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Archive April 2006
Wednesday 26 April 2006
It's recipe time again, this time with two recipes brought to you by the "surplus of some ingredients none of others" and "I'm not bloody going to the shops twice" schools of cookery.

Spinach (or something else) and Onion (if you like) Savoury Buckwheat (or other notable flour) Pancakes (or crepes as Americans call them)

Put X/2 handfuls of wholewheat flour in a mixing bowl. Add X/4 buckwheat flour, X/4 soy flour, X/4 gram flour and X/4 rye flour - if you lack any of these, substitute one of the others; soy and gram are similar, wholewheat over either of the others. Add about X/2 teaspoons of olive oil and stir. Add X/6 500ml cartons of soymilk. Stir. Add water while stirring until the batter is of a thickness that will sit on a fork for a couple of seconds, but will drain through and leave gaps between the prongs.

Now chop up X small onions or X/2 large onions, and start frying in olive oil. Chop up X/2 big handfuls of spinach, and put that in to fry too. Add X/2 heaped teaspoons of powdered stock, and X pinches of salt. Stir the mix occasionally until it's suitably fried, then remove from heat.

Heat oil in a non-stick pan, then pour some of the batter in, tilting the pan at about 35 degrees and rotating to spread the batter around. When all the top of the poured batter has changed colour, detach and flip the pancake (either with shaking and a clever toss, or with a scraping tool), add a smidge more oil and cook the other side. Put it on a plate, then repeat this paragraph until you run out of batter. While you're repeating this paragraph, put the spinachy-oniony-goo on the pancake on the plate, roll it up and eat it. If you're doing this just for yourself you'll have to eat it quickly, because if you're not finished by the time the next one's done you'll get increasingly far behind and they'll end up getting cold. If you have a co-eater it's much easier because you can make them eat every second one.

Serves X.

Creamy Spinach-Sauce Pasta

First do the second paragraph of the recipe above. Add X/6 cartons of soymilk to that and put it back on the heat.

Put the pasta of your choice (I like macaroni), in the quantity of your choice (enough to serve X) in boiling lightly salted water. When the pasta's nearly done, blender the spinach-onion-and-milk sauce. Drain excess water off the now-done pasta, then put the sauce on the pasta. VERY DELICIOUS. Serves X. [01:22] [7 comments]

Monday 24 April 2006
When I was recently arrived back in the UK, something that was horrifying me a lot was the fact that the price I was paying per night for a hotel (only for a couple of nights mind) was an amount of money with which I could buy more than a thousand packets of instant noodles, or nearly six hundred tins of beans. After a few nights of that I could have built my own house out of food containers. As a consequence of that train of thought, I present "What Else Could I Buy?"
If you were intending to buy two nights in a crummy hotel for GB£170.00, you could instead buy:
  • thirteen kilograms of swiss chocolate
  • seven kilograms of cheese
  • two thousand, one hundred and twenty-five 65g packets of Tesco value instant noodles
  • twelve milliseconds of TV advertisement during the Superbowl
  • twenty kung-fu lessons
  • one hundred and thirty-two grams of marijuana
  • eight hundred and nine cigarettes
  • five thousand, six hundred and eighty-five 5mm light-emitting diodes
  • one hundred and seventy lottery tickets, probably worthless
  • four hundred and three packets of itching powder
What are you thinking of buying?
I might buy for

Have a play with that.

Unrelatedly, on the flight to the UK I saw the movie "The Promise", which IMDB seems to think is horrible, but I thought was great. It's like The Princess Bride made in Hong Kong on a big budget. In the same way as The Princess Bride, the plot is stupid but simultaneously coherent and fun. In the same way, the woman is stupid and annoying and the guy continues to love her anyway. There aren't any exploding giant rats, but there are reasonable equivalents.

