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Sherlock Holmes and the Man of Reason

10 Oct

I was on my way back from the library the other day when I realised something pretty crazy about everyone’s favourite detective-in-a-deerstalker and our social conception of knowledge.

So if you’re sitting comfortably, I will attempt to explain, according to my recently acquired and somewhat hazy understanding of alternative feminist epistemologies.

Sherlock Holmes – Conan Doyle’s and especially the current BBC incarnation of same – is the quintessential Man of Reason. He eschews emotions because emotions cloud reason. He seeks objectivity; truth; understanding. He believes he can arrive at knowledge through deduction and intuition. He has a method, and the method will always produce results providing he can adhere to it. Knowledge is of things, and these things are clear and discrete objects which exist on a plane separate from sensation and emotion. He is, also, as it happens, a man.

Sherlock sounds a lot like the kind of guy Descartes was thinking of when he outlined his philosophy exactly as I’ve just described above.

All well and good, you may be thinking. Sherlock is actually a reincarnated 17th century French philosopher. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, Benedict Cumberbatch. But here’s the thing. Descartes was one of the first – certainly not the only one, but certainly a big deal – in the reformulation of ‘reason’ as a non-feminine trait.

Wait, what? I hear you cry. Maybe you’re saying ‘but women ARE emotional and less good at reason’ (in which case, allow me to disagree wholeheartedly; go and do some hardcore reading). Maybe you’re saying ‘we can’t pin all that on poor old Descartes’ (in which case, you’re not wrong. I’m using him because his critique looks so eerily familiar). Maybe you’re saying ‘OK. Explain.’. In which case, I will.

The 17th century was a bit of a scientific turning point for the West. Up until this stage, ‘science’ wasn’t really delineated by gender, except in women’s access to learning it. If anything, it was pretty effeminate in that its biggest audience was women and many of its major funders were women (the salons of France in particular gave rise to a lot of scientific texts and were very much written for this audience). Science wasn’t really carried out in a particularly empirical or rigorous way; it just sort of happened based on what people already knew and what they were interested in. Science wasn’t connected with a style of thought. Science is from the Latin ‘scientia’, which is the noun formed from the verb ‘scio’, ‘I know’. Science is just stuff we know.

For a long time prior to this (again in the West), woman had been generally considered man’s ‘helpmate’, thanks to the dualisms of Aristotle (cheers, Aristotle) and subsequent interpretations of him by Christian scholars like St Thomas Aquinas, etc. Woman is definitely not the equal of man at this point in history; whenever she becomes threateningly close to some modicum of fair treatment, a backlash is instigated which confines her once again to the field, the drawing room, the non-male environment, etc.

So, the stage is set for the arrival of Descartes, and then, not long after, Sir Francis Bacon (not the modern sculptor; the founder of the Royal Society). Descartes identifies what he believes is the way one should acquire knowledge. At the very root of this is the ability to shuck off the emotions like some great big emotionless snake (my simile, in case you hadn’t realised) and reach mental and therefore metaphysical transcendence through reason and the acquisition of knowledge. Bacon does something similar – empirical research, conducted according to methodology and rigorous attention to detail – is prioritised over superstition, belief and the substantiation of knowledge only on the basis of what we wish to see or think to be true.

On the face of it, this all sounds pretty damn good. Right? Objectivity, empiricism and correlation with subsequent studies are all features of what these days we could conceivably call good scientific research.

Well. Let’s go back to the status of women. And let’s go back, too, to Aristotle and his dualisms. Man, for Aristotle, has reason. What does woman have? Emotion; passion. And what does Aristotle (and basically everyone since) think about women? Well, they’re inferior to men, aren’t they. So as soon as a doctrine of knowledge is created which says that ultimate knowledge of the universe and the nature of things can be arrived at by abstracting oneself from the emotions and employing reason, women are in a bit of a fix. Christianity (and, let’s face it, most religions) holds that women can’t ‘not be’ emotional. And now philosophy is sort of claiming that one can’t reach a metaphysical eternity unless one recognises and rejects emotion. Either way, women can’t obtain transcendence. They’re just too weepy. Fuck. Oh, and women can’t do science, either, because science is knowing stuff, and women can’t know anything when those pesky emotions keep getting in the way.

