Archive for October, 2010

Recipe: New Age Kim Chi Pastiche

October 26, 2010 2 comments
Kin chi

Kim chi

Living as I do in Northern climes, I have a fondness for pickled things. And cabbages. But while I’m partial to the odd bit of sauerkraut, what I tend to make at home is kim chi, which is a Northern Chinese and Korean variant on picked cabbage. I do this because I can, it’s quick and cheap, and also spicy hot.

There are endless recipes for this dish, some recording how the writer’s great-grandmother made it and others suggesting variants using multiple exotic ingredients. Mine is more characteristic of me – quick and dirty, with a spritz of twisted dark humour.

Meanwhile, I used to have – possibly still do have, somewhere – a New Age style recipe book that expected one to go to great spiritual lengths in order to prepare any kind of food.

Oh, and I’m in the latter stages of finishing a zombie story.

So with these three things in mind, here’s a recipe for kim chi.

The zombie thing is true, by the way, but it’s a red herring: no zombies are included in the recipe and none were harmed during the production of this feature.


Take your ingredients:

  • A cabbage – preferably Chinese Leaf, but any will do or you can mix-and-match depending on what’s in the fridge.
  • Garlic – I use three cloves for a litre of kinchi
  • Ginger – a lump about the size of a sugar cube
  • Chili – I use three fresh chilis for a litre (four was a bit much last year). Red or green, take your pick.
  • Pepper – one whole pepper if you like it, or anything else that takes your fancy, really – a quarter of a cucumber, even a carrot will do.
  • One 750ml bottle of rice vinegar.


Arrange the ingredients artistically on a work surface. Contemplate the simplicity and beauty of their forms, and the complex natural processes that created them.

Meditate on the ecological marvel of the nitrogen cycle, the transfer of nitrogen through different forms, which means that while today the cabbage will become your food, at some time in the future you may well be food for a cabbage – or perhaps for a primrose, daffodil, beech tree, and so forth.

If you live in a country where vinegar is required to be pasteurised (the US for example) you can omit this next step. Otherwise, greet the vinegar eels that will be swimming in the vinegar bottle, microscopic Turbatrix aceti nematodes that are harmless and nonparasitic. They too will become part of your food.

When you have achieved a state of harmonious balance, take a sharp knife and rapidly but carefully chop all the vegetable ingredients, using no more violence than is strictly necessary, and having first washed them thoroughly and removed any skin, for example from the ginger, that you don’t want in the mixture. Aim for very thin strips of Chinese leaf/cabbage, and small chunks of everything else. Place them in a bowl and mix together with your hands until the qi flows from your fingers or the chili and ginger make your hands itch, whichever occurs first.

Lastly, put the vegetables into an airtight glass jar (I use a Kilner jar but screw-top is fine, a washed-out coffee jar works just as well). Fill the jar with the rice vinegar. Place at the back of a cupboard and leave in the dark for a while. Some recipes say you can leave it for 6-8 weeks before eating, but I’ve never had the nerve, or the patience. I usually take it out and start eating it after 4-5 days, with boiled rice or, if I’m feeling particularly slobbish, on toast. A litre jar won’t usually last me more than a couple of weeks… As you eat, take pleasure in the fact that what you are eating was made with your own fair hands, and remember that you are also consuming your own qi stored in the kim chi (you might also want to bear in mind the nitrogen cycle thing – eating this kim chi, indeed eating pretty much anything at all, is but one part of the great cycle in which you in turn will become a cabbage. You mean you didn’t believe in reincarnation?).



Nest week: Rave’n’Grave, fried red herrings in piquant zombie sauce…

Creative networks and redundancy

October 23, 2010 Leave a comment

This is just a thought that came out of a late night conversation.

The cuts are coming: the pain will be felt everywhere, and that includes the arts. Initial reaction seems to be that the impact is going to be felt hardest at among smaller, more specialist, and regional groups for whom the withdrawal of relatively small amounts of funding – for a part-time administrator, say – will be the difference between the group functioning and not functioning.

It’s not as though many of the individuals receive funding directly, because they don’t – I’m thinking here of the archetypical starving artist in his/her garret, the musician whose interest is circuit-bending old electronic toys to make different sounds, the writer who’s trying to find some new literary voice or style. But they all benefit indirectly from public money supporting events and social networks in ways that are often hidden, such as subsidising conferences, seminars, guest speakers/performers at events, finding the odd couple of hundred quid for a group to be able to publish something, and so on.

If that kind of ‘seed money’ and organisational capacity is going to be reduced in future, we’ll need to find alternative ways of operating. Creatives are good at that. Maybe we’ll end up reinventing 19th century styles of socialising, with private soirees and informal groups in people’s front rooms. Maybe we’ll see more of something that already happens to a certain extent, with workshops tacked on to commercial events. But the lifeblood of creative endeavour is networking: the ability to stay in contact with like-minded people, or find others with the same interests in order to share skills, opportunities and so forth.

