November 10, 2011

Bleeeech con’t, day two


I couldn’t get out of bed this morning either.  Ratbags.  Gigantic throbbing neon ratbags.  Did I tell you that I was going to the concert that I missed last Wednesday, tonight, as the tour swung back (roughly) in this direction, pausing at Barnstorming, which is not implausibly far by train?

            I didn’t go.  And as I write this it’s happening  now.  Whimper.

            Sigh.  Well, I kept the booking for the dog minder to hurtle hellhounds this afternoon.  She said when she brought them back, shiny-eyed and panting,* that they had been very lively.  Yes.  I’m sure.  They’ve been a trifle short of hurtling the last day and a half.**

            So, day two of no energy and very little brain.  With reference to the latter it is a very good thing that Penelope rang me this evening to tell me that the (bell) ringing tomorrow morning has been moved up twenty minutes.  The . . . ?  Long pause my end.  Oh.  Right.  Memorial ring tomorrow morning.  Of course.  I knew that.

            As long as I had her on the phone I asked her about the no-flour bread I mentioned here the other night, and for which I’ve now had several requests.  She confirmed what I remembered, that she made it up as she went along, and I have continued that tradition, creating a batter that looks right.  But generally speaking it goes like this: 

Baked ground-seed somewhat breadlike substance 

Start with an egg.  Beat it up.

Add ¼ c oil or melted butter.   Groundnut (peanut) oil is good.  If you like the flavour, olive oil is also good.  Beat together thoroughly.

Probably about 2c ground seed.  This is what Penelope used, and what I’ve used since:  And yes, it’s eye-openingly expensive—but your nonbread will be more filling than your average mere floury object too, and you can get away with thinking of it more as a vegetarian main course.  But stir in enough to make a softish but not runny batter—gooeyness more or less what you’d expect out of an ordinary tea or quick-bread batter. 

You may want a little salt.  I like a little tamari.

When you’re happy with the texture, sprinkle or sift one or two (measuring) teaspoons of baking powder and one or two (measuring) teaspoons of dried herbs to your taste over your batter, and beat that in.

If you’d rather use fresh herbs, chop them up and add them before you add the baking powder because chances are they’ll dampen the batter a little more and you’ll have to adjust.  A big handful of parsley or coriander is good.  I don’t think fresh basil bakes all that well:  if you want basil, I’d use the dried. 

Pour it into a round 8” pan.  I haven’t cared to find out just how sticky ground seed is, so I butter and flour the pan and put a circle of parchment paper in the bottom and butter and flour that too. 

350°F for about half an hour.  It won’t rise, but the baking powder and the beaten egg seem to stop it from turning into a brick.  Bake till the edges are turning brown, and the middle is firm to a light touch. 

I haven’t made it for a while, but I’m clearly going to have to.  I’m sitting here remembering how good it tastes. 

* * *

 Bratsche wrote:

I always enjoy reading about your pleasure from your [singing] lessons as well as the progress you’re making. 

Progress.  Blerg.  When I was warming up today it was taking even longer to persuade my voice to come out of hiding because we were both so traumatised by yesterday.  You know that weary old adage that voice teachers and random members of the populace like to quack at you—that you have no idea what you sound like from the outside?  Well, you do after you’ve made the mistake of recording yourself.   And since I played it back right after I made the recording, I know what this or that note feels like when I’m singing it.

            But, as previous, I like singing, and at the moment it’s one of the few passion-engaging things I can do, because I can always sit down between phrases, or revert to Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes for a bit, or whatever.  So I persevered, in my wombly way, and the music started to get hold of me.

            Peter had been having a snooze*** upstairs when I started, and when I was about halfway through my practise he came downstairs and started rustling around in the kitchen.  I finished a song and was turning over my music and thinking about what to have a hack and chop at next.

            That’s a nice noise, said Peter.

            My hand froze.  That’s what? I said.

            That’s a nice noise, repeated Peter.

            You’re being kind, right? I said.

            No, he said.  You don’t sound timid any more.  It’s nice.

            . . . So maybe I am making progress.  You do have to remember that Peter is about as musical as a tablecloth or a cricket bat.  Still. 

