wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
We had an early start, but not horrifically so. It was my first time travelling on the Eurostar, and it was lovely, with comfy seats and tasty food, but even more pleasant was the Thalys train from Brussels to Amsterdam. On arrival at the station we picked up an iamsterdam card which gets us travel and free/reduced entry into lots of museums and such, then took the tram to our hotel. The room is perhaps a little on the small side, but pleasant, and the bed is comfortable, which is the important thing.

We deliberately didn’t plan anything but unpacking and decompressing for this afternoon, which was the right call, as after all that travelling we were both feeling rather in need of a nap. We woke up around dinner time, and then went out for sushi (possibly an odd choice, but our first meal on our first holiday together in Prague was also sushi, so it seemed auspicious). It certainly wasn’t a bad choice - the sashimi was beautifully presented and very fresh, and the rice texture was spot on. My high point was either the scallop sashimi with tobiko, or the raw beef, avocado and cucumber roll, which was subtle and gorgeous.

After dinner [personal profile] obandsoller was feeling quite tired, so we came back to the hotel, and although my intention was to drop him off and then go for a stroll around the nearby Oosterpark, I ended up getting eaten by the inertia monster until it got dark, so that will have to wait until tomorrow.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I decided that since we’d be leaving quite early on Saturday morning and had guests for dinner on Friday that it would be sensible to take an extra day off work so I didn’t have to pack in a frantic hurry. Obviously I then proceeded to plan an unnecessarily ambitious meal and fill the day from start to finish with Events, so had to pack in a rush on Thursday night instead… I got up fairly early and went for a run which finished at church. Somewhat to my surprise I found that the gates were locked, but I wasn’t foiled and managed to scale the wall and get in anyway (once past the wall the rest of the break-in was facilitated by the clever trick of having keys). I dropped off the cheques I needed signatures on, and spent a while trying to get the ancient (running Vista!) laptop working, as I’m hoping to get the people who count the collection to enter the figures directly into a spreadsheet rather than writing them down, to save me some data entry. I didn’t quite manage to get it working, but I did get a bit of organ practice inbetween interminably slow reboots…

I took the bus rather than running home, and picked up a last couple of missing ingredients, then began prepping the beetroot three ways (boiled and diced, roasted with balsamic vinegar, and finely sliced then deep fried, then baked) for the starter, and the venison meatballs for the main course. Naturally that took a little longer than expected, and I was a few minutes late out the door to head to [personal profile] charlie’s for lunch. They’d gotten out of hospital a couple of days ago, and were still a little fragile, but seemed massively happier than the last couple of times I’ve seen them, which was very pleasing to see.

I then had another session with the physio I saw a couple of weeks ago. After the first session I was absolutely amazed by how much difference he made to my back - I’d had a couple of days completely tension-free for the first time in months, and even after it started to creep back in, it was definitely less intrusive than it has been. This time he suggested trying acupuncture, which I’m quite sceptical of, but given his previous results I figured I’d give it a go. I’m still feeling kind of sceptical afterwards, but I’ll give it another couple of days to see how it feels then, and probably ask him to stick with the kinds of treatment he did from my first session in future.

Then home again, and more cooking until Stephani (winodw) and her newish partner Matthew arrived. I started with a failure, as she asked for a repeat of a cocktail I’d made her once before, but although we had all the relevant booze we were lacking apple juice. Oops. Still, we managed to find them something to drink, and I was pretty pleased with how the food came out. The new fella was quiet but charming, and they were adorkably coupley, which brought back fond memories of what Ramesh & I were like when we first got back together.
wildeabandon: Champage bottle and flutes (champagne)
Today is my last day at work before my holiday, and rather unexpectedly my team just came in and gave me an early birthday present (and sang at me). They got me a very goth card, a bread & cakes recipe book, and theatre tokens. Considering that I'm a temp and I've only been here for three months, I'm awfully pleased and surprised that they bothered at all, but especially that they seem to have got the measure of me quite so spot on. Lovely team :)
wildeabandon: A London skyline (London)
My church runs a soup kitchen every Tuesday evening to support the homeless and those in food poverty in the area. We're looking for volunteers to oversee the project about once every six weeks. The church is about 5 minutes walk from Finsbury Park station, so easy to get to from anywhere on the Victoria or Piccadilly lines. More details are here if you're at all interested, and if not but you know people who might be then I'd appreciate you pointing them there or here.
wildeabandon: sushi (sushi)
It's all gone a bit hectic. Definitely in a fun way, but at some point I should probably schedule some quiet nights in...

