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Chaz'z Blog

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Something to add, then, to the list of Things Chaz Does In His Sleep. Itís not a comprehensive list - there are things we cannot know, by definition, because they pass unwitnessed and leave no evidence behind them - but already it includes Talking (frequently, intelligibly, even I am told intelligently), Walking (in hotels, naked - yikes! - and so necessarily locked out of my room and helpless; also in friendsí houses, naked again - double yikes! - and accosting them in their bedrooms, to such horrific effect that they flee to Tasmania) and Getting Dressed (phew!). Now we must add Taking A Bath. Is this weird, or what? I woke up about half-six this morning, nub of soap in my hand, in a cooling bath so full the water was slopping over the rim. In, of course, a friendís house (well, actually the house of two friends, but I donít know how to punctuate that; a friendsí house is all strange to look at, though Ďa house of friendsí is what it means). This might not have mattered, except that the overflow soaked through the floor and formed a puddle on a fine piece of furniture beneath. I swear, Iím never going to leave home again. My passport expires anyway at the end of this year; I shanít need another. Iím going to lurk in my weird house with my weird cat and just grow ever weirder, and no one need ever know how strange I am.

Posted by Chaz at 05:03 PM GMT [Link]

So this was a good day. Started bad: I slept atrociously last night, including one of those getting-up-at-four-in-the-morning episodes that confuse Misha utterly, because she doesnít know whether to ask for breakfast or snuggle, and then I go back to bed and sleep late and rise late and face an abbreviation of a day.

But I put it to good use, what there was of it, writing five pages, a couple of thousand words; and then I went off down to the station and caught a Metro to South Shields, to see Janis Ian at the Customs House. Anyone of my temperament, my generation, sheís iconic; bizarrely, this was the first time Iíd seen her live, and sheís fabulous. Witty and caustic and funny and sharp and ironic, and thatís just the talk between the songs. Then thereís that voice, that voice, ethereal with a steel spring to drive it; and guitar thatís like spring water, bubbling and flowing but stone-clear, stone-cold, stone-hard. Magic evening, not even spoiled by the drunken pillock who kept shouting, who wanted a singalong; and in the end, the final encore, she gave him one. She gave us ĎI Got You, Babeí - and thereís something kinda scary about finding yourself one among an audience where it seems like utterly everyone knows all the words to that, if not necessarily in the right order.

Posted by Chaz at 12:20 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, September 27, 2004

Ah, FantasyCon. What romance, what exotic thrills are conjured up by the name alone. Add that this year it was a road-trip, Three Men in a Car, and you just know that adventure and self-discovery lie ahead...

Except that this is FantasyCon UK, the public instrument of the British Fantasy Society, and therefore it happens in a motorway hotel near Walsall, and all the in-car entertainment was Radio 4 and the Goon Show. Sigh. The most exciting moment was when I fell over (cut lip, chipped tooth, ripped jeans, scabby knees - I feel eight years old), and the greatest moment of self-discovery was another reminder just how acidulated I can be when Iím in a mood.

But I shouldnít knock it. I do love FantasyCon, because itís not about the venue (thank God) nor the side-issues of what happens to me (assaulted, seduced, locked naked out of my hotel room, passing out in a Chinese restaurant - the list goes on and on, one year after another). Like all good fictions, itís about the people. And I disagree with much of what they do, I think the awards are a shame and a scandal, neither the event nor the Society are ever as good as I want them to be and they are far too resistant to change - and yet, I love íem dearly and I do keep going back.

And this year there is at least one conspiracy afoot, which I am forbidden to tell you of. There might very easily be another, only that would involve a swift coup díétat with Jules and me taking over the committee, and we are firmly sitting on our hands to stop ourselves from doing that. Donít have the time. No revolutions this October. Just a relentless grinding of the teeth, as heretofore.

And then I got home, to find that my chipped tooth is the one that I check rice (and pasta, and vegetables, and and and) with, to see if itís done yet. Canít do it now, the chip is in exactly the wrong place. Trying to learn to do it the other side of my mouth is like trying to learn to write with the wrong hand, or cross my legs the wrong way, or do anything by looking in a mirror. Itís all colleywest, and I canít do it.

Posted by Chaz at 11:43 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Woke up yesterday morning in an absolute pit of depression. No immediate reason for it, just everything in my life seemed foul; spent all morning on the very edge of tears. So what did I do? What could I do, but cook...?

