Monday, June 30, 2008

Chocolate Girl

There's a commonly used adage "Don't believe everything you read on the internet". whilst this is clearly the case when it comes to emails from Nigeria, medical miracle cures and tips on bringing up babies, it is important to remember that there are plenty of things you should believe.

One such example is that the most pointless piece of household gadgetry you can own is a chocolate fountain machine. I recall reading the results of a survey some months ago that came to this conclusion, so when Lin said that her Mum had always wanted one I felt obliged to veto any attempt to buy one for her birthday. Clearly, this had not discouraged Jan, as when Robert Dyas had one on clearance at under a tenner, she snapped it up without hesitation.

The machine was duly unveiled at Sunday lunch yesterday, and carefully assembled without the aid of instructions (hence the giveaway price). The first thing to be aware of is that you have to fill the machine with a special type of chocolate (purchased separately) that has the correct viscosity when the fountain is operating at its normal temperature. Alternatively, you can use any chocolate of your choice, melt it and add an appropriate amount of oil to achieve the same consistency, but in the absence of any instructions we were unsure as to what sort of oil to use and how much to add - I guess it wouldn't have been Castrol GTX.

Having filled the bottom bowl the machine was powered up. With a gentle whirring noise, the chocolate was sucked out of the bottom and with Archimedean mechanics pushed to the top of the fountain whereupon it cascaded over a couple of concentric domes to complete its round trip to the bottom bowl, ready to start the process again. And that's it. I guess it would have been more impressive if the chocolate had fallen evenly around the fountain, but despite lots of tweaking with the screw-in feet and careful examination of a spirit level (not supplied) we couldn't stop the thing listing to one side. As a result it tended to fall down this side like rain pouring off a shop awning in high winds. Whilst most of the chocolate made it back to the bottom bowl, some splattered off course and invariably found its way onto Jan's top where it joined previously spilt specimens of the Sunday lunch in a scene reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock canvas

By now Emma had shown great interest in the fountain and was offering strawberries into the flow of chocolate. Of course, like any three year old, her attention and control were not of the required standard and before long her fist was buried in the fountain and chocolate was running down her arm to her elbow and onto whatever was beneath her - the table cloth, carpet, the cat.... Within a few minutes Emma looked like she had been bog snorkelling all morning

the worst part is cleaning up afterwards - I'm not sure whether this refers to the fountain or the people who happened to be in the same room when it was turned on, but I can imagine the thought of that would discourage people from getting it back out of the cupboard. Of course, as Jan suggested it could always be used as a fondue centrepiece, except appropriately, that was the runner-up in the survey.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Home By The Sea

Just back from this year's early summer trip to Cornwall. For me this was my 12th year staying at West View House in Trevone (a couple of miles west of Padstow) but for Lin and her family I think this was somewhere in excess of thirty years. Despite this relative inexperience on my part, I can certainly appreciate why they've kept going back; the village is incredibly peaceful in June and my morning strolls to the village store at times reminded me of similar scenes in the Caribbean, with the expansive sky and azure blue sea. On the other hand, towards the end of the week the walk was more like trying to wind surf off Cape Horn such is the unpredictability of the Cornish weather.

One thing immediately obvious from my walk compared to previous years is the number of properties up for sale. I'm not sure if this is speculative residents trying to make some money before the market collapses or second-home owners starting to bail out already, but I spotted half a dozen "For Sale" signs for the Jackie Stanley estate agents alone. Maybe in a few years time the locals will finally be able to afford to live there again.

I can't say the holiday was particularly relaxing; with nine people including Emma, Oliver and their seven-month old cousin all in the house it was hardly peaceful (day or night), and mealtimes had to be planned with military precision to keep everybody happy. We did, however, manage to escape the chaos on a few occasions (the others prefer to stay within touching distance of the beach or the tea pot) and venture further afield. On the Monday we went to Dairyland, a few miles east of Newquay, a farm attraction recommended to us by our local vicar in Tonbridge. Cynically I could say it's a working dairy farm that supplements its income by charging the public to come in and see the cows being milked - a theme park with real cow dung, if you like. But that would be more than a little unfair; what they've done is take all the aspects of the farm and wrap them into an educational, child-friendly and, where appropriate, hands-on package. On top of that they've added the "Bull Pen", a huge indoor soft-play area with multi-level climbing activities, ball-pits and warehouse high slides.

Emma absolutely loved the whole place, and even I had a lot of fun negotiating all the Bull Pen features with her. So it was just as well that our admission ticket allowed us to re-enter free for a further seven days - we returned on Tuesday and Thursday. Perhaps our enthusiasm would be curbed a little if we had been visiting during the school holidays - judging by the size of the car park it was probably only a quarter full during our visits.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Is There Anybody Out There?

Young Oliver has been quite demanding over his first few weeks. Being such a lightweight he didn't have the strength to feed for too long, so it was a "little and often" regime. Day and night. At about eight weeks we started to introduce some formula milk into his diet, which made it much easier for me to help out in the rota. With the night time feeds taking their toll on Lin, I took over the late shift so that she could get a decent stretch of sleep in readiness for a rude awakening somewhere around 4am.

So I've found myself with an hour or so either side of midnight to fill waiting for Oliver to stir. A few months ago I started a project to archive all my old Hi8 camcorder tapes not DVD; this covers a period from around 1991 to 2000 and includes a whole gamut of holidays, weddings, parties and general malarkey. So I've been catching up on that task, but rather than going straight to DVD I'm capturing onto the PC so I can dust off my Adobe Premiere skills and produce an end product of slightly better quality.

In a similar vein to my last post, this has been an interesting window into my past, into what feels like a previous life now. There is one particular sequence from the Bahamas 97 trip that really brought back how great those times were. We'd all been down to Love Beach for the day, enjoying the snorkelling on the reef just offshore (I think it was the time Martin and I encountered an eagle ray at close quarters; quite spectacular) and we were enjoying a Barcardi Anejo & Diet Coke as the sun began to dip lower in the sky. Martin and I are filmed standing at the water's edge, drinks in hand, with the waves gently lapping around our ankles, gazing out to sea and having a good chat. Watching for that brief moment I realised how simple life was back then and how much more responsible I have to be now. But perhaps more than anything I realised I'm down to the last dribble in my one remaining bottle of Anejo at home, with no prospect of going to the States or Caribbean in the near future to replenish my stocks.

Please, please, please, if there's anybody out there who stumbles across this page and knows how to get Barcardi Anejo in the UK, please let me know. Otherwise, if we get some decent weather I'll have to drink Pimms.