It’s at this point in history that Man as scientist and Woman as non-scientist is articulated. It is of course ingrained over the course of many years and many further theorists, scientists, writers and philosophers. And it’s self-fulfilling, too, because if you keep telling women that we can’t do science, we lose interest in trying. And it works in the other direction, of course – keep telling men that emotions are ‘girly’ and they lose interest in connecting with them. How successful we’ve been about turning around this trend is not really what I’m writing about here, so let’s get back to Sherlock.

As described, Sherlock is pretty Cartesian in his approach to knowledge. He thinks he can deduce and intuit everything. One of his favourite mantras (in the TV series at least) is ‘people lie’. He has no time for emotion. And we as viewers accept this. Sherlock can deduce everything. His extreme objectivity is genuinely capable of ultimate knowledge.

Watson, on the other hand, frequently doesn’t have a clue what is going on. And he is definitely emotional. He’s not unintelligent – far from it; he’s a doctor, after all – but he can’t deconstruct and reconstruct in the way Sherlock can. And we accept that, too. The Man of Reason is an ideal, but he’s pretty unattainable for most people.

So, Sherlock, the Man of Reason, is the ultimate knower. He makes no secret of his complete disdain for all other opinions or theories of knowledge. He can know everything, because the books and TV shows require that he gets there eventually (although his excuse that he doesn’t know about the solar system because it’s ‘not important’ in an episode in S1 is pretty incredible). But here’s the thing, and I’m sure even hardcore fans won’t mind me saying this (I know this because I am one myself): Sherlock is a bit of a cock. He *cannot* use his emotions. And yet – he can still seemingly know everything.

This makes it all the more frustrating that he has to ‘win’ against (or on behalf of, I suppose) Irene Adler in the S2E1 A Scandal in Belgravia. Oops! The screenwriters just totally reconfirmed everyone’s bias that only knowledge derived through reason is good enough to win the day. Knowledge that has any connection to emotions is just not going to cut it. Watson, I’m looking at you here.

The Man of Reason knows. He knows everything. But he doesn’t know emotion.

What does that say about what we – 21st century, multicultural, lovely Britain, think of as ‘knowledge’? And if knowledge is power – what does that say about who is powerful?

I’ll leave that one with you. 

(Burying) bodies

30 Sep

I’ve done some hardcore reading this week. Novels, articles, textbooks, a little bit of poetry thrown in to lighten the mood. It’s been intense. I won’t go into the marxist/feminist discourse and the consideration of the stationary self vs the moving others (although I will some other day, if you fancy) but I am going to talk about the novels I read. Not in a ‘reviewing’ way, as per usual, but in a personal, relational way.  

These novels – Beloved, by Toni Morrison, and Landscape for a Good Woman, by Carolyn Steedman, were recommended reading for my module on feminist cultural theory. I was all prepared for them to be – well, frankly – difficult. While neither of them could be described as ‘light’, however, they were certainly fascinating, and all the more so for being read one after the other. 

Both books are explicitly about women and, marginally less obviously, their relationships with their daughters. Beloved is the story of an escaped slave; Landscape a semi-autobiographical account of two eras of womanhood. Both are fundamentally about female ownership of the body and the extent to which a child is of that body. Landscape enunciates this with scholarly precision: relationships require giving and taking. Frequently, women have nothing to give but themselves and the possibility of a future. In a society that continues to disempower women, a woman’s only bargaining chip is herself and her potential for children. Beloved repeatedly suggests this through more subtle means; the main character, Sethe, ‘pays’ to have a word inscribed on a headstone for her dead child with her body; her body is the only thing she can give when she is ‘married’. Bodies are commodities and bodies can be given away dearly or cheaply – bodies are everything. 

While we may like to kid ourselves that we live in a free and equal society these days, it’s impossible to deny the force that a body can still have. In the interests of research (naturally) I was sat in front of some terrible daytime television with my housemates this afternoon. Before we found the cookery programs, we were watching dating shows. It’s incredible how many people respond to the physical nature of a person before they consider anything else about them. ‘He’s well buff, I’d definitely go on a date with him’, etc. But the thing is – what does a body tell you about someone, these days?

