Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mondeo memories

I got my car back today. Where has it been, you cry? Well, at the end of November a work colleague was a bit too eager to get away and turned a bit too sharply in the work car park, taking out my front right indicator and scraping the paint. Being a Volvo driver, she didn't even notice until she got home, saw her own scraped paint and put two and two together.

I do so love it when it's unequivocally, entirely someone else's fault and there isn't even a hint of contesting the matter - as it should be when the victim vehicle is unattended and parked squarely within a clearly marked parking space. The car hire company fixed up by her insurers was going to give me a 1 litre clown car, but when they heard what it was replacing they upgraded it to a 3-month old Mondeo at no extra cost (at least, not for me).

As with all new technology, it has ups and downs ...

Ups - the Ford heated front window system is nothing short of a marvel in this weather, and even on its own it's more than enough to swing my vote in favour of getting a Ford when the current car finally has to go, as one day it must. It was great for getting to Hertfordshire and back in the recent inclemency. The door handle (right hand side) and central console (left hand side) were great for resting my elbows on as I drove. Or rather, cruised. With the diesel engine I could pretend I was driving a tractor - sorry, tra'r - while at the same time the excitingly hi-tech dashboard and control-studded steering wheel pressed all the right Gerry Anderson fanboy buttons within me.

Downs - said central console means the handbrake has to be off the centre line, over to the right, and you almost dislocate your wrist getting the right angle to pull it upwards. I usually listen to my iPod via a tape adapter, and as this was too new for a tape player I got to try out the iTrip I once bought myself in a fit of technological experimentation ... which was okay, but crackly. The proximity alert, especially in our crowded little back yard, sets off a veritable dawn chorus of differently toned beeps whenever I turn it on and put it into gear, which was quite a surprise the first time. It wouldn't have done this quite so often if the car wasn't so darn unnecessarily BIG and therefore already a lot closer to everything else than I would normally park. (And I now find I've got so used to it, after just a fortnight, that my ability to judge a safe parking distance has vanished and I want to park feet away from anything.)

But I have to say the good points outweighed the bad, and so it's probably as well that I have the old car back before I was entirely seduced. It's not perfect but we have a relationship based on long-term familiarity and trust and affection and an understanding of each other's strengths and weaknesses. Which is as it should be.

Meanwhile I have now been phoned out of the blue by two separate ambulance chasers asking if anyone was hurt. Into every life a little slime must drip.

The rivals, consenting to be photographed together ...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

When Jesus met Santa

Another animation!

Yes, Jesus is a woman. Your point?

Sword arch in the snow

Memories of T. the Sailor:

- the only 8-year-old in the world to start a sentence with the words "Bearing in mind that ..."

- the teenage years: mind of a 40-year-old theologian, sense of humour that can only be described as clinically evil.

- the minor contretemps of a few years ago that almost killed him.

- and this weekend, a sword arch in a blizzard, upon the occasion of his marriage.

As his father-in-law later remarked, it was the snow that drew everyone together. We went up a day earlier than planned with one eye on the weather. 2 hours on the M25: could have been a lot worse. Kings Langley is a pictureskew little place in Herts just off the motorway, where every flat surface has a building on it and the rest is all slopes. I should really have thought a little harder before choosing to park on the quite steep road where the church is, as the snow began to fall ... We got out eventually, but only by turning round and going deeper in to get out again further down the valley.

And so it snew and snew. We were inside so didn't mind that much. The bride however was 40 minutes late, due to the hired Bentley not being able to get up one of those slopes to the house. (It was theorised she might have turned up but no one could see her against the backdrop: maybe the navy contingent could walk around a bit, and she might occlude one of them and become visible.) Eventually she walked from home, and they went away after in a Landrover.

The sword arch were the icing on the icy cake: nine brave men standing at attention as the snow piled up on their heads and shoulders, slightly dreamy expressions suggesting that inwardly they were a long way away in a warm and happy place.

But they snapped to attention at the right moment, and the newly wed couple walked through, and all was well.

The couple were meant to be heading off on honeymoon to Brazil from Heathrow today. I don't think so.

This car was completely snow free when I parked it, three hours earlier.

It got us there safely, and then up another of those slopes to the reception, and then back home again today at a sedate 50mph down a mostly empty, 2-lanes-mostly-clear M25 and M40. Shame it's only a hire car - looking forward with interest to seeing what the regular one can do for us next weekend.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dawn Treader forebodings

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a pretty good stab at the original novel, with added action which was still part of the original plot (mostly). Prince Caspian was likewise, but with a lot more additional plot, there being a lot less original plot to work with. But the extra plot slotted in well and I liked it. It even drove home the point Lewis was trying to make: trust Aslan.

But I wondered even then what they would do with Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It's a picaresque novel, a series of only loosely connected adventures. It's also the one where the kids from our world really are surplus to requirements. They are along for the ride. Caspian could easily have done this all on his own and told his friends about it when they met up again in The Last Battle. How, I wondered (with some trepidation) would they turn that into a Hollywood movie?

The answer, apparently, according to Rober Ebert, is they've turned it into a bloody quest.

I suppose it was inevitable - it may even have been the only thing they could do. And I hope it works, because it's my favourite of the novels, and if this tanks then there might be no Silver Chair, which would be a shame and which really is a proper quest adventure. (I would love them to get Alan Rickman as Puddleglum ... but they probably won't.)

But even so. To quote Mr Ebert: "Narnia is threatened by evil forces from the mysterious Dark Island, which no one has seen but everyone has heard about. There is a matter of seven missing magical swords representing the Lords of Telmar, which were given to Narnia by Aslan the Lion (voice of Liam Neeson) and must be brought together again to break a spell that imprisons the lords." Gak, gak, gak, and eek.

