Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Customer Service

You probably haven’t noticed, as I’ve hardly mentioned it, but I took a little trip to Dublin recently, which of course meant getting to, and from, the airport. As I was aiming to go directly back to the office from the airport on my return, getting there by public transport wasn’t an option, so I looked into booking airport parking. I found some (via the airport’s website, but not at the airport) and went online to book. The site set out that they ran a shuttle bus to the airport on the hour and the half hour, but didn’t seem to say how long it took, so I sent them an e-mail to ask.

This was on 24th January.

A week before I was due to go, having had no reply, I sent a follow up.

Still no reply, so I decided to give up, sent them an e-mail to cancel the booking and booked elsewhere, on the basis that the extra £6 was worth it for the peace of mind (after all, if they can’t respond to an e-mail after 3 weeks it doesn’t fill me with confidence about their ability to run buses on time, or indeed collect their customers from the airport. .)

And I would have written it off and forgotten it had it not been for the fact that I received an e-mail this morning. It was responding to mine, and read;

“You need to e-mail us or ring us with your registration number of you car so we can check your booking.”
(Sic.)

Now, this was a response to my original e-mail, in which I had included their booking reference, which you would think would have allowed them to trace my booking, but in any case

(i) Why would they need my booking details to know how far away from the airport their car park is and
(ii) if they had read the original e-mail I sent (and as it was on the bottom of the mail sent back, I’m guessing that they had) they would have known I’d originally wanted parking from 15-18th February, so might have worked out that a response on 25th February was unlikely to be of much use.

So I sent back an e-mail, politely explaining this.

I then got another e-mail.

To tell me that they are about 10 minutes drive from the airport.

I am tempted to write back and suggest that they consider reading the e-mails. But life is too short.

When I decide it’s time to change my car I might go there, though. With that level or organisation I might end up with a whole new car….

Monday, 23 February 2009

Amanda Palmer stole my photos!

I was expecting Wednesday to be anti-climactic. All the fun of Coraline, AFP and Neil reading was over, and all I had to look forward to was a Ryanair flight home and an afternoon in the office.

The airport shuttle bus goes straight past Louisa’s house, which was handy, and getting through security was no worse than it usually is, and I had settled down near the gate to wait for the flight, while I was waiting, I saw Cheryl , whom I met after the Amanda Palmer gig, and we ended up chatting while we were waiting and during the flight. This improved the day no end. I have to say, if Ryanair could guarantee me a Hugo Award winning writer / blogger to sit next to on every flight, I’d be inclined to fly with them more frequently….

It was a relief to find my car still where I had left it in the airport car park ( For some reason, I tend to assume my car won’t be stolen, except from airport car parks. No, I don’t know why, either.)

And then decided I was far too tired to work so after popping in to the office to check for emergencies (only one, and it was relatively small) I went home to snooze and start blogging . .

Incidentally, Cheryl has blogged the signing at Chapters, with video of the whole thing, including all the readings and the Q&A I think that I am there for a fleeting moment in one of the videos, but the advantage of sitting on the floor in a large group people is that you are not easy to spot! (for anyone who needs to know, I am about 3 rowa back, waering a Graveyard book T-Shirt (From Neverwear , Natch) There is also a flickr pool of pictures of the event, and on Monday, I learned that Amanda Fucking Palmer herself has used some of my picture for her blog which was another thrill, and certainly brightened up my Monday morning.

Ahh, how shall I cope with my pedestrian life now I have tasted vicarious fame?

Friday, 20 February 2009

In Which Mr Gaiman reads, and Miss Palmer sings.

The Neil and Amanda Show, at Chapters Bookshop.

Siona, her friend and I got a bus up to Parnell Square, as my ankle was still playing up. This got us a few odd looks when we started asking which bus to get, as it’s not far from Trinity, so people kept trying to give us directions instead, on the assumption that we were simply lost or confused.

We got to Chapters at about 3 p.m. and I found a lovely leather sofa in which to settle and read. There were already 3 or 4 other people hanging around in anticipation, and members of Chapters' staff were starting to prepare for the evening’s event.