Bodies are so subject to change. Of course, you can work on your personality, too, and you can certainly be selective in how you choose to behave around certain people (consciously and unconsciously) but I don’t think it’s quite the same here. The sculpting and presentation of one’s body is a particular privilege we enjoy (or not). Invariably, the way we choose to present our bodies say something about the value we place on them. Of course, everyone has their own value systems; having a lot of piercings might evoke squeals of disgust from some middle class yummy mummies, for example, but that may be your way of expressing your own identity and self-worth. The way you present your body may indicate your desire to stand out, or it may be a camouflage you use to blend in. The thing is, we think we can control the value of our bodies by the way we present them and the way we use them. In most instances, I believe, that’s true. 

But. What these books suggested to me is that a body is not just how it looks, but how it is used. We can make our bodies into portraits of how we’d like to be seen, but if we don’t use them in keeping with those images, what then? What counts more, intention or act? And if creating the body as we’d like it to be seen is an act of authorship, can we apply the premise that meaning is created at the point of reception? Are we scripting our bodies for a multiplicity of readers, or are we doing so for the ideal one? Is our ideal reader, in fact, ourselves? 

Maybe this is all getting a bit weird now. I think the point I’m trying to make is this: ultimately, you are in charge of what your body does and this is far more important than what it looks like. Use it wisely, grasshopper. It can still be a powerful thing. 

 

 

(3) New Beginnings

23 Sep

September’s a funny old month, isn’t it? The leaves catch up with what everyone else has spent the summer enduring and go red and crispy. The nights roll in earlier and faster and then hang around, refusing to get out of bed in the mornings. Scarves and coats and boots come out in temperatures which, were they encountered in May, would precipitate Shorts O’Clock. The onset of autumn, tied as it is with the onset of school terms and harvest festivals and so on, has much more of a feeling of novelty to it than January ever does. 

It’s fitting, then, that this month for me has seen not one, not two but three new beginnings. Let me break it down for you. 

1. I started a new job (briefly) as a maintenance assistant (!) at Addenbrookes Hospital, also known as Cambridge University Hospitals. I was only there for three weeks (bank staff, woo!) and it was fascinating. I’ve been places no-one else would get to go in that hospital now. And I know how to rewire a light fitting and fix a socket. Oh, and I got very good at soldering. My proudest moment? It’s a toss up between taking the back off a broken device that I hadn’t been shown how to fix and working out how to fix it, and a colleague telling me that she had been looking up what we had talked about the previous day (Pompeii + Herculaneum) and thought it was awesome. I was sad to hand the uniform back in at the end and I have come away considerably socially enlightened. 

2. Jewish New Year. Goes without saying really, but every year is a new year. 5774 is hopefully going to be a damn sight more interesting than 5773, although the latter did get me to where I am now, so I can’t complain too much. Every experience contributes to the next one n’all that jazz. As with last year, there was a significant lack of time for thinking about what I’ve done wrong and what I’m going to do better. On the plus side, there were far more apples for baking with this time around. 

3. New university. This is it. I’m here. What I said I would do – I’ve made it. Now I have to actually, y’know, *do* it. I’ve got a lot of reading to get done. But I’m here, in my new house, making (I hope) friends and doing stuff. It’s all terribly exciting and a little bit terrifying. Leeds is a much, much bigger city than I’ve ever lived in before but I am determined that this year is going to be a good one. 

Well. That’s it for now. Three new things. In a pleasingly ironic turn of events, I’m off out now to a ‘school disco’. I think the last time I went clubbing (and accidentally at that) was in May. Wish me luck. X

