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Charlotte LaVerne McNeill

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It's been a beautiful two days on the Isle of Bute.

The sun reaches out to tickle the tips of my fingers and tan the back of my neck from the vast azure dome of the sky. There isn't a cloud to be seen.

And Gregg's baby is adorable, the kind of sweet darling that makes me feel like fathering my own brood.

Proud father with his newborn daughter

And so am I.

I hate Easter, with all of it’s clearly pagan celebration of sex and fecundity. I’m so happy this week is over, I’ve written a little ditty, sung to the tune of “Sexy Back” by Justin Timberlake.

It’s called: Spinster Back

I’m bringin’ spinster back.

Them other girls don’t know how to act.

I think it’s special to wear cloth from a sack.

I’m wearin’ hair shirts that are coloured black

(take ‘em to the bridge!)

Dirty babe

born in a manger. Jesus, I’m your slave.

I’ll let you whip me if I misbehave

It’s just that no one makes me feel this way.

(take ‘em to the chorus!)

Come here girl

(Put some clothes on)

Come to the back

(Put some clothes on)

Dirty whore!

(Put some clothes on)

VIP!


I don’t really hate Easter; all of the pagan symbolism becomes concentrated into a perfect storm of imagery that leaves women womb wrenchingly broody. It’s a fun time for the whole family way.

Poilane Style Miche

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I've been baking bread. A lot of bread.

Well, a lot for a household of two, not a lot for an industrial factory like Wonder.

I've been making a medieval loaf modeled after the Pain Poilane, named for the baker who revived and commercialized it, Lionel Poilane. His brother, Max Poilane and his daughter, Apollonia Poilane, still bake the bread in Paris; Max has a small, boutique practice manufacturing hand turned loaves. Anna has a substantial factory using kneading machines, but with wood fired ovens and controlling for quality rather than minimising cost.

Pain Poilane was introduced to me by my friend Ghabida, who designed the logo for Xocolatl (click on the image for a larger picture)Xocolatl Logo We had lunch after I got back from the family Ayyam'i'Ha celebrations and in the course of the conversation it came out that my bread baking skills had, in my estimation, greatly increased. She told me that the best bread in the world is Pain Poilane and nothing can beat it.

Naturally, I took this as a challenge and set about researching the stuff.

In any event, the loaves retail for £11 in the U.K. and $45 in the U.S. That's a lot of bread for, um, bread, but I guess they need (knead?) the dough. (<-- okay, even I don't think this is funny, but...how could I resist a pun hat-trick?)

At any rate, I eventually found a series of bakers (the Bread Baking Babes) who, in 2008, under the leadership of the now sadly deceased Sher, attempted to replicate the Poilane loaf. They all tried it and blogged about it.

The result was that I thought I'd try and make a sourdough Scottish Hearth Bread, the same way the Scots must have made bread when they would have cooked with wood burning ovens.

I left a paste of rye and water out until yeast took hold. After four days it was a sour smelling frothy mixture and very sticky. If you try this at home, wait until it smells like vinegar; there's a sharp point that started around day two and went into day three where it was seriously pungent, not at all in a good way, and we just needed to wait it out.

Then you make a "firm starter," which is basically fresh yeast that you make at home. Work a cup of flour into a cup of sourdough starter and let it sit out for 24 hours.

Then you make bread. There are many different instruction sets on the web, but I used a three stage process with a proving oven set to 40 degrees. I use my combination microwave/convection oven as a proving oven, since it has settings that go all the way down to 40 centigrade (104 Fahrenheit).

The three stage process is to add the firm starter to two cups of water, two tablespoons of salt - I feed mine a teaspoon of barley malt extract and a single egg yolk, too - and three cups of flour. You're going to need to work this dough until it is clear (I'm not sure if anyone else uses this term; its one that my friend Keith and I may have made up, but basically, it means that the dough will stick to itself but not much else and has a smooth appearance; you'll know it when it happens). In order to work a dough ball this size until it is clear, you can either knead it on a surface for about two hours or you can stick it in a kneading machine for forty minutes. Add flour in tablespoons and let the machine work it into the dough.

At some point, the dough will no longer leave bits of itself on the side of your mixer bowl and will instead pull away, slowly. When you touch it, it will feel like a non-Newtonian dilatant fluid.

Warning! If you have a Kitchen Aid or an Oster or a Kenwood or basically anything other than a Bosch or an Electrolux, you'll need to take extreme care. Sure, the Kitchen Aid is nice, but mine got hot and started to smell like it was burning; I had to turn it off and let the dough rest for half an hour while I cooled my mixer then start again. I'm experienced - this wasn't some newbie mistake - it's just that this is more dough than the Kitchen Aid can really handle.

At any rate, let this rest a while, then turn it out onto a floured surface, knead it until your comfortable with the spring then drop it into a heavily floured linen and pop it into a dry, clean bowl in your proving oven. Leave it there for ninety minutes. Your mileage may vary; my first loaf had to be proved for three hours. My last loaf (number 6) was ready after twenty minutes. The starter gets stronger the longer you care for it, so the proving time will shorten.

Then turn your now proved dough out onto a baking surface - I use a metal sheet dusted with corn meal - pre-heat your convection oven to 240. As soon as you put the loaf in, turn it down to 220 and bake for 25 minutes at 220, with two cups of boiling water poured into a pan on the bottom of your oven. Then turn the loaf 180 degrees and bake for 35 minutes at 200.

