Thursday, February 26, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #7: Beef in Oyster Sauce

I'm still playing catch-up with the experimental cookery for this year. I'm hoping I may catch up this weekend, but it may run on as far as the Easter holidays.

Anyway, this week's effort came from "Chinese Food Made Easy" by Ching-He Huang. It was a somewhat expensive meal to make, due entirely to the need for a piece of fillet steak, but was otherwise quick and simple - some chopping, a short period of marinading the beef, and then into the wok.

I was quite impressed with the results, which were tasty for a minimum of fuss. I was somewhat dismayed that LC didn't even try the pak choi, but I guess that's her choice - I'll restrict myself to complaining about it on my blog (when she least expects it). And I suspect we'll definitely have this again at some point.

And that's pretty much that.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My Hidden Agenda

When I ask a question, my hidden agenda is this: I don't know the answer, and I would like to know the answer.

That's it. I'm neither a politician nor a lawyer - I'm not trying to score points or lay a clever trap for you, nor am I implying some criticism or demanding that you drop everything and get something done. And neither is the real question something I've not asked but am keeping in reserve.

I don't know the answer, and I would like to know the answer.

You know, just in case you were wondering but didn't want to ask lest I take it the wrong way.

Monday, February 23, 2015


This weekend was rather a busy one.

It actually all began on Thursday, which saw the birthday gathering for The Twins. This was an ejoyable enough evening, but largely unremarkable. Sadly, due to the Chinese New Year I wasn't able to get my usual takeaway and so had an uninspiring pizza instead. Oh, and I missed band.

On Friday we had a works' night out. For the first time in my career, one of my colleagues was retiring, and Friday was his last day, and so we went for a meal out. I therefore finished work, rushed to the gym for a short 20 minutes, rushed home, and then rushed to the train. I then walked to the restaurant, which was pleasant enough if somewhat... rustic.

I had calamari to start, then penne with spicy sausage, and then ice cream. And a couple of beers. It was an enjoyable meal. Of particular note was that at one point Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland's top political journalist, came in for his dinner. I didn't go get a selfie with him.

After the meal, several of us decided to go for a drink. However, our first pub selection failed - a few of us had already gone in, and as the second group of four arrived the doorman decided he couldn't let big groups in. I'm not entirely convinced there wasn't some other agenda at work there.

Anyway, no matter - we went to a different pub instead, which proved to be much more welcoming. Then, two beers later, I caught the train home, getting in just after midnight.

Saturday saw me eating out again, this time with Lady Chocolat at Cafe India in Glasgow. This was also a fine meal - haggis pakora, followed by a chicken curry, followed by ice cream (again). And Coke this time, as I was driving.

After the meal we went to another pub, this time to meet up with LC's friends as one of them had decided "we should go to a ceilidh". Oh, yes - the pub in question have ceilidh dancing every Saturday. I should probably have mentioned that.

Anyway, the rest of the evening was quite good fun, although the dance floor very quickly became very busy. Plus, there was an incident where I was called on to rescue a friend from being chatted up, which was solved by the expedient of asking, nay demanding, that she must dance with me at once. Job done.

We got home just before midnight on Saturday, thus avoiding the dreaded moment when the car turned into a strange silver pumpkin (or something).

On Sunday we had pizza from the Hut. It was okay, but less festive than the other meals.

And that was my weekend. I'm a bit tired now.

This Week's Mug: This week I'm drinking from a white mug marked "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey". This was a Christmas present from LC's parents, I think the Christmas before last (or perhaps the one before that, given the film referenced). It's a perfectly good mug, albeit one that sees little use.

#9: "The Long War", by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Independence Lens

After the referendum in September, I was pretty happy to leave the debate in the past. Indeed, I said, "Alex Salmond said that this should settle the issue for a generation; David Cameron said it should settle it "maybe for a lifetime". I'd actually go further than that: unless something dramatically changes - ... - this should basically settle the issue forever."

No such luck. It appears that, for the foreseeable future, everything in Scottish politics will have to be viewed through an Independence Lens, and since Scotland is one of the keys to the General Election (the others being the questions of how well UKIP will do and how badly the Lib Dems will collapse), that means that by extension much of UK politics falls into the same area.

Part of that is inevitable. In UK General Elections, only one of the three "Yes" parties has any real footprint - the SNP. That, coupled with the fact that the SNP government has been mostly providing mostly competent governance for eight years, makes it pretty easy for "Yes" voters to decide how to vote.