meta

14 Nov
Yo dawgs. This is all about to get meta because I am about to (shamelessly) blog about a blog. Although – is it really meta if I’m not blogging about this blog? If this were a play, and it had a play in it, that would be metatheatre, so I suppose the act of referring to the writing of a blog within a blog is metablogging. But then, blogging is not quite as immersive an experience as theatre and usually more self-conscious by its very nature. So maybe one cannot apply the same critical parameters to the two media.
That was just to prove to myself I haven’t forgotten how to speak (or write, if you’re going to be fussy about it). The truth is that while it takes a clever and creative bean to market stuff effectively (and I’m not saying I’m one of those people, just that I’m working in that field and this strikes me as being the case), said marketing bean often has to communicate at the level of the lowest common denominator. Pretty soon a marketing bean of any calibre who has realised this starts to notice that their ability to string complex sentences together is waning.
I can feel mine slipping away from me and I am fighting to hold on to it.
Which is where blogging comes in, because on t’internet I can free the kite of my writing to the winds of my imagination and let them both soar where they will (while hopefully remaining tethered to the String of Sense, and keeping far from the Hedgerow of Twisted Logic). I can witter and twitter and blather and rant, and run circles around words and stretch meanings like bread dough when it has got to the pleasingly-elastic stage and has stopped sticking to every surface with which it comes into contact.
That’s what I like doing on this blog, ohoh yes. I like picking a theme and waxing lyrical for a bit, pootling around the edges of words and getting sidetracked on things I find interesting. This blog has always been a ‘writing’ blog, far more than it is a ‘pictures’ blog. It’s more like a journal than a photo album. So that’s why I’ve started a second blog for all my foodie-experiments. Here it is: cakesbyalfred.wordpress.com
That’s it. It’s that simple. On this blog, I will write stuff about my life (which I don’t have very much of in any case) and on that blog, I will post pictures and talk about recipes. That’s not to say that there won’t be any crossover, of course – perish the thought! But certainly, if you prefer salivating over cake to salivating over my prose style, you’d be better signing up to email updates at wordpress, and you can, forthwith, ignore me on here. If you like both, well then you are a lovely person and I love you muchly.
Ok. Metablog over.
One final aside, not to do with this topic, but to which I will surely return: if you haven’t read Caitlin Moran’s ‘How to be a Woman’, do so immediately. Even if you are not a woman (perhaps especially so, in that case). Not only will it make you cry with laughter, it will also make you weep with delight at her writing and surely too, it will make you think.
Right. That really is it.
For now.

feet

14 Nov
Hi guys. Sorry for the silence. I’ve been spending my evenings engaged in alternative creative activities. As you can see above. Yes, those two badboys right there are chocolate, almond and raspberry macaroons. And they are delish.
Yesterday I made lemon macaroons – with homemade lemon curd, obvs (what sort of amateur do you take me for?).
At the weekend I made chocolate macaroons with a hint of orange.
What, you may ask, has occasioned this sudden frenzy?
Well, I’ll tell you. It’s feet.
Now before you go getting grammatically correct on my ass, let me explain a little bit of macaroon terminology. The crispy bits round the outside, right, are called the ‘shell’. They are made of almond, two types of sugar + egg white, plus a flavouring of your choosing – eg cocoa powder, lemon rind, pistachio etc. The bit in the middle is the ‘filling’ (see, it’s easy, eh?). Now then. This is the tricky bit. The domed part of the macaroon shell does not have a name as such (you can call it the ‘dome’ if you want to be fussy). BUT – the bottom, where dome meets baking tray – is known as ‘feet’. Macaroons have feet. What will they think of next, I hear you cry.
Well then, the achievement of feet on a macaroon is widely held to be the hard bit about making them. I’ve had a bash at macaroons before – last Christmas, with Emily, when we made lemon and coffee and chocolate macaroons, ate them all, sugar crashed wildly and spent the rest of the afternoon basically comatose on the sofa – being one occasion. I’ve also attempted them more recently. However, due to oven temperatures (agas are just a bit too hot for most macaroon recipes), equipment etc I have not succeeded. My macaroons have been footless. Or possibly feetless; I don’t know how many feet each macaroon has. They always seem to be referred to in the plural. Anyway. Onwards.
So. On Sunday, I trialled my new, wider piping nozzle. And lo and behold, when I checked my macaroons – glory be, there they were! Feet! Feeeeet! I nearly cried with happiness. They were perfect. Even Paul Hollywood couldn’t have criticised them that much.
I had to make more, to check I hadn’t imagined it. So I made lemon ones. Now, I don’t know that the addition of the lemon rind and the removal of the cocoa powder was absolutely 100% successful but nevertheless, they still tasted great and the FEET were back! Yes!
Buoyed by my recipe altering success, I was flicking through my recipe books this evening when I realised I was being drawn, irresistibly, to macaroons again. So I added extra almond essence to just about everything, a bit of flaked almond, and then some raspberry to lighten it all up. And whaddayaknow, FEET AGAIN! Not only that, but the flaked almond on the top of the shells looked pretty dayum professional. I felt really smug. So I took an artsy picture with my posh teaset and posted it on every social networking site of which I am a member and now here I am, gloating about it. Gloat gloat gloat. By the way, did I tell you I made choux swans? Yeah. I did, too. And they looked great, with their little whipped-cream piped tails.
My baking star is rising. My mojo has returned. And I probably shouldn’t have eaten the leftover ganache. G’night, lovelies.

practice

14 Nov

I’ve decided that if ever want to get anywhere with anything that involves writing stuff, I am going to have to work on my metaphors and similes. They are all as hackneyed as a London-based transportation system.

