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Liam's write-only LJ Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Liam Proven" journal:

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January 11th, 2017
12:12 am

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On ice-skiing and feeling rather lost & disoriented (#projectBrno blog post)
This weekend just gone brought another of the now quite familiar “I am VERY far from home” moments. Back in February, a student in a suburb to the north of the city cancelled her lesson when I was already on the tram there. I decided to stay on and take a stroll by the lake, or rather, reservoir. It was a ghost-, erm, reservoir, mostly deserted, the pubs closed and shuttered. To my surprise, the water had partly frozen over – there was a metre-wide lead of open water between the shore and a large floating ice-mass. I didn’t realise it had been that cold; the ponds outside work only occasionally froze over last winter.

This winter has been considerably colder. Last weekend, it was floating around -9º to -6º, dipping down to -13º at night. I don’t think temperatures have got as high as zero yet this year, and it’s snowed several times. There was a white Christmas in Brno – when I was in the Isle of Man, naturally – and that’s the first in several years.

But last week there were several days of bitter cold – down to well under 10º below – and it snowed twice. Friends told me that they were going up to the dam to skate. This hadn’t occurred to me, but there is an official test and the ice thickness is over 15cm – 19cm in places – and it was officially declared safe to use. Apparently, this is fairly normal.

“I wish I could skate, but I can’t,” I protested.
“Then go ski on it. You’ve told us you do cross-country skiing.”
“But… you can’t ski on ice.”
“Liam.” I got one of those occasional Central European pitying looks, as given to particularly dense Brits. (At least, I fervently hope other Brits and travellers from distant lands get them.) “It has been snowing. The ice is covered in snow.”

This quite simply had not occurred to me. I mean, I’ve seen what happens when snow falls on ponds, lakes, rivers, the sea and whatnot. It melts straight in. One feels that one knows what lakes do. Everywhere has lakes, right. Even deserts have oases.

But not if the lake has completely frozen over and the ice is thick enough to walk on, no. The normal rules no longer apply.

So on Saturday, I went up for a look. My local number three tram goes straight there. It was bitterly cold – about -8º -- but a big crowd surged off the tram, from grannies to families. (Not just lean wiry winter athletes being the general impression I’m trying to convey here.) As I trudged through the snow down the approach road to the water, the view in the distance gave me a feeling of alienation. Instead of a small dark triangle of water, it was gleaming white, brighter than the louring grey sky.

And it was covered in people. Tiny dark figures. Moving. Sporting. It’s the only word. Disporting themselves on the ice. It was straight out of that Pieter Breughel painting. You know the one.

I walked around the shore a bit, marvelling. There were a thousand-odd people out on the ice. Skating – I didn’t know you could skate through snow, but it was becoming rapidly apparent that I didn’t know much at all about situations like this. Skiing. Parents towing kids on sledges.

I walked down the shore and out onto the ice, where I met a friend of mine, Gabriel.

(Disconcertingly, Czechs pronounce the male version of this name pretty much as “Gabrielle” but I just call him Gabe.)

He and his friends had cleared an area and made a berm and were energetically building up some speed on their skates then throwing themselves into the berm, for no readily apparent reason. Gabe does parkour. Traceurs seem to throw themselves at the scenery for the sheer fun of it. We chatted. I tried to convey how strange and disorienting this was for me. Entire substantial lakes don’t just turn solid in my experience, in much the same way that houses don’t walk around and mountains don’t take to the wing and migrate. I mean, yes, African childhood and all that, but this business of the ground being solid water and brighter than the sky. I’m not sure I got this across.

I walked on, marvelling. I was walking – very carefully and a little gingerly – on a lake! Standing over tens of meters of dark icy water without the aid of either a boat or divine intervention. Me and a fair proportion of the city. Sections of snow had been cleared, circuits for speed skating, mini rinks for ice hockey, a particular national passion round here.