But for the "No" voters it's rather more tricky. Because the Tories are a non-event in Scotland, and the Lib Dems are about to join them, which leaves Labour as the only alternative to the SNP. But can Tory voters really bring themselves to vote tactically for Labour? And, indeed, can they do that in the knowledge that that most certainly does make a Labour government more likely?

And it also doesn't help that Scottish Labour is, sadly, utterly woeful. Their campaign has largely been built on comments about the oil price (which would indeed be a concern had the vote gone the other way, but as things are it comes across as unseemly glee at lots of people losing their jobs), the "Vote SNP, get Tory" line (while the Tories are simultaneously saying "Vote SNP, get Labour"!), and a catastrophic attack on the Scottish NHS based on "mis-read" numbers.

And so in many areas, "No" voters have a tough choice: vote for a pro-independence SNP, waste your vote, or vote Labour with all its warts. Not pleasant.

But what worries me is what happens after the result comes in? And, in particular, I'm concerned about the case where Labour are short of a majority, could form the government, but only with SNP support in some form.

The thing is, I am actually genuinely uneasy about the SNP being part of a UK government. I genuinely believe that it is the job of government to run the country in the interests of all the people - not some favoured clique, not some pressure group, not a particular region, not just for their voters, and not even for the majority. As such, it's actually inappropriate for a pro-Scotland party to have disproportionate influence if that means the rest of the country suffers as a result. (That said, a Labour or Tory majority government is liable to operate disproportionately in the interests of big business in London. So if the reality is that my choice is between us or them being favoured, I'll choose "us", thanks.)

But, as uneasy as I am with the prospect of the SNP being involved in a government (be it a coalition or some other arrangement), I'm much more worried about the possibility of Labour not doing that deal. Because if Labour refuse and thus force another election, or they enter a Grand Coalition with the Tories, or they cooperate with the Tories to allow the largest party to form a minority government, then they're saying that the democratic voices of the people of Scotland don't count for anything - it we won't vote for one of their approved choices, they'll simply marginalise the choice we do make.

(And there's another scenario that concerns me as well. It's very likely that the Tories will get 0 or 1 of the Scottish seats, the Lib Dems 1 or 2, and Labour and the SNP will divide the remaining 56-58 between them (in any configuration). But what, then, if we end up with a government that doesn't include either Labour or the SNP, be it a Tory minority, a Tory majority, or a Tory/Lib Dem, Tory/UKIP, or Tory/LD/UKIP coalition (or whatever else I've forgotten? The current coalition is able to face down criticisms about its mandate to govern Scotland because it has 11 Lib Dems as well as 1 Tory, but if that drops to 2 Lib Dems then that's a much harder sell.)

So, the only arrangement that doesn't fill me with constitutional angst is if there's a Labour majority and Labour somehow hold on to a majority of the seats in Scotland. Which I really can't see happening. And, given my opinion of the current Labour party (both in Scotland and in the UK as a whole), I really hope doesn't happen.

It's a huge mess. And I fear it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Update on Goals

We're now 50 days into the new year (already!), and so it's time for the first update on my goals:

  • Weight: Some progress here, but an awful lot still to go. One thing that is of particular note is that since returning to work I've made it to the gym on all but one of the Fridays. The missing week was due to ill health, which I think is an acceptable reason.
  • Books: 8 books done, which puts me exactly on target. The only thing that is of some little concern is that I haven't yet read any books from The List this year, though I have read the first quarter of "Gone With the Wind" with a view to catching up in some future month (hopefully March, but perhaps April).
  • Games: Likewise, I'm right on target here, having had one session in January and with a second planned for the end of this month.
  • Work: Work has been difficult, but good. Nothing much to report here.
  • Band: This goal looks almost certain to be completed, except for one possible wrinkle: it looks like we might not compete at all this year! I'll update on that at a later time, once I know something solid.
  • Super Secret Goal #4: We've (well, mostly LC) started work on the minor repairs and redecorations of the flat, which is positive, but there's still a lot to do. It's also proving stressful trying to chase the council to do the roof repair...

And that's where we are. At present, it looks like a clean sweep of goals might actually be possible.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #6: Spaghetti con Gamberetti e Rucola

Oddly, I've just spotted that my Experimental Cookery series for 2015 has a numbering issue - it jumped from #3 to #6. I've no idea how that happened, but have now corrected the mistake. The downside of that is that it means I'm still behind - I had hoped to do one a week through this year, which means #7 should really be being posted today. Oh well.