Theo McGrath with a Poilane style miche

The Scottish Hearth Bread #5; click on the above link to see a larger picture of Theo, son of my friend Ghabida, holding the 5th loaf of Scottish Hearth Bread. He asked if I had a moustache, like other chefs! And I do, as you can see in the picture bar above my blog (that's me in the brown baker's apron).

We had just been to see The Watchmen , so I thought it would be fun to put a smiley face on it. The Watchmen is fantastic, by the way, telling a story that is essential to the human condition at the same time that it requires beings of exceptional power, with real flaws

I wish my mother was still alive; she taught me how to bake and this is the first time I've felt like I've made bread good enough to let her judge it.

I hate Apple so much right now.

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I ordered two Time Capsules from Apple when I was in Mentor in January. In fact, I also ordered a keyboard and a world traveller kit.

And here's what happened:

Apple charged me for the keyboard and the world traveller kit and shipped them immediately.

Apple waited 38 days and then tried to charge me for the Time Capsules. And, of course, there wasn't any money in my American Bank account.

I found this incredibly frustrating. When I pay for something, I expect it to be the same as cash. I hand over money, then you hand over goods. For better or for worse, that's what's familiar.

Apple charged me for the keyboard and traveller kit. They shipped them and they showed up within a week. And after a month and put the Time Capsules at the back of my mind. I figured that Apple had higher than expected demand for them and they'd be diligently trying to get them to me. I was willing to be patient.

Sure, I knew I'd ordered them, sure I expected them to show up, but I thought they'd already been paid for. Why? Because I paid for them. I put my credit card details in the little online form and pressed the "Submit" button and paid. The other stuff got charged, so I assumed the Time Capsules had been charged.

Well, come today, they try to charge me and the card is declined; it's not a credit card, it's a debit card with a MasterCard logo. This is usually where someone sanctimonious says: "But surely you know how much money you have?" Of course I do. I check it every day. Before I bought the Time Capsules, I checked it. I had enough to buy Time Capsules. So I bought them. Then Apple didn't take the money. It's as if I paid by check and Apple didn't cash it for 38 days.

I know a couple of people who actually track when the money for online purchases comes off credit cards and out of accounts, but it really is only a few, and it's the same people who also use Microsoft Money to track their grocery expenditure and balance their checkbooks. I don't even have a checkbook.

What's more, in between the time that I ordered those Time Capsules and when Apple charged me for them, I sold my house, moved $140,000 through that account and paid off my mortgage. It's seen plenty of activity, enough to mask $800 worth of wireless hard drives.

So I call Apple. Really, I just want my stuff. I want those Time Capsules. This shouldn't be hard. I'll pay with another credit card and they'll ship it.

Wow.

It wasn't really a mistake, because, as a customer, I have no other option. The only thing I can do is call.

And, as far as I can tell, there's no one at Apple who gives a rat's ass about the customers.

To start with, phoning Apple's help line gives you a machine. The "press 1 for <blah, blah, blah>" crap. Like everyone else, I hate automated response systems. They never, ever, ever have the options I want. I'm already more Internet savvy than 99.99% of Apple, I've had a homepage since '96 and a blog since '99. I signed the frickin' Cluetrain Manifesto. But when I call Apple, I'm forced to wade through a menu of options that cover the exact same material that they have on their website. The same material that I just spent an hour wading through online. It even includes little reminders: "Did you know that 90% of your product questions can be answered online?" which only serves to heighten my ire. Did I know? I knew before you did, you jackasses. It makes me furious to be lectured to about the value of the Internet by the same company that insisted that AppleTalk was networking and didn't ship an operating system with native ping, traceroute and netstat until OS X.

Anyway, I wade my way through the machine and get a real person.

Except that he was autistic. Or maybe this was a Turing test. Either way, there was no communication going on.

In the end, the only thing that he understood was when I said: "Cancel my order. Can you do that? Do you understand me?"

Then he was right on it. Moved like lightening and was clearly relieved to be off the phone.

Why? I have no idea. He couldn't fathom the idea that someone could have two addresses, one in America and one somewhere else. I could almost see inside his brain: "Why would anyone who could live in America not live in America? Aren't all these foreigners struggling to get in? This guy must be trying to pull some kind of fraud."

Either way, I hate Apple. What a piece of shit, second rate company.

Luckily, there's someone better.

Fruit Salad

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Ingrida keeps telling me that I need to eat more healthily.

So the other night I made myself some fruit salad - and she was right! Fruit salad is delicious!

Wow!

For those of you who don't think you'd like fruit salad, here's my recipe:

4 firm apricots (best if slightly unripe)
1/4 cup of walnut halves
4 whole dates
1/4 cup Acacia honey (for the dressing)
1 banana
1/4 lb. butter
1 package of back bacon
Single cream to taste

First, slice the apricots into eighths. Sauté the apricots on high heat until they begin to brown, then turn the heat down to medium, throw on the walnuts and shake the pan.

Pit the dates, then throw them in as well. Drizzle the 1/4 cup of Acacia honey over top and leave the mixture to sizzle.

While this is sizzling away, peel and slice your banana, open up your package of bacon and separate the slices.

Remove the apricot/walnut/date/honey mixture, pour into your serving bowl and set aside.

It should look something like this:

Fruit Salad2.jpg

Now line your pan with rashers of back bacon.

Fry these on high heat until they need to be turned, maybe three or four minutes, then turn the heat down to low, flip them and arrange the banana slices on top, like so:

Fruit Salad1.jpg

Let this heat until the bacon is cooked how you like it; some like crispy, some chewy. I'm normally a crispy bacon guy, but this recipe feels like more of a soft bacon recipe.