Here I was, in my fiftieth year, walking on a frozen lake for the first time. I have of course long been aware that lakes do this in extreme latitudes – Siberia, northern Canada and Alaska and so on. I was completely unaware that for three winters I’ve been living in a place where this is normal, expected behaviour.

When the lake ice is thick enough, it becomes a major amenity again. There were hordes of locals. I saw parents pushing prams. Tiny tots on skates or skis. Oldsters walking with sticks. Lots of ice hockey. There was even a maniac cycling across the lake. (I am told there’s a warning in place that it’s not thick enough to drive on. Well, that’s reassuring.)

I walked for an hour, until it dusk was progressing a little far for comfort and the temperature started to feel like it might slip into the wrong kind of double digits.

My determination now reinforced, I stomped up to the tram stop and headed for the place where my stuff from London is stored. I made a concerted, hour-and-a-half effort to find my cross-country ski boots. I’ve had the skis here for two years, but they’re useless without the special boots whose toes clip onto the skis. I’ve looked for the boots repeatedly, both when the boxes were in London and now here, with no joy.

I found them in a box labelled “BOOTS”, which it must be said was not conspicuous compared to the hundred-odd other boxes, most of which are labelled “BOOKS”. But I had them.

I emerged triumphant if dust-covered, and adjourned to the pub for a friend’s leaving do. (Goodbye, Zuszka!) And then another pub. But, remarkably, I was the first to leave the survivors’ party, so determined was I to ski.

On Sunday I was a tad hungover, but a breakfast of warmed-up leftover curry, half a litre of coffee and a litre of tea soon fixed that. Leaving the hour-long process of getting togged up for outdoors sporting activity when it’s about -6º and you haven’t done it for about 3 years.

Ungainly, all right, even more ungainly than usual in my ski boots, I stomped down to the tram stop, as ever feeling rather conspicuous carrying a pair of nearly-two-metre-long skis and poles. But on the tram was another person with a pair of, well, slightly newer but otherwise very similar skis.

We debarked at the stop for the docks and I hesitantly stomped down to the waterside. There’s no intentional access provided – you have to climb over a barrier, which I didn’t fancy, so I walked around the lake again, noting the many people carrying skis. Most of them septuagenarian, by the looks of them, which did make me feel a tad less athletic.

I found a sloping section of shore, picked my way down very carefully – there are logs and over flotsam under the snow – and walked out onto the ice. Not that you can see any ice, of course. The snow just slopes down to the lake and then flattens out. You can’t tell where the land ends and the ice begins. I clipped into the skis and nervously set out.

It’s not unlike skiing on land, but it’s not the same. The skis move laterally much more easily, and your poles won’t bite in. There was 4-5cm or more of snow, after a new fall overnight, but while it’s enough to anchor the poles, they won’t take much pressure. But I was underway, nervously, very carefully, but gathering speed. It works much the same, but you can be pleasantly secure that you’re not going to unexpectedly find yourself on a downhill bit – which unfailingly means I fall immediately and heavily on my arse.

As I got a bit more confident and the movements came back to me – and as I saw more and more other skiers, making me feel less awkward – I left the main bulk of the crowd, very loosely clustered around the pubs and bars at the end of the lake near the dam, and headed upstream, where the lake gradually narrows. I kept it going for about an hour, occasionally stopping for a sip of water – I was working hard – and to remove a layer of insulation, until a concealed, formerly-floating log knocked me down, a couple of kilometres along the lake. I went for a sit down to catch my breath, which fairly soon reminded me that it was still well below freezing point.