I mentioned last month ago that I was trying climbing again, and since then I've been going most weeks. So far I'm making fairly measurable progress in terms of each time getting up a route, or at least further up a route, that I got stuck on the previous week. I was particularly pleased because one of those routes hadn't been graded the first time I tried it, and when I came back to it the following week it turned out to be three grades higher than anything I'd successfully climbed before (I still didn't quite make it to the top, but I got past the move I was stuck on, and I'm fairly confident that I'm going to make it to the top tomorrow).

I've been swimming a bit as well, both on my own and with [personal profile] sfred. The funny thing about swimming compared to most other forms of exercise that I do is that whilst I'm doing it it feels as though I'm going fairly gently and not working very hard, and then I get out of the pool and all my muscles go "gosh, that was bracing!". I think it's a combination of the water softening the impact of the motion, and feeling as though the only reason ones breathing is constricted is because of being underwater half the time, rather than from the exertion, and as Fred pointed out, not noticing that you're sweating, because it gets washed straight off.

I had my first singing lesson in ages last week, to get in a bit of improvement before choir starts in September. I'd forgotten how physical singing is when you're doing it right - I think my core muscles were getting more of a workout then than from the climbing!

I've also been enjoying various dinners. Last month I went to Morito with [personal profile] borusa and a couple of weeks ago I went with my sister to the Barbary to celebrate her birthday. They both do Middle Eastern/North African small plates on barstools overlooking the kitchen. Both were very good, and in both cases the aubergine thing was the high point of the meal. On that comparison Morito comes out on top, because their deep fried aubergine with date molasses and goat's curd was so delicious that I ordered a second plate of it instead of pudding. The crisp batter/melty soft aubergine texture contrast was heavenly, and the curd was light and fluffy but with a warm richness just made to be cut through by the sweet/sharp molasses.

Last weekend had more delicious food. On the Friday [personal profile] hjdoom was in town, so I had the fun challenge of finding somewhere good for a coeliac vegan to eat. We went for Itadaki Zen, the vegan Japanese place near Kings Cross, which is always fantastic. We had a mixture of small dishes to start, with lots of crunchy textures and umamish seasonings and sauces, then six pieces of sushi, all exquisite. My main was decent, but Oliver's tempura really won the day. I was especially excited by the vine leaf and the seaweed. On Saturday Ramesh & I went out for a very (very!) belated celebration of our anniversary to St Moritz. We ate all the cheese. And then we ate all the chocolate as well, because why not. I didn't think the fondue was quite as good as the late lamented L'art du fromage, but it was still basically giant pile of cheese, so hard to complain too much. On Sunday I'd invited Beryl, one of the St John's grandames, over for lunch, and then delegated the cooking to [personal profile] robert_jones, who did us proud with a lovely summery pea and basil soup, roast lamb that was just perfectly tender, and strawberries in balsamic syrup.

Tonight I'm dining with [personal profile] borusa again at Rok, and planning a dinner on Friday, when I've got the day off work so can pull the stops out a little bit. Then next week Ramesh & I are off to Amsterdam, where cultural and culinary delights various await us.

Squeee!

Jul. 9th, 2017 09:34 am
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
So I guess the high point of my weekend was being on stage with this charming gentleman...



Read more... )
wildeabandon: (books)
Gosh, I've not done one of these for a while...

