Scouse and scouse and scousers

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas! I got you a blog.

When last we left our doughty blogger, she was enjoying the delights of Liverpool. And while the Beatles may be inescapable in that northern city, they aren't the only game in town. So let's rewind to the start of the visit, but skip all that Beatles stuff you've already heard about.

One of my first stops in town was trip around the grounds of St. Luke's Bombed Out Church. (I promise that's really what they call it.) Set at a prominent intersection, the church was completed in 1832 and then struck by a German bomb in May of 1941. The interior of the church was completely destroyed by the ensuing fire, but the outer walls remained standing. Derelict for many years, the now-outdoor site has been redeveloped into a community space for live performance, markets and other community events, one of which was a vinyl record sale that afforded me a chance to wander the site on Saturday morning.

I particularly liked this statue commemorating the famous Christmas Truce of WW1. The poppies around the base were a temporary addition for Remembrance Day

Very clever re-purposing of  plastic water bottles!

The inside of the church

Much of Saturday and Sunday was taking up Beatling, but I did have a nice wander around the nearby Georgian Quarter of the city after my disappointing breakfast (about which you have already heard me rant, so I will spare you). The morning was clear and chilly and I had some time to kill and a lot of sub-standard french toast to burn off, so it seemed a perfect time to check out the neighbourhood.

The Georgian Quarter is a small residential area of central Liverpool that boasts a lovely collection of Georgian streets so impressive that it's frequently used as a filming location. (You may have seen the Georgian Quarter in "Peaky Blinders".) It was very pleasant for a stroll and found myself humming and tripping along the streets in a very contented mood.

A typical street in the Georgian Quarter. You can just picture an episode of "Bridgerton" or "Downton Abbey", can't you?

After a short wander, I eventually found my way to Liverpool Cathedral. The Georgian Quarter is actually the site of two cathedrals, which could hardly be more different. The more modern of the two - the Roman Catholic Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral - is popularly known as Paddy's Wigwam, for reasons that will be obvious to those who follow this link. I did not elect to visit that spot. However, the Anglican cathedral was definitely worth a visit, being the largest cathedral in Britain, and the 8th largest church in the world. (Other size-related facts of note: Liverpool Cathedral is the longest in the world, and the 5th largest by volume. So by whatever metric you use, the place is a behemoth.)

Liverpool Cathedral, moodily backlit.

The cathedral is also surrounded by a very nice cemetery garden which I walked through. The cemetery and gardens lie in a sunken area around the cathedral site that makes the building itself even more imposing. Their sunken-ness is because the site is a former 18th century stone quarry from which the stone for many of Liverpools public buildings was cut. It became Liverpool's main cemetery between 1825 and 1936.

It's a bit overgrown and Highgate-y now.

I also took some un-blog-worthy photos of a chalybeate spring coming out of one of the high cut banks surrounding the gardens. What is a chalybeate spring, you say? It's a natural mineral spring containing iron salts of course! Rather you should ask how one PRONOUNCES chalybeate, because I can virtually guarantee it's not what you expect. Certainly not CHAL-ee-beet, as you might think. Ho ho, of course not! Not in a country where Cholmondeley is pronounced CHUM-lee. How do we pronounce chalybeate?  Kuh-LEE-bee-utt. Yup. I know. Don't bother questioning. Let's just move on, while slowly shaking our heads.

Once I finally made it inside, Liverpool Cathedral is equally massive. 

The reddish sandstone and the light coloured mortar give the whole place an unusual stripey appearance, like the columns are wearing jolly socks. And as you can see it's just HUGE. And despite it's quite traditional appearance, it's a relatively modern building. started in 1904 and not completed until 1978 (!). The arches are apparently the largest Gothic arches ever built, and the pipe organ is the largest in the UK (with a staggering 10,268 pipes. How is that even possible?). More exciting still, it also has the world’s highest and heaviest ringing peal of bells, housed in the monumental central tower. Even better, you can buy a ticket to ascend the tower and view Liverpool from above. Even EVEN better, there are lifts, for the comfort of both bell-ringers and tourists.

When you finally emerge from the last of the lifts for the climb to the roof, you get a fantastic view of the bell support structure, which features a great tenor bell weighing 4.1 tonnes! (3rd heaviest in the UK, after Great Paul and the Olympic bell, neither of which are currently rung.)

Naturally, the views from the roof of the tower are excellent, and I hit it at the perfect moment, when the day's rain had cleared off and the light was golden. Here's that same bit of the Georgian Quarter we saw moments ago, looking particularly fetching.

Other than the cathedral, I visited a lesser-known and more down-at-heel Liverpool site, the (formerly) grand Adelphi Hotel. Situated very near the main railway hub, Lime Street Station, the present Adelphi is the third hotel to occupy the site and is a Grade II listed building completed in 1914. It's very much in the grand tradition of railway hotels, which also extended to Canada, as Asute Go Stay Work Play Live readers will of course recall. (The second iteration, which opened in 1876, was for a time regarded as the most luxurious hotel in the UK outside of London, boasting, along with standard-issue sumptuous dining rooms and lavish guest suites, a set of heated tanks in the basement for keeping live turtles to be used in the making of fresh turtle soup. That's proper decadence.) (Also a bit creepy.)

A colleague recommended I check out the hotel, with the caution that I must not, under any circumstances, consider patronising the Adelphi as an actual overnight guest. The public rooms were worth a visit, but the quality of the guest rooms, and the service in general, has fallen to a precipitous degree since the days of fresh turtle soup. 

He wasn't kidding about the public spaces though! Here's the Central Court, with skylights and pink marble pilasters. 

Closer inspection showed just how poorly maintained the place is. The furniture was an odd and bedraggled collection, and the skylights appear to have last been cleaned when Margaret Thatcher was in office. Given that rooms for the night go for as little as £38, I can't imagine they're pushing the boat out there either. Indeed, that seems to be borne out by this investigative video

I foolishly tried to get a cup of tea, and maybe a bit of cake, based on the advertised flyer stating that afternoon tea was available, but despite wandering through several public rooms I could find no evidence of service, at which point it became clear that the correct move was a tactical retreat to the pub. Of course. Following that diversion (to the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, about which you've already read), I finally made my way back to the scene of the previous night's disappointment to try, once again, to sample the famed local delicacy, scouse.

Liverpool is famous for its scouse, so much so that the residents are affectionately and proudly known as Scousers and the Liverpool accent is also called scouse. (And happily, scouse is pronounced exactly as you'd expect: sKOWs.) And here I'm required by UK law to mention that scouse is a contraction of 'lobscouse', which, despite the fact that it's a traditional stew eaten by sailors in northern Europe, has absolutely nothing to do with lobsters.

I realise now that I actually had very little idea what scouse was, so I'll admit to being slightly disappointed to discover it's nothing more than a bowl of beef (or sometime lamb) stew. 