They hung black drapes from some of the shelving, and these were then decorated with pairs of buttons (later, some of these started leaping from the drapes to attack Neil. It would perhaps be wrong to read too much into this…..)

There was a big 'Coraline' movie display (although later this was moved in order to make room for more people)

A little later they came and took away the lovely leather sofa I was sitting on, although I was able to forgive them, as they wanted it for Neil and Amanda to sit on. I found a convenient bit of floor to sit on.
And the shop filled up.

And got fuller and fuller. Pádraig Ó Méalóid ‏, who was in charge (you can see an interview which Cheryl did with him before the reading here - see - I said there would be more later) and other members of staff kept moving furniture, and people, to try to get as many people as possible into places where they could see, or failing that, hear, what was going on, while maintaining (with difficulty) enough space to allow Neil & Amanda to actually get through the crowd. . .

It was a very happy and good tempered crowd, and as time passed, with a marked absence of Authors or Singers, it stayed good tempered and parts of it even started to talk to each other. I regretted not having any cupcakes to pass around on this occasion. I think cup cakes and signings go together well.

Then Neil & Amanda arrived, and explained the delay...






The Plan, in case you were wondering, was that one of them would read, and one of them would play the ukelele and sing, and then there would be a Question & Answer Session, and then a signing.

Further explanation of the Plan relvealed that it would be Neil who would be reading, and Amanda singing, and that when we got to the Q&A it would be we in the audience asking the quesions and Neil and Amanda doing the answers, although I like to think that that somewhere, perhaps in a parallel universe, in the Other Chapters, there was another event at which the Other Amanda read, and the Other Neil sang, before they both asked the audience questions...












After Neil's first reading, Amanda played and sang.









Then Neil read some more







This one is Amanda introducing 'Dear Old House That I Grew Up In', but sadly I didn't actually get the song itself, due to battery issues....

















Then we moved on to the Q&A part of the evening. Questions included (for Amanda) 'Can I have the Ukelele?' Answer - "No, because it's mine (but if I had another one exactly the same you could have that)".

And for Neil "Would you like a comb?" Answer - "No thank you, it really wouldn't help"


Also for Neil, there was a question about whether he anticipated making use of Irish folklore in any work in the future, and he spoke about the 'Only sandman story that didn't happen', which would have been done with Dave McKean, and which had a working title of 'Blue and Orange and Green' , where the 'green' part would have been set in Ireland. Neil went on to say that although he hadn't written much set in Ireland, he had done a lot of writing while he himself was in Ireland, courtesy of friends such as Tori Amos who have "more houses than they have bodies" Parts of American Gods was written in Ireland, but the Graveyard Book was not, becasue Neil came to Ireland to write and had flu instead.



After the Q&A came the signing.I ended up near the front of the line (this was entitrely due to luck, not judgement, the line formed by some kind of Brownian motion, and there was a certisn amount of uncertainty to begin with as to which way it ws going, given that a certain amount of weaving between booksehleves was necessary.) Due to the numbers there was a 'one item' limit, which is fair enough (even so, I belive Neil & Amanda were there until about 10 p.m.)






From Chapters, we headed back to Trinity, where Peter Murphy was giving a talk about his book, John the Revelator - Siona and I only caught the end, mainly Q&A, which was a pity, as I would have liked to hear the whole thing: curse this inability to be in two places at once.... (But I am about to start reading the book, which is the next best thing)





The evening then ended with Thai food, followed by Guinness in Louisa's local. Mmmmmm.




In which I play some more in Dublin, and fail to see the Book of Kells

Tuesday 17th February – the day of the Chapters bookshop Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer reading and ukulele playing event….

Again, this was in the evening (due to start at 5 p.m.) and so I had some more time to play with Dublin. I headed back into the city, and made my way back o Dublin Castle to the Chester Beatty Library, which has a collection of manuscripts and includes 3 exhibitions. One, ‘ Arts of the Book’ has manuscripts ranging from Egyptian papyri to Chinese jade books to medieval illuminated manuscripts, the second had exhibits from the 3 religions – Christianity, Islam & Buddhism, which was fascinating. The Christian section included further illuminated medieval gospels, some early papyri copies of the (parts of) the gospels, and some Coptic manuscripts which were interesting as the pictures showed Christ and the disciples with a distinctly African appearance, but otherwise (to my in-expert eye) very similar to the European manuscripts. The Islamic display had a number of beautifully decorated copies of the Qu’ran – these were fascinating, particularly having seen similar patterns in tiles and manuscripts in turkey. I liked the Buddhist mandela’s and documents but didn’t find them as emotionally appealing – maybe because they are culturally more distant and unfamiliar?

