Cookery Lessons

A few days ago I read a news article about how schools no longer doing cookery lessons beyond primary school has affected the cooking skills of an entire generation. As far as I’m concerned, it couldn’t be more true.

I recall the paltry few cookery lessons I had in primary school. They were rather basic, tending to involve cutting nice star shapes in pastry and stuffing them with unhealthy jams, chocolates and other goodies. Mmmm. I can’t even do that now. Isn’t pastry something that comes out of a bag, pre-made?

I try to be as adventurous as I can, but the best I can manage is to boil some pasta and throw in a jar of pasta sauce. Otherwise its pre-packaged, processed foods of some kind. I must be one of the most unhealthy vegetarians going. Everyone assumes I eat lots of fruit and vegetables. People don’t realise that the average crap diet is only slightly less crap after taking out the meat. I’ve never really replaced it with anything but more starchy carbohydrates.

The reason why I’m currently recounting these fascinating facts is that I presently have a rather festering whiff of fat about me. No. It’s not that I’m getting fat. I actually tried to cook earlier. And this wasn’t the first time in the past week.

Shame that my attempts so far have involved cakes, puddings and general sweety goodness. As I said before: mmmm.

A few days ago me and a friend decided to try making this rather outstanding looking chocolate pudding from a book of “vegetarian recipes”. The dessert section was very long, and involved lots of items that didn’t have chocolate in. As a chocolate fiend, that was unacceptable, so the only solution was to make the most unhealty thing there. Essentially, it was a chocolate sponge, with chocolate sauce. The sponge was steamed, the sauce was cooked. The result was a shocking success, despite me never having cooked in this way before.

Buoyed by my apparent discovery of hidden pudding making skills, I decided earlier to try to make Scotch pancakes (drop scones). According to the recipe it was something “even children could make”. Determined not to be outsmarted by this allegedly easy recipe, I set to work.

One thing’s for sure, I’ll bet you children can’t crack an egg without getting bits of eggshell into the mix. I couldn’t. After much fishing, and managing to drop the whisk on the floor, causing a mess that was surprisingly difficult to clear up, I managed to pour some of the mixture into a frying pan. The recipe had instructed me to “grease” the frying pan, so I chucked a load of margarine into it. I thought it was a lot, but given that the first attempt at a Scotch pancake was a disaster, sticking in every place possible, I assumed I needed much more next time.

In went masses of margarine, and even some oil to make it properly liquidy. The fat sizzled, hissed and attacked on several occasions. I turned the temperature up and added some mixture. Then more. And more. Until a giant Scotch pancake formed.

Better still, it was flippable. I turned it over without it falling apart, and a minute or two later, success was achieved. It actually looked like a Scotch pancake I could buy in a shop. Only mine was much greasier. The recipe invited me to add butter, which is also what I would normally do, but, fearing a coronary, I opted to just eat it as is. It. Was. Good.

Now I have a lot of batter left over. I might make some more tomorrow. I’ve been feeling extremely hungry lately, and getting headaches when I hardly ever get them. I’m sure they’re connected.

Meanwhile, my boredom with Hull is almost complete. Perhaps that is why I’m making strange things in the kitchen, to pass the time. I’m going home this Saturday, first thing in the morning. It’s going to be exciting, as I’m going to get up at 3am to sort everything out and then get the hell out of here by 5am. It’ll be good to see the family again. And I love going on trains anyway. It’s something I’ve always liked since I was a kid.

So things are pretty good at the moment. That was, until I decided to try to read “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins. It’s very interesting, but it requires me to do much thinking while reading. Which almost feels like work.

Revolutionary

Monday mornings are always interesting for me as I have a 9:15am seminar discussing the state of the British parliament with a group of fellow students who are notorious conservatives, afraid of any kind of reform. This makes the debate lively at times, and at other times I refuse to take the bait so very little happens but a glorious back-slapping exercise on behalf of British politicians for their wonderful system.

