Driving home for Christmas (from uni)

In a year where Dancer and Prancer have been temporarily subbed by Tracker and Tracer, it has been good to welcome home the Offspring back from their unis in time for Christmas.

Offspring 2 made her way back in the Mini in a flurry of tyre pressure and dead battery warnings to make the journey just that little bit more exciting. Followed by me driving back a shortish distance round the M25 with her to her digs to pick up the stuff that she’d:

  • forgotten
  • changed her mind about its usefulness until next year
  • changed her mind about how cute it would be to have it at home base
  • decided to torment me about trying to fit in the car (making me pleased she doesn’t ski)
  • all of the above

Less Driving Home for Christmas, more 2000 Miles.

Offspring 1, based in the Midlands, was given one shot: popping back to his uni for spare earphones is not going to happen…

His pad was like the door in the Advent Calendar that it’s best to leave closed. My reflexes as Bin Czar (see previous) allowed me to dodge the fifteen sacks of rubbish that the four guys had managed to skillfully accumulate over the weeks, transforming from trash into art.

Student kitchen

More rank than a military parade. The bin men have sensibly disguised themselves as posties on bin days.

Offspring 2, not to be outdone on extremes, regaled us with the resurrected chicken, the one that had been left for weeks in the fridge by one of them at their lair. Offspring 2 claimed innocence, so she can be let off this time, including from the rampage of the revenant. The same fate will not befall the Christmas lunch turkey. That was an unexpected blip in the fascist stormtrooper work details set down by the housemates aiming for the tidiest and most wholesome student digs in history.

Very low bar, and I remember limbo dancing under that standard when I was at uni.

Age provides perspective and in my case self-knowledge.

The great thing about university accommodation is that the door can be shut on it from a parent’s point of view with a flick of the rose-tinted spectacles- a point of view eagerly adopted…Now it’s the why are there six open tubs of butter in the fridge conversation and that the smoked salmon has been taken out to make room for the cider. The bonus Santa sacks of washing lovingly saved up to be brought home at the end of term brought a tear to the eye.

Christmas will iron out all of those things out and create a smooth and seamless festive period, as seamless as those bags of rubbish. Great to have them home.

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose

The Game’s Afoot, Santa…

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix. You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, we are trying to find a game to play for one to three households…


This is a more or less COVID-free blogpost in the hope that we will have a predominantly COVID-free 2021. My thoughts are with anyone affected and thanks to all key workers of all types.

Christmas is nearly here, the stupid jumpers, the funny (in your dreams) hats, all that stuff. And the games.

One of the great pleasures is sitting around a table, on the floor, wherever, and breaking out a game for all the family. Assuming of course that agreement can be reached as to what to play. Winner chooses. Of what?

The Household, brimming with Christmas spirit, has a number to choose from, they appear to multiply in the cupboard. What sort will hit the spot, preferably none with a running total to avoid anyone asking for a recount, that never seems to work so well.

Highly cerebral and scary – Funny Bunny – pic below – invented by those twisted fiends at Ravensburger who are probably poachers with fluffy red-brown tails. It involves a tense and lethal journey around a treacherous meadow. A meadow that eats bunnies. It culminates in a break-neck lollop to the top of the hill to crown King Thumper. Not for the faint-hearted. Mind you, it pairs well with strong alcoholic drinks.

Unleash your inner evil rabbit

Cerebral – Scrabble. This is the variant requiring a minimum of six-letter words to be put down, no swapping, and absolutely nothing in Swahili or Klingon.

Sheer luck – Anyone for Chess? That does look fun based on our Queen’s Gambit experience where it appears to be a drinking game. We have never got on with the four player version with the extra colours, or is that Ludo?

Queen takes paw

Villain bent on world domination – One of those hidden traitor games where someone – assuming they can keep their cheating, lying face straight. Often that baby-faced Grandmama lurking in the corner like a viper…No offence…

Monopoly – In a class of its own for internecine skulduggery (see Scrabble – above). My mother-in-law used to demand all of the pink ones before the game started as a pre-conditon for playing. A bit like a Wonka Golden Ticket. Brutal. Suffice to say we never everplay this game with Offspring Number One, he has inherited her ways of evil that overwhelm our feeble resistance.