There was also a temporary exhibition – ‘Artists Proof’ – 24 prints, each displayed with 2 proof copies so you could see where the artists had made changes – fascinating!

After leaving the Chester Beatty I spent a little while playing with the Labyrinth in the Dublin Castle garden, before heading over to Trinity College, where Louisa’s niece, Siona, who is a student there, had agreed to meet me to take me in to see the Book of Kells. (It’s open to every one, but students don’t have to pay )

As it turned out, the Book is not on display this month, but there is an interesting exhibition about it (with more fun facts to learn and remember ) and the Long Room , in the library (where the Book is displayed, when it is at home) is well worth visiting in it’s own right. It’s a beautiful room – and in addition to the (facsimile) Book of Kells, was hosting an exhibition entitled ‘The Body in the Library’, about the history of the Murder Mystery, with displays of early editions of lots of classics, together with the odd length of lead piping, revolver, and bottle of poison. . . lots of fun!

We decided to go straight to Chapters from Trinity, on the assumption that the event would be fairly popular, and it might be as well to get there early….

Thursday, 19 February 2009

In Which there is a Big Spike, music, and poetry, and a brace of authors

Monday’s planned highlight was the Amanda Palmer gig at the Sugar Club, but that was in the evening, so I had a day to explore Dublin a little (Louisa was working, bookshops sadly not being capable of running themselves) so after breakfast, and socialising a little with Louisa’s big beautiful cats, I set off to see the city!

I saw the Big Spike (which made me wish I had a Really Big piece of paper, to stick on it). It’s actually really useful, as it sticks up above almost everything else, so if, like me you are directionally challenged, you can use it to re-orientate yourself from time to time. I found Trinity College, and Dublin Castle (Which is surprisingly difficult to track down: for a castle it’s remarkably good at hiding. I didn’t go in, because you can only go round as a guided tour (Which is understandable, as it is still a working government building)and I’m not big on guided tours, but I wandered around outside, and while looking for the Chester Beatty collection I found that there is a also a Taxation / Revenue Museum! Whoever would have thought of having a museum about tax? I was intrigued, it was free, so I went in.

It’s very small, and has display cabinets with various counterfeit and confiscated items (an eclectic mix of wolf skins, counterfeit condoms and pirate DVDs) plus copies of cartoons and other historical documents involving commentary on tax – most educational. Did you know that the term ‘Daylight Robbery’ comes from the imposition of the window tax?

I also visited Christchurch Cathedral (Because I like cathedrals) which has some lovely tiles and stone carvings, and also a mummified cat and rat.

But you are waiting to hear about Amanda Fucking Palmer, and the gig….

The gig was at the Sugar Club, and the plan was that we would at some point meet up with Peter Murphy, Louisa’s friend (and recently published) author) who had been interviewing Amanda Palmer during the afternoon and who knows Neil from previous interviews.

We were running a little late, not helped by the fact that I had managed to turn my ankle so was hobbling fairly slowly. When we got to the club we had to queue briefly , feeling sorry for the people turning up begging for tickets and being told ‘no, it’s completely sold out’. Once we got inside found that it was filled to capacity and there was no seating left available, so we ended up standing right at the back, which had the disadvantage that we could only see the stage (or Amanda) intermittently, but the advantage of being very close to the bar. . .

The guy who opened for Amanda was an Irish guy names Rohan (I didn’t catch his surname) who played some cheerful ballads with titles like ‘the Undertaker’s Ball’


Then Amanda came on. I don’t often go to gigs, so don’t have much with which to compare it, but I loved it!

