Forthcoming: SHIVERING SANDS

October 14th, 2009 | shivering sands, Work

For the last several months, Ariana and I have been picking at the great volume of stuff I’ve written for the internet over the last seven years or so, on this site and elsewhere. And we’ve hacked and hammered and crammed until it fills about a hundred and seventy pages of your actual printed paper.

It will be available for ordering soon. But I’m so pleased with the cover Ariana built that I wanted to show it off in advance.

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Battlesbridge

April 11th, 2009 | shivering sands

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It’s a national holiday here today, so I decided to play truant (read: child and its mother whined at me until I agreed to leave the house). Stopped off at Battlesbridge during the day’s travels to get Lili some new riding gear: left them in the shop and walked to the water. This is the River Crouch, at lowish tide. I should have taken a shot of the sailing barge that was moored next to me, because it occurs to me that not everyone’s seen a classic east coast sailing barge, but the two grim old people sitting by its wheel glaring at me over their mugs of tea kind of dissuaded me. You don’t mess around with barge folk. Unless you want a boat ’ook up yer bum.

You can’t really get any more inland (westward) from here on the Crouch, unless maybe you’re in a kayak or coracle. Eastwards, the Crouch is navigable for the fifteen or so miles that get you to Holliwell and Foulness Points, and out into the North Sea. Foulness Point is the tip of Foulness Island, which is mostly owned by the Ministry Of Defence, who use it as an artillery range and experimental proving ground. The bangs and whumps echo down the Southend coast when the wind is right, and every now and then you’ll meet someone in a pub with interesting scars or shattered-looking eyes who’ll tell you tales of unlucky Foulness menials who had various bits of themselves blown off in unusual ways…

In centuries past, of course, the Crouch and particularly its eastern tributary, the Roach, were pirate waterways. Smugglers, in the middle of the night, carefully angling their agile boats down the creeks they grew up around and knew like the lines in their own salt-hard palms, away from the big Inland Revenue cutters crewed by strangers in uniforms. This was their territory, their water.

And there’s been generations of mine, too, standing here by the water’s edge, with a cigarette in their hand, watching the Crouch go by. When I stand here, I’m standing with my dad, and my grandad. Nothing between us but years. And you learn, after a while, that years mean nothing at all.


Experiments In Food

October 1st, 2008 | shivering sands

For no good reason I can see, my insane publishers stuffed the rear of the paperback edition of CROOKED LITTLE VEIN with some of the experiments in food I’d put on my mailing list Bad Signal. They were put on the Signal either by request or because I was worried I’d forget them. The response I’d get from those was, frankly, weird in its enthusiasm.

So tonight I randomly experimented in the kitchen. So randomly, in fact, that I was basically making it up as I went along. And now I’m thinking I’m probably going to forget what I did. So, before it all fades away into the same haze that occludes things like What I Did Yesterday, Whether Or Not I Went To The Toilet In My Pants or What Sex Is Like, I give you Experiments In Food:

First, some notes:

Everything below is made for two very hungry people in a cold country on a rainy day who have had at most a very light lunch previous to this meal. Adjust accordingly.

I am not an exact cook. Not big on precise measurements. Trust your instinct/Zen/The Force/Flying Spaghetti Monster/whatever.

I use organic produce wherever possible. Organic produce often costs a little more, and looks a little funny. It does, however, taste a lot better, and it is better on your system. Trust a man who is 95% toxins on this.

Salt. I use Maldon sea salt. You’ll have access to sea salt of some kind where you are. Use it. There’s a difference between that and plain old table salt. Don’t get silly and let people talk you into smoked salt. You should shank those people.

Sweet Potato & Roasted Garlic Mash

* Roasting garlic

Pull a good length of tin foil. Fold it in half. Fold the edges together, a half-inch or so, to make a seam. Fold it in half again. Fold a seam along the sides, leaving the top open. See what you’ve made? A tinfoil pocket. A shiny silver scrotum from the future. Now get a garlic, a whole head. Find a knife and slice the very top off, so you can see the tops of the individual cloves inside. Put it in the tinfoil pocket.

