Meaning Of Loaf

       Taking the easy road through life

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

English Winter

For yet another week, England is living up to it's stereotype of miserable weather, with yet more persistent rain lashing down on us.

After last nights downpour, the normal route from my village has now been cut off through flooding, and the back route is now more of a shallow stream than a road to drive down. In fact this morning, it seemed like I was more being washed down the hill than driving down it.

But is this going to get me down? Not a chance! Despite the cold and wet, this is still my favourite time of the year for sitting back in a warm house, while the rain pounds down outside, and at least with the cold weather you can keep putting on more layers until you're cosy, whereas in the summer, there's only so much you can take off before you're arrested. Damn neighbourhood watch.

The other reason I'm loving this time of year, is that the Christmas spirit is finally kicking in. I know it's commercialised, I know it's over-indulgence, and I know I'll be paying for it for months to come, but when the decorations are up and the same old Christmas songs start playing on the radio, it's impossible not to be taken in by it all.

All this, just to build up to another excuse for a list.

Top 10 Christmas Tunes on my iPod

1. Stop The Cavalry - Jona Lewie
2. Troika - Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
3. Fairytale Of New York - The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl
4. Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
5. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan
6. Let It Snow - Dean Martin
7. Winter Wonderland - Bing Crosby
8. White Christmas - Diana Krall
9. All I Want for Christmas Is You - Mariah Carey*
10. Jingle Bells - Diana Krall

So, now that I'm in the swing of Christmas, it's time to battle my way into London on Saturday in a desperate attempt to do all the Christmas shopping in one go, instead of leaving it to the last minute as I have every other year. That said, I can almost guarantee a last minute rush for some forgotten gift, which is after all, part of the holiday tradition!

*Ok, I'm a little ashamed of this one

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A week in the wild

Because it's another quiet week with not much happening, I've decided to go back through the mists of time, and recount some tales of the past, which have helped to shape me into the suave, intelligent, handsome man I am today. So today, we're taking a trip back to September 2005...

[Cue smoke and harpsichord music]

A recent health kick had prompted me to take up a lot of outdoor activity, mainly walking, and on occasion, a little camping. I'd happily walk around 15 miles over the hills and felt great for it. It was also around this time I saw several Ray Mears shows on bushcraft, and was quite taken by the idea of living the outdoors life for real; making fire, building a shelter and surviving with little more than a knife and the clothes on my back. After a bit of searching, I found a company called Woodsmoke, who ran bushcraft training courses, which sounded ideal, and without too much thought, had signed myself up for the 6 day Woodlander course.

The time came round, and I was packed and ready to go, and here I found my first mistake. Although I was going to be out in the wild, I found myself unable to go without packing a few of the home comforts, such as the iPod, emergency snack foods, and a whole host of toiletries. A mistake which I soon realised when I had to walk more than 10 minutes with all of this in the backpack, in addition to the essentials.

When I arrived, I met with the organisers, and was taken to the site, a 2000 acre woodland area in the Lake District, where we set up our tents and settled in (we were not expected to build shelters on the first night!). First order of the evening, was showing us around the campsite and where to find the facilities, where we were introduced to the bathroom. After a couple of minutes walk away from the campsite, we came to a secluded area, with trees and bushes hiding one side of the clearing, and were told we were now in the bathroom. I looked around, but couldn't see anything apart from a shovel and a 6ft trench. Then it all became apparent. Now, I must say, I was a little apprehensive about squatting / balancing over a trench to do the business, but once you've got the hang of it, it's not half bad! Plus you get a lovely view out across the hillside while you're taking care of things, and as long as you shovel some dirt over afterwards, there really was no smell. The only other issue was that you had to put any waste paper into a paper bag, which was then thrown on the campfire to dispose of it. It was important that you made sure you didn't need to go when everyone else was cooking round the campfire.