Unrelated to that, a super-efficient and inexpensive fridge, and a solar distiller. [22:16] [4 comments]

Saturday 15 April 2006
After all my recent stressy posts, today was relaxing and pleasant. I now have cable TV, phone and decent internet for cheaper than just internet was in Australia, and a nice huge second-hand TV. Last night a friend visited from the next city over, bringing a few food basics for me, and took me to a delicious noodle restaurant, where I learned that the reason Nottingham has a reputation for having a high female-to-male ratio is not that it's true, but rather simply that its females are much prettier than Derby's, and its males much less pretty. Also they are all very loud.

So today I had a lovely day watching millions of episodes of Futurama and Simpsons on a huge TV (the main channel I get with the cheap cable TV option is the "insane amounts of Simpsons and Futurama" channel), eating toast and sorting out some more address updates. Then I ordered a pizza delivery from local pizza place Goodfellas, which was comically incredulous at my "no cheese" request (or possibly just sensibly carefully confirming my order), delivered in about fifteen minutes, and was perhaps the most delicious pizza I've ever had from a shop.

And now, new Doctor Who with the rest of my pizza. How could you make my day better than that? [22:31] [2 comments]

Friday 14 April 2006
I am now moved into the house on Raven Street. The downstairs smelled a bit like dog. There was a bin in the kitchen. "Oh good I don't have to buy a bin," I thought, then "oh god what the hell is that?" A creeping black sludge around the edges of the insides, and also half an eggshell and a cork. These are things I am making note of to put on the 'inventory', so if the downstairs smells like dog when I move out that's not my damage deposit, and I can leave sludge in the bin too if I want (new sludge, I cleaned out the alien slime), and the various cracks, off-colour splotches and nails in the walls must be none of my concern.

Also the external base of the bin had even worse sludge on it, as if it had been stood in a cowpat. Hopefully the bin was what was causing the dog smell.

I called NTL, who had helpfully scheduled me an install date a billion years in the future, and got them to shift it up to much sooner, hence being able to post this on these here internets today. I tried to call them before, but the "change install date" number was an 0845 number, that put me on hold for half an hour, which cost about 5 quid. The "you are a new occupier, get NTL!" number I found on the floor when I came in was an 0800 number, and coincidentally didn't put me on hold for any time at all. Who'd have thought, a semi-premium number to a phone company having long hold times, and a not-making-money number having none? Shocking.

I also called the electric people to put my name on those bills and tell them the meter reading. Then I called the gas people. All these calls were from a payphone. Two were 0800. The gas one was... (pause for dramatism)... 0845. They only put me on hold for about two minutes, but that was long enough that my 30p ran out as soon as I started to give details to the person. So instead I have written them a letter (using a pen!) with the requisite details and some invective about using 0845 numbers as moving-in numbers (when people will necessarily be using either an expensive mobile call or a payphone). As penalty they must read my penwork!

0845 numbers are supposed to be the price of a local call, but if they are it's an extremely expensive local call. BT payphones say you get 15 minutes for 30p, but to an 0845 number you get about 3. Skype gives me an hour to an ordinary number anywhere in the country for a euro, but costs four or five euros for half an hour to an 0845 number. Bastards.

In determining whether the house had a phone line for dial-up internets before NTL got sorted, I discovered I no longer had a UK modem-to-wall cable. On my way back towards town to get one, I passed the extremely-local corner shop, and saw scissors and craft-knives and air-fresheners in the window. "Oh, I need scissors," I thought, "and maybe an air-freshener will remove that invisible dog." So I went in and bought those. "You have quite a variety of items for such a small shop," I remarked to the shopkeep, then, mostly in jest, "you wouldn't happen to have a modem cable would you?"

"Oh, I don't think so." He said.

I chuckled. "I didn't expect so, but no harm in trying."

He reached behind himself, "I do have this phone extension cable."

I squinted at it. "Can I see? Hm. That includes the cable I need! You are the best shop ever."

And so it is. (Though the next day it failed me, when I wanted a surge-protector-and-or-power-splitter.)