Other family games – Mother’s general aversion to games apart from Funny Bunny limits the debate somewhat. We shall work on her this Christmas, she will crack and victory shall be ours, MWAHAHAHAHAHA. That is, opening the box.

Reducing the world to a coloured game board where the rules are clear and outcomes – within bounds – predictable sounds like the best game in town this Festive Season…

Cheers!

And a Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Alan

Alan Camrose

Trekking: The knees canna’ take it Cap’n…!

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This time, Nepal, Trekking, Leeches and a Soviet-era attack helicopter: what could possibly go wrong?


Wow

I took Jasper Retriever for a walk in the dark and lashing rain on Saturday. It made me think about walking generally and in particular my trek in the Himalayas in the mid-90s.

I have been lucky enough to visit Nepal a couple of times, but my first time was amazing, it stays with me as a time of freedom, an important feeling in our current trying times.

We flew into Kathmandu, bustling, crowded, long before Doctor Strange went there. It was different rather than strange, people scrambling to make a living in packed streets. Like this:

B&Q, Kathmandu

Then walk around a corner and experience an oasis of peace and quiet:

Peace

Then back to the mayhem, which included the unexpected transport arrangements.

A helicopter ride out to Pokhara in the Annapurna basin. Taking a helicopter may sound glamorous, using the word ‘ride’ may make it sound like fun. It was neither of those things. The antique Soviet-era beast had benches on which we were invited to hunker down, or as it’s known grip tightly. Seat belts? I don’t think so. Reading for the journey amounted to trying to decipher the Cyrillic to figure out where the machine-guns had been mounted, and no need to worry our heads with escape-path lighting, and luckily neither of us needed hot towels or a movie – mind you, Rambo III would have put us right in the mood.

The unusual in-flight service amounted to a couple of handfuls of candy floss. Not candy floss, though. I was invited to stuff the cotton wool into my ears while the screaming rotor blades cleaved our ears.

We landed and got ready for the trek around the Annapurna range, not as far as the Everest Base Camp, but far enough up to feel that I was walking on the tops of the world. Far enough to gain a fantastic view of Machhapuchhare .

The mountain dominates the area when Everest is out of the picture, its other name is much easier to pronounce: the Fish-Tail. Our goal was to make it around the horseshoe shaped trek and bank as much cold, clean air as we could gather – quite a lot of it was needed though for the up and down assault course of the trek.

Not that we did it the hard way, I must confess. A team of ex-Gurkhas- twelve of them – looked after the two of us, including the lovely man in charge of transporting the toilet tent and his colleague who had live – temporarily live – chickens in a wooden cage for dinner one evening. They forced us to carry a water bottle, so we didn’t shirk.

The toilet tent – watch out for those pesky leeches…

The Gurkhas were something else. I have probably never been fitter than the build-up to the trek and the actual trek, and I found it tough. Very tough. But they, with 40 or 50 pound packs romped up those hills as if they were on a stroll across the village green to the local pub.

One thing they warned us about were the leeches, I have a vivid recollection even now of one getting through the tent’s deflector shields and determinedly inching across a metal dinner plate on the hunt for blood. It was leech season when we went, so we knew the Leech Apocalypse was coming. Continuous kit checking was not something to take shortcuts on, otherwise it was party time and the drinks were on us.

Yum, yum

The feeling of escape and freedom, no mobiles, no tech, nothing, was one that I will never forget. Pushing myself around the next bend, up the next hill, skittering down a steep path, is something that I treasure. And in particular the encouraging words of our guide, ‘It is just around the next bend up that small hilly bit,’ then 40 minutes later, ‘It is just around the next bend up that small hilly bit.’ Got me every time.