Despite the intital shock, and sitting there thinking "what the hell have I got myself into??", once we were all sat around a roaring campfire with soup and a hot cup of tea, I started to get into the swing of things, and managed to sleep remarkably well on the first night.

The next morning, we were given our knives, and started gathering dry grass and wood bark that would be good for starting our own fires, as well as learning to identify some of the basic plants and trees around us. Our first attempt as fire was very simple; using a firesteel to create sparks and get a small fire going, and I've learnt that the fluff from thistles is excellent for getting things started; just a couple of sparks and it's up in flames.

The following day we moved onto learning how to make rope from stinging nettles, and learnt the first valuable lesson; the teachers are cruel. He demonstrated how you simply pick a nettle by the base, and in one swift movement, run your hand up the stem, stripping off all the leaves. It was not until after we'd tried this and had red swollen hands that he pointed out it may take a bit of practice, and we'd probably sting ourselves to hell the first few times. Thanks. The nettles really did make a good string, once stripped, beaten, separated and bound into a twine. Great if you have 2 hours free to make 10 inches of string.

At this point we also starting learning how to make fire by using a bow drill; which consisted of a bow, used to spin piece of wood on top of a softer piece of wood, which created a tinder from the friction. This was one thing I really did get the hang of, managing to get fire in just a few minutes, and there really is nothing more satisfying that getting a fire going from nothing more than rubbing wood, definitely something very primeval about it!

By midway through the week, we'd all began to notice our odour, since trying to wash under a dribble of cold water in late September really didn't encourage us to wash all that thoroughly. For the first couple of days, it felt unpleasant, but then after that, we just reached this state where we were comfortable with it all, or just went beyond caring, not sure which. On the positive side, this did ensure having a section to ourselves on the train journey back home.

WARNING: Vegetarians may not want to read the next part, go have a cup of tea, come back in a bit, I don't want lots of hate mail for this!

So, the next part of the course was making our own food, and since we didn't want to live on leaves and berries, it was time to bring out the meat. Of course, this meat was still in it's unprocessed form. Thankfully, the killing part had already been taken care of (that only happens on the advanced course), but we were presented with fish and a rabbit to prepare. The fish was not too bad, and really wasn't too much different than something you'd buy in the shop, apart from still having a head, tail, and a lot of gunk in the middle, so a few minutes with the knife and it was sizzling away by the fire nicely. The rabbit was more of a challenge. "Just cut round the neck, twist it a couple of times, and it will come off. Don't blunt the knife by cutting through the bone" we were told. Of course, I had the damn Exorcist bunny. I must have twisted that thing about twenty times and it wouldn't come off. Thankfully one of the others helped with a tug-o-war on the hapless animal, and I was pretty much sorted. Well, apart from the other part: "Just push you fingers up though the diaphragm and pull everything out". Possibly the grossest thing I've done to date. On the last night we were also treated to squirrel, which if you get the chance, is delicious!!

Ok, the vegetarians can come back now.

Then there were the ticks. Now I've never experienced ticks before, and wasn't too worried about them, but really, I must have been a prime target for them! I was picking off about ten per night, and some in the most unpleasant of places!

Finally, we put together our shelters, and surprised ourselves by making something that we could actually sleep in. Here is me, modelling my lovely single room apartment with a view:

So, despite some rather basic living conditions, smelling like a tramp, and the ticks, it was a great week away. Even one year on I can still remember how make fire with sticks, rope from nettles, and set a whole load of animal traps. As for the more advanced course, I'm not sure. I've been told you go out with just a knife and some string, eat what you catch or pick, and live entirely in your own shelter, which is just a little too far from the comforts for me at the moment, but perhaps a couple more years and who knows!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Casino Royale

On Saturday, I took a trip north, and while up there, took the opportunity to see the new James Bond film, Casino Royale, at the local Odeon.

I have to say, it was superb! There's really little I can fault in it, and anything I could fault is too minor to mention.