It was just AFP on stage with a piano (or, for a couple of songs, a ukulele), and a big room full of happy people. Amanda opened with ‘The wind that shakes the barley’, and the went through a full set which included ‘These are a few of my favourite things’, Astronaut, Ampersand, Mrs O, Dear Old House Where I Grew Up, Half Jack, ‘I Google You’, ‘Oasis’ – Amanda also read a poem which she had written. The show came to an end after about 2 hours, and then Amanda came back for an encore – she sang ‘Creep’ while wandering through the audience, accompanying herself on the ukulele and with the entire audience singing along… (link here - this is not my recording)

Peter had told us not to rush off, and when the show was over he took us backstage to chat with Neil, and another guest, Cheryl (who like myself, is a Somerset girl, and of whom more later), a guy named Jody, who I gather had done the publicity for Amanda's European tour, and one or two others. Amanda was busy at the door, signing autographs for, well, the entire audience, as far as one could tell. Neil's opening comment was "come in and help drink some of Amanda's beer" - well, who could refuse? Neil left after about half an hour, the jet lag having well and truly caught up with him, and when we left, after another 20 minutes or so, Amanda was still signing autographs.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

In Which I travel to Dublin, meet a Fiend, and see a rather good film

I have been looking forward to going to Dublin, both in order to see Coraline and Amanda palmer’s gig, and in order to meet Louisa, whose kindness in inviting me to visit enabled me to go!


Despite being with RyanAir my flight was on time and relatively painless, and the clouds even parted so that I could see Ireland below us as we descended to land at Dublin. Louisa and I met at the bus stop in Blackrock. A little later, I got introduced to Louisa’s bookshop , which is small but perfectly formed.

Then in the evening, Coraline ! The film was showing as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival and was also, of course, the European Premiere, as the film isn’t out here until 8th May, except for this one showing. We got to the cinema very early, to find that they weren’t letting anyone in yet; so we admired the Coraline display and posters and popped out for something to eat. When we came back half an hour later, the doors had opened and the cinema was half full, so we found ourselves sitting about 3 rows from the screen. The rest of the cinema quickly filled up – the event was completely sold out (the first film of the festival to sell out) and

Neil gave a very brief introduction, stressing that everything in the film is handmade, not CGI, and mentioning the micro-knitter in particular. Then we all donned our 3D glasses and sat back to enjoy the film.


* * *



The film is superb. I had been excited but a little sceptical, I wasn’t convinced it could be as good as everyone seemed to think. I was wrong.

It is as good as everyone has said.

Maybe better.

It is also definitely worth seeing in 3D if you possibly can. In the Q&A session which followed the film, Neil commented in the past 3D had been a bit of a gimmick – used to throw things at the audience – as if when talking pictures came in the technology had been used only to SHOUT AT THE AUDIENCE, but that in Coraline the 3D is not used in that way. Things recede, and the 3D is a part of the film – it adds to what you see, rather than being something which you notice and think 'ah yes, that’s the 3D to show they’ve got it’

There were one or two things in the film which I didn’t like – some of the things which were different to the book I could see as necessary and desirable, given the different demands of different formats; the fact that Coraline needed someone to talk to, for instance. I particularly liked the fact that she had not become a ‘nice’ or ‘goody goody’ little girl. It also took me a little while to adjust to the fact that Coraline and her family are now American, rather than English, but I got over it, very early in the film.

At the end of the film I would happily have sat down to watch it a second time, as I was conscious of there being lots of things going on in the background which I wanted to see again.

At the end of the film there was a Q&A with Neil – as well as talking again about the fact that everything in the film was done by hand, without CGI. He also explained that this was only the 3rd time he had watched the film all the way through (not having stayed for the whole of the official Premiere), and that he is still enjoying it, as still seeing new things each time. He also spoke about the ‘Good Omens’ film, selling it to Terry Gilliam for a groat, and then having to e-bay farthings to pay his agent’s fee, and about the meetings which he and Terry Pratchett had with Hollywood



when originally trying to sell it. Neil was asked about the ‘Death’ movie, and directing, and finally was asked (by the JDIFF interviewer) who he would pick to direct a ‘Graveyard Book’ movie, if he had to pick someone at random from the audience, which gave him the opportunity to introduce Neil Jordan who was in the audience. (The two of them were due to have lunch the following day, and there was a brief discussion as to whether the rest of the audience could tag along, but sadly we were not invited…) Amanda Palmer was also present as one of Neil’s guests for the evening, so Neil took the opportunity to introduce her and to remind everyone of their joint signing, singing and reading on Tuesday, before leaving.