Today it was the former. In our final discussion of the semester, the goal was to decide whether the current constitutional settlement is fine for the British, or whether we should be looking at some degree of reform… or maybe a radical overhaul.

It surprised me little to hear the conservatives in the group once more celebrating the wonderful British political system. It disappointed me to finally hear that the only other reformer in the group (and he was a still only a moderate reformer) had finally sold his soul to the devil. Without giving too many details, my tutor is a (with both a big C and a little c) Conservative Lord, and because he has a thorough mastery of the arguments people tend not to debate with him, preferring instead to accept his opinion as the only valid one. Principles are in exceptionally short supply amongst politics students, it would seem. I don’t know whether that’s surprising or not, given the tendency these days amongst all politicians to drop their beliefs for a few more votes…

Anyway… the discussion finished with me being the only one looking for a real British Revolution, something which I know will never happen. These classes have highlighted to me just how much of a radical I am… not necessarily a good thing in our conservative society… but I can give myself extra points for being able to debate with a politics professional and not choosing to sell out my thoughts for an easy life.

I always have been an opinionated person. And I’ve always been a bit of a revolutionary. Not in an anti-capitalist sense… more in terms of seeing the whole of British politics as a stinking, corrupt shambles. I don’t think I could be any more disillusioned with politics in this country, which is one of the reasons why I really hate it when people ask me whether I want to be an MP just because I’m doing a politics degree. The answer is a big fat no. I would then explain that I would prefer to work out of the media spotlight, behind the scenes for an MP, pressure group or some such.

Now I’ve realised that that is just as bad. It achieves nothing but perpetuates the present elites. And hence why I am now just not remotely interested in going into politics any time soon. I’ve always been interested in politics, and that is why I’m doing this degree. But now I feel it is time to refocus my ideas to an area where I could actually have an impact on people’s lives.

And hence why I’m looking at teaching now. It would tend to fit nicely with all that I believe in. And I find children fascinating anyway. It would be an honour to be part of raising future generations.

Hmmm…

Temporary Freedom

It is moments like this that makes being put under tonnes of pressure for sustained periods worth it. The freedom from essays for at least the rest of this year is now in place, making all the stress I’ve suffered for these suddenly worth it. I have just finished my fourth and final essay, a veritable tome on the House of Lords, and now all that remains is for me to proof read and print it – hardly onerous tasks.

So I’m happy. The guilt of watching television has now lifted, although when I said this to a friend, he quipped “one should always feel guilty when watching Countdown”. Alas, he is quite right. There are far more important things to do than asking Carol for four from the top, just to piss her off. But my problem is that they may be important, but I can’t find them. It’s like trying desperately to find the remote control when Heartbeat – that institution of a depressing Sunday – comes on TV, but it’s nowhere to be seen.

In the meantime, I’m now trying to restrain myself from hitting Ctrl+S out of habit. I’m so paranoid about computers crashing or the electricity going off that I hit save after virtually every sentence during my essays. In fact, I’ve already done this while typing this post, which causes it to publish… this caused me great consternation… what a disaster it would be to lose half a post.

There we go, I’ve just went to do it again as I finished that paragraph. It is just the perfect distance between my left index finger and my left little finger. So… tempting. During my exactly 3,300 word essay, the statistics of the file tell me I saved it a whopping 150 times. I love useless statistics like that.

Anyway… rumours are spreading that me and my friends may do a rather weird sponsored walk in May. Last time I did anything sponsored it was an easy thing like “sponsored bouncy castle” like we used to do in school, all money going to the school. Now this could be a little more challenging, and will hopefully raise money for a better cause. More details may emerge soon, but it’s something I’ll write about again in future.

What’s even better is that a) the sun has come out, and b) it’s actually going to reach double figures in temperature in the next few days.

These are truly exciting times in Hull.

Emerging

On the train to London from Hull, as you get close to Kings Cross station, there are numerous tunnels. Some of them seem to go on for ages as your ears pop, then repop as you yawn and swallow to try to equalise the pressure. And no sooner do you come out of one tunnel, you end up in another one in a few minutes. It’s all a bit disconcerting, as then… suddenly, unexpectedly, you arrive on the platform. People are racing for the door to get off, and woe betide you if you’ve never opened a slam door on a train from the inside before.

