pay. Journalism to others. To him, just a job and an excuse for not being honest.

‘I dress the part.’ That was a little deeper. Harder to admit to self that self was just an image. Every garment he chose to wear was vetted by his desperate need to be recognised. But only recognised as the character he wished to portray. He wanted to think he simply responded to cut and colour and fabric but he knew not one item of clothing would speak against his chosen persona.

He turned back to thoughts of breakfast. He hadn’t even got as far as coffee yet. The niggling thought came back. Jackson smiled to himself. I will try to communicate. ‘Who are you?’ he thought hard. Desperately hard. Eyes squeezed shut. And the niggling thought, hovering on the other side of his awareness suddenly got stronger. He could ‘hear’ the other. It said to him

Monday, January 17, 2011



Seagulls crowd together at the end of the beach, near the cliff. The breeze that lifts their feathers is cold. The sun is pale and does not yet warm the breeze but we know the day will be hot.


The bay is crowded. Boats glide across the smooth water, lifting and falling across the wakes of other boats. People on the sand cross and cross again the tracks of others. There are things to find on beaches and today there are enough children to search out each and every treasure.

We climb on the sea wall and walk over rocks and pretend we are far out at sea. Caves tempt us with their secrets. We hide in their dark shadows and then reappear into the sunshine, suddenly, as if by magic. A man stoops to draw long lines in the wet sands with his bare hands, mystical signs. A small girl follows the lines like a pathway.

Late afternoon

We follow the tracks of a seabird and the sea sighs and sniffs at our heels. The disappearing sun shines the sea-washed pebbles into bright buttons to fasten long fingers of shadow onto brushed velvet sand. Wet dogs spar with rock pool demons.


From the top of the cliff you see a path of light that leads to the moon. If you try to walk the path it fades before your feet and leads only from the dark sand into the cold sea.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Tod Brownie - specially for Here Come the Belgians

The Tod Brownie

The original recipe was American and used an odd mix of cups and grammes... I've left the original measures in but have worked out the weights in ozs as well. I'm not sure how they manage to measure a cup of butter! When I used the 'change measurement' facility on the website, 1/2 a cup of butter came out as 75 millilitres, which seemed even madder than the cup measurement. These are the weights I used for the Tod Brownie (as it shall hereafter be known - quicker to say than the full 'Baileys Irish yadda yadda' title).

3 ozs ( 75gr ) unsweetened baking chocolate (This is where I differed - to strive for full Belgian appeal, I used real Belgian chocolate - I did a test run with the 85% one but used the 70% choc for the Tod Brownie)

3ozs ( 1/2 cup ) butter

1 cup granulated sugar - sorry - I reckon about 4 ozs... I'll check and update but I used a 'cup' measure for this... American recipes - good but don't like the 'cup' measure!

2 eggs, beaten

3 tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream

4oz ( 2/3 cup ) flour

Pinch of salt

3 oz ( 2/3 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I couldn't find choc chips - semi-sweet or otherwise so I simply chopped up 3 ozs of the same Belgian choc)

Melt chocolate with butter in microwave (or regular pyrex dish set over a pan of hot water on the stove) and mix well. Cool. (I dumped the dish into a larger size pyrex dish of cold water to speed the cooling process... life's too short etc.)

Beat sugar and eggs together in mixing bowl. Add Bailey's Irish Cream and cooled chocolate mixture. Mix well. Stir in flour, salt and chocolate chips. Pour into greased and floured 8-inch square baking pan. Bake at 325 degrees F (about 160 C) for approximately 20 minutes (test with wooden pick). The original recipe said "Cool completely (about 1 1/2 hours)." but I poured Baileys over while it was still warm - first making holes all over with a wooden pick. I did though, leave it to cool completely before removing it from tin and then waiting till absolutely cold before frosting.