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla
This is a series of essays about the experience of being an ethnic minority in the UK. A lot of the ideas were things I'd encountered before, but all presented thoughtfully and engagingly, so it would be a really good starting point for someone who hadn't thought much about race relations to introduce themselves to some of the common ideas and experiences. But there was also a lot that was new to me. Thoughts about representation and tokenism in popular media, about the relationships between generations with different levels of integration, about colourism and casteism, and about the impact on ethnic minority children of growing up learning that stories are about white people.

Seed to Harvest (Wild Seed, Mind of my Mind, Clay's Ark & Patternmaster) by Octavia Butler
This is a collection of four of the five Patternist novels (the fifth is set in the same universe, but I understand doesn't include any of the same characters, and is disliked by the author). These are all exciting and easy to read novels, but other than that and the plot thread that runs between them, they have surprisingly little in common. Wild Seed is alt-history, Mind of my Mind is a near future story about psychic mutants, Clay's Ark is gritty apocalyptic stuff, and Patternmaster is in a distant future that feels more like fantasy than sf. They're all great though - lighter than Kindred, but still packed with ideas about society and hierarchy.

Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe
This book has a phenomenal amount of detail about the anatomy involved in five major lifts - the squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press, and power clean. A fairly tedious read, but one which I hope will make me less likely to injure myself.

Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity by Fr James Martin SJ
I really like Fr James Martin, and his "The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything" is one of the best books about life and religion that I've ever read. This is a short book in two parts; first an essay based on a talk about how the Church hierarchy and LGBT Catholics can heal the divide between the two groups, and secondly a series of suggestions of bible passages and questions that LGBT Catholics and their allies might find useful in prayer and reflection. I liked the essay, although more because it echoed a lot of my own thoughts back at me than because I learned much from it. I think that the more traditionalist members of the church could benefit a lot from reading it and taking it to heart. I think that most LGBT people, especially those who aren't Catholic, would find the suggestion that they too need to show respect, compassion and sensitivity towards those in the hierarchy who have hurt and oppressed them quite frustrating. I have a lot of sympathy with that, but ultimately I think that Fr Martin is correct, both because we are called to love all our neighbours, not just those whom it's easy to love, and because I don't think we will see change any other way.
wildeabandon: musical notes on a stave (music)
Apparently it's the time of year for reviving old hobbies. I recently got to the top of the waiting list to join the London Gay Men's Chorus, so I'm going to be starting rehearsals with them in September. I'm a bit nervous about this, because singing in public is scary, but also really excited. I'm switching my piano lessons to singing ones for the time being, which should help with the nerves, and having external things to practice for will hopefully mean that I'm a more assiduous student than the last time.

Yesterday I also went climbing for the first time in years. I used to climb quite a bit when I was a teenager, and then about five years ago I tried going with [personal profile] emperor as a day trip from Ardgour, and found it depressingly difficult. Since then my strength to weight ratio has improved significantly, so last night I had a much easier time hauling myself off the ground. I was still distinctly conscious that the kind of strength you need in order to lift a heavy thing and then lower it five times before putting it down and having a break to recover is quite different from the kind of sustained effort you need to put in climbing a wall. I started with what was probably the easiest route on the wall, and then gradually increased in difficulty until I found a couple of routes that I made it up but just barely, and a couple more that I couldn't manage, but which are now on my target list for next time.
wildeabandon: "If God had intended for people to be bisexual he would have created two sexes.... Oh." (bi)
I have said from time to time that although I have very little time for the idea that Christians in the West are somehow oppressed, I personally, in the circles I move in, am far more likely to be attacked for my faith than for my queerness. On reflection, I’m not sure whether that’s entirely true, or if it’s just that I’m more likely to feel attacked for my faith than for my queerness. (Please don't read this as being sure that it is false)

In the immediate aftermath of Tim’s resignation I started to feel defensive even before I saw any reactions, guessing what would be coming. And when I saw those reactions I got more so, and started poring over his letter, desperately looking for an interpretation that would mean that in his heartfelt prayers he didn’t believe my relationships were inherently sinful. I could have found it, could still find it, but somewhere along the line it became clear to me that although it was there, it was far from the most natural reading of the text, and why was I so desperate to find it?