Anyway, I made the bacon soft when I made this the first time, and it was gorgeous.

When the bacon and bananas have cooked up, stir them into the apricot/walnut mixture. It should look something like this:

Fruit Salad3.jpg

Finally, mount with cream:

Fruit Salad4.jpg

And enjoy!

Fruit Salad5.jpg

Note from Ingrida:

I'd just like to confirm that I was not present at the time of this fruitful [sic] profanity, and that I have no legal capacity (yet) to desist Nathan from pursuing this abominably gluttonous behaviour...

However, this does remind me of an evening out in Edinburgh with Mara and Mark a few summers ago. Mark and Nathan attempted to eat a deep-fried Mars bar (at your peril click here for an explanation) only to be rendered rather comatose from the sheer amount of calories. Tee hee!

What's it like being an Uncle?

Well, it's pretty cool. There are all sorts of things that I understand now that I didn't understand before - like why Uncle Phillippe would have spent an entire afternoon, when it was sunny outside, to teach a seven year old about division.

I'm still grateful to him.

I look forward to being able to talk to Liam. At the moment he sleeps and eats and poops. Mark assures me that he also pees; my mother assures me that he cries.

Speaking of my mother, she was on TV last night on the Discovery channel! I don't know how it went, but presumably it was fine. Leroy Sievers is Ted Koppel's executive producer and has been battling cancer for a long time. He has a blog about cancer and my mother and sister posted on his blog for a long time.

Discovery put together a show based on Leroy's blog and led by Ted Koppel; it's apparently a special edition of a regularly scheduled Ted Koppel show called Koppel on Discovery. In any event, it was on very early this morning, 0100 my time, or about 8pm EDT.

I haven't seen it yet; no one I know gets Discovery. But my mother has a DVD copy and so I'll see it eventually.

Today is a Bank Holiday in Scotland so my place of employment is closed; what would you do with a windfall of leisure?

Well, I'm headed to Glasgow to hang out with Ingrida, a friend of mine who's going to the University of Strathclyde. Glasgow's a rainy city, much rainier than Edinburgh, and I'm not cheered by the idea of the rain, but that's where Ingrida is so that's where I'm going.

Microsoft vs. Apple

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I own both a Mac and a PC. I've used a PC for about 15 years and a Mac for about 3.

If I were to confess to how many machines I actually own, the number is probably in the low twenties, with multiple Win 2k, XP and even an old 98 box somewhere, several Linux servers, a Linux laptop, an HP-UX box and a Solaris 8 server that I've never bothered to update. Got geek?

But there are only two machines I use on a daily basis, and those are a Windows XP box and a PowerBook.

And I've got some complaints about both Microsoft and Apple. I'm going to warn you, this is a really geeky rant. And it's long.

The Gus MacDonald Diet

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Ogden Nash wrote a book of poetry entitled I'm a Stranger Here Myself which contained Curl up and Diet, a poem about women and weight loss. I haven't seen the book in about twenty years (my parents had a copy), but I'm going to make a stab at a remembering a few lines:

Some women drink too much Some women pray too much But all women think they weigh to much

By the end of the poem, some poor women has been granted the ability to lose as much as she wants - and has lost weight to the point where she looks like the shadow of someone's 14 year old brother in the last stages of some obscure disease.

Well, my friend Gus MacDonald contracted some form of liver-blood disease about a year ago (he's healthy now - well, as healthy as he ever was, at any rate) and lost an enormous amount of weight. Maybe ten kilos.

I've been sick with some kind of flu for the last twelve days it's taken five kilos off me. I'm down to 89 kilos. I'm reminded of an old David Letterman skit from when he was a stand-up comedian: "Lose weight without diet or exercise! I figure that pretty much leaves disease."

Weight, part III

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I'm a big fat bastard. The kind that eats all the pie.

Or I was, anyway.

Before I left for America, I weighed 250 lbs, which is 17 stone 11 or 113 kilos. It's a lot. I was heavy.

That was the 11th of July.

Today I weigh 206 lbs, which is 14 stone 11 or 93 kilos. It's a lot less.

Just sharing.

Scotland Wins the Calcutta Cup!

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But, ouch, I think my nose is bleeding.

Saturday was the Calcutta Cup, an annual fixture played between Scotland and England since 1879. England has held the Calcutta Cup for the last six years, having beaten Scotland every year.

The Scottish side is traditionally flukey and unpredictable. This year's Six Nations opening fixture was against France, widely viewed as the best side in the Northern Hemisphere, probably second in the world (to the All Blacks, naturally).

Scotland took the field and dominated France almost as if they weren't playing, with the notable exception of this one blonde headed French forward who seemed to be everywhere at once. He was amazing, but couldn't carry the side.

The Scots even scored a try off a 24 yard rolling maul. You read that correctly. Unbelievable.

At any rate, this was an amazing start to the season and a total upset, almost as topsy turvy as Wales' unexpected upturning of Englang, the reigning Rugby World Champions, in last years first game. The fact that we went on to lose to an appallingly awful Welsh side the following week had a very business as usual feel about it. I'm a Cleveland Browns fan, so Scottish sport makes me feel right at home.

But then England was coming for the Calcutta Cup last Saturday.

