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Chaz'z Blog

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Chaz Brenchley is unwell. But you knew that already...

Posted by Chaz at 05:56 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, July 25, 2003

It occurred to me suddenly this morning, as I walked home in the rain, that internet shopping is really quite a lot like masturbation: it's comfortable, it's easy, it's convenient, and you don't have to walk home in the rain. But you don't get to touch, to smell, to spend time with the object of desire; nor many other double-entendres that I can't be troubled to put together. Mail-order shopping is efficient, and I do it when I have to, but it is just no fun. And also, of course, it's the opposite of spontaneous.

Or, in other words, I bought a pair of boots today. And before you ask, the answer's no: I did not need boots, I have boots in plenty. But can anyone ever have too much footwear? Or, indeed, enough? Beauty is boots, boots beauty; this is all we know, and all we ought to teach.

Anyway, I went into town on an errand of simple virtue, to collect an understamped letter and pay the shortfall. That letter seems incidentally to have put paid to a prospective trip to World FantasyCon in the States this year, but the trip was problematic anyway, so ne'er mind. I'm not really using that as an excuse.

What actually happened, being as I was in town anyway, of course I dropped into the bookshops, how not? And of course I check my own titles when I'm in there, as a matter of routine; and Waterstone's had actually sold a couple of copies of Outremer. Great excitement, Chazzie bounces next door into Fenwick's - and comes out ten minutes later with a pair of Rockport Machame limited-edition black boots. Spontaneity, seduction, sudden irresistible attraction: I love it. Sale price, of course, plus an extra discount for being Chaz, but even so this is something of an over-reaction to seeing a couple of paperbacks sold. It could never happen without the real thing there to snare the eye, to be fondled and played with and lingered over and tried on. I love my computer and I love my post, but neither one of them is a substitute for shopping.

Posted by Chaz at 03:38 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Often and often, I'm reading something or other and I think, 'Oh, that's good. I should log that on the web, that's why one has a weblog, not to let these moments pass: to preserve them, rather, and to share them with others.' I guess I envision this as a commonplace book as much as a journal, bulging with accumulated truth & beauty.

And of course it never works out that way, because I forget, or I lose the quotation, or by the time I've come upstairs I've thought of something else I want to say on my own account. Mostly, I forget.

Tonight, however, both my shoulders are sore for many reasons (my blood is now proof against tetanus and diphtheria, yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A; also polio, but that doesn't come as an injection, you still have to swallow it, and to my great outrage it no longer comes on a sugar-lump), which is as good an excuse as any for unoriginality. Besides, I've written five pages of the old deathless for my novella, and that is enough.

So: coffee. Coffee is the liquor of the gods, this is known beyond peradventure. I like it strong and black; Jean likes it stronger yet, but then she puts milk in, which both dilutes and adulterates, so I feel no need to compete. Neither one of us, however, would come close to this, as recorded by M F K Fisher in her history of food and eating, 'Serve It Forth (1937):

'Frederick the Great used to make his own coffee, with much to-do and fuss. For water he used champagne. Then, to make the flavour stronger, he stirred in powdered mustard.'

Now, I have no idea whether this is true or legend or pure fiction for effect; she doesn't cite her sources. But it is a joyfully awful thing in itself, and made all the merrier by the delicacy of her critique:

'Now to me it seems improbable that Frederick truly liked this brew. I suspect him of bravado.'

Quite so. That 'improbable' is such a happy touch, and 'bravado' is exact. It's for moments like that that I read MFK; increasingly, it is for moments like that that I read at all. You can keep all your gripping plots and your majestic descriptions, if you leave me just the aperçus.

Posted by Chaz at 11:33 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

One of the things I love about Newcastle, I walk out of my door and across the road and I'm in a park: trees and greenery, bandstand and clock tower and narrow winding paths, the whole works. A couple of minutes later, I'm on open moorland where cattle graze. Still in the heart of the city, you understand, but this is common land and the developers can't touch it.

Those cattle, though... A couple of weeks ago I was talking to the novelist Patrick Gale, who lives on a meat-and-two-veg farm in the west country, and he says that acting as an unpaid farmhand has taught him that he has no fear. I am deeply envious of this, as I have lots. Large, unintelligent, unpredictable animals I am very wary of. Years of living in Newcastle, though, have taught me that actually herds of bullocks are more nervous than I am, and will shy away if I get too close. For a long time now I've been quite comfortable walking by them, even walking through them when they're packed close around the gates.

But a few weeks back I was cutting across the moor, and the cattle were down the far end, and as I got halfway over I heard this faint rumble; and looked round to see them bearing down on me in a mild stampede. I walked faster, they kept coming, I walked faster, they kept coming. I was determined not to run, but I was practically sprint-walking before I reached the gate. And nipped through, and turned to see them wheel away at the last minute and go frisking off; and I don't suppose they would really have trampled me underfoot, but it was strange and it did seem deliberate - all the wide moor to play in and they came straight for me, and kept coming all the way to the gate, that was not happenstance - and I was kind of spooked after. Not enough to stop me crossing the moor, just enough to prey a little on my mind.

