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Friday August 26 2005

Suffering here

with a nasty summer cold, exhibiting - as is usually the case with me - the full range of horrors all within a condensed period of time. Feel a bit better today than yesterday, but that's not difficult to do. I think I need to sleep more, frankly.

Anyway, stuck at home with only brief local forays to catch a chill I've been watching a load of stuff. Plenty of routine TV, plus "House of Flying Daggers" and "Sliding Doors". Actually, I prefer the net with all its riches.



Posted at 12:48 pm by Jim Woods

Wednesday August 24 2005

Cultural accretion

continues apace here with my latest trip up to HMV. Well, Virgin was shut for the day for refurbishment. Which, frankly, it could use. If we're going to have great impersonal palaces of media, then they should at least be shiny. I normally try to buy stuff through my local independent record shop - The Polar Bear on Cowley Road by the way - but sometimes I need to get my fix of plain old pile it high and sell it cheap. Spread the goodness. So I came back from town with fifty-five quid's worth of new stuff, and that's all to the good. I now have:

Three films, Delicatessen, House of Flying Daggers and Akira. The first because I had amazing failed to see it yet, and I love quirky films of the sort they only seem to make in France (it's really funny, by the way). The second because it's pretty, and pretty counts for a lot in a film. And the third because I want to see what's in this manga thing. It's been a gap in my geek vocabulary for too long.

Three books, 2stoned by Andrew Loog Oldham because I'm interested in rock history and Grass by Phil Sparrowhawk and Smokescreen by Robert Sabbag because I'm interested in dope-smuggling stories. Mr Nice, for example. Who hasn't read about Howard Marks? Do it now. Fun fun.

Two CDs, the soundtrack to Amelie (quirky French films again you see) and Themeology, The Best of John Barry. Again, how the hell I didn't have all that time-honoured cheese already is a mystery, but now I do. And very uplifting it is too. Just the job for sunny days.

I also picked up some Moleskine Cahiers and yet another Pilot pen, and a device called an Aerolatte. The stationery because I like high-endish stationary for its feel and relatively-inexpensive-hobby-ness, as well as to have a historical record of my ideas and lists which is not digital. Digital will only get one so far, after all. Not sufficiently personal when you're looking back at it, I feel. A bit short of a sense of time and place. And the Aerolatte? It was on offer in Whittard's, one of my tea and coffee haunts, and what it does is froth the bollocks out of milk in no time at all. I like frothy milk in my coffee, and this is the first tool I've had which really does the job on skimmed. Recommended.

Coffee and culture, such close relatives. I think I'd rather write about coffee today. Froth is the man's mission. Froth is the key.

I went to fire up the Morphy Richards Grand Cafe large-and-impressive-coffee-machine-for-the-keen-but-skint today and found that I'd done my regular trick of leaving a load of grounds in there to form a mouldy and compacted mass. When this happens, as it does when I go all lo-tech and use my cafetiere for a few weeks to get some plunger miles in, it all needs rather more of a clean out than I'm going to do first thing in the morning. A filthy taint on the flavour must be thoroughly expunged.

I dug out my backup percolator, a weird yellow plastic thing I bought in a supermarket in St Malo for eight quid. It got around a particular problem of crap vending machine coffee in a French chain hotel one time; with a bit of Swiss Army surgery I plugged it into the tamper-proof razor socket in the bathroom, as there are no outlets in cheap French hotels. That was the vending machine out of the loop. Result.

I digress. This gaudy, cheap machine works well as a percolator while having a sort of fifties, piss-sample-yellow vibe which I find rather endearing. At least it looks cooler than the faux-proper Morphy, with its acres of macho black plastic and silly gold lettering. When I bought the Morphy, I'd simply felt that I wanted a machine to make all kinds of coffee. It was the time of the great coffee boom, when England did a USA and everyone suddenly got really into coffee. As in coffee shop chains proliferating everywhere, and a sudden invention of a new kind of social faux-pas: that of offering guests instant coffee. I wanted in. But I was naive enough not to realize that fifty-odd quid wasn't going to do the trick. At that point I thought that more expensive coffee machines were simply beautiful adornments to the stylish dwelling. I knew very little other than that I preferred my coffee not to be instant. So I got my Morphy, and I was pleased.

For a short while, at least.