Open a bottle of beer. Not fucking Budweiser or Labatts — a proper beer, damnit. During this experiment, I used the outstanding Black Adder ale from Mauldons. A good bitter, an ale, an IPA — a proper fucking beer, you know what I mean. Pour some down your throat. Now pour some in the tinfoil. A mouthful or so. Spit your mouthful out into the pocket if you’d like. I mean, it’d be disgusting, but the person you’re cooking for will never know, right? Close up the pocket, so you now have a sealed tinfoil bag full of a head of garlic and (possibly regurgitated) beer.

Sling it in the oven. Your oven is set to 190 degrees C, which is 375F or Gas mark 5. It’s going to be in there for an hour. Have some more beer. Swallow it this time, you freak.

* Sweet Potato Mash

This bit is going to take you half an hour. So time it so the end of this coincides with the garlic popping out of the oven.

Fill a reasonably large saucepan about halfway up with water, put two or three twists of salt in it, and put it on the hob to boil.

Take three sweet potatos and peel them. This is a pain in the arse. Use a small knife and pare off the skin in motions that go away from your body, like Sarah Palin field-dressing a moose. Five or ten minutes later, you’ll have a complete fucking mess and three nude sweet potatos. Which do in fact look a bit creepy, like mutant stillborn moles or something. Unless that’s just me. Anyway. If you’ve got a stronger, bigger knife, grab it, and slice the sweet potato into coins. If you end up with some big thick ones, cut those in half.

Once the water’s boiling, fling the bastards in. You can pretend they’re screaming as they hit the boiling water if you like. Try not to let people catch you making the noises.

They’re going to boil for twenty to thirty minutes. It’s okay to turn the heat down somewhat if they boil over the side of the pan, but keep ’em bubbling. When a knife goes through a bit of sweet potato effortlessly, they’re done.

* Combining

Drain off the cooked sweet potato — just set the lid on it slightly off-centre and upend the whole thing over the sink, letting all the water out while leaving the sweet potato in there. Once it’s drained, bring it back to your work surface. Where you now need to look for a masher. If you haven’t got one… fuck it, use a big spoon or something, this isn’t hard.

Get the garlic out of the oven. Be very careful how you open it. So, once you’ve slashed or chewed it open and seared your face off, take the garlic out. There’s no easy way to do the next bit, so — open up the tops of the cloves with your knife and squeeze the garlic out into the sweet potato. Roasting it turns it into a hot paste, and it just squidges out of the skin like delicious zit pus. (You can also just smash it down on the counter top under the flat of a big knife, and scoop up the paste as it shoots out obscenely).

Mash it all together. If you have some ground cinnamon, you can throw a pinch in, and it’s good, but not essential.

Sweet potato is a superfood, and garlic is a medicinal plant that retains a lot of its potency even after cooking. This is actually pretty good for you. The next one… not so much.

Onion Marmalade

This is a hot marmalade made in small quantities as a fresh accompaniment to meats. This is going to take you about half an hour too, but bear with me,

One large onion. See how the onion clearly has a top and a bottom, as defined by the hairy bits. Stand it on its bottom. See the top. Imagine now you are considering the head of a small animal. Like a seal. See the little seal head. Now take a knife and slice off juuust enough of its skull that you can see the very very top of its brains. Yes? Excellent. Now turn it on its side and slice downwards, so that you’re getting relatively thin rings. Pop out the rings-within-rings, and you’ve got a big pile of rings there. Cut some of them in half, or quarters, randomly, just to get a little variety happening.

Take a smallish saucepan. Put a knob of butter in it. Just curl one out with a knife, big as the top half of your thumb or thereabouts. Get some heat happening under the pan — you don’t want to be there all day, crank it up to three-quarters. The butter will melt, and a little while later you’re going to see the surface of it prickle with little bubbles, and start to shimmer. Chuck all the onion in there. Now, there’s loads of onion, and it’s a little pan. So you need to be turning the onion so it all gets buttery and nothing burns. Five or ten minutes of that, and you’ll see the onion getting soft and paler.

What you really want to do is shake a bottle of balsamic vinegar over it three or four times. Red wine vinegar will also do the trick, I’m told, but you should really obtain, borrow or steal a little bottle of balsamic vinegar, as it’s useful stuff. Three or four splashes of it. It’s sharp and aromatic and adds a layer to the flavours.

