Chewing my keyboard

Monday, March 28, 2005

How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Varying responses but the one I found was "Two - one to hold the giraffe and another to fill a bathtub with brightly coloured machine tools".

What prompted this?

Well... I was finishing the last Liberty Belle picture for the inside of the guide (I'm doing the front cover today) and sent the previous two to my co-editors with the note "I've nearly finished the last one but it's missing a Scales of Justice and a fish". It occurred to me this sounded rather odd, infact, rather like a "How many surrealists..." joke.

I went to my parent's for the weekend where I, of course, watched Dr Who. I've never watched the original series but it seemed to be one of those cultish sci-fi things that I really should watch and there's a shortage of quality sci-fi on television at the moment, I feel. I found it highly entertaining... utterly silly in a knowing, amusing way. It reminded me of "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys", those trash classics of Channel 5 whilst far exceeding them. The trailer for the next week's episode looks even better, featuring many more special effects and I shall definitely be parked in front of the TV accordingly.

Now, I just have to meet a guy who uses the line "Oh, and by the way, it also time travels" (and is telling the truth). That said, no one would ever want me in the Tardis given I talk constantly, never sit still and read too many popular science books - "How does this time travel business work? Do you create two super- strings and make them hurtle towards each other at near light-speed? How does this work when you have a galactic mass like the earth in the way? What does this look like without the disguise? Do you create a pocket universe in here sorta like inflationary theory?". It's now reached the point where I actually notice really, really scientifically unsound sci-fi. Take for example, Hidden Empire (Saga of the Seven Suns) by Kevin Anderson. I picked this up to read on the train because I like space opera and can categorically point out that it is the biggest pile of steaming dung since this (which I couldn't be bothered to finish). Given we have genetic engineering, nanotech, etc. now then what's the probability we'd be able to get to major, cross-system space travel without majorly genengineering people or without this being a major, debatable ethical issue that caused tensions, etc. in society? And if you did have that, the whole of human nature would change. We would be aliens to each other. Society would be unrecognisable. And what about virtual reality?

But no... these people write current or earlier technology, base-line functioning humanity, feudal social structures and big spaceships (and aliens which aren't very alien). URK. It's so lazy and brainless. Good books include anything by Alastair Reynolds (that I've read so far) and the Deathstalker series. The latter, his writing is crummy and often repetitive, his technology is not really mentioned (but at least he manages to include space travel, genetic engineering, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence all simultaneously) and his society is feudal... However, it's so gory, gratuitious, utterly cynical about modern society and politics and downright funny that you can forgive him the lapses.

Once I've put Libby B. behind me, I keep wanting to restart my book. Unfortunately, I haven't managed to work out how a galaxy-spanning computer could work. The Turning Point suggests I might be able to use quantum effects for signalling because using light would make it unbelievably slow... not sure what I think of this book. I'm a holistic thinker so I kinda like what he's saying but I think his political views are driving it a little too overtly. That said, his view of quantum theory puts a spin on stuff that seems to make a lot of sense... and can potentially help me with my book. I'm also having problems with making some of the 'human nature'/'societal' background plausible...

My 'back story' is that humanity has a very nasty civil war between groups of humans who have been genengineered and are partly artificial which wipes out earth and the 'centre' of human spread leaving a disconnected 'doughnut' of human habitation that is initially planet-bound and has little knowledge of what went before the 'Cataclysm'. By the time the book starts, they have piecemeal reassembled a lot of the pre-Cataclysm technology and the disconnected 'doughnut' is beginning to connect again.

However, they have a pseudo-religious 'proscription' against artificial life and genetically engineering people beyond their 'traces' (their pre-cataclysm genetic modifications) since this was what they believe caused the cataclysm in the first place. I'm having problems justifying this 'proscription' holding up.

The other thing that is 'left' was the cross-system VR network. People who had downloaded into it were 'trapped' post-cataclysm and the 'external' parts of the network (a web of nanotechnology which allowed these virtual people to 'manifest') was also pretty much rendered planet-bound. Again, in the meantime, these people developed apart from humanity and have forgotten they are human. They don't really understand that they are trapped in a computer web or are virtual, and they have 'evolved' way away from being human since they are not constrained by human needs, human desires or anchored by human society. They can 'self-create' and have fragmented into pseudo-philosophical/caste-like factions which endlessly debate over the meaning of life. For example, the nominally ruling group have a 'physical' need (literally like hunger) for information and believe the purpose of existence is to accumulate information. Without information they 'starve' to death. They have to create themselves with some emotions or physical needs or else they'd just sit there doing nothing but I'm unsure what exactly they'd need to be created with to function and whether they would end up fighting each other over their needs if a 'need' was the only thing they were given. They are highly computationally 'intelligent' but have simple physical needs, almost like a cross between a computer and an amoeba. I'm not sure if this would function or how it would function...

