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Sitting on the Fence

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

So here I am, sitting on the fence. I mean not literally, although some of the seventy-odd peace activists have scrambled up the mesh fence that marks the outermost ring of AWEs formidable defenses (the police don’t take notice, they are standing by the entrance around the corner. The atmosphere is very laid back and laissez-faire).easterbunny.jpg
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Brief Intermission

Wednesday, March 30th, 2005

I’m behind with this blog because something for the other one has caught my attention: The Mood Virus (!)

Sounds like a good idea for an SF story, doesn’t it? But this is because it has been done to death. As a former virologist, I have to be careful not just to write plague stories. I’m actually working on one now, which is based on discussions from the Virology usenet in the early nineties. At the time I thought the guys were kidding—they weren’t.

Normal service will resume shortly.

An Easter Picnic Lunch

Sunday, March 27th, 2005

It is still too cold and windy for the BBQ, but yesterday’s sunny weather was ideal for a picnic lunch. It was also time to return to some traditional cooking. I still had half a pig’s head and two trotters in the freezer from last month’s Basingstoke farmers’ market and so I turned my attention to a dish that was traditionally part of the feast that followed when pigs were slaughtered on the farms from early autum to late March:
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Easter Protest

Saturday, March 26th, 2005

“It is as if the politicians are still operating in a parallel universe where natural laws do not apply. They would never dare to deal with fiscal meltdown in the same cavalier manner.” (Editorial, New Scientist 26th March)

The Editorial in New Scientist refers to last month’s ‘Stabilisation 2005’ meeting on climate change in Exeter. Although the government convened the meeting as part of its initiative during the G8 presidency, it does not appear that politicians listen to the scientists’ conclusion that “the risks are more serious than previously thought”. Some of the ‘tipping points’—events which result in irreversible change—may only be a decade away. Yet, none of these findings were discussed during a meeting of senior ministers on climate change in the UK last week. Too little, too late.

When I was young, the biggest threat came from a nuclear holocaust. Perhaps this threat has now been replaced by pending environmental disaster, but that does not mean that we should be complacent about the danger of nuclear weapons. Apparently, the government is commissioning a new generation of warheads to be build at AWE—the complex is not mainly engaged in decomissioning these days, as I had naïvely assumed. This Easter Monday, there will be a demonstration outside the fence:


I’ll be there and will report more about the event and what is going on at our friendly neighbourhood facility during next week.

Lagos: Cocktail Capital of Portugal

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

So this is how I spent the eve of my 40th birthday… at least what I can remember of it.
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The Calcutta Cup Match

Monday, March 21st, 2005


(Inscription at the base)
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Healthy School Dinners

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

You can tell that an election is looming when the Prime Minister, no less, is quick to back a campaign that school dinners be made healthier and food cooked freshly. Such campaigns have been around for years, but thanks to Jamie Oliver and Channel 4’s shrewd decision to broadcast their latest food series in the run-up to the election, this time the voices have been heard. And the beauty is that once in place, no future government will be able to refute the changes. We will have healthier, smarter and cooler kids, as J himself put it.

Even better news is that Blair is in talks with the Soil Association about offering organic food in schools which I hope will mean that the ingredients will not be sourced solely from factory farms. There is a (very slow) increase of food awareness in Britain which, over the next couple of years, may well lead to a food revolution. Just when we were about to move to Australia in disgust. Damn.

I don’t have kids myself, but what I have seen has angered me—which goes to show that this initiative is a sure-fire vote winner not just from parents but from a great many people (I don’t vote, but that’s another matter).

Intruigingly, a while after junk food was scrapped in one Greenwich primary, the teachers remarked that inhalers had not been used where usually there was a steady demand. Of course, this could be coincidence, but would it not be shocking if additives were linked to asthma attacks in some children? Studies should be set up to monitor changes in children’s health and performance in class as schools change their menus—this is too important, and too good an opportunity, to miss.

If this turns out to be the case, I wonder if we could sue junk food provider for damaging consumer health…

Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with travel, but here’s a link to school dinners around the World 😉

Easter Bunny Recipe

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

(This entry will probably elicit hate mail…)

I know it’s a week early, but you don’t get a hare at the farmers’ market every day and the freezer is already packed with pigs’ heads and trotters that I have hoarded to make brawn for the long Easter weekend. And anyway, this dish is to celebrate the end of winter (the season for hare is supposed to finish in February, but they do occassionally run in front of cars) and the coming of spring: the hum of lawnmowers, daffodils flowering in ditches, trees blossoming, and the scent of tar simmering off freshly varnished fence posts under California-blue skies—that sort of thing. Anyway, that was how it was yesterday when I put the hare into the marinade. Today the skies are grey and the heating is back on. The winter aspects of the ritual, I presume, just in reverse.
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Why write SF?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2005

I have just finished the first draft of my story. It has taken over two months, is total crap and doesn’t make the point that I am trying to bring across. (Can you say that? —This just goes to show what I have to grapple with in my writing.)
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More Alien Foodstuffs

Tuesday, March 15th, 2005

At this rate, I think that the types of food that I’ll encounter on my prospective SE Asia trip will be mundane…

Tonight I am going to make a noodle and veg stir-fry to go with some leftover slow-roasted five spice pork which has been kicking around the fridge since Saturday. Thinking about the flavours, I thought some mushrooms would go well in this dish and remembered a sachet of what I took to be shrivelled, dry cloud’s ear mushrooms which I had bought in a Chinese supermarket in Reading a few weeks ago. I didn’t think I would have any use for them, but they seemed perfect for this dish. So I shook out a few of the leathery, thin ‘shrooms and bit off a small piece to taste.

— Now, I have recently bought some evil salty liquorice from Sweden which is encrusted with a layer of near-concentrated ammonium chloride, so I am used to strong stuff. It is just that I did not expect a mushroom to taste anything like it.

I soaked the things in a few changes of boiling water, but along with their salt, all the flavour leached out of them so that I was left with limp, tasteless, semi-transparent roundels that looked less and less like mushrooms. In fact they looked more like flowers with fused petals and each with a ring of small, slightly darkened, flattened seeds in the centre. Or the transection of something else—I am a classically trained Zoologist, but I can’t be wholly certain that it is not of an animal nature.

Perhaps somebody can enlighten me. The stuff was labelled ‘Assem Skin’. The rest of the label was not in English. Google has no answers.