Day #11643: Goodreads

The End of the StoryThe End of the Story by Lydia Davis

This novel is more about the narrator’s process of organising thought than about the actual plot – which is very simple, lacking in drama and barely worth mentioning in this review. This makes The End Of The Story difficult to write about.

Whilst telling the story, Lydia Davis – as author, narrator, protaganist (the lines blur) – is also considering and discussing the best way to tell the story, telling us how difficult the story was to write and also about other pieces she is working on at the same time. The narrative is broken down in to parts and every motive, every memory, every piece of reason is questioned and examined. The protaganist does ill-advised things and then critiques her decisions, the narrator wonders whether she is remembering things correctly.

It is sometimes difficult, exhausting, boring, brilliant…

We start at the end of the story, loop back to the beginning, wander around the plot’s timeline and then finish at the end… hence ‘The End Of The Story’. But the title has a double meaning in that by the end of the novel, the story Lydia Davis is telling has been so completely deconstructed it does not seem it would be possible to put it back together again.

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Crumbs: Mint Choc Flavour Crunch Creams

Digestive Press is a blog whose fate has always been intertwined with that of the humble biscuit – it’s in the name, it’s in the header and, back at the beginning, I was even in the habit of posting ‘biscuit journalism’.  These posts remain, a little depressingly, amongst my most read.  WordPress advises me to, “consider writing about those topics again.”

I had no particular plans to follow their suggestion until this week when it came to my attention that there was a new biscuit on the market.  This new biscuit was of course the Mint Choc Flavour Crunch Cream, a new addition to the Crunch Cream stable and what appears to be a close cousin of the Minteorite (my own prototype attempt to fill a gap in the market, another project that coincided with the early days of the blog).

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So, after waiting so long for a biscuit like this, what is the verdict?  Well, what we have here is a very tasty biscuit, you could call it a predictably tasty biscuit given the commendable consistency of the Crunch Cream.  I would say it is just about minty enough – neither too weak (like the recent tepid ‘mint’ KitKat) nor too overpowering (like a mint imperial (where the overpowering is the point).

Given the tried-and-tested texture of the Crunch Cream (honestly, they’re not paying me to write this), it seems that it has been relatively simple for them to inject a little mintiness, which makes one wonder why they haven’t done this sooner, and why even now these are only ‘limited edition’ (does this mean, they’re going to stop making them, unless we buy LOTS of packets?  Are they basically holding us to ransom?)

I don’t really have much more to write here – I seem to have discovered there’s only so many words you can spend describing a biscuit.  Still, WordPress might be pleased I took them up on their advice, and it was fun to return to the blog’s biscuitty roots, however briefly.

Day #11247

I can’t remember if I’ve ever written this out loud before or just included it as a habit of a character in some story, but when I’m out buying groceries and suchlike, I always look to see what the people around me are buying.  Often the items they have picked up make for strange combinations (the other day I queued behind a couple who were buying six litres of vodka to only two packets of wafer-thin ham (one smoked, one not)) (once I myself reached the checkout with milk, a pineapple and some batteries (my own finest shopping moment)).

Even better is when I happen to find a shopping list – usually on the floor or still attached to a trolley.  I’ve started a bit of a collection.  Since not much else is happening right now, I thought I would share it with you.

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a:  I like that the first two things this shopper thought of when they sat down to make their list were Grapes and Dog Poo Bags (I also like the way they have written ‘Dog Poo’ quite small and then ‘Bags’ much bigger, as if they felt they shouldn’t say ‘Dog Poo’ so loud, even on their own shopping list).  This list was found in December and suggests someone who had good intentions to document their 2014, but then as the year drew to a close decided they should at least make some use of their diary.

b:  On this one, I like the confidence with which a type of cake has been decided upon – Battenburg, for sure.  More drink, apart from making me think of Father Ted, is a brilliant instruction and makes me wonder whether the next week’s list included Even more drink?  Then a space, and tacked on the end, as if they are perhaps staple items that the list’s creator(s) stock up on every week – Jam, Bacon, Milk.

c:  This one actually had a list of tasks on the flip side – including getting the shopping.  And, for the most part this is quite a practical, organised list – Cotton Buds, a Card, Spray Oil (or, if not, Oil – let’s make sure we have a contingency).  But as it gets further down the page (well, post-it note), it unravels slightly… Biscuits (any will do), Choc (again, no more detail, not even the full word)… Soda and Whisky.