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Young, Free and Liberal

I'm currently busy working on cartoons for Young, Free and Liberal: a young person's guide to Liberal Democracy (I love that title, it rocks).

I've been doing them slowly but am now trying to get all of them done by Monday/Tuesday. A tall order but I've done 3 this week already. I need to do another 4 and they take anywhere between 4 and 6 hours to do, depending on complexity.

I've added the new ones to my Yahoo photo album. I've been sending them to my co-editors to check they're not too risque for a mixed audience (or they don't look anything like the thing they're supposed to, which is more likely in most cases).

I spent from 2 pm to 9:30 pm last night drawing the social liberalism one (with a couple of breaks including an hour watching 'Art that shook the world' on Wagener (sp?) before I realised I wasn't actually watching The Culture Show. Art that Shook the World was presented by Michael Portillo and I can sorta see why various women have expressed Michael Portillo is sexy, since I haven't seen him on TV before and the effect isn't the same in a still picture... but then I can kinda get the whole Boris Johnson thing too. I fail utterly to see the attraction of Wayne Rooney, however [a strange LDYS conference conversation] but then I like bright and cultured, rather than athletic and rugged). End of digression...

Well, not quite... I did have the realisation that Tolkein unashamably nicked Wegener's Ring Cycle, unwrote it out of operatic German and altered it a bit. Get this - a dwarf-like creature nicks some gold and forges this into a cursed ring. Everyone who gets hold of the ring is corrupted (and dies and/or destruction follows). Peace is only returned when the ring is returned from the place from whence it came (The Rhine, though, not Mount Doom). Many dragons, giants, nymphs, etc. feature... Sounds familiar? [I can't find the link about how Tolkien was anti-industrial, romantic and establishment tho'... Same period/thread of thought tho' AFAIA]. Digression definitely over...

I originally intended to draw Liberty Belle holding a spliff for the Social Liberalism section and then I thought about it and realised that Liberty Belle has a strong Manga influence (mostly off Gameboy games) and I forget if I invented her before or after I saw Spirited Away at the cinema. She has the same long, skinny legs as Chihiro. Either way, she'll be about the same age as Chihiro which means she's supposed to be 9-10 years of age. I was not about to draw a 9-10 year old (even a anime cartoon one) smoking a spliff. Hence, after leafing through the guide I eventually drew her trying to reach some very tame soft porno mags but, because she's a little person, she can't... quite... reach... despite standing on the tips of her toes (which is, of course, a good thing given she's somewhat below the age of consent).

Friday, March 18, 2005

Le Signore del e aumentato

Inspired by Rome and fractals (although this isn't a proper fractal), I decide to do a classically proportioned figure.

Dull geeky discussion of my materials

I now have a lovely selection of pastels - mostly Unisons, a soft pastel hand-made in Derbyshire which I can recommend wholeheartedly for its velvety bloom. I have a few Daler-Rowneys which I found good for detail although a bit grainy and stiff and some Faber Castell polychromous artists pastels which are smooth and light fast and good for fine detail. I've found the Conte crayons (another hard pastel) aren't very robust (they just splinter into pieces if you so much as blink at them) and I don't find they work as well as the Faber Castells. Unfortunately, you can't buy Faber Castells loose, only in large sets (I have a 36 set). I also have a limited selection of Faber Castell pastel pencils for outlining which I've found very sound. My support is an A3 pad of 3 colour Daler-Rowney Ingres pastel and charcoal paper.

Link to picture

Anyway, after I've bored you with a discussion of materials, I will make the usual warning that if you are embarrassed by nude women don't look at this and most certainly don't go to Rome (although they seem to favour the male nude which, as I previously said, is very inspiring for the female sightseer).