What did I get for my fifty-five notes? A percolator, that's what, with a steam section that does espresso and has a frothing thing for milk. Which would be good, were it not that you need a fifteen bar or so pump to do the espresso thing correctly. And the milk-frothing thing is pretty much a waste of time, also presumably because there just isn't the pressure. The Aerolatte does an immeasurably better job for the seven quid I paid for it, although I suppose there is a degree of mild heating with the steam frother which one should count as a point in its favour. I don't really bother with espressos in any case, and this destroys all my cred as any kind of "proper" coffee geek I know, as I drink either filter coffee with frothy milk (at home) or cappuccinos (when out). But the inescapable conclusion I've reached is that the Morphy falls heavily and badly between two stools. And I guess that's why I so often use the good old cafetiere, the Morphy mouldering away full of the detritus of my last disappointing effort. I may as well just use the French machine in conjunction with the Aerolatte. Same job done, less space taken up and complexity endured. Frothy beverage result got, purists horrified but little core Jim essence well pleased.

One day a decent espresso machine might be on the agenda. But for now, it's the cheapo French percolator route in combination with the Aerolatte. Or the cafetiere, so nice simply because it does the job well and without electrical power. Good after nuclear wars and the like. The minimum amount of simple kit needed to get a result. I constantly amaze myself by having to re-learn that lesson.



Posted at 9:20 am by Jim Woods

Tuesday August 23 2005

I must share with you all

a blinding good geo piccy thing, which recent ramblings will have warned you is the sort of thing quite the rage here with me at the moment. As an added bonus, a large amount of phenomenally good jazzy music can be obtained at Bending Corners. Not to be missed stuff, this. That'll be my day and yours pretty much accounted for then.


Posted at 10:39 am by Jim Woods

Monday August 22 2005

I'm afraid I cannot report any noble activity

on my part over the last few days or so. Well, week. I have been single-mindedly pursuing two great explorations online. But in an isolated sort of online, rather than a sociable messaging one. I have got right into Google Earth and Flickr. It's not that they are new to me. I've played with both pretty much since their beginnings, but recently simply wanted a bit of head-space to think about the future and just plain wanted to examine a lot of places in a clear, unprejudiced way. How better than by looking at fairly recent photos, taken from space or in the pub. Together with webcams, a really good overall view of the look of the world is now more and more available. Fascinating if you like to watch. I like to.

I'd take a look too if I were you. Especially if photography or cartography or even travel are interests of yours. Astonishing, really. My current dream location is Ceuta, which the enterprising amongst you can Google Earth for if you want to see what I mean.

I should really take more photos. I need a small, good quality digital camera. I have a small crap-ish quality one, but it lacks a flash. Yeah, one of those. Never seems to be any shortage of technological stuff to buy. I'm thoroughly fatigued with it. Back to listening to some Miles Davis and playing my Neil-Youngesque electrical guitar. It's about the P90 (or perhaps) P100 at the neck. A camera will present itself when the time is right, I'm sure.

One can't help getting a bit of Flickr-envy though. Some people are just so well-documented. All of it recorded for posterity, or until the hard drive dies. I've been looking at lots of photos taken in Oxford, since I live here and love it so. And what are the pictures, taken in Oxford? There are a good twelve thousand or so, and they are of three things: Colleges and/or old and pretty buildings in general. Happy tourists, generally young, punting and pubbing and meadowing. Happy students graduating, marrying in college, doing happy college club things like rowing. And really, those three subjects predominate to a great extent. Have a look.

What does this mean? How does this accurately reflect my home town? How does it reflect my own record shopping, pub-frequenting, party-going, bicycle-riding, gigging and music-shop hanging-out life. My compulsive web-surfing itself. My reading and writing and walking. OK, loads of people photographed the Botanic Garden. I'll give them that. There's a link there. Overall, though the meaning is evident. Young people with a bit of a sense of history and enough money to buy a digital camera and net access are really getting into taking a lot of pictures and sharing them. When you factor in the impact of camera phones, which for quality and data-interchange reasons exists largely in a world mostly independent of the net, there's a lot of information being stored up by these people. Fantastic, actually. The poorer people, and the older people, and the busier people and a lot of people who just really never were ones for taking photos anyway are terribly under-represented. Flickr in no way gives you an overview of a whole community. The tech-savvy will gloat from the annals of the future, while the rest of us will be background detail in blurry snaps.

I feel I should document my daily life more with digital photography, and just stick it out there as a kind of bizarre validation. Why not? I'll sacrifice a tiny bit of privacy for a tiny, tiny bit of fame any time. Isn't that why we write these things?

Not that busy Chiarina has, for a while. Not very writey at all. I have been the same.

The autumn wind is beginning to rustle in the trees, and one starts to think of coats and of darker evenings. The chlorine-smell of indoor pools in the supermarkets and the need to walk and walk. And to get a week away. That would be good.





Posted at 12:16 am by Jim Woods

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