I occasionally have students who really want to challenge themselves with material (most of the time I say, “Ok, let’s go for it!”, knowing they’ll learn a lot from diving in somewhat over their heads). And as I work on learning a new instrument, I’m definitely drawn toward the harder pieces, because I like the sound of them better. 

Yes.  I don’t know if it’s like this for string players, or for professional musicians learning a new instrument, but certainly at my level I realise there’s also a kind of ragged line about learning—there’s more you could do on a simpler piece if  you could do it yet, but you can’t, so you might as well go stretch yourself like a rubber band on something you clearly can’t do yet, but that’s a thrill just to try to replicate a little of.  And you can go back to the simpler thing later when you’re all clevered up from the stretching.  Also as it happens most of what I’ve been singing lately is mournful and while I like mournful, Se Tu M’Ami is a kick because it’s about a girl saying I like you fine, honey, but if you think I like only you, think again.  I doubt I’m putting much of this over, but I’m aware of the bounce when I’m singing it.  Erm.  Trying to sing it.  Although on the subject of putting it over, while I don’t know if any of this is audible, I’m back on good terms with Caro Mio Ben again, thanks to Nadia.  One of the things she said—speaking of mournful—is that a way to approach it is that every phrase is a sigh.  

. . . it’s the amount of time she spends talking me out of the holes I’ve dug for myself 

Yes, but that’s just part of what a good teacher should be doing (in my biased opinion). Dealing with the non-technical and non-music-specific bumps is part of learning how to make music. 

Nadia says she knows a lot of voice teachers who have gone back to school and become shrinks.  Snork

* * *

* That’s hellhounds, not dog lady.  Although she was possibly a trifle out of breath.  

** Although they’re not complaining about the extra time on the sofa.  Hey, can anyone out there recommend a pretty-to-look-at but stupid hidden-object/mild adventure/no blood, killing or monsters, no-time-limit-setting, preferably unlimited hints, iPad-compatible game?   I finished Rosecliff and am almost through Crystal Portal, and have basically bombed out of Serpent of Isis because I loathe the freller.  I don’t like the moronic cartoons, the hidden objects are too hard, the puzzles are IMPOSSIBLE^, I hate using your flashlight in darkened rooms, and—and this is why I’m quitting—the quality of the graphics for the level of complexity is frankly inadequate and since I’m playing the thing on my still-shiny-almost-new iPad 2, I don’t think it’s my screen.  I object to wasting (numbered) hints on things that I missed because they’re indecipherable.  

^ One of my biggest complaints about computer games generally, every time I’ve had a little stab at this utterly supernumerary category of time-wasting, is that all of them seem to assume that you already know how to play computer games.  Is there a pill?  Or an energy drink?  And suddenly the scales fall from your eyes and all the frelling conventions and assumptions are writ plain?  

*** Peter’s ability to sleep through my thumping and squealing is one of his greatest virtues as a husband.^

^ Although agreeing to pay for the extra quarter-hour of voice lesson is also high on the list.

Geography and Chocolate


THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO HAS MADE THE AUCTION/SALE A HELLGODDESS-ASTONISHING SUCCESS.  THANK YOU.   The rough results are up on the auction site.  When Blogmom and I have caught up on our sleep a little, one or the other of us will tell you more about final results and future whatevers.  But chiefly . . . THANK YOU.  Ding dong bell, you might say.

* * * 

There’s been a conversation on the forum about geographic perception.  Or lack of perception. 

blondviolinist wrote:

Black Bear wrote on Sat, 08 October 2011 10:28

Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas–those are all “great plains states.”

I had a friend (who had grown up in Seattle) once inform me that those states were Eastern states. I just about died laughing. Honey, do you know where the Mississippi is? Do you know how many hours you have to drive from those states to get anywhere near the Eastern United States?

Everyone knows this iconic New Yorker cover, don’t they?  Or are my own East Coast roots showing?

          The New Yorker shop [sic*] sells prints of it and if it cost about one-fifth of what it does cost I’d buy a copy.**

 * * *

Meanwhile . . . I promised a friend about three weeks ago a red velvet cake recipe.***  I  knew I had a red velvet cake recipe, but I also knew that I hadn’t made it in a while because if I’m going to deal with all those calories I want them really, really worthwhile.  Here’s my biased take on the red velvet cake question:  there isn’t enough chocolate because some deranged person has decreed it’s more about the colour.†  I got rid of a lot of my cookbooks when we moved out of the old house—aside from the bookshelf space problem, menopause zero-metabolism was already creeping up on me—so even after trolling through the cookbook shelves of three houses†† there are at least two other red velvet recipes I can’t seem to find.  But here’s one that I know I’ve made, both because I kind of remember it and because the annotations are clearly in my handwriting.  And the pages kind of stick together.  This is a good sign.  I may have to make this one again some time.