One way to ensure the capacity for this to happen is, in informational terms, building in redundancy. In practical terms this means that for any one individual, connections to others can come through multiple channels so that if some of those channels disappear, others will remain. Even in these days of Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal, Google and WordPress it’s often harder than you might think to connect to actual real people who share your interests and live close enough together that they can meet face to face occasionally.

So while the opportunity is still here, I personally am going to start cultivating networks and building my personal ability to stay in contact with those who are doing things that keep my creative juices flowing. And we probably all need to be doing this far more intensively now than we have done in the past.

Thinking about art and money

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been looking at the headline details of arts funding in the government’s Spending Review. Unsurprisingly, government spending on arts generally is to drop 24% in current spending terms and 32% in capital spending. Currently, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has an annual budget of £2 billion – just about the smallest ministerial budget, though interesting it’s not a whole lot less than, say, the Foreign Office (£2.2 billion). And unlike the monster departments like Work and Pensions, Defence, Health or Education they’re not in the position of having to fund major capital expenditure or meet benefit entitlements.

Mainly what’s being cut is the CMS core administration budget, though funding to the BBC is being rejigged – the BBC will take over funding for the World Service, which as an independent source of news worldwide is probably where the funding should come from anyway. A bunch of other cuts are being made as well – to the school arts creative partnership programme, support for the British Film Institute, etc. Funding for Arts Council England is cut by almost 30%.

The impact is likely to be felt most in areas such as opera and theatre, classical music and museums which often cannot function – and certainly not take risks on new, innovative work – without some level of subsidy. In terms of the BBC, it may have unfortunate effects in terms of reductions for programming – though one hopes the BBC will continue to do what it does best, news, documentary, cultural programmes and cutting-edge drama, without feeling the need to start competing against the chat shows and reality programmes that grace most of the other channels. However, the Arts Council cuts will probably impact mainly on smaller regional and minority arts organisations, which will be a pity for reasons I’ll explain below.

So the cuts are coming. And I have five ‘first thoughts’ on them.

Firstly, as an author in relatively uneconomic genres, you might think none of this affects me. I write, I sell stuff (sometimes) to magazines that are commercial operations (sort of) and receive no state funding anyway, and make most of my income from writing educational materials. But the cuts do concern me.

They concern me because in the wider scheme of things, I’m a member of a network of small ventures that do receive Arts Council funding – events for reading fiction, websites for regional writers and so forth – and to the extent that they have to scale back or close, I will lose my connections to certain ways of publicising myself. As a white, middle-aged hetero male I’m not going to be directly affected by cuts that involve loss of support for minority groups but those groups are there for a reason and however small a niche they serve, they have a wider social and community importance. Even if I’m not involved in any of them directly their loss is, to a small extent, my loss because they are part of an interlocking network of creative people that I interact with. And I wouldn’t want to minimise their importance – literally in some cases the lifeline they offer – to some creative people from a range of minority populations.

My other thoughts are perhaps more optimistic.

Secondly, one of the things that creatives are good at is treating problems as opportunities. If need be, a literature group can function out of the upstairs room of a bar, got for free because the bar wants the bodies in there and the bar takings. That won’t pay for an organiser or publicity, sure, but there will be ways around that.

Thirdly, a huge amount happens in a purely commercial environment. Magazines, publishers, science fiction conventions and music festivals don’t get public funding anyway. There are plenty of examples of how to do ‘unpopular’, ‘minority’ or ‘niche’ arts that don’t rely on funding. For the kinds of things I’m involved in, the cuts will be a major inconvenience but not, I hope, a disaster.

Fourthly and finally, there’s a certain irony that hard times themselves often furnish the material for art. In the long view, that was true of the Thatcher years of the 1980s, when cuts of all sorts generated an explosion of art, music and writing that took the hard times – of the artists and of people generally – as their subject matter.

Fifthly and finally, the cuts are likely to mean some regional theatres closing, orchestras downsized, and so forth. And this is regrettable. But it may have some interesting implications, as those who have previously had some level of comfort from state funding are pushed towards ‘marginal’ or ‘niche’ ways of doing things and perhaps into collaboration with those of us who have had – apart from the small amount of money facilitating our social networking – no slice of the budget to start with.

Culture and the arts are and will remain important. They define who we are and reflect on aspects of our human existence and identity. They won’t stop being important, and despite the cuts creative work will continue to be done. In different ways, no doubt, and for many, less comfortable ways. But there’s one thing about creative people – they don’t ever stop being creative about their art and how they get it out to the public.






Conversation, earlier this evening

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

We had the TV on in the background and there’s an old pop music programme playing Don MacLean, American Pie.

V: ‘I always preferred Vincent.’

Me: ‘I never liked that one, I thought it was a dirge.’

V: ‘How can you say that? It was a sensitive song about a great artist!’

Me: ‘It was a sensitive song about a great artist but it was also a morbid dirge.’

V: ‘But think about the goth music you listen to, that’s morbid and dirgelike!’

Me: ‘Yes, but I only like morbid dirges when they’re ironic and postmodern.’

[Both collapse laughing.]