Now it’s time to haul on my coat and shoes and take the boy out for another walk, maybe across Epsom Downs today to strive for that fleeting sense of freedom that I had in Nepal, something to draw on now.

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose

The sauce of all happiness

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix. You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, a joyful look at when Father’s home cooking collides with Italian artistry. It should stir your soul, if not the ingredients…


I will make a tomato sauce when I get back from my few days away.

Not quite the way the Italians do it, I don’t have racks of great-grandparents lying around glaring at vats of bubbling liquid and drinking Chianti. I’m in Surrey, resisting the temptation to put Waitrose Essential Tomato Sauce into my next order. There needs to be some middle ground here, Dammi una pausa

This will be a step up from my legendary Spaghetti Bolognese, the one that I made for the kids’ tea about three or so years ago, for which they have never forgotten, never forgiven. The one which had no spaghetti in it (so would please the Mayor of Bologna, if nothing else – arguably it made my attempt more authentic). I had left it too long to cook the pasta – sadly neither made by my fair hand or fresh from the supermarket – I improvised and served my epic sauce over a sea of Trump-coloured cheese puffs shaped suspiciously like scorpions. It was like an Indian Jones romp on a plate.

The Offspring spotted the bits of celery in the sauce, planted in a vain attempt to add some goodness to counterbalance the scorpions. Carnage. Mother was told, I was shopped, humiliated forever. Thank God that they put lashings of tomato ketchup over it – I’m surprised they noticed anything untoward, although the scorpion tails did rise up quite high out of the steaming sauce. It reminded me of something…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clqDkCJs19s

That was probably the low point in my cooking career – adventure – odyssey. A close run thing with, when I was a student, the tinned macaroni cheese served at room temperature using the tin as a one-container serving solution.

I remain a fan of the ancient culinary art of Splodge, though. I’m unrepentant. My skills have been honed a little by Lockdown, the fine art of the tray bake. That’s the posh name for Splodge.

I have learned to keep sauces simple. My latest was venison chunks slow-cooked in red wine and dark chocolate, covering all essential nutritional areas. Awesome. Served with a bold red wine, then the consistency, artistry, taste becomes less of a big deal…

Home-made tomato sauce will go further and elevate that to a Zen state which I will inflict on the Household, aka my victims.

Random tomatoes, salt and a little sugar, all boiled up in the tomatoes’ own juice. What could go wrong?

I’ll let you know. Splodge culinary magic – if all else fails, we can spray tomato ketchup over it and shut our eyes.

Voila! Oops.

Click here for the link to the Italian sauce video that sparked my interest. I hope you will find it as therapeutic as I did…

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose

The perfect combination

Om truths

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix. You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, sometimes the answer is right in front of your muzzle…


Since Lockdown began, we have been trying to alight upon a satisfactory form of exercise and stress reduction measures to cope with what is currently a barking mad world.

Gin has naturally been a key part of our core strategy, making sure that the bottle screw top is firmly fastened to provide the need for maximum torque from your core to open it; and full enough that lifting the bottle counts as a curl. Not too much tonic although it has the advantage of warding off malaria, if that helps. Lemon slices as part of your five-a-day. Overall, the perfect health package.

We have tried and rejected several other activities. They have included the awkward – sitting with a large cup of coffee and a biscuit watching the introduction to Brienne of Tarth’s “Ultimate Slaying” Yoga video on YouTube. Thirty days of increasingly heroic and stupid poses and then Winter Comes. We wouldn’t have got on with the chain mail. Too scratchy.

Spar therapy

Even conventional yoga videos – the equivalent of 3-D Twister – are fine if you can keep pace with them. Brutal if you don’t, but they do provide a memory test of what you should have been doing three minutes ago before getting stuck. Finding the Pause button from underneath a Destroyer of the Universe pose can break the spell. Perhaps Finding the Pause Button should be a new pose in itself using your sofa as a yoga mat.