NB: The title translates as "The Ladies of the Rose"... You can translate it in Google language tools. Hey, after all, I translated it from English to Italian in Google so it should go back the other way!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The interesting bit

Anyway, that summarised I can get on with discussing Rome which was significantly more interesting than either Frascati or (to the lay reader, at least) the intricate details of a conference on an ESA earth monitoring satellite that hasn't been launched yet ... or even me oohing and ahhiing over Hollywood interpretations of clothing worn during the 15th and 16th centuries by ladies of 'the night' in Italian cities.

It is recommended in various guides that you don't try to cover all of Rome in a day and, well, TBH I'd agree. It's just in my case I'm used to walking for 7-8 hours straight, I was on my own and I didn't really have much choice (only being there for a day).

Hence, I organised my day as follows:

8:11 am - leave hotel. The hotel was the Astoria Garden just to one side of the Stazione Termini (central station). It apparently has an tropical garden but although I kind of saw it through the glass window in the breakfast room, I was barely in the hotel and it is March. It was really cold the first day but by the time I left Italy it had warmed up to British May-type temperatures. Hotel is recommended for niceness although their breakfast was dreadful. The central station was nowhere as impressive as Milan's station (which was built by Mussolini, apparently, and an excellent example of fascist architecture). In fact, so confused was I by what the architect was thinking of that I photographed it. Maybe he (or she) was thinking "Hmmm, Rome is full of spectacular buildings so I think I'll create something that looks like a fan heater. That's confuse them"... or maybe not.

8:30 am - am very impressed by 2 domed buildings, a tall pillar (like Nelson's column in Trafalgar square), some Roman ruins, a distant glimpse of the Colosseum and this all occurring in the same square (Piazza). I got very excited, especially by what I thought was a large fascist architecture art gallery since it resembled Milan station (in fact, it's actually a monument built in 1911 called Emanuelle II monument and now contains some military museums. The Italian Intelligence chap shot in Iraq :( was apparently lying in state here whilst I was there although I didn't go into the monument. You can see people laying flowers in the first picture). I cannot explain how much I loved this monument. It is splendid in an overbearing way. I adored it, I photographed it at least 7 times. I practically expired of pleasure just looking at it. I couldn't take my eyes off it. I just wanted to uproot it somehow, pack it in my case, take it home and have its children. I loved it *that* much. AHEM...

8:50 am or so - reach the St. Angel bridge. As you can see from this photo, the sun is now rising properly casting a warm glow on the bridge. The view of the St. Angel castle is wonderful. I can't tell you much about this castle; I didn't have time to go into it and my guidebook got lost with my luggage (Alitalia baggage handling - booo! Hiss! Shame! Resign!) :( This bridge had some really kick ass statues like this one of several naked men falling over a horse (I think that's what they're doing - perhaps I don't want to know... I do like the Italian fondness for depictly the nude male form publically. It's very inspiring for purely artistic reasons (cough)).

9:00 am - I reach St. Paul's Basilica and Vatican city. I've crossed the whole of my map of central Rome in the space of an hour. I bought some postcards on the way for friends and sit at the point on the photo on a bench to write them out using a pen purchased from a souvenir shop just to the left of this photo. It's still very cold because it's early and the sky is clear and my hands get progressively stiffer, more chapped and more painful.

10:00 am - I have walked back across the bridge to the post office where I post the postcards in the box marked Estera (abroad). I am very glad I have an Italian phrasebook or they would have ended up in the wrong box and would never have got there :(

11:00 am - I walk to St. Paul's Basilica. My hands are turning purple/orange/blue so I buy silk-lined navy blue leather gloves from a shop on the street going to the Basilica - I work out the price and they're cheap by UK prices. At the time, I think the Basilica is the entrance to Vatican City (I assume it's a walled city and this entrance is the front gate). The square in front of the Basilica is massive. There are lots of columns and some mega-sized fountains (I took photos but I haven't uploaded them). After entering through an x-ray machine (like in an airport), I walk to the Basilica cupola queue accidently. I meet a Brit whose on holiday who tells me that the Sistine Chapel is in the Vatican museum and he gave up due to the size of the queues. I walk around the square in front of St. Pauls and walk a couple of streets to the end of the queue. It stretches around the museum walls for probably 1/2 a km (! and this is March. In summer it would be h*ll, esp. as it's now getting quite hot by 11 am and everything is pretty white). I find the Sistine Chapel closes at 12:20 am and think I won't get to see it.