Did I mention that we liked the film?

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

In which, for a change, it rains.

For a change, this is not a post about snow! Although , having said that, there is still a fair amount around. Monday morning, driving into work was an interesting experience – it was misty, and the fields were still covered in snow, so everything appeared in shades of white and grey – ghosts of trees and sheep and cattle drifting though the rain.

It was an interesting day, in a not very interesting at all fashion…I spent much of it dealing with bureaucratic nonsense – primarily involving trying to condense and re-word information which has already been provided , to fit a slightly different format for a slightly different purpose. It’s not that I don’t see the need to keep an eye on how public money is spent; I just wish it could be done a little more efficiently – possibly, and I realise I am going out on a limb here, by 2 different departments of the same organisation actually speaking to one another! I realise it is a little extreme, but they could give it a try for a little while, and just see whether it works. In this particular instance it relates to a case which is an absolute train wreck from start to finish I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that the day we got snowed in and all local transport ground to a halt was the day I was supposed to be holding a meeting on this case. A meeting, I might add, which took me about 5 weeks to arrange. (And when I rearranged it as a teleconference one of the participants’ phone line came down halfway through the conversation.) It’s not paranoia when fate really is out to get you.

Having been threatened with further snow I was a little anxious about what I would find on Tuesday morning – however, despite the dire warnings from the BBC I found not snow, but rain, when I got up. It was interesting to me that despite it having rained for the best part of 24 hours, there was still a lot of snow lying on the pavements verges and fields. I suppose that this shouldn’t be a surprise – it’s been pretty cold, and the snow had had time to freeze and harden, but it is not what I was expecting!

It turns out that a side effect of all this rain and frost is flooding. Having seen that the river below Farleigh Castle had burst it’s banks (happily the water was in fields, not in anyone’s home, or blocking roads, although elsewhere roads were closed and no doubt homes flooded too) I was worried until I could get home – my house has had a history of flooding, and although it hasn’t happened recently, I can’t help but worry whenever it rains heavily.

The problem which I had stemmed from a culvert above and behind the house, which had a tendency to overflow and flood my home, and those of 3 of my neighbours, following heavy rain. After we were flooded for the third time, and I had proved to the local council that the source of the trouble was on their land, they put in a new drain, and in the mean time I had a wall built around the garden to prevent (or at least slow down) the incursions into my garden. I was lucky - the worst flooding I had was in my "conservatory" (for which read small lean-to made mostly of glass) - enough came into the main part of the house to require replacement of all the living room carpet (the first time) and laminate flooring (2nd and 3rd time) but not enough to damage or destroy my books, or soft furnishings. Losing a freezer full of food is annoying but it wasn't something which I was emotionally attached to. And yes, I have moved all my most precious books onto higher shelves, just in case!

I was deeply relived to find that my house remains dry and safe. But I think I am ready for it to be spring, now.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

In which I build a snowman

These posts must be getting a little monotonous…it's snowtime again. We had our heaviest snowfall to date overnight – it was snowing as I went to bed, and by the time I woke up we had about 3” and it was still snowing. I decided to try to get into work, on the basis that once I got out of the estate, the roads would probably be OK. Being fairly cautious, especially where my own wellbeing is concerned, I prepared well, packing up my big bag of salt, shovel, warm coat & boots and a flask of coffee just in case of delays.

I needn’t have bothered. It soon became apparent to me that Smart cars are not ideally suited to snowy or icy conditions – even going very slowly and carefully the back fish-tailed quite badly, and then the gentle turn to the right at the end of the street turned into a full 180 degree spin, at which point I decided that Enough was Enough. Clearly the car wished to go home, and I really couldn’t blame it. So back we went, and slithered gracefully into a space outside the house.

