2018 Weeknote 2

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A quieter week than last week – weather-wise, certainly. Mostly quite grey, with a few sunny spells.

Work settled down, and the second week of the new year was a more normal one. To be expected. It wasn’t without its highlights; there were a number of small problems or queries that I felt armed adequately to tackle. And it reminded me yet again that that’s the job satisfaction I seek most – to find problems and to solve them. It’s reassuring that this can be sought in many arenas.

This week has been dominated by listening to, thinking about, and rambling about radio. More so than usual! I haven’t been doing much shortwave listening lately. But I have been re-familiarising myself with DAB and FM.

DAB occupies a weird part of my mind in terms of it having slowly – very slowly – become mainstream. Is it even mainstream yet? It is its own thing. Despite all this, I find enough elements about it to fascinate me. The variety of receivers. The number of available stations. The different stations that are available locally and nationally, and the weird way these are transmitted. I read with interest a Government consultation attempting to get smaller local/community stations on DAB – partly because, due to the nature of how DAB stations are transmitted, they can’t fully mimic local FM stations in terms of reach and coverage.

And FM is a constant source of interest, particularly a built-up area like north west London. Reception of big stations is rock-solid almost anywhere. Local stations are diverse and numerous. And pirate stations are as ubiquitous as legitimate ones. At home, I’m as confident in the strength of Divine 97.9 (drum’n’bass; occasional shout-outs to listeners) as I am Radio 4 when testing a new radio. If Divine goes down, I’m arming the warheads.

This surge in interest in radio was helped along by Megan and I staying in a rather gorgeous Airbnb before the new year which had a decent radio in the kitchen and a good hifi system in the lounge. It was also the kind of house one wishes to simply be in, so the radio was on a lot.

We wake daily to Radio 4, but we don’t really have the radio on at other times. It was the Airbnb that reminded us we both love to do this. So since then we’d been using my little portable radio as background noise, with an eye on a new DAB receiver with a good speaker. And this week we picked up a great Pure radio which was on a sporadic reduction at the supermarket. So radio now fills the flat while we’re cooking, pottering, tidying, etc. It’s been great.

My first set-up listen meant I caught a recent Peter Broderick track on 6 Music. And all week I’ve heard various Radio 4 comedy shows which are usually at least half-decent. We caught the first episode of Angstrom, a parody of Scandi-noir murder mysteries, which several times had me guffawing like a loon.

And I’ve been tuning in to Resonance FM on my way to and from work. They don’t have breakfast shows per se, so you end up catching repeats of some really diverse shows. I caught an Americana and bluegrass show one morning, a Sunday afternoon folk show another morning. And in the evening a well-written show about cyber security and so on. Up till now the only Resonance show I’ve sought out was One Life Left, the video game show by friends-of-friends. But I’ve known for a long time the fantastic variety in Resonance’s line-up, so it’s been good to begin to embrace it this new year.

Another activity that’s taken up some time this week is a somewhat frantic re-arrangement of the living room furniture. This happens every few months, and the latest re-shuffle was brought about by the removal of the Christmas tree. It’s made the space feel fresh and open and new.

It’s been nice to spend some dark evenings in the new arrangement, playing some old videogames, and watching some films. I finally caught up with Ron Howard’s Beatles documentary, which was just what I’d hoped it would be. And we randomly stumbled on Serendipity, a weird little rom-com from 2001 starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale (not Helen Baxendale who, it turns out, is a completely different person). It turned out to be great fun. One of those cute but slightly out of leftfield storylines thanks to some quirky movie magic, and at times it felt like it could have been a prequel to High Fidelity, with Cusack’s character occasionally merging into Rob Gordon territory.

I’ve also done some fun cooking this week, and particularly this weekend, as Megan’s dad brought over some of the bulkier Christmas presents we’d left at theirs, including a huge stock pot, a multi-function stick blender, sourdough baking ingredients, and other kitchen accessories. I still need to follow recipes practically word for word. But I’m getting good results. And making pesto from scratch is sheer heaven.

