A Tribute to a Master Baker

Mildly NSFW

There follows a seasonal tale of cake and karma told in the style of the traditional murder-themed nursery rhyme “Who Killed Cock Robin” (the video below is for anyone who wants to check out the tune).

 

 

Have you seen this cake?

It was quite a surprise,

Right in front of my eyes

To see such a cake.

 

Is that a pair of robins?

Santa hats on their heads,

To match their red breasts.

Yes that’s a pair of robins.

 

On what are they perched?

Is that a yule log?

No wait, it’s a knob

On which they are perched.

 

What was my reaction?

Uncontrollable laughing,

You could even call it cackling.

That was my reaction.

 

May I take a pic?

So I can spread the joy

To all the girls and boys.

I’d like to take a pic.

 

I made it for you,

Angela replied.

You can do what you like,

I made it for you.

 

But why a penis cake?

I was honestly confused!

She said some jokes I made were crude,

That’s why a penis cake.

 

Who’ll Eat Cock Robin?

I will, if you please,

On Christmas cake with cheese,

I’ll eat Cock Robin.

 

All the boys in the room

Crossed their legs and started sobbing,

As the knife sliced through

Jolly Cock Robin.

 

If you got this far without clutching your pearls then I think you can handle some pictures of the glorious cake which inspired me to drag an innocent childhood rhyme down into the gutter. The master baker responsible is my friend Angela, to whom I am immensely grateful for giving me both a good laugh and some excellent cake.

 

The Santa Delusion

I don’t remember ever believing in Santa, although I was willing to play along with adults bent on perpetuating the myth in order to get the resulting treats. I know that on one occasion I asked to visit Santa at the shopping centre in the full knowledge that it was just some random dude in a silly suit. But hey, free stuff is free stuff.

As an adult I’ve been accused of having no soul, being too logical and questioning the magic. As a child I remember the idea of Santa’s simultaneous worldwide delivery system just didn’t really fly. The incidence of many different people presenting themselves as Santa (including my own father at a seasonal church event) really undermined the idea of him being one special entity. Also, if his powers extend to knowing whether children have been good or bad then surely he shouldn’t need them to write down their wish lists?

I don’t think my childhood lacked magic just because I didn’t subscribe to the Santa Delusion. I remember being fascinated by motes of dust dancing in sunlight, and sitting staring at wood chip wallpaper until the random texture changed into faces. I was a voracious reader, so spent a lot of time in the various dream worlds conjured by books. I created my own fantasy worlds to inhabit between being sent to bed and going to sleep, which was far more entertaining than listening to my parents’ arguments echoing up through the walls.

I never understood why adults, and particularly parents, think it’s a great idea to teach children to believe in Santa. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun for everyone when the kids still believe, but it doesn’t last. It sets children up to learn that the people they are meant to trust most will happily mislead them, and in many cases use a false belief system as leverage to manipulate their behaviour. This doesn’t strike me as a particularly healthy lesson in relating to others, but then again maybe it’s a good way for children to begin to learn that their parents are fallible.

Everybody lies, at least if Dr. House is to be believed. At any rate, it appears that lies-to-children is a standard and respectable educational tool for simplifying complex concepts enough for them to become accessible to children and laypeople. I first became aware of the concept by reading the works of the late, great Terry Pratchett:

“A lie-to-children is a statement that is false, but which nevertheless leads the child’s mind towards a more accurate explanation, one that the child will only be able to appreciate if it has been primed with the lie” The Science of Discworld

If I put aside my misgivings about setting children up to have their bubbles burst and re-examine the Santa Delusion as a lie-to-children then alternate interpretations begin to appear such as:

  • A simplification of the Christian judgement concept in which the abstract concepts of heaven and hell are replaced with tangible consequences of gifts and coal.
  • A way to teach children that being nice to others leads to nice things happening to them and reinforcing the lesson with tangible rewards.
  • A behavioural tool to help children learn to seek delayed gratification, which was linked to improved academic performance and other positive outcomes by follow ups to the Stanford marshmallow experiment.

Then again it could all just be a conspiracy to get the kids to go to bed and let the adults relax with the booze and mince pies that were left out for Santa.

 

 

The Cake Science is Not a Lie

Yorkshire has a tradition of eating cheese with Christmas cake. I recently mentioned it to an American friend who was interested in how holiday foods vary between our nations and she was horrified. In fact she was even more appalled than Americans usually are when I try to explain how utterly scrumptious a rich fruit cake is. Apparently over there giving someone a fruit cake is considered to be about as friendly as leaving a horse’s head in their bed. Oh well, that just leaves more fruit cake for me!

Yesterday I was talking about Christmas cake with a local friend, and she asked me if I had ever tried heating it and serving with custard. She claims this treatment makes it taste like Christmas pudding. I’ve never tried this, but considering the similarity of the ingredients I’m inclined to believe her. I wouldn’t pour custard over it though. While developing a method of reducing aversions I used my lifelong aversion to custard as a test subject, with the result that I can now eat and enjoy several foodstuffs involving it. The thought of the hot runny variant poured all over a perfectly good pudding still gives me the creeps, but I would definitely try hot Christmas cake with brandy butter.

Naturally I responded to the hot cake query (having established earlier that the questioner sometimes partakes of cheese with Christmas cake) by weaving the conversational threads together into the idea of serving hot Christmas cake with melted cheese on top. I imagine something like cheese on toast, but much stickier. I fully intend to try it out next time I get my hands on some Christmas cake, just for science, as does the friend I suggested it to.

So there you have it – I will be conducting some cake science in the next few weeks. Everything is better with cake science.

Science reminds me of testing.

Testing and cake remind me of GLaDOS, and therefore Portal and Portal 2. I hear my Xbox calling…

Pulling Myself Clear

In a world of social media  it seems like everything we share should be a shiny mixture of success and smiles. Being the person with crap like depression, anxiety and unemployment to report makes me feel like I’m proffering a tray of turds while those around me share chocolates. Turds may not be tasty but they can be composted to feed plants that turn into beautiful flowers. There’s a creativity metaphor in there somewhere…

Life hasn’t been good for a while, but I’m getting better. The lights inside still flicker on and off, but they stay on enough that I’m beginning to write again. Some days I can almost remember how to organise my limbs well enough to play the drums. I have moments when the drive to write music is incredibly painful, which is unpleasant but better than feeling dead inside.

“Horses in my dreams” by PJ Harvey reminds me of the surreal crawl from illness towards being well. The lyrics are in the past tense, but I feel like I am living them in the present. I’m pulling myself clear in silence, setting myself free again. One of these days I might even throw my bad fortune off the top of a tall building… 

Stop Motion Animation on a Shoestring

For a while now I’ve felt a strong desire to find ways to merge telling stories, making music and making art. It’s an urge that points towards game development, animation or film making, areas in which I lack knowledge, ability, experience and access to equipment. I started out with a fairly defeatist attitude about it, just unable to see how I could get past my limitations and achieve any kind of satisfactory result. Luckily I’m pretty tenacious in the face of despair, so I eventually decided