My eventual bowl of scouse, served with the traditional accompaniments of bread and butter and pickled red cabbage. I found this particular pickled cabbage quite harsh, but I can appreciate the concept. You can also get a vegetarian version that's always called Blind Scouse, which I find a charming appellation.

What was delightful was that this bowl of traditional scouse - beef, onion, carrot and potato - tasted exactly like the beef stew my mom used to make. I suppose when you combine those particular ingredients in a big pot and add stock and time the result is always going to end up tasting the same, wherever you make it and whatever you call it. So while it wasn't a new and exciting food, it was still a very pleasant and satisfyingly homey dinner for a cold night, and a fitting end to my time as a tourist in Liverpool.

And now I'm tucked up on the boat in the middle of a cold snap. There's ice on the canal basin and the coal stove is belting out heat. I've also recently invested in an electric blanket, which is a REVELATION. Don't get me wrong - I'm still a big fan of the classic hot water bottle, and use that frequently to combat icy toes. But having the ability to pre-heat the bed to toasty perfection before getting in at night is utterly delicious and still makes me squeal out loud with delight when I snuggle in. These days, when the temperature has been solidly below freezing for days on end, I even leave the blanket on all night at the lowest setting, which is very cozy indeed. It's not done wonders for my electricity consumption, the price of which has more than doubled recently (thank you, cost-of-living crisis) but it's cheaper than a space heater and much more efficient. It's also still disspiritingly cold when I get home after a long day away - usually in the 3-9 degrees range - but such is the price we boat people pay. (Along with the price of the new starter motor and the impending new alternator, new battery disconnect switches, new leisure batteries (x5!) and whatever else comes along.) Not for the faint of heart, that's all I'm saying.

Ticket to Ride

Sunday, December 11, 2022

She got a ticket to ride and she went there! There being Liverpool.

I had a work meeting in Liverpool on a Monday so it just made sense - at least in the logic of blogdom - to get the train on Saturday morning and spend the weekend. Best know as the birthplace of the most influential and best selling musical act of all time (no points for guessing this one), Liverpool is a port city of about 500,000 in the northwest of England situated at the mouth of the River Mersey. (Yes, the one with the ferry 'cross it. Because it's not JUST about the Beatles. There was also Gerry & the Pacemakers of ferry fame. Also Elvis Costello, Echo & the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and some others that people younger than me might care about). The Beatles may be inescapable in Liverpool, but there are actually non-Beatles things to do as well, so I booked a cheap hotel and set the alarm early Saturday morning to get to the train station.

I arrived just before lunch and dropped my bag at the cheap hotel, which can best be described as "basic" and reminiscent of my hostel-dwelling days. (Though not nearly as bad as some in my experience.) After a bit of lunch, and some local knowledge from a friendly waiter,  I headed towards the docks to start my Liverpool Beatles Magical Mystery Tour. (Note: not actually magical or mysterious, but we all know I still had to say it.)

Me and the Fab Four, at (supposedly) the UK's most-photographed statue. And given the queue of people waiting for photos, I can believe it. I was roped in to take a photo of a large group and they reciprocated by taking some of me, so here's one of those, showing off the fancy new tweed jacket that Karen made me buy. 

(Aside: What is it with people taking photos in portrait mode when the subject matter is clearly wider than it is tall? I know I've ranted about lots of other things , but this one is sooooo on The List.  When I was taking photos for that group - in landscape mode, because the statue, the group of people, and the horizon were all obviously proportioned that way - they stopped me and asked me to switch the phone around to portrait mode. What the hell? And what is it with people who have the orientation of their phone LOCKED to portrait mode? What is that? Kids these days! Pffft!)

After the statue it was a short walk through the refurbished Albert Docks area to the Beatles Story. Naturally I'd done some research about what to see before I got to Liverpool, especially on the various Beatles sites, which include two different museums. (Note: for "research" here read "hasty Googling on the train journey north".) Those two museums could not be more different, and the flashier of the two is the Beatles Story, a self-described "incredible immersive journey". Astute Go Stay Work Play Live Readers can probably hear my eyes rolling from here. Regardless, it had to be done.

The Beatles Story is a series of recreated locations from the history of the band, some more approximate than others, accompanied by a bit of  explanatory text and an audioguide. It was pretty good, though somewhat style-over-substance, with a few vexing top-notes.

The best section was the recreated Cavern Club, which was quite good. (But that grafitti does say "Jerry and the Pacemakers", which is an unforgivable spelling error. Seriously Beatles Story, sort yourself out!)

Other sections seemed a bit... mixed up. The early bits were basically in order - Lennon and McCartney meeting at a Quarrymen gig at the local Church fête, the addition of George Harrison, their time in Hamburg, booting Pete Best and bringing in Ringo, signing on with Brian Epstein, Ed Sullivan, Beatlemania, and so on. But after Sgt. Pepper, things got a bit confused. It seemed to skip to the break-up of the group jarringly quickly, then into sections about each individual band member, before then back-tracking to deal with the band's time in India and then abruptly dumping out into the inevitable gift shop. I'm glad I went, but it was a confusing ending and it all felt a bit too "theme park" for my tastes.

Because I'd had a very early start, I was ready for a nap after the Beatles Story. This is the beauty of traveling on your own - you can check out of the day's activities at any time with no negotiation and no guilt. (To be fair, this is also true when traveling with Karen. Our recent trip involved many instances of the tactical late-afternoon retreat to the hotel for a little quiet time.) I followed this up with a long walk to a restaurant for the famous local delicacy - scouse, but was thwarted in that quest because the place I went to was all out of scouse by the time I arrived (more on scouse in a later blog, if you're lucky). This meant a long walk back through the centre of town. Luckily, I found a friendly neighbourhood place for a very credible plate of pasta, so the evening had a very pleasant ending (due in no small measure to the large glass of red wine that I had along with my pasta).

Central Liverpool is quite small and very walkable. Many of the streets are closed to vehicle traffic, which meant that on a Saturday night there were lots of people out enjoying the city. I passed several credible buskers, and what seemed like an over-representation of Hen Parties (this was later confirmed by my local contact: Liverpool is apparently home of the Hen Night.) Still, it was fun to be out in the buzz, and one group did do a very enthusiastic, if tuneless, rendition of "Mamma Mia" as I was going by.

Because I was in the area, I took the time to check out Matthews Street, home to the Cavern Club - the famous underground music club where the Beatles performed almost 300 times. (And, I hasten to add where "Gerry and the Pacemakers" was correctly spelled on the back wall of the stage.)

Matthews Street now.  