            Note that the original called for one tablespoon of cocoa powder and a two ounce bottle of red food colouring.  Ewww

½ c soft butter

1 ½ c golden sugar:  the raw, low-refined kind that isn’t the pure white of standard granulated.  It doesn’t have as much flavour as brown, but more than white, and it’s mellower than dark brown (and more interesting than light brown.  Say I).

2 large eggs

1 tsp REAL vanilla

2 c flour, or maybe a little more

¼ c unsweetened non-Dutch-process ‘natural’ cocoa powder

pinch salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 c buttermilk, or 1 c milk minus 1T, plus 1T vinegar to sour it.  I’ve been told many times this is cheating, but it’s a lot easier than finding buttermilk and then figuring out something to do with the rest of it.  Theoretically, I think, if you’re using vinegar, it should be skim or low-fat milk—‘butter’ milk is a misnomer—but I always used to use whole/full fat because that’s what I drank, and it worked fine.†††  Most of that soured-milk stuff works semi-interchangeably in baking—I always thought—you get a slightly different taste and texture if it’s sour cream or yogurt, say, but if your ingredients, especially your chocolate, are good quality it’ll all be silky—or velvety—and damnably excellent. 

             Standard cake deal:  cream butter and sugar.  Beat in eggs.  Sift dry and add alternately with sour milk.  Beat hard, but don’t hang about either:  as soon as the vinegar hits the baking soda your batter starts expanding.  Turn into 2 8” or 9” round pans with removable bottoms which have first been buttered and floured with great enthusiasm and thoroughness.  (A greased and floured cut-out of parchment paper works just as well if you don’t have push-out-bottom pans.)  350°F about half an hour:  the layers should rise in the middle, and the edges start to pull away from the pan walls.  Let cool at least ten or fifteen minutes before you try and get them out of the pans.  I tend to think soured-milk cakes are more fragile than others, but that may just be my karma. 

            Frost when cool.  I recommend vanilla buttercream, myself, but as you like. 

I still haven’t given you my favourite chocolate cake recipe, have I?  Or have I?  The Red Devil AKA McKinley’s Famous Exploding Chocolate Cake?  Which is another of these sour milk + baking soda + chocolate = red.   My Red Devil cake, despite its distressing incendiary habits, is the reason I pretty much don’t make any other chocolate cake any more.  I don’t dare have cake very often‡ and I only really pine and yearn for that one. 

* * *

* I grew up in the hard-copy only era, certainly, but I also grew up at a time or anyway on the fringes of a society that believed The New Yorker was cool^.  I am still having a hard time getting my head around the on line presence of a New Yorker shop.  It’s like finding out that Hillary Clinton moonlights selling pencils on a street corner.  I even follow the NYer on Twitter.  It’s just not the same, reading the cartoons off a computer screen.^^  

^ Although I don’t think I’ve actually read the thing since Janet Malcolm on Sylvia Plath, which seems to have been 1993.  How time flies.  Eeep. 

^^ Which is not to say that some comics were not totally made to be read off computer screens.

** Maybe this is the modern on line version of cool.  

*** I believe she needed it by last week. 

† Also, chocolate has changed.  I’ve been trying to remember, but I seem to be unduly tired yet again today,^ my progress through the erratically charted geography^^ of chocolate.   I stopped using Dutch process when I stopped drinking cocoa, but that was a long time ago;  I may have cluelessly used Dutch process in the pre-annotation version of this recipe, which would help explain why I thought it was boring.  (It still needed more chocolate.) 

^ Go away, you Mutant Virus, and take the ME with you!  You have seriously outstayed your welcome!, as Holofernes might have said to Judith if he’d had the chance. 

^^ I perceive a theme.  Also, speaking of themes, anyone who doesn’t follow me on Twitter may need to know this: 

†† I never said there weren’t drawbacks. . . . 