I am sure that if I could have made it to the main road I would have been OK, although even then, thinking of the number of steep hills and sharp bends between home and office, I think it would have been, shall we say, interesting, and I would have spent all day worrying about getting home. Fortunately I can access work e-mail from home, and so was able to get a bit of work done. I also found out, when I spoke to my secretary, that both the client’s who were due to come in today wanted to cancel their appointments as they couldn’t easily get in either, and that neither the post nor the DX arrived today, so there would not have been much more for me to do had I made it in. Clearly the postal workers near the office are lightweights compared to those near my home - I spotted a postamn who was not only out and about doing his deliveries, he was doing them wearing shorts and on his bicycle!

Tybalt was not impressed by the snow (for which he clearly holds me responsible)
video

After doing enough work to assuage my residual guilt, I ventured out again (on foot this time) The milkman did not turn up this morning (For which I cannot blame him – possibly the only vehicle less suited to the conditions than a Smart car would be an electric milk float) so I needed milk, and anyway, new snow is almost irresistible.

The local roads were still very slippery and slushy – I detoured to take a little walk into the patch of wasteground / nature reserve behind the estate – it was truly beautiful – teasels and rosehips crowned with snow, and a frozen pool with zombie roots under the water.


When I returned home, I went out into the garden where I made possibly the worlds smallest snowman, in my hanging basket, and helped the Poppets to explore in the snow.

The BBC are warning that there may be more snow to come. I hope not, as I have a meeting I must get to tomorrow. . .

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

More snow






OK, So maybe I was just a little harsh about Londoners in the last post. (but only a little) So, to set the record straight:

Apparently 45% of the Underground is, in fact, overground, and subject to frozen points.
It can’t really be unreasonable not to spend money on gritters and snowploughs if you’d only get to use them once every 18 years

BUT.

I stand by my view that you cannot describe 10” of snow as a blizzard , nor can you claim (assuming you are reasonably able bodied) to be ‘trapped’ by it. Inconvenienced, yes. Trapped, no.

Right. Rant over.

We had a little extra snow overnight – enough to cover the places where the snow had been scooped off walls and cars to make snowballs, enough to make everything white again, including the road outside the house, but not enough to justify doing anything other than going in to work as usual.

The street immediately outside the house, and those to get off the estate, don’t get gritted so were quite icy, but the bigger roads had all been gritted.

Having got up a little earlier than usual in the expectation that I would have to (i) scrape snow or ice off the car and (ii) drive a little more slowly than usual, I was a little peeved to be delayed as I left town due to someone else slithering backwards out of a side road and into a pillar box, effectively blocking the mini roundabout for 20 minutes – I think he was going too fast along the ungritted road approaching the junction, slammed his brakes on with predictable results.

No-one was hurt, it seemed to be a classic case of making no adjustment for the driving conditions.

The rest of apart from occasional icy patches the drive was fine, easier than Monday night. It was a beautiful morning – very clear and sunny, with a lovely robins egg blue sky. As I was going to be late for work anyway due to skid boy I stopped to take a few photos en route. - just as well, as much of the snow was gone by evening.

It froze over Tuesday night, and there was just enough snow in the road to be compacted and frozen so that the road outside the house was like an ice rink. Cue very slow, careful driving, until a gritted haven was reached – It was all gone by the time I returned home tonight, although there is still a good deal of snow on the fields and hedges a little higher up, and we are being forecast ‘heavy snow’ overnight. The suspense.

Monday, 2 February 2009

In which it snows, and yet life continues.

As anyone who has been watching the BBC will be aware, it snowed today, and as a result, life as we know it ground to a halt. In London, the buses were cancelled, trains didn’t go, even the Tube had problems (which seems odd – I mean, most of it is underground, how snowed in can it be?)

Not being a Londoner, I went to work as usual. There was a little snow, but not enough to really notice. It did start snowing by midmorning, and was snowy enough to cover the pavements – by the time I left work at 5 p.m. we had had between 1.5 and 2 inches.

After having listened to the news, I would not have been surprised to have found myself struggling through avalanches and attacked by glaciers and polar bears, like some latterday Shakleton, but in fact, there was very little excitement.


Driving home was slightly interesting but only due to other drivers - How hard can it be to work out that reduced visibility due to driving snow, together with ice on the road might just mean that it would be a good idea to drive a little more slowly, and leave a little more space to take account of the effect of ice on stopping distances?