11:30 am - the queue moves fast - I enter the Vatican museum. Don't do what I did and rush through the Vatican museum to get to the Sistine Chapel before it closes and to see as much as possible in a short space of time. There are many treasures there. Stuff you'd have to pay £15 a throw to see in UK is just stacked about in back rooms like it's commonplace. I paid 8 EURO to get in as a student under 26 (bring a passport or driving licence) and it's normally only 12.50 EURO and it's amazing. I missed all the 7ft high marble statues of Egyptian goddesses in the antiquities museum section :( There were at least 5 museums that were closed when I was there. Walking constantly I saw the picture gallery and main rooms in 2 hours and I could have spent hours rather than minutes in each one.

11:40 am - I enter lots of corridors like this. The first one I think is the Sistine Chapel and I take several photos. Despite peering intently at the ceiling I can't see the picture of Adam and God reaching fingers towards each other (the famous fresco by Michaelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) and belatedly realise this isn't the Sistine Chapel.

11:50 am - I enter the Raphael rooms. These were frescoed floor to ceiling by Raphael and his students and were previously the living quarters of the Pope. They are amazing and the rooms quite large. The picture hopefully gives some indication of the scale and there were many adjoining (and crowded) rooms like this with many pictures. Sadly, I was only able to glance at each of the many frescos. I feel sad I cannot read the signs or study each fresco in more depth but I must carry on walking to get to the Sistine chapel before it closes.

12:00 am - enter the gallery of Modern religious art. Stuck on one dingy wall somewhere is casually located a Van Gogh (there was apparently a Matisse - I must have missed it or it wasn't on display; I tried to glance, at least, at everything :( )! Many of the artists, however, I don't recognise. There are several enormous (like 2-3 m high plus) religious statues like the Madonna in a large back room with stained glass windows.

12:10 am - enter the Sistine Chapel. After all the other stuff, it's really not *that* impressive above and beyond the rest of the things - I don't get what the big deal is about the Sistine Chapel except that the ceiling is high and it took 4 years for Michaelangelo to do but then, the Basilica has higher curved domes that have been done in an illusionist style so even that isn't *that* special although Michaelangelo was about 200 years before I suspect the Basilica domes were done since Illusionalism was Baroque (I think). I feel a bit sorry for the people who took the Sistine Chapel express route, missing the Raphael rooms, etc. You are not allowed to take photos despite the fact you can photograph (or even video) everything else which is weird. I covertly take one with my flash off - I suspect they are afraid of damaging the frescoes with flashes. This is naughty but everyone else is taking photos and keep getting shouted at - the photograph is thus a bit blurred.

I walk more casually through lots of other corridors filled with cool opulent stuff like this globe. I can see the Vatican gardens through the windows of these corridors (I take photos - not uploaded). The corridors go on for a very long way - they are all gold leaf, frescos, embossed huge wooden doors, marble... It is terribly extravagant and not particularly subtle - it's frightfully vulgar really.

12:30 - I leave via this spiral staircase which is famous in of itself and was built in 1930s. The queue has gone despite the fact the museum closes at 15:20. I'm unsure whether it's because the last entry is at lunch or it's because everyone was queuing for the Sistine Chapel. I walk around the museum, see some souvenir shops, first entertain the prospect of getting myself a 1/2 m marble statue of 'David' (in Florence, not Rome) but it's too expensive, pass back through the metal detector ensemble and enter the basilica. I am blown away... It is apparently the biggest cathedral in the world and I can quite see this. This is a small side nave. The scale is incredible. I feel the urge to drop onto my knees and wonder how many people have done so, sensing the presence of the Almighty and clinically, I realise that they are not sensing the presence of the almighty, they are feeling the force of an agglomeration of centuries old human power. It is just a manifestation, a brute force demonstration to anyone watching of human political, social (and in the case of the Roman Empire stuff to come later, military) power.

~1 pm - pass these chappies on the way out. Resist the urge to shout "Nice leggings, mate" incase they speak any English. I wonder how much they get paid to stand about wearing that.

2:00 pm - I am making my way back to the station where I know I can locate decent food. I am going to buy baguettes and make sandwiches in the hotel with cheese. Later I give up and purchase a sandwich from an Illy coffee bar in the station. I take a detour to view the Pantheon. At the time I don't know what the Pantheon is but it appears to be something to do with the golden rectangle and a dome, and the photo of the inside in the guidebook looks interesting. It is apparently a Roman temple from 126 AD that was reconsecrated as a Catholic church. It has a hole in the domed roof. I can't believe how old it is and still standing! This really impresses me, although the inside is pretty good too.