In other house-related news, getting a 28-inch CRT television up stairs on your own is harder than I expected, and I don't recommend it.

This house is going to be rubbish for guests, with all of everything concentrated in my bedroom. Not that guests can't come into my bedroom in small quantities. No more than one limb at a time.

(Added later) Well, internet got set up successfully after a few false starts (broken hardware given at first, then he came back and sorted that out and I still had to deal with the horrific OS-specific badly-written software to get the network cards registered as allowed-to-connect), but now places seem to be turning down my debit card. It has plenty of money on it, so I can only assume they're either doing "we will not deliver to an address that isn't on the card" and not bothering to explain that, or the card's doing "oh no he has been spending a lot in another country, the card must have been stolen". Either way I'm probably going to end up with no furniture or food for another few days beyond the few days I was expecting. Gargh. [02:10] [4 comments]

Wednesday 12 April 2006
Now that I have a place to live, I need basic furniture. Things to cook with and sleep in, most importantly. (Yes, thanks for the offer but I probably don't want to cook with and sleep in you, humorous though the suggestion would have been if I'd waited for you to make it. You know who you are. You know what you doing.)

In looking at online Argos1 catalogues for the sort of sundry things you normally take for granted, I found myself briefly tempted by the idea of combining these two atrocious products with other products of similar nature.

Bah, copyrighted images, so here are artists renditions of the products, linking to the actual products.

Cups   Bedding.

But instead I think I'll just try to hunt some crockery, cutlery and duvet-covers that aren't horrifying, instead. In other notes, it's amusing how in populating a house with furniture I seem to be trying to hermetically seal it, because all the anti-allergen products seem like much better ideas to me. Steaming vacuum, latex-cored mattress, bamboo-fiber bedding, all stainless steel kitchenware, dephasing flux-capacitance air-polarising entryguard... But really it's just that the mattress and bedding are nicer, the steamer might make the living room lose its slight dog-smell, stainless steel kitchenware is always best except for cast iron, and the imaginary entryguard keeps Jehovah's Witnesses away.

1. Since getting back to the UK it has struck me how completely unintuitive it is to wander around the shopping centres. If you didn't already know (and some of you probably don't) then what sort of a place would you say each of the following are - in each case this is all the shopfront says, and in some cases there's no window display: Natwest, JVC, HSBC, Barclays, Thomas Cook, RBS, Boots, Marks and Spencer, Frank Innes, Stuart, Argos, Woolworths, Sainsburys, Tesco, WH Smith, Orange, Clarks, Bairstow Eves, Waterstones, Westfield, Adams, Alliance and Leicester, Barratts, BHS, Birds, Dixons, Thorntons, Wilkinsons. Why can't they bloody call themselves "Bob's Supermarket", eh? There is one of this list I pass on my way into town and I still don't know what it is. [10:08] [4 comments]

Monday 10 April 2006
So, it looks like Raven Street will be my home for the next six months. Seems to be a nice quiet street; standing there for half an hour at 10am, one SUV went past, one car left, and two old people (the neighbours on one side) arrived on foot. There is a primary school just across the road, so it might be a bit louder at horrible morning time and sensible afternoon time, but it's a fairly small school, the house is all double-glazed and one of the bedrooms is in the back half of the house, so that shouldn't be too bad. For extra bonus points, a couple of ravens (or unusually deep-voiced crows) flew over, cawing, when the guy arrived to let me in. Downside, I had misremembered the price, it was 425 rather than 400 a month, so it wasn't the cheapest one, nor was it the closest to town.

So what was wrong with the cheapest one that was closest to town? I walked past it on the way to Raven Street, and it looked quite uninviting. Worst aspect was a huge single-pane window right next to the street, clearly inviting drunk passers-by to accidentally trip and fall through it, showing a tiny pokey little living room on the other side. The Raven Street house also has a street-level window direct to the living room, but it's a 9- or 12-pane window and the living room is a sensible pleasant enough size (albeit still pokey by international standards). And, as mentioned, it looks like nobody will walk past anyway.