So I set off back. Now, I had a bit more speed, but a lot less strength left. This was my first go since the last heavy snowfall in London, and I don’t recall when that was. My normal venue was Wimbledon Common. Zooming – OK, OK, moving at slightly more than a brisk walking pace – across the ice of a central European lake, forested hills on all sides, clear clean ice-cold air in my lungs. All very invigorating, but not actually invigorating enough to overcome my growing fatigue. I had gone a bit too far for a first go, and now I had another two plus kilometres to go to get back. It was an effort, but I made it, albeit tired enough that when I got to the end, I didn’t recognise where I was – it’s an unfamiliar view, after all; I’ve only crossed the lake by boat once – and had to stop and consult Google Maps. I then realised that I was back. I tried to ski across the last few dozen metres to the shore, but so many people had walked around this part, the snow was a thin crust of churned slush, liberally mixed with Czech industrial-grade anti-slip compounds from their boots. I unclipped, walked back – now very much more confident than before – and went to the pub for a restorative hot chocolate and a mulled wine.

So a day after walking on my first frozen lake, I felt rather that I’d conquered it. My skills on XC skis are very poor, but it’s probably the most confident I feel on snow. Sadly, this week’s weather has been extreme by the standards of recent winters, so I probably won’t get many more opportunities to do this. If there’s more snow, which is still fairly likely, it’ll be back to snowboarding in the local park. But a remarkable experience all the same.



As the temperature’s gone up to a relatively balmy -5º or so, between other errands, today I dropped by the business park where my old office is located, hoping to feed the ducks. Except that the duck-ponds have frozen solid, and the ducks have decamped to the river Svratka nearby, so I stood on the bridge and threw the bread down at them. They soon noticed and gathered -- but so, unexpectedly, did some seagulls. I rather miss seagulls here, 1000km from the sea. But these weren't Britain's typical burly herring gulls or black-backed gulls, but some far smaller and more slender, mostly white birds with pale grey wings and flecks of grey in their plumage. Perhaps some kind of tern, I don’t know.

It was chilly work standing there tearing up M&S naan bread and throwing it down, and it was so cold, I was worried it might freeze as solid as a rock on the way and concuss passing waterfowl.

But then, I always like to leave no tern unstoned.

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December 22nd, 2016
08:12 pm

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"A motorcycle is a bicycle with pandemonium attachment"
With thanks to the Ixion mailing list for this gem...

MOTORCYCLES. By George Fitch (1916)

A motorcycle is a bicycle with pandemonium attachment, and is designed for the
especial use of mechanical geniuses, daredevils and lunatics.

The motorcycle is equipped with a motor small enough to be put in a large pocket and loud enough to fill a large Coliseum comfortably.

This motor is connected with the rear wheel of a bicycle, and when it is in the mood will revolve the wheel with tremendous force, thus causing the bicycle to proceed from hither to yon over buggies, pedestrians, fences and small outbuildings.

A motorcycle is really a miniature auto-mobile with full sized noise, smell and dirt output. It is not started by cranking, however, but by pedalling the whole machine along the road until the motor emerges from its coma and gets on the job. An automobilist can be detected by his vast overhanging shoulders and calloused hands. A motorcyclist however may have arms like pipe stems, but his legs are seven sizes too large for him.

A motorcycle is not as comfortable as a camel or a lumber wagon, but it is very swift and there is nothing that feels more like flying than to ride a large baritone motorcycle over the country roads at fifty miles an hour, leaping lightly from bump to bump — except to leave the machine when it has struck a rock and to soar swiftly through the unstable atmosphere until some jagged section of the United States interfere with further progress.

Motorcycles are very useful and have almost annihilated distance and cheap clothes. They should be ridden in costume, except by very wealthy and careless men. A pair of leather pants with asbestos lining and a two bushel hip flask for tools, a padded vest, heavy gloves, a pair of goggles and nose and shin guards make a tasty and useful rig for the cyclist. Dressed in this fashion, the enthusiast can enjoy himself to the full as he caroms from tree to tree and gorges himself with dust, oil and excitement.

Motorcycles are not as fatal to pedestrians as automobiles because they can only run over him with two wheels. But they should be treated with respect at all times and should not be interfered with when in a hurry.

Marvellous records are being made by intrepid mahouts who have driven large double barrelled motorcycles ninety miles on an aIl-board track, and most of the way up the golden stairs in one hour by the clock.