The mood was festive. In front of a sold out Murrayfield, Scotland gave lessons in how to conduct a surgical defense and engaged in an offence that consisted largely of drawing penalties. There was an act of atrocious incompetence on the English side (a knock on inside the two effectively cleared their chance at a try) and the final score was 18-12, Scotland. I've been humming Tchaikovsky ever since.

The streets filled with celebrants. Ingrida was working that night. She works front of house at the Hallion, a private club and supposedly was working until midnight. Some time around half-ten she sent me a text saying she might be a bit late.

I was out revelling myself, so this was fine. I packed it in at half-midnight, figuring I'd get home, collect her and then we'd head off to Charlie and Ian's for further late night revellry, since that's where the craic was.

It was not to be. Instead, I waited. And waited. And waited. At three, Suzy came home, all tiptoes and whispers.

"Where's Ingrida?" She asked.

"I don't know." I said. "Work, probably." Alarm bells were going off in my head. I'd dozed off and had no idea what time it was.

"It's three." She said. "Seems a bit odd, don't you think?"

Earlier in the evening, when a pack of us were walking back from Cloisters, we came across a man pestering and trying to molest a woman; both were hammered and about twenty. We'd yelled a bit and headed over, but other passersby got there first and were fairly forceful about the whole thing, but it was playing over in my head.

I put my boots on and marched off to the Hallion, following the path that I figured Ingrida would have taken home. Every five minutes or so I stopped and scanned the Gardens to see if she was lying unconcious and cold on a path somewhere. I was growing increasingly worried. I began to have visions of poor Ingrida, of Irma, blaming me, me apologizing to Ojars: "I'm sorry, Mr. Kalnins. If only I'd gone looking sooner this never would have happened."

I finally arrived at the imposing black doors of the Hallion. I rang the buzzer several times, but there was no answer. It was four a.m. now; Ingrida was four hours late. The streets were filled with the seriously drunken, predators, pickpockets, drugdealers and thugs. In cheerier moments I'd have described them as colorful. Now they seemed dark and ominous.

I called information, got the number for the Hallion and called. The night porter answered on the first ring.

"Are you open?" I asked.

"No." He replied.

"Are the staff still there?"

"Yes. But we are closed. What do you want?" His voice was hesitant.

"My girlfriend, Ingrida, works there. Is she still there?" I asked.

"Hold on. I'll get her." Floods of delicious relief filled me.

"Ingrida!" I heard him shout in the background. "Your boyfriend is on the phone!"

Then I heard Ingrida, the click of heels on stone, her casual tone. "Which one?" She asked as she took the phone. "Hello?"

I was silent for a moment. "What do you mean 'Which one?'" I said.

"Oh! Hey, Puika! How are you?" She asked.

"Cold." I said. I meant it, too. Inside and out. I'd just walked the length of Edinburgh at 4 a.m. checking behind dumpsters for her unconcious body and she'd been at work the whole time.

"Are you at home?" She asked.

"No, I'm outside the front door of the Hallion."

"Oh! Right. I'll let you in, hold on a second."

And she did and I went inside feeling slightly poisonous and got the rest of the story, which was that it had been a mental night, with over three hundred guests and massive quantities of alcohol consumed and she'd stayed on to help; it had been frantic. The last guests had left at half-three and then the staff had been cleaning and scrubbing to prepare the club for Sunday morning.

In the course of the evening, several guests had made passes at her and had been phoning the club asking after her and a couple had even said they were her boyfriend. She and the night porter had made a joke out of it.

When we finally climbed into bed at five, I was glad that the emotional roller coaster was over and I got to be next to my baby.

A couple of weeks ago, I had my friend Keith over for a genuine Southern meal.

It was also five courses and it brought back memories of Chris, whom I miss a great deal. Most of the food we had has been cooked at one time or another by Chris or he's given me the recipes for them.

Here's what we had:

1. Buttermilk biscuits. I started off rolling and cutting them but this was a giant pain in the ass, so I just dropped spoofuls of dough onto baking paper and slid this onto a tray. We ate them with butter and honey, as God intended. I've listed this as a course, but we just had them hot right at the start of the meal as a sort of appetizer. They don't really count as a course.

2. Corn bread. Admittedly, I copied my father's recipe on this and it was flawless, although I had to buy a nine inch square baking tin to make it correctly. There's something about the shape of the tin, and if you don't get it right it won't work. Jiffy makes a cheap, effortless and nearly perfect cornbread mix in the States; I wished I had it here. It would serve dozens of uses.

3. Fried okra. Chris and I grew okra once, out back in the small garden, along with tomatoes. It was perfect. I mean this in all seriousness - perfect okra. Perfect little pods, clean, tender, flawless. I'm almost crying thinking of their crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside beauty. The okra here is imported from Zimbabwe (!) and was small and old and the most expensive part of the meal. An absolute crime. I rolled them in corn flour and shallow fried them in very hot lard, and they were genius.

4. Greens. I made these the way I'd always wanted to make them - with much less water than is normally stated. They were, IMHO, vastly superior to "wet greens," which are sitting in water. Instead, I sauteed some onions, added a smoked hock (spelled hough here in the U.K.) and then added a half cup of water. I slowly added greens in handfuls, adding more when the previous bunch was wilted and turning them. We could only get turnip greens (I'd been craving collard, but these turned out beautifully), and they had lots of juice in them. When the greens were done cooking, the water had mostly evaporated and the greens were cooked. I'll be cooking greens this way again.

