Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Confessions of a Young Trotsky Impersonator

He had the appearance of a young Trotsky, the same square jaw, dimpled chin, piercing wolf eyes, thick lips. He wore his hair in a mess of waves above his forehead, an almost-bouffant. He even wore pince-nez glasses. It was the glasses and the hairstyle that I found attractive. I knew next to nothing of Trotsky, let alone his appearance as a young man.

It was my colleague, Ruben, who first approached him and commented upon the likeness. As we sauntered towards the counter at the back of the café, Ruben paused by the table, cocking his head and sliding his eyes down to meet the young man's . 'Is there much call for a Trotsky impersonator around these parts?

'Enough,' said Trotsky's likeness.

Ruben slipped his hands into the pockets of his brown corduroy trousers and arched his back. 'Well yes, I suppose this is a fairly likely place, you being in a pokey academic café in Cambridge and all that. I suppose the University employ you to add a certain realism to their lectures, or something like that?'

The man neatly placed the book he was reading down upon the tabletop. He flicked his eyes from Ruben across to me. I was fascinated by his pince-nez glasses. Light grey pupils dilated a little behind the lenses. He prized his eyes from mine, slowly as if it took him great effort to do so. 'Something like that,' he confirmed to Ruben and then peered back at me.

The intensity of his stare quickly became oppressive. I blinked and stammered, 'I like your glasses.'

The pause was long enough to be obvious, but too short to enable a new line of conversation. 'Thanks,' he replied, totally deadpan.

'They're not a fashion statement, Julie,' Ruben scoffed. 'They are a tool of this man's trade.' He left no room for a comment. He swooped his attention back to the young man, chin raised. 'You do a good impression, even in your lunch hour.' He was using his patronising "I am very impressed" voice. 'The sobriety of your gestures, the cool indifference, the aura of intelligent vanity. Very good. ...I wonder... how much would it cost me to hire you for a lecture?'

His wolf eyes slipped between us, back and forth. Finally they rested on me. 'I will give you a discount,' he said. 'If you agree to go on a date with me.'

I dropped my gaze to the dark polished tabletop. There was a dog-eared copy of a Kurt Vonnegut novel placed in front of him. Breakfast of Champions. I thought this was someway off-kilter. It didn't seem to fit.

As I said, I found him attractive on the basis of his funky hairdo and those pince-nez glasses. Perhaps that was why I agreed. It certainly had nothing to do with wanting to hire a Trotsky impersonator.

We arranged a time and place, then exchanged numbers. Ruben teased me everyday between then and the arranged date.

As the date grew closer I became less confident that this was a good idea. The guy seemed totally dull, devoid of humour or soul. We probably had nothing at all in common. Agreeing to a date with a stranger purely on the basis of liking his hair and glasses (neither of which reflect a personal style) suddenly seemed like a rather stupid idea.

We met at a small eatery in central Cambridge. He was still wearing his pince-nez glasses and his hair was wild and wavy above his forehead, the same as before.

'Do you always dress as a young Trotsky?' I asked as I took my seat.

He answered with an immediate roughness, 'Yes.' He shuffled in his seat and cleared his throat. This time he spoke with a softer, less abrasive tone of voice. 'It's just a habit. I'll wear something more normal on our next date.'

I raised a single brow high. 'Assuming we have a next date.'

He shrugged and realigned his cutlery.

'So you must really love Trotsky then. I must admit, I don't know all that much about Trotsky. You'll have to fill me in.'

He seemed to sag in his chair. I assumed that I must have majorly disappointed him. The prospect of a second date slipped into obscurity, thank God.

At this point a waitress came to take our orders.

Selections made, the two of us sat in splintered silence, only background restaurant noises saving us from total awkwardness.

He gulped some table water, thumped the glass down and then leaned back nonchalantly. 'I too have a confession to make regarding Trotsky.'

I waited for him to go on, gliding the wetted tip of my index finger around the rim of an empty wine glass. I counted four rotations before he spoke.

'I am not a Trotsky impersonator. I am an English Lit postgrad student.'

I paused in trailing my finger around the glass, eyes flicking across the table.

He put his hands behind his head. 'I dress like this in order to impress professors and score with intelligent girls. So far so good as far as professors go.' He gave an impish cocked smile and put his thumb up, then returned his hand behind his head. 'As for scoring with clever chicks, they are only interested in Trotsky.' He rolled his eyes and turned up his lip. 'Soviet history absolutely bores me.'

I squinted at him, surveyed him for a moment, and then cracked a wide grin. 'Me too,' I said.

His lips curved into an echo of mine. 'But the pince-nez and the crazy hairdo get a double thumbs up. And death by ice-pick sounds like a spectacular way to go. It's not all boring.'

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Elderflower Cordial Recipe

You will need:

A hot summers day.

20-30 Elderflower heads

1kg sugar

Zest of 1 orange and 3 lemons

The juice of the lemon and oranges.

