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Week Two

Writeathon week two, and I am still keeping up my self-imposed task of writing every day.  Admittedly the word count was a bit slender again today (and only JUST scraped under the midnight wire!) but it was a productive day.  I went into the university to print out the Spreadsheet That Ate June.  I blogged at tiintax about the prospect of MPs awarding themselves a humungous pay rise (spoiler; I'm not in favour).  And then tonight I went to the Crosspool Festival Scribble event where I read Mrs Jai to an audience of, well, some people.  Petrified!  But I did it.

And the keep-uppy continues.
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Week One completed

I have written every day for seven days.  I have written FICTION every day for seven days.  Yes, I'm horribly depressed today and only managed 15 words, but there WERE words.

Now.  I appear to have agreed to read something I have written, in public, on Monday night.  Leaving aside the WHAT WERE YOU THINKING and the WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THATs, what shall I read?  More to the point, I need to practice.
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Ten years ago today...

I'm not sure what the actual date was, but today marks the start of this year's Clarion West writers' workshop and ten years ago I was lucky enough to be there myself.  So let's say it was ten years ago today.  Where do the years go?

This year I'm having another go at the Clarion West Writeathon, the virtual workshop that takes place alongside the actual workshop.  The reasoning is that I've spent much of the past year establishing my tax blog, TIINTAX, and working at the first year of my PhD thesis on the relationship between tax simplification and better regulation, but this feels as if it has been partly at the expense of my other writing.  So for the next six weeks I want to get back into the habit of writing fiction every day.

I have a dropbox shared with some trusted friends where I'm putting my words each day as I write them, in the hope that this will keep me honest and make me write some words - however few! - each day.

This morning I opened up Write or Die and set myself the task of writing 250 words.

I think I was sailing towards the 500 mark when I inadvertently hit something on my laptop that highlighted and then instantly deleted a big chunk of text and I couldn't get it back.  So I copied the remaining 314 words and pasted them into my dropbox document....

...where they appeared as a series of hieroglyphics, and not words at all, and I can't get the words back however hard I try.

So my dropbox shows I did my best to write 314 words today, but no-one will ever read them.  Meh.  It's the first day.  The workshop itself doesn't start till tomorrow.
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OK I just left a two hour meeting at the one hour and something point.  Because, reasons.  Well, people, actually.  I just can't seem to do People, or at least People En Masse, any more.

Which is a bit difficult, as I only joined the thing that produced the meeting so that I could meet new people.


I'm semi-retired now.  It's OK to be a recluse, right?  I mean, right?
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Today I was sifting job applications, deciding which applicants to interview.

Just FYI, if applying for a role, don't describe it as a "roll".
Distinguish between your practice and the skills you practise - and between a noun and a verb.
If you have no practical job experience don't tell me you gained "vast" experience in doing your preliminary degree.
Don't spell believe "beleive".
Don't tell me that you want to tell me about this at interview - you aren't going to get to the interview if you don't score against that competence here and now.
The application form is not the appropriate forum for your critique of the organisation to which you are applying.
Why are you submitting a handwritten application telling me about your mad tech skills?

And, please, don't apply in comic sans! 
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Three bean and Wensleydale lasagne

I had a mad cooking session today and produced seven Three bean and Wensleydale lasagnes.  Someone asked me for the recipe but it's basically make it up as you go - the essentials are

  • a chunky tomato sauce with onions and beans

  • a substantial cheese sauce and

  • lasagne

This is what I used today, to make these lasagnes.  Another day I'd use a slightly different mixture: don't be precious about it.

Red sauce:
1 can rinsed and drained kidney beans
1 can rinsed and drained butter beans
half a can of rinsed and drained borlotti beans
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
half a red pepper, de-seeded and chopped
a handful of mushrooms
a can of chopped tomatoes
Two good tablespoons of leftover arrabiata sauce
Good oil

Fry the onion and garlic in a large saucepan.  When they start to soften, add the peppers and mushrooms and stir while you faff about draining the beans.  Add the beans, tomatoes, sauce and about half a can of water and simmer together.  Season to taste.