Miranda Hart’s Maracattack was a – fleeting – possibility. A DVD that provides the thrill of an epic quest around the house to find a machine that still takes discs, a video that advocates maniacal waving of maracas broadly in tune with flailing screen prompts. Surprisingly therapeutic if your windows are not overlooked by next door, but I’ll stick to cocktail shakers, I think.

Massage – a splendid way to relax but the social distancing rules make it tricky.

How about meditation? For example, concentrating hard to figure out how the new handball rule makes any sort of sense. Not a path that leads to peace or clear thinking.

FIFA 19 for toned thumbs? Extreme Mah Jong using real bricks?

No. While helpful, none of these quite fits the bill.

After a long period of exhaustive research and testing, we have appreciated that the answer is right in front of us:

In case you’re wondering, it’s just a toy hedgehog that he’s gripping.

Jasper, making it easier for us not to be barking mad at all.

Sofa to K-9 walks every day.

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose

Alan Camrose with beard

Putting the band back together

We drove down to the South Coast at the weekend for a concert. The last time was for Mark Knopfler, this time it was for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Glyndebourne, not the Brighton Centre. A stretch for the coast, I’ll grant you. An afternoon of sitting in the gardens, eating a picnic, drinking mocktails and listening to classical music in a COVID-secure way. Not far off normal life (I’m not referring to the mocktails as the aberrration), but with the new-normal tweaks of a one-way system around the premises, two metres between each pod of audience members and far enough away from the end of the woodwind instruments to settle the nerves. No need for black tie since it was an afternoon concert; awkward for the token wearer but he seemed fine with it.

And to the orchestra. A palpable feeling that the band was back together, that they had been let out to play and would have lashings of ginger beer later and party games. Sheer relief at being able to sit in front of a crowd of people again albeit some the size of a Twitter thumbnail in their line of sight.

Sweet Home, East Sussex

A tight eight-piece band with periodic light aircraft accompaniment. It was like the Buena Vista Social Club with a bassoon. Their black suits, a couple of them in black hats, white shirts for the men, it was like an audition in the grounds for the next Blues Brothers film:

“It’s 49 miles to Glyndebourne, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes and some clarinets. It’s dark and we’re wearing sun glasses. Hit it!”

Elwood (and Jake) Blues,
musicians

For me, the music proved to be a mixed bag, Beethoven’s go at an opera – Fidelio – plus some crowd-pleasing Mozart, and some Jonathan Dove (the mixed bag). Short pieces, like flash fiction: a conversation, a Countess interrupting an argument, dancing in the dark (not Springsteen). Seven pieces inspired by the Glyndebourne gardens, with – I very much liked the image – the inspiration of Mozart rippling through the trees into the music. A faintly jazz-like feel to some of the pieces, a sketchy slightly repetitive feel to the rest. Overall, a brilliant way to spend some time, COVID or not.

Why in particular? The relief in the orchestra was mirrored by the joy in the audience. My feeling is that they could have played Mahna, Mahna by the Muppets and we would all have felt great and applauded loudly; sadly, Animal wasn’t there on his crazy drum kit. We were determined that it would be great, and happily it was. The rustling of the trees in the breeze and the twittering of nearby birds beautifully complemented the music and the feeling of being OUT. Something that was not a compromise, something that we wanted to do, something that looks like we’d wandered into another drive-in by mistake. Not that last bit.

What time does the movie start?

A festival without the mud and with a selection of cheeses. We all need to find those moments of escape, however they come packaged.

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose

The Blues Brothers' 40th anniversary — read all Sun-Times coverage of 'the  best movie ever made in Chicago' - Chicago Sun-Times

Leaving the nest – again

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix . You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, the Offspring are about to return to university with their magic self-cleaning bedding and renewed thirst for knowledge vodka…


The Offspring completed their first year at uni in the chaos of this summer, the 2019/20 academic year ending in a morass of will they / won’t they have exams, hand sanitiser and no 2020 Euros.