There is a point to this meander. I feel that life is going like this for me at the moment. I’ve finished three of my four assignments, and now I have next week to do the last one. I’ve emerged from one tunnel, unscathed (apart from my eyes which feel like they’re starting to fail on distance vision) and all seems well. Yet, I know in a moment I’m going to go into another tunnel, for more fun and games. And I’m going to come out of that one as well, into relative calm as I spend three weeks sorting my life out, relaxing for Easter, and some mild revision.

Then I’ll be plunged into another one. The final tunnel. Well, for this year. My exam timetable is poor… one on the 24th of April, one on the 28th of April, and one on the 15th of May. Boo. I have a stonking two weeks of life on hiatus between my 2nd and 3rd exam. No doubt I’ll find something to do. Perhaps I could call that number and arrange a couple of visits to some local schools. But either way, my second year is complete on the 15th of May, but given that all my lectures finish on the 31st of March, and I’m hoping to go home on the 1st of April, that, in reality, is the end of my second year. I just have to come back for a few weeks and do some boring exams.

Life is zooming by. University life will be in the dim and distant past before I know it. That’s why I need to be decisive. So I am trying to be. I have told myself that summer in the USA is now cancelled. Instead, I will – hopefully – be volunteering in my old primary school back home for several weeks. I’m hoping to finalise those arrangements when I go home in a couple of weeks time. I suspect that I will enjoy it, and it might just confirm to me that I do want to go into primary teaching. Yes, I am strange. And even if not, it’s back to the drawing board. But I’d be a little pissed off that I’d suspended my foreign adventures for it.

Ever pushing the envelope, that’s me that is.

I wish.

Coldness

Damn this Winter to the fiery pits of Hell is what I say. Hull has been wrapped in freezing weather for weeks now, and to say I’m utterly fed up of looking at my hands and noticing how blue they are, whether indoors or outdoors, is an understatement. My washing is taking much longer to dry because I can’t keep my window open for very long.

To me, this seems like the longest winter I’ve ever experienced. It took hold at the end of October, and is still going strong now in the middle of March with no end in sight. Yesterday it was snowing a lot… if it had stuck to the ground I might have accepted it, because then enormous snow fights can be had (see December 2004) and snowmen built, but there is no luck on these things in Hull.

Life continues on its merry way, but it seems to have slowed down a lot lately. I did feel like I had been cruising towards the end of the semester very quickly, but the past few weeks have dragged. It’s possibly because of the mountain of work I’m tackling at the moment, with some success. Two essays down with two more to go in two weeks is an acceptable situation. I’m feeling quite positive about life’s outlook at the moment, even though the looming threat of exams is just around the corner, coupled with still plenty of work to go. If only this cold would go away I could not only feel like we’re heading out of this grim tunnel of winter, but also save a small fortune on the gas bill.

Meanwhile, the housemate who had some troubles the past few weeks has decided to see out the rest of the semester from home, safe in the knowledge that he is likely to get considerable extensions on his essays. Good for him. It is the best place for him to sort out his troubles at the moment, and it reduces the stress on all of us here, who would have had to look out for him almost 24/7… something that we’re just not well equipped to do when he is an adult and capable of taking his own decisions no matter what we do. As I said to his parents: we can look out for him, but we can’t look after him. He’ll get the help he needs back home, I’m sure, and I look forward to him coming back, refreshed.

So that has come to a relief to a lot of us. It has meant we’ve all had to wrestle with feelings of selfishness, but I think it’s the right thing for him. There’s only so much we can do.

Little Detail

A lot has happened the past few days. Most of it negative, but it has now improved somewhat. I’m so fed up thinking about the issues in question that I can’t actually be bothered to detail them. All I want to write is that they were extremely stressful, and that they didn’t involve me directly; I just suffered emotionally as a result of someone else’s actions. But it’s over, and I hope things will now improve on that score.

