Sunday, 28 September 2008

Pssst - fancy some chutney? PLUS keeping kidz kwiet in kars part 2

We were watching the weather forecast on ITV the other night and I was impressed that the young lady presenting it managed to use the word 'lovely' to describe what we were in for over these last few days no fewer than ten times.

I observed at the time that 'lovely' is a subjective term used to express a matter of opinion rather than an objective description of climatology, but even an obstinately grumpy soul like me would be hard pressed to deny that it's been another fantastic weekend weather-wise.

I dragged the family around a boot sale this morning, which to my delight yielded a huge bag of cooking apples which means that I'll be busy making apple and red pepper chutney for the next few days.

I've been vegetarian for more than quarter of a century, vegan for quite a lot of that time as well, gave up smoking before the kids were born, and stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago, so have almost run out of vices - but I do get twitchy when we have nothing in the kitchen capable of giving a very strong stilton a run for its money in a big fat crusty sandwich.

Last year there seemed to be few cooking apples to be had - we couldn't even get them from the market (they bruise easily apparently and the traders end up having to throw loads of them away). We recently ran out of what I made the year before last and have been reduced to buying shop-bought chutney, which just doesn't seem a satisfactory way of doing things at all.

This week I thought I'd share my favourite chutney recipe for any of you who happen to have a garden full of windfalls (or know someone else who has) and a couple of hours to do something with them.

I'm also offering for your listening pleasure the second of the kids' compilations referred to in my first post a few weeks back, which would make ideal listening while you're wumping up some of that good wholesome chutney in the kitchen!

Regarding the recipe, I've not found the quantities and measurements to be particularly critical, and it's quite forgiving of any liberties you take with it - rather more so than the Christmas cake I made one year when I realised after it had been cooking for an hour that I'd missed the sugar out and then took it out of the oven to attempt to stir it in, hoping that no-one would notice.

When we came to try to eat it we were unable to cut the thing, and I struggled to do much more than prise lumps out of it using large screwdrivers. Even the birds were unable to make much impression on it when we hung it outside for them to graze on over the winter.

One of my first attempts at baking involved making a coffee cake, and because I had no coffee extract as called for by the recipe I substituted half of a small jar of coffee granules - with startling results, but few takers for a second slice.

Anyway, this is a recipe that even I struggle to mess up. I'm posting it more or less as it's written down in the book. Adaptations and observations I've made to improve it along the way are in brackets. I normally make double quantities, but you need a huge great pan for that.

Red Pepper and Apple Chutney

2kg (4lb) apples
500g (1lb) red peppers
750g (1.5lb) onions
1.5 cups raisins [I find that just about any dried fruit does the trick]
2/3rds cup sultanas [ditto]
2/3rds cup currants [ditto]
2.5 cups brown sugar [I've used white, it turns out a bit pale but works as well]
1 tablespoon black treacle [or molasses, or Golden Syrup, or just about anything thick, gooey and edible]

2.5 cups (625ml) vinegar [NOTE - This is where I fall out with this recipe. I use spiced pickling vinegar and find that HALF this amount is ample, otherwise the result is just incredibly runny! Using spiced pickling vinegar also means you don't have to add the spices, which makes it even easier. Best way I've found is to start with half of the given amount and stir a bit more in when it starts looking a bit dry.]
1 tablespoon coarse salt [I use table salt, and cheap stuff at that]
[If you're not using spiced vinegar, you'll also need]
pinch cayenne
cinnamon stick
mustard seeds

[I usually put in up to one chilli pepper depending on what's to hand and how brave I'm feeling when I make it - it gives it a real kick, but it depends of course on how much of a kick you'd like it to have].

1. Peel and core the apples and chop finely.
2. Seed and chop the peppers with the onions, raisins and sultanas.
3. Put [about half - see my note above] the vinegar in the saucepan and throw in the rest of the ingredients.
4. Simmer for one hour, stirring frequently. [IMPORTANT - you really don't want it to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn, I did it once and even though it was edible we could have done without the lumps of charcoal floating around in it!]
5. Pour into sterilised jars and put a few of the remaining spices [if you've used them, see note about spiced vinegar above].
6. Put lids on jars.
7. Allow to cool.
8. Eat.

As long as the jars and lids are sterilised and airtight it'll keep a long, long time - we have eaten it after a couple of years and it tasted even better than the day it was bottled.