I feel more attacked for my Christianity than for my queerness, but I think that might be a function of my expectations. When I get half-hearted support of my right to love those I love, to marry my partner, to be who I am, I compare it to the outright denial and bigotry that still exists in so much of the world outside my little bubble. When I see Pope Francis continuing to support the idea that gay men are unsuitable for the priesthood, I compare him to Pope Benedict, and make excuses for him.

Being a queer Christian is hard. I have very little time for the idea that Christians in the West are somehow oppressed, and acknowledge that the fact that I still can't get married is the fault of the church and not atheist queers. But I still can't get married, and it is an injustice that I suffer as much because I'm a Christian as because I'm queer.

There are readings of the bible in which loving sexual relationships between men are not sinful, but they are not the most natural reading of the text. There's an interpretation of Tim's resignation letter where in his heartfelt prayers he doesn't believe my relationships are inherently sinful. Why do you think I was so desperate to find it?

On a political level I entirely agree with the argument that what matters is how a politician votes, and what they campaign on, and on that measure Tim's record has been excellent. On a personal level though, I care very much about whether my relationships are actually sinful. I don't believe they are, but I am not as confident in that belief as I would perhaps like to be.

I am uncomfortable sitting with this uncertainty, and that discomfort is relieved when I allow myself to believe that my view is (or is becoming) the dominant one, and that views of same-sex relationships as inherently sinful are fading away. But I don't want to allow myself to believe comfortable falsehoods. I want to be able to hold in my mind the belief that Pope Francis can be less homophobic than his predecessor, and still think that my relationships are sinful, and be wrong. All three at the same time. I want to be able to hold that Tim Farron can be admirable for separating his private beliefs and political actions, and still think that my relationships are sinful, and be wrong.

I am uncomfortable sitting with this uncertainty, but I am going to try to stop making myself more comfortable by pretending that there is more support for my relationships from other Christians than there actually is, and maybe if I do that, I will find it easier not to feel personally attacked when other Christians are critiqued for their homophobia.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
+ UKIP vote absolutely through the floor, and they have no MPs again.
- That pillock who used to lead them is still getting screentime.
+ Diane Abbott (another person with whom I disagree politically but have a lot of respect for as a person) was re-elected with a significantly increased majority, despite the media attacking her disproportionately for reasons which totally have nothing to do with misogynoir
- Zac sodding Goldsmith winning Richmond
+ Mhairi Black and Caroline Lucas both retained their seats (the latter with a considerably improved majority)
- A depressing amount of my twitter feed is Labour & Lib Dems snipping at one another for not voting tactically, and both parties claiming that they did so and the others didn't.
+ More female Lib Dems, including a woman of Palestinian descent. More female MPs in general. New BAME MPs and openly disabled MPs (although I'm not sure about numbers, I would guess they've probably gone up as well)
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I've been up all night, which could make for an interesting day at work, but at least I've been drinking coke rather than wine. I'm not quite sure how I feel right now. Obviously I'm pleased about the LD gains (especially Jo Swinson and Vince Cable), and the Tory losses. And although I disagree with a lot of Corbyn's political stances, I admire him as a person, and the generally positive style of his campaigning. And I'm really pleased that, along with the French Presidential election, it seems like we might be seeing an end to the lurch to the right that we've been seeing across the West in the last few years.

On the other hand, I'm sad to see such a bit swing away from us in Cambridge, especially as I rate Julian Huppert highly as an individual, and I'll be very disappointed if Zac Goldsmith sneaks back in to Richmond Park (ETA. Arse. 43 votes ffs.) But most of all, I'm deeply nervous about what a minority Tory government backed by the DUP will be like, both in terms of the Brexit that it will deliver, and the sort of social and austerity policies it might pursue.

