Sunday 23 December 2012

More Mobile Bus Rage, The Risk of Eventual Death, and Extinct Chocolate Chips

TUESDAY: Lunch is a cheese sandwich made with now-ancient French cheese which tastes as if it was made at a Neolithic settlement in what is now France. The cheese is so aged it’s evolved into a complicated cheeselike form that smells so strongly I’m afraid of getting kicked out of the Millennium Galleries atrium as a potential terrorist using stinking cheese as a WMD.

This time of year brings more irritations to the usual daily bundle of nerve shatterers. With Christmas songs blasting from every corner and the rustle of crunchy plastic shopping bags full of useless gifts jammed between overclothed bodies on steamingly overheated buses, along with deadlines of all sorts, global banking problems, and various Internet-related rages, I really didn’t need the distraction of the young lady who sat across from me on the bus this morning. She was gabbing away loudly on her hands-free mobile as if the bus were her own private universe. What made me burst out laughing was when I noticed she was taking advantage of having her hands free by gesturing, as if the person on the other end of the line could see her. The other party obviously couldn’t, judging by the woman’s blank, self-absorbed stare directed at the back of the seat in front of her.

Why do I become so enraged when I see someone talking into the air – always at high volume – with their hands by their side or on their lap and their attention miles away from the reality of where they physically are and whose sense of concentration and/or serenity they are disturbing? If they were crazy loonies talking to themselves I would wholeheartedly forgive them; but in a court of law these hands-free lovers would insist on being declared as sane as you and me – the you and me who have just had our concentration on our intense book rattled by these inane and irrelevant one-way conversations.

(My god, this cheese is a bit scary…)

As long as I’m venting rage I may as well mention an absurd statistic I read in a recent Guardian article:

“Women who take hormone replacement therapy for 10 years after the menopause have far less chance of suffering heart failure or a heart attack or death, research shows.”

If you break this statement down, you get 3 facts:

  1. Women who take HRT for 10 years after the menopause have far less chance of suffering heart failure than those who don’t.
  2. Women who take HRT for 10 years after the menopause have far less chance of suffering a heart attack than those who don’t.
  3. Women who take HRT for 10 years after the menopause have far less chance of dying than those who don't.
I’ve always considered dying a natural progression of life: something that happens at the end of one’s life, basically, no matter how long one lives. And now I learn than women on hormone replacement therapy are actually less likely to die than other people. My god, if this is true, everybody -- young and old, female and male – should take hormone replacement therapy. If all of us were less likely to die, that means the majority of us would live forever. Naturally this would put a strain on the NHS and pension schemes, but it would certainly reduce all those funeral costs.

And just think how old cheese could become in this new immortal world. No, perhaps I don’t want to think of that right now.

WEDNESDAY: Lunch is a relief: a Moroccan houmus and Philadelphia cream cheese sandwich with sun-dried tomatoes. It’s a bit sweet, as with most prepared British foods it’s got sweetener added (in this case honey); but I’ve tried to temper the treacly taste with some chopped olives.

It’s the week before Christmas and, in a fit of nostalgia for my range of winter solstice cookies I was famous for baking in the States, I decided I’d bake some of my unique chocolate chip cookies tomorrow morning so I could take a few for my workmates before the holidays. I have baked chocolate chip cookies before in this country, and I’ve eaten other home-baked chocolate chip cookies. So why is it so difficult to find chocolate chips? I went to 5 shops this morning before lunch. The closest I could find were milk chocolate chips at a pseudo-posh “neighbourhood market”. At the big Co-Op in the city centre I found chocolate chip cookie mix, ready to roll out and slice and bake, along with cake icing ready to unroll and spread on your cake. Does nobody bake from scratch anymore?

I can tell you that mixing up my chocolate chip cookies takes probably 15 minutes longer than opening a wad of preformed (and pre-sweetened and pre-salted and pre-flavoured) chocolate chip cookie mix. But it’s a fun, sensual, loving 15 minutes that even ever-stressed I can afford to spend for the quality that results.