3-3:30 pm - sandwich eaten I return to the Emanuelle II monument area and decide to do some 'Ancient Rome'. I see this and still have little idea what exactly it is but I think it's some sort of fort. Not sure what period - my guidebook got lost with my luggage and Google isn't necessarily helping because some of the descriptions don't have pictures.

I head in the direction of the Colosseum along a road lined with ruins. It's now late afternoon and the misty light looks really interesting over the ruins at one side of the road. Apparently this is the Forum of Augustus (built by the Emperor Augustus, dontya know... Sometime between 100 BC and 100AD I guess).

3:45 pm - reach the Colosseum. It's in pretty good shape - it's hard to believe it's been here since 76 AD or suchlike. It's a ripoff to get in 10 EURO and there isn't much inside apart from it being a ruin. I decide that it is 'The Colosseum' and I am on my own (so it's about £6 of my money which isn't *that* bad) so I go in. I go up to the first floor and try to imagine myself wandering about in a stolla and sandals. I mentally put the ruin back together and try to visualise sitting up there listening to the roar of the crowds, the blood, the shouting, chariot races, etc. I'm unsure if women were allowed in the Colosseum though.

Since I've paid 10 EURO I spend 1/2 an hour or so wandering around the ring on the 1st floor photographing things. I photograph this arch which reminds me of the front cover of my copy of the Song for Arbonne. The sun is setting casting everything in a golden light (sadly, my camera wasn't too keen on it and everything kept going pink). I photograph some carved stones extracted from the ruins and displayed inside.

4:20 pm - I leave the Colosseum. Outside near where this picture is taken, a man is playing a piece of music that I know but don't know what it is on the accordian. I take a video so I can capture the moment - the gentle sound and increasingly strong frosty nip of the wind, the golden light, the Colosseum, the beeping of horns and the accordian.

I walk up a hill towards the arch of Titus (there are 3 arches and I only have names for 2). I am trying to get into the area with the ruins. I walk up a hill and see people moving about but I can't get through a fence. I eventually end up at a chapel and come back down to find the gates are closing to the garden around the Forum de Augustus ruins (I missed the gate). I walk back towards the Emanuelle monument passing a church and a ruin with 4 maps on the side showing the expansion of the Roman Empire.

4:45 pm - I try to reconstruct the size of the forums in this area with my mind using the available pillars and ruins. I am overawed by the size and scale of the public buildings that must have been here in classical times. The centre of ancient Rome was of modern proportions (although the population was, of course, smaller). For some reason, I never imagined this. There is kilometres of this stuff. I can imagine the sweep of buildings even just from the pieces exposed between the Colosseum and the Emanuelle monument. I walk up the hill behind the Emanuelle monument for a birds eye look at the largest ruined area. It's now getting quite cold and my feet hurt; my ballerina shoes have been worn lose by walking.

5pm - I walk to the main city museum behind the Emanuelle monument on the top of the hill. It's beginning to get dark and I'm getting cold. I photograph Rome from the top of the hill at sunset. Next to the museum I see this statue which I know to be famous (and it's in several of the souvenir shops); compared to most of the stuff in Rome, it's small, discreet and easy to miss.

I return to the hotel.

The next morning, I realised I'd missed the famous Trevi fountain so I hiked back about 8:00 am before my train went at 10:30 am to Frascati (or Tor Vergata station - it's next to ESRIN and about 2 km from Frascati). Given the size of everything else, I assumed it would be terrifyingly large (some of the architecture was so not-human-proportioned that I found being in its company rather scary. It loomed in a way that made me feel it was trying to force me into the floor by force of presence and I kept wanting to run) but it wasn't. It was just a bit out of place given the size of the square.

On the way back, I saw some election posters for the regional elections. This one amused me. I think it's saying to vote for 'Buona Politica' (the good politician?) as opposed to Belusconi's Forzi Italia party (which isn't good!!!!). There were some ones for the Italian communist party elsewhere (I forgot where so couldn't take a photo) which I *think* said they wanted to not sign the EU constitution but my Italian, as I say, is not much beyond "Good morning" and "Excuse me". Although I can guess other stuff from GCSE Spanish, again, it's not really designed for the intricacies of Italian domestic politics.

Infamy, Infamy, they've all got it infamy

Carry on Caesar is close enough, sadly I can't spell "Et toi Brutai" and my functioning Italian is limited pretty much to the crucial "Un Biglietti alle e ritorno a stazionale termini, per favore" (One return ticket to central station, please).