On the third hand, there was another vote in Scotland yesterday that I'm unequivocally pleased about, as that's a much shorter distance to go for a sacramental marriage than Canada.
wildeabandon: A gin bottle and martini glass (gin)
One of the things I miss most about drinking is discovering delicious cocktails. Of course, non-alcoholic cocktails exist, and some of them are very nice, but a lot of them have the failure mode of basically tasting like a mixture of fruit juices, maybe with a hint of ginger or mint if you’re lucky. Don’t get me wrong, I like interesting fruit juice mixes, but they don’t feel like a cocktail.

Recently however, I acquired a couple of bottles of Seedlip, alcohol-free copper pot distilled “spirits”. There are two varieties with different selections of botanical. The first, Spice, has notes of allspice, cardamom, citrus fruits, and is quite similar to Opihr. The second, Garden, has notes of herbs, grass, and pea, and whilst I’m not aware of anything as similar as the Spice/Opihr comparison, there’s something a little Hendricks-like about it. Both of them make a pretty decent G&T. Spice goes well with a standard tonic and a dash of bitters, and Garden is lovely with Double Dutch Pomegranate and Basil.

In addition, the Seedlip website has a couple of downloadable booklets of cocktail recipes (Spice, Garden) which I’ve been working my way through. A lot of them call for ‘shrubs’ - a mixture of sugar, vinegar, and fruit. This may sound a little odd, but I find that it adds quite an interesting note, and really helps steer well clear of any “this just tastes like fruit juice” potential.

I really liked the Garden Sour (Seedlip Garden, apple juice, lemon juice, cider vinegar, sugar, and egg white) although did reduce the vinegar from 5ml to 2. I wasn’t entirely sold on the Peas and Quiet (Seedlip Garden, mange tout and fennel shrub). The Watermelon & Basil Sour was alright, but a little bit watery, so I think I might need a better shrub recipe. Of the spice cocktails, the Pennsylvania Dutch and the Persica (Seedlip Spice with raspberry or peach shrub respectively) were amazing. The Seedlip Switchel (Seedlip Spice, pineapple & ginger shrub & soda) and the Eliza Cholmondeley (Seedlip Spice, marmalade, & soda) were both pleasant and refreshing, but I think would be improved by substituting ginger beer or lemonade for the soda. The Spice Sour was pretty good, but not as good as the Garden, and sadly the “Martini” didn’t really work at all. I think that short drinks with these bases need something fairly powerful to stand up to the intensity of the spirit, and the brine/verjus combination wasn’t doing it. I also tried making a conventional dry martini using vermouth, but it had the same problem. Possibly a sweet one might work, but by that point you’d be stretching the idea of a non-alcoholic cocktail rather past breaking point.

Persiana

Jun. 2nd, 2017 08:41 am
wildeabandon: waffle with summer berries (mmmfood)
Yesterday we had Fr Daniel and Fr Justin and their respective spouses over for dinner and a house blessing. I was jolly pleased with the food. Other than the pudding, which was a reprisal of the rhubarb posset from Easter, everything was from Persiana which was a gift from [personal profile] borusa and [personal profile] cm a couple of Christmases ago, and is really rather good.

I made a pistachio and feta dip, then walnut, barberry and herb frittata as a starter, and pomegranate, split pea and meatball stew with a pearl barley, zatar and chargrilled vegetable salad. It was quite time-consuming, but everything except assembling the salad could be done in advance, so I wasn't too frantic on the day.

I did slightly regret not having replaced our broken food processor though, as there were an awful lot of herbs to chop. We'll be hitting up Which! shortly, but any personal recommendations gratefully received.

