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Chaz'z Diary Archives

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Okay, letís make no bones about this (because obviously we need the bomes for stock): I am known to be fond of food. Iím interested in what it is and where it comes from; I enjoy shopping, preparing and cooking it; and yes, I like to eat. Almost anything, at almost any time. Food is a good, in my lexicon.

With, necessarily, one exception. Got to have an exception, just to prove the rule. For me, O my beloved íearers, itís breakfast. There are people out there, I know, who assert it to be the best meal of the day. Some of them are nutritionists and dieticians, and are therefore safe to be avoided & ignored; others are sensible people who like food in much the same way that I do, and they propose interesting recipes and menus, and it all sounds fine and dandy except for the one unavoidable aspect of this whole thing, which is that they expect me to eat it mere minutes after Iíve got out of bed. Which is revolting.

This has been a lifelong thing with me, more or less. When I was a small boy, I remember fights every morning, as my mother endeavoured to force something into my stomach before I went to school. She probably succeeded, more mornings than not (thoí I do remember numerous jam sandwiches being hurled surreptitiously to the bottom of the cupboard under the stairs - sorry, Mum...), but I always understood the practice to be vile and against nature. Now I am in my age and answer to no one, and a pint or two of coffee is plenty to see me through to lunchtime.

With, necessarily, an exception or two. Got to have an exception. My regular one is hotel breakfasts. If Iím staying in a hotel, I will always eat the breakfast. All of it, whatever theyíve got. This started at conventions, where it meant I could start drinking as soon as I liked and not have to stop for lunch; now itís just a habit that I donít understand and am not particularly fond of but canít be bothered to break.

However, a second exception has just reared its curious little head; these last two days, I have woken in my own bed in my own wee house, and discovered to my shock and chagrin that what I most needed to get me up and active was the promise of a breakfast. Toast and honey, specifically. Lawks...

What it is, though, the reason for this apostasy is a simple thing: itís been hugely, appallingly, horrifically cold, and Iím just hungry all the time. My body needs the fuel.

All very traditional, of course, but the thing about traditions is that theyíre just so mediaeval. Eating more, to see you through the winter - these days, central heating is supposed to obviate the need. Trouble is, though, this is a fundamentally cold house. Itís long and thin and faces north, the central heating is ancient and inefficient and doesnít come upstairs, thereís a vast chilly stairwell all through the centre of the house, and - well, you get the picture. I must admit Iím disappointed with my new windows, I thought double glazing would magically make the whole house toasty-warm and clearly it doesnít, but itís probably unfair to blame them for the coldest snap in the weather for twenty years.

Anyway, what it means is that I eat two lunches one day, two suppers the next, and I donít mind that at all. Itís just this breakfast thing that perturbs me. Whatís a man supposed to do all morning, with a weight of food in his belly? Whereís the coffee meant to go?

Posted by Chaz at 12:31 AM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

No great surprise, but I haven't really done a lot today either. Didn't even make the cake (again!). But I did cook the ham and glaze it (Chaz'z Patent Glaze: molasses sugar, redcurrant jelly and strong English mustard, mixed to a thick paste and slathered over the fat and any exposed faces of the meat, then roasted in the oven till it caramelises on the ham, which means burns on the bottom of the tin; you've got to be brave), and I did first invent and then create pheasant-and-leek pasties for lunch.

First shoot your pheasants; or better yet, first befriend a GP who has a patient who goes shooting. You may not know this, but GPs get Xmas presents from patients grateful to have survived another year; hence Monday night, when Iím pinging about the Lit & Phil being overstressed and hypertense and Simon sidles up to me with a bloody package, four pheasant breasts. I believe, should you lack these advantages, they can be bought from butchers.