Anyway, last night's dinner came from "Jamie's Italy", and featured lots of spahgetti, prawns cooked in a quick sauce, and rocket (one of my least favourite leaves, but there you go).

The meal was pretty easy to prepare, although there was a moment of some concern when the pan went en flambe (which wasn't in the recipe!). I also misjudged the timing somewhat - I should have had the spahgetti mostly cooked before I even started on the sauce. As it was, I had to keep the sauce waiting while the spahgetti finished off.

I also made a slight mistake with the dried chilli, in that I included the amount indicated by the recipe, which was too much. So the resulting meal was intensely hot, to the point where I promptly had to rush out and get some ice cream.

It was nice, though. A couple of tweaks for next time, and it will probably become one of our favourites, probably on a par with the chorizo carbonara.

(Just as well, really. Monday's dinner was pretty rank, being fish from the "Inspirations" range, served with badly overcooked oven chips. Not exactly my best moment.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Game Masters Exhibition

On Saturday LC and I went to see the "Game Masters" exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland. It's a celebration of the history of video games, with playable games from over the last forty years. Sounded like fun.

The exhibition was split into three sections. The first of these, Arcade Heroes, was probably the most enjoyable of the three, covering some of the really early games such as Pac Man and Asteroids. This was great fun, as they had sourced several old arcade machines that people could jump on and play. Good to get re-acquainted with some old friends.

The second section was Game Changers, which talked about some of the shifts in gaming: the move to home consoles, the introduction of open-world gaming, MMOs, and the like. It also dealt with the rise of new social games, such as SingStar, and also with TT Games Lego games which saw something of a renaissance in both children's games and licensed games.

I was surprised by this section, in that I enjoyed it much more for things other than the games. This section had lots of pieces of concept art and design work littered around the place, and also had video interviews with many of the people involved. This was all rather interesting.

The games themselves were a little underwhelming here. In the first instance this was because it was very busy, which meant getting onto any gaming machine was something of an ordeal. However, having gotten on to a game I quickly found two problems: firstly, you were playing a tiny snippet out of an hundred-hour game, which was never going to satisfy properly; and secondly, you were doing so with fairly complex, and totally unfamiliar, controls. That was never a recipe for good times.

(Fortunately, they didn't have Civilisation II amongst the games, or I might still be there. Heck, if they ever port that to an Android platform, I'm doomed! (But, luckly, it does have to be Civilisation II - none of the other versions hold the same danger.))

The third section was about Indie games, which was... okay. Here I just wasn't familiar with most of the games, nor terribly interested. I'm sure they were great and all, but... I was just underwhelmed I guess.

All said, I rather enjoyed the exhibition.

Experimental Cookery 2015 #5: Crostini

Possibly a bit of a stretch this one, but I'm going to count it anyway.

As is my wont, I cooked a three-course meal for Valentine's Day. The main was steak and chips (mmm, chips) and the dessert was meringues with cream and fruit, both of which I've done previously. The starter, however, was new, being crostini. The recipe was taken from "Jamie's Italy", a book I enjoy more in theory than in practice, as I've made virtually no use of it.

The starter was near-trivial. As I said, it's a bit of a stretch. Basically, I had to toast some ciabatta bread (store bought, so I can't even claim credit there!), and then add some garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, mozerella, chilli, and basil. So, essentially, it was little more than cheese on toast.

Still, it was only one part of a three-course meal, so there!

This Week's Mug: This week's mug is black, with a wraparound design showing the London Underground (probably out of date). As a mug, it's actually quite good, but I don't think I've ever actually used it before (though I think my Dad did, once). This mug was purchased for me by LC on one of her trips down there.

#8: "Pathfinder: The Divinity Drive", by Crystal Frasier

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Dawn Threshold

Today was the first time this year that I left for work during the day. For the past couple of weeks there have been hints that this was coming, but today that threshold was reached. It's funny how much of a difference such a seemingly-minor thing can make.

The next threshold is coming in a few more weeks yet, which is when I get home from work during the day. (Excluding Fridays, of course, when I leave early.)

This Week's Mug: This week'smug is a standard white mug with a wraparound design showing the Colliseum in Rome. I purchased this on my second visit to Rome, some four years ago. It's a nice mug, but it rather pales compared to the souvenir Lady Chocolat has from that trip...