So for lunch I worked up a variation on Eggs Benedict, which - necessarily, in this house - is now known as:

Eggs Benedict Macallan (for one - an absolute requirement)

Make a cheese sauce with lots of strong cheddar, then devil it up with mustard, cayenne and smoked paprika.

Fry a few rashers of bacon till crisp; better overdone than the other thing.

Make toast: start with good bread cut as thick as you like it, toast under a grill till they're as goldy-brown as you like it, then let them stand separately for a minute to let all the steam out before you plate 'em. Otherwise they won't stay crisp.

Poach a couple of eggs the softest way: bring a pan of water to a simmer so slight it's practically a shimmer, break two very fresh eggs into it and let them shimmer for just one minute, then turn the heat off and ignore them for the next ten. Then take 'em out with a slotted spoon, let it drip onto kitchen paper, and slide 'em onto the toast. Adorn with the bacon, and pour the sauce over. Eat with cherry tomatoes that have been roasting in the oven through all of the above.

And then I went shopping, and came home with a thick chunk of really fresh cod (how can you tell it's fresh, when it's just a chunk and you can't check the condition of eyes and gills and such? Smell it. If it smells of fish, leave it. If it still smells of the sea, you're in. If your fishmonger won't let you sniff his stock, find another fishmonger). So I fried it skin-side first in olive oil in a very hot pan, just two minutes a side to be brown and crisp outside and barely-cooked within, slid it onto a plate then chucked some sweet yellow pepper, sun-dried tomatoes and a handful of capers (salted variety, soaked and dried) into the pan, added a glug of walnut oil and a slug of balsamic vinegar and whisked them up into an emulsion. Poured that over the fish and ate it with champ (slice the whites and greens of spring onions; seethe the whites with milk, cream and butter for a couple of minutes, then beat into mashed - or in my case riced - potatoes. Mix in the greens with salt & pepper to taste). It's really good. Just needs a name. Cod with a Warm Caper Salad would cover it, I guess, but that's not a name, it's a description...

Posted by Chaz at 11:21 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

So I went to Manchester, and I did survive it; indeed, I enjoyed it. Wasnít really given much option else: whatís not to enjoy? Listen, it went like this: I travelled on the train, three hours of reading a wonderful book (still on Neal Stephensonís The Confusion - hey look, itís a looong book, okay?); I met up with the Tell Tales crew, who by now are a bunch of mates; we checked out the venue, which is full of lovely Chinese things, then went to Chinatown for food; and so back to the venue, to the gig. Which is not full, but full of friends, and I really enjoyed both my own reading (hey, look, I dunno what it sounded like, but I just enjoy reading...) and everybody elseís, and the music really does make a difference; and then afterwards I went out for a drink with mífriendínícolleague Rosie. Which was lovely: we are divided by the Pennines, and see each other all too rarely. And thence back to the excuse-the-expression hotel, which is this deeply seedy dive off Piccadilly. Tell Tales is a budget operation, we take what we can get; which in this case is, ooh, the nastiest sleepover Iíve ever had? In my life? Itís not that the rooms are not en suite, so much as every room does have its own washbasin; and mine at least smells like generations of gentlemen (I excuse the ladies, for reasons of practicality) have used it in lieu of en suite. And thereís a single bed, into which I as a single man do not fit; and the bed lies hard against the radiator, which is radiating all too eagerly; and at some indeterminate time in the middle of the night someone starts practising the saxophone, at which they have no skill at all; and it was all vile, all the way through to the Nescafť-and-toast breakfast, and because I really, really did not care, to be frank I enjoyed the whole experience thoroughly.

And I went shopping this morning, and then found a quiet cafe where I could drink real coffee and do some work. My agents both sides of the pond have taken to nagging me into doing a young-adult fantasy series; and so happens Iíve been nursing this lovely idea for a year now, since we went up to Orkney last summer. So in I dove, and have begun it. Should surely be doing other things (the how-to-write guide, the ghost story, the next vol of Selling Water...), but whatís the point of a wonderful phrase like displacement activity if you donít keep it live and fresh and active...?