The original Cavern Club - the one where the Beatles played - was closed in 1973 after a compulsory purchase by British Rail to do with the construction of the underground Merseyside railway. It reopened across the street, but then closed again. And while efforts were made to revive the club at its original location, that proved to be structurally impossible. Instead, they salvaged many of the original bricks and recreated it a few doors down. (5,000 of the bricks were also sold as souvenirs for £5 each, with the proceeds going to Strawberry Field Children's Home, which is no longer a Children's Home, but another Beatles attraction, of course.) 

It was fun to see Matthews Street on a Saturday night, with the hen parties and tourists and other assorted revellers. The street also has other venues and bars with live music playing. In fact, as I wandered towards my back-up dinner venue it seemed like every pub in central Liverpool was featuring live music. I guess the city's reputation as a musical hotbed doesn't begin and end with the Beatles. And I also guess that if you want a quiet drink in a pub you don't want to be in central Liverpool on a Saturday night.

Sunday morning I planned a big treat breakfast at another local spot which was perhaps a bit too hipster for its own good. I decided on the peanut butter and jam french toast, which promised "two pieces of sweet brioche bread griddled in a homemade egg and vanilla batter. Deep filled with peanut butter and jelly. Served with Canadian maple syrup". All those are good things, so anticipation was high (though tempered by the fact that when I ordered the waitress cheerily informed me the peanut butter and jelly french toast was Elvis's last meal. I said "I hope that's not indicative of how the rest of my day will go" but she didn't seem to find that funny, so she is dead to me.) In the end, the french toast was profoundly disappointing, consisting of two comically thick slices of brioche that were very dry and utterly lacking in the soaked cooked egg-custardy joy that is properly prepared french toast. And what purported to be genuine Canadian maple syrup lacked any maple flavour whatsoever. And the bacon was bland. Disappointing, Moose Coffee, that's all I'm saying.  

For the sake of completeness, I decided to visit the other Beatles museum on Sunday, which is a very different experience than Saturday's Beatles Story. The Beatles Story was flashy but superficial and sort of corporate. The Beatles Museum is more in the "small but plucky" category. Formed from the personal collection of Roag Best, it consists of three floors packed with posters, photographs, and artefacts. Roag Best is the brother of Pete Best (the original drummer for the band). His father was Neil Aspinall (the Beatles road manager for years and later head of Apple Corps) (not that one) and his mother was Mona Best (founder of the Casbah Coffee Club, where the Beatles practised and performed in the early days.) Hence, it's a much more personal, and almost ridiculously detailed.

These glass cases contain a seemingly endless amount of ephemera, some things more relevant than others.

For instance, one of George Harrison's guitars is right on point.

Paul's abandoned stamp collection, however, seems... largely peripheral to the overall Beatles story.

Nonetheless, I was pleased I took the time to visit and came away with a much greater depth of knowledge than I did at the Beatles Story.

At this point it was well past time for a pint, so I made my way to the famous Philharmonic Dining Rooms. Known locally as "The Phil" it's one of the most ornate and beautiful pubs in the country and is Grade 1 listed (other Grade 1 buildings include Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London). I was told to make sure to check out the toilets, but sadly the Ladies is of no interest whatsoever. Apparently the Gents is a sight to behold though, with urinals constructed of rose coloured marble. Indeed, photos online do indicate it would be a very fancy spot for a wee.

John Lennon was known to drink at the Phil, but I was drawn to a more recent Beatles connection related to an episode of James Corden's Carpool Karaoke. (For the uninitiated, this is an ongoing series on The Late Late Show in which the host James Corden drives around in a car with a celebrity, singing along to their own songs.) So as I enjoyed my pint and my cheese and onion crisps, I watched this, which I found really lovely.

It's long, but if you have the time settle in and watch it. Obviously this struck a chord with me because I was in a particularly Beatles-y head space at the time, but the ending especially is very fun, and it's gratifying to think that Paul McCartney might be as genuinely nice a guy as you hope he is.

It's hard to escape the Beatles in Liverpool, and there are lots of Beatles things I didn't see. Strawberry Fields is now an interpretive centre about John Lennon's Childhood, Penny Lane is a real street, you can visit the boyhood homes of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and Mona Best's Casbah Coffee Club is open to visitors as well. But there are also non-Beatles things to see and do and I've cleverly saved those up for a whole other blog. So... watch this space for cathedrals, Georgian splendour and, of course, scouse!

GRUB!: Parkin

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Right, where were we? Ah yes, er, June.

A lot has happened since then, though apparently none of it worth blogging. For one thing, I helped successfully deliver both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Then I had a brief three-week stint at home on the boat at the end of August, which was lovely. I met my new next-boat-neighbour Tim, and managed to repaint the roof of the boat (which really, really needed it), and went another round with the boat engine. For the record, despite replacing the starter battery, glow plugs, ignition switch, and glow plug wiring, the engine will still not start. A whole new starter motor has now been acquired and is sitting in the box tucked away until I find the heart to resume the struggle. 

On the plus side, the various repairs required me to buy a hydraulic crimping tool! (Pause for sotto vocce "oooooohhhhhs!" from tool geeks and "huuuuuhhhs??" from everyone else.)

And then, all too soon, it was off to the next job. This was, bizarrely, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The event was the opening show for the 2022 Riyadh Season, which I will describe here with Wikipedian exactitude as "a state-sponsored annual entertainment and sports festival". Life in Riyadh was... fine. No, really. Things have relaxed a lot there in the last few years. Women no longer have to wear the abaya in public - as long as your shoulders and knees are covered, you're good. And there was no requirement for a "male guardian" to accompany me if I went out. Not that I went out. The work was busy enough that there wasn't much opportunity. I didn't run either, because while there was a gym with treadmills in the hotel, the hours were segregated by gender and - unsurprisingly - the women's hours were decidedly inconvenient. (Call me crazy, but a brisk 5k on the treadmill at 9:30pm was not appealing.)

I did get out of the city once, and saw a bit of the "desert" which was much rockier than the Lawrence of Arabia sweeping sand dunes sort of thing you're probably expecting.

Oh yeah, there was also ten-day break in the middle of that whole thing wherein I flew back to the UK to meet Karen for a vacation we'd been planning long before the notion of Saudi Arabia reared its head. 



Guess where we were? (Also, what is that slightly crazed expression on my face??)

Astute Go Stay Work Play Live Readers will recall that Parkin is a traditional gingerbread cake associated with Bonfire Night and usually found in the north of England, especially Yorkshire. It features lots of butter and sugar, mostly in the form of golden syrup and black treacle. And I suppose because it's from The North it's also got a good measure of oatmeal. Butter, sugar, golden syrup, treacle, oatmeal... sounds a lot like flapjacks. Sadly... not. (Oooooohh! Foreshadowing!)

The now-traditional staged photo of ingredients. 

