Thursday, 30 August 2007

Tips - make the most of everything

I am a list maker. I don't think I am a control freak but I know lists make my life easier. My working week, like the majority of us, is a series of routine task, but there are always extra uncompleted tasks, paltry and considerable, lurking in the corners of my life. They nibble away at me week in week out and because it is human nature to procrastinate, these jobs never get done, but their existence soured my contentment.

At the beginning of each week I make a list of a few pesky jobs and aim to complete them by the end of that week. The list should consist of mostly easy jobs and one major job. It is a common fault to be too ambitious with 'to do lists. To prevent this I write the list on a small Post-it note. I resist the temptation to start a new list until the first list has been scrubbed. I get great satisfaction from ticking off all the little tasks and crumbling and tossing the paper Post-it when the jobs are done.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Lumberjack Pie


Spam is 70 this year. Not the nasty stuff you find in your mail box but the nasty stuff you find in a blue can. To celebrate and because I found a can in the cupboard, left over from a mad period of nostalgia shopping, I decided to invent a recipe. Colin has put up with my current health fad cooking for months, so I thought I would give him a treat. Lumberjack pie is the only food he reminisces about. A childhood dish, with the ingredients of beans, potatoes and chopped ham and pork (he thinks).

The invention

Empty a can of (organic) beans into a casserole, fold in the cubed (non organic) spam through the beans, sliced enough cooked home grown potatoes to cover the top of the dish and topped the lot with torn pieces of mozzarella cheese, then bake in a medium oven for forty minutes.

The result

Success, the original recipe had mash but the home grown new potatoes were lovely and the mozzarella made serving up a challenge, but the photo shows the proof of the success.

On a healthier note I also made a batch of yummy Rosewater Plum Compote. I picked this dish off my favourite recipe blog. Not being a great sweet fan, I have found this compote a good compromise for pudding loving guests. I serve it with a dollop of Greek yogurt and Greek honey drizzled on top
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Glad to be alive

Dangerous Playgrounds

I spent this weekend in the Cairngorm National Park with Colin and his climbing partner Stuart. They had planned a full weekend rock climbing, I was tagging along for inspiration. But the weather, as usual, had the last say. Saturday dawned windy and dreich.

We tramped over to Ben Avon basin, to avoid the noise from the Thunder in The Glen, Harley Davidson Festival. The rain lashed across the Cairngorm Plateau as we picked our way down the precarious path into the basin.

At one point, as I looked over the edge at the steep drop into a gorge where the river tore over jagged rocks, I thought 'I wouldn't want to fall now' the next moment my foot missed the path and I felt my body tumble backwards. I frantically grabbed the heather and kicked my feet into the cliff, my fingernails scraped the earth but failed to catch. Miraculously I slithered to a halt on a slimy rock that sloped into the water, inches away.

'I'm OK.' I shouted. But when I tried to move I began to slide towards the river. I was shaking with fear. Colin scrambled down and together with Stuart helped me back onto the path.

When I looked over the lip into the gorge, the full extent of my luck hit me. I could have broken a limb and just as easily cracked open my skull. Even now I wonder at how one's life could change drastically in the course of one moment in time.

We abandoned the path and the climbers moved to the Northern Corries in search of drier ground. I limped, bruised and shaken, back to the car to reflect on my fate. On the way I met an old couple sitting by a plateau cairn. They had just climbed over 500 metres up a steep crumbling ridge.

'We're celebrating.' Said the white haired old gentleman.
'Our eightieth birthdays.' added the bright eyed old lady. 'We thought we would try to reach the plateau, one last time.'

I had found my inspiration.

The boys met me later at Glenmore Lodge for a drink and grub. Glenmore Lodge is The Scottish National Climbing Centre situated at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains, a few miles from Aviemore. The place is full of roughty toughty climbers and has an atmosphere of adventure. The food is bog standard pub grub, but hit the spot.

We camped in Alvie camp site and drank wine while we watched the stars fight with the clouds. Sunday's forecast was promising.

Sunday was cold and blustery. I walked with the boys over boulder fields to the base of the majestic cliffs of Coire an t-Sneachda.

I left them to play and headed up Cairngorm Mountain to check out the new funicular railway. On the summit I met truck loads of inadequately clothed tourists freezing in the near winter conditions. Most had bare hands and heads. One women was crying. Visibilty was poor, but a wall of cairns provided a man made marker back to the Top station. The railway does not allow its passengers to move onto the summit so presumably these tourists had walked up. Thankfully the railway allows these poor misguided souls to journey back to safety in their little train.

The intrepid climbers managed to scramble up one of the easier climbs wearing full winter garb, so the weekend was not a total waste for them.

Why can't Brits queue?

The most dangerous part of any weekend in the mountains is the journey there and back on that notorious road, the A9. Last night was no exception. Horse boxes from the Blair Athol horse trials slowed the heavy traffic, and major roadworks brought out the worst in everyone including me.