1tsp citric acid

Do this:

Day 1

1. Shake the flowers free of insects. A few will probably remain, but don’t be too concerned.

2. Zest the fruits and then juice them. Put the juice in an airtight container in the fridge and leave until tomorrow.

3. Put the flowers into a large bowl along with the citrus zest

4. Boil 1.5 litres of water and then add it to the bowl

5. Cover the mixture and leave it overnight

Day 2

6. Pop some bottles into the oven at about 120oC or something. They stay there until the near end.

7. Strain the infusion through a jelly bag, bit of muslin or I guess a sieve would work if you don’t have the former. (Scald the bag/ muslin/ sieve to (sort of) sterilise.)

8. Pour the liquid into a preserving pan or large saucepan.

9. Add the citrus juice, citric acid and sugar. You don’t actually need the citric acid. I don’t know what difference it makes scientifically, but it seems to create a lighter taste and texture. That was the only difference I could tell.

10. Dissolve the sugar by heating the mix up slowly. It took me about 10-15 minutes to dissolve it.

11. Bring to a simmer, which for me took about 10 mins, but I’m sure you can do it faster if you are short on time.

12. Simmer for about 1-2 minutes.

13. Pour the cordial into sterilised bottles using a (sterilised/ scalded) funnel. Seal the bottles with sterilised lids/ corks/ swing tops/ whatever.

This batch is lighter and more subtle than ones I’ve made before. I think I prefer the lightness. It carries a bright taste of summer.

Technically it will keep for about a year. But this is not a winter drink. It’s too light, too gentle, too hazy a drink for the heavy full flavours of winter. I think it’s better to drink it all before the end of autumn, otherwise you might find that you’ll have some old fermenting bottles by the next season that you never got round to drinking. If you want the elderflower taste over winter, I’d say make some elderflower wine. It’s heavier texture and fuller taste is more suited to cold weather than the light haze of a summery cordial.

Uses include:

1. Dilute with some water/ fizzy water/ lemonade.

2. Dilute with water and pour into ice-lolly moulds. Freeze them. On a hot summers day lick ‘em.

3. Use to boost flavour to the elderflower biscuit recipe I will post up in the future.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Dorset Art Weeks and project days

This weekend we have a couple of project days scheduled at Mr Kite’s place. We’re going to be making an earth oven for our new outdoor kitchen area. Gabriel is making a yurt, so we’ll be doing some steambending for the lattice. We’ll be doing a charcoal burn with the help of our friend Adam who has recently switched from a messy career as a charcoal maker to the cleaner thatching trade. Gabriel and Mr Kite found a solar water heater at the local dump and promptly purchased it for all of £7. Perhaps we might see if anyone knows anything about how to get the thing working. At the moment it’s got a split pipe and one glass tube is smashed.

Mary and I will be making some Elderflower wine and I’ll make sure everyone is fed and watered. On Friday Mary and I plan to pick some of our own at Ansty PYO. Gooseberries are our target, and they will be turned into Elderflower and Gooseberry jam.

Here are some pictures of a project day preparation session that took place a couple of weekends ago. The boys got excited about how fast the solar panel managed to heat water, despite the smashed tube and leaking pipe. The three of us pondered about convection, efficiency, optimum angles etc. It was like a physics lesson at school, except relevant and exciting.

The guys experimented with steam bending some wood for the yurt in their ‘bespoke’ steamer.

I went around some of the Dorset Art Weeks studios. They were, on the most part, very inspiring. Here is a photo of Guy Mallinson’s woods. It was weird going there, seeing the similarities and differences between these woods and the woods that I often go to. I might talk about it some other time and put more photos of the place up. I might not. Wait and see, I guess.

I enjoyed Charlie Baird's paintings on display in Shaftesbury along with Peter Ursem's printmaking work. This image above was my favourite by Baird. The original was amazing to see. I liked Peter Ursem's work. The book of River Stour prints were especially interesting because there were two pages ripped out of it during a previous exhibition. Someone tried to steal these pages. They folded one of the pages up neatly so the image itself remained unspoilt. The pages were found and then put back into the book. I felt the art was in the story behind the imperfection of what had been a perfect book. This story became the art, because the story is more interesting than the art.

I have just been given the papers to sign for my new allotment. These are exciting times.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Article in Living Woods Magazine: Basket Weaving

Ages ago I attended a basket weaving workshop in my local town. I wrote about it in my blog: here
I sent an article about the workshop off to the excellent Living Woods Magazine. Now, 6 months or so later, it appears in the latest issue. You can subscribe to the magazine by going here or call 01285 850481. They cost something like £3.50 an issue or something and you can only buy them via a subscription.

Here is a scan of my article if you are not interested in subscribing:

Click on the picture and you should get a larger version to read.

In other news: I have started to write fiction for a prompt group over at Deviantart. The prompts are really great, but sometimes I wonder if I should really do this kind of stuff. I am so busy with real writing work, and then I go and distract myself with stuff I can't really send off to get published anywhere. Part of the problem with places like deviantart is that all the readers there are pretty much (young) writers. Writers read with an editing cap on, so you rarely get feedback from a real reader, from someone who wants to enjoy a story and is not looking out solely for a misplaced comma or a typo here and there. But feedback in any form is good and I don't get enough of it, which makes improving harder.
To read one such story go here

The Klandestines is happening, slowly. Keep your specs peeled.