06 August 2017
Our next-door neighbours have nine grandchildren. Fortunately they do not usually all visit them at once, but there is a fairly steady stream of twos and threes. As far as I can perceive, these children have two settings: absent, or yelling. (So, basically, one setting: yelling. Just not always near me. Thankfully.)
Our garden is small, and the neighbours' garden is much larger. The part of their garden which is furthest away from ours has grass, a set of swings, and a summerhouse filled with percussion instruments. The part of their garden which is closest to ours is made of tarmac infested with mare's tail, and on it are piles of DIY detritus and bits of firewood, so it is obviously where the childen prefer playing. And yelling.
Today we were putting up scaffolding in our garden when two small boys arrived in next-door's garden and began the yelling. I'm sort of used to this by now so was ignoring it as usual, but couldn't help noticing after a while that part of the yelling sounded a bit like a word. And the word was "motherfuckers". On repeat. We smirked for a bit, wondering how long this was going to continue before grandma came outside and told them off for swearing. But she didn't. The larger boy continued to yell "hey motherfuckers" at the top of his voice, and his younger brother valiantly added an occasional "hey mudderfudder" in support. Gradually it dawned on me that they were talking to us. Because after a while it was interspersed with "what you doing up there?" and "he's looking at us!"
Since neither of us generally answers to "motherfucker" or even "mudderfudder", we ignored them for a bit. At one point it seemed like they'd got bored and given up, but then they came back, and came right up to where there's a hole in the fence that you can look through from our garden to theirs and vice versa (which is there for reasons too complex and irrelevant to go into here). They could see our apple tree, it seemed. So they started saying "ooh, apples, look at the apples" very loudly. I began to get that horrible sinking-stomach feeling. They weren't going to give up without a reaction. They were going to make their loudest noise ever, as close to us as possible, for eternity. I was going to have to interact with them. Which meant deciding on what reaction to, like, do.
In 2013 when I apparently lost the ability and/or motivation to write much in the way of words for a few years, I tried keeping a visual diary for a while. It contained this:
It's kind of a problem.
My mind briefly plotted a cunning counter-strategy in which I grabbed a field recorder from inside the house, recorded a few bits of "mudderfudder" and similar, played it back to them and then said, "Now, how about we go and play this to Nanna and Grandad?" But then I remembered that I am thirty-six years old and thus probably looked exactly like an adult as far as they were concerned, and so just possibly didn't have to do anything that clever. Because adult.
So I went over to the hole in the fence and looked at them through it. I said, "Hello" in a very calm and measured and assertive voice which is definitely not mine. They looked at me with small blank child-faces and didn't say anything. They were completely silent. "You are being very noisy," I explained, while being very not-cross, and not mentioning that they had called me a motherfucker quite a lot of times just now. I like to think that we had a tacit understanding that I was Shania Twain, and the words at the end of this verse were, "So you know a swear? THAT DON'T IMPRESS ME MUCH".
"Would you like to go and play somewhere else?" I said.
The older one, quite sincerely and politely, said, "Would you like a chocolate cake?"
I said, "No thank you." And then they went away and played somewhere else, a lot more quietly, and stopped calling us motherfuckers.
Which was weird.
Apparently (of course!) they just wanted their existence acknowledged.
Unless they had somehow got the idea that the word "motherfuckers" means "totally cool people to whom we would like to give chocolate cake". That would explain everything.
24 July 2017
There's this thing that's developed within the ways people write questions over the last few years. Well, really it's two things. The first thing belongs to educated layers-of-irony Twitterati types, and it is the omission of the question mark from the end of a particular flavour of rhetorical question. A full stop is used instead. This may have originated from and is still most prevalent in the use of "What." As in, for example, "I just got home from work and found that Mr Blobby had broken into my house and was sitting on the sofa watching Titanic on VHS. What."
Obviously the person writing this wants to mention a noteworthy occurrence and their own surprise about it, but it is most likely that nobody reading it can possibly explain how it might have happened, so no exaplanatory response is actually required. The "What." is an expression of disbelief, but in a tired, low-key sort of way because things of approximately this ilk happen all the time, but it is still kind of irritating. Just not out of the ordinary enough to warrant a "What?" or even a "WHAT?!" because that would be expressing too much emotion and drawing attention to oneself over something trivial.