We've talked about Golden Syrup before on the blog (though let's face it, it's been ten years, we've talked about pretty much everything on the blog) but haven't touched on treacle yet, beyond a vague threat to blog about treacle tart. So... treacle is basically the British equivalent to molasses. It's a by-product of refining sugar created when sugar cane or sugar beets are boiled down until the sugar crystallises, at which point the crystals are removed to become sugar and the remaining syrup goes on to become molasses or treacle. In both cases, the darkness of the resulting syrup depends on how long the liquid is boiled. Molasses tends to be boiled longer, resulting in a darker syrup, whereas treacle is usually lighter. Unless, however, you're dealing with black treacle, which is very black indeed.

Black Treacle. It literally does what it says on the tin. And I say that as one who literally knows what "literally" means and how to use it properly.

All this is to say that North American AGSPWL readers who want to try this recipe would probably be just fine substituting molasses for the black treacle and corn syrup for the golden syrup.

I decided to use the recipe from BBC Good Food website, maybe because it's the BBC, and maybe because I use the BBC Good Food Roast Timer whenever I roast a chicken and it has never failed me.

Unlike a traditional sponge cake where you might start by creaming together butter and sugar, this parkin started by melting all the good stuff in a saucepan and then adding the flour, raising agents and liquids. I also decided to spice things up a bit by adding a small amount of freshly grated ginger root, because I figured it's gingerbread, right?

Things were looking and smelling great when the parkin went into the oven, and even better when it came out an hour later. I was worried it might not be cooked through, since the recipe called for a 9" cake pan, and mine was 8". However, the old toothpick in the middle trick confirmed that all was cooked through, so out it came to cool.

I looked at a few different recipes for parkin before settling on the BBC one, and they all had small variations. However, they all agreed on one point: this is a cake that improves with time. Every recipe I read said that you should make parkin up to a week before you want to eat it because it gets softer and stickier the longer it sits. 

I know that not everyone who reads this blog has met me personally (I estimate that only about 85% of you have). But even if you haven't, you may have picked up on a slight tendency I have towards impatience. So it will likely not surprise any Astute Go Stay Work Play Live Reader to learn that the notion of baking an entire cake and then NOT TOUCHING IT FOR A WEEK was simply not a thing that was going to happen on this blog.

So yeah, this happened. 

And how was it? This warm, spicy gingerbread cake that smelled so lovely and came with such a beguilingly seasonal back story?


It was a bit dry. Pleasant enough, but certainly nothing to write a blog about. "Ok", I thought. "I guess they weren't kidding about the waiting thing." So I wrapped up the remaining 15/16ths of the cake tightly and set it aside. And then, in a supreme triumph of willpower wherein I shared the exceedingly tight confines of my 200 square foot boat with almost an entire cake, I DID NOT TOUCH the parkin for DAYS. About three days later I unwrapped it to check for the promised soft-and-stickiness. Not much appeared to have changed, but I had a piece anyway.


And now, as I write this fully a week after baking, the parkin remains the same sorta dry, slightly crumbly, decidedly unsticky thing it was when it emerged from the oven seven days ago. Maybe I overbaked it? Maybe I didn't wrap it tightly enough for the magical stickifying effect to happen? Maybe I picked the wrong recipe. For instance, this one comes with whisky caramel sauce, which I suspect would make a massive difference. Or maybe Big Parkin has just been perpetuating this myth of stickiness for centuries. It's not inedible by any means. It's still cake, after all. Let's just say it's no Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding and leave it at that.

So parkin was a bit of a bust, though it's not like every other GRUB! post has all been an unalloyed success either (Welsh Rarebit, I'm looking at you). So in the interests of completeness, I'm giving you the recipe here. Because it's entirely possible I just didn't do it right and someone else could turn this into the soft and sticky delight I was promised (Karen?).

Go Stay Work Play Live Parkin (taken in its entirety from the BBC Good Food Website)


200g butter 
1 large egg
4 tbsp milk
200g golden syrup (or corn syrup)
85g black treacle
85g brown sugar
100g rolled oats
250g (2 cups) flour
1 tbsp ground ginger
half a thumb grated fresh ginger (this was entirely my addition)

Heat the oven to 160C / 325F / Gas Mark 3 (In retrospect this This seems quite low. Gas mark 3? Maybe I dehydrated this cake instead of baking it?)

Line a 9" square cake tin with baking parchment.

Beat the egg and milk together.

In a saucepan, melt the butter, syrup, treacle and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and mix in the oatmeal, flour and ginger, followed by the egg and milk.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake 50 - 60 minutes, until the cake feels firm and a little crusty on top. Cool in the tin and then wrap in more parchment and foil. Keep for up to five days before eating if you can - it'll become softer and sticker the longer you leave it, up to two weeks.

Suuuuuure it will.

Last Weekend

Sunday, June 12, 2022

It really was the last weekend. Because rehearsals have officially started, so now my life consists of six-day weeks at a windy outdoor rehearsal site, and Mondays off filled with laundry, errands and other boring life admin. This meant that when Tom (he who so callously rejected the Needle Museum) mentioned the idea of slipping down to London for a visit, I was all for seizing that last opportunity for a proper weekend. Which is how I came to book an AirBnb in an unexplored part of London and hop a train for a few days of being a tourist in the city where I (nominally) live.

First up was perhaps the most exciting event on the agenda, at least for those of us who grew up in the 80's. Eight month ago, when the beloved supergroup ABBA announced that they were back and producing a new album and a revolutionary new "live" concert in London, I was pretty excited. Because... ABBA! 

(ABBA haters please leave now. Because, like raisin-hate, that attitude disqualifies you from reading my blog. I can't put it better than my friend Nathan, with whom I had this brief exchange on the topic:

So well put, Nathan.

I'd heard the hype when this new ABBA venture was all first announced, but then it faded into the background until Needle-Hater Tom mentioned that he was going down to London, and might be seeing the show with tickets from a mate who was working on the gig. And I might have had this reaction:

Sorry for shouting, Tom.

Fast forward a month or so and it turned out that Tom's mate was also someone that I'd worked with, and several other previous work colleagues were also involved, and yes, we did get tickets to see the very first time they did the show for an audience. This is definitely one of the perks of a life in show biz. And it really doesn't happen all that often. And I really try not to take advantage of any connections I might have. But dammit... ABBA!

Despite the fact that the press sometimes mention holograms when talking about the show, we knew it wasn't going to be that, but we really didn't know what to expect otherwise. I knew motion-capture was involved. I think I knew that the actual 70-year-old members of ABBA had gone into the studio to record the songs in the show. And we figured, cynically, that we were in for a sort of glorified music video. Keep your expectations low and you won't be disappointed, that's my motto.

(Aside: In researching this post I watched several promotional videos about ABBA Voyage, both the album and the arena show. And I have to share a quote from Bjorn. When he was asked about the decades that have passed since their last album in 1982 and this new one he said, "It's a well known saying, in the music industry, that you shouldn't leave more than 40 years between albums." And I always thought Benny was my favourite...)