A few months on and there is a feeling of them starting all over again but they will have some herd memory of big nights at the Students Union Bar from a strangely familiar yet brand new place. I suspect that is fuelled by both of them moving out of hall and into their respective Student Houses: the place where vodka flows like water and Wet Wipes fear to tread. The place that is disturbingly like real life but with seminars. Life with stabilisers.

They are not only required to tackle the uncertainties that lie ahead at their Ivory Towers but in a place where they need to do dangerous things like cooking and cleaning without parental back-up…Happily, Offspring 1 has some brand new kitchen paraphernalia to play with, brand new because none of the items came out of the shrink-wrap packaging the first time around. You know the sort of ting, obscure artifacts like saucepans and chopping boards, ones that will one day be described as “Mint” on Ebay. So, no need to stock up for him; we did need to re-kit Offspring 2 because we abandonned most of her things at uni during the retreat in disarray in the summer, courtesy of That Bloody Virus.

Either way, our hall is now stuffed to the brim with boxes and bags full of, well, stuff ready to be transported to the next staging post of their journeys…It looks like the store at a frontier post in the Old West, but with more charging cables. A combination of essentials like asparagus dishes, snow shoes and supplies of gin (infused, of course, with craft botanicals).

total chaos packing for university
Packing for uni

They are the lucky ones in terms of the relentless workings of the academic life calendar.

They missed the horrors of the GCSE / A-levels debacle, the students for whom we should all spare a thought. The same with uni students last year either set up to go on life-changing years out in industry or just in other institutions, all swept away by the virus. The same for final year students robbed of what in a non-crazy world would for most have been the formal recognition of their path to graduation.

In an albeit small way, I’m in the same boat. I was awarded my MA for Creative Writing from Surrey this summer, which seems to me epochs ago. That moment has passed now. At least there’s no need for me to wear a funny hat and trip up the stairs to a rickety stage to receive my presumably blank certificate (I already have the certificate somewhere or other at home). Now it feels like a dream, all those workshops and seminars, wondering whether that all really happened or were a sneaky part of my creative writing process.

There are many much worse things that have come out of COVID than academic inconvenience, but just sticking with that for now the combination of awkward drifting and confusion/frustration among many students has been palpable. Hopefully most have, like ours, at least been able to tap back into their school network friends to sustain them, with gatherings and shots games as Lockdown has eased; while in the best of all worlds for our Offspring they have ideally retained a grip on budding friendships made in their first year at uni…That has been made easier by social media, of course; the world in COVID 1970 would have been a much darker and more lonely place.

Nine days to go before launch for Offspring 2, for Offspring 1 we’re not so sure given the quarantine situation for some of his housemates. But it will happen and they will make the best of it, hopefully not resorting to cold macaroni cheese out of the tin with the remaining dessert spoon as I remember doing my first time around.

No conferring , except at a safe distance…

Welcome to Universities Challenge, this is your restarter for 10

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose

Alan Camrose with beard

When sloth is not a deadly sin

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix . You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, the joy of creation, if you get my thread…


Just a quick post to show that not all things coming out of Lockdown are bad. This is my daughter’s beautiful piece of embroidery of a sloth hanging about. It’s a piece of work that I have neither the patience, the dexterity or the eyesight to achieve.

sloth eating his or her breakfast in leisurely style
Relax, have a bite…

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose

Alan Camrose with beard

Pizza the action

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix . You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, the Siren’s Song, preferably not the Fire Engine siren because of the new pizza oven …


pizza oven, showing the heart of the flame for outside living

We decided to buy a pizza oven.

Why? Because it would provide a Family Bonding Expeience during the long hours of Lockdown and demonstrate that something fundamentally basic like a pizza can be elevated into a whole new stratosphere of culinary wonderment with the addition of 900 degrees of firepower. The gloves for handling the hardware would grace any firefighter’s tool kit, thick and protective and, JESUS CHRIST, THAT’S STILL HOT!

At that point, due respect was due to the martial artists who pick up a pot filled with burning coals to brand pictures of dragons onto their inner arms. For that sort of thing, the Epsom Tattoo Parlour seems a less lethal way to go, social distancing permitting.