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d:  This one was a teeny-tiny list, one of those really wee post-its that are about the size of a Creme Egg (just measuring with whatever is handy) (are those post-it notes actually a proper paper size, like A8 or A9 or something?  Answers on a post-it note).  It’s clearly the list of someone very healthy – or at least someone who has intentions of being very healthy. 

e:  And this is another healthy one – more Blueberries (hope the shop is well stocked!).  This list has weirdly been written in the bottom right hand corner of a piece of paper, which suggests that some sort of psychological analysis would turn up something juicy.  I also initially misread the last item as Ears.  I assume it’s actually Pears and not Peas, unless they’ve got confused and started the list again.

f:  This one is quite difficult to read – and huge as well.  This shopper is really hedging their bets –  I mean, how are they going to know what to get from that?  It suggests someone manically scrawling a list as they head out – a last minute mishmash of vague Fruit, barelyconsidered Sausages, eleventh-hour Mouthwash and whatever it is they’ve written under Coffee there.  A shambles.  F-.

g:  From one extreme to another.  Very neat handwriting, seemingly precise, but actually completely illogical.  3 Grapefruit, 3 Bananas (which I’m sure normally come in bunches of >3), but how many Eggs?  Surely eggs are the classic ‘write down a quantity’ item of shopping?!?!  Madness.

h:  And finally… this is probably the most boring list in my collection actually.  I should have kept a more interesting one back so that I could end on a high.  Well… I’d like to think that this shopper actually went completely off script once they were actually there, and came back with all kinds of strange goodies.  There, that’s excitement for you. 

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Essentially, my collection of abandoned shopping lists tell me what people planned but not what actually happened.  Nevertheless, I find the idiosyncracies of strangers’ shopping lists oddly compelling in their structure and content.  But there’s something else I like about my collection…

In the information age, data is valuable – supermarkets use club cards to track our shopping habits, rewarding us with magical points when we agree to provide them with this information.

And if my collection of shopping lists represents anything, it is a gloriously pointless inversion of this practice, a personal, unscientific and completely profitless method of harvesting unreliable data that ultimately has no use.  Except that, in some small way, it makes me happy.

Day # 10228

Ain’t No Email Postmen (A Blog About Envelopes)

Item #1 – A Short, Fictitious History Of The Envelope By Way Of Introduction: Since well before the sixth century, the circulation of human correspondence in folded paper constructs known as envelopes has contributed to the continuing orbit of the planet Earth around the sun – indeed, before the industrial revolution and the introduction of steam-based technology, we were almost entirely reliant on postal movements to get us around the sun on a yearly basis. Now, thanks to numerous other worldly developments, envelope-passing is no longer needed for this purpose, though it does continue. In some places it has become an artistic form with a number of new ideas being applied to the design and decoration of the humble envelope. And, as always, change continues to happen – scientists predict that in the future it will be possible for humans to send post to each other without use of physical envelopes by using computers instead, and mind-to-mind mail transfers cannot be far away either. But whatever happens you can be sure that a glimpse of an envelope will remain a sight to quicken the human pulse, and that the internationally-recognisable symbol for an envelope – whether used in conjunction to physical or non-physical post – will serve as a symbol of the visceral thrill of post, and a reminder of our humble beginnings.