Tom and I Ubered to the ABBA Arena in east London and met up with a couple of the colleagues who were working on the show to get the lowdown. Naturally, we also got a couple drinks and took a mandatory selfie to send to Karen, who has to endure a lot of these kind of "look at this cool thing I'm doing" photos, often while she's shovelling herself out of a snow drift in Winnipeg. Sorry about that, Karen. Your time will come.

I can't remember what that drink was but it involved passionfruit and vanilla and several types of alcohol and it was utterly delicious. 

And the show? It was GREAT. It was also LOUD. The cynical side of me says that it is indeed a glorified music video, but it's also much more. You do spend the whole 90 minutes staring at an enormous, insanely high-definition video screen, but there's also a live band off to the side, and there are a lot of lighting and physical effects inside the auditorium that integrate seamlessly with images on the screen. And the digitally-produced de-aged avatars of Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid dancing and playing on what looks like a normal concert stage in front of you work surprisingly well. They've been extremely clever with how the video is designed and the illusion of depth and "realness" is excellent. The moments when they break from that convention and get into music video style are less successful, and the avatars still have a touch of the Polar Express Effect, which is magnified when they're gigantic close-ups, instead of human-sized figures on stage.

Regardless, it was great fun, and the audience clearly loved it and people sang and danced along and I think it's going to be hugely popular and successful. And after the show we got to have drinks with our friends who were all a bit loopy from an impromptu party backstage with Benny himself (!) and universally relieved that the show worked, and people liked it, and they could now take a breath and maybe relax ever so slightly, and maybe stop hearing "Fernando" in their dreams, which was a nice vibe to share in. 

In summation: I give ABBA Voyage two thumbs up, but recommend ear plugs. (As the sound guy said, "When Benny tells you to turn it up, you turn it up.") And get a ticket on the floor, you Dancing Queens!

With one huge tick on our list, we met early the next morning for another of those things Karen gets annoyed about missing while she's busy in a snowbank. This one was also Tom's suggestion: an installation at an empty church in Mile End that an Australian artist turned into an enormous snow globe.

Note the telltale scattering of "snowflakes" on a warm May morning.

Knowing how popular an insta-firendly event like this was likely to be - especially on the last few days of its run - I pushed Tom to arrive well in advance of the 10am opening time. (Not my first rodeo...). He was sceptical but agreed, and we met at the church an hour before opening, where we were already about 30 deep in the queue. It was a sunny morning and we had a lot of ABBA to discuss, so the time passed pleasantly and we felt more and more smug as the queue snaked further down the street the closer it got to the opening time. We London-savvy folk were ushered into the church in the first batch of punters allowed to enter for our allotted fifteen minutes, right at 10am. 

And it was unexpectedly excellent.

Big blowers were mounted to a scaffolding structure on the roof outside and fed the confetti through several holes. The press photos I'd seen in advance did not do justice to the sheer volume of eco-friendly white confetti that blanketed the inside of the church. I suspect those photos were taken at the very beginning of the run, and we arrived at the very end, after the snow had been accumulating for at least nine days, and it was deep!

Deep enough for people (who were not me) to do this. And deep enough that we soon understood the warning we got on entering to hold tight to phones, glasses and wallets, because if they ended up in the snow the odds of getting them back were slim indeed.

Even without the confetti, the church itself would have been quite lovely on its own. It has an appealing rundown quality and though it's sad to see a beautiful building in a state of disrepair, at least it hadn't been torn down and was being used for something great.

And at least they haven't removed this.

Fifteen minutes may not seem like much, but it was enough. We had time to take lots of photos, and to watch other people interacting, and to get annoyed by the amount of time and attention given by other people to taking selfies. And yeah, we took a few fun pictures ourselves. 

Tom's Insta-friendly snow globe moment

Arty bit.

A quiet corner

Once we'd had our fifteen minutes of snow, we wandered back towards the tube station trailing eco-friendly confetti along the street with us, as many had clearly done before. I'm sure the local residents were getting a bit tired of the installation and will be grateful when the rain finally dissolves the last flakes. Though as anyone who's ever done a snow effect on stage before knows, they will surely still be finding flakes of the stuff in that church decades from now.

Since it was a decidedly East End-ish weekend, our next location was Spitalfields for a lovely late breakfast before the next site of the day. I'd given Tom a few suggestions of slightly quirky London things to do,  He picked Dennis Severs' House. It's a spot I've blogged about before, so I won't go into it here, but it was nice to revisit the place years later, especially while sharing it with someone new. (The other suggestions are ones you've already heard about here and here. Also, I admit to feeling a bit smug at being able to offer a menu of activities that might appeal. It's almost like I've been here a while.)

After Dennis Severs we wandered around Spitalfields for a while, enjoying how successfully we were spending our time that weekend. So for an encore, Tom checked out which West End shows might have matinees the next day, since an afternoon performance would still leave time to get back up to Birmingham by early evening and be rested and ready for work the next day. And yeah, "Life of Pi" had tickets. So Tom bought a pair on his phone as we were sitting in a pop-up food court outside Brick Lane Vintage Market, while I ate vegan cashew "ice cream". And lo, our self-satisfaction knew no bounds.

Tom had other plans for Saturday evening, so I took a long walk back to my AirBnb in Wapping. And rather than spending the whole journey with my nose stuck in Google Maps, which is my default state when navigating London (or anywhere, really) I decided to put my phone away and find my way home by instinct. And it worked! It may not have been the most direct route, but I found some streets I've never seen before in the City, and I walked a lot of the Thames path, and I got back to the AirBnb in time to pick up a few supplies for a picnic dinner at home and also rest my tired feet and enjoy a pint in one of several very nice neighbourhood pubs nearby. And then I binged three episodes of "Bridgerton" and went to bed early. Perfection.

Sunday went precisely as planned, and the show was very good, and the train journey back to Birmingham was fine. But you don't need to hear about that. What you need to hear is that yes, I know that was kind of a magic weekend. And I know I'm very very lucky to have been able to design my life in the last decade in a way that means I'm able to spend a few days seeing ABBA, and frolicking in a life-sized snow globe, and hitting a West End show on a whim. Very lucky indeed. But I also don't own a home, and my retirement savings are not what they could have been if I'd been sensible and stayed employed in Canada like a normal person. And I don't exactly have a solid plan for my fast-approaching golden years. Or even know what continent I'll spend them on. So I'm kind of hoping that Karen's garden shed might be available, because she is totally my backup plan. 

And she and are definitely going to the ABBA show together. With prosecco.

Because we are Dancing Queeeeeeeeens!