Some people have a serious knack for spinning a metaphor or simile that really does catch what they mean without them having to explain it. I always get caught up in the analogy and want to show people *why* such and such is like such and such another. The trick is obviously to say something that is sufficiently evocative that no further chat is needed.
So, as an example. I’ve been listening, recently, to the new(ish) Regina Spektor Album called ‘What we saw from the cheap seats’, which is a pleasing title to me because it sounds – well, I don’t know. It sounds like she’s on our side and she’s with us, and we’re all sitting in the cheap seats together eating popcorn and being a little bit rowdy but essentially having a good time. Or something. Anyway. Usually when I listen to a new album of something it’s because I’ve heard one or maybe two songs from it and I think I’ll give the rest of it a go. So in this case, I had heard the song ‘How’ and really liked it, thus off I went trawling Grooveshark, youtube etc for the rest of the songs. And there’s this one called ‘Firewood’, which is excellent, and then there’s another one called ‘ The Party’.
Now ‘The Party’ opens with the lines:
You’re like a party
Somebody threw me
You taste like Thursday
You look like New Year
You’re like a big parade through town
you leave such a mess
but you’re so fun
So. Perhaps on first sight this doesn’t look like Grammy-award-winning stuff. BUT. I contest that analogically (?) this is genius. Someone is ‘like a party’. Ok, so we’re expecting this to mean – fun, loud, noisy etc. But – the tiny explanatory tag is not related to the nature of the noun, but to the way it is dependent on the verb (in later verses the person who is like a party changes to reflect more emphatically on what ‘throwing’ it does). Clever, huh? The reason they are like a party is kind of because they require someone else to be in charge and make it all happen. They get all the credit for being fun when actually it’s the chappy behind the scenes putting all the hard work in to get the show on the road. And this is all picked up nicely in the ‘parade through town’ bit. Good while it’s happening, but damn inconvenient once all the happy has worn off.
The bit I really like is the two-line middle section. You taste like Thursday. What does that even mean? How can a day have a taste? Well, as anyone who has a normal working week can tell you, Thursday is a delicious day. It really is. You have all the anticipation of it nearly being the weekend (so close!) without the frustration that Friday brings on that it’s not *quite* here yet. After Thursday, you have crested the peak of the week and you can career down the other side of the wave, and it doesn’t matter if you fall off the board at this point because you’ll wash up on the smooth beaches of the glory that is Saturday. Thursday is full of excited anticipation and contains very little realistic gloom or bitterness. That’s Friday. Friday tastes of frustration. Monday tastes of wasted time (‘all that weekend and I didn’t DO anything!’). Tuesday tastes of despair. Wednesday tastes of soap. Thursday – well, Thursday is great. I love Thursdays.
You look like New Year? Depends what your New Years look like, I suppose. And also whether you mean ‘the exact point at which the year becomes new’, or ‘a NYE party’ OR indeed, New Year’s day. All of which are very different looks, I posit. I think in this case it’s the second one that is meant. A New Year’s eve party (which encompasses, unless you’ve passed out and had to be put to bed, the first meaning also) is glitzy and OTT and contains more alcohol than is strictly necessary and more celebrating than seems really worthwhile considering what we are marking. How significant is a number rolling over, year after year? Why is it that a year is important? Wouldn’t it be more exciting if we reduced how often we celebrated, and had a party every five years or something like that? Anyway, the point is that it’s an arbitrary party. So that’s what the analogy is getting at. You look like an arbitrary party. Tacky and sticky from booze and glittery and having a really great time but almost certainly going to be suffering for it tomorrow.
Scroll up to the point where I start talking about this. That’s a whole lot of meaning to fit into a not very large amount of words. People talk about ‘not mincing words’ but I think that the opposite approach is needed if you’re going to squish this amount of stuff in. Mincing is economical. Mincing and grinding and seasoning to taste, then shaping, frying lightly and serving with a little sauce.
So I’m going to have to practice. Let me know if you think of any good ones for me to use, in my life, or in my writing.