As an initial victory, I managed to avoid setting fire to the owner’s manual. This is not Fahrenheit 451. A bit of kindling, some charcoal, some accelerant borrowed from the neighbourhood pyromaniac and we were up and running, clean burning fuel with a judicious eco eye firmly in place.

The first one proved to be sensational in the middle but usable as replacement charcoal on the outside all the way round, or as a (very) burnt offering. When I say round, I refer to the irregular dodecagon that threatened to turn into a mind-bending Mobeus strip of gooey Mozzarella.

The second proved to be more cooperative and the third (pictured above) a wonder of modern pizza technology, the pizza slices starting to resemble a leaning tower. It made me think of the various other flavours and toppings that would lend themselves to the Fire.

This was not one of them – no cat was festooned with chorizo and artichoke hearts for the creation of this Mighty Furry:

So, when the carbo-loading devil next sits on my shoulder and whispers Hawaiian, extra-thick crust in my eager ear…

Fire up that NOS because it’ll be time to don the asbestos apron and iconic gloves once more and kick off with at least Three Degrees…

Only 897 to go…

before heading into the heart of the Flame.

I’ll be in the Cal-Zone, baby!

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose

Alan Camrose with beard

Groundhair Day

Welcome to my Blog at The Lair Of The Camrose


It’s my bespoke stomping ground in the Intermatrix . You are very welcome, and thanks for stopping by…

This time, the Strimmer’s Revenge…


rusty hacksaw
A little bit more off the top, please

32 degrees C and six months since my last hair-cut: a true Lockdown moment.

Should I:

a) go to the barber and wear a mask, and the barber a visor and mask, to feel like I was having my hair shorn by the riot police;

b) leave my hair to carry on growing until I could play tug-of-war with Rapunzel; or

c) give myself up to the mercy of my wife to satisfy that crazed look of anticipation as she held the tiny scissors to the industrial-sized whetstone.

I woke up shackled to a small plastic chair, my knees around my ears, providing a sight-line for the first cut. Vrooom! The sound of a chainsaw engaging, snippety-snip the sound of garden shears approaching me from behind. The glug of Agent Orange shampoo being rubbed into my ends which were about to be split with an axe.

No mirror to protect me, and as Meatloaf nearly sings:

Hair in the rear view mirror may recede more than you think

(especially when attacked by Mrs Scissorhands).

My chainmail suit at the dry cleaners, the Jaws soundtrack thundering in our bathroom, reflecting off the tiles – duh DUH dur DUHDADADADADADADA

The feel of a swathe of hair sloughing off my head and crashing to the bathroom foor like the calving of a huge iceberg, a sinister chuckle from just behind my left ear, sending a chill down my spine as I stayed rooted to the spot in terror.

CRASH!

Another copse of mountain trees swept away in the avalanche.

Bit more on the left to level it up, bit more on the right to level it up, bit more on the left to level it up…How much was left? Would my parting eventually amount to a thin Mohican on the crest of my head where the furry tectonic plates lurched together…?

And then it was over as the massed jungle foliage that that rooted itself in my eyebrows was chopped away with a machete – what proved to be Nicola’s weapon of choice in the Hairena of Doom, or WWFluff…

Then the clouds of hair blew away revealing a work of art – more a rough sketch than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but Michaelangelo had more promising contours to work with. A pretty good first attempt on the back of a three-minute YouTube coaching video (half of which consisted of ads for FIFA 21 – she snips, she scores! – and following a suspicious recent interest in regularly brushing our golden retriever as a way of limbering up).

The exciting thing is that in another few months time, unless I’m ambushed earlier at the top of the stairs with a suspiciously glinting blade – like Norman Bates with a detailer trimmer – it will be time to

DO IT AGAIN…

fluff ball resisting a hair cut
Snippety-snippety-snip

Cheers,

Alan

Alan Camrose

Alan Camrose with beard