Forge Mill Needle Museum

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Welcome to the triumphant return of OG Go Stay Work Play Live! And by that I mean you’re about to read a normal post about a bloggy location here in the UK. There are now more than a decade of such posts, so Astute Go Stay Work Play Live Readers are very familiar with this classic formula: 

1. Take the train a modest distance on a sunny weekend morning, while doing the crossword.

2. Visit a diverting museum, gallery, castle, ancient ruin, park, village, trail, hill, barrow, stately home, bunker, etc. (Bonus for anything with Victorian machinery and exposed gears, most especially if powered by a steam engine that is actually running).

3. Take a lot of pictures and make notes while formulating bon mots in head for the blog.

4. Have coffee and cake in the tea room, preferably operated by smiling volunteers who are very friendly, if slightly harried, and maybe not entirely sure how the contactless payment thingy works. (Bonus if they have home-made flapjacks)

5. Poke around the gift shop. (Purchase optional.)

6. Go home and blog.

GSWPL is now coming to you from a temporary posting in Birmingham, working on the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games (starting on July 28 for those who want to mark their calendars). In the Venn Diagram of my current schedule the overlapping area that includes both the Living-in-Birmingham circle and the Not-Too-Busy-To-Do-Bloggy-Things circle is exceedingly small. There are just three two-day weekends before we start rehearsals and the six-day work week starts. So on my first weekend in Brum I decided to check out a museum that Piran rated very very highly, despite its outwardly dry sounding name: the Forge Mill Needle Museum.

Located in Redditch, about half an hour from the central station in Birmingham, the Forge Mill Needle Museum is dedicated to the history and practice of needle manufacturing, commemorating a time when Redditch made 90% of the world’s needles. (Just in case you were thinking that it might not be what it sounds like. Oh no. It is EXACTLY what it sounds like.)

The restored(ish) Forge Mill. 

I did try to get someone to come with me for this adventure. But Piran is now based in the far south and I'm now in the middle north, so I turned to my friend Tom, who's an Aussie interloper also working on the Commonwealth Ceremonies. (We colonials need to stick together.) Sadly, Tom did not immediately leap at the opportunity to join me, even when he found out that it wasn't just ANY weekend at Forge Mill

Tom made little effort to disguise his lack of enthusiasm for the fascinating world of Victorian needle making. Clearly, he's not ready for this sort of varsity-level blogginess. Perhaps I needed to ease him in a bit.

So I set off on the train alone, which left more time for the crossword puzzle anyway (see above). It was a pleasant walk from the station to Forge Mill, and the evidence of 1940s weekend was apparent, with some jolly bunting up and a few folks wandering about in period dress. (Aside: I've done a lot of ceremonies now, and disappointingly small number of them have made use of a festive string on bunting here or there, which I think is a damned shame. It really cheers a place up.)

I mean come on! Who doesn't like a bit of bunting?

One of the things that excited me most was that the Forge Mill website promised "Much of the original Victorian water powered machinery remains and is working on Tuesday afternoons and weekends (March to October)" (Once again see above, including much-beloved working machinery!). Sadly, the waterwheel at Forge Mill is currently utterly immobile and covered by a tarp (despite the fact that it was a weekend between March and October) so I couldn't even get a nice photo. Major disappointment, and one which I may take up with the management at a later date, though in the moment I soldiered on. 

The museum is set up to take you through the whole process of needle making, which you are now going to hear about in excruciating detail. Because that's how we roll here at GSWPL. The signage in the museum claimed that there were 30 different processes involved, though I struggled to define precisely all 30. Nonetheless it was certainly painstaking, starting with a heavy coil of thick steel wire, which requires the first step: drawing. The heavy wire is drawn through a series of increasing smaller dies to bring its diameter down to that of whatever size needle is being made. Originally this was done by hand by winding the wire on a large drum turned by a handle to give some mechanical advantage. 

Step 2 is to cut the wire to the length of two needles, because when making needles you do them two at a time for the first bits, so you can stamp and cut the eyes for two needles from one die, saving time. Step 3 - rubbing - straightens out the lengths of wire, which retain a bit of curve from having been drawn and coiled. 

Rubbing is done by packing hundreds wires into the centre of rubbing ring - two flat iron donuts (not one of Tim Horton's more popular varieties) connected together at the bottom but left open at the top. Once packed with wires, the whole double donut is placed upright so it can roll left and right. Along the open top, the Rubber sets a long flat piece of curved metal called a rubbing iron between the flat donuts and on top of the wires so he can press down hard on the hot iron, rolling the ring and wires back and forth under the weight of the rubbing iron, thus straightening the wires. (And yes, that would have been easier to explain if I'd taken a photo, but the whole rubbing ring display was under a very glare-y bit of plexiglass and - shockingly - Google images returns nothing appropriate for the search term "Victorian needle making rubbing ring" so you'll just have to use your imagination, aided by my brilliant description.)

Next up, Step 4: Pointing, as demonstrated by this mannequin wearing a jaunty paper hat and some pretty inadequate PPE in the form of a kerchief tied over his face.

Pointing was a notably dangerous job (even by Victorian standards) therefore highly paid. Pointers sat at a spinning stone grinding wheel holding five or six wire blanks flat between their palms, rolling them back and forth while pressing them against the grinding wheel to create the sharpened needle point. This process naturally created a toxic cloud of stone dust and metal filings which the pointer breathed in constantly, causing a condition known as Pointer's Lung (a form of silicosis). Not only that, but the grinding wheel itself was known to break apart completely on occasion, which would have been at first surprising and then almost always lethal. Pointers rarely lived past 30. The display in the museum noted that hand-pointing is still used (with modern dust-extraction methods) for specialist surgical needles. Though judging by the sideburns on the gentleman in the accompanying photo I question whether that's still the case in the 21st century.

After pointing, the blanks needles must be skimmed (Step 5) to remove the scale created by heating and rubbing, leaving the middle of each wire clean for the next steps: stamping and eyeing (Steps 6 and 7). Stamping is accomplished with a kickstamper - a large press with a stationary bottom die and an upper die that drops on top of the blanks to create an impression where eyes of the needles will be. The Stamper raises and lowers the heavy upper die with a rope-and-pulley system operated by his right foot, and the best could process three blanks per second.

Skimming machine, with kickstamper and fly press in the background. Steps 5-6-7.

The stamped blanks are then passed on for eyeing. Usually done by women, eyes in each two-needle blank are punched with a fly press, which Astute Go Stay Work Play Live Readers will remember from our visit to the Coffin Works, also in Birmingham.  

The next comes spitting, heading and cheeking (Step 8-9-10 for those keeping track), also usually done by women, often working at home. This sort of piecework was common and meant that women could remain at home and care for children (who might also be put to work) while also earning a wage. Stamping and eyeing leave sharp edges and flashing around the inside and outside of the eye which cut any thread thus rendering the needle largely non-functional. Spitting involved threading the two needle units onto metal spits which were placed in clamps to allow the flashing to be ground off by hand.