††† I’d use low-fat now because the rest of the carton would be easier to give away, because that’s what everyone I know now uses.  And yes, I assume I could still escape major punishment for ingesting the amount of (cooked) milk that was in a few pieces of cake, despite the ‘no dairy’ billboards lining my alimentary canal.  I’d be worrying more about getting the waistband of my jeans closed. 

‡  See:  getting waistband of jeans closed



Okay, we’re on.  The New Arcadia Bell Restoration Fund sale/auction that you were beginning to think I had forgotten about GOES LIVE THIS FRIDAY.  MAKE A NOTE.

            And, perhaps, to get you (back) in the mood . . . 

Inspired by the clock that hangs on the wall opposite where I sit, hunched over my computer, at the kitchen table at the mews.



No, not champagne. British cider. Which is to say hard cider. And my favourite teapot, which got broken some years back, had polka dots on it.


I’m trying to remember the last time I made this recipe.  The fine old American tradition of chocolate and peanut butter tends to make the British giggle and look superior.* 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies 

¼ c soft butter.  I did once make these with all peanut butter and mysteriously it wasn’t as successful.  The straight butter brings out the peanut flavour somehow—as well as producing a better crumb—or again it may have been that particular jar/batch of peanut butter.  Peanut butter isn’t as variable as honey, but it’s surprisingly variable nonetheless, especially, I suspect, if you decant it from giant vats at your health food shop, which I used to do, when I had a health food shop with giant peanut-butter vats.  The original recipe called for equal amounts of butter and peanut butter, however, which I don’t approve of either.  This is about the peanut butter.  Well, and the chocolate.**

½ c chunky peanut butter.  This may need adjusting depending on how squidgy your peanut butter is.  But stand by to add more flour if the dough is very soft and goopy.*** 

1 c well tamped down dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract (NOT FLAVOURING.  That hellgoddess obsession:  use REAL VANILLA.)

2 c flour.  I recommend half standard white and half spelt.  They make white spelt now, if you can get hold of it.  When I was still making these you could only get wholemeal spelt, and you could push up the percentage to about ¾ spelt, but you need a little plain white to lighten the texture.  I’d try it with wholemeal and white spelt.  The spelt flavour goes really well with the peanut butter.

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

1 c chopped dark chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips

I’ve been known to add ½c chopped hazelnuts.  No, not peanuts.  Hazelnuts are more interesting, and to my taste they go with peanut butter better than most of the other standard nuts—almonds, walnuts, cashews.  I bet Macadamias would be good too. 

Cream butter and peanut butter together thoroughly, then brown sugar.  Then beat in egg, finally vanilla.  Beat AND BEAT till fluffy.  Mix the baking powder and soda into the flour(s), stir till all the same colour, then add to the creamed stuff.  Beat till blended but no more.  Stir in chocolate chips last. 

Drop on greased or parchment-paper-lined cookie sheets.  350°F, probably about 12 minutes, till they’re just going brown around the edges.  They’ll be fragile when they come out, so leave them alone till they’re at least half cool.  This is why I use parchment paper:  you can just pull it, cookies still in place, off the sheets.  Of course then you run out of counter space†, but hey.    

 * * *

* Feh. 

** It’s always about the chocolate.  

*** The worst thing that happens if you guess wrong and your cookies are too goopy, is that they run together while they’re baking and you have to cut them up and then eat them carefully because they’ll stay fragile even when they’re cool.  But they’ll taste fine.  That’s the worst thing that happens if your cookie sheets have edges all round.  Let me tell you about how having cookie/baking sheets with edges all the way around is a very good thing.   

† Unexpected Uses of Hellhound Crate Top.

