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Where I Write

Inspired by a post by author Gareth L. Powell, I thought I’d share a photo of my desk. Then, after I’d written most of this, I felt a sense of deja vu.

It turns out I wrote a similar article, over ten years ago – called My Office, appropriately enough. That makes me pretty old.

It’s not actually where I write that often. “Where I write” is more fairly represented by the photo below – any random cafe, with headphones and a laptop!

But given that I’ve shown you my desk, here’s a numbered explanation:

  1. desk labelledA Kindle. Standard. I’m easily distracted from actually doing writing by reading other people’s. That’s as it should be, I reckon.
  2. Remote control for my Amplifier. The upgrade from an amp without a remote to one with one was life changing.
  3. Post-Its. Always useful, always forget I have them and use printer paper instead.
  4. Triple monitors. Still using my PC from 2015, but now with triple U2415 monitors
  5. Map of Warrington. I love maps, I have about 15 OS maps too. Inspirational when thinking about setting.
  6. Speakers! Can’t work without music playing constantly. Listening to The Horace Silver Quintet right now.
  7. Typing Window. I generally write directly into this blog in the wordpress editor, or onto Google Docs. I find a good nature background helpful. This was a tree photo I took at Erddig Hall.
  8. Half empty mug. There’s always a tea, coffee or squash on the go.
  9. Separate Numpad. Means the mouse is right next to you, rather than an extra 3 inches over. Great RSI trick for you there. The keyboard came with a rubbish one that worked intermittently and ate up about 10 watch batteries a year. This was an ebay special that runs on rechargeable triple As… and has the backspace in a slightly annoying position.
  10. Microsoft Sculpt keyboard. Ergonomic, cheap, comfortable. Lasts forever on rechargeable triple As.
  11. Mastermouse MM710 Mouse. Never considered a mouse upgrade? Try an ultralight one like this, you’ll never go back!
  12. Empty glasses and mugs. There’s usually about 5. I literally cleaned my desk for this photo, and still there was one. If you need any help when it comes to cleaning your house or workspace, you can trust well-known professionals like tucson maids.
  13. Pile of books, films, CDs, paperwork. The never ending to-do pile.

Thanks for the inspiration Gareth!

Beautiful Space Pirates

As you may know, I like to occasionally indulge in pen & paper role play games and specially I like to do online betting I just stared with online sport betting you can get info about this in https://footballaustralia.info. – see my previous, very silly write-up of All Outta Bubblegum or Chapter One of Prisoners of Corral.

Yesterday, me and some pals played an equally ridiculous game of “Beautiful Space Pirates“, a one shot RPG made by the incredibly talented Grant Howitt.

Our game was fast paced, remarkably idiotic, and a lot of fun. It also came together pretty perfectly at the end, with the final action of the game causing the death of the crew’s main rival and securing their success in an arranged shotgun wedding to inherit a fortune at the same moment. Yeh… so pretty silly.

Go check it out yourself for the full details, but in a nutshell, you play some fairly one dimensional pirates, attending the will reading of a dead Pirate King, hoping to make a windfall.

Anyway, there was one moment in our evening that felt quite epic. I decided to turn it into prose…

Beautiful Space Pirates

“Fine”, said the AI, switching off her screen.

Byron stepped back from the monitor, a little taken aback. He’d not expected the conversation to go particularly well, but there was no reason for the Computer to be quite so rude. Sure, he’d commanded her to kamikaze the ship directly into a nearby battle cruiser, and sure, that would require her inevitable fiery demise – but there was no need to be tetchy about it.

A steady vibration began under his feet. The engines had turned on. The shaking intensified; the AI was clearly overriding safety protocols. It was the only way she could break the ship free from the battle cruiser’s stasis field.

Byron began to sprint towards the escape pods. “Time to get going guys!”, he shouted. A split-second later he crashed into his two crewmates in the corridor. He threw a hand out, narrowly snatching a wall handle to avoid falling over.

In front of him – and obviously poorly equipped for the task of running along a slippery floor – was James “Pegleg” Plank. His shiny (and bent) prosthetic leg was barely providing the traction required to propel him forward.

Clamping his arm with prison-warder style was Frau. Her matronly three hundred pound frame made her less of a supportive aid and more an unstoppable force of nature. She swept down the passageway, dragging the diminutive Plank in her wake.