(I happened to have some leftover pasta sauce which had a bit of "bite" to it - if you haven't, add herbs, probably oregano, at the point where you add the peppers and mushrooms.  You might also need to add a little more water or another half a can of tomatoes)

Leave the red sauce to cool while you make the cheese sauce.

For the cheese sauce

2 pints whole milk
About an ounce of butter
About an ounce of flour
About four ounces of grated Wensleydale, plus some leftover bits of parmesan (ie "as much cheese as you want")
Tiny amount of mustard

Now, I would tell you the method was to melt the butter, mix with the four and make a roux, gently add the milk (tip: take the milk out of the fridge before you start making the red sauce, because it's helpful to have it at room temperature) stirring all the time till you have two pints of lovely rich thick white sauce...

Here's what I *actually* did: melt the butter and mix with the flour.  Decide there isn't enough butter so add some more.  Stir and wonder whether that's actually a burning smell.  Add some milk.  Curse the lumps.  Add some more and stir hopefully.  Swear.  Add some more.  Stir vigorously.  Barricade everyone else out of the kitchen and tell them they have a cheese-sauce-repelling aura and you never had this problem when you lived on your own.  Try stirring with the whisky-thingy.  Turn off the heat.  Get out the food mixer.  Transfer the mixture to a bowl.  Beat the hell out of it with a food mixer.  Carefully pour it back into the saucepan through a wire sieve so as to strain out all the lumps.  Search cupboard for cornflour.  Take a good tablespoon of cornflour and make it into a thin paste with very cold milk taken out of the fridge.  Turn the heat back on under the blasted sauce and pour the cornflour in and stir till it thickens and I'm not going to be beaten by a saucepan of bloody cowsmilk thank you good night!


Then add half the cheese, enough mustard to cover the wrong end of a teaspoon, a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper.

To make the lasagnes:

Find a manufacturer who makes sheets of bloody lasagne the same size as any dish you possess.  Ha!  And in the real world, snap the corners off (chuck the bits into the trays anyway, it all comes out in the wash) and snap the pieces in half horizontally so they fit in the trays.

Line the base of each tray with lasagne.  (It's best done as a production line, rather than one tray at a time)
Carefully pour one ladle (the quantities above gave me exactly seven scoops with my ladle) of the red sauce into each tray.
Add another layer of lasagne.
At this point you have a choice.  Usually I'd have skimped on layer one so I could have layers three and four but in this instance I did one big layer of red sauce so I only did one big layer of cheese sauce, but you could put in half a ladle of cheese sauce, another of lasagne and then finish with the rest of the cheese sauce.  But what I did was just ladle in the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and a final grind of black pepper, and cook on gas mark 6 for about half an hour or till the cheese bubbles.  You'd want them a little bit better cooked than I did them, but I did them to freeze, and they'll get a second go in the oven when they're defrosted and eaten.
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Weird stuff. Actually, no, just boring stuff I suppose

Weird?  Well I had six weeks looking after mum while her broken ankle mended (yes, I did get over the cold in a week or so.   Yes, I did get my thyroid medication... although, now you come to mention it, I only have a few days left again in spite of swearing never to keep less than a month's-worth in stock in future...  When mum was almost better - at the stage when it would have done both of us good to get out of the house - we had snow.  Now I'm pretty much phobic about going out when there's frost on the ground.  Thick snow I can do - give me a pair of boots and I'll trudge through deep and crisp and even, if I have to.  But the day after?  After a frost?  Or after a couple of days of not-quite-getting-above-zero, so the pavements are packed white and hard and alternating slush and ice?  No.  That's why the universe invented television, the internet, central heating, and Sainsbury's home delivery.