Really Ratbaggy Weather and Suitable Distractions


It’s more of the sunny blue/falling wall of water business today, and very annoying it is too.  We went on what ought to be one of our favourite hurtles this morning and . . . it was raining when we got there so we sat in the car a little longer while the roar of the meteorological tumult drowned out Radio 3, which didn’t disturb the hellhounds so much but didn’t improve my temper any.  When we finally started off anyway it was rain = sulky hellhounds.  Then steambath sun = sulky hellhounds.  Then more rain = sulky hellhounds.  More sunny sauna = sulky hellhounds.  AAAAAUGH.  The weird visuals included sky so black it really looked like Thor or Odin or someone was about to clap the lid over us alternating with a fuzzy white sun about half the size of the sky—plus the ankle-level theatrics.  When the rain was coming down in thwacks if you were on a hard surface you were walking through a tiny geyser-garden as the water-balloons of rain hit and burst upward again.  When the sun came out everything did promptly start steaming—probably including myself and the hellhounds, but I wasn’t at a good angle to see this—I can vouch for the steaming sheep however, and steaming sheep are . . . bizarre.  Plus the dry-ice boa constrictors of murk coming off the road and the trees, including fallen logs.  I was starting to worry about barrow-wights.  It was totally possible that some of that wreathing smoke drifting off the bigger logs was going to solidify, stand up and come after us.  Maybe the hellhounds really had our best interests at heart.  They didn’t give the impression of having our best interests at heart.  They gave the impression of having gone more or less limp in their harnesses and requiring me to frelling carry them.  *

            Of course I have been thinking of Ajlr’s bees.  I hope the weather has been better where they are and they are not already telling each other the story of their origins in a bright and beautiful place from which they were evicted without warning for displeasing their gods . . . in some manner they wot not of, which is usually the way with displeased gods.  Despairingly they wonder, what can they do to regain their gods’ favour?  Pssst—make honey.  Make lots and lots of honey. 

This recipe began life using milk and maple syrup.  I stopped using milk a long time ago and then when I moved over here maple syrup became gold dust and the Fountain of Youth**.  Which is when I started using tea and honey.  Yes, tea.  I make it STRONG, but even so you’re getting comparatively little per muffin and unless you’re very susceptible to caffeine I wouldn’t have thought it would buzz you.  One of the pleasures, to me, of these muffins is that they’re different every time because both tea and honey vary so immensely.  Well, okay, I like messing about with teas of character† . . . and there are teas that are good with honey and teas that, in my capricious opinion, are not.  But then I like honey with character too, and when you get two assertive entities together you have to be a little careful.  So if you’re going to go down this route, you’re going to want to do your own experimenting.  Which is part of the fun.  I will point out however, before you decide instead to pop round to the corner shop and buy some doughnuts, that the fact that there’s flour and so on involved in the actual muffins means that the match between the tea and the honey does not have to be perfect.  

Mettlesome Muffins

1 egg

3 T butter

¾ c strong tea

1/3 to ½ c honey:  this is going to vary both with how sweet you want your muffins and how runny your honey is.  I’m always going on in my recipes about how individual ingredients vary††.  Honey more so than most.  Honey is actually fairly tricky to bake with, but muffins are pretty accommodating.

Melt the butter, let cool;  beat the egg, add the honey, then the tea, then the melted butter.

1-2 c wholemeal/wholewheat flour.  You want about 1 ½ c flour total, but if you want to use some white flour to lighten it, use up to ½ c. 

½ c (dry) oatmeal

1 T baking powder

If you like cinnamon (I often put cinnamon in my tea), you can add 1 tsp ground

Mix all this dry stuff together, then stir in quickly to the wet.  I recommend using a whisk.  It’s true that lumps will (probably) bake out, but they make me nervous.†††

Plop in about 12 muffin cups, which you’ve either buttered first or put paper muffin cups in.‡  About 20 minutes at 400°F.  They should puff up beautifully, and the tops should be pretty hard.  And if you wanted to brush them, when they come out of the oven, with a little honey thinned with a little water, that would be good too.  If you want to you can run them back in the oven again for just about a minute more, to get a nice crackly effect from the honey wash.

And you want a good book to read while you eat your muffins, right?   And what more suitable . . . Look what a friend in Cambridge (. . . Massachusetts) sent me‡‡:



* * *

* Speaking of not being at a good angle to see if they were steaming.  My eyeballs were probably steaming. 

** Yes, all right, you can buy it in the shops here.  At £100/thimble.  And you can only get the pale polite grade A, not the darker more interesting ones. 

*** For example, the following.  I’ve been a teaholic for forty years, but the serious fannying around began about twenty years ago when a friend living in Paris came to visit us at the old house bringing several tins from Palais des Thes.  Wow.  My world changed.