I have also seen a smattering of the deliberate statement/questions, "What shall I have for dinner.", "WHERE ARE MY KEYS." etc. .
I think this could theoretically be quite a useful way to actively distinguish rhetorical questions from Actually Asking the Internet Something if it became accepted as such, although I don't know if that was ever a conscious decision on the part of the people who first started doing it, because I think it began as an irony-signaller (but who knows? I am not quite up to speed on the current nuances of cool-Twitter-speak). And I don't know if it currently works as a defence mechanism against e.g. mansplaining. Probably all too subtle.
But what has happened to all those displaced question marks left floating about unused in the ether.
The answer is that they have been put on the end of statements? And it's really annoying? And sometimes seems really accusatory and rude?
For example, let us suppose I have a website that sells things. (Because I do, so that's easy.) If a customer was to email me and say, "I tried to add something to my shopping cart on your website but it just takes me straight to PayPal. Is there something wrong with it, or am I doing something incorrectly?" that would be fine and I would be a little concerned and look into it and work out whether there was a problem and email them back with instructions and options and it would all be sorted out.
BUT if a customer was to email me and say, "I tried to add something to my shopping cart on your website but it just takes me straight to PayPal?" I would be extremely irritated with that person. I would still take the aforementioned actions, but really resentfully. Because it sounds whiny and like they know they want to ask me something but they can't be bothered to even figure out what their own question is so they're leaving me to do that for them while providing minimal information about what the problem is and what they want me to do about it. Or, if you can imagine it being part of some dialogue in a book, it sounds like the prelude to something aggressive:
"I tried to add something to my shopping cart on your website but it just takes me straight to PayPal?" exclaimed Ethel in disbelief. "What a ridiculous way to behave! Can't you get a shopping cart that WORKS for ME as I EXPECT IT TO? You pathetic excuse for a web-vendor!"
And maybe I'm a bit over-sensitive about punctuation, and perhaps have an over-active extrapolation reflex, and they probably have no idea that it comes across like this, but surely this is not the way to induce Friendly and Helpful Customer Service.
I think I will add, "Please don't place inappropriate question marks on the ends of statements when emailing" to my contact page to see if it makes a difference.
(p.s. It's okay, literalists, I'm not really going to do that. Please don't worry about me so much.)
21 July 2017
This evening I knew I wanted to cook something -- I mean really cook, not just assemble some food out of necessity. I wasn't sure what, but I had a nagging half-craving for something, something with rice and vegetables and creaminess but not-a-risotto, because it definitely had some spices in it somewhere around the onion, and risottos generally don't.
It took me a while to realise that what I was craving was That Thing We Used to Make. I shouldn't have been craving it, because That Thing We Used to Make wasn't that nice, really. It was exactly as I say: an onion, fried, a bunch of whatever other vegetables were available in whoever's student kitchen, also fried, and then a big pile of rice and stock and some whim-selected, sometimes even unknown spices added (which was incorrect, as the spices should have been fried, and was probably part of why it wasn't that nice) and sometimes some equally unstandardised herbs too, and the whole lot cooked up until the rice was soft and it could be served up in goopy globs. It never quite tasted cohesive.
Sarah and I started making it in her shared kitchen on campus after a band rehearsal one evening and had some wine with it. Somehow this process came to be repeated with more and more people on what became a weekly basis so that it evolved into a first-year undergraduate version of a dinner party. Everyone who came to them brought a bottle of wine; there was never any wine left at the end. Then we usually went to the bar. And this is probably part of why the exact recipe and preferred herbs and spices were never consolidated.
I almost put it down to the idea that I was just craving those kitchens and those people and those days in some kind of tiny nostalgia hiccup -- but: not really. I don't miss those aesthetically hostile glarey-strip-light hall-of-residence kitchens much. Most of the people who came to the dinner-parties have since become adults with lives that diverged from mine significantly enough that we've mostly lost touch. (They probably have real dinner parties now.) As kitchens and food-gatherings go, I'm rather more attached to the memories of some of the later ones when we'd started mostly eating chickpeas, in our lovely dingy, cramped and shabbily cushioned living rooms in the student houses of second and third year and all the subsequent years during which I continued to pretend to myself that I was still a student. I miss my sprightly nineteen-year-old liver that could apparently process a bottle of wine's worth of acetaldehyde overnight with barely a whimper, of course, but that's about it.
