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Featured Life Like Narrative

Memory is a long-exposure photo

Memory is a long-exposure photo. Things that move the least hold the best focus.

Picture a room from your childhood home. Parts of it are so clear, you almost feel you could turn a corner and be there. Your fingers feel the texture of those curtains, and you notice the definite smell of sun-heated windowsills – something you didn’t realise you could remember, and had never thought to recall.

But, then look closer at the picture. What colour is that sofa? Wait, it’s blue – no: beige. That bit of artwork? It’s over there, and it’s a cheesy print in a brass frame. No, that’s in the other room, and what I see is a family-portrait (also cheesy, mind) collage.

But that table, you can picture every scratch, even though the books in the shelf behind it are grey blur. The telly is in the same place, but changes sizes as you squint – getting a bit thinner, with more – than fewer – black boxes beneath it, blinking green and orange leds at different rates.

Your pets seem to be all ages at once. That old dog’s greying snout shares the space of a younger, athletic one, and the puppy with floppy ears before it. But his eyes are clear, and you could reach out now and stroke just behind his ear.

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Coffee Like Podcast

Coffee Basics from Union Hand-Roasted Coffee: a podcast

Today, I spoke with Jeremy Torz from Union Hand-Roasted Coffee. We recorded part of our conversation about British coffee as a podcast. I am interested in ways people can get the most out of the pleasurable experience that is coffee, without being daunted by anything hugely technical, expensive or difficult to operate. I asked Jeremy about normal people wanting to learn a bit more about the coffee they drink.

I also recorded this in the presence of Jeremy’s lovely (but whiny) German Shorthaired Pointer Casper, so the jangling and occasional whine are nothing to do with me or Jeremy.

So, let me know what you think of the service, the podcast and the coffee you’re going to try.

I hope you enjoy.

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Like Perspective Pup review

Innovative Design: puppy-style

When Lucas joined our household, I knew he’d make a great working dog. His sire was a steady, dependable sort who is used for picking up, and Lucas took immediately to retrieving. Not only do I like the idea of having him with me in the field, but I can also see just how much dogs seem to enjoy the challenges working to gun seem to bring. But I knew it had to start somewhere, so I ordered a few training dummies that had caught my eye at a game fair last autumn. I thought these woiuld be a better size for him, since they came as either partridges or pheasants, and I had started the pup out pretty early to work off some of his unlimited supply of energy.

When they arrived, I was surprised by the dummies themselves. They were made to a very high standard, with a pleasant shape (they fly really well off their toggles!). I’ve since discovered that they float, can take just about as much munching as Lucas can give as he stumbles up hills, and last much better than the other one I bought (which, if I recall, was actually more expensive). I was interested in why they seemed so well-thought-out, since they’re essentially just a bag on which to practice retrieving. I quickly found their weak-point, however, when the dummy landed toggle-side down on a stone: the shiny molded plastic shattered! My interest with the company, however, was further piqued when I ordered a few more, and I found the toggle to be a made of hard rubber, which bounced and gripped even better in my hands. This was iterative design, working to make an ever-increasing standard without changing the price or making a feature of general improvements. Being so impressed, I contacted the makers (the Working Dog Company) to find out their story:

Ian has been working his Labradors for a number of years. One of them had a particular problem delivering the standard type of dummy to hand. He either held it by one end like he was smoking a big cigar, or he tossed it around his head by the toggle flap. I spoke to a number of people and gun dog handlers about this problem and it seemed not to be unique to me or my dog. I could not find a dummy on the market that would help me, so I discussed the problem with my daughter who is a designer for a top country clothing retailer and supplier. We decided if we were going to start from scratch, lets change the shape to more closely resemble the shape of a game birds body. Make it softer for the dogs to hold and reduce the size of the toggle flap so that the dog would not be tempted to take hold of it. We came up with this design, offered it in 2 sizes: the Partridge to be utilised as a puppy dummy and the Pheasant to make a dog open its gape and carry as we would expect it to hold a shot bird.

dummiesWhen I retired after 30 years service in the Fire Brigade Jill and I decided to set up The Working Dog Company Ltd, the web site went live in August 2008 and the new dummies were launched (pardon the pun) at the Midland Game Fair in September 2008.

They have proved very popular, demand has been high and we received 2 very good reviews in the shooting press, namely BASC Nov edition magazine and Shooting Times. To view these testimonials visit our web site. We are now providing to a number of gun dog training clubs, professional handlers and shipping out to Scandinavian countries where gun dog training and handling is almost a national past time.

I really like seeing innovation in things that often go un-noticed. I can say that my little pup definitely prefers retrieving the Working Dog Company dummies. In fact, it’s difficult to make him retrieve the other if he’s allowed his preference! It’s certainly a success story so far, and I wish the WDC great luck in future.

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Like Perspective

Rhythm

1, 2, 3…4.

That little bit, between each number—count it: 1, 2, 3, 4;

The essence of the fourth dimension, the way our bodies, lives, minds and souls are moving through spacetime;

When it’s even, when it’s expressive in and of itself;

Circadian, pulmonary, seasonal, tidal;

Everything moves, and has rhythm.

I’ve always found something thrilling in the measure of time, and the rhythm of music. Maybe that’s why I play drums, and maybe why I’m drawn to hand-percussion; cause I can feel the measure, the steady and the syncopated. Watch any musician, of any genre, and you’ll see them moved and moving to the measure. Concert violinists flow in intricate dances, emphasising and counter-pointing their legato streams of liquid sound. DJ’s pulse to the movement of the base and percussion: even, simple, intense.