† And let us not forget one of my favourite Wondermarks:

†† And that it makes me furious that cookbooks rarely acknowledge this.  I wonder how many nascent cooks and bakers had their nerve wrecked early on by recipes that were a disaster despite having been followed exactly, down to the last basilisk eyelash.  In the real world there is no exact.  There’s only a general principle applied to your basilisk. 

††† I personally think the whole ‘don’t overbeat your muffin batter’ is kind of a bugbear.  But it’s true you beat only minimally, unlike a cake batter, say, where you want to see the batter change colour. 

‡ Hint:  I think paper muffin cups are one of the great discoveries of modern science.

‡‡ And yes, if you’re having trouble reading it on your monitor, that does say Harvard Book Store.

Teeth, chocolate and bells


I’ve been to the dentist again.  He has many children to put through college.*  This time however I came home with TEETH.  Well, more teeth.  Oh, all right, one more tooth.  But it’s one of the big fat chewing ones.  Plus a recap (so to speak) of the one behind that.**  The truly horrifying thing however is the Next Phase which involves a phoenix egg and a sliver of bark from Yggdrasil and a drop of water from Charon’s bow-wave and one or two other things that . . . well, I really could buy a new car for what the Next Phase is going to cost.  But ordinary dentists won’t look at my teeth***  Would it be so bad living on porridge for the rest of my life?  Porridge and cake.  I tweeted when I got home, numbed to the eyeballs barring the distant precognitive throb, that I was looking at my nice healthy green salad in dismay because it required chewing and would it be so bad to have cake for lunch?  —And was promptly encouraged by several responding tweeters.  Twitter is dangerous.  In a lot of ways that don’t make it onto the stats.

            Cake may have been somewhat more prominently than sometimes on my mind today however because last night I made:

Leftover-Christmas-Chocolate Bars

I realise that the concept of leftover chocolate is foreign to many of us, and once upon a time it would have been foreign to me too and at least mildly implausible to Peter.   But that was Then.  This is Now.  Peter has mouth trouble and I have Post Menopausal Zero Metabolism.  Meanwhile, however, we are notorious for loving chocolate, so people tend to give it to us.  I do not wish to discourage this excellent habit.  And furthermore now that I’ve invented Leftover-Christmas-Chocolate Bars I may have to arrange for leftover chocolate henceforth.† 

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Butter a 13 x 9” pan 

¾ c butter

1 ¾ c sugar

2 large eggs, room temp

1 ½ tsp REAL vanilla††

1 ½ c all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder††

½ c unsweetened cocoa powder

1 c chopped-up Leftover Chocolate.  The point here is that it should be lots of different kinds.  I had four or five different sorts plus some ginger fudge.  Don’t chop too small or it’ll disappear in the baking.

Cream butter and sugar.  I scrape with the spoon in my right hand and knead with my left.  Better results sooner.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Then the dry stuff.  Be sure everything is THOROUGHLY mixed.  Then finally stir in the chopped-up chocolate.

            Bake about half an hour.  I started checking after about twenty minutes because there’s kind of a lot of chocolate involved and I wanted to make sure nothing untoward happened.  It’ll still be slightly squidgy when you take it out, and I assume it’ll fall a little—mine did, but I was expecting it to.  This is a sign of excellent chewy-squidginess-with-crunch-around-the-edges to come.  I also wasn’t sure what the ginger fudge would do if it was baked so I sprinkled it over the top and put the pan back in the oven for five minutes, just to melt it enough to stick.

            From a health and safety standpoint I have to admit these are not a great deal better than pure chocolate, but they are fearfully good.  And they give you something to pass around during your handbell tea break.†††

* * *

* Not to mention the horses.  I was going to say that I didn’t think they went to college . . . but in fact one of them does.  And horse college costs as much as human college.  Maybe more. 

** Was I just In Denial or, thirty years ago, did dentists lead you to believe that once crowned, your tooth or teeth will stay crowned?  This is I think the third refit I’ve had.  At vast, three-years-undergrad-at-Cambridge prices, of course.   And that doesn’t count the disintegrated root canals, which were another thing that thirty years ago were supposed to be for life.  Pardon me, but first-world life expectancy for women has been well over fifty for longer than the last thirty years.  Teeth:  design FAIL.   