Posted by Chaz at 11:31 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Brrr. Iím not sure if the weatherís actually got suddenly colder, but it is utterly certain that I have. I am full of cold and shivering, with sneezings and a bad throat to boot. Would that I could boot them; I have - of course! - a gig in two nightsí time. If youíre within striking distance of Manchester, come to the Chinese Arts Centre on Thomas St, 7.30 on Tuesday, and hear me wheeze and cough. Itíll be a treat.

Meanwhile Iím living on hot buttered rum and toddies, and the heating has gone on. Which, as it always does, has confused Misha mightily, so she has to go on her seasonal perambulation to locate just where is the warmest spot in the house. Sheís always quick to notice that itís shifted, but it takes her a day or two of trying here, trying there, before sheís certain just where itís gone. Sometimes thereís even a need for compromise - a hideous thought, to a cat! - between maximum warmth and maximum comfort. I do scurry around behind her with her bed-in-a-box, but I honestly canít balance it actually on top of a radiator, however often she suggests that I might try. Besides, the top hot spot will shift again in a week or two, when I turn the thermostat up. Must be something to do with physics, temperature gradients, the circulation of the air; or else itís just the doggone orneriness of the universe, which I think amounts to pretty much the same thing.

Posted by Chaz at 09:45 PM GMT [Link]

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Today I did one of those random shopping trips, just buying what looked nice to see what I could make with it. Came home with some lovely fresh local crabsí legs, really good strong peppery watercress from the Chinese supermarket and a bag of mixed mushrooms. So here is Chazíz recipe for crab and watercress risotto:

Buy a pound of crabsí legs, and strip out all the flesh while you listen to the cricket on the radio. Try to keep it in chunky lumps. Break the shells up with a hammer, and put them into a pan with a litre of fish or chicken stock. Simmer for twenty minutes, then strain and keep the stock hot.

Meanwhile, roughly chop a handful of spring onions and set them to fry in olive oil in a large pan. Crush a couple of cloves of garlic and add to the pan, followed by a couple of handfuls of mushrooms - whole if theyíre chestnuts or smaller, chopped into chunks if theyíre field or flat-caps. Wild is best, as ever.

After a couple of minutes, add 250g of risotto rice (arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano) and fry a minute longer, till the grains go opaque.

Add a glass of white wine, and cook till it has all been absorbed; then add the stock one ladleful at a time, and again cook each ladleful out until itís thoroughly absorbed before you add the next. Keep stirring throughout; constant attention is the secret of a good risotto. Salt and pepper as you go.

When the grains are lusciously creamy on the outside but retain an edge of bite at the heart, add a couple of handfuls of watercress, stalks and all. You might also like to drop in a handful of prawns or whelks or mussels, or splash out on a scallop or two.

As soon as the watercress has wilted, add the crab meat, and then a small carton of cream. Stir all together, give it a last minute to simmer all the flavours together, and then serve with fresh watercress and shavings of parmesan. Itís really rather good.

Posted by Chaz at 12:27 AM GMT [Link]

Thursday, September 9, 2004

A day of separate pleasures: not all anticipated, but the real shocker was the being up at six in the morning and really rather enjoying it, once I'd got past the actual getting-out-of-bed bit. I've noticed this in myself before, just not yet integrated it into my self-image. I guess it's partly that middle-aged thing where your body-clock does adjust, and your habits also; and partly I think it's the falling out of love with sleep for its own sake. I really can't do the meaningless lie-in any more, that's an adolescent habit that is truly lost to me. Sleep used to be a deep rich heavy thing, a serious indulgence; these days it's a thin and bitter broth most nights (as it is for my mother, the other end of the country: we both lie awake listening to the BBC World Service, and wondering if t'other of us is doing the same thing at the same time. Oh, and happy birthday, Mum. Not that she reads this, but hey...).

Anyway, so I was up - by intent for once, not incidentally - and it was a truly lovely early morning out there, and I walked into town through empty streets under a clear sky and this was all good. Then I sat on a train and read a book for three hours, and this was an utterly anticipated pleasure; I love that chance to focus, that sense of concentrated detachment where thereís nothing else you can do. Only works if the book is good, of course, but this I was confident of: The Confusion by Neal Stephenson, sequel to Quicksilver which I adored. More of the same - huge historical canvas with just a hint of an sfnal (oh, sorry - thatís fandom code for science-fictional) twist to it, rich and deep with a remarkable lightness of touch. Magical stuff.