The tension between mum's desire to go out and do her civic duty by shovelling a path from our door and mine to (a) NOT have her go out and break her hip and even moreso (b) NOT to do it myself, but most of all (c) NOT to disturb the snow and make an ice channel!!!!!!... was interesting.

On my birthday there was still a scattering of snow.  We had a bit of a party at my local pub, although we were thin on the ground and my nephew's gift of a cake didn't arrive.  Then I had the usual post birthday depression, a bit of maudlin self pity and some OMG how is this my lifes?  And then it was Easter Sunday and mum was finally Better, and wanted to go to church.

She goes to Sheffield Cathedral, who are having building works at present so were having the Easter Service in the Cutler's Hall across the road.  And I couldn't find anything on either the cathedral or cutlers' websites to tell me what the access arrangements were, and I didn't recall ever actually having been in the Cutler's Hall myself but I knew there were four steps before you even got to the front door, and although mum is better that's "better than she was" and not "better than she was before".  Four steps she could manage, probably, with a stick, but what happened then?  And neither the cathedral nor hall answered my tweets asking about access (still haven't, come to that).

So when I woke up on Sunday morning with, ahem, Certain Gastro-Intestinal Unpleasantness, I decided to see if I could tough it out.  I went with her in the taxi to the Cutler's Hall, saw her up the four steps, established there was a lift from there up to the actual hall (and, more importantly, that she was actually going to use it!) and then retired to a coffee shop with the Sunday papers.  Where I drank green tea, because, coffee...

Anyway, suffice it to say that mum emerged from the Easter service glowing with renewed vigour... and I had to excuse myself from lunch and retire to bed, shivering and feeling...

Ahem.  We will gloss over Certain Unpleasantnesses of the next few days and merely confirm that the NHS Direct symptom checker was correct to advise toughing it out for 5-7 days.  Because this is day 5 and I'm beginning to feel semi-human again - wearing clothes, walking upright, eating food, all that stuff.

Just not dairy.

Which is a shame, because the missing birthday cake was a giant frozen cheesecake.  And it arrived yesterday.

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Spoonless, humourless.

Today, I have no spoons.  Yes, I only have a cold.  But before you start with the jokes about man-flu, I haven't felt this ill since the time I had walking pneumonia.  And, while I might have retained a sense of humour if I'd been able to stay in bed and sleep it off, this week I haven't.  This week, I have also been sole carer for an 82 year old who has the same cold.  And, in case you're still in the "just a cold" mindset, an 82-year old who was so knocked out by the same cold that she passed out in the bathroom and broke her ankle.  It's a helluva cold.

So, yes, the fact that the doctor did a home visit and prescribed antibiotics for mum but not for me bothers me, actually.  Because if she's got a bacterial infection on top of the viral cold, then what on earth is to stop me getting it as well, and where will we both be then?  And the fact that she arranged a home delivery of the antibiotics was wonderful - but the fact that she didn't at the same time, as promised, arrange delivery of my thyroid medication which has run out, so after this evening I either have to go without or drag myself out to the surgery to pick up the prescription and the pharmacy to get it made up... bothers me.  Well, makes me cry with exhaustion, actually.

Tomorrow I have to get mum to the fracture clinic.  I'm assuming I'll feel a little better tomorrow, and that taxis and a couple of doses of Day Nurse and a flask of tea will get us through that part.  But, no, I don't have enough spoons to go fetch my thyroid tablets as well.

I have found a part pack of expired ones that'll do me over the weekend.  It's not the end of the world.

But don't expect me to laugh along if you want to make jokes about it.  Not today.  Three different friends and family have tried.  Sometimes when I say "I'm so tired I just want to curl up in a ball and die" I'm not, actually, just being a drama queen.

But, you know, thanks for asking.
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gendered juggling

So last night I went to see “Smashed”, part of the 2013 London International Mime Festival, at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House.  It’s a performance by a group called Gandini Juggling.  And they’re brilliant, honestly.  Nine of them, seven men and two women, who can not only juggle three, four, five apples, but they can do it in time, in formation, whilst walking, dancing…

I sat with a big grin on my face for the first half an hour or so of the show thinking, this is just gorgeous…

And then I sat for the last half an hour, stone faced, arms crossed, not joining in any applause and only prevented from walking loudly out of the auditorium by politeness to my companion.