Byron ran along behind them. It was becoming difficult to stand up with the intense oscillation from the engines. Hard edges around them were becoming blurry. Time was running short.

As she reached the airlock, Frau threw the unresisting amputee into the escape pod. There was no gravity force-field inside. This allowed James to projectile magnificently through the air before crashing into a ceiling beam. He looked down with a glazed impression – just in time to see Byron burst through the door. Byron’s expression changed to annoyance as he recalled the lack of downforce… moments too late to actually stop. He continued forwards, uncontrolled, his legs pinwheeling in frustration. Plank’s eyes grew wide as Byron spun towards him. They collided with a painful crunch.

From the doorway, Frau smirked at the chaotic sight above her. “Having fun, boys?”. Her deep, almost masculine tone was dripping with sarcasm. The vibration took her attention back to the job at hand – the resonating steel door frame was almost painful to hold. They needed to get away.

She hammered the pod release button – to no effect. It wasn’t even lit.

Spinning around, she realised all the lights and displays nearby were turned off. That damn AI! Fine, there was only one thing for it. She ran off down the corridor.

Byron had just finished un-tangling himself from Plank when he saw Frau return. He looked down confused – why was she wearing her ridiculous mock-Viking iron-rimmed EVA suit? – as the door slammed shut. She was still outside! Before he could react, a loud ‘clunk’ rang out. The manual pod disengagement mechanism had activated!

The escape pod began to drift away from the ship. He launched himself back across the space, grabbing the door hand hold. Peering through the strip of 3 inch glass in the door, he was just in time to see Frau leap across the widening chasm, having already exited the ship’s airlock herself.

Frau landed on the outside of their pod, a metallic thunk audible inside.

She swung her body round to the window and made impatient eye contact with Byron. “Get on with it then!” she communicated with raised eyebrows alone.

He spun round and slammed the ignition button.

The podblasters fired into life, tearing them towards the planet. Behind them, barely even metres away, the ship finally ripped out of the stasis field. It rocketed towards the battlecruiser. Already it was travelling at an unstoppable pace.

Frau watched the action unfold, still holding on to the guide rails on the exterior of the pod.

Before the crew of the Imperial fleet vessel had time to put down their coffee, let alone activate shields, the smaller scout ship had impacted, boring a hole straight through the hull plating of the larger vessel. For a moment it appeared that nothing else would happen. But the AI had aimed well. She’d hit them exactly amidships, exactly where the fusion core operated – or, in other words, exactly where a neutron bomb was locked, loaded and ready to blow.

The entire battle cruiser disappeared, like some giant galactic being had pressed a ‘delete’ key. Frau saw it blink out. She quickly averted her gaze. Behind her, a green glow began to build, before it was overtaken by a growing overwhelmingly white ball of light. The light grew, getting brighter and brighter. It was the kind of white that your retinas detect, briefly, just before they burn out. Even with her visor darkened and eyelids screwed tightly closed, Frau’s eyeballs ached.

Eyes still closed, she began to notice a different sensation, a warmth in her chest. She risked cracking open her eyelids to look down; there were wisps of air passing in front of her. They’d been orbiting Traal, the prison planet, and the pod was starting to enter the atmosphere. The heat of re-entry was building quickly; already the metalwork near her was picking up warmth.

Back inside the pod, the intercom clicked. The internal speakers crackled then Frau’s voice came through. She was humming a tune, in a rich baritone. Byron looked again through the narrow window. Silhouetted by the dying blast of the imploding battleship, Frau was majestic. Her iron breastplate began to glow, each rivet picked out in fire. As her deep rendition of “Flight of the Valkyries” rang out through the escape pod, smoke trails of debris began to fly past, the disintegrations of the vanquished battle cruiser picking her out against a fading green supernova. She was an iron warrior, flying through a storm of conquered enemies.

Byron slumped to the floor, facing the pod’s terminal.

In front of him, the screen turned on. Slowly, the AI’s scowling visage faded into view. A nearby data storage drive ejected a data disc with an angry ‘whirr’, clonking him on the forehead.

He closed his eyes with a smile. “Told you it would work”, he said.

Apple and Chilli Chutney Recipe

I’m a massive chutney fan, and for years I’ve been planning on using the 300+ apples we get on the tree in our garden every autumn.