And now, here is the second of my compilations to keep kids quiet on car journeys. The first one, if you missed it and would like to check it out, is here.

Tracks are:

01 Frank Sidebottom - We Will Rock You
02 Bonzo Dog Band - Hunting Tigers Out In Indiah
03 Melanie - Brand New Key
04 Betty Hutton & Howard Keel - Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better
05 Allan Sherman - Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah
06 Johnny and the Hurricanes - Rocking Goose
07 The Muppets - Mahna Mahna
08 Pat Boone - Speedy Gonzales
09 Henry Hall - Teddy Bears' Picnic
10 The Avons - Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat
11 Peter, Paul and Mary - Puff The Magic Dragon
12 Mel Blanc - I Taut I Taw A Puddy-Tat
13 Rolf Harris - In the Court of King Caractacus
14 The Pipkins - Gimme Dat Ding
15 Doris Day - How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?
16 The Wombles - Remember You're a Womble
17 The Goons - I'm Walking Backwards for Christmas
18 Pinky and Perky - Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf
19 The Scaffold - Lily The Pink
20 Tony Christie - Is This The Way To Amarillo
21 The Wurzels - I've Got a Brand New Combine Harvester

Download it here

Happy pickling, enjoy the sounds, have a nice week, and thanks for dropping by. If you'd care to leave a comment to let me know that you've been it would be lovely to hear from you.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Badgers, badgers everywhere, and a water-butt full of rainwater to drink...

It's been a gloriously sunny weekend here in the bit of England where the Home Counties meet the Midlands and the Midlands meet East Anglia and no-one seems quite sure what to call it.

At the risk of sounding a bit early morning on Radio 4, there usually seems to be one last burst of summer to encourage folk out into the great outdoors as if to make us notice that the blackberries which were large and juicy last time it stopped raining long enough to stop and notice are now shrivelled and crunchy, and the leaves are beginning to lose their green.

Judging by the big grins on the faces of almost everyone I've met this weekend, we've all been relieved to feel the sun on what little we're prepared to expose of our limbs at this time of year - not least because it's been such a horrible summer.

I would be amazed if records demonstrated that we've had more than about a dozen days without rain since the start of June, and much of it torrential.

We went camping in Cornwall for the first week of August, and it rained and rained and rained and rained. I ran into a friend yesterday who had been there for the best part of three weeks during the school summer holidays, and by the sound of it we got off fairly lightly.

Cornwall is beautiful at any time of year, but it can be hard in a tent with three kids for nine nights when not one of those evenings was dry enough to sit outside.

Our local paper carries the headline "Park's play area becomes a bog", and spends the whole front page grumbling that the playground gets muddy when it rains. I suppose that it saves them from going out and doing hard investigative work, such as checking on the toilet habits of bears in the woods or the religious inclinations of the Papacy.

Particularly in the light of the state of our campsite on the day we left, or indeed many Glastonbury Festivals I've had the good fortune to attend, the small puddle they worked hard to locate and photograph failed to convince me that civilisation is about to end, even if the weather since April last year has often felt as though the sky was indeed falling.

Largest and smallest have been having fun racing around the garden and our local park, which is not at all flooded - or even muddy - today, and middle-sized one has gone out for the day.

She recently joined the local St John's Ambulance's Badgers Troop, which for the unitiated (as we were until recently) is like Brownies, only with bandages instead of baking. She wanted to go to Brownies, but agreed to try Badgers as she seems to be moving no nearer the top of the waiting list of the one which her friends go to.

She absolutely loves it.

It's their 21st birthday this weekend, and Badgers from all over have gone to Legoland to celebrate.

Coincidentally, at work we have a (toy) badger and whichever of us has been particularly good that week - generally for suggesting a fairly trivial idea which rarely gets acted on or for mending something which had been mildly irritating for a while - is awarded the title 'Badger of the Week' and gets to take Badger home for the weekend and out on jaunts.

Because we sort badger out amicably between ourselves with no input from management, it's fun rather than some ghastly team-building/incenti-incentiviz-incentivis-corporate bribe, which is a good thing.

He/she/it was awarded to me this week, although no one seemed to know why, and thus it was that Badger became the Troop mascot for the day and has hopefully had a lovely time.

I've never been to Legoland. Like Alton Towers it just doesn't quite appeal enough to go all that way for. I'm sure that I'll be put right about that when I collect her this evening, and hope that I can keep her awake for long enough to run tonight's compilation past her for approval.