Weekend

May. 30th, 2017 12:01 pm
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
I had a quiet and pleasant bank holiday weekend. I woke early on Saturday and did a bit more clearing of the garden shed, resulting in enough free space to set up my gym in there, and did my first set of heavy squats for nearly a year. I was pleasantly surprised by how much strength I’d retained* although I predictably left myself rather achey for the rest of the weekend. I then went over to church at a gentle jog and met up with Fr Daniel for an organ lesson. We’ve recently lost a long term tenant and therefore taken a bit of an income hit, and were considering only having a paid organist some of the time as a cost-saving measure, so so I was going to see if I could reach a standard where I could usefully fill in. Things are looking fairly hopeful on the “finding a new tenant” front, so with a bit of luck I won’t have to inflict my playing on an unsuspecting congregation in the immediate future, but it seems like it could still be a useful skill to acquire.

On Sunday I had another early start, and then watched a couple of episodes of “Dear White People...” There’s a slight weirdness in that there’s an awful lot of continuity with the film (which I saw last week), to the extent of fairly lengthy flashbacks of verbatim dialogue, but there are also a few significant plot points where it diverges, and I’m finding that a little bit jarring. I really like that it explores the complexity of race relations from a variety of black perspectives, and for once the internality of the white folk is given limited attention. There is a slightly frustrating departure from this in the first episode, where Gabe, the lead character’s white boyfriend, acts like an arse and then gets all fragile about having his privilege pointed out, and the show seemed less critical of this than I might have expected, but despite these minor flaws, I’m enjoying it a lot.

That afternoon we had planned to investigate Sunday lunch at our new local, the Salisbury, but it turned out the kitchen was closed, so we went to one of our old haunts, The Old Dairy which lived up to my expectations of decent gastro-pub fare. Feeling quite replete I went for a late afternoon nap, and apparently the early mornings, or just getting old, had been catching up with me, as I ended up sleeping right through to Monday morning!

On Monday the soreness from the weightlifting kicked in a bit more vigorously, so I had a very gentle day, mostly soaking in the bath and playing piano, plus a little bit of productivity on the church accounts, and making a start on the scripts for the next installment of our readthrough of Game of Thrones.

*Work set at 72.5 kg, compared to a pb of 93.5, but I deliberately stopped a bit light of what I probably could lift, because it seemed safer to ease back into it.
wildeabandon: crucifix necklace on a purple background (religion)
I recently read “Paul: The Misunderstood Apostle” by Karen Armstrong on [personal profile] angelofthenorth’s recommendation, followed by a reread of Meeting God in Paul by Rowan Williams for comparison. Both were good, and left me with a deeper understanding of Paul’s writings, as well as of the context which surrounded it. I felt as though I got more out of the Williams, but that was more because the thing that it was doing was of more interest to me personally, than because it was a better book in general. To me the most marked difference between the two books is that the Armstrong felt like a history book with theological implications, whereas the Williams (based, as it was, on three sermons) was a theology book with historical underpinnings.

One thread that was common to both books was the emphasis on how radical Paul’s teachings were. He often gets characterised as a fuddy duddy conservative, misogynist and homophobic, corrupting Jesus’ message and making it more acceptable to the traditionalists at the time, but actually, in the context of the hierarchical worlds of the Roman Empire and the Jewish religious authorities, his proclamation in Galatians that “There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female -- for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” would have been ground-breaking. Similarly, in Corinthians, where he says “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does”, this was just common wisdom at the time, but to follow it as he does with “and in the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” would have been shockingly egalitarian. The whole letter to Philemon, in which he exhorts his friend to take his disgraced runaway slave back into his household, but as an equal, was turning the established order of things on its head. The question of how we square this with some other verses where he seems more sexist or pro-slavery is a difficult one, and Williams notes but doesn’t address it. Armstrong makes an argument that some of the other verses were later additions by another writer, and I don’t have sufficient knowledge to assess its robustness.

Both books are short and engagingly written, and both were improved by reading the other at a similar time.