haze

14 Nov

Autumn is well and truly moving on in. I’ve felt justified in wearing long pyjamas (as opposed to just wearing them because they are blue, with polar bears on – see ‘bears’). I’ve worn a scarf heavier than a pashmina. I even put some glove-armsock-things on the other day. I know autumn is here with a vengeance today especially because after the roast dinner we had tonight, I suggested making stock for soup and the whole family practically shivered with excitement. Anyway. There’s a big dish containing an ex-chicken simmering away in our Aga at the moment and in the morning before I go to work I will skim it and refrigerate it for soup-making in the evening. This means autumn is here.

Other ways I know autumn is here: haze.

What means’t thou? I hear you cry. Well, perhaps not in those exact words. I’ll explain.

Autumnal haze is the sort of fog that the weather seems to have a hand in creating but is not a direct meteorological phenomenon. It’s a shimmery, dense quality of the air in and out of houses – inside houses where cooking of warming food is going on, and radiators have been turned up, and fugs of heat are swirling around, oozing off people and ovens and candles and baths and wood fires. Outside, this haze is a cross between mist and smoke – it has a tang of bonfire to it, because people associate autumn with bonfires and it’s amazing how your subconscious can turn a sight and a sensation into a smell. But it looks like it should cling as if it’s damp and it hangs in the air like low-lying fog patches. It’s a bit of a magic trick, too, because it seems to affect the eyes but nothing else – it doesn’t have any physical sensation; it evaporates before you can touch it – it’s a sort of weather mirage. It’s truly a ‘haze’ in that sense – it confuses and befuddles. Anyway, it’s particularly a feature of autumn.

Other hazy things: the word ‘Montezuma’. Say it out loud. Sounds a bit hypnotic, doesn’t it? Like if you repeat it enough times a cloud of sleep will descend ‘pon you and embalm you with its numbing, blanketing peace. Montezuma. Mmm.

Also related (especially if you are familiar with the album ‘Helplessness Blues’) is the Fleet Foxes song ‘Blue Spotted Tail’. Go track it down.

I’m not sure what it is about this song that makes me think ‘hazy’ but it is, to me at least. I think it’s the guitar and the humming combo. And the words ‘why in the night sky are the lights hung’. Now that’s a hazily-framed question, for starters, but it also seems to recall that way that stars have of looking a bit fuzzy around the edges, like their light is sort of leaking out of them into the fabric of the sky, the way a badly-dyed piece of cloth leaks its colours. Add to that the idea the lights are ‘hung’ there, as if they are great big bulbs or candles with moths and all sorts flitting around them, softening edges of things and making everyone a bit sleepy.
Other things that make me hazy: real coffee. I had some today (why is it cheaper to buy filter coffee in a coffee shop than tea? Surely tea is always lower-energy?) and it was a bit like an out-of-body experience. I had the odd feeling that my brain was floating slightly above and to the right of where my head was physically located and the sentences it was forming were not ones upon which I would be prepared to stake my life that I was making sense. (In case you were wondering, I think I’m still suffering from after-effects).
Also, port. Now I frequently have a terrible time of things when port is involved (although often that is because of the quantity of other alcohols that precede the port, and not simply the port itself). Last night Michael and I watched a film (I won’t tell you what film it was because you will think less of us, but I expect its intended audience is not an alcohol-drinking one) and we finished my bottle of 21st birthday Tawny Port. Nothing terrible happened, for once (not even a hangover, to the chagrin of my poor mum, who had two whole glasses of wine last night and had a rotten headache all day, bless). But port and a sort of happy haziness of spirit seem to go hand in hand, and apparently, not always in a bad way.
Finally, my future. That seems to be enveloped in an ever-intensifying cloud of haze. The mists of uncertainty are thickening and if I do not escape them I am in danger of being sucked into the fog of obscurity and the swirling quagmires of boredom. This cannot be allowed to happen. I need to make choices! But not now. Now I am sleepy. There is a haze over my eyes.
And on that somewhat cryptic note, I bid thee goodnight X