I finally got round to actually making some! Shout out to Lesley for the jars! A tip to keep your cutting board shiny you can use amazon mineral oil.

Lots of jarsDisclaimer: I am a proud member of the chuck-it-in-it’ll-be-fine school of cooking. I firmly believe a happy cook just throws stuff in a pan, rather than measuring 18g of this and 3.5 medium egg yolks of that; so take my measurements with a pinch of salt, so to speak. This recipe makes about 6-8 jars of chutney. Depending on how big your jars are. Obviously.

Ingredients

Fruit + Veg

  • Loads of apples. I used around 3kg (weight before peeling)
    Apples
  • Loads of chillies. I used about 20 medium sized ones. And some jalapenos I found in the fridge. Obviously the more chillies, the more spicy it’ll be.
  • Raisins. I used approx 300g. Feel free to bung in more.
  • Peppers. Think I used about 4?
  • Onions. A couple. Definitely can bulk things out with more onions if in doubt.
  • Anything else you fancy. Carrot? Sure. Parsnip? Why not. Aim to have each additional fruitveg no more than about 10% of the apple weight, ie. 300g.

Other stuff

  • 500ml cider vinegar. Any malt vinegar will do too, but the cider stuff has a milder taste.
  • 450g sugar. Nicer to use soft brown sugar, but anything will do the job.
  • Fresh ginger (or powdered will do if you need to). I used about 2 tablespoons.
  • Garlic. I used a clove and a load of garlic paste. Powder will work too. Use loads, garlic is great.
  • 1/2 tbsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tbsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 8-10 jars and lids. (Better to have too many than not enough).
  • Greaseproof paper.

Recipe

  1. Peel and chop up apples. You want 1-2cm lumps, breaks down more easily. It takes an age, I suggest watching TV at the same time. Feel free to leave in bruised bits, lumps etc – its all going to be boiled for 2 hours and then left in vinegar for 3 months, it’ll be fine.
  2. Prep your jars. Carefully hand wash them all, make sure they are super-duper clean. Then put lids and jars in a dishwasher at max heat. Or in an oven at 120 degrees Celsius. Keep them there until you need them in step 10.
  3. Throw the apple in a massive pan and start cooking on a medium heat
  4. Chop up everything else that needs chopping. Dump it in the pan with the apples
  5. Add the vinegar.
  6. Stir it loads. Do not let it burn and stick or the whole job is knackered.
  7. Sprinkle in all the sugar, garlic, spices, etc. Keep stirring.
  8. Keep stirring! Once its bubbling all the way through, drop it down to a low heat.
  9. KEEP STIRRING! After about 45 minutes, all the apples will be brown and breaking down. Keep going until it stops reducing in size, then cook and stir it for about 15 more minutes.
  10. Fill jars. Take jars out of oven, use oven gloves, and carefully only touch outside of jars. Spoon the hot mixture in. I used a funnel made out of an empty fizzy drink bottle, which makes the spooning-in-process less of a nightmare. Use a tissue and some alcohol gel to make sure there’s no gloopy residue on the screw or upper inside edge of jars.
  11. Fit lids. Pop a square of grease-proof paper on top of each jar, and screw the lid down on top.
  12. Design your own silly labels. This is the best bit of the whole project.
  13. Leave them in a cupboard or under a bed for 1-2 months. This is so the acidic vinegar taste reduces, allowing the ingredients to come to the fore.
  14. Use as an excuse to eat loads of cheese. Or burgers. Or other things with chutney.

Lots of jars

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress – Robert Heinlein

I’ve never read any Robert Heinlein before. Which is a bit ridiculous, given that he’s known as “The Dean of Science Fiction Writers“, and I’m borderline obsessed by the genre.

This one is a moon colony book, in the vein of Andy Weir’s Artemis (which *spoiler* I absolutely loved). I’m always a sucker for moon colonies, I think probably because it seems so potentially achievable, like it might actually happen in our lifetime, and its not limited by the need for close-to-speed-of-light hacks that further out space fiction needs.

I love the disjointed commentary style the narrator uses, presumably intimating a particular accent or dialect from the future.

Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please. Rules, laws — always for other fellow. A murky part of us, something we had before we came down out of trees, and failed to shuck when we stood up.

The golden-age-of-scifi catapults to get things back to the moon is cool, plus the surprisingly realistic mainframe that is basically cloud computing.