3 tablespoons softened butter

4 tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream

3 cups icing sugar

In mixing bowl, combine Baileys and butter. Mix together a bit then gradually add icing sugar (sifted) and beat until spreading consistency. Frost cooled brownies.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I am a woman. I shop. I have to shop in order to keep body and soul together, not just my own but my husband’s as well. I even enjoy shopping sometimes. And I can truthfully state that if I had more money, I’d do more shopping. But even if I had a never-ending floodtide of banknotes and wall-to-wall credit cards, my shopping list would still include items of ‘woman-shopping’. Woman-shopping items are those useful things that keep life moving on. The useful things that stop other things from falling apart or looking dirty. The useful things that have to be bought, though we’d really rather not pay for them, thank you. The useful things that men don’t buy, won’t buy and only know they should buy if they have a wife or mother to tell them.

‘Man-shopping’ items are non-essentials: things for pleasure and leisure or for eating between meals. Man-shopping items come in sexy black bottles or cans with ring pulls. Even if a man-shopping list includes some rare item of foodstuff this will invariably come in a single pack, ready-to-serve, microwavable, one-person portion that wouldn’t feed two even if the two were both gnats.

Woman-shopping items come in giant sizes, enough for the whole family and twenty unexpected guests with enough left over for tomorrow’s lunch. Woman-shopping items come multi-pack, long-life and are totally and completely resealable for easy use and storage.

I was recently next in line to a man doing man-shopping in the local supermarket. His basket held three of those four-can packs of lager, the ones with plastic carrying handles; one bottle each of whisky, port, vodka, a very nice claret and one large brand-name cola. He had in fact purchased a necessity in the form of shampoo, but this came shrink-wrapped in see-through plastic with aftershave lotion: two matching bottles in deep aqua-green, screw-capped in mean and moody black and labelled in sexy silver. In the interest of fairness, I must report there was also some food in his basket. From the wide aisles laden with an infinite variety of foodstuffs, he'd actually managed to locate and retrieve, without incident or serious injury to himself, two fruit yoghurts and a pack of four wholewheat bread rolls. My trolley held: ‘two for the price of one’ teabags, inevitable toilet rolls, washing up liquid, (‘three for the price of two’ of course), rubber gloves, baked beans, dried pasta, cat food, potatoes (not ready washed) and three items of medicine/toiletries purchased in advance of need.

Apart from this enviable talent for ignoring the practicalities of life without experiencing any twinges of guilt or remorse, men have a gift that makes it all the more difficult to understand how they can be so unbelievably useless at the day-to-day stuff. Quite simply, men can focus single-mindedly on a job without being sidetracked. We are told that men get further in life and achieve more goals because they are much better than women at concentrating on the matter at hand. Women know the real reason is because men (a) only ever have themselves to consider and (b) haven’t got enough brain cells to manage more than one task at a time anyway. Unlike women, who multi-task cheerfully without smudging their lipstick or even breathing heavily. Unfortunately, this male super-power is never used for mundane supermarket shopping. Men save it for the really big game – comparison shopping.

Comparison shopping means being able to find the best item for the best price that will look good and function perfectly throughout an unduly extended life period. Men do this well. Men turn comparison shopping into an art form, which they perform with the nerve and tenacity of an arctic explorer and the grace and skill of a prima ballerina. But after all, as they are rendered nervous and troubled by anything that isn’t working properly, perhaps they really need to be able to do this well. They already have to spend hours doing things like rewiring perfectly sound wiring, polishing out imaginary scratches on the pristine surfaces of their cars and spend days reconfiguring their computers so that version 4.0 of ‘Dark Lord, The Ultimate Revenge!’ starts up 3 nanoseconds faster than the default speed of 2.5 microseconds. Having shopped with care in the first place must really ease those stress levels…

Or does it? Perhaps they’d be happier if they bought whatever was handy, with a modicum of regard for a reasonable price, and then stopped worrying about it. Nature is chaos. As soon as something is created and brought to perfection it begins to decay. If men could accept as truth this small concept, perhaps they wouldn't get so stressed about perfection. And then, as long as the wheels didn’t actually drop off, they’d be a lot happier altogether.