Motorcycles are much cheaper than automobiles and there seems to be no practical remedy for this as the industry is unfortunately not in the hands of a trust. A good machine can be purchased for $150. However if the devotee does not possess $150 he can get almost as good results by drinking a little lubricating oil, inhaling a vacuum cleaner and setting off two bushels of firecrackers between his legs.

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December 11th, 2016
04:21 pm

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Artificial sweeteners and fizzy drinks
I used to have a very sweet tooth. In my early career, I lived on litres a day of strong coffee with milk and sweeteners, coupled with Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi and when it hit the market Pepsi Max.

I have problems sleeping -- I suspect DSPS -- and so I'm bad at mornings and usually groggy and sleepy. So the caffeine helped.

I adjusted to saccharin in childhood and quite like its taste. I like real sugar too, but I am equally happy with saccharine. I find all the other artificial sweeteners, including Stevia, rather unpleasant, though... But not as unpleasant as drinking the amount of sugar in most soft drinks. So I go for "traditional" Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi etc rather than Coke Zero, Green Coke, whatever.

But given the choice, tea. I stopped drinking almost all pop about 2003 or so when I gave up caffeine, and although I'm back on the caffeine now, sadly, I never regained my former fondness for fizzy sugar water, as conditioned into me by the Western industrial complex by age 4 or so.

My main fizzy drink now is soda water.

The association between the different legal mind-altering chemicals is fascinating.

For a while, around late 2004 to mid 2007, I did not use caffeine or alcohol or nicotine. (I gave up smoking permanently in 1995, alcohol in '04 for a few years, and caffeine in about '02 for a decade.)

It was fascinating. I ran regularly at that time, until pain from the metal bits in my shattered left leg and hip became too much. My main drug of choice at that time was endorphins from running. I lived on rooibos tea and decaf. No sugar, cakes or sweets, ever. (I stopped them decades ago.) No meat -- veggie since about 1982 or 1983.

I sickened people at parties, and lost quite a lot of friends through not drinking, which was sad.

It was also fascinating to walk down the street and see the vendors pushing them, often in certain associations. Coffee shops with sweet cakes, but little in the way of real actual healthy food. Tobacconists selling sweets and caffeinated sugary cold beverages. Pubs and cocktail bars also sell only sweet, often caffeinated beverages -- but not sweet foods. It's odd, and it only became obvious to me when I quit all of them. Walk down a high street some time and pay attention: newsagent or tobacconist, selling nicotine and caffeine and sugar; then a few doors later, a coffee shop, selling caffeine and sugar; then a few doors later, some licensed premises selling alcohol and caffeine and sugar. If you removed the places that primarily sell those 3 mind-altering substances (alcohol, caffeine, nicotine) and their henchman sugar, you'd remove a good quarter to a third of all retail places.

But I never noticed until I stopped using all three at once.

All had benefits from quitting them. But caffeine was perhaps the biggest. The only widely-available diet soft drink is Diet Coke and variations on it. All contain caffeine; the caffeine-free versions are never available on the high street, in bars, restaurants, corner shops, etc. Only in multipacks in large supermarkets.

And I limit my sugar intake and have done since my teens, because I have a tendency to get fat and I don't like that.

So, being off caffeine perforce meant I had to quit drinking pop too. There are no sugar-free caffeine-free drinks in pubs; in place of alcohol, you either get tons of sugar or caffeine. Or both.

So I switched to lime'n'soda, and occasionally grapefruit juice & soda. My taste for sweet fizzy drinks quickly left me. Soon, more than a few drops of lime was overpowering, and rare indeed is the barman who can make a lime'n'soda with, say, under a teaspoonful of lime cordial. More disgusts me, so I stopped ordering it. (That, and some places charging a fiver for it.)

But I still enjoy effervescent drinks, so straight soda it became.

There are others which aren't horribly sweet. Tonic, especially angostura and tonic -- but it's also full of sugar and vastly expensive in bars. I've seen well over £5/pint. It often only comes in tiny mixer bottles.