So: make a shortcrust pastry with 12oz of flour and six of fat (all butter, or half-and-half butter and lard, or butter and vegetable fat - whatever), and while that's chilling in the fridge, chop and fry your pheasant breasts in lots of butter and a little oil. Take them out, slice four young leeks and soften those in the same buttery juicy liquid. Add them to the pheasant, and mix in four small cooked diced potatoes, a couple of tablespoons of Cumberland sauce, a couple of handfuls of chopped parsley and salt & pepper. Stir it all up with your hands, then roll the pastry into half a dozen rounds (or rectangles, or triangles, or whatever cockamamie shape it may happen to come out; either this is not an exact science or else I am not an exact man) and divide the mixture between them. Fold the pastry over to cover, pinch all the edges together to seal, brush with beaten egg to glaze and bake in a medium-hot oven for half an hour or so. Mine had about thirty minutes at gas 4, and then another ten at 6 just to put some colour on 'em.

And now itís rising four o'clock, and I've almost run out of things to do about the house, and tonight's gig is starting to loom large in my imagination. It's ridiculous, but I'm almost more nervous tonight than I was on Monday - I suppose because there's very little I can do to contribute to the evening's success, as I'm not actually reading tonight. Damn, but I hate being in other people's hands... (There are those among you, of course, who are right now thinking "actually, Chaz, maybe this evening isn't all about you," and of course you're right; but these are still my gigs, my baby. As the book is, and we do need to sell that well again tonight. O my ducats, O my daughter...)

Posted by Chaz at 03:48 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Yíknow, sometimes I do just feel so like a cheap clock (right at this moment, my more supportive friends are entirely cracking up, at the thought of my being in any sense cheap; but just ignore them, and let's continue with the metaphor): all too easily overwound - like last night, where I was tight, tense, anxious, snappy, blindly stuttering through - and then running down too fast, like today, where I have been exhausted from the moment of dragging myself out of bed and am already - at 8.30, less than twelve hours later - already looking forward to tumbling back into it, with just tragically little achieved in between. I did a little, a very little revision of a piece of work; I addressed and posted eight packages; I wrote some emails, and put a gammon to soak. Well, gee willikins, what a day that was.

All of this drama, of course, comes on the back of last night, the first of this year's Phantoms gigs at the Lit & Phil. Halfway through, a friend asked if I didn't enjoy reading, because he'd always thought I did but I didn't seem to be. No idea what I said to him - the way I was going last night, I might have just glowered him into dust with my double-action Medusa-and-wrecking-ball stare - but the truth is that I do like reading, just not when it's one small part of an evening and I'm responsible for all the rest of it too. We had eighty-odd people there, and I was fretful for the pleasure of each and every one of them throughout. No wonder if I got a bit frazzled...

Still, we got all the books there, and half of them signed so far; we sold twenty on the night, and mail order's close to matching that; we've got another gig tomorrow, and if we could shift another twenty, that'd be a neat twenty per cent of the print-run gone in the first week. After that, Lord only knows how we'll shift it, but in ones and twos, I guess, rather than twenties. C'mon, guys, send me your tenners. PayPal works a treat...

I'll send out review copies tomorrow. That's going to be another interesting aspect of this publishing malarkey: not just "who can we sell it to, apart from friends?" but also "what are people going to think of it (discounting friends)?" The audience was receptive last night, but to be frank, I think most of them were friends. Not many there whom none of us would know. We must await a more critical response...

The other thing Iím going to do tomorrow is cook. Xmas ham and Xmas cake - which is late, dreadfully late, but I have had excuses. And I donít actually need it for Xmas, so it'll get a week or so to wallow in brandy and perhaps a little Madeira, before we start to eat the little darlin'. That'll help.

Posted by Chaz at 08:56 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, December 19, 2005

Oh, good grief. How cold can one man be? I have lost all contact with my feet...

When they took the windows out a couple of weeks back and let the blizzard in, I thought that was the coldest I was ever likely to be, withindoors. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, wrong. I could at least run the heating then, and huddle close to the radiator while the arctic winds howled throughout my house.