I made more progress on the new website I’m building for a client. It’s been mostly smooth sailing – touch wood – with a few little niggles here and there. I hope that with another session next weekend it’ll be ready to hand over and go live.

Finally, we ended the week, as last week, with a ramble on Hampstead Heath. I don’t think we’ll spend every Sunday there, but it’s not a bad place to have nearby. This morning we tried to head over a little earlier than normal and it was good to blow away the cobwebs and enjoy some space before it got a little busier.

We saw a sparrowhawk, a green woodpecker, and a wren or three, as well as some of the more usual feathered friends. We also noticed a surprising number of blossom buds on certain trees.

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Learning to cook

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Some recent creations

I’m still learning to cook. I’ve been learning to cook for about ten years. In truth, I don’t think anyone ever stops learning to cook – only those who possibly never started to in the first place.

I can pretty much pinpoint the start of my learning process as looking at the instructions on a jar of Dolmio, then trying to reverse engineer my own pasta sauce. This, and trying to buy cheap ingredients with my student loan, sent me down a path and I’ve not looked back since.

This process slowed somewhat for two years when I was living in a small studio flat. It did, fortunately, have a full kitchen setup – just not a particularly large one. In that sense, I got quite good at working within the limitations imposed on me. Only two hobs. Only one workspace. A small fridge with an ice box. Etc.

Thank goodness I also had a proper oven.

M kindly referred to this studio flat existence as like living on a boat. I liked this metaphor. With her suggestions and assistance, I grew to quite enjoy cooking in my little kitchen. I even managed to create a fair number of nice, sit-down, multi-course meals.

Now though, we have a larger kitchen at our disposal. We also have much more storage space, access to M’s cookbooks, and – crucially – M’s knowledge of cookery, and her passion for trying new meals and techniques. It’s also much more enjoyable and efficient creating meals for two than just for one.

So I’m now happily using cookbooks to cook most meals. A handful of dishes have become staples. But I still like to have the recipe somewhere nearby, because I’m a forgetful soul, and I’m likely to mess up the order, or forget a crucial ingredient. I’m not yet cooking intuitively; I’m following a set of instructions to the letter. If the instructions are unclear, I’m not very good at improvising.

M and I joke that I’m a little autistic in this sense: I need absolutely every instruction, timing and ingredient written down in a clear, ordered list. Any deviation from the list will cause me some anxiety and possibly cause me to mess up the meal. A photograph of the end result is always useful. What the hell is this thing meant to look like?

Thankfully, an ingredients list, a clear method, and photograph(s) are the basic components of any good cookbook, so I am in my comfort zone here.

As I progress, I am beginning to learn shortcuts, and identifying opportunities for daisy-chaining two meals – tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch – which share preparation methods. And although I can chuck together a few familiar ingredients to make something from scratch, I’m actively enjoying the process of cooking according to a growing range of recipes.

My hope is that this will continue until – much like learning a new language – more and more components of each recipe will come to me naturally, and I will gain more and more independence.

With all this in mind, I was very interested to read Matthew Culnane’s latest post entitled Atomic cookery. It’s a great piece, and well worth your time. In it, he talks about dismantling cookery books and recipes, and how this process can inform the chef and actually free them from the rigidity of recipes.

It’s sort of a conceptual ‘teach them how to catch fish’ kind of deal, where knowing how and why to do something is so much more useful than just doing it because the book says so.

Mr Culnane also makes some interesting parallels with tech – and with web design in particular, which has a set of components and a certain order of things.

My own experience of learning web design – a frantic few months in 2002* of copying and pasting code from pages I liked, to see which bits did what – is quite similar to using elements of recipes to achieve another, quite separate, result.

It’s this modular approach that Matthew talks about which seems so relevant. But he warns against painting oneself into a corner by enforcing unnecessarily restrictive metaphors to different processes.


* Any web design learning I’ve done since then has simply tacked itself onto that initial blooming of understanding – CSS still seems like a relatively new and interesting innovation to me.