5. BBQ ribs. Okay, I prefer to cook these over a charcoal grill, slowly, drizzling BBQ sauce over them at every turn. I didn't have that luxury, so I cooked these in a slow cooker with a homemade BBQ sauce (Coca Cola, ketchup, white vinegar, mustard powder, garlic powder, tinned tomatoes, Worcestshire Sauce, some other stuff) and they cooked for a full day. They needed about three days and I should have cooked them for a day with no sauce, removed the liquid, reduced it, added it when it reached demi-glace stage, and added the sauce then cooked the whole thing for another two days. I'll remember next time. I was disappointed with the ribs.

6. Sweet potato pie. I played Alabama's "Song of the South" on repeat play while we ate the sweet potato pie, much to everyone's delight. The pie was perfect. I'd only ever made this from pie filling before, but it's really easy to make from scratch; it's just an egg custard, except with mashed sweet potatoes instead of milk. I cheated and used pre-made easy roll pie crust. Topped the pie with whipped cream.

It was a good meal.

If you were to pick a five course meal, what five courses would you choose?

Ian and Susanna came over for dinner two nights ago. Ian is good people; he's Irish, from Dublin, but has lived in Edinburgh for five years and works in the IT Security field. We have roughly the same job for different companies. Anyway, Susanna is his girlfriend. Susanna's very pregnant, about seven months, and has reached the walking slowly, sleeping on pillows stage.

They had invited Ingrida and me around to dinner in September, and because I went home to see Maman and help out, then Christmas and New Year happened, we didn't get to return the favour until two nights ago.

Right! Gotta post something!

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So my flatmate, the lovely and talented Suzy went to Morocco. She took some beautiful pictues, and I thought I'd share some of them with you.

Enjoy!

Lost

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I said after Firefly went off the air that I was never going to watch television again, not that I watched much anyway. And I haven't. I still don't own a television and never have.

And I was in denial about watching television, but really, I'm doing it.

I'm talking, of course, about Lost.

Merry Christmas! Ho ho ho!

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It's Christmas again, and I'm sitting down to a delicious Chrismas meal!

This Christmas I'll be spending time with myself, followed by later being on my own. I was in America until the 23rd and didn't get a chance to get to the store until Christmas Eve, by which time everything was closed. Our cupboards and fridge are bare, but I managed to find, hidden amongst this summer's camping supplies, my salvation!

Christmas Dinner.jpg

It's not gourmet, but it'll keep me from starving until the stores open up on Tuesday.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Happy Birthday to Me!

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Yesterday, I turned 33.

Maman made me pot roast and Papa made marble cake with white frosting - his favorite! :)

I'll be headed back to Edinburgh in a few days - and perhaps back to D.C. tonight or tomorrow and it was really nice to have a birthday dinner with my parents. I haven't done that for ten years.

I usually forget it's my birthday. I'm don't remember dates well at all. I could never remember Jen's birthday - and then Liza's birthday was two days before or two days after or something like that, and I could never remember that, and when I'd invariably get it wrong, she'd get a wounded look and say: "No, that's your old girlfriend's birthday!"

Monty Python lives

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So I went outside to get the paper and walked past my father's cherry tree. We bought him a cherry tree maybe fifteen years ago to replace the cherry tree that had brown rot and was dying.

At first glance, I thought there was some kind of bird that gripped upside down in it. Then I thought: there are no birds like that in Ohio. I looked again and thought there might be a dead bird in it.

As it turned out he was just pining for the fjords.

DeadDuck.jpg

Beautiful plumage, eh, the Norwegian Blue?

Travelling through CDG airport

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I bumped into a teacher who had just been in Morocco; she lived there 30 years ago. Do not be fooled by the stern mien; she was kind and gracious.

Anne, with an 'e.'

My mother has recovered greatly; she's up and walking around, the pathology report has come back about as good as we might have hoped - and we are holding out high hopes for her recovery.

There are many people who have helped me over the past three weeks, but, because I'm a selfish favoritist, I'm going to thank just two right now.

Contrary to the title, the two people are Ingrida and David, Thomas' father.

Are you looking for a Palestine?

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'Cause I know where you can get one for free.

The Edinburgh Festival

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August is a fabulous month to live in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh, normally a city of 450,000, swells to a mighty 2 million. There are over 5,000 shows - dance, theatre, opera, the Tattoo and comedy. In order to watch them all you'd need four years without sleep.

Edinburgh is also the month that the Swedes came to town.

and Beyonce, too!

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My sister, who has her own fantastic blog over at Everything, Nothing, and I'm a Middle Child, suggested somewhere down in the comments of one of these posts that I'm not blinded by bubble gum pop culture.

Mara, thank you.

Nevertheless, I like a few songs by Britney Spears. Toxic, for example, is a cool tune and I like the video, too.

Last night, Anna & Jessi and I were out 'til three, dancing at the Opal Lounge and just enjoying ourselves in general. Anna & Jessi are friends of mine from Sweden.

Which brings me to my next point, which is that Mara started off a discussion of differences between Europe and America. I mentioned a few as well. At one point, I claimed there were people from ten different countries in my flat right at that moment. Who were they? Well, here's who they are, as well as the countries they are from:


  1. Marc Seymour - South Africa
  2. Tom Somers - Germany
  3. Laure Sinclair - France
  4. Ingrida Djonsone Latvia
  5. Antony - Scotland
  6. Matt Shephard - New Zealand
  7. Anna Skoog - Sweden
  8. Anne - Canada
  9. Alistair - Ireland
  10. Nathan Dornbrook USA

There were more folks in the flat, but this is all the countries represented. I barely know Anne (who claims that her last name is "the Amazing.") Antony I actually know fairly well, but can't for the life of me remember his last name.