All I need are the damn chocolate chips…

Friday 7 December 2012

Synthesized news reports and a whole lotta sandwiches

MONDAY: I’ve been so busy carrying on with life, working on jewellery and writing projects while working extra hours at my job and keeping up with a hectic social life, that I’ve been spending my lunches reading rather than writing. But I must mention today’s surprisingly delicious sandwich made of things that needed using. My sandwich, on a surprisingly nice Asda sunflower roll, consists of houmus and cream cheese with chopped red pepper and spring onion, but also with a little nudgeon of leftover Stilton, too small to use in its own sandwich and at the extremely ripe stage. I diced it into small bits and sprinkled it on the houmus along with several torn basil leaves and a spicing of fresh ground and Cayenne peppers. And it works! Hallelujah!

TUESDAY: I have another new sandwich today: Polish cheese with Polish mustard on a lovely light and fresh granary breadcake. I suppose the cheese isn’t actually Polish, as it seems more Swiss or Emmental in character because it’s full of holes. But I bought it in my local Polish grocery, where all the cheeses are sliced off the wheel and the Polish clerk told me only that this was his most popular. I still don’t know its name. But I already feel intimate with it. It’s a nice cheese.

WEDNESDAY: I believe I’ve hit upon the best houmus sandwich yet. On a wonderfully light granary breadcake bought at a source I’ve just discovered, I’ve put a little Philadelphia cream cheese, regular houmus, chopped pointy peppers and spring onion, two sliced cocktail olives, a generous seasoning of fresh ground black and Cayenne peppers, and a very healthy handful of basil leaves Yum. This hits the spot. Yum yum is all I can say.

FRIDAY: What a wonderfully unusual lunch. Not only am I sitting in the Winter Gardens with opera singers performing in front of me, but I’m having an experimental sandwich: Caerphilly cheese on a granary breadcake with fresh ground black pepper and lemon zest. On one side of the sandwich I’ve put fresh thyme and on the other side fresh tarragon, and on half of each side I’ve got smashed raspberries. I’ve decided I like the tarragon raspberry quarter the best, although one could leave off the tarragon and/or the raspberries. I think I shall name this the Opera.

THE FOLLOWING TUESDAY: Lunch is a leftover spicy bean burger dressed with a bit of Dijon mustard, mayonnaise, a slice of red onion, and some leaf. Cold, it reminds me of a meatloaf sandwich --although most of my life’s experience with that classic American sandwich is the vegetarian meatloaf version. Quite surprisingly, I’m suddenly feeling a lot younger…

TUESDAY A MONTH LATER: It’s been weeks since I’ve posted a new blog. I am still alive, I think – I’m just very busy with everything else, which of course includes Life. But today I must write about something other than my delicious sandwich (sage and onion vegetarian slices and cream cheese on a fresh granary breadcake with sundried tomato, chopped pointy pepper, and a leaf of Red Gem lettuce).

In the Winter Garden where I normally eat my lunch, there is an exhibit today on synthetic speech presented by the Creative Speech Technology Network or CreST. I was invited to play with an electronic choir “singer” using an Xbox controller. It was a lot of fun and reminded me of my ancient Casio analogue monophonic synthesizer I played in a band in the early 1980s before graduating to first a polyphonic Roland and then a digital Yamaha. With the Xbox controls I could adjust the pitch, vibrato, and even the vowel that was being articulated.

Another exhibit allowed the user to create a story for a short comic strip and customize a synthetic voice to read it out loud, with options for the type of character (sex, age, etc.) and the emotion being expressed. This is an idea for the narration of audiobooks and other voiced text media.

This got me thinking once again about where the world is going. Consider the fallibility of computerized subtitles that enable one to watch TV with the sound off. In my local pub where this is often the case, a news story about Superstorm Sandy said that 3.5-metre baps were expected to hit the New England coast. Imagine a highly wavering child’s voice filled with rage shouting this news to you. This could be what we have to look forward to in the future of news reports: no human reporters necessary.

At least the political news reports can’t become any more absurd…

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