Likewise, playing with this rhythm somehow seasons everything. Tap your fingers in a simple four-part beat: 1,2,3,4 , then cut it in half, so you’re tapping twice for every 4: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &… Finally, go back to the first, but play 1’s half and 2’s half missing out 2: 1& _& 3 4. It’s syncopated, the rhythm’s pulled back, altered. It’s emphatic, and it completely draws attention to itself. I love pulling these bits out of the steady measures. And I can’t help but pull out the counterpoints to any activity, from typing to chopping herbs.

I’ve been playing percussion since I was 5, and absolutely revel in it. However, it’s not just music that surfaces the measured passing of time in human expression. Words themselves—or, should I say, language itself—expresses meaning, emphasising expressions with steady and altered rhythm.

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

It has never surprised me that magic in stories works through hocus-pocus, or abracadabra—words that interrupt the ticking-over of English’ natural iambic rhythm. The division between moments is expressive, creative, and carries meaning and movement, and it’s magical. Shakespeare’s dialogues and soliloquies comprised five-sectioned pieces of English, which trip off the tongue. They flow out from our minds and lips with ease <– see? We have a natural way of talking, and when you play around with it, it gets powerful.

Fillet of a fenny snake
In the cauldron boil and bake:
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adders fork and blind worm’s sting,

Consider the Witches from Macbeth. They’re eerie, and exude menace. But not all the meaning and power of their characters is expressed through the words. Their chanting is drumming, powerful, and on the first beat of each two-part section: DAH dum, DAH dum, DAH dum: it’s unnatural, menacing, maybe even thrilling.

I don’t know what this all means, or what to “do” with this love of rhythm, except express it. Anyone can do this, no matter how “arythmic” you feel yourself to be. I’d invite you to play, any time, and we’ll pull out some measures.

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Like

Pheasant Normandy/Hereford

Elliot's Pheasant Syrmaticus ellioti
Image via Wikipedia

So, I’ve been “tagged” by Rob Styles to post a recipe and pass on the goodness. I really enjoy cooking, but trying to write down a recipe that I like making is trickey. I tend to cook like recipes my Nanny (great-grandmother) handed down: “pinch of salt, splash of oil (pronounced roughly “all”), dash of nutmeg”. I’m also aware that there are many dishes I cook which tend to vary considerably, depending on what I happen to have.

So, since I live in the countryside, wear tweeds and wellies on occasion and own a flat-cap, I’ll have to post a recipe with pheasant!

Now, this isn’t too hard, cause pheasant’s taste wonderful! The only thing to remember when cooking them, is that they’re drier and more flavourful than chicken, so cooking them in ways which drain out juices is generally a poor way to proceed.

The following recipe is less a list of ingredients and well-laid-out cookbook instructions, but more of a narrative. The ingredients you can use vary very widely, and you can even cook it differently if you fancy. The basic idea, tho, is to combine apples and pheasants in a lovely, creamy dish!

So, to start, get some or all of the following (serves 2-3):

1 pheasant (which you can get “in the feather” for less than £2 per brace—that’s two birds—or cleaned for a couple quid)
3-5 shallots
Thyme (fresh is best)
1 good-sized cooking apple
Garlic
Butter
Calvados or brandy
Butter
Quality, dry cider (or white wine, if you Normandy to Hereford)
Single Cream

You can proceed in several ways, right from the start. If you want a caserole-style dish, joint your bird first, and prepare all the ingredients in a caserole dish to bake in the oven. You can also cook it in a heavy, lidded pan on the stove, or in the slow cooker. I tend to leave the bird whole until it falls apart on the plates!

Heat some butter in a heavy, largish pan. Brown your well-seasoned bird, either the jointed chunks or manoeuvring the whole bird so it’s nice and golden. Just before it goes crispy (you’re trying to give it texture and colour, not fry it through) add finely-chopped shallots and garlic. As the onions get soft, slightly lower the heat and add a measure of brandy to flame. The best way is to pour it into a ladle, and warm it as you pour a bit of the brandy over the pheasant then light the liquor—pouring a little more at a time, without letting the flame follow into the ladle. Finally, once the flame goes out, chuck in some freshly-torn thyme and allow that to pop and fry for a minute or so.

Put the meat and onions into your caserole dish or slow-cooker,and de-glaze the pan with a little bit more brandy, pouring all the cooking juices back over the pheasant. Add the chunkily-sliced apple to the dish, and pour in some cider or white wine. I don’t give measures here, because it’s entirely up to you. If you want it to be a bit more stew-like, use more liquids, even adding some good poultry stock. Likewise, you can reduce it a bit more for a richer flavour.

Now cover and let it cook slowly. If you’re caseroling, it should take about an hour in a medium-hot oven. If you’re slow-cooking, it can take as long as you want beyond about 2 hours. Make sure, if you’ve gone for the slightly drier method, to baste the bird now and then, or add a knob of butter to the top to keep it nice and juicy.

When it’s all cooked, remove the whole bird (if you’re using it jointed, ignore that) to rest.  Stir in your single cream, and let it warm through. Now, I depart with tradition here even further by not reducing everything down and blending all the apple/onions to a pureed oblivion. I simply halve the bird and serve with some roasted potatoes and seasonal veggies (also great on champ or mash!) and splash the juice and onions/apples alll over.

Drink: although this is a poultry dish, it will always be served in autumn or winter (pheasant season runs from September to February), so I tend to shy away from white wine. Also, pheasant is game, and has a richer flavour than most poultry people tend to eat, so I like this with a warming winter wine… maybe pinot noir? I’ve had it with pinotage and cabernet sauvignon (not mixed, but on two separate occasions) and it was rather nice.

The idea is to get all the flavour out of the pheasant without letting it dry out. This dish can be changed to be more like a stew with the addition of a flour roux and a bit more stock, or it can be reduced down to a lovely rich drizzle for a more fine-dining approach.

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