I returned yesterday evening from a week in Rome. Or rather, about 1 1/2 days in Rome and the rest of the time in an industrial estate on the edge of a small town called Frascati, about 20 minutes out from Rome on the train.

The boring bit

I was, of course, at the aforementioned CryoSat conference at the European Space Agency ESRIN facility. It was a passably interesting conference: more relevant bits than the cryosphere (ice) conferences I've been to, a few pictures of satellites (always fun for a technophile/sci-fi type like me) and I found some people working with my instrument with whom I can hopefully do some informal email exchanges. The poster session was a dead loss - the posters were crammed onto foldable stands about 50 cm away from each other so that only one person could view any poster at any one time provided they didn't try to turn around and they were thin. The rest of the room was empty and had food so, needless to say, no one looked at my poster. The conference was free so they didn't bother providing any food most of the time and although the staff canteen was ok for lunch, I did spend a long time eating chocolate digestives, crispbreads, babybels and an assorted fruit and nut selection and raiding buffets (a skill learnt at Lib Dem party conferences).

Frascati was about 2 km away down a road with no pavement and, although pretty, had few entertainment options, a disturbing amount of white power/fascist graffiti and lots of teenagers loitering about snogging one another, staring threateningly at passersby (me) and smoking. The most interesting thing there that you could get to without being run over (no pavements or I'd have headed into the hills) was the supermarket where I spent an hour on Thursday afternoon (I was bored, ok?). I amused myself by making up tourist slogans for the place and generated "Frascati: more palm trees than Grimsby", "Frascati: visit our supermarket, it sells octopus" and "Frascati: close to Rome".

In general, I spend an awful lot of time hanging about so if anything goes wrong I have plenty of time to sort it (this has not prevented Alitalia losing my luggage :( ). I spent 5 hours hanging around the airport because I unexpected shared a taxi with some researchers from the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge who were trying to catch a 9:30 am flight (mine was 1:30 pm local time).

This was an advantage to some extent because I discovered and purchased a rather excellent replica Venetian mask in the airport. My favourite film is The Honest Courtesan and I've read Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay. The whole 'drifting about in provocative but elaborate costume showing lots of cleavage and having frenzied assignations anonymous due to said mask during sultry Mediterranean night' business really appeals but sadly, erm, in real life I wouldn't be able to stay awake long enough and wearing the mask I look rather more like a red indian than a mysterious lady who drifts about tantalisingly between Corinthian pillars in the misty twilight. I am going to persist - I shall make myself a rather elaborate corsetted gown (like this one) to go with the mask at some point. It will be midnight and black velvet with gold lame, low cut square neck (like the one in the photo), tight waist, lots of skirt gold panels and some exposed leg, probably gauze sleeves but with slits in so I can wear elbow length black velour gloves. Preferrably they would be elbow length fingerless gloves so when I grow my nails back (and my hands stop being chapped) I can paint them gold... [SNIP]. Where I would wear this outfit escapes me but I'm sure I can find somewhere wholly inappropriate.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

A very nice chilli

The poster is finished, submitted (1/2 an hour before it needed to go to the graphics department) and I'm just worrying incase it'll come out on A0 alright. Oh, and the fact I still have to do all the numerous preparatory tasks I didn't do yesterday...

In the meantime, here is a very nice recipe for vegetarian chilli loosely remembered from the Times on Sunday Style supplement. Ingredients are for a single portion.

Take 2-3 sticks of celery, 2/3 of a pepper, a small red onion, 1/3 of a fresh chilli, some parsley and a garlic clove. Chop finely and gently stir fry for a few minutes.

Add 1/3 of a tin of chopped tomatoes, about 1/3 of a tin of mixed beans and approximately 1/3 of a 'tin' of water.

Simmer gently for ~20 minutes until thick. Serve in a warmed tortilla.

To add extra flavour use more chilli, 1 tsp of cumin seeds and some lemon thyme. I am unsure if I'm allergic to cumin (it's either cumin, coriander or tumeric) and I couldn't find any lemon thyme.