Not no more, I can't. I may have new windows, but even double glazing can't retain heat that doesn't exist. A man came round this morning to change my gas meter; he ended up by disconnecting the entire supply. He tells me I have a leak, and am legally prohibited from using anything until it's fixed. Which means no cooking (!), no baths (!!) and no heating (!!?X@!!).

My nice gas engineer is due to have a look this afternoon, but that will only be a beginning, as he'll need to test everything, every pipe and every appliance in the house. Howwwl...! I should be in good voice for the ghost stories this evening, all shuddery and creaky and my very breath striking a chill into the audience...


Posted by Chaz at 02:26 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Adventures with Linux, vol 23:

The trouble is, you see, you get overconfident with Linux, you start thinking "hey, I know how to do that," and that way madness lies.

Todayís madness? This is the Printer Winter; for months now, my five-year-old printer has been giving me gyp. Specifically, it's been streaking every page it prints with blackness, sometimes just in dots and scatters, sometimes in impenetrable bars. I have tried everything I know by way of fixing this, and nothing works. My suspicion is that the problem began with a re-engineered cartridge (False Economy, we call this) and has progressed now to the drum. Unhappily, replacing the drum is as expensive as buying a new printer. Ah, how the world has changed; I hate this built-in redundancy, and pause only to point out that my fifteen-year-old previous printer is still working completely happily, in a friend's house. But that is no help to me.

I have of course been dithering for a long time, what to do; but so happens I need clean printing facilities this weekend, in order to produce contracts for my fellow writers for tomorrow's ghost story event at the Lit & Phil. I also need a clean copy of my own story to read from (I haven't yet worked out - and this is the second year! - how to produce a contract for myself; Iím not sure it's actually legal for Chaz Brenchley to commission Chaz Brenchley, and countersign his own contracts). So this morning, despairing, I streaked off into town and just bought a new machine.

My choice was dictated by the limits of what was available off the shelf, obviously; also by price, as I really did want to bring it in cheaper than a new drum for my old printer, just to reassure myself; also by system demands, as the computer is also five years old and doesn't run to anything as sophisticated as USB 2 ports; and then in the end by my finding the one machine that acknowledged Linux on its box, and claimed to run under numerous different distributions.

In cold fact, any of the other machines I could have bought would probably also have run under Suse (my distribution of choice), because almost everything does, but I liked to see that published acknowledgement. So I bore it home and unpacked it, plugged it in and set it up, got it working - and then tried to configure my system to recognise it. Harrumph...

First I tried the quick-and-dirty way, copy the PPD file onto my system and work from that. Uh-uh. Something wrong with it, not acceptable, no way. So I bowed to the inevitable, and ran its own proprietary installation software. Which was fine and dandy, all the way through to the rather important moment where the new machine is actually added to the current list of printers. Not wanting to get technical, but to make changes of this nature to a Linux system, you have to be logged in as the Person of Authority, which demands a special password. This is my own password, and I cannot run my own system without it; and this bloody interloper software simply refused to recognise it. I sobbed, I snarled, I could not get it to acknowledge that I do know my own bloody passwords.

So in the end we fell back on bluff and deception; the printer is now working fine, by dint of my persuading the system that it was in fact another printer altogether. Sigh. That makes yet another aspect that is held together with chewing-gum and spit. I do sooo need everything upgraded, shaved & showered and cleanly reinstalled. But it's not going to happen yet.

What's actually going to happen now is that Iím going to go online and set up a PayPal account for Northern Gothic, to allow for easy purchase of the Phantoms at the Phil anthology. Hint, hint. E-mail sales@chazbrencley.co.uk...

Posted by Chaz at 11:27 PM GMT [Link]

Ooh, long time. Apologies; too much stuff going on. And yes, I am aware that the purpose of this journal is to record stuff as it happens, but Iíve apologised already, so that's that.

Retrospectively, what out of all that stuff is worth recording? Lots, no doubt, but I donít remember it. What I remember is this: I have become a publisher. Well, a co-publisher at the moment, but I yearn for more.