From the news coverage one would think we were all going to be trapped by blizzards and reduced to eating our relatives to stay alive. And I'm pretty sure we're not. At least not until tomorrow, maybe even Wednesday.

To be fair, it does seem that London and the South East did have more – about 10 inches in London, but even so, I’m not wholly convinced that this really justifies it being the lead on the news…


Still, it was pretty. There was very little wind so the snow settled not only on the road and rooftops, but also on every branch and leaf. Lovely.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

In which I get very excited, and make Marmalade (but not in that order)

Well,
I was very excited when I got out of bed and turned on my computer to discover that Neil Gaiman had twittered about my Coraline junkets (yesterdays post) with a link here. I’d sent him a link to the pictures, as I thought it might amuse him, but I didn’t really expect a response, or a twitter of my own! So I did spend a little while wandering around the house (while pottering and making breakfast, because I can multitask) saying to myself “Neil Gaiman linked to MY blog!....Neil GAIMAN linked to my blog..” it didn’t seem very probable, whichever way you say it.

I got several questions about how it tasted, and the answer is – a bit bland – junket is only milk and sugar, after all, it’s a bit like diluted yogurt, and the flavours you notice are of whatever you put into it, so in my case it tasted slightly of apple, cinnamon and chocolate.

I only really got to eat the original junket, because the ‘Other Junket’ made a leap for freedom as I was putting it back into the fridge after taking the photos, so most of it ended up all over the floor. This taught me 2 things:

1. The advantage of blue junket it that it shows up well on the floor, so it is at least easy to clean up
2. Cats like junket.

There was enough left in the bottom of the glass to taste; it tasted pretty much the same as the first one. And I suppose that the cat getting a helping is quite appropriate, given Coraline’s story!

As well as junketting, I spent a lot of yesterday making marmalade. This is something which I have only started doing in the last year or so. My grandmother always used to make marmalade, and I would always go home with a jar when I visited her. So home made marmalade, it’s smell, and flavour, are deeply evocative.

As she is no longer with us, I started thinking about making my own marmalade. I always had an idea that jams and marmalade were tricky to make, but my first effort, this time last year, seemed to work reasonably well, so as it’s marmalade season again I decided it was time to make another batch.

It’s actually fairly straightforward, but it is time consuming, especially if you are cutting the peel by hand. But it does make the house smell nice.

Last time I made marmalade I think I very slightly undercooked it, so it took a long time to set, and all the peel floated to the top, (although it tastes just fine) so I was particularly pleased that this lot set beautifully.

It makes me feel very self-sufficient and housewifely, as if I might suddenly find that I also had a garden full of home grown vegetables and chickens and the like, instead of a rather dismal yard, in which I grow only concrete and the occasional tomato.

I also enjoy the feeling that I have achieved something practical. In my day job, I don’t make anything (I help people to fix their problems, so I achieve stuff, sometimes, at least, but I don’t physically make anything). And I’m not good at anything craft-y – I can’t draw or paint, or sew or knit (believe me, I have tried. I can’t achieve anything which comes close to the end result I want, so it just becomes depressing. I can, up to a point, do DIY, (partly because of a determination not to be a helpless female, but again, I end up having expended huge effort and vast amounts of time, for a result which is mostly just ‘OK’. But cooking, that I can do. And get results. I just need more people to feed, now.

And it means that I now have 11 jars of marmalade, to eat and to give to family and friends, which is nice.

Of course, as with all things in life, there is a down side – marmalade is sticky, and when you are ladling not-quite-boiling marmalade from a large preserving pan into small jars you do (at least if you’re me) end up with sticky dribbles of marmalade on the hob, the surface and the outside of the jars.

Cleaning is less fun than cooking. But I now no longer have either junket or marmalade anywhere it doesn’t belong.

(Of course, having expended all this effort, I now feel that I have been sufficiently productive to be able to spend the rest of the afternoon on the sofa with the papers (yesterday’s and today’s), the radio, the interwebs and (of course) the chocolate buttons which did break when I tried to make holes in them and which therefore now need eating. ..