The only sugar-free caffeine-free soft drink I could get was plain fizzy water. Even soda water with its added minerals can be very costly.

So I got used to it, and grew to like it.

It was my (sadly, former) friend Moz who taught me the difference between soda water and carbonated water, and that the latter was usually much cheaper. She saved me many hundreds of pounds thereby!

So I got used to it, and now I like it.

I still take a little saccharine in my tea and coffee though. They're too bitter for me without. But I take about a third to a quarter as much as I did 20 years ago.

I tried life without alcohol. Life was still good, but very different. Nightclubbing and live music were very different, not all in good ways. I dislike wine, cocktails and spirits -- all I like to drink is beer (and real cider, also sadly very rare.) But I do love beer. So after about 2 and a half years, in the first of which I lost 25kg and in the second of which I regained 35kg while still living very healthily, I started drinking alcohol again -- but more juduciously.

Smoking was no problem. It must just be me but I found quitting easy and I've never looked back. Moderating intake of things is hard for me, but abstinence is easy. It just takes mindfulness and determination.

So, no tobacco, no cakes, no sweets, basically ever. No problem.

No alcohol was easy enough too but took some joy out of life.

No caffeine... ahh, now that was interesting. I felt the same, but I slept better, woke more easily, was more alert, my concentration and memory were better. In 2008 I did 9 months of a job with either a 7AM-7PM shift or a 7PM-7AM shift. The days were very busy and I had to rise at 5AM to get to work. That was murder. I could never have done it while using caffeine, because I would not have been able to go to bed at 9:30PM and actually sleep.

Getting up at 5AM doesn't feel like early morning to me. It feels like getting up in the middle of the night. Your whole life has to change to fit around it. It was doable but profoundly antisocial -- and it was only doable because without caffeine my sleep cycles were more plastic. I was more adaptable.

The night shifts were much easier for me, but going to bed at 8:30-9AM is weird. Again, being caffeine-free helped me to adjust my sleep cycles.

But in late 2012, I got a short-lived job which had an 8:30AM start. That meant rising at about 6:30AM for me. That is early, very blasted early. That, I could not do. I kept falling asleep in my chair at work. Qwertyitis (a keyboard-shaped rash on the cheeks), the whole thing. Drool on the mousepad. It was terrible and it was embarrassing. So I started having a coffee at work to keep me awake, and within days I was hooked again... and I still am.

I keep telling myself I'll quit again, but I never do it. Maybe 2017. Maybe later still.
 

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November 9th, 2016
10:03 am

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Did you think we were born in peaceful times?
Today, as you listen to this song
Another 394,000 children were born into this world
They break like waves of hunger and desire upon these eroded shores

Carrying the curses of history and a history yet unwritten

The oil burns in thick black columns. The buzz saws echo through the forest floor
They shout "Give us our fair share!" "Give us justice!"
Here comes the war!
Here comes the war.

On a grey morning to the south of here
Two young men in makeshift uniforms peer into the misty light
And figures dart behind the trees
As a snap of rifle rounds echoes out across the fields
Well they hardly know their sacred mother tongue... but they know their duty
To defend the flag hanging limp and bloody above the village church

While a thousand miles away, in a warehouse complex down by the river
Young money men play paintball games

Here comes the war!
Here comes the war.
Put out the lights on the Age of Reason.

So blow out the candle and tell us another of those great stories,
the ones about serial killers. Let dreams flow into savage times.

Do you hear the sirens screaming out across the city?
We've had three hot nights in succession - the riot season is here again

Dear Lord, lead us back into the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Here comes the war!
Here comes the war.
Did you think we were born in peaceful times?

Faster, faster, like a whirling dervish spinning round
Faster, faster, until the Centre cannot Hold
A whirling dervish spinning round
Faster, faster, the Centre cannot Hold
Spinning round spinning spinning
You screamed "Give us Liberty or give us Death!"
Now you've got both. What do you want next ?
WAR!