#7: "William Shakespeare's Star Wars: The Empire Striketh Back", by Ian Doescher

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Experimental Cookery 2015 #4: Thai Green Chicken Curry

This one comes from Lorraine Pascale's "Home Cooking Made Easy". It turned out to be pretty easy to make, largely because of a 'cheat' - rather than making a green curry paste (as I did for Jamie's version), this one calls for using a jar. That made the process easy, and indeed quick, but the results weren't as good.

Nonetheless, I was happy with the results of this effort. It tasted good and was worth the limited effort. So, a success. I'm pretty sure I will make this again, although I think I'll probably merge this with Jamie's home-made paste to get better results (hopefully). But that's one for another week...

#6: "D&D: Rise of Tiamat", by Steve Winter and Alexander Winter

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

LC and I went to see this on Tuesday in glorious two-dee. It was a lot of fun.

The film is one part an affectionate parody of a Roger Moore-era James Bond film, and one part a standalone spy film. It features Colin Firth as the gentleman spy "Galahad" (or Harry) versus Samuel L. Jackson as the criminal genius Valentine Richmond. Plus Mark Hamill making a rare screen appearance, Michael Caine as "Arthur", and a bunch of other people (obviously).

It was an awful lot of fun, provided you don't try and take it too seriously. Anyway, I very much enjoyed it.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Game On

I got a bit of a shock this morning. For the past couple of weeks, there has been talk of some constituency-by-constituency polls conducted by Lord Ashcroft in Scotland, that were expected to shed some light on what's happening in Scotland in some more detail. The first batch of results are now available, and as expected they're not pretty reading for Labour.

But what shocked me especially is that my old constituency of Coatbridge, Chryston, and Bellshill gave a result suggesting it might switch from Labour to the SNP.

The reason that this was shocking is that this is considered one of, if not the, safest Labour seats in Scotland. Tom Clarke has been MP there, effectively, forever, and the scale of his majority was such that I would have expected him to be there until the day he retires.

If the SNP are in a position where they even have a chance there, then they're in a position where they have a chance to take any seat in Scotland. The only really comparable stronghold would be Alistair Carmichael's hold on Orkney & Shetland.

And it means that, probably for the first time ever, it's actually relevant how people there vote.

Not that I expect it to make any real difference. Whether the SNP take 20, 40, or 59 seats in Scotland, I expect them to do well enough to prevent Labour from being the largest party. And while a Labour/SNP arrangement of some sort could theoretically give a stable government, I don't expect that to happen - I suspect Labour would actually rather deal with the Tories, or even accept another five years in opposition. So my prediction is still a Tory minority administration after May.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Their Last Bow?

So, the return of the Celtic/Rangers game has come and gone. It turned out to be an awful lot of hype and very little substance: rather than the old contest of near-equals, this one was very much a case of one fairly ordinary team nonetheless comprehensively outplaying another, far inferior team. They did enough to win the match, and then enough to stay in control of the match, without ever really showing what they could do. It really wasn't any sort of advert for Scottish football.

(It's also worth noting that the BBC's pre-match coverage was just dire. But that's another rant, and a fairly well-worn one by now.)

I do find myself wondering, though: this was the first Celtic/Rangers match for nearly three years; will it also be the last ever?

Experimental Cookery 2015 #3: Beachside Paella (modified)

This one was taken from the first Hairy Dieter's book, though it was modified by being made for two people instead of six; and by the removal of the mussels, squid, and beans.

To be honest, this was all a bit of a faff, involving lots of cutting things up, then messing around with adding things to the pan at various points, and generally more steps than were ideal. Plus, it took a bit longer than was expected, largely as a result of the same.

In fairness, though, the result was rather enjoyable, although perhaps might have been better with chicken breast instead of thigh meat. I think I'll be investigating other paella recipes before returning to this one, and indeed may well end up building my own hybrid.

(Besides, allegedly it's not really a paella at all - purists would seem to claim that the addition of chorizo bars it from that. I'm not particularly fussed about being a purist, at least about this.)

This Week's Mug: This week's mug is very much of the old order, being a Space Mountain mug I purchased on my first visit to Disneyland Paris, some seventeen years ago. It's a simple white mug, stamped with a mostly-blue depiction of the titular ride. The truth is that this is a mug that doesn't get used at all often, and for good reason: the glaze on the mug was never terribly good, which means the coffee tends to be 'enhanced' with the taste of the mug itself. It's not an enticing prospect, such that I suspect this week may see the last ever use of this mug. Still, it's had a good run.