Meanwhile, yesterday I made a trip down to London to meet and greet with a few MPs, arranged by my tutor for everyone doing my degree. One of them in particular was the one I went to see. I’ve decided that I simply can’t use names to describe what was involved. The problem then is that I can’t give away too many details of what happened either, in case that gives the game away too. But it was a fun time, and I answered some weird questions with some equally weird answers while being as nervous as hell. At first I didn’t know what to say, and so I ended up talking a load of bollocks… but I eventually got into the swing of the conversation as the MP’s informal style put me at ease. We seemed to get on well, and so I now have a job offer as an intern for next year which I’ve accepted. I’m sure I’ll be writing more on this in the months to come.

Before that happened, I got to spend some time in Central Lobby and played a rather crude game of “spot the famous face” bingo with my friends. I saw a couple of the BBC’s political correspondants, and even Ken Livingstone was hanging around in there. There were very few key MPs around, and so the highest profile senior politicians I saw were probably David Davis and Menzies Campbell. This was strangely exciting, so I must be a dull person. Yet, I did get to see Tony Blair and many others through a glass screen as I had tickets for Prime Minister’s Questions. Unfortunately, the public gallery behind the half a million pound glass screen is rather oddly angled, and so I could only see a third of the Commons chamber below. That was disappointing… and the glass screen made it feel rather remote anyway. So much for democracy.

Anyway… I need to get on with work. There is a lot to be done, alas, as the past few days have involved a lot more distractions than I thought they would, meaning I’m now just a bit behind with my essays. I’m hoping to achieve a fair amount today, so I could do without any more excitement for the moment.

Armchair Academic

The past few days have been interesting to say the least. I’m quite pleased with myself that I’ve worked exceptionally hard the past four days to bring myself to a position where I’ve entered all the data to my evil database, which will come in very handy for my research project that I’ll start writing up soon… but better still, I have managed to plough through lots of books on World War I, taking notes, and have just this minute finished my 2,500 word essay. As always, I was quite disappointed that I had taken too many notes, and so an essay which could have been about twice the size had to be kept in check.

So that’s one down, three to go. I’m trying not to think of that statistic, but I suppose writing about it isn’t going to help me forget. I’m trying to take one day at a time at the moment, with lots of small goals to achieve. It’s been going well, and so tomorrow the goal is to get together the books I need for my USA essay, so a trip to the library is on the cards.

Meanwhile, things are not so rosy with one of my housemates. He’s going through a rough patch at the moment with life, and so me and another housemate sat up with him till 2:30am last night discussing his problems and what to do about them. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this with him, and so he kept talking about how he felt like he’d let me down. It was a very tricky situation; it’s extremely difficult to convince someone who has no self-worth that you aren’t being insincere when you tell them that they do have value after all. They just don’t believe you. I had been worried about him for weeks, because I’d noticed he’s been starting to drink a lot more alcohol than normal… and a couple of weeks ago I confronted him about it but he clammed up and made excuses. Now the wheels have fallen off, and we have to put it back together again.

So it’s been an interesting test of psychology. I’ve always been fascinated in this subject, not least because of what I sometimes go through… and I feel I came out with an admirable level of rhetoric (read: “bullshit”) to help him deal with the situation, and it actually surprised me how clearly I was expressing myself. I’m not a metaphors man, but I managed to use ones involving maps, playgrounds and falling over. I can get into frames of mind where I’m not entirely sure where what I’m saying is coming from… but it seemed to make sense at the time. Either way, it looked like it helped, and so – hopefully – he can start to rebuild. I’m just going to have to keep a watch out for him… since I know none of my housemates have been. Let’s just say they were shocked when I tried to convince them two weeks ago that the Housemate In Question was starting to turn into an alcoholic…

Anyway. I have the night off as a reward for Good Behaviour. Time for some Deal or No Deal, followed swiftly by Rory Bremner. Then probably a film. Bliss.