Item #2 – Envelopes, A Puzzling Journey Through The Royal Mail by Harriet Russell (Book Review):  There are not, that I know of, a whole lot of books about envelopes. Therefore, I am going to go ahead and arbitrarily proclaim Harriet Russell’s ‘Envelopes’ as the best (um, that I know about, and have read). It is a thrilling stormer of a biography, charting each and every fold in the production of an envelope, every lick and stick of it’s envelopey life and a thrilling hare-brained tumble through every step of the postal service and then the recycling process.  Not really! Ha, um, yes. No. It’s better (even) than that. Harriet Russel is an artist who seems to be incapable of addressing an envelope in a straightforward manner and this beautifully put together book collects some of the examples of her work as she set about her project to stretch the boundaries of what will find its way through the postal system, and testing the wits and inadvertently enriching the lives of some of their employees on the way.  She delights in taking something straightforward and functional and turning it into something interesting – her post may have taken longer to sort but each envelope is a miniature work of art itself.  Some examples include an envelope in which the address is hidden in crossword clues which needed to be solved before it can be delivered and one which features just the postcode and a drawing of the house to which it is supposed to be delivered.  One of my favourites is an envelope sent from New York to London, covered in a comic strip in which the sender tries to persuade a NY taxi driver to drive to London to deliver the post.

Item #3 – Grow Your Own:  Unlike Ms Russell, I wasn’t clever enough to think of more mischievous ways to address post (though I did do a few experiments, posting chocolate bars with addresses written on the front and letters with limerick-style instructions for the postman) but a few years ago I received a homemade envelope from a friend and decided to pick it apart and learn how to make them myself.  I built a template out of a cereal box and got obsessed with making my own envelopes (see illustration).  Ok, it doesn’t sound like the most interesting hobby and it’s difficult to rationalise it and explain why I enjoy it so much – it’s repetitive and as such takes minimal brainpower, and at the end of it you have some interesting envelopes.  I now have far more envelopes than I could ever need to use, they just pile up everywhere and I have to make things like this just to stop it getting ridiculous.  All you need is some tools (scissors, pencil, bonefolder (and once you start folding things with a bonefolder you won’t want to go back to folding things without)) and some ingredients (slimline double-sided tape, paper (the more interesting the better, usually pictures which are at least A4 in size – full page illustrations in magazines are good (food magazines always make for tasty envelopes, though paper from newspaper magazines can be a bit too flimsy), old calendars are good (big pictures and sturdy material)) and you are away (I could try and explain exactly how to make them, put it would probably come out confusingly, and anyway it’s more fun to try and work it out yourself).  Hours of very quietly exhilerating fun await.

Day #10047

The Toasted Sandwich Handbook, Part Two (Man v. Toastie – Four New Toasties In One Week)

Monday 3rd October:   Jarlsberg and Potato Waffle.  I love Jarlsberg.  It is probably my favourite cheese.  I had a think about what I could use with it to make a super-tasty toastie and decided that it might be interesting to see if it was possible to incorporate a potato waffle into such a sandwich.  This recipe is a little more involved than most toastie recipies as it involves grilling the potato waffle before assembling the toastie.  Once the waffles were done I cut slices of Jarlsberg and assembled two rather fat sandwiches.  This was a slight problem as the toastie maker had to be persuaded quite forcefully to shut.  But I was happy with what emerged after five minutes toasting – something I can only describe as being a bit like a cheese and potato pie, a kind of budget potato pie perhaps.  I was satisfied with this toastie and will make it again.  Thumbs up!

Tuesday 4th October:  Spring Onion, Honey and Cheshire Cheese.  Credit for this one must go to Rach who suggested we made toasties of the ingredients above in order to use up some spring onions we had left over.  Apparently Cheshire was the best cheese to use with these ingredients – I don’t know why!  It worked though so I have no complaints.  There were meant to be pine nuts as well but they had disappeared from the cupboard.  The honey was also Rach’s suggestion, though it may have been because I always want to put honey in savoury dishes.  Anyway, this made it very sweet in a nice way.  The spring onions gave it some crunch too.  Thumbs up!  Nb:  It should be noted that as this was a teatime toastie, as opposed to a lunchtime toastie, I prepared a salad to go with it.  The fact that I now serve salad with toasted sandwiches is the surest evidence I have so far that I am actually growing up.

Wednesday 5th October:  Jarlsberg, Apple and Raisin.  I had some Jarlsberg left from Monday and there were some apples and some raisins around.  What could go wrong?  I cut slices of Jarlsberg and slices of apple and then hid raisins in and around them.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t pleased with what came out.  It was not that this was a bad toastie, it just didn’t really taste of much – it had no punch, nothing to make it stand out from the crowd (of toasties).  This was not good enough.