And on that note, to celebrate the anniversary of the Badgers, the lovely weather, and indeed the equinox today - but not the breakdown of the Large Hadron Collider(!) - I've put together 21 songs about sunshine, which I hope you will enjoy.

Tracks are:

01 Incredible String Band - Sleepers Awaken!
02 Rolf Harris - Sun Arise
03 The Beatles - Here Comes The Sun
04 Daniel Boone - Beautiful Sunday
05 Status Quo - Ice in the Sun
06 Even As We Speak - Beautiful Day
07 Johnny Nash - I Can See Clearly Now
08 Donovan - The Sun is a Very Magic Fellow
09 Jimmie Davis - You Are My Sunshine
10 Katrina and the Waves - Walking On Sunshine
11 The Ramones - California Sun
12 Joseph Arthur - In The Sun
13 Bill Withers - Lovely Day
14 The Proclaimers - Sunshine on Leith
15 The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon
16 Spooky Tooth - Sunshine Help Me
17 Terry Jacks - Seasons in the Sun
18 The Supremes - Automatically Sunshine
19 Gordon Lightfoot - Sundown
20 Tiger - Shining in the Woods
21 The Carter Family - Keep on the Sunny Side

The Sun Machine is Comin' Down and We're Gonna Have a Party!

Thank you for visiting, please feel free to leave a comment as you pass by.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Why does the sun shine?

It looks like summer has arrived in the midlands at last, with the promise of sunshine for the weekend as well! Truly Mother Nature is spoiling us this year.

At the start of the week I was full of confidence that I would find hundreds of songs for adults which kids would like, or songs for kids which parents can smile at as well, on a science theme - but to my surprise they appear to be alarmingly thin on the ground.

I found a few though, which I hope you'll enjoy.

I know Bill Haley and the Comets is a bit tenuous, but (a) I'm going to pretend that it has geological connotations, and (b) it always cheers me up to hear it. My mum owned a copy of it and we kids played it until you could see daylight between the grooves.

Anyhow, it's shorter than I'd hoped, but I think it's a fun listen and I hope you enjoy it as well!

It passed the Tiddler Test I perform with the two smaller children (forcing them to listen to everything before I post it) and the one who has learned to speak said that they should all be kept in. The smallest clapped after every song and jigged around to the bouncier ones. So here goes...

Tracks are:

1. Dem Bones - The Delta Rhythm Boys
2. The Great Atomic Power - The Louvin Brothers
3. Rock Around The Clock - Bill Haley and the Comets
4. The Elements - Tom Lehrer
5. Telstar - The Tornados
6. Fire - The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
7. Alexander Graham Bell - The Sweet
8. NaCl - Kate and Anna McGarrigle
9. Bunsen Burner - John Otway
10. Why Does the Sun Shine? - They Might Be Giants

The last track is a cover of one of the songs on the science box set I posted last weekend - and middle-sized-one's favourite of the set.

Let the Sun Shine!

For those of a less nervous disposition, here's William Shatner performing Elton John's 'Rocket Man'.

I'll be back on Sunday evening, thanks for visiting my blog!

Monday, 15 September 2008

So long... Richard Wright

Have just heard the news that Rick Wright of Pink Floyd has died.

My father, who never liked music much but preferred to listen to a box set of the Flying Scotsman's historic journey from London to Glasgow - which at least meant that he was untroubled by other members of the family for several hours on a sunday morning - amazed us all by declaring that he had hugely enjoyed 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' when played it by an Italian student staying with us to whom he had taken a particular shine, declaring that Pink Floyd were to be admired because they he had been assured by said student that they could play their instruments live.

As this was at the height of punk, and I was a fifteen-year-old boy railing against whatever society deemed precious, and prog-rock in particular, it took me a while to appreciate just what a great, great band they were - and have remained.

I heard the news while downloading a BBC recording from the early 1970s posted at MP3@3PM. Rick Wright's songs are also represented on the original singles, which can be found all over the place, including here, which also happens to have loads of other great stuff as well.

I was lucky enough to get tickets in the draw for Live 8. Pink Floyd were the only reason I wanted to go, and because it ran so late I only saw "Breathe" and "Money". Just to be there as the heartbeat introduction to the first song started up made standing through Sting, UB4o and Maria Carey worthwhile.

