Sunday, June 12, 2011

Roach Road Carnival

The MetOffice lies. Damn them. The last time I had looked Saturday dsiplayed cheerful little suns all through the day. That’s not how it turned out. To be fair, on the day the MetOff did fess up that there was going to be some fairly heavy rain approximately when we were scheduled to set up.

The lead up to this, our third street party, had involved a few desultory beer soaked chats at the Psalter over the last six months, organised by Laura and Aine. As ever little actually appeared to be happening until quite recently, other than Lydia producing yet another glorious poster. Laura is the centre of the organisation for two reasons, other than her relentless drive and enthusiasm. One is that she has access to four capacious if fragile gazebos, the other is that she has the patience to deal with the council; getting the road closure notice, the requisite insurance and the performing rights licence. This year Aine has abandoned the road to move into her very own house but happily she came back for the meetings, the set up and to bring her own quite terrifying enthusiasm to the event.

Saturday morning dawned, sunny but breezy. It looked good. I’d bought my ingredients at Waitrose on Friday so didn’t feel I had to dash around in my usual disorganised manner, until I measured my cake tins. Augh! I own two seven inch and one 9 inch but no eight inch. I looked at the nearest potential shop, the Aga Shop on Ecclesall Road. Luckily given the huge cost, they didn’t have the size I needed. I called Waitrose but no-one from that department was available. Before setting out on my bike on the off chance of finding a suitable tin somewhere I asked Lydia. Hurrah! She kindly lent me one of her many cake tins to avert the first potential disaster of the day.

I reverted to relaxed cooking, Ian continued reading the internet and Sally gathered her strength for the gazebo raising. She and I had discussed bake-off tactics. The options I was prepared to bake were cherry cake (my choice) or chocolate cake. Sally asked if I wanted to win or just make something for us to eat. She suggested that cherry cake would never win; chocolate was the way to go in competitive baking. We settled on cherry cake.

I made chilled tomato and orange soup then made a start on the cake. I’m a lazy baker. I like to minimise the amount of washing up as I go along so first I weighed out the caster sugar then carefully placed the butter on top of that. I creamed them together, added the beaten eggs, sifted in the flour and then added the quartered glace cherries, which I’d coated in ground almonds. As I put the completed cake into the oven, the top sprinkled with Demerara, I could hear a commotion around the front of the house.

Aine and Laura had listened to my stupid suggestion of the day before and were stringing bunting across the street from their upstairs window to ours and then over to the top of a streetlight higher up the road. The commotion seemed the be generated by a H&S disaster waiting to happen. Ian and Sally were reaching out of the window, over a heavily overloaded desk, trying to catch the end of the bunting that the girls were throwing up to them, somewhat ineffectually. Once that was finally done without anyone falling headfirst into the street we geared up for the great set-up. The last cars were ushered out and the road closed signs erected.

Inevitably the first drops of rain began to fall as we opened the gazebo bags. Last year, very sensibly, the poles had been separated so that each gazebo had its own set. Less sensibly, the instructions had disintegrated and been thrown away. We divided the first lot into different types of poles (1, 1a, 1b, 2, 2a, 2b, 3, 4) and then stood for a comically long time trying to work out what went where. Sally has a fairly good spatial awareness and seemed to grasp the layout quicker than the rest of us. It took ages to get the first one up, almost as long with the second but then the third and fourth went up much quicker. The rain abated just as the last one was put in place. Whilst we struggled with the first one Richard and his friend had strolled along and put their sound-tent up in about five minutes. They filled it with PA stuff and were just hanging the walls on the back when the whole interlinked tent structure tried to take of sending us scurrying for buckets and bricks to weigh the legs down whilst a few doughty chaps served as anchors, stopping the thing kiting off into the stormy sky.

As always after this massive effort there was a quiet time whilst we slowly furnished the place with folding chairs and tables, populated them with plates of food, bottles of drink, & tat and treasures for the free tombola as people started trickling down to see what was going on. The Morris Side had arrived and colonised Laura’s house as they got ready and then suddenly, without any real organisation, it was Party On! Dancing, music, eating, drinking, talking, the usual stuff happened. Julia and Doug turned up with more chairs. Catherine drove up on her motorbike and watched the Morris. The cakes were judged. Mine had burnt slightly whilst we put up the gazabos, it was the only one not iced and, predictably, it didn’t win anything (Lydia’s fabulous carrot cake won) though half of it had already been devoured before I’d got it out of the kitchen to the judging table. Catherine went away. We drank tea/coffee to warm ourselves up. Amanda arrived. A very, very wonderful subset of the Everly Pregnant Brothers played a short but perfect set and had us belting out ‘No Oven, No Pie’ and clamouring for more. And then all the food was gone, it was an hour until we had to reopen the road and the welly whanging competition waited in the wings. We quickly and carefully tore down our lovely structure, packed it away for next year then drew a chalk line on the road.

