Happy Pie Day

In case you’re wondering if I’ve got the date wrong and forgotten how to spell, today is not Pi Day (an international celebration of the mathematical constant π).  I discovered earlier today that it is National Pie Day in the United States of America.

This annual festival, which I’ve never previously heard of, is organised by the American Pie Council (I kid you not!), an organisation which, according to Wikipedia, is committed to “preserving America’s pie heritage and promotes America’s love affair with the food”.

I suppose it’s no stranger really to have a day celebrating a food than it is to have one celebrating a number.  As far as I can tell, though, the date of this celebration is entirely arbitrary whereas Pi Day is celebrated on a date of special significance to the thing being celebrated (14th March, or 3.14 according to one way of writing the date).

Although it is not officially an international celebration, I see no reason not to celebrate Pie Day outside the United States.  After all, pies have been in existence since long before the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to their brave new world (the first ones, apparently, were found in stone-age Egypt) and so, while I don’t deny that the US has a rich pie heritage, they certainly can’t claim that pie is a uniquely or originally American invention.  (OK, I suppose they could claim it, but they’d be wrong!)

If I’d had more time to plan things, I might have gone for a full banquet of pies of the world.  As it was, I had to settle for a few miniature pork pies and apple pies and a slightly larger Bakewell tart with which to mark this auspicious day.  Perhaps next year, I’ll push the boat out a bit further.

Incidentally, this is the second time this week I’ve come across an American national celebration which seems worth importing.  It was National Hug Day (aka National Hugging Day) on Tuesday.  This, like National Pie Day (as far as I can tell) is an entirely unofficial celebration and not a public holiday but it does have its own website and seems to be taking off in other countries.  Interestingly, at least a couple of languages there seem to describe it as International Hugging Day (Международен ден на прегръдката, which is apparently in Bulgarian –  I thought it was in Russian until I looked up the last word, which I didn’t recognise) or World Hug Day (Weltknuddeltag, which is in German).

I think pies and hugs are both things worth celebrating – though both should be enjoyed a lot more than once a year!

More milestones

Since I started my Doctor Who book read-through just over a year ago, I’ve posted occasional updates about it.

Some of these have been at (or near) significant milestones for the series itself (such as the boundary between the Troughton and Pertwee eras – or, to put it another way, the monochrome and colour eras) and others have been just at at moments when I had something moderately interesting to say (such as the reference to a “ham-fisted bun vendor” in one story).

Now, however, I have reached a personal Doctor-Who-related milestone within my read-through and am within sight of another.

I’m currently reading the novelisations of Season 14, which is the season that was being broadcast when I was born.  In other words, unlike all of the stories (or at least the original TV episodes on which the novelisations are based) I’ve read up to now (this time round), the ones I am about to read come from within my own lifetime.  Specifically, I’m in the middle of The Deadly Assassin, the third story of the season, which has the distinction of being (as far as I can remember) the only story in the classic series where the Doctor is entirely without regular companions.

Actually, given that I didn’t start watching Doctor Who as soon as I was born (or at least, don’t remember doing so), a more significant milestone would probably be the point at which I started watching Doctor Who and therefore saw most of the stories first-time round.  As far as I can recall, that was the “Five Faces of Doctor Who” season that the BBC showed towards the end of 1981, between the end of the Tom Baker era (finishing with Season 18 in early 1981) and the Peter Davison era (from Season 19 in early 1982).  This included repeats of one story each from the previous 4 Doctors (including Baker’s final story, Logopolis, which had a brief appearance by Davison at the end, justifying the title of the season and leading nicely into the new season that was to be shown after the Christmas break) as well as The Three Doctors, which (as the name suggests) included all of the first 3 Doctors.

Still, conceptually there seems to be quite a difference between “stuff that happened before I was born” (which feels properly historical) and “stuff that happened within my lifetime” (which I’m more inclined to classify as “current affairs”, although that’s probably stretching the definition a bit for things that were going on nearly 40 years ago!)