Thanks Rick, from an old punk rocker who eventually saw the light.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Large Hadron Collider - All Aboard the Hamster Run of the Gods

Our largest kept the middle-sized one awake for hours on tuesday night by whispering "Hey, the world is going to end tomorrow!" often enough to disturb her pleasant thoughts of fairies and Disney Princesses and set her worrying about if she would miss Christmas this year or ever see her friends again.

In the days prior to this, most TV and radio stations had summoned a tame scientist, preferably one who didn't look too scary, to explain that there was a more than 99.99% probability that the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider at Cern would not create a black hole capable of swallowing up the Earth.

The more mathematically astute among the ten-year-olds boys at their school thereby calculated that there was anything between a one in five possibility and an absolute one-hundred per cent certainty that they would get to see the coolest fireworks display in the entire universe if not every galaxy in the solar system before lunchtime.

I listened to the grand switching on in the car on the way to work, but have resisted looking for a picture of it - I would prefer to imagine it as some outlandish Heath Robinson contraption crossed with Mad Max 2. On the radio, the control room was described as looking like any normal office, which was hugely disappointing. I am sure that if you were listening you would have been as cheered as I was when Professor Lyn Evans muttered about it failing to work on its first attempt because someone had forgotten to pull a stopper out.

If you have ever kept guinea pigs, you may have noticed that if presented with a length of drainpipe to run through they will run gleefully along inside until - before long - the leading hog will inevitably stop and turn around while all of the others are following up behind, which leads to all sorts of squeaking from the tube and much amusement among watching humans. If that isn't the inspiration for this experiment then it jolly well ought to be.

Except, of course, that a clutch of small and not very intelligent rodents getting themselves in a muddle probably isn't quite as dangerous as scientists colliding atoms with a view to creating black holes, although it's not hard to imagine the fun which any radicalized wing of guinea pig fanciers could have if it were.

Anyway, as I've not been able to find my copy of the compilation I was intending to post this week I'm striking while the iron's hot and declaring it ~ SCIENCE WEEK ~ and posting six - yes SIX - fantastic science albums for kids.

Again, my brood have had great fun listening to these, and I am hugely indebted to Jef Poskanzer for posting these in the first place. The songs are all posted individually here, along with scans of the covers. If you'd rather get them all in one go - and save this splendid gentleman some bandwidth - I've put albums 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and 5 and 6 into RAR files. The links are beneath the track listings. You don't need all three parts at once for it to work - although if you download one you will almost certainly be back for the rest!

Tracks are:

Space Songs

Zoom A Little Zoom
What Is The Milky Way
Constellation Jig
Beep, Beep
Why Does The Sun Shine
What Is A Shooting Star
Longitude And Latitude
It's A Scientific Fact
Ballad Of Sir Isaac Newton
Why Are Stars Of Different Colors
Why Do Stars Twinkle
What Is Gravity
Planet Minuet
Why Go Up There

Energy & Motion Songs

What Is Energy (part 1)
Grand Coulee Dam
Solar Energy
Energy In Roundabout Ways
What Is Energy (part 2)
Kinetic And Potential Energy
Ultra Violet And Infra Red
What Is Chemical Energy
How Do We Measure Energy
Motion, Motion Everywhere
Thumbnail Sketch Of Atomic Energy

Download Part One

Experiment Songs

It's A Magnet
We Know The Air Is There
We're Making Heat
Ice Is A Solid
Why Do I Have A Shadow
Rocks And Gems And Minerals
The Earth Goes Around The Sun
Why Is It Raining Raindrops
Where Does The Sun Go At Night
What's Inside Our Earth
Where Does The Sun Rise
How Many Colors Are In The Rainbow
Who's Afraid Of Thunder
It's A Magnet, reprise

Weather Songs

What Makes The Weather
Where Is The Stratosphere
The Water Cycle Song
Why Does The Wind Blow
How Clouds Are Formed
Warm Fronts, Cold Fronts
What Is Humidity
The Hurricane Song
Why Is It Hot In The Summer
Highs And Lows
What Makes The Lightning
Stratus And Cumulus
Snowflake, Snowflake
What Does The Glass Of A Greenhouse Do
What Is Climate
What Makes The Weather, reprise

Download Part Two

Nature Songs

Introduction To Nature Study
Why Do Leaves Change Their Color
What Are The Parts Of A Tree
What Is An Insect
What Is A Mammal
How Do The Fish Swim
Song Of The Rocks
The Birds Have A Language
How Does A Bird Sing
What Does A Bird Have That I Have Not
How Silk Is Made
What's In The Ocean
How Do The Seeds Of Plants Travel
The Balance Of Nature