What can I say about welly whanging? Surely it is the quintessential community game. All it needs is a welly and some enthusiasm. The candidates face away from their throw, bend over and chuck the welly up the road between their legs. Some wellies slithered a few feet, some achieved tremendous trajectories. It was a long a tense hour and at the end somebody had won the coveted rosette. The rosettes were presented, and then we, grudgingly, reopened the road. The festivities didn’t stop for quite some time. Anna and Paul had prepared a lovely game where Paul dropped a ‘rat’ (old sock stuffed with sand with a tail and ears sewn on) down a piece of drain pipe and the player had to hit the rat as it emerged. This turned out to be fairly difficult although a few people did finally manage to squash the rat.

It was getting really quite chilly. Ian, Sally and I went in and watched the young people continue to party for another hour or so, stepping onto the pavement as cars wanted to go past.

Today, sadly, the cars have re-colonised the road. It’s rained so persistently all day that most of the chalk marks from the welly whanging have washed away. Sally and Laura have just reclaimed the bunting. All the remains are some very full recycling bins, a red mug and a bowl of strawberries on the wall next door and the beautiful posters still decorating most of our windows.

The trailer, masterfully produced by Ian Sorensen, is here. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

More bike stuff

Ian is getting quite grumpy with me for no good reason at all. Earlier on today, when I was searching for the article about the shockingly high level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the Guardian, I came across the bike blog. As I couldn’t find the John Vidal article at the time (last week’s (environment) news and of no importance to the real world) I idly clicked on this article and then spent rather too much time looking at the videos (amusing), the article (sensible) and the comments (hugely diverting). Almost at the bottom of the second page of comments was a link to the Warrington Cycle Campaign’s Cycle Facility of the Month. Finally a reward for working my way through all the trolls. I so excited! There, right in the middle of 2007 is my route home (along Pomona Street). Of course it is nothing compared to some of the others. It made me LOL but not ROFL as some of the others did. I think I’d better stop now. After all, how many bollards, lampposts, bus stops and fences in the middle of cycle paths can you laugh at before you become jaded and just plain grumpy? As grumpy as Ian.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

High Anxiety!

I have found recently that it is taking me ages to read a book. It’s not because I’m not caring about the characters. The books where the characters leave me cold end up on the ‘I’ll finish reading it when I can be arsed’ pile which has expanded remarkably over the years. I really ought to dump them. No, with these recent books it’s because I care so much about the characters and I see so much nastiness rolling towards them that I have to take small sips of the story to keep my anxiety for the characters at a low level. This was the case with The Windup Girl where disaster was obviously hovering, waiting to pounce on all the characters. It was the case with ‘Swordspoint’ where I really cared about Alec and De Vries and wanted them to have a nice comfortable life. How likely is that for a swordsman and his lover? Even worse, I’m currently reading `Blueheart’ which I have to take in a couple of pages at a time. The stakes are high. The characters are working with incomplete information and all trying to do their best within their somewhat compromised ethical frameworks. Once I’ve read the entire book and the tension is resolved I’ll be able to read it again with a level of comfort and probably enjoy it far more.

In this case, ironically, it is the art of the novelist that makes this so difficult to read. If I felt that it would all end happily ever after (as in Doctor Who or any series novel) I would be far less anxious (but it would be far less meaningful). The books that have knocked me sideways and have left me changed have never been the comfortable ones. ‘The Eye of the Heron’, ‘Golden Witchbreed’ and ‘Ancient Light’ (damn you Mary Gentle!) and ‘Woman at the End of Time’, for example, were never easy reading but neither have they disappeared into the morass of ‘books that I have read but can’t clearly recall’. A couple of days in Blackpool with no useful internet connectivity has forced me to get half way through Blueheart. An evening in Reading may well complete it. I’m hoping the denouement will be meaningful without being too searing. I hope Rache, Lisel Teal and Cybele all survive.

What happened to Alison Sinclair anyway? Two excellent SF novels (Legacies and Blueheart), a less stellar book (Cavalcade), a joint SF then three fantasy novels. Why do women end up writing fantasy? Lack of recognition? Lack of sales? I’ll have a look at the new stuff. Perhaps it’s as fab as the SF?