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Week 22: 3 – 9 May

Apologies for the brief disappearance of the blog recently – the web host foreclosed the mortgage, basically, but we sent them round a basket of vegetables from the allotment and offered to wash their car, and in the end they relented and we’re back on line.

Aren’t penguins fun? Last week was Margaret’s birthday, so we made an excursion up to Edinburgh zoo, to see all the arctic animals feeling right at home, basking in a typical Scottish spring. Lord, it was cold!

The special attractions weren’t very special (ordinary attractions?) – it was out of season, so the famous penguin walk was more of a 3-metre waddle; the big cat habitats were being rebuilt so they were absent; and the aviary where you can buy a pot of nectar and have birds flutter down and sip it from your hand had just had a new air conditioner, which meant that the birds were hiding somewhere in the rafters sneering down at the visitors and making rude suggestions.

But it did have lots of penguins, and a day in which penguins feature is never wasted. I particularly like the way they just stand still with their flippers dangling, their heads on one side and their lower beaks hanging open like a rather vapid, slack-jawed member of the upper classes waiting for the rain to stop. They’re sort of like aquatic cats, funny and unpredictable, and you never know what they’re thinking (though I suspect it’s along the lines of: “Fish! Oh, a stone! Fish! Hey, a shiny thing! OK, I’m going offline now”). Watching them on their celebrated walk was like watching a three-legged-sack race at a village fair.

Other highlights included the sleeping koalas, with their scrunched-up, origami faces, and of course the otters, who are practiced media whores, rolling over on their backs and obligingly rubbing their tummies for the cameras, before signing autographs and talking to their agents on cell phones.

Otherwise I knit and bake bread. I tried a new recipe for pain de campagne over the weekend, a French wholemeal-rye bread that requires a starter at least a day in advance of baking the loaf. I made the mistake of just following the recipe, and added all the water in one go – big mistake! Instead of the thick, moist dough I was promised I achieved a sort of primordial soup. When I poured it out to knead it flowed across the counter like lava from an Icelandic volcano.

After adding handfuls of flour to stiffen its resolve, as a builder mixes cement, I finally managed to persuade it to stay in one place, like an over-eager puppy being trained to sit. By this time I was so coated in flaking dough that I resembled one of those Nazis in an Indiana Jones movie who shouldn’t have looked. Then, when I left it to rise it inflated like a football attached to an air hose. The recipe called for it to rise for 4 hours, but after 45 minutes it had doubled in size and had developed its own gravitational field. In retrospect I shouldn’t have baked with it – I realise now that I’d inadvertently discovered Cavorite, the substance from HG Wells’ The First Men In The Moon that defied gravity and made spaceflight possible.

Meanwhile on the gansey I promenade down the sleeve, doing a bit now and then as the mood takes me, and slowly working my way through Wagner’s oeuvre – and, as the man said, people in a hurry shouldn’t be listening to Wagner anyway.

(Sigh.) News just in. First it was the threat of volcanic ash from Iceland. Now British Airways cabin crews have announced that they’re going on strike just when we’re planning on visiting Margaret’s family in the States next week. They’ve got a week to reach an agreement or there’s going to be trouble, I can tell you…

4 comments to Week 22: 3 – 9 May

  • Suzanne

    Wonderful post! Given the mind-boggling density of an otter’s coat(500’000 hairs per square inch, if memory serves), I should not be at all surprised if it contained a cell phone. That said, I would be astonished if the otter actually used said device, and imagine it might go something like this: “Gavin? Max here. Listen, I simply cannot do the gig at the pond in the park this week. I have a full schedule of grooming and cracking shells on a rock on my abs. (the punters really eat that up!) Get me out of it, will you? Tell them my uncle died, or something. Ta!”

    I wish we could have seen the pain de campagne adventure. You neglected to tell us what did happen when you baked it. Or is it still in the oven? a giant, leaden popover, filling every groove and contour. Will a saws-all be required to extract it?

    Here’s hoping that neither ash, nor surly flight crews, interfere with your holiday.

  • Gordon

    Hi Suzanne,

    Love it, yes – that’s it exactly! I think the thing about otters and penguins is that they seem interested and observant of the world around them; whereas warthogs, for instance, seem a bit preoccupied, if you know what I mean – self-absorbed. They trudge around like they’ve just received disturbing news from the doctor in which the word “benign” is significant by its absence. But otters and penguins at least do you the courtesy of acknowledging you’re there, and seem up for a lark.

    The bread came out fine, mostly. The odd thing was, after all that effervescence in the fermentation stage, when it came to proving in the basket it struggled to rise at all, like a sluggish teenager at 7 am. Eventually it rose a bit, so I whacked it in the oven, but it was definitely on the heavy side of stodge. I’ve still got half the dough in the freezer, so I’ll see what happens this weekend.

    Latest news is, we can get to the States no problem, as our flight is the day before the strike. The return journey is the problem. Dagnabbit.

    Gordon

  • Suzanne

    Since when is getting stuck on Cape Cod a week before the real onset of ‘the season’ a problem? Rent a car, and drive up to Maine for a few days (it is not far). If you enjoy the Cape, you will love the coast of Maine. If the strike persists: head West (not in the rental car – it takes too long). You have no professional commitments just now. Enjoy the spontaneity of an adventure. With careful negotiation, you might even be able to get the airline to foot the bill for your return from a different city, when they finally get the strike sorted.

    Can’t say that I really have an opinion on the temperament of the warthog. Never met one in person. My father was ever so fond of accusing individuals of ‘having the manners of a warthog’. Knowing my father, I cannot help but feel that the poor creature was being much maligned.

    Perhaps the dough will be feeling lighter this weekend…after a good long kip in the fridge.

  • Gordon

    Hi Suzanne,

    You make a good point – I think I haven’t yet adjusted to my new situation, and am like the prisoner who’s been freed but still constructs his own prison of the mind. Whereas my only constraint is money – though that’s a pretty big constraint right now!

    “Warthog” – which if you saw it written without knowing the word would sound like a character out of a fantasy novel – with a “th” in the middle, not a “t-h” – Prince Warthog, Commander of the First Cohort of the Army of Snafu, or something – where was I? – oh, yes – is the sort of name that is asking for a bad reputation. Change the name, change the image – it needs another word, like the old word for hedgehog, “urchin”, which is so much nicer.

    Gordon