Wednesday 5th October: Bacon, Peas and Wensleydale with Stem Ginger:  Annoyed at myself for the casual ineptitude which blighted my lunchtime toastie, I decided to try and redeem myself at teatime.  I needed a big ingredient to make this a good toastie and decided that (as is so often the case) bacon was the answer.  Not only this, I then did some research.  If I was going to come up with a new hit I needed to take this more seriously and so I reached for The Flavour Thesaurus and searched through the list of foods it suggested would complement bacon.  Some were things I didn’t like, whilst others would not work in the context of a toastie.  I settled on peas.  I suppose I liked the idea that it might be a bit like ham and pea soup… with cheese.

I thought it might be good to get some soft cheese so that I would have something to stick the peas in (so they did not just roll away) but ended up coming away from the cheese aisle of the supermarket with some Wensleydale with bits of ginger in.  How did that happen?  I spent about five minutes picking up cheeses and putting them back as I changed my mind and then in one mad moment I had swooped on the aforementioned Wensleydale with ginger, and that was it.

Back in the kitchen I grilled the bacon and arranged slices of cheese and frozen peas, pressing the peas into the cheese to stop them rolling away (somewhat less successfully than if I had got a soft cheese).  I lay the bacon on top and brought down the lid of the toastie maker.  I was pleased with the results – the bacon was good, the ginger in the cheese gave it an interesting kick and I don’t think I have ever tasted toasted peas before, so that was nice.  The spread of bacon and peas was somewhat inconsistent but at its best it did taste like a gingery ham and pea soup.  Thumbs up!

Conclusion:  It’s been a busy week and there have been some good discoveries as well as some disappointments.  I would suggest that if you try only one of the above, go for the potato waffle and cheese toastie.  Until next time, keep on toastie-ing!

Day #9847

The Toasted Sandwich Handbook, Part One

I had been out of the game for a good long while.  But last Wednesday night I got out our new second-hand toastie maker and gave it a spin (not literally).

Section One (Enthusiasm & Nostalgia):  “The first thing that came back to me on re-entering the toastie sphere was the smell.  Obviously, this was after I had plugged in the toastie machine, performed pre-assembly and assembly on my sandwiches and popped them in the machine.  But the smell, the same smell no matter what kind of toastie you are making, is unique…  When I was little, toasted sanwiches (ham and cheese) meant that it was Sunday night, that I had had a bath and that Dr Who was on the telly (if I remember it right)…  Years later they were a staple foodstuff whilst I was at University (cheese with Uncle Ben’s sweet and sour sauce) and in the first house I lived in in Manchester I armed myself with a camera and a load of ingredients and set out to make a toasted sandwich recipe book that I never finished.  It included a creme egg toastie (which I did make) and a Christmas dinner one (which I never got round to)…  Now, in our own flat, the smell is the same as the toastie sizzles and the smoke rises from the machine.  As a nod to the passing years and some kind of growing up I make what I call ‘A Toastie Supper’ which is a toastie (cashew, pesto and cheese) with a salad at the side (rocket, pepper, apple, more cashews)…  And then you bite in to them, cautiously at first – contents may be hot, ingredients may have moved in transit…  The taste, that basic toastie taste always seems to be a happy constant, no matter the ingredients – almost as if the toastie machine itself (no, all toastie machines themselves) have this same power to infuse any sandwich with that special toastie umami…  Nibble first around the edges… I always like the bit where errant cheese may have bubbled and seeped out of the side and then cooked and fused into a hardened yellow crust like escaped lava…  Which reminds me of the most dangerous toastie experience I have ever had.  The most dangerous toastie experience I have ever had was a foolhardy purchase of a baked bean toastie from a shop in Ramsbottom.  The toastie came in a paper bag, and as any experienced toastie eater will tell you if you’re tackling that kind of heat you need to have a plate and possibly a knife and fork handy…  But I escaped without burning myself and retained my love of toasties, which I will continue to write about on another day…”