More Nature Songs

How Does A Frog Become A Frog
What Is An Animal
Bobo The Bear
Song Of The Fossils
How Does A Cow Make Milk
The Conservation Song
Why Is The Sky Blue
What Makes A Rainbow
Let's Wander Thru The Seasons
Why Does A Bee Bzzz
What Are The Parts Of A Flower
The Face Of The Earth Is Changing

Download Part Three

I'm hoping to be able to put together another compilation of bonkers kids songs - on a science theme - to post towards the end of the week. I have enlisted the help of middle-sized one to quality control all music posted here for me, so at least until she discovers music which isn't like the stuff I enjoy and on which I can't make out the words it will all be guaranteed child-friendly. If you have any ideas for songs which might be included please post a comment - indeed, please feel free to post a comment anyway.

Thanks very much to the two hundred plus people who visited my blog in its first week, and I hope you'll stop by again!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

If you don't stop hitting each other you'll get out and walk...

About three years ago I was stuck in traffic on the way back from the National Space Centre in Leicester with two small-ish children in the car who had enjoyed a very exciting day and were now entertaining themselves - as 8 year old brothers and 4 year old sisters tend to - by poking and tickling each other until the driver threatens to put them out on the hard shoulder of the motorway and let them make their own way home.

Even at that age, of course, they knew that that wasn't going to happen, so drastic measures were called for. Dad tuned in to Radio 2 (the BBC's easy listening station) and mere moments later discovered the power of "The Laughing Gnome" by David Bowie.

Inspired by this, and aiming to replicate those happy couple of minutes, I cast my mind back to being forced to listen to Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart's 'Junior Choice', and trying to pull out memories of the songs I heard which I could remember enjoying, and over a couple of months added in the sort of music that I had discovered as an adult which I would have loved to have stumbled across in childhood.

This is the first of the compilations I made. It's kept our kids quiet for a few seconds shy of 51 minutes on long journeys, and other parents I've shared it with have attested to it doing the same for theirs.

The tracks are:
1. David Bowie - The Laughing Gnome
2. Bonzo Dog Band - Mr Slater's Parrot
3. Ken Dodd - We Are The Diddymen
4. Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers - The Monster Mash
5. Sheb Woolley - Purple People Eater
6. Benny Hill - Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)
7. The Trashmen - Surfin' Bird
8. The Goons - The Ying Tong Song
9. The Goodies - The Funky Gibbon
10. Spike Jones and His City Slickers - Cocktails For Two
11. Charles Penrose - The Laughing Policeman
12. New Christy Minstrels - Three Wheels on My Wagon
13. Rolf Harris - Jake The Peg
14. Tiny Tim - Tiptoe Thru' The Tulips
15. Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers - I'm A Little Dinosaur
16. Flanders and Swann - The Hippopotamus Song (Mud)
17. Gayla Peevey - I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas
18. Alvin and the Chipmunks - Christmas Don't Be Late
19. Barking Dogs - Jingle Bells

The link is here - I hope that you enjoy it.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Welcome back my friends, to the show that hardly knows how to get itself started...

It would be both pompous, preposterous and presumptuous to sit here and claim that my aim with this little blog is to present an alternative history of music in the twentieth-century, so instead I'll say that I aim to have fun and if you'd like to join me occasionally that would be jolly splendid.

I've been inspired to start this blog by Totally Fuzzy and Dr Forrest's Cheeze Factory and about a hundred others, and decided tonight to take the plunge.

For the last two years at Christmas I've put together compilations of songs to keep children quiet on long car journeys - they've worked for our family and others, so I'll be putting those up as soon as I've worked out how one of these file hosting thingummyjigs work.

In the meantime, if you really want to keep your kids quiet on long journeys, you could do worse than investigating the inspiration for the name of my blog, "An Evening With Wild Man Fischer", which the wonderful Dr Forrest has posted here. I own a copy of this and have been known to play it to people I consider to be my friends, although I usually restrict myself to side two, "Larry's Songs Unaccompanied".

I've edited the start of the track 'Monkeys vs Donkeys' to be my ringtone, which may be why very few people call me.

Anyway, I, my daughter and my boss love this album. Alexis Korner used to play a track from it from time to time on his Sunday evening show on Radio One - which is where I first became aware of it - and John Peel once played it on air all the way through in its entirety.

Nighty night for now.