Why is it that in Britain, at the first sign of roadworks all traffic moves into the inside lane even when there are huge instructions 'Use both lanes while queuing '? It is because they are scared they'll be stranded in the outside lane, despite the 'Merge in turn signs'. If you dare try to use both lanes, arrogant drivers stagger the middle line, preventing anyone passing them, either inside or outside.

Don't these idiots realise they are making the queue twice as long as it need be and slowing the traffic almost to a stand still. It seems their small brains haven't worked out that 'Use both lanes while queuing ' and 'Merge in turn' is not some evil plot by the roads department to prolong the agony, but a sensible way to keep the traffic moving. IT WORKS, if only drivers would let it.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Notebook Season

I am sure I am not alone in this, but as a writer, I love notebooks (and pens). Well, now is the time to go crazy and buy up all those new term designs that didn't sell before school started. After trying all the usual outlets I find Woolies still can't be beaten. They are the best. I bought three this week; two 'designer' and one cheap basic model -59p. This was to compare against the other basic pads from Asda and Tesco - both 89p). Of course at 59p it may fall to tatters, with the wire bindings bleeding my fingers, only time will tell.

I have finally updated my profile. It was fun to check out a few websites of some of my favorites. Alanis has one of the best, stylish and calm. It made my site look puny. I have a long way to go.

The birds in my garden have been dancing a carnival this week. They've scoffed all the Saskatoon berries off the trees. I had hoped to make a couple of gallons of wine with those berries, but nature took them first. Its my own fault for not filling the bird feeders. Yesterday I heard the cheeky peep, peep, peep of a chaffinch, trying to point out to me the feeders were empty. But when I do fill them, the little birdies throw away the seeds they hate and leave ground fodder for squabbling magpies and crapping, bumbling pheasants.

A friend mailed me a sad poem this week. I can't find a web link to it so here it is in full;

DEATH OF A SON [who died in a mental hospital aged one]

John Silkin

Something has ceased to come along with me.
Something like a person: something very like one.
And there was no nobility in it
Or anything like that.

Something was there like a one year
Old house, dumb as stone. While the near buildings
Sang like birds and laughed
Understanding the pact

They were to have with silence. But he
Neither sang nor laughed. He did not bless silence
Like bread, with words.
He did not forsake silence.

But rather, like a house in mourning
Kept the eye turned in to watch the silence while
The other houses like birds
Sang around him.

And the breathing silence neither
Moved nor was still.

I have seen stones: I have seen brick
But this house was made up of neither bricks nor stone
But a house of flesh and blood
With flesh of stone

And bricks for blood. A house
Of stones and blood in breathing silence with the other
Birds singing crazy on its chimneys.
But this was silence,

This was something else, this was
Hearing and speaking though he was a house drawn
Into silence, this was
Something religious in his silence,

Something shining in his quiet,
This was different this was altogether something else;
Though he never spoke, this
Was something to do with death.

And then slowly the eye stopped looking
Inward. The silence rose and became still.
The look turned to the outer place and stopped.
With the birds still shrilling around him.
And as if he could speak

He turned over on his side with his one year
Red as a wound
He turned over as if he could be sorry for this
And out of his eyes two great tears rolled, like stones,
And he died.

The last line made me gasp. The pace and the punctuation express the anguish felt. It is so powerful. It reminded me of the heart wrenching song by Patty Griffin 'Goodbye' . The song makes me cry when I listen to Patty while driving, it may be the end of me. I am learning to play the guitar and 'Goodbye is the one song I am aspiring towards playing well before the end of the year.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

This is the beginning and please excuse my spelling

This is a new venture for me but I had to do something to fill the drained well of my creativity after finishing my novel Torque. The end came two weeks ago when the last dots and dashes were done. Long hours of printing were followed by trips to the post office, armed with heavy brown padded envelopes. Now I'll sit back and wait - for the rejections. Well, that's what all the writing gurus tell you to expect.

I saw one such Guru on Friday. Alan Warner, author of Morven Caller, The Sopranos and other fine Scottish tales, has helped set up The Long Lunch Press. Their launch, on Friday at the WordPower book shop in Edinburgh, was an entertaining event. The aim of the press is to pair well know authors with talented unpublished newcomers. Alan reiterated what I have been hearing for years - that publishers are so risk averse, it is almost impossible for unsigned writers to get books deals.

Long Lunch have twinned Irvine Welsh with Richard Todd and James Meek is teamed up with Elizabeth Reeder in an attempt to jump start some positive action on behalf of unknowns. Both aspiring authors read at the event . Poor Richard was shaking so much I wanted to jump up an hold his script for him. I hope the organisers give him a podium to rest his pages at the next event. One thing is for sure, if these talent writers can't find takers, what hope is there for mediocre writers.