And anyway, if I was to nostalgia-trip on York uni campus aesthetics from 1999-2000, it would be so many other things instead. Like slightly dry vegeburgers and chips (with plenty of compensatory mayo) from Derwent College bar, which tasted entirely and uniformly of the smell of Derwent College bar. Watching three films back-to-back on Derwent film night and getting an extra vegeburger for sustenance after the second one (and forever after not quite remembering which characters and which scenes were from which film). The loud, sticky Langwith bar quiz nights, back when the decor was properly, respectably scuzzy, and when student bar quizzes were about real things like Greek mythology and Bob Dylan, not the price of the cheapest spaghetti at different supermarkets like they are these days. Vanbrugh when it was all dusty pink threadbare velour and full of music students being kept awake mid-lecture by machine-coffee and chocolate tiffin, or cramming in as much post-rehearsal booze as possible before closing time.
And there was the comfortable old smell of wet-washing mixed with stale cooking in the corridors of David's block in Langwith, and leaving it at 1.09am to walk through the bit outside the bar where you never noticed how loud the mains hum from the vending machines was during the day, and then along the covered way in the strange quiet and night-cold with no-one else there, hearing every footstep, with automatic doors opening just for me, and all the different machine-hums in the different bits of Vanbrugh foyer, tapping in the doorcode next to the Porters' lodge, and then the subtly different wet-washing-stale-cooking smell of my block and my floor, and then my tiny room with all the batik hangings and postcards and photos covering the walls because that's how I could find comfort and sleep in this strange blank boxy new place.
That Thing We Used to Make wasn't so specifically attached to being a first year living on campus. It came camping with us via a little gas stove when the band made our album while staying in a tent near the recording studio for four days and got sunburnt and had an argument; and I made a huge vat of it at Whitby festival which we ate heated-up for several nights after getting back from the ceilidh; sometimes I even amused my parents by making it at their house. But at some point, after a few years, I stopped making it. The reason was that I had learned to make risotto properly. I think it was because of a passing comment of Jane's, that making food with fewer ingredients often rendered better results. So now I just use brown rice, onion, garlic, mushrooms, maybe some courgette, with stock and white wine, basil, oregano, bay and thyme, a bit of cheese at the end. I usually require a friend present to help quality-test the wine throughout the long cooking process. I'm quite confidently good at risotto now. But this evening I didn't want that sort of risotto.
I took to the internet, and looked for "mixed vegetable risotto" and then "+spices" and eventually the internet turned up the secret. What I wanted was paella. That Thing We Used to Make, I realised, was a bastardised and incorrectly constructed risotto-paella that didn't know its own ancestry. I'd traced the risotto side of the family back several generations (not to any real degree of purity, though; my risotto is decidedly not Correct, I'm sure) but remained entirely ignorant of the other side.
So I did a bit of Wikipedia - Felicity Cloake - Jamie Oliver (his was apparently scandalous) triangulation, and made a definitely inauthentic paella (yes, I replaced the seafood with red lentils. Deal with it.) but I think along the right seasoning-and-technique lines, because it tasted like a real one I had a bit of once. It was pretty good, actually.
And it was a bit like the episode of Voyager in which B'Elanna Torres is split into her human and Klingon halves as two whole separate people, but in this case it was the positive resolution, rather than the terrible accident at the beginning of the plot. (Also it was with rice and vegetables rather than a person, which is always less stressful.) And whereas B'Elanna, re-united in one body by the end, came to sit more comfortably with herself through the experience, That Thing We Used to Make - though we learned a lot from it and it got us through some times and soaked up a lot of cheap wine - was never meant to be itself forever. Now it is separated into its constituent identities, it is free, and at peace. And there's some of one of them left in the fridge.
tl;dr I made paella.
09 July 2017
And no-one can stop me.
Regard the rampancy of the not-quite-wildflower patch.
Some of those flowers are two year old parsnip plants, which various weird sorts of wasp seem to like. So that's good, because it means someone benefits from my laziness.
Making this pizza was the antidote to the 48 hours preceding it.
But the kitchen table is no longer available for eating from.
29 June 2017
Why being bilingual helps keep your brain fit. (I am not bilingual but now have a sudden urge to learn Swedish.)