And what was wrong with the detached one? I couldn't view it 'til tomorrow - didn't want to risk the quite pleasant Raven Street one being taken - and its suburb, Ilkeston, has this horrible website, and pieces of news about yobs burning public buildings and buses being cancelled. And also it was more expensive and might have had people wanting to traipse through to see if they want to buy it, which would have been annoying.

Top tip - if you're ever going to move internationally without someone prepared to receive you on arrival, you will need to have a huge wodge of spare money. Credit checking ensues even for renting, and the only way to beat a credit check when you're in a new country or returning to an old one after more than 5 years, and thus have a totally blank credit record, is to throw money at it screaming "I WILL GIVE YOU THE MONEYS NOW SO IT DOES NOT MATTER THAT I HAVE NO CREDIT" and shaking the rental agent until he or she submits. The next night, put a horse head in their bed to seal the deal. [19:03] [0 comments]

Sunday 9 April 2006
Since returning to the UK a mere three days ago, I have been windswept, chilled, nothinged, rained on, windswept, sunshined on, rained on again, sleeted on, sunshined on, rained on again, briefly snowed on, and then rained on again. That's what I came back for.

What I didn't come back for is to be turned down for a mortgage (any mortgage, even from skank companies that give mortgages to people who declared bankruptcy and still owe other people money) despite clearly being awesome for one (the people involved all thought I was awesome, the standardised checkboxes hate me), unexpectedly ejected from a hotel because they booked me in for shorter than they said they had and then had no free rooms, Pot Noodles having added cheese and milk solids to the ingredients of the flavours I used to like, and Space Raiders and Monster Munch having added lactose.

I should elaborate on this hotel stupidness. The cheapest hotel I could find, the Swallow, undercutting their own nominal nightly rate for me by nearly 50%, was 50 quid a night. That's $87 for Americans, or $120 Australian. This isn't in a highly desirable area or anything, it's no central New York or middle of London, it's a second-rate town in the midlands, mostly populated by people who read newspapers whose names begin with Daily. As I recall, the hotel in Las Vegas at the horrible Defcon I went to was cheaper than this, though I might be wrong. It certainly wasn't a lot more.

I had asked, before checking in, whether they provided internet access to the rooms. Yes, they told me. What they didn't tell me was that it would be 3 quid for an hour, or 6 quid for a day, or 40 quid for up to 66 hours over up to 30 days. Rule one of UK hotels - always deceive the customer. They also apparently knew before I checked in that the shower was fucked but didn't bother to tell me (it could only work at half-pressure, the other half still coming out of the tap), and didn't know that a couple of other features were broken too. So that's quite an expensive rate for a broken room, really. But still, it was the best available, so what was I going to do? If there'd been somewhere to lock my bags up I'd have seriously considered sleeping under a tree.

This morning they phoned to 'remind' me that I was due to check out at 11. I wasn't, I had booked for one more night, but they weren't having that, and were fully booked so said I must leave. So I tried other nearby hotels; one was okay and available for one night but fully booked for the next (I only need one night, but I need somewhere to leave my bags for half of the next day too), one I had asked for prices before and was insanely extortionate, so I wandered off to find another.

And thus we have where I am now, the Stuart. Significantly more expensive than the Swallow, its front matches its price. The room, on the other hand, is quite a bit smaller with an ostentatiously-single bed (I suspect it's smaller than normal-single). They have wireless here, they say, but it doesn't seem to extend to this room. They have wired too, and luckily I can do either way. But what's that, the extortionate price isn't gouge enough? Of course not, internet access here will be seven and a half quid extra for 24 hours. Fuck you, hotels. And you can obviously do this as much as you want because you're all fully booked *despite* charging extortionate rates and having shit rooms and shitter service. This makes me want to be a hotel manager. (Not so I can gouge people and provide shit service, but so I can gouge people a bit less and provide good service and thus ruin these bastard hotels.)