It may yet work. I may even watch it, but probably not in the cinema unless there's a 2D version. Yup, to rub it all in, it's 3D. Meh. But! Even if it doesn't stink completely, if it doesn't have the Dufflepuds, and doesn't have Eustace the dragon, and most especially if it doesn't have Reep finally getting his heart's desire at the end of the world ... well, I tell you now, I will be very stern and disapproving.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Rutter season

I have been playing with Xtranormal's State, which lets you make CGI animations out of a menu of pre-defined backgrounds, characters and actions. Dialogue is entered by you the user and recited in monotone HAL-like American (though user voiceovers can be recorded) and additional soundfiles can be inserted.

So, from last year's Christmas Eve Christingle service I give you "Light of the world". Dialogue by YT and Logan Walker. Music by G.F. Handel and John Rutter. Based on an original idea by St Luke.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Occasional recipes: Paprika chicken with spicy red cabbage and beetroot

Haven't done one of these for a very long time. I still feel a traitor to the childhood me when I serve up something with beetroot in it but trust me, it's actually quite nice. Under the right circumstances. I.e. not boiled to within an inch of its life, like at school.

  • 3-4 chicken breast fillets. (If you get absolute slabs, like I did, experience shows you might want to slice them into thinner slabs ...)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 400g red cabbage, finely shredded nuked by food processor
  • 1 tsp crushed chillies
  • 250g beetroot, chopped. (Instructions from Waitrose say "fresh, scrubbed, trimmed and cut into matchsticks." Ben says chopped. And have something to catch the drips, because opening and cutting up cooked beetroot is what badly planned open heart surgery must look like.)
  • paprika
  • 75g creme fraiche
Dust chicken breasts with paprika. Make several deep scores diagonally across the meat and fry chicken pieces in olive oil, scored side down. Reduce the heat to lowest setting and fry for 20 minutes, turning halfway through. (Be aware that the Waitrose notion of "lowest setting" might still be substantially higher than what your cooker goes down to.)

Meanwhile fry onion for about 5 minutes, add cabbage and chillies and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Add the beetroot, cover and cook for about 10 minutes.

Pile cabbage onto warmed serving plates, place a chicken fillet on top of each. Stir creme fraiche +1 tbsp water into pan juices, heat until bubbling and pour on top of chicken. Serve with buttered new potatoes.

At school I always found beetroot insufferably bland and often still do, despite my eyes having been opened as to the miracle that is borscht by a student trip to Moscow in 1987. But that same blandness and texture nicely complement and counteract the chillies. Trust me.

And if you can, follow this up with your wife's apple and mince pie.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Wouldn't have made much difference if they did

Every now and then I read a book that makes me wonder why I don’t just give up trying to write the things myself, because I’ll never get that much under the reader’s skin or into their minds.

The latest is We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

One April in 1999, shortly before Columbine (whose participants he regards as pathetically amateur, juvenile attention seeking losers), 15-year-old Kevin Khatchadourian joins the woefully long list of teenage perpetrators of high school massacres, taking out seven fellow students, a teacher and a cafeteria worker (who wasn’t meant to be there in there) in the school gym. On that day, one way or another, his mother Eva loses everything – husband, daughter, company, house, livelihood; in fact, the one thing she doesn’t lose is ... Kevin himself.

The novel takes the form of a series of letters from Eva to her husband, chronicling their life together before and after Kevin’s birth and the nearly 16 years since. It’s a therapeutic exercise for her as she rhetorically asks all the inevitable questions, not really expecting an answer. Was it my fault? Was it ours? Did I/do I love him? Could we have done anything different? This itself makes the book an interesting exercise in reading between the lines. We’re getting Eva’s point of view, she’s writing with hindsight anyway, and in between all the clues and pointers towards what we know is coming, there must have been a lot of time in their day to day lives when life was relatively normal. Was Kevin really that bad? Was her husband really so blind? But even though we know what’s coming, it never gets boring. There is still room for revelation and “oh, I see ...” moments, and when the massacre finally happens it’s almost – in a very guilty way – possible to admire it. There is nothing random about this; Kevin knows exactly what he’s doing, and by the end of the book, Eva and we know exactly why he did it. We have no excuses, because there are none; but we do have reasons and they make sense.

There’s still room for humour, albeit very black; like, the simple description of Kevin’s unsuccessful year in a Montessori nursery school, which is predicated on the basis that everyone is innately good and capable of self-improvement. Maybe it was coincidence that all their plants started dying at the same as Eva absently notes the absence of a bottle of bleach she could have sworn was there. The obnoxious school bully that everyone lived in fear of might have had a very good, non-Kevin-related reason for locking himself in a closet and refusing to come out like that. And so on.

One of the few things Eva and Kevin can agree on is their disdain for a world where everything must be someone’s fault, and when something goes wrong you find someone to blame and sue ’em. Where they differ is in how they tackle the problem ... It sounds very posy to start quoting William Blake at this point, because believe it or not I don’t have the complete works of Blake committed to memory, ready to be pulled out at a moment’s notice, but is just so happens that Bonusbarn is studying “Auguries of innocence” and we were discussing it while I read the book. And so it reminded me:
“Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.”
In their own ways, neither Kevin nor Eva rightly knew it.

My one fault with the book isn’t the author’s fault: it’s that the kid on the cover is blond whereas we are oft reminded that Kevin has dark features inherited from his Armenian mother. However, I see there’s going to be a film of it and he will be played by one Ezra Miller, who I've never heard of (hey, he's a kid) but who looks perfect. Meanwhile Eva will be Tilda Swinton, who excels at vulnerable ice queens, and Kevin’s dad is John C. Reilly, who was the lovable chump of a husband in Chicago. It’s almost a bit too perfectly cast, but I still look forward to it.

Probably watching it on my own, though ...