And then yesterday I was crossing the moor and the cattle were fairly close to the gate, and I walked by; and most of them ignored me, and one or two edged away, and one of them lifted his head and watched me - and followed me as I passed, and came fairly quickly up behind me and there I was doing the speed-walking again. And I got to the gate and nipped through, and found a woman standing there, watching; and she said she didn't fancy him at all, this bullock, and did I think he'd be okay if she went through? And we looked at him across the gate, and he looked back, and I said yes, I thought probably he would, but I'd stay around to distract him if he got frisky with her. And she said she thought it was probably me he was interested in anyway, because at least she wasn't wearing anything red. And I blinked down at myself and of course she was right, I was in summer plumage, my crushed-raspberry shirt; and she went through the gate and the bullock ignored her entirely and went on watching me. Maybe he was just a fashion critic, because he was himself all in pure black, as I normally am; and while I hate to be intimidated - and while I have always believed that whole red-rag-to-a-bull thing was entirely nonsense, indeed I was told as a kid that they were colour-blind and I hold to that, I want it to be true - nevertheless I'm back into black again tomorrow, and hereafter.

Posted by Chaz at 10:31 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, July 14, 2003

Went down to Lavenham in Suffolk for the weekend, for the wedding of my old friend Nick and slightly less old friend Lucy - and I went grumbling and reluctant, because I was missing a party with much newer friends up here, and it was a rotten long way to go, five hours' drive and well outside my comfort-zone, and it was so isolated a village that we kept getting warning e-mails about no cashpoints for miles around and if you want to eat you have to book in advance, and so on and so forth, and I just couldn't see where the fun was going to come from. What are they for, I thought, old friends? They leave town and you hardly see them from one year's end to the next, so you form different friendships and move in different circles; and then they announce they're getting married and expect you to be there, tho' it means giving up time and money and fun at home, and of course you do go because they are old friends and they do therefore have priority and I couldn't for the life of me see why...

And so there I am being driven down with my old friend Simon, and we don't get to spend half enough time together these days, so five hours of just the two of us was a rare treat; and Lavenham when we got there is picture-postcard perfect, the sort of place you see on TV and never really get to visit. And the guest-house where we're staying is full of other friends, and so is the pub, and we get happily blasted on Friday night. And the Saturday weather is perfect, one of those illusory summer days that don't actually exist except in myth and memory; and Simon and I visit his sister who I haven't seen in fifteen years or so, and she's living in one of the nicest houses I've ever set foot inside; and then we race back for the wedding, in one of the most beautiful mediaeval craft-halls etc etc; and then we ducked out of the worst of the photo-mania and slipped ahead to the reception restaurant to swallow a gin or two before the rest caught us up, and we had an extremely good lunch and no speeches; and then Simon and I went for a long walk in the corn, before we went back for more drinking...

And so on and so forth, and you get the picture: it was a magic weekend from start to finish and clearly this is what they are for, these old friends and these weekends away, they are for pure and unadulterated pleasure, which is fine by me.

And another measure of pleasure: tonight I made a pasta sauce with my own broad-leafed sorrel, my own chillies, my own parsley and my own spring onions, which were so fresh and sweet I had no doubt about using the whole plant from the buried white to the tip o' the green, the one in the sauce and the other like chives scattered over. Alas that I couldn't fish my own prawns and cream my own cow, or indeed grind my own durum wheat, but hey. We take what we can get.

Posted by Chaz at 10:52 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, July 6, 2003

Sometimes I am pure wickedness and self-indulgence. As today, when I had half a dozen scallops for lunch, only because I could. I've always fried scallops hitherto (except my first-ever scallop, which was baked in its shell and tasted just amazing, with that specific aroma of slightly-burnt seashell to add to the experience; it was such a one-off, I've never tried to repeat it), but this time I wanted to go for the pure flavour without that caramel sweetness that comes from frying. So I poached them in double cream with a little garlic, a little parsley, a hint of salt and pepper. And set them on rounds of toast with a squeeze of lemon, and beat a lump of butter into the sauce for added glossy richness (mounting is the technical term, and it's always worth doing with a cream or a wine sauce), and added a sprinkle of chives and left nothing but the plate for Misha to lick after. Brute that I am.

And while she licked, I finished reading Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, which is purely sensational. He has a way of writing about this here-and-now world that makes it read like science fiction; I adore that. SF without the info-dumps, but it's still alien and strange, and still you learn stuff.

Posted by Chaz at 10:30 PM GMT [Link]

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© Chaz Brenchley 2002/2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.