Here comes the war!
Here comes the war.
Put out the lights on the Age of Reason.



(Sullivan/Heaton/Nelson) 1992

Current Location: An ancient battleground and a fresh one
Current Mood: fatalist
Current Music: New Model Army - Here Comes The War

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August 19th, 2016
02:38 pm

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Travel planning for beginners
I'm not used to this "leaving time" thing, but I'm trying to learn it, to get used to it.

Tonight, I fly from Prague to London. On Sunday, I fly to the Isle of Man to visit my mum, then after 6 days, to Liverpool, for a train to Bradford for the Infest electronic music festival. From there, I'm taking the train to London to help a moving company shift the last of my stuff from (rather expensive) storage in Merton, near South Wimbledon, to Brno. Cutting the last of my ties to the UK.

All my flights are booked, but I've also pre-booked all of my train tickets. This is something I'm not used to doing. These cost me just shy of £100, meaning that pre-booking saved me nearly £50. That's pretty good.

I also bought a České Dráhy ticket from Brno to Prague in advance, too, using my new membership card. That saved me about £2 on a £7 ticket. (It was closer to £5 when I moved here; blame the falling pound.)

This morning, I panicked, unjustly, because I left home 9 minutes behind my planned schedule... so I called a taxi. It got me to the station more than 5 minutes before my train was due, but, ČD being what it is, my train was 15min late. There's an app for that, and I have it and I used it to check, but it didn't show the delay. I could have just taken the tram anyway, saved about £4.50, and I'd still have had time to buy a beer and relax. Ah well.

So I saved £2, but wasted £5 on an unnecessary cab. (It doesn't half confuse them when you try to order a taxi from a tram stop, too.) And then there's the 60p beer that I bought to help me de-stress a little.

Still, could be worse. My 155 mile train journey to the capital is costing a fiver, and the decent 3-course lunch I'm enjoying on board, with a couple of draft Budvars, will cost under £10. It's happy hour again. Oddly, it was happy hour on the 19:09 train back from Vienna on Tuesday night, too. Today, it's happy hour from 13:00 to 15:00 on this one. I don't understand, but I'm not complaining!

This evening, I daresay it will cost me more than my Czech train fare for close to the full width of the country just to cross London.

Meantime, I am looking out at the idyllic countryside going past. Little Tyrolean-style cottages in the low mountains, and tractors harvesting the fields in the flatter bits. Which means that, if they're harvesting grain, they'll be harvesting grapes, too... and by the time I return, it will be burčak season.

This month has been busy. I decided to play it safe, financially, with the big cost of the movers approaching, and didn't go to either of the big Czech and Slovak summer music festivals. Instead, in the first week of August, I went to the "Flock to Fedora" conference in Kraków in Poland, thanks to some sponsorship from my former employers Red Hat. That was interesting and I'll be writing about that next month.

While I was there, I was invited to attend GUADEC, the developers' conference for the GNOME desktop environment, in Karlsruhe in Germany -- so last week, I took the longest train ride of my life (Brno → Vienna, Vienna → Salzburg, Salzburg → Stuttgart, Stuttgart → Karlsruhe; 10½ hours) to attend that, and then flew home from Stuttgart. It was a lot more pleasant by train, actually, but for some reason, it was half the price of the train ride there to fly back. That was another interesting event and there will be some pieces about that appearing next month, too.

Infest, on the other hand, probably not. What happens in Bradford stays in Bradford.



P.S. Elder Brits may remember a cheery little comic ditty about rail travel, along the lines (sorry) of:


Passengers will please refrain
From flushing toilets while the train
Is standing in the station (I love you)...


Apparently, the melody is Dvořak's Humouresque #7, and it's the same tune Czech Railways use to herald passenger announcements. This reminds me of the more scatalogical old English tune.

Every. Single. Time.

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June 2nd, 2016
12:34 am

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Chef de Bloke presents: Asparago con gnocchi, or something [blog post, by yours truly]
Today's recipe from Chef de Bloke*, your personal guide to Cordon Blur cookery.