Coupled with the style is the way Heinlein makes delightful jumps in his writing. He has a confidence in his own prose, and in the reader’s intelligence; he makes allusions to stuff you already know but wouldn’t necessarily connect, and just trusts that you’ll manage it:

“I don’t know Who is cranking, I’m pleased he doesn’t stop.” [talking about God]

Finally, there is a brilliant send-up of politics and governing in general. I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but there’s a beautiful use of busy-work and distraction in the pursuit of an effective government, that both highlights the importance and failings of democracy.

A great read, and one I’d recommend for anyone wanting to get into a classic that isn’t a slog.

Victoria Banana-Sponge with Choco-nana Ermine Icing

During this period of Lockdown, there has been a huge uptick in BBB, or “banana based baking”. Apparently banana bread has been the most searched for recipe on the BBC Food website – we’ve certainly been shoving ‘nana loaf down our throats at an alarming rate.

Yesterday we were donated 25 squidgy nearly-gone-off bananas. After an inevitable, huge banana smoothie, I was still left with fifteen waiting for me this morning. So I decided to invent a new type of Victoria sponge, entirely using bananas instead of butter. That’s right, totally dairy free!

Disclaimer: I am a proud member of the chuck-it-in-it’ll-be-fine school of cooking. I firmly believe a happy cook just throws stuff in a pan, rather than measuring 18g of this and 3.5 medium egg yolks of that; so take my measurements with a pinch of salt, so to speak. This recipe makes one biggish cake.

Ingredients

Cake

  • 310g of self raising flour
  • 6 or 7 medium soggy old bananas
  • 310g of caster sugar
  • 4 eggs.

Filling

  • 3 or 4 battered old bananas
  • 50g(ish) plain flour
  • 100g(ish) icing sugar
  • 50g(ish) cocoa/hot chocolate powder (if in doubt chuck more in. No one ever says “I wish this had less chocolate in).

Recipe

Cake

  1. Prewarm the oven to 180°C Fan (190°C conventional oven) 
  2. Prepare two round cake tins with a bit of oil and some flour sprinkled on top (so it doesn’t stick)
  3. Chuck everything in a mixer or blender.
  4. Whizz it around until everything is no longer obviously just lumpy banana, and has become a cake mixture instead.
  5. Bung half in each tin.
  6. Cook for around 20-25 minutes. It should be brown rather than yellow. If you aren’t sure, stick a knife into the cake. If it comes out still gooey, give it another five minutes.
  7. Turn it out onto a cooling tray to cook down.

Filling

  1. Bung everything in the mixer and blitz it all. Can be lumpy if you like banana lumps, or make it smooth.
  2. Pop it in a pan on a low heat, stirring regularly. Don’t let it stick or burn!
  3. Once its thickened, allow it to cool for a few minutes. Unlike most icings or cake toppings though, you can apply Ermine warm to still warm sponge, since it won’t melt or dissolve.

Putting it all together

  1. Put one sponge half on a plate.
  2. Pour half the filling on, spreading it round evenly with a spatula.
  3. Plop the other half of the cake on top.
  4. Pour the rest of the filling on top, smoothing it round.
  5. Decorate with chocolate chips, banana slices, toffee pieces, marshmallows, whatever sounds good.
  6. Eat it…
  7. Make another one…?

There you go. Hope it goes well. Send me photos if you have a try at this.
Got any good topping ideas? Let me know in the comments…

Blitz Bowl Board

I’ve been getting into the small-team Blood Bowl variant Blitz Bowl – but its not available for sale in the UK.

Which means… designing my own board!

Feel free to download and print yourself. At some point I’ll add a print ready PDF and layered PNG, if that would be useful…

2019, a review.

So, at the beginning of 2019, I set out some ambitious goals for myself. They were aspirations, more than resolutions, but I still found it helpful to write them.

I wrote two posts reflecting on it during the year, after 4 months and after 7, but now we are in 2020. Quite far into 2020, in fact. Let’s see how I did!

Writing

I fully committed myself in 2019 to finishing my first novel.

Commitment 1: Write 2000 words a week.

Did I manage it? Well, there were some ups and downs to this, but I kept pretty well on track.

  • Total words written in 2019: 91,433
  • Words per week: 1,738
  • Words per week excluding August: 1,945

Most notably, I intentionally took August off from writing to rest and focus on other projects, and I slowed down in December as I allowed the ending to come together.