We have a few friends from Spain, Poland, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Australia, but, obviously, they weren't there.

By the way, Scotland was heavily under-represented. There was a chain email circulationg a couple of years ago entitled "How you know you've been in Edinburgh too long." One of the ways was having an actual Scottish friend. This is pretty accurate; I don't think I'd met someone who was Scottish (outside work) until I'd been here a year.

Thanks, guys.

I feel a lot better, mostly because of good people who have posted here or written me or called.

I'm back to listening to music that was my favorite when I was young:

Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps (Von Karajan)
Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (Von Karajan again - the man's a genius)

I can't find Saint Saen's Carnival of the Animals; I'm looking for the version that has Noel Coward reading Ogden Nash poetry as an accompaniement during the interludes. It was a clever album. I hope Maman and Papa still have it.

With many London metropolitan area police diverted to Edinburgh to protect the G8 summit, London had fewer security staff covering the transportation infrastructure.

There were somewhere between four and seven incidents, depending on to whom you listen. The Transport London website lists four bomb attacks, three on train/tube stations and one on a bus.

The BBC is reporting six bombs, five on train or tube stations and one on a bus. There was additionally a collision that killed at least four and may be unrelated. A timeline has not yet emerged.

Here are some photos that my friend Dave Duffy took while he was up on Princes Street.

As a side note, one of my friends was working in the building that the folks supposedly got into - this didn't happen. They didn't occupy a single building, although he said a few windows got smashed. He did say that one guy managed to get inside the Standard Life building, climb on top of it and moon the cops - which pissed them off to no end.

Anyway, cheers to the Edinburgh police for managing to contain most of the disruption.

Another observer has reported in by mobile phone.

~ 12 police vans went tearing into Edinburgh, apparently in the direction of the city centre.

No further information.

My instinct is that these might be leaving the city centre by a circuitous route rather than entering.

Also, there are reports that Princes Street Gardens have been heavily vandalised.

Further reports later. I'll also try and get some footage.

The police are now saying that Edinburgh is safe to travel in and have advised that the difficult folks are mostly cleaned up and carted away.

Reports are that the 400 or so down by Jenners - across from the Balmoral, up a bit from the Burger King, right near the Bridges - were causing a kafuffle and some of them got arrested.

I'll check it out later.

- Nathan

Latest Sitrep

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Still in lockdown.

Here's two 'eyes-on' reports

From about an hour ago -

About 2000 total rioters on the streets, broken down as follows:

~ 400 outside Jenners; riot police have been called in. Some property damage has occurred - smashed windows, broken pottery.

~ 1000 in various streets on the West End; still occupying a Standard Life building

~ 600 on The Mound and The News (steps)

From about half an hour ago:

Between 2000-5000 protesters, relatively peaceful.

The busses are running again, and so are the trains; it's safe to travel, but don't be stupid.

The second observer was wearing a fairly smart suit; she said that, with care, it took forty-five minutes to read the crowd and cross Princes Street.

The first observer said that Princes Street was a no-go area; he was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.

Last week the leaders of the G8, the world's seven richest nations plus Russia, met at Gleneagles, a posh golf club outside Edinburgh. I live Edinburgh.

The G8 is supposed to be here for just shy of a week, so they're still around.

The schedule of events is roughly as follows:

1. Friday was "White Band Day" where everyone is supposed to show their solidarity for ending poverty by wearing a white band. You could buy the bands for 1, or you could get them free with a copy of The List, Edinburgh & Glasgow's entertainment magazine.

2. Saturday was the Make Poverty History march. The police expected 100,000 but 220,000 showed up. Some of my favorite shops on Princes Street were shut. I wanted to shop for a present for Ange, whose birthday is the 5th of July, so this was irritating. (Happy Birthday, Ange!) There was also this thing in London, a concert or something.

3. Sunday had two alternative summits, one entitled G8 Corporate Dream...Global Nightmare, obviously titled after consultation with Clive Cussler, and another entitled G8 Alternative alternative summit, from the Department of Redundancy Department.

4. Today, trailer parks across the UK have emptied and vomitted their genetically disadvantaged detritus at The Carnival for Full Enjoyment, organized by the same assholes who brought us May Day riots and got people killed at Genoa.

Sumitomo Bank

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When a big victory like this one comes along, it's nice to be able to share, even if it has to be kept to vague terms.

I'm chuffed because I predicted this attack before it occurred, and got it exactly right, down to the week and the attack vector and the toolset. Beautiful. Lucky.

Burn's Night

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Happy Burn's Night, everybody!

I'm off to give the Toast to the Lasses.

sunny@moonlightshadow.us

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Hey, Sunny! Kiss my American Ass, you punk bitch!

I own you! Ha!

Okay, here's the deal, for those of you who have missed out.

There is a spammer bot, spamming for a number of poker sites to increase their Google rank by a tried and true method of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). That method is to post referrer URLs on blogs that have open comments allowed.

Since most of us in the blogging community would like to have anyone who wants to able to post on our blogs, this kind of thing is particularly pernicious.

Well, I've done a couple of things.

First, I've logged all of the entries from sunny_at_moonlightshadow.us and her affiliated poker companies.

Second, I've extracted all of the IP addresses and performed a reverse DNS lookup on each one. I'm in the process of cross referencing that with a list of service providers for those blocks of addresses. Once that is complete I'll send a series of emails to the service providers who provide IP transit to those boxes and ask that their customers be informed - it's likely that sunny has illegally compromised their boxes.