And so to London, to spend three hours working with a musician/DJ on a soundtrack to a story of mine, for a Tell Tales reading in Manchester next Tuesday (my webmistress isnít here to put in a link, so itís at the Chinese Arts Centre in Thomas St at 7.30. Iím supposed to know how to do links myself, but, well, sheesh, I never learned. You do get so used to having people do stuff for you. Iím always grateful, but still far too inclined to let it happen. Itís one of my manifest flaws. Sigh). Wasnít sure how much I was going to enjoy the process, but in the event it was fun. Zak made it easy - thoí we did have to tear his collection apart, to find all the samples that we needed - and I love the result. Looking forward very much to seeing how it plays with an audience.

Then to the British Library, for an exhibition they have on the Silk Road (which Iím kind of hoping will be the book after book after next; Iím reading up and looking at pretty things, while Iíve sent my friends Helen and Mark off to spend six months travelling the actual road. See above, under having people do stuff for you...), which is one of those private pleasures that make most people look at me pityingly. I like proper old-fashioned exhibitions, with objects in glass cases, and maps and documents and information on labels and all that stuff. Itís what I grew up with, and it feels - oh, I donít know. Adult, perhaps. Iím resentful of kiddy-friendly exhibitions that take no account of the notion that adults might be interested too, but on a very different level. Value-added stuff is fine - I was very glad to hear the sound of 150 camels at a watering-hole - but contemporary curation seems to find it easy to focus on the touchy-feely and leave out the core.

Anyway, the BL did me proud, as I was sure they would; and I went from there to Kingís Cross to catch another train and read for another three hours, all the way home. Good day, that. Tired now.

Posted by Chaz at 11:46 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Interesting times: I wake every morning in a fit of near-terminal depression, and come the evening I tend to be feeling fairly good about myself. Mostly, I guess this is because (a) I have far too much to do and no prospect of a break is visible, hence clouds of gloom etc, but (b) I am quite steadily getting things done. Theyíre not all programmed, either; I do still find the space for random events. As, for example, this:

Iíve been spending most of my days in town, working in the Lit & Phil or else in the pub, being with friends at the movies or else in the pub, having meetings at the Lit & Phil and at the Arts Council and - surprise! - in the pub. And some of these engagements involve lunch, and at one of the lunches I asked for the Thai-spiced mussels, and was - no surprise at all - rather disappointed with what came. Lots of fresh hot chilli, which was nice, but no other identifiable spice, and not really much else at all. So today I bought some mussels and gathered together those things that are fundamentally Thai - lemongrass, galangal, coconut milk, Kaffir lime leaves - and did the thing properly on my own account. And it took about ten minutes, and of course itís not authentic but it tasted really good. And as I have turned over an old leaf and am dutifully recording recipes these days, it went something like this:

Simmer half a litre of duck stock (or chicken, of course, but I had duck) with fresh red & green chillies (in this house, "fresh" means just-plucked from the plant on the windowsill; try it next year, cayenne seeds are easy and fruitful for months), half a stalk of lemongrass (from the back yard), garlic (ditto - Iíve grown some really magnificently small cloves, that I just use whole), shredded galangal (or ginger if you can't get it) and lime leaves (love the way they grow in pairs, one sprouting from the tip of the other). Put a ladleful of the liquid in another pan, bring to the boil and put in your mussels. Clap a lid on and give it a shake. Drop some noodles, some chopped spring onions and a handful of cherry tomatoes into the stock, and give the mussels another shake. Add half a tin of coconut milk (assuming you donít live in coconut country; if you do, go milk a coconut) to the stock, give the mussels another shake and have a look. If theyíre fully open and the meats look luscious, then theyíre done. Toss them and their cooking liquid in with the noodles, tip the whole into a big big bowl and eat it. Messily.

Food like that just makes me happy.

And meanwhile Iíve almost finished the rewrites on the novel, only two weeks later than I said; and I've been having good meetings about this big ghost-story project Iím trying to get off the ground, which I donít want to talk about because Iím superstitious. Well, Iím not, not really - but I will blame myself mightily if I lose it now, and will cast around for unlikely reasons and might well end up with "I knew I shouldnít have said anything in the weblog, just asking for trouble, that is; talk about counting chickens: cluck cluck one, cluck cluck two...í"

Posted by Chaz at 11:42 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.