All publishers are toads, but some are nematodes. That is an article of faith with me, I've been saying it (rather wittily, I thought) for years, and I am not going to resile from it now. Croak, croak.

But the point is, the book-and-CD of last yearís Phantoms at the Phil gig is now out, available, published; and I love it. It's a co-publication, as I say, between mífriend John of Side Real Press and myself as Northern Gothic. What this means is that I raised the cash (thank you, Arts Council) and organised the writers, while John did all the designing and dealing with printers and the technical publishing stuff that I do not - yet - know about.

The result of all this happy cooperation is a hardbound limited-edition book of 92 pages, including an introductory essay by Ramsey Campbell and stories by Sean OíBrien, Gail-Nina Anderson and myself, coupled with a CD recording of the event last year where we read the stories live to an overflowing audience. All this for ten quid; how can you resist? E-mail to secure your copy, quick, before they all sell out...

Posted by Chaz at 02:15 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, December 8, 2005

It's a funny thing, but I'm actually quite enjoying my days at the moment. Everything is still in chaos from the window-men, half the things I own being heaped high in the other half of the house, away from all the windows; and doubly in chaos from Sunday night, when I had friends round for dinner and still (on Thursday! Shriek...!) haven't done half the washing-up; but actually that's okay, there are no deadlines on this, I can take my time. So yesterday I fitted new curtain-rails to the big bay window, and this morning I hung new curtains on 'em. I might not have bothered, I'd got quite used to curtainlessness, only my dinner-table is in that window, and my guests did mutter a bit about being on display to the passing multitudes. The passing multitudes are generally quite friendly, but nevertheless, I did take the point and have curtained. The curtains actually came from my newly-magicked wardrobe; I built this piece of furniture a couple of years back, and I put nothing into it that I did not own already, and yet suddenly it has taken to disgorging things I need, whether or not I owned them. Like, when the window-men had made my house so cold, I found a jumper in there, despite my not (to my knowledge) having owned a jumper these last ten years; and suddenly since Sunday curtains have materialised, of which I have no knowledge whatsoever. They're curiously bright, and certainly don't fall within my common palette; I can live with them, but never would have chosen them. It's that wardrobe, I tell you, it's making mischief...

But anyway, I did all that, and then started moving books around; a process which is doubtless good for them, because it means they get dusted and cherished a little before they go back on their proper shelves. It's a bit like hard work and makes my back ache, but I do it a little at a time and all is well, and the house starts to reshape itself, and I listen to Radio 3 and spend a lot of time thinking that actually I could keep on doing stuff like this, little DIY tasks and general sorting-out-the-house, and it needn't interfere with my work much, because I am also working in the midst of all this, and quite enjoying that too.

And, of course, I am cooking. On Sunday I invented a new regional dish, Northumberland hotpot (a lot like Lancashire hotpot, only with goat-bits instead of lamb-bits; I used neck and heart and kidney, and liked it quite a lot); today it was something utterly unregional, which I suppose we could call spicy fish and coconut rice served with a coriander pesto. I didnít measure anything, so this isn't a recipe; but if you grind coriander seed and cumin and cinnamon and cloves, add turmeric and cayenne and coat a thick white fish fillet with same, then fry the fish hot & fast in a big pan and set it aside; then fry an onion and a chilli in the same pan, add garlic and ginger and then rice, stir in the residual spices and then a combination of coconut milk and fish stock, cover and simmer till the liquid is absorbed and the rice is almost cooked, add the fish to the pan with a couple of diced tomatoes and some chopped green coriander, cover and set aside; finely slice a couple of shallots and fast-fry them till crispy, then serve the fish on the rice garnished with the shallots and a hefty spoonful of coriander pesto (big bunch of coriander, in the food processor with a couple of garlic cloves and the zest & juice of a lemon; whizz whizz, then dribble in olive oil while whizzing until you have a soft pesto), then you've pretty much done what I did.

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

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© Chaz Brenchley 2002/2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.