It's asparagus season, so here's a great quick tasty dinner. You'll need:

  • some fresh asparagus

  • gnocchi

  • jar of pesto sauce

  • cheapo sachet of pitted olives, or failing that, a handful from the jar.

First, put the kettle on.

Now, chop your asparagus. Slap the bundle on the chopping board -- remember to remove the elastic bands -- and chop the whole bundle into about one-inch lengths. For those of you listening in black and white, that's about 2-3cm.

Now, steam it. Whack a some boiling water into a steamer pan, then put the asparagus in the layer with the holes in, or failing that, in a sieve. Put a lid on the pan.

Steam it for 5 minutes or so, until you can easily stick a fork into the pieces.

While you're doing this, boil your gnocchi. Strain the brine off the olives and toss it in the water you're boiling the gnocchi in -- gives 'em a bit more flavour.

Fish out the gnocchi, plonk 'em in a big bowl. Add the olives and pesto. Stir it about a bit. Add the asparagus. Stir it a bit more.

Plonk some in a bowl, grind a bit of black pepper on it, and eat.

TOP TIP

Do not, in the interests of saving a pot and some washing up, attempt to steam the asparagus over the pan you're boiling the gnocchi in. It'll froth up like nobody's business, go all over the sieve, the lid, the cooker and bloody everywhere, and presto, you'll be cleaning the cooker again.

Don't ask me how I know, I just know, OK?

-- CdB


* This is, or at least was, an actual brand. A most amusing birthday gift from the estimable tamaranth demonstrated this, some 20 years ago.

P.S. here's how the pros do it, if you want to be all boring and fancy.

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March 8th, 2016
02:55 am

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Fun with the Czech language -- #projectBrno blog post, by me
Tomorrow is my third Czech lesson. Yes, I have been procrastinating wildly, but I have at least started.

And my friend and housemate Otto, who has always been extremely supportive of me learning Čeština, has been helping me again with my homework tonight.

Lots of new words. Some I use often enough to stick. I can now make a few different simple conjugations of half a dozen verbs, ask very simple questions, parse a simple sentence with an unknown noun and invert it into a grammatical question while preserving gender. Really baby steps and not much to show for nearly two years here, but I'm making progress.

Alongside the myriad complexities -- I've never studied a language with such baroque grammar; I didn't know the Indo-European family even included languages with such complex grammar* -- there is also, even with my very meagre vocubulary, the problem of untranslatable words. I've just learned a new one and it's interesting.
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Current Location: Brno-Žabovřesky
Current Mood: baffled
Current Music: BBC Radio 6
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January 28th, 2016
07:21 pm

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Winter in Central Europe [#projectBrno blog post]
Even as I grow more settled over here, cultural differences still crop up.

This far from the ocean, the seasons vary far more than in Britain. I'd never really grasped how peculiar the British climate is -- how much it is stabilised by the proximity of the sea on all sides. British summers aren't very hot and winters aren't very cold -- especially in certain areas, such as my homeland of the North-West, sheltered by the Pennines and the hills of the Trough of Bowland and beyond that the Lake District to the North, and to the south by the mountains of North Wales. Also true of my adopted homeland, the south-east, of course.

Here, the sea is nearly a thousand miles away. Summer is properly hot and dry -- 35º C is normal for a few months, and rain is infrequent and tropically heavy. Winter, meanwhile, is real winter. Last winter was the longest and coldest of my life, but the locals all told me that there wasn't a winter at all last year. This year has been significantly colder. There was snow on New Year's Day, and there's been more at least once a week since. A week into January, I took my snowboard to the local park, Wilson Forest, for a bit of a practice. The last two Sundays, I went to a nearby resort, Olešnice. My meagre skills are slowly returning, after about six years off.
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Current Music: BBC Radio 6
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November 3rd, 2015
08:45 pm

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Fighting off the Central European winter... with goulash #projectBrno
Goulash, or guláš as it's called around here, is a popular local dish. But the "real thing" is made with beef, so I can't eat it.