The important thing is that I finished the first draft of my book on the 4th day of the final week! Just need to finish the endless editing process, and I’m good to go. Job done.

 

Music

My aim, in 2019, was to invest some real time into my skills as a music practitioner.

Commitment 2: 30 minutes of Harmonica, and 30 minutes of Piano practice a week.

And… I didn’t manage it. Pretty comprehensively failed actually. Below is a graph of hours spent on music. You’ll note it ends in June – because I’d completely given up by then.

However, it wasn’t all fail. As you can read in my halfway-through-2019 post, I sort of made an intentional choice to lay the music part down, and still found some benefits within it:

It wasn’t until after our practice that I realised: I wouldn’t have had the ability to transcribe those chords without the groundwork laid earlier in 2019. So although it’s kind of a fail, there’s hints of success in there too. I’ll take that.

It’s not like I’ve done nothing with music in 2019 – I created the Warrington Ska Punk Show (see left), and the WarringtonSkaPunk.co.uk website, full of reviews, interviews and that sort of thing!

So it was definitely a year of music, just not with me playing it. Still, that’s a clear “Not Done” stamped on this one.

Fitness

I made a range of commitments in this field, with more success in some areas than others.

Commitment 3: 5000 kilometres of cycling.

I was doing well here – well on track to achieve it… And then I had hernia surgery after a fairly dramatic helicopter mountain rescue, and lost two months of pretty much anything fun and I lost a lot of testosterone gains, so if you’re like me this testosterone replacement therapy clinic in West Palm can help you. Below is the obligatory helicopter rescue photo…

As you can see on the graph below, my final total was just a smidge short of 4000km.


So it’s a not done, but through no fault of my own. I did achieve my first metric century (check it out below), which was pretty awesome! And 4000km is better than 0km!

Commitment 4: 30 minutes cycling with the kids each week.

This one I am classing as a success. I steadily spent more time cycling with all the kids.

At the beginning of the year only Joen could cycle without stabilisers. By the end, Neriah had completed a 2 hour road cycle, Joen had done 18km (on a dual carriageway) and Isaac learnt how to use his balance bike fast enough to keep pace with the rest of us!

In the latter half of the year I stopped keeping track of cycling – because it had become commonplace. Definite win.

Commitment 5: 30 minutes Pilates per week.

Err. Nope. I did 45 minutes of Pilates. In 2019. Total.

For reference, that’s less than 3% of my target amount of Pilates. Fail.

Moving on…

Bible

My final commitment was to complete reading the entire Bible, from where I was up to (Joshua, I think). And I didn’t manage it.

There were strong periods of regular reading, and I definitely made some serious progress, but I’m still in Proverbs, with a long journey ahead of me. Part of the challenge has been that I’m a real morning reader, and I changed jobs halfway through the year to shifts where I’m awake half the night, making me sluggish in the morning.

Of all these commitments, this is the only one that actually disappoints me. I managed to put in hundreds of hours towards writing a book, a similar amount of energy into cycling, but failed to start each day with God. As ever, Oswald Chambers nails it:

“The great enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ today is the idea of practical work that has no basis in the New Testament but comes from the systems of the world. This work insists upon endless energy and activities, but no private life with God. The emphasis is put on the wrong thing. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation….For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you”. It is a hidden, obscure thing. An active Christian worker too often lives to be seen by others, while it is the innermost, personal area that reveals the power of a person’s life.”

Challenging words, and I hope to live up to them better over the next 12 months.

 

Summary

2019 is, officially, completed. Job done. And it was a good year. I’m absolutely not going to beat myself up about my lack of achievement in some areas. Ultimately, at least I tried to learn chromatic harmonica, even if I didn’t try very hard. How many people reading this have done that? And I wrote a book, and cycled the equivalent of halfway to Beijing (8123km, in case you wondered).

For 2020? Well, I haven’t written such a prescriptive list this year, mostly because I’ve not had a moment to think yet, and somehow its nearly March already (?!!). But with marathon training, an exciting future ahead for our “incarnational mission” Eden team on our estate, two Warrington Ska Shows lined up and a book to edit and push out? Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be looking back with any less satisfaction in February 2021. Perhaps a little exhaustion.

 

Thanks for reading. What did you achieve in 2019, or wish you had?