Queer Art

May. 15th, 2017 10:25 am
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
On Saturday I feel as though I managed to get a good couple of months worth of queer art into one day. I met up with [personal profile] hjdoom, and first we went to the Jo Brocklehurst exhibition which was showing at the House of Illustration near Kings Cross. I'd never heard of her until [personal profile] ghoti_mhic_uait mentioned the exhibition last week, but a quick look at the website suggested it would be very much my sort of thing, and indeed it was. I particularly enjoyed the thread of genderfuckery which ran through so much of her work, as well as the vivid intensity of the colours, and the evocation of a world that I was just a bit too young to be part of, but always felt I should have inhabited. This was its last weekend, but if it goes on tour then I wholeheartedly recommend it.

We then headed south to the Tate Britain to see Queer British Art, 1861-1967. As you'd expect from a hundred years of different artists, this was more variable in both theme and quality than the Brocklehurst. I found it really interesting seeing how what could be made explicit and what had to be coded changed throughout the years (although unsurprisingly given the times, there was always more of the latter). In particular, I liked that a lot of the 19th century art were very obviously homoerotic to a modern audience, but weren't seen as such at the time. [personal profile] hjdoom made the remark that it was nice to see how much of the art had a quietly domestic focus - this particularly stood out in the work of the Bloomsbury set, and made a pleasing contrast to the stereotypes of their wildly bohemian lifestyles.
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
Oogh. Somewhere in the last year or so I seem to have completely lost my erstwhile ability to drink truckloads of diet coke and fall asleep anyway, so I'm now functioning on very little sleep. I think I'm going to have to institute a "no caffiene after six pm" rule.

The new job continues to go well. I'm out of the honeymoon period, and people are still generally helpful and lovely, but I'm now confident that they're not just putting on their best behaviour for the new guy. I'm now firmly past the stage where I'm just learning new things, and feel like I'm making substantial and concrete contributions (although I'm definitely still asking questions at a formidable rate, which I hope isn't annoying my team too much!)

I recently finished reading a couple of books by Samuel Delany. The first one, Hogg, can only be described as violent hardcore pornography. It was disgusting and vicious and visceral and vile, even by my generally open-minded standards. It was also fascinating and compelling at the same time as being deeply uncomfortable reading. It invites comparisons to Lolita and 120 Days of Sodom, and also reminds me, in its exquistitely written journey into a pit of depravity and unpleasantness, to [personal profile] hjdoom's novel "This is not a Love Song".

I followed that with one of his earlier and shorter SF offerings, Babel-17, and whilst the deftness with the English language is a common feature, they couldn't be more different in terms of content and ambience, and reading this was an unalloyed pleasure. On one level it's classic science fiction with a fast-paced plot and spaceship battles and intrigue and betrayal, but on another it's a work of poetry and an exploration of the psychology of trauma, and a love song to language.
wildeabandon: Comedy tragedy masks (drama)
I spend much of the weekend in Manchester with the delightful Nathan. On Friday evening we went for Japanese food at Shoryu, one of the better chains, and then a drink at a bar called The Alchemist. It was rather loud, but I suspect that’s hard to avoid on a Friday night, and how much it bothered me is just a sign that I’m getting old. They did have a decent range of non/low-alcohol cocktails though - I had a “mini-Negroni”, which came fizzing and bubbling, and tasted good as well as being theatrically fun. I’m not the greatest fan of the classic Negroni, as I like my drinks bitter, but not that bitter, but as this version was obviously restricted by the very low alcohol requirement to only having a hint of Campari, it managed to have all the interesting notes without too much of the mouth puckering aftertaste.

On Saturday we had a lovely breakfast - the black pudding and to a lesser extent the other pig products weren’t as good as we get at home, but there were pancakes and poached eggs which we don’t usually get, so it roughly balanced out. We went to the Museum of Science and Industry, where we got to ride on a replica of the first ever passenger steam train, which was rather jolly. There was a lot of the museum that we didn’t have time for, so it’s definitely one for a revisit.