Needles - still stuck together, threaded onto spits.

After grinding the outside, the needles are (finally) broken apart and the area at the break filed clean. Then batches of needles could be threaded onto wires and spun around, cleaning out the inside of each eye. 

At this point, the needles go back to the mill. Because they're made of mild steel wire, they must to be laid out on heavy iron trays and put into a furnace to harden them and prevent them from bending (Step 11). Once the needles in each tray reach a temperature high enough to turn cherry red, the tray is carefully removed with heavy tongs and its contents quickly dumped into a barrel of oil to cool. (The best oil for hardening came from sperm whales. Obviously. Nowadays, nitrogen gas is used.) At first water was used for cooling, but this had a tendency to curve the needles, thus negating the hard work of the Rubber back in Step 3. 

Trays of needles ready for the furnace.

After the furnace the needles are hard but also incredibly brittle and fragile. This requires another trip into a cooler furnace for tempering (Step 12), and another oil bath. 

And at this point, gentle GSWPL Reader, I sense you may almost be fed up with the minutiae of Victorian needlemaking, but the fun is not over yet. Oh no! There are five more steps before we end up with a lovely packet of sharp and shiny needles. It's time to move into the next building where the water-powered machinery runs the scouring mill (or doesn't run, even if the website says it does. Boo.) Scouring is how the needles acquire their fine, shiny surface, and involves packing 50,000 needles and soft soap into a tightly bound sausage wrapped in burlap and called a sett.

A tray for packing setts with a completed sett in the background of what we're going to call an art-shot, as opposed to an over-exposed failure.

Creating these setts is Step 13, after which two packed setts are placed under a runner of the water-powered scouring mill where they are pressed and rolled back and forth (Step 14). This process could take a day for lower quality needles, or up to a week for the brightest and best quality needles. 

The scouring mill in action. Obviously this is not my photo, but that of the lucky Chris Allen who took it eleven years ago and posted it to Geograph (A seemingly-defunct bit of the internet that promises to be very useful for future blogs.)

Chris also posted this excellent description, which I see no need to edit: "The waterwheel drives a crankshaft via gearing and this drives scouring runners on two floors. The runner closest is moving while the two on the right are disconnected with their drive rods roped up. The white vertical wooden beams oscillate back and forth and pass up to the floor above to drive a further 8 sets of runners - the white beams have the onomatopoeic name of whee-whaws." Whee-whaws! Fantastic! (Chris also noted that this machinery was in commercial use until 1956!)

Following days of scouring, the setts are re-packed with a mixture of olive oil and tin oxide and put back in the scouring mill for 2-3 hours to glaze the needles for a final time. After glazing (Step 15), the needles are removed from the setts and washed (Step 16), then placed in rotating barrels of hot sawdust to dry. 

Barreling is Step 17. These barrels of sawdust were rotated with power from the waterwheel and could dry a load of needles in about 20 minutes.

In order to separate the dry needles from the sawdust, the mix is placed in a fanning out tray, which, when skilfully tossed in the air, separated the heavy needles from the lighter sawdust. (Step 18... it's the home stretch now!)

The fanning out process is similar to panning for gold or winnowing chaff from wheat. 

Finally, finally, finally, the finished needles are individually poked through a small sheet of carefully folded, black, acid-free paper and set into little books to be sent out to distributors. 

A collection of decorative needlebooks in an upstairs display at Forge Mill. Apparently these novelty books of needles were sometimes given as small change instead of coins when making a larger purchase. Which, given how elaborate the whole process of making them was, seems a bit sad.

I think that's 19 steps overall, though each of those steps could probably be broken down further. Regardless, I think we can agree that the whole business was incredibly painstaking and also pretty clever. I think it's great that there was a time when we where smart enough to make big heavy machines to manufacture things, but still needed dozens of highly skilled people to operate those machines. Yeah, those people worked in pretty awful conditions, and some got horrible diseases, and they were paid meagrely, and worked long hours. But at least they had work. 

Though really, those hours are shorter than some of the days in my upcoming schedule. 
Just sayin'.

Once I'd made sure I thoroughly understood the whole scope of needlemaking so that I could spend 2,000 words explaining it to you in unnecessary detail, I spent a bit of time poking in the upstairs displays. The mill wasn't confined to the manufacture of simple hand-sewing needles, they also made pins, knitting needles, surgical needles, fish hooks, hat pins, sewing machine needles, gramophone needles, bookbinding needles and gigantic mattress needles, used for stitching the two sides of a mattress together. There was even an example of what was claimed to be the longest needle in the world, at 6'1". These were made for attaching buttons longways through the sides of mattresses, and are definitely not something you want to encounter in a dark alleyway.

When I finally emerged into sunlight, I enjoyed a mandatory coffee and cake (carrot, though naturally Victoria Sponge was also available) and had another crack at the crossword puzzle. I also wandered around the 1940 Weekend displays of the Worcs 9th Batt. C Company Home Guard re-enactment group which was charming but fairly standard WWII fare. Lots of stuff about ration books, gas masks, and machine gun emplacements, with Glenn Miller on endless repeat in the background. 

Still, it was a warm, sunny day and there are worse ways to spend a day like that than watching an octogenarian try to explain the model Enigma Machine he'd made in his basement to an utterly baffled pair of under-ten-year-old boys.

I also bought a few needles in the gift shop, including some useful looking curved ones, and a pair of wicked mattress needles about a foot long. Because how great is it going to be when some weirdo task crops up that requires a foot-long needle, and I've got not one but two standing by? Very great. Then it was back to the train station for a quick trip home, aglow with the satisfaction of having ticked all the appropriate bloggy boxes for the first time in far too long.

Don't get me started

Sunday, February 27, 2022

I'm back in the desert. Did I tell you that? Probably not, since I haven't really said anything for ages. You knew I was in Dubai for the Expo Opening Ceremony because that's when I discovered the canoeing. And you knew I got back to the UK because that's when I had the Cheesey Fries Of The Gods. Well now it's Dubai again for (obviously) the Closing Ceremony. It's a shorter stint this time, and that's a good thing because everything just seems more annoying now. This is the case a lot of the time these days. Is it my advancing age? COVID Fatigue? Just my default state? Whatever it is, sometime during lockdown I started an actual list of annoying things.

Others of you may also have a list, but I suspect yours is a casual thing you keep in your head in a sort of "man, I hate it when..." kind of way. Mine is categorised in Evernote, because that's how I roll. I add to it whenever something excites my peevishness, which is often. And sometimes I share it. I recently shared it on a day when I had to be at a four-hour meeting that started at 7:00am on a Saturday (because it was coordinated with a gang of people in Los Angeles, where it was 7:00pm). The meeting was long and difficult and sometimes frustrating. So following that a few of us went for lunch on the Expo site.