Third, I've installed an anti-spam tool that is - so far - keeping sunny at bay.

There are a few more pieces to this story, but until I know who is with me and who is not I'm holding off.

Cheers!
- Nathan

I landed in Stockholm at one and was on the train to Kalmar by half-three.

Contintental Airlines, the foul, wretched bastards they are, may they rot in Hell, had still not found luggage, so I went to Sweden with no "going out" clothes. Continental lost my luggage (again) when I flew from New Jersey back to the U.K. Because of colossal incompetence on Continental's part, I didn't get to fly from New Jersey to Edinburgh, but instead to Birmingham and then to Edinburgh. But never mind that. I'm just trying to put it all behind me.

The train to Kalmar wasn't really a train to Kalmar, but a train to Alvesta and then a switch to a train to Kalmar.

T in the Park was mingin' after just one day; after three days of depositing trash outside it was stupefying.

Part of what made it so difficult to understand was that, in the course of a day, you were guaranteed to have to walk past a huge dumpster into which you could put your trash.

When Roddy and I left, we took pictures that showed the difference between us and them.

What does this mean to you?

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Okay, so while we were at T in the Park, we noticed this sign.

Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what, exactly, this means?

CrowdSurfing.jpg

T in the Park

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Every year, Edinburgh plays host to close to a hundred bands in a colossal frenzy of music and action called T in the Park.

'T' because it's sponsored by Tenants Lager, which is basically the only beverage you can drink. This doesn't bother most folks, who show up and start drinking beer at noon and stop sometime after three am.

The music is fantastic and, like Glastonbury, you can camp there.

I did, with my friend Roddy.

The Drive

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Drive we did.

From Alexandria, Virginia to Stowe, Vermont.

It took eleven hours.

Where's Violetta?

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I was over at Three Legged Duck this morning, as I am basically every morning, to get my dose of Violetta.

For those of you who have not partaken of the sweet nectar of Violetta's thoughts, this is a blog not to be missed, and you can still get much enjoyment by reading all of her back posts.

The thing is, Violetta is normall astonishingly prolific. She can post five or six times in a single day.

Fruit Cocktail

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You may remember this post: The Definite Article: June 2004 Archives

In it, I talked about the Fruit Salad of Legend, The Drive and the triumph of the human spirit.

Today, I'm going to show you my picture with the Fruit Salad of Legend!

Am I not gorgeous? I am. I am gorgeous. Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

There you go. We've kept the Fruit Salad of Legend on a shelf for six years, waiting for this day, the day of The Drive.

Then home to Virginia...

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I did make the flight the next day.

It was a packed but uneventful flight back; Norah Jones & Cravin' Melon on the MiniDisc, a quick connection to DCA and Chris picked me up from the metro station.

Chris Tisdale, for those of you who might not know, is one of the men I admire most. He is the embodiment of the twin virtues of honor and integrity. He also happens to be my roommate in Alexandria.

Take me home, 95.

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sung to the tune of "Country Roads" by John Denver

Almost fatal, North New Jersey.
Newark Airport, Pulaski Highway
Pollution's old there,
killed off all the trees
Trash piled high in mountains,
blowing in the breeze

I 95, Take me home
To the place I belong
Jersey City, Newark momma
Take me home, I 95

All the greenflies gather round her
Slumlord Lady, stranger to clean water
Dank and filthy, smog covers the sky
The burning trash of the Garden State
Gets cinders in your eyes

I 95, take me home
To the place I belong
Jersey City, Newark momma
Take me home, I 95

I hear her voice
From a cheap motel she calls me
Sirens remind me that the cops aren't far away
And drivin' down the Golden State I got a feelin'
That I ain't got the tolls again today, again today!

I 95, take me home
To the place I belong
Jersey City, North New Jersey
Take me home, I-95

---

Taffy Nivert is turning over in his grave, but what do I care?

I'm too tired to post the rest of the journey back to the sweet, sweet arms of Alexandria, Virginia and Chris Tisdale, my long-time male companion, but rest assured I will do so soon, along with a few pictures of us and the fabled fruit salad.

Picture of Ange

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Hey, guys! Here's a picture of Ange, since she's been posting and, while Rae and Mensch know who she is, Maman & Papa have never met her - and I don't think Mara has, either.

Check out the Chest Puppies on this Hottie!

Ange and I were in the Marine Corps together, and the Marine Corps forges a special bond between people that seems to last a long time, or at least until one of them clumsily tries to have drunken sex with the other one's cat on Halloween. Not that I'm speaking from experience, I'm just saying, you know, that would about end it.


Karl is married.

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To Danielle, which had a kind of inevitability about it.

For me, it involved a trip home, to Alexandria, VA. I've decided that this is as much my home as is Edinburgh. A itinerant Schroedinger's Cat, I'm at home in both places.

Whew!

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Ever been on a holiday that was so exhausting that you need a holiday to recover from your holiday?

First, a trip to America for Karl & Danielle's wedding, followed by a short period of convalescence for reasons to be provided in a later post, followed by T in the Park, a huge music festival that lasted all weekend, followed by a week's holiday in Sweden.

Well, I'm home!

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But not in Washington, D.C.

On Thursday, July 3rd, the older brother I never had, Karl Crandall, is getting married to Danielle Dunn, his girlfriend of seven years (eight years? nine?)

I was supposed to fly home today.

I didn't.

I wish I had.

Tired and happy

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I should be in bed.