On a lighter note, while I was waiting three hours to be allowed to check in, I went to a pub, and had half a pint of Guinness and some chips (fries). By gum, draught Guinness is nice in small quantities, and British pub chips are how chips are supposed to be. While I was thinking that about Guinness, three people bought pints of Fosters ("Australian for beer"). [19:19] [3 comments]

Saturday 8 April 2006
So, giving up on mortgages, being the untrustworthily not-doing-a-job-I-hate man I am, I started looking at renting instead. Then I got distracted and started looking at houseboats, because I could afford to buy one of those outright with no mortgage. Then I discovered the one houseboat that sounded perfect for me was already sold. Then I found that mooring fees for houseboats come pretty close to being equivalent to the cost of renting a 2 bedroom urban terraced house anyway. That's pretty damn expensive for a 500 square foot piece of water.

So unless I want to go for a bluewater live-on-board yacht, such that I could spend a lot of time out at sea instead of mooring (which is still a bit tempting - it'd sound like even more exciting adventures than most people have with their horrible travelling, and I wouldn't even have to leave my house!), it seems my best bet is just to suck it up and rent a house, that one thing that was the thing I really didn't want to do (well, other than sharing a house, I wanted to do that even less).

So now the question is, which of these best suits me?
Option 1: 500 quid a month, 2-bedroom detached house, 25-35 minutes from Derby by bus (or 30-45 to Nottingham). Is also simultaneously for sale, so there's the possibility of maybe it not being sold by the time I'm sorted for mortgages, and thus being able to buy it and end up as my own landlord. Has a delicious Tesco supermarket a block and a half away.

Option 2: 420 quid a month, 2-bedroom semi-detached house, middling-short walk from Derby centre.

Option 3: 400 quid a month (or maybe it was 375, *that* letting agent didn't give me the details on a piece of paper), 2-bedroom terraced house, very-short walk from Derby centre. Bonus points for being on Raven Street.
Of course to make this decision for me you need to know what my criteria are - as if it wasn't obvious from the options. My criteria are a subtle blend of price (lower is better), number of shared walls (lower is better), ease of getting to places (lower is better), and general awesomeness (more is better). Given that I can't actually make this decision myself, with full knowledge of what my criteria are, you, of course, can't either.

Except I bet I know who can, and what information they will use, and they will be right, and I've actually answered it for myself by looking at the question from that point of view. But I'm not saying! You all must tell me where I should live and why! [21:19] [13 comments]

Friday 7 April 2006
Oh for fuck's sake. Yesterday, places were all "oh yes, I'm sure we can give you a mortgage just like what you want, we could probably even go about 15000 quid higher than you want". Today the line was more like "we were lying yesterday, you can't have a mortgage, not even from those really dodgy lenders who'll give anyone a mortgage, ha ha".

Is it because I have bad debt and bankruptcy? Because I leave trails of the dead in my wake? Because I don't have the income for it? No, none of those are true, nor have they ever been. Lenders are quite happy to give mortgages to the first two of those categories anyway. But what they really really hate, it seems, is people whose evidence of their income is in foreign money.

I have a couple more things to try, but it's starting to look like I'm going to be stuck with renting, even though all the people I can actually talk to agree that I'm obviously not a high-risk credit thing. You never get to talk to the underwriters.

Anyone got about 60000 quid they want to lend me? I'll pay higher than normal mortgage interest rates. [18:31] [5 comments]

Thursday 6 April 2006
Now I am in the UK, in a hotel, using their internets and killing their doods, and hunting houses. I caught one, but I let it go again... FOR NOW. It's living in fear. [23:42] [2 comments]

Wednesday 5 April 2006
I am in Singapore, and you are not. The airport is big and the internet is free. Tomorrow I will be in the UK. Then you'll see. You'll all see. [17:11] [2 comments]