We then went to The French, for Nathan’s first ever tasting menu, which he charmingly described as ‘like a culinary theme park for grown-ups’. Tasting menus, introducing people to new experiences, and Nathan are three of my favourite things, so I was pretty much bound to enjoy myself, but it was also a rather good example of the genre. My favourite course was the cod, which was cooked sous vide to absolute perfection, and served with a rich brown butter and shrimp sauce, with plenty of lemon cutting through, and thick but tender asparagus chargrilled and then unfussily left well alone. Honourable mention also goes to the beer bread and whipped beef fat butter, which managed to serve the function of both butter and marmite in one.

In the evening we met up with Nathan’s new partner, who seemed extremely charming and friendly and interesting, and most importantly, doesn’t object to me making out with his boyfriend. The three of us went for a light dinner, and then to see “Wonderland! The Musical”, as we’re all fans of Alice in Wonderland adaptations. But maybe not this one. There were a handful of decent songs by minor characters, and a fantastic costume for the Mad Hatter, but that’s about all there was to recommend it. The majority of the music was derivative and badly sung, and the sound tech had the levels all wrong so you couldn’t hear the lyrics. The story was saccharine and obvious, and they introduced a completely unnecessary romantic subplot. The leads were utterly unlikable as written, and poorly acted to boot. If you want an interesting musical version of Alice, then I’d instead hope for a revival of Damon Albarn’s wonder.land.
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Sophie's World, Jostein Gaarder
This was technically a re-read, but I'd forgotten virtually all the details. This is a history of western philosophy textbook in disguise as a novel, and does a pretty good job at both. There were occasional bits where I wasn't entirely convinced that the philosophy was being conveyed perfectly accurately, and it's quite likely that someone with a more in depth grounding would find more to disagree with, but as a high level overview, it certainly did the job of making me want to read more of the originals.

Xenogenesis trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago) - Octavia Butler
I really enjoyed these - sociological science fiction set on and near a future Earth which has brought itself to the brink of destruction. The survivors are rescued by aliens, but as part of the rescue they are genetically modified to be infertile - descendants are only possible through interbreeding with the aliens, in an attempt to eradicate the human flaw of constantly seeking to build hierarchies and dominate. These novels are both great stories, and a powerful allegory for fear of racial integration.

Between the world and me - Ta Nahesi Coates
This is an autobiographical book written in the form of letters from the author to his son about the experience of growing up in a black body in America. His thoughts about the construction of whiteness as a means to enforce a hierarchy dovetail nicely with the ideas in the Butler trilogy. I found this fairly uncomfortable reading, as I expect I should have. It opened my eyes to some aspects of black experience that I'd been oblivious to before - in particular, the sense of all pervading fear, and the way that changes how you look at the world. Strongly recommended

Snippets

Apr. 23rd, 2017 04:25 pm
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Yesterday I went to Walsingham for the wedding of Fr Daniel and his lovely bride Elise. It was a beautiful service, presided over by the Revd Canon Stephen Gallagher, Elise's father, and with a sermon from +Philip North which was both moving and highly entertaining. The music was exquisite - the ordinary was William Walton's Missa Brevis, which I'd not heard before, and sounded beautiful but also very hard! It was marvellous to spend some time in Walsingham, and I somehow managed to come away from the shrine shop without buying any tat, and only one book.

As Fr Daniel had other places to be this morning, we had a visiting celebrant today, and since she had enough on her plate getting to grips with an unfamiliar ceremonial, I was asked to step in as cantor for the Alleluia. I'd had enough warning about this that I was able to ask CN to turn half my piano lesson the previous week into a singing refresher, and that helped me feel a lot more confident. Despite being frightfully anxious, I think I did a pretty decent job, and I might ask about possibly doing it more regularly, so I can work on getting over my nerves.

We continue to settle in to the new house. We still lack a functioning dishwasher, and have slightly more furniture in the spare room than we actually need, but apart from that we've done all the urgent jobs, and are starting to move on to the longer term nice-to-haves. Today I put together a new standing desk, which I'm hoping will have the twofold effect of being good for my back and shoulder tension, and discouraging me from wasting too much time hitting refresh on social media.
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