Section Two (Instructions):  “A brief description of how to make a cheese, pesto and cashew nut toastie followed by a summary of its delights…  Take two slices of bread and butter on the outsides (as per usual), cut thin slices of cheese (standard cheddar or whatever you have in the fridge, nothing too soft or distinctive) and place them on the other side of the bread.  Now chop cashew nuts (plain, not roasted or salted) in half and place them across the cheese in a pattern of your choice.  Glob pesto across, but not too much.  Place in the toastie maker and allow to cook until such time as it is cooked…  I have always found that general advice with regards handling toastie machines is to do so with caution but I believe that the best way to approach a toastie machine is firmly, safely and with respect.  You may have to wrestle your sandwich from the machine but if you spend some time with it and build up a good understanding, you will come away unharmed…  Anyway… Since inventing this toastie I have made it for a number of people, all of whom have praised it (they may just have been being nice).  Here is a selection of comments:  “It tastes a bit like ravioli,” Rach.  I find that the pesto melts nicely into the cheese and the cashew nuts add a bit of crunch to the toastie experience… Try it for yourself and you’ll see.”

Day #9568

Seen & Heard (All True! Not Fiction!  What?!)

On a recent trip to Manchester I came across a new shop in Afflecks Palace, a strange shop built out of windows and full of self-published books, homemade comics, t-shirts and even some casette tapes.  There was stuff stuck everywhere on the walls and windows, shelves and tables covered in more things – all made by artists and writers who have decided to do it all themselves.  I was in Good Grief! It was good to see that so many people were putting all that work in and heartening to see that they all wanted to keep control of their projects through to see the end product and to get it out there themselves.  And of course I am always happy to see things made, photocopied and knotted together with string.  I bought a few things – including Rob Jackson’s Pasty Anthology (below) – but would have bought far more if I had limitless time and funds.  If you’re in the neighbourhood I would strongly advise popping in to have a good look around.

On the same trip we ventured to Manchester University to see our favourite brummies Misty’s Big Adventure play (I think this was my fourteenth time).  They presented ‘psychadelic legend’ Brute Force who delighted and bemused in equal measure.  I am hopeless at writing about music so I won’t describe further but will say that I am very much looking forward to hearing Misty’s forthcoming album ‘The Family Amusement Centre’ which is now apparently complete and being prepared for release.  It is nearly two years since Misty’s released their last album proper, though they did release their third grumpy fun album, ‘Grumpiest Fun’ in December of last year.

Thomas Truax, our favourite wandering Wowtown troubador, financed his new album ‘Sonic Dreamer,’ through the Pledge Music website.  It allowed him to offer his fans a chance to buy his new record in a variety of formats, at different prices, and allowed him to finance its release through their pledges.  It seems like a good system.  I received my signed copy in the post last week but have not had chance to give it ample attention to write a review yet.  Here is the video for his single ‘It’s All Happening Now.’

Back here in Guernsey let me tell you about a great artist going by the name of Hugh Rose.  He creates hypnotic, spacey, cyberdubby works inspired by science fiction, delusions, zoos perhaps.  He does a lot of work with and on wood but has also branched off into customising toys and transport, I think he just likes to draw on anything so if you see him do not stay sitting in one place for too long.  Below is his interpretation of the Moustachioed Gent.And finally here are some of my favourite blogs on the internet.  Don Kenn Gallery showcases one man’s enthusiasm for drawing slightly gothic monster scenarios on post-it notes.  I have followed Polar Bear Is Dying for a while now – a rambling blog of strange drawings and ocassional tales punctuated by pictures of cakes in Japan, all centred around the Orange Cafe.

Crumbs: Cobo Tea Rooms

016It has recently come to my attention that Cobo Tea Rooms is one of the best places to eat cake in Guernsey as recently I have sampled more than my fair share of their delicious creations.  They specialise in quantity and quality with much of their offerings being presented in the good old-fashioned ‘slab’ style.  I’m still making my way through the delicious bakewell pictured, it being the ‘War And Peace’ of individual Bakewell tarts.  I was also thrilled that it came to take away in the style usually reserved for late-night burgers or chips, which seemed to offer a tantilising glimpse of a utopian cake future.  We shall see.