I should have been in bed hours ago.

I have to go to work tomorrow morning at midnight - sucks to be me.

But I came home and grilled myself some wild boar, leek and apricot sausages. I've slathered them in homemade dijon & tarragon mayonnaise. Norah Jones is singing Turn Me On. It's raining gently.

"Like a flower waiting to bloom
like a lightbulb in a dark room
I'm just sittin' here, waiting for you
to come on home and turn me on."

Norah's voice is chocolate to my pain au; the mellow strains are like melted Normandy butter running down my chin.

I'm a butter snob. I'm a food snob in general, but I'm a butter snob in specific.

I have Fleur de Sel de Mer Buerre de Bretagne butter for my scones. I have cheesy Normandy butter, made by ripening the cream while warm with cheese cultures, for my pain au chocolate. I have Fife Creamery Butter - a sweet cream butter - from across the Firth of Forth, for melting on seafood. I fry in Derrygold (Irish), make noisette and meunire butter from Presidente (French), which I also slide under the skin of a whole chicken before baking. I spread only Stichell butter-with-no-name on my bread.

How can it be both Stichell and butter-with-no-name? I call it Stichell because Mrs. Stichell makes it from the milk of her Jerseys up in Aberdeenshire; I buy it twice monthly at the Edinburgh Farmer's Market. It comes wrapped in cellophane with a paper label with the ingredients: cream, salt.

Butter. Healthier than any other spread - I knew it all along. I always said that butter was better for you; modern science only just recently managed to prove what my body knew all along. Real cream is better for you than Cool Whip. Butter is better than margarine.

And that's how Norah sounds: like butter.

Nifty, eh?

Okay, you may not see any change. If that's the case, go empty your browser cache and then reload my site.

Why? Well, Rahmat has been teaching me about Cascading Style Sheets - and you'll notice that his Blog looked much, much prettier than the rest of us.

If anyone is interested in figuring out how to make their site look different, drop me a line here and I'll put up instructions.

Mayonnaise and bread

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Last Saturday was the third Saturday in June.

Why is this particular Saturday better than the second or fourth Saturday?

Last Saturday, and also the first Saturday, were the days on which the Edinburgh Farmer's Market is held. I went there with Dave Duffy, his lovely girl Jenny and Helen Harrington.

Last night

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The summer solstice is a strange time in Edinburgh.

The sun doesn't set until about a quarter past eleven and it rises around four thirty. The dogs bark more than usual, the birds are hyperactive, the weather changes rapidly during the day and everyone is out enjoying the nightlife. Going out is the pastime of choice in Edinburgh year round; the summer solstice exaggerates this trend enormously.

Last night was actually the day after the solstice. It was a strange night indeed.

4:46 am

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The sun is up.

Not just a little up, all the way fully up and shining in my bedroom window.

I cannot sleep.

It always gets like this in Edinburgh in the summer - there is maybe an hour or half an hour of real darkness, and the rest of the time is nautical twilight.

I'm getting six or so hours of sleep and it's driving me crazy.

Oh, you know you want it.

Weight, part II

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My sister has written on her brilliant and prolific blog about weight, health, cholesterol and appearance.

This set me a-thinkin' and a postin' and this is what I thought.

Ants - Six Legged DEATH!!!

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I hate ants.

It's not a subtle hatred, not a sly, slanderous loathing.

No, this is a violent and disturbing hatred, at leasit if you're from the Family Formicidae, in which case the simple formula:

My hatred = your death

holds.

Right.

I buy my groceries online at Tesco.com. It's great - they're delivered right to my door for just 5, no tips allowed. The selection is as big as the biggest supermarket they've got and if you know exactly what you want then this is the best way to shop. A taxi back from a grocery store costs more than five quid anyway, so I save myself the time of shopping and the money of a cab.

Tesco.com has a nifty function where you can enter in a grocery list and it does it's best to choose what you mean. It's fairly bright and has done well for me each time I try it.

This time, I wanted some pork. I got a bit of a surprise.

GT Social Club Relaunch!

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Hi, Folks!

Group Technology relaunched their social club with a big party at the Three Sisters; no party is complete without me, so I went along with my friend Helen.

I promise you a more complete accounting later, but for now, read a bit about my friend Scott Proudfoot, who was at the party in all of his resplendent glory!

Carol's gone.

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She's in Australia.

This isn't news, it's just what's taking up my every spare cycle at the moment. I'm having a hard time thinking about other things, even Abu Ghraib prison photos or Nicholas Bergf.

Mara & Mark

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Mara and Mark came to visit me this on Thursday! And here's a picture of them I took while we were walking around the Botanical Gardens.

Leaving for Edinburgh, Part II

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Subtitle: Return of the Evil Overnight Flight in Cattle Class

Or

When I'm Rich, I'll Fly First Class

---

I spent last night packing. Carol was already packed so she spent the night finding new ways to make her feet as cold as ice. More below.

Brown paper packages tied up with string...

You get the idea.

Today was mingin'. This obscure colloquialism, peculiar to the U.K., refers to something nasty, something I won't post in my blog because my mother reads it, but it suffices to say that the weather was lousy - cold, blowing rain.

Luckily, I was to be cheered and warmed by a happy surprise when I opened my email.

House hunting in Edinburgh

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Oh, man. What a day.

Emotional roller coaster.

Dun Edin

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Edinburgh, capital of Scotland, has been settled for more than 20,000 years. And boy, when the wind is just wrong, it sure does smell like it!

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