caterpillar

14 Nov
Sorry to leave you bereft for so long. Today’s theme – well, the theme of this post, at any rate – is caterpillars. Here are a few caterpillar-related little tales (would one consider caterpillars to have tails? They’re sort of all-tail, with added legs, really, aren’t they? Anyway. I digress).
Caterpillar tale 1: I have been rediscovering grooveshark (free online music streaming sans adverts, unlike Spotify). Over the weekend, I took this to new and unprecedented levels, especially with Disney choons. I’ve been listening to ‘Under the Sea’, ‘Colours of the Wind’, ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ and ‘Zero to Hero’ almost on a loop since then; they are brilliant. I have ALSO, however, unearthed a song from my yoof, which we used to own on tape and which tended to be played on long car journeys when we were all wee bairns. This song is ‘The Ugly Bug Ball’. I like this song very much. It is about a lonely caterpillar who feels as though he has no-one to love and believes this may be something to do with the fact he considers himself an ugly bug. He is invited along to an ugly bug ball by a spider and a dragonfly, where he meets a brilliantly coloured lady caterpillar, and they dance and fall in love. All the bugs are at the ball – ants, worms, fleas, spiders, dragonflies, beetles – and all of them are there because they think they are ugly – and they all have a superawesome time and go home happy that they came. It is a tale of reassurance that there is someone for everyone no matter how ugly you are, and you don’t have to be down about not having found the right person just yet. It is also a song about caterpillars. So relevant on all counts.
Caterpillar tale 2: This is more of a metaphorical take on caterpillars and stems from the mega rethink of my life ambitions that occurred around 10 days ago. I am emerging from my classical chrysalis and it turns out that I may actually be a bakery butterfly (or moth. As I said, ugly bug). Anyway. What I mean is that after cocooning myself in classics for many years and assuming that said cocoon would condition my state as I emerged from it, I am beginning to realise that maybe the material of which the cocoon is made does not affect what comes out of it. Well, that’s possibly not strictly biologically true, but whatever. I am not an entomologist. Anyway, my current thinking is rather more in the direction of ‘do something you love’ which is much healthier than ‘do something that will atone for not doing it right the first time’. Now this doesn’t mean I’m never going to do Classics ever again. Far from it. But I’m taking my time to really, really, properly think about why I want to study. So if I go back to it, then obviously I mean it, and I’m totally clear on why I’m doing it and what I want out of it. But if I discover that actually I was right to finally put it down, well, that’s good too. And what am I picking up instead? Well, I’m hardly picking it up. I’m experiencing my baking as a genuine passion rather than a useful hobby.
SO. In conclusion, before it all gets a bit too deep and I stretch the caterpillar theme too far, I shall say adieu, and you can expect many more pictures of cake. And to unite the imagery, here is a caterpillar cake I once made:
Don’t be alarmed. He is a friendly caterpillar.
Adieu!

owl

14 Nov

Have you noticed there are a lot of owls around at present?

I am buying into the owl trend by writing a blog post on the theme.

When I say ‘a lot of owls around’, I don’t mean a 1st chapter of Harry Potter-type scenario. There are not literally owls flocking between houses delivering news of a wonderboy wizard. Well, maybe there are, but I haven’t seen any. No, I am talking about an increase in the use of the owl motif.

Now I’m already a culprit here. I have a t-shirt with an owl on (well, a stylised owl) and a hairband – an alice band – with a little owl on the side. It’s only a matter of time before I buy me one of those big owl-pendant necklaces. And it’s not just me. Michael came back from Oxford with an owl hat. It has a little curved beak and everything. I’ve seen people in all sorts of owl-y things, from jumpers to t-shirts to bags. When somebody wears an owl-look waistcoat then the owl will have truly arrived. What is the current fascination with owls?

I mean, owls are pretty cool. My family used to go to our local garden centre far more frequently than I’m sure was strictly necessary because there was an owl rescue group or similar there. This meant there would always be owl handlers with different types of owl, all perched on their little perches, blinking at you with their big owly eyes, and sometimes, if you were lucky, you were allowed to stroke their owly heads. Have you ever stroked an owl’s head? They’re incredibly soft, and when you touch them they sort of narrow their eyes slightly like cats do when you scratch behind their ears. I guess the attraction of an owl is that they embody desirable human traits – they look cuddly, but they also look like they could take care of themselves (the claws, dude!) and they have big, soul-searching eyes, and they are associated with wisdom, and they can turn their heads all the way around. Well, maybe the last one not so much. But yeah. Owls. Damn cool.