Got another blog

October 16, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve finally decided I need a separate blog for ‘professional’ – mainly criminology – material as well as this one, which tends to collect stuff related to fiction, literature, publishing and random happenings.

So I’ve set up another one at

Just the one post on there so far.

Results of experiment, and discussion of findings!

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Follow-up on my previous post: the results were, they tussled. One tried to eat the other but was only partly successful.

I should really have marked the duvet covers ‘A’ and ‘B’ so I knew which was which. Ideally, more research is needed.

Statistically, now, I should probably try for a small sample – usually 30 results is a good rule of thumb for a worthwhile analysis, at least for most basic descriptive statistics.

I’m not enthused enough about this to actually do it, though.

There’s one remaining thing that puzzles me. The likely outcomes are (1) the two duvet covers remain separate (2) A consumes B (3) B consumes A. But technically, there should be a fourth possible outcome – each duvet cover is inside the other at the end of the wash. What would that actually look like? Each one contains half of the other, a variant on the Ouroboros symbol (see the Wikipedia entry on this)?

Symbolically this could represent self-referentiality, cyclicality, or in contemporary terms, mutual assured destruction… Or, mathematically, I suppose, it might be completely achievable, each duvet cover completely inside the other, in more than three dimensions – so finding such a result would say interesting things about the nature of space-time in a washing machine drum. Unless of course because it happens in four or more dimensions, but we only see it in three, we can’t recognise the essential truth of the duvet-consuming effect

Hmm… this way could lie madness or genius. I think I’ll take the former as more likely and stop now, while I’m ahead.

Or else take the idea from the realm of idle speculation into the basis for a horror story…


October 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I am doing an experiment.

You know how, when you put a duvet cover in a washing machine with shirts and socks and things, everything ends up inside the duvet cover?

My plan is to put two duvet covers in the machine, and nothing else.

We’ll see what happens.

Painting the ceiling

October 3, 2010 2 comments

That’s what I’ve been doing today. Since I’m trying to redecorate an old Artexed ceiling, I’ve opted for some PolyGloop thick paint that’s supposed to fill the crevices (or crevasses) and self-level on the underside to create a flat ceiling surface.

It might actually work, by the fourth coat (I’m currently on the third).

But it reminded me of  an old science fiction story – probably 40 or 50 years old – in which an alien arrives on a farm in the Midwest of America, lands his flying causer and threatens the farmer with the instant destruction of Earth unless he can come up with some reason that would make the planet worth saving. Actually that might be me misremembering it, but anyway he wants to know what Earth has that’s worth having. The farmer is repainting the side of his barn, and suggests paint. He describes it as a thin film that can be easily applied with a brush, roller or spray gun to any surface, useful to protect materials from hazards such as rain, heat, cold and other hazards, and capable of being used in a range of colours for needs such as camouflage, military identification, or even decoration. At the end of the story I think he becomes, initially unwillingly, a wholesale supplier of paint for the intergalactic market.

There’s an enormous range of paints: crack-filling paint obviously, and for more specialist applications, paints that conduct electricity, paints that act as insulators, anti-vandal paint, heat-resisting paint, underwater paint, paint for spacecraft and so forth. But while applying gloop to the ceiling I thought of some others that would be cool, though I haven’t seen them for sale yet:

  • Self-patterning paint (though with stripes it would probably matter which direction you painted in).
  • Anti-gravity paint (it might be difficult to hang a picture  on a wall painted with this, but painting a floor with it could be interesting).
  • Structural paint (just paint onto thin air and it becomes a rigid structure, gives a whole new meaning to the idea of ‘painting your house’).
  • Emotipaint (changes colour depending on the emotions of people in a room; you might have a diagnostic version that  just reflects the emotions and an ‘active’ version that seeks to cheer people up or calm then down depending on what it detects). A more expensive variant might be precognitive or predictive paint…

Any other suggestions?

I’m off to finish the third coat of gloop now.

Jazz cow?

October 3, 2010 2 comments

I was sitting in a cafe the other day, ostensibly reading a book. And there were two young women, probably in their late teens/early twenties, on another table. I carried on reading – well to be accurate, I had half an ear open as I usually do in public places – until a phrase caught my attention.

The essence of their conversation was that one fancied some young man, but was complaining about another woman who was constantly at his flat, on the phone, at the same parties as him and so on. The second woman was reassuring the first that this man really did like her and wanted a relationship with her, and her description of the ‘other woman’ was along the following lines:

‘She’s the one who’s always around him because he’s patient and he listens to her troubles and problems, and half the time she just invents them so she can have his sympathy. She’s the jazz cow in this situation.’

Which gave me me a nice little phase I might pick up on at some point in some future writing.

Turns out it’s in Urban Dictionary, that wonderful repository of people’s colloquial inventions – but lots of stuff in UD is virtually private language, only ever shared by about three people. The definition given is:

A name given to someone who is really annoying but you don’t wish them to know so.

Which, given the context, only loosely fitted what the intended meaning seemed to be. Has anyone else ever heard this term actually used in conversation?


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