Gendered juggling.  I mean, it was a group of highly respected performers doing something you don’t think of as gendered.  But they lost me at “Stand by your man”.  They were doing different routines to different musical numbers, and for that piece of music the two women in the troupe passed slowly on hands and knees in front of the line of seated men while the men bounced the juggling apples on their backs.

And then they crawled along the line again holding apples in their mouths.

No, women on their knees with a bright red ball gag in their mouths are not funny.

No, the two women passing the juggling apples between them while the men distract them by pushing their heads back or their arms back or generally treating them like dolls, are not funny.

Yes, eight of the nine performers each juggling five apples while one of the performers tries to make them drop by interfering with them in different ways with a rod IS funny, and skillful, and audacious… and gender neutral.

If they had used different music (stand by your man?  On your knees?) the crawling routine might have worked.  If different performers had been on their knees it might have worked.  If they had done a human chain where three people crawled and six people sat, and then switched it might have worked.  But… gendered?  Juggling?  I hadn’t expected that.  And, actually, I wish I HAD walked out, there and then.

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How very... odd!

In short, last week's episode of Lewis was broadcast for a quarter of an hour with the subtitles from the previous week's episode.  They fixed it in response to a furious flurry of tweets, but I had also in the meantime had to switch off the subtitles (because it was so distracting and confusing) and emailed their complaints department, both trying to attract the attention of someone who could fix it in real time, but also trying to make sure the problem got passed up the line to the relevant departments the next day.

I got the usual fobbing off response that you get to any kind of customer complaint, but my question is this: why aren't subtitles prepared and sold with a tv programme, by the person who made it, while they have the script.  Or even FROM the script.  Cut and paste is cheap!


That's all.

Here's the correspondence:
-----Original Message-----
From: Wendy Bradley
Sent: 14 January 2013 21:19
To: ITV Viewer Services
Subject: Lewis subtitles
You are showing the subtitles to LAST week's episode of Lewis! Please
fix it (and monitor your twitter feed where people have been trying to
point it out to you!)

On 16 Jan 2013, at 11:52, "ITV Viewer Services" <>

Dear Sir/Madam,
Thank you for your enquiry regarding subtitles during Lewis on 14
I can confirm that a technical issue meant that the correct subtitles
for Monday's episode on ITV were not available until 21.13. I'm very
sorry for the inconvenience caused.
I would like to assure you that we recognise the importance of
subtitling to a large number of our deaf and hard of hearing viewers
at ITV. We take our commitment to the provision of subtitling services
extremely seriously and our management team is investigating the
Once again, I'm sorry for any disappointment and would like to thank
you for taking the trouble to contact ITV. Please do not hesitate to get
in touch if there's anything further that I can assist with.
Kind regards,

(name redacted)
ITV Viewer Services
From: Wendy Bradley
Sent: 16 January 2013 12:31
To: ITV Viewer Services
Subject: Re: LO RE: Lewis subtitles

Thank you. But what possible "technical" issue could have substituted a
different episode's subtitles, please? And in what way do subtitles
become "available" - are they not made and then bought and sold with the

Dear Sir/Madam
Thank you for your further email regarding the subtitles on Lewis which has been passed to me.
As you're aware, a technical issue disrupted subtitles of the episode broadcast on 14 January. Our transmission team took immediate steps to rectify the problem and the correct subtitles later appeared.
I regret that we cannot disclose details of technical issues but I'd like to assure you that we have taken steps to try to ensure that this doesn't happen again. Once again, I’m sorry for the inconvenience caused
If we can be of further assistance please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Kind regards
(name redacted)
Technical Manager, ITV Viewer Services