It’s perhaps amazing that A. A Milne got away with what is frankly slanderous description of one Owl in particular in his Winnie the Pooh books. His Owl is revered by the neighbourhood for his wisdom and sagacity and spelling, but actually, he’s a bit of a thickie, and a manipulative, pompous one at that. The drawings (E. H Shepherd, not Disney), always make him look a bit jowly (a jowly owl, what a phrase) and he seems to behave like an unprepared teacher who is trusting to his commanding tone to see him through a lesson with a class which he is fairly sure will fall under his spell. ie, not like a *real* owl at all. A real owl would never do such a thing. (although now that I think about it, I’m sure owls are a cunning bunch).

Even more interesting is that we call a flock of owls a ‘parliament’. I like to imagine that owls, when they gather, sit on clearly delineated sides of a tree, and hoo-hoo alternately at each other in between joking about the other side’s manner of hoo-hooing. Or similar. I don’t know whether the collective noun was applied to raise the status attributed to owls, or to denigrate that applied to politicians. Although imagine the class expeditions to go and collect pellets (or chunder-nuggets, if you will, of undigested owl-dinner) in Parliament. Hilarity all round. Turns out DC can’t digest his caviar after all, ho ho.

Anyway, yeah. Owls.

Right. I’m going to bed. I have macaroons to fill in the morning. May scores of owls sing you to your rest X

baking

14 Nov

You’re probably sick of hearing me witter on about baking, but the fact of the matter is I just LOVE it. Today I came home from work (sans Michael; he has gone to Oxford on the train, armed with his trumpet and his dinner jacket, natch) and once dinner and social shenanigans were dealt with I opened my recipe books.

I had a bit of a brownie fail yesterday. Well, that’s not strictly true; what I made was delicious, but unfortunately, due to one or two reasons, it was not exactly what I was expecting. I took the brownies out of the oven at 40 mins – standard – and shortly after cut into them to serve as warm pudding-type material to assorted family members (for the record, Michael is now considered family). But alas – brownies that are too warm do not react well to being deprived of their self-composed structural support, and the sliced brownies quickly turned into puddles of mush. M remarked they were like Melting Hearts, the classic dessert at ExColl formal events. They were. I mean, they were damn tasty. But a brownie you have to eat with a spoon is not exactly convenient for, eg, taking in a lunch box. After the brownies had been left to cool, I scooped what remained out of the tin and into a box to go in the fridge and hopefully rescue them at least somewhat.

All this only stoked the fires (as t’were) for my baking endeavours today. (It’s just occurred to me that pausing on the brink of opening my recipe books to tell you about a failed recipe kind of mirrors Catullus 68, where Lesbia is described stepping across the door frame to come to Catullus and he goes off and describes how much she – possibly – is like Laodamia. This pleases me. Anyway.) So. White chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate cream cheese frosting were swiftly whipped together, shortly followed by brownies 2.0. I have decided not to put faces on this batch of WCCCF cupcakes because last time my sister kept making sad noises about eating things that smiled at her. She is on the brink of vegetarianism as it is and I think the cakes were just a little bit too far. That didn’t stop her, she just moaned about it. So I am circumventing this problem by keeping them simple. Anyway. They are much as you saw them pictured in ‘bears’. I made the brownies in a slightly larger tin, because I think one of the problems I had yesterday was that they were too deep (as well as being served too early). I had a go at extracting them from the tin earlier but I decided to leave them where they are and I will tackle them tomorrow, when they will definitely have set. And then I will parcel selections of them up and bring them to Oxford, because I promised the Excellent Alison that I would bring tasty treats and as she’s basically tutoring me in her not-so-spare-time for no reason except because she’s awesome, it would be remiss of me not to have something to give in return.

AND as if that weren’t enough baking love for me to tell you about, I am downloading this week’s episode of the Great British Bake Off (surely the best talent competition on television) to watch on the bus to Oxford tomorrow. YES.

It might be a few days before I bake  blog again so til then, pip pip X