*** At least not any longer than it takes to scream and run away.

† I’m aware that this is not an original idea.  I’ve done something like it before myself.  But this is probably the first time I’ve thought ‘why don’t I sweep up all the bits and pieces from not-quite-as-indulgent-a-Christmas-as-in-years-past and do something egregious?’ 

†† Maybe.  I was making them at the mews and Peter doesn’t seem to have a set of measuring spoons.  I know he made me take the fourteen or twenty-six spare sets of measuring spoons^ away with me but I hadn’t realised he didn’t have any.  This Will Be Rectified.  Meanwhile after forty-odd years of baking I probably know what a measuring-tsp quantity looks like.

^ When I was first over here, it was hard to find measuring cups and spoons in standard American sizes so I got . . . kind of paranoid.  And would come back from a visit to the States with my suitcases not merely full of All Stars and black jeans but measuring cups and spoons.  Glass jugs—which I prefer—have a built in population control mechanism, but metal measuring spoons live forever.  I may have got a little carried away with the reserve measuring spoon sets.

††† I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s a way to mention this on the blog that won’t just bore you all to death.  I need to gloat here, okay?  You might give me the benefit of remembering that I had a brain full of dental anaesthesia this afternoon, and in fact when I’d tried to practise on Pooka before real people showed up with real handbells it had been so awful I’d considered that perhaps it wasn’t the anaesthesia at all, I really had lost my mind.  So I was feeling pretty cowed when Niall came in, started unwrapping handbells^, and said that we were going do an exercise that James had had the Saturday handbell group doing last weekend, which you might call Merry Go Round Plain Hunt.  Plain Hunt is the pattern-before-the-pattern to all bell ringing:  it’s the first thing you learn after you can more or less handle your bell, and it gives you a dreadful clue^^ of what is to come.^^^  Merry Go Round Handbell Plain Hunt is that after you have rung however many ordinary ‘courses’ as they’re called of plain hunt you pass one bell to the person on your left.  And then you ring normal plain hunt again.  On whatever weird pair of bells you’re now holding.  This is not how you ring handbells:  you ring the trebles, which are the one and the two, or the three and the four, the five and the six, or the tenors (if you’re ringing on eight), the seven and eight.  This is what you learn;  this is what you’re used to.  This is what you can COPE WITH.  But for merry-go-round, after the first pass you’re holding the one and the eight, or the two and the three, the four and the five, the six and the seven.  Which means that diabolical SHAPE of what you’re ringing is blown to pieces.  I can’t do this! I wailed—I can’t do anything unless I’ve thought about it and practised it first.  I can’t think handbells on the spot like this.

            But I did.  It just about killed me, but I did it.  I got it.  I got all of the weird pairs:  the 2-3, the 4-5, the 6-7, the 8-1.  Yaay me.  Gloat.

^ And yes, I agree, one of the reasons I need my own set of handbells is so I can knit little storage bags for them.

^^ Although not nearly dreadful enough

^^^ ARRRGH.  Have just wasted half an hour trying to persuade either Google or any of my three bell-ringing simulators to produce a diagram of plain hunt major.  It can’t be this hard.  So, here.  I’ve just written it out.  Make that scrawled.  The point is just to look at the shape of what you’re ringing if you’re ringing two bells.  The method line is the same for everybody:  you go straight out to the back, strike twice in last place, go straight down to the front, strike two blows in first place, and go out to the back again till someone says ‘that’s all’.  The only trick when you’re ringing it in the tower is where you’re starting in this very straight in and out pattern.  If you’re the two (or any even-numbered bell) you go down to the front first;  if you’re the three (or any odd-numbered bell) you start by heading out to the back.  Easy peasy.  Now get your head around it if you’re ringing two bells.  The front and back pairs are still pretty simple;  they stay pretty parallel, one ‘blow’ as it’s called apart, and they only have to remember to cross at the front and the back.  (The treble is in red, and the two is in blue.  I should have done them both in the same colour, but bell ringers are trained to think of the treble by itself, because it usually is.)

            But look at the shape of what the 3-4 rings  (both in green).   This is what I mean about the inside pairs.  The 5-6 is like this only mirror-image.  (I will spare you why the 5-6 is worse than the 3-4 in bob major.) 

Yes, I should have used a straightedge to draw the lines.

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