First off, despite the early criticism, Daniel Craig pulled off the roll of Bond perfectly, bringing a more tough and gritty style to the character, which to me, made it all the more believable. Although there were fewer of the characteristic Bond one liners, there were more than enough memorable lines, and still the same Bond charm and wit.

As for the other Bond essentials; Action and Women, they could still be found aplenty. It was definitely more violent than the previous films, down to the fact they were not holding back with the blood and bruises, of which Daniel spent a lot of the film covered in. So, probably not one we'll be seeing before 9pm at Christmas like most of the Bond films. And of course, it wouldn't be a bond film without the women, and this position was filled very well by French born Eva Green.

The only thing that some Bond fans may find missing is the gadgets; normally you would expect something explosive packed into an everyday object, or a car with many non-standard factory extras, but this time it's back to basics. Not that it detracts from the film in any way, as there's still plenty of gunfire and fast cars to keep everyone happy.

Overall, a top film that I'd highly recommend, even to those who are not normally Bond fans, but you might want to leave the kids at home for this one.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Children in need

Friday at last, yet again!

Hopefully a more eventful weekend lined up this time, with a journey up to Nottingham and trip to the cinema to see the new James Bond movie, Casino Royale, and as a big fan of the Bond films, it's a big night out for me, since I missed seeing the last couple of Bond films at the cinema, and this type of film really does deserve the big screen. Review by Monday!

But, the big event round the UK at the moment is Children in Need, which is an annual fund raising event, which distributes the funds raised to the various charities in the UK, dedicated to helping children who are disabled, abused, homeless etc. And in late response to Katie's post last week asking why people are proud to be American, this is definitely one that makes me proud to be British. For the whole day, there's been fundraising events around the UK, BBC radio has been raising money through music requests throughout the day, and BBC 1 has a whole evening devoted to it, hosted by our most prized national treasure, Terry Wogan. The event raised £33.2 million last year, and it's looking on target to beat that figure this year!

So, as I sit back with a bottle of red and settle in for warm and fuzzy night (which could be due to the wine, or the show, or possibly both), wishing you all a good weekend!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Odds and Ends

While the weekend was good, there wasn't anything wild enough to justify an entire post about, so instead, I'll give you a pick and mix assortment:

  • Went round to a friends on Saturday night and watched Lucky Number Sleven; couldn't understand what was happening for the first half hour, but a really good ending, so I'd recommend it.

  • Finally saw the video to Eric Prydz cover of Call On Me on MTV. Didn't blink for three and a half minutes. Now feel the urge to go and work out.

  • Hit a dead end with the Austrian Au-Pair; seems she felt guilty about her boyfriend. It's these little details that would be good to know up front. The search continues.

  • Decided on another attempt at exercise and loosing some weight. Not sure if just before Christmas is the right time to be planning this.

  • Still waiting for the tattoo scab to peel, as I so miss being able to give my back a good scrub! Shouldn't it be coming off after two weeks?

So there we have it. Pretty quiet weekend, but I should probably make the most of it as there's already quite a lot lined up for December, with two Christmas parties, a friends 30th birthday, and the whole Christmas thing. Better enjoy these lazy weekends while I can!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Coming to America

My trip to the States is now officially booked, and the chosen city is Chicago.

As this is going to be my first visit to America, I needed help; after all, when you live in a quiet little village where you only have to worry about stray bulls and tractors, America does seem daunting. Thankfully, help has come in the form of Classy, Cherry and Dr Ken, who have promised to take good care of me, by showing me the sights and making sure my blood alcohol level does not drop too low. And special thanks to Cherry, who has been kind enough to put me up for the week!!

The highlight of the trip is going to be St Patrick's Day, and from all I've read so far, looks like it's going to be a big one. I really thought people were joking when they said the river would run green. Then I saw pictures. This is something I must see.

So all I have to do now is wait for March to roll round, practice speaking American, and prepare myself for what looks to be an exciting week!