Do you know what a dessert spoon is? It’s the spoon that’s the same size as a dining fork – not the little teaspoon, not the huge tablespoon. Fling two dessert spoons of sugar in there.

(I use a raw organic demerara sugar. Which sounds flash, except that I get it from the local Co-Op supermarket, which means it’s not fucking flash at all, is it?)

And then chuck half a bottle of beer over the top. Call it… 200 or 250ml of beer. Good beer, mind. See above. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t fucking cook with it. (This doesn’t mean that you should use meths just because you drink it.)

Stick a lid on it. You’re done. You should come back and stir it every five minutes or so, but basically that’s it. That’s going to take twenty or twenty-five minutes to cook down to a dark, glossy pile of Cthulhu droppings. Seriously, it’s a bit grotesque-looking. And, yes, sometimes it moves when it thinks you’re not looking. But it goes great with sausages, so what the hell.


Gaia Has A Bumhole

September 25th, 2008 | shivering sands

So I wake up this afternoon to Alex Steffen informing me that We’re All Doomed. To wit, the executive editor of Worldchanging.com was telling me that permafrost on the Arctic seabed has been warmed away, allowing vast underground pockets of methane to ascend in great "chimneys," causing the sea to foam and scientists to fall over in horror because methane is a greenhouse gas twenty times better at its planet-cooking job than good old CO2. These underground deposits were lidded over before the last ice age, apparently, and would have stayed bunged up if, ha ha, there hadn’t been rapid climate change in the Arctic over the last twenty years.

Should all concerns be confirmed, it appears that we’re all going to die from the escape of monstrous planetary farts from beyond history.

Funnily enough, though, Spook Turds From The Bottom Of The Sea are washing up on the shores of New Zealand. Now, this is New Zealand for you: a six foot long barnacled white lump of fatty crap turns up on the beach. What do the locals do?

Mrs Wilkie was keen to cut the greasy lump into blocks and sell it as
moisturising sunblock.

Because that’s the first thing you think of when an alien turd the size of a Smartcar plonks itself on the sand. Not "what in hell did that come out of?" But "can I screw a few dollars out of people by conning them into rubbing sea-monster shit on their skin?" You can at least rely on the English to try and screw it or smoke it first.

I can’t yet construct a workable theory explaining that these things were fired out of an underground sphincter in the Arctic. But I’d like to, if only to make James Lovelock swallow his tongue. Wouldn’t it be lovely to explain to him that we discovered where all the indigestible trans fats that we place into the earth in the form of dead people actually go?


Oriana

August 27th, 2008 | shivering sands

I was just sorting through a stack of CDs, and found this somehow interleaved between them. I’d gotten some old photos from my stepmother when my father died a few years ago, and this was among them. God knows how it got separated from the others.

My dad was a sailor for a while: he always said he simply couldn’t resist the idea of being paid to see the world. And, as far as I know, he served chiefly on the Oriana. I think it may have been the first passenger liner of its type to have a swimming pool — he was certainly under the impression it was. His career as a sailor seems to have been as fraught as his career in the Queen’s Lifeguards (where he was once complicit in giving the Queen a horse with the shits for a public appearance), the high point probably being his missing the ship entirely during shoretime on Fiji and being "imprisoned" for jumping ship in what was basically a hut he was politely asked to return to at nights.

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He was in his early twenties when he sent this postcard — presumably nicked out of the ship’s shop — to my grandma. I’m not sure which direction the Oriana would have been steaming in, at this point. Research tells me that she was off Long Beach in March 1962, getting a gash cut in her side by an aircraft carrier. Dad never mentioned it. He never talked a lot about those years, because it bugged my mother, who had never gotten to travel and somehow resented my dad for his experiences. So I never got many details: just the sense that travel was worth doing, and that my dad believed he’d been made a better man by it.

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I didn’t get to New Zealand and Australia until my early thirties. But I got there. It’s a weird thing, I suppose, to see the path of your father’s footsteps curling around the entire world. But I like it.

I also like that the silly bastard’s pen ran out during that unintelligible squiggle at the end and he just had to get a pencil to explain that.