Now, I cook quite a bit -- I normally prepare at least 1 big dish a week from fresh ingredients then eat it for a few days -- but I tend to cheat & use pre-made sauces or concentrates as a base. I've yet to find a vegetarian goulash sauce, so I Googled 4 or 5 recipes and them improvised something from all of them put together. I avoided any fake meat or meat substitutes, but I did use a sachet of guláš spice mix. I think it was mainly paprika, to be honest.
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September 5th, 2015
12:24 pm

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What aging feels like, according to the late great Sir Terry Pratchett
Little extract from The Last Continent, a much-underrated Discworld book:

The wizards are getting hit with ageing spells. The old ones get young, and the solitary young one (Ponder Stibbons) is suddenly very elderly:
'Could be, sir. Er... some of them have gone, sir!'

Ridcully looked unflustered.

'Temporal gland acting up in the high field,' he said. 'Probably decided that since it's thousands of years ago they're not here. Don't worry, they'll come back when it works it out...'

Ponder suddenly felt breathless. 'And... hwee... think this one's the Lecturer in Recent Runes... hwee... of course... hwee... all babies look the... hwee... same.'

There was another wail from under the Senior Wrangler's hat.

'Bit of a... hwee... kindergarten here, sir,' Ponder wheezed. His back creaked when he tried to stand upright.

'Oh, they'll probably come back if they don't get fed,' said Ridcully. 'It's you that'll be the problem, lad. I mean, sir.'

Ponder held his hands up in front of him. He could see the veins through the pale skin. He could nearly see the bones. Around him the piles of clothing rose again as the wizards clambered back to their proper age.

'How... old... hwee... I... ha... look?' he panted. 'Like someone who shouldn't... hwee... start reading a long book?'

'A long sentence,' said Ridcully cheerfully, holding him up. 'How old do you feel? In yourself?'

'I... hwee... ought to feel... hwee... about twenty-four, sir,' Ponder groaned. 'I actually... hwee... feel like a twenty-four-year-old who has been hit by eighty years travelling at... hwee... high speed.'

'Hold on to that thought. Your temporal gland knows how old you are.' Ponder tried to concentrate, but it was hard. Pan of him wanted to go to sleep. Part of him wanted to say, 'Hah, you call this a temporal disturbance? You should've seen the temporal disturbances we will have been used to be going to get in my day.' A pressing part of him was threatening that if he didn't find a toilet it would make its own arrangements.

'You've kept your hair,' said the Senior Wrangler, encouragingly.

Ponder heard himself say, 'Remember old “Cruddy” Trusset? Now there was a wizard who had... good... hair...' He tried to get a grip. 'He's still alive, isn't he?' he wheezed. 'He's the same age as me. Oh, no... now I'm remembering only yesterday as if it was... hwee... seventy years ago!'

'You can get over it,' said Ridcully. 'You've got to make it clear you're not accepting it, you see. The important thing is not to panic.'

'I am panicking,' squeaked Ponder. 'I'm just doing it very slowly! Why've I got this horrible feeling that I'm... hwee... falling forward all the... hwee... time?'

'Oh, that's just apprehensions of mortality,' said Ridcully. 'Everyone gets that.'

'And... hwee... now I think my memory's going...'

'What makes you think that?'

'Think what? Speak up, you... hwee... man...' Something exploded somewhere behind Ponder's eyeballs and lifted him off the ground. For a moment he felt he had jumped into icy water. The blood flowed back to his hands.

'Well done, lad,' said Ridcully. 'Your hair's going brown again, too.'

'Ow...' Ponder slumped to his knees. 'It was like wearing a lead suit! I never want to go through that again!'

'Suicide's your best bet, then,' said Ridcully.

'Is this going to happen again?'

'Probably. At least once, anyway.'

Current Location: Onchan Head
Current Mood: missing Sir Pterry
Current Music: seagulls

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