I used organic vegetables from Fresh & Wild although if you make this *not* in March you may be able to find some ingredients at a farmer's market and the farmer's market stuff will probably be better (despite not being organic). The environmental and purported health benefits of this is a happy byproduct to the taste factor (some sprouts I got from the Bristol farmer's market were lovely). My mum has her whole garden, 2 greenhouses and a rooftop glasshouse conservatory turned over to produce growing so I grew up with things straight out the garden... and I find most vegetables from Sainsburys taste as if the contents of the packet is made out of the same material as the packet (this isn't just confined to vegetables - their margarine lasts for about 2 years and tastes of zero). The vegetables seem to have been *plasticated* within an inch of their life - looks nice, tastes of nothing in particular.

In short, use good quality produce and the chilli will have a gentle, subtle flavour that is faintly spicy but not overpowering. Most processed 'chillis' taste as if someone has upset about 6 tablespoons of chilli powder into them, probably to cover up the fact that the remainder of the ingredients have lost any vestiges of taste.

Food issues are always difficult. On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure that the whole 'poncy middle class muesli eating types whittering on about organic/locally-produced food which the poor couldn't afford' stereotype is strictly true. Take my chilli. It costs me about £3.64 per portion (for 3 days). If you imagined adding 3 £0.50 pots of yoghurt to that (to add to the tortilla) you could probably stretch my 1 portion between 2 [women - men eat loads]. It would then cost £2.14 per portion. If you bought some stuff from a farmer's market it would be even cheaper (I bought an entire stalk of sprouts that I couldn't get in my fridge for £1.12). Total production time for this meal was around 30-40 minutes in total.

Now think of buying a microwaveable chilli in Sainsburys and it'll be about £2.49. It'll take about 10 minutes to prepare (probably 5-7 minutes cooking time). Please don't tell me most people have such hectic lives that they can't afford an extra 20 minutes out of their life on an evening to chop some veg... And if you do have such a hectic life, in my experience (as someone who patented the 'have so little time to eat I am cycling whilst eating' approach to life) you must be so stressed out of your mind that your immune system will be shot to pieces meaning you'll catch everything going and, to be honest, you're unlikely to be satisfied with your life if you're that stressed however much you're earning so... maybe it's trying to tell you something.

Apparently the swizz is that:

'Supermarkets have fostered the notion that we have no time to cook. These days, if you still make time to cook fresh food from good-quality raw ingredients, you can be made to feel you are a loser, pottering away in the sleepy backwaters of modern life. Supermarkets like us to think that cooking is the first thing that can be cut from a busy home/work schedule, with no negative effects whatsoever. This is because supermarkets make far bigger profits from selling us value-added processed foods than they do from straightforward raw ingredients. There is only so much you can charge for a potato, even an heirloom, hand-scrubbed variety. But transform workaday spuds into low-fat gratins or Louisiana potato skins, and the sky's the limit.'

Perhaps there aren't all these people combining raising children, charity work and 15 hour days working for Morgan Stanley after all...

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

All over bar the shouting

My poster, I am happy to report, is all over bar working out the number of looks at each along-track position (which probably means nothing to anyone but me), fiddling with the introduction, 1 easy coherence diagram and adding a pretty picture of flightlines over Svalbard.

My supervisors recommended that instead of doing extra slope coherence calculations, which are rather dry, I 'moistened' the poster a bit by including a pretty picture of the NASA P-3 aircraft and some pictures of flightlines over Svalbard in the rationale of the project.

I should be all done by mid-afternoon (poster needs to be in by pm today for printing) and then it's just a matter of getting bus tickets, travel money and my E111 stamped, re-learning some Italian and trying to avoid the ravages of the LDYS flu which everyone else seems to have got (if they didn't get sickness). I'm hoping that the fact I was only in the conference hall for about 3 hours coupled with the fact I didn't eat anything there will be enough to save me and, if not, my diet and general level of fitness (although I've worked over lunchtimes this week instead of walking) will. I've been stressed and had disrupted sleep over the poster, travelling to Rome and other things, so I'm worried incase it's knocked my immune system. Flu and an academic workshop in Italy would be a bit of a disaster. The workshop is actually 20 minutes away on the train from Rome at ESRIN in Frascati. For the truly interested, I'm going here.

Lazyliberal thinks the whole travel thing is really smug and points out that although, yes, I am working - he doesn't get to go to Rome before teaching class 10B. I don't feel sorry for him (:P); his choice to go into teaching - I only initially did Geography A-level because there was a trip to Switzerland, wandering around European and Scandinavian cities on my own isn't all it's cracked up to be and I have only been abroad with my PhD twice in the last 2 1/2 years (3 times including this workshop).