(Aside: this is one of the good things about being back. Last time, the wider Expo site was still under construction so the hospitality options were thin on the ground. Now there is an embarrassment of riches just steps from my door. This means I sometimes share texts with friends like, "I'll meet you in Belgium." Or "We're at that place upstairs from Estonia." Or "Let's go to Denmark because the beer is cheaper." Which, incidentally, is definitely not true in actual Denmark. Nor is it really true at Expo Denmark. It's just that in comparison with everywhere else on site, the beer in Denmark is somewhat cheaper. For instance, I went for drinks recently at an outdoor beer garden on site where a pint of Heineken was £9.62. It was lovely: great company, good food, nice evening. But for that price, those pints of Heineken should come with my own private Dutch person to feed me hand-peeled mini Babybels.)

Anyway, it was a long meeting, so we went for lunch across from the UK and next to Solomon Islands. And then one beer with lunch turned into another round, as it does. And another round turned into a few more after that and then it was 9pm. And somewhere in there I shared my list with the table, which was the cause of some amusement (and some debate). So I thought perhaps I should share some with you, because I haven't blogged in a while and even though I literally live at a world-class tourist attraction, it hasn't occurred to me to blog about that, but it has seemed quite natural to rant at you about my pet peeves, which is an insight into my current state of mind. And oh yes, this is going to be rant-y.

Here we go.

Single Lever Faucets:
I know they are supposedly better for people with difficulty gripping, or with arthritis, or... I don't know. I don't care. I hate them. Partly because I sometimes find it difficult to tell which way to manipulate them to get either hot or cold water. Normal taps are fine - hot on the left, cold on the right.

Single Lever
But look at this. What the hell? So to get hot water I move that handle thing... back? Left? Out? All of the above at the same time? No. Just no.

Yes, some single levers are more intuitive than the one in the picture. The ones with the lever on top will pretty reliably give you hot if you move them left and cold to the right. But even those are still on the list. Why? Adjustment. Separate twisting taps give you much better fine adjustment of both temperature and volume. Threaded things are perfectly designed to translate long turning movement into small movements of the tiny valve inside them. Single level faucets... not so much. How hard is it to get a small volume of water at a specific temperature with a single lever? Hard. Like one of those McDonalds Happy Meal toys where you have to get three baby ball bearings into three different holes at the same time. You end up doing tiny semi-calibrated taps on the lever to try and get in juuuuust the right spot. And you fail. You know you do.

Single Lever Faucets, you are On The List.

Still on plumbing:

Automatic Faucets:
The ones that make you do intricate Tai Chi moves with your hands to try and figure out how to trigger the sensor. Then force you to hold your hands in an unnatural position to keep the thing triggered. Then turn off anyway. Those ones. They're on The List.

Faucets that are too short:
The ones that don't extend far enough into the sink so you have to bash your knuckles up against the back of the sink to get your hands under the water and then end up splashing most of it out of the sink. List. Them. On it.

Still in the bathroom:

Centre Pull Paper Towels:

Centre Pull
Thank you Google, for teaching me the name of this annoying variation on normal rolls of paper towel.

Obviously paper towel is supposed to come off the outside of the roll so that you end up with a wide flat sheet of material with maximum surface area, which then wraps conveniently over your wet hands and dries them efficiently.

Centre pull paper towels, by design, turn into a long, twisted ropey thing with much less useful surface area, so you use more paper and obtain poorer results. It's not better just because it's different people. Centre Pull Paper Towels, welcome to The List.

Open Concept Bathrooms:
This one requires no justification. Because any normal person knows at the very core of their being that this is wrong wrong wrong. I don't care how much you love the people you live with. I don't care if the door to your fancy modern open concept master suite is always closed to the rest of the world. I don't care if you often leave the bathroom door open anyway. Leaving the bathroom door open and not even having walls (let alone a door) are clearly very different things, which normal non-sociapathic people understand.

A flagrant example from my hotel room in Xi'an China. I ranted about it then and I maintain that stance today. And this one actually had walls, albeit glass ones. Still not good enough.

And before we leave the bathroom:

Wet Rooms:
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD whose idea was it to let water spray around all over a room that also contains things that really should not get wet like toilet roll and towels? And don't tell me it saves space. I live on a freaking BOAT. My shower can basically only be found with the aid of a scanning electron microscope and I still managed to fit in a shower curtain.

How did wet rooms become a trend? Is it also now trendy to walk around in wet socks because the floor of your bathroom is ALWAYS covered in water?

Wet Rooms you are soooooo on The List.

Speaking of socks:
Ok, I'm 53 now and I'm warming to the idea that sometimes you might wear socks with sandals. And I say this because I have a pair of sort of hybrid Birkenstock Croc kind of things are like walking on actual pillows and I wear them on the boat all the time - usually with socks - because it's cozy. (Also I never wear them out in public.) (Pause for cries of outrage. Yeah yeah, whatever. Go start your own blog and make your own list.) But my Crockenstocks are slides, where your whole foot is under a big strap that goes all the way across the top. Not the flip-flop kind with the bit that goes between your toes to hold the straps to the sole. Those ones are the problem, because some people wear socks with those by shoving the damned flip-flops onto their feet OVER their socks so the poor socks get stretched and shoved between your toes and you look like an idiot. Sorry, yes you do. (Also: not really sorry.)

Spotty Socks
Socks with flip flops. You + List = True

tabi socks
(Exception: Japanese tabi socks with the segregated compartment for the big toe which are specifically design to work with sandals. Note: this exception only applies when wearing traditional Japanese garb. While in Japan.)

Branching out into the kitchen:

Pedal Bins:
First, the leverage is all wrong, so the lid pops opening really abruptly and usually smacks against the wall. "So move it away from the wall", I hear you say? Ha! Then it will just slide around when you're trying to get foot on the pedal until it finds a wall it can smack into. On. The. List.

Drawers behind Cupboard Doors:

incarcerated drawers

Drawer, yes. I fully support drawers. Easy access. Fewer things get shoved into darkened corners never again to see the light of day. Yay drawers! 

Someone please tell me why we're now hiding the drawers behind doors. What is so offensive about drawer fronts that they need to be hidden? Did drawer fronts insult your grandmother? Are drawer fronts doing 5-10 years of hard time behind closed doors because the ladle that normally just barely fits shifted position again and now you can't get the drawer open? Get over it! Free the drawers! 

(#freethedrawers #drawerlove #drawersbehindcupboarddoorsareonthelist Donate now.)


Well I feel better getting that off my chest. And that's just the kitchen-and-bathroom part of the list. Wait until I get into the Vocabulary section! You'll be begging for the old two-month break between posts.