The other milestone I alluded to earlier is the point where, in my previous read-through, about 7 years ago, I stopped reading.  That was after reading The Invisible Enemy (the second story of Season 15 and notable as K9’s debut story).  I can’t remember why I stopped reading at that point – I think it was probably that I just got distracted with reading other things (it was just after Christmas 2006, so I probably had a stack of new books to read) and never quite got round to going back to it until so much time had passed that it made more sense to restart from the beginning.

In any case, this means that most of the Doctor Who books I’ll be reading from now on are ones I haven’t read for a very long time, if at all.   This time I fully intend to get to the end of the classic series run (possibly minus a handful of the 6th and 7th Doctor books that I don’t yet have in my collection and don’t want to spend large amounts of money on).  I’m currently just under halfway through (including all the extra books I have which are not novelisations of the TV serials) so if I continue reading them at the present rate I’d expect to finish sometime in the middle of 2015.

Hats and History

In my last post, I mentioned my brother Wulf.  He is a rather more regular blogger than me, with almost daily posts, and on his blog this morning he posted an interesting video he’d found.  Rather than repost the video here, I’ll leave you to visit Wulf’s blog if you want to see it.

The video is two short films of London shown side by side.  They both follow the same route round the city but one of them dates from 1927 while the other was shot last year (presumably with the express intention of comparing it to the older film; I suppose whoever made it didn’t have access to any good footage from 1913 and didn’t want to wait until 2027 to make his film).

It is an interesting comparison with, as Wulf points out, some features remaining the same and others being radically different.

One thing that struck me in particular was how in 1927 the vast majority of people are wearing hats and only a few are bareheaded, while in 2013 the opposite is true.  This is particularly noticeable in a scene showing the market at Petticoat Lane (although, to be fair, the modern version of that scene actually has more hats than most of the rest of the film).

In this respect, though certainly not in the relative formality of the clothes otherwise, I would actually fit in better to the London of 87 years ago than the present day, as I almost always wear some kind of hat when I’m outside.  In fact, it feels slightly strange to me to be outside with my head uncovered!

I have a reasonably large collection of different hats and I wear them for practical reasons (such as keeping my head warm in winter, and protecting my hair and eyes from sun, rain and seagulls) and, I suppose, largely out of habit rather than as a fashion (or anti-fashion) statement.

In the unlikely event that I should ever fulfill my dream of being a time traveller, I suspect that I’d find 1920s London a strange and not particularly comfortable place to be.  At least, though, I wouldn’t have to worry about adjusting to wearing a hat in order to fit in!

2014 – Year of the Uke?

The ukulele is a musical instrument that appears to have been undergoing a bit of a renaissance in the last couple of years.

I have had a ukulele for quite a few years now.  I forget when I got my first one, but it was certainly well before they started becoming fashionable.

Since then I’ve played it (on and off) quite a bit and added a few more ukes to my stable.  Over the last few weeks, though, I’ve found myself playing it a lot more and taking a more definite interest in extending my chops.

One reason for this resurgence of interest is doubtless that my brother Wulf has also been getting into uke playing recently (largely due to a ukulele club he’s joined at his workplace) and I wanted to ensure my playing wasn’t too rusty when we met up at Christmas.

Another reason is that I’ve recently been introduced to the Bangor Ukulele Society (which is mostly, but not exclusively, a student group) by my friend Simon, who plays with them and also plays folk music (albeit not generally on ukes) with me and one or two others on Wednesday afternoons.  Unfortunately I’m not able to regularly attend their meetings, which clash with my Scottish Dancing commitments on Thursday evenings.  Still, the opportunity to get together with other uke players from time to time is a definite incentive to ensure that I can actually play the thing reasonably well.

My immediate musical interests tend to change fairly frequently, as there are so many instruments and genres to explore, so I can’t say for certain how much the uke will dominate my musical horizons this year.  However, at the moment I’m expecting it to feature fairly prominently in my soundscape over the next few months.

Even more delightful

A favourite book of mine for a long time has been The Box of Delights by John Masefield.

I first encountered this, along with his other book The Midnight Folk (to which BoD is a sequel) in the mid 1980s, at around the time an adaptation was shown on TV for Christmas.  I suspect, though I can’t entirely remember, that I saw the TV version first and then got the books shortly afterwards.  Certainly my copy has a photo from the TV series on the cover, along with a strapline saying “Now a major TV series”.

Over the years, I’ve read both books several times.  This Christmas I watched the TV series again (as my dad received a copy as a present) and this inspired me to dig out the books yet again – probably for the first time in 10 years or so.  When I did so, I realised that my copies (Fontana Lions editions) are actually abridged from the original stories.

I decided that I’d like, if possible, to read the unabridged versions and soon discovered that I could pick up e-book versions for my Kindle at quite reasonable prices, so I did so.

A quick comparison of the first few pages of the two texts indicates that the abridged version did indeed cut out quite a lot of the text of BoD (though rather less so of MF, which was evidently a much shorter book to start with; the Fontana Lions editions of both books are about the same length).  As far as I can remember (not having read the abridged one for quite sometime), it was mostly a matter of cutting out, or at least shortening, various descriptive passages and digressions, rather than losing any major scenes from the story.

I intend to keep my dead tree editions of the abridged stories as they are a souvenir of my childhood (as well as a good version to lend to any younger readers of my acquaintance who want to check the stories out) though when I reread the stories in future, as I doubtless will do, I’ll probably go for the full versions again.

By the way, I was quite favourably impressed by the TV version on my recent viewing.  Often, old TV series that are remembered with fondness can be quite disappointing when actually seen again.  This time, however, it seems to have aged well, not to mention being a fairly faithful (if slightly slimmed down) adaptation of the original story.  I suppose it does have an advantage that it’s set in the past (the 1930s to be more specific) rather than the present or the future and therefore doesn’t suffer from the problems of things like supposedly sophisticated computers running on magnetic tapes, with blocky graphics or even panels of flashing lightbulbs for an interface (one of my favourite unintentionally amusing features of classic Doctor Who, for example).  It’s not just that, though – the special effects were excellent for the time (and the doubtless tight budget they were working to), as was the general standard of the acting.  It was also nice to see Patrick Troughton in a role other than his famous Doctor Who one (and he’s a sufficiently good actor that I didn’t spend the whole – or indeed any – time getting distracted by the fact that I was watching the Doctor (and one of my favourites, at that)).

A handy gadget

One of my favourite things to cook in winter is soup.  It’s pretty easy to knock up a tasty, economical meal that will keep you going for several meals, and there’s lots of scope for variation and improvisation.

Until now, the soups I’ve cooked have always been the kind which involve chunks of ingredients floating around in a thin broth, except perhaps on one or two occasions when I’ve attempted to mush things up a bit with a potato masher (with, as I recall, only limited success).  This has been due to a lack of suitable hardware for making any other soups.

Yesterday, however, I invested in a hand blender – a cheap (£8) one from my local supermarket, which seems to do all that I want – so I can now start making blended soups.  I’ve been thinking about getting one for several years, but never quite got round to it until now.

As it happens, I made a cabbage, carrot and chilli soup the other day, mainly to use up half a cabbage and a red chilli pepper that I had knocking about in the fridge, and still had about half of it left, so this provided me a good starting point for my first attempt at a blended soup.  It definitely changes the flavour (or perhaps more significantly the texture) of the soup, so made for a nice change after two days of eating what amounted to a bunch of boiled cabbage in slightly spicy cabbage water.  I also got some soured cream when I went shopping for the blender, so that contributed to the change too.

I suspect in future I may well do a similar thing of starting with unblended soup for a day or two and then bringing the blender in to provide some variation later on.  Another idea I have is to take out some of the chunky bits before blending the soup and then put them back in afterwards, to get the combined benefit of a nice thick blended soups and some textural/flavour variety.

At present I don’t have any particular plans to use the blender for anything other than the making of soups but I’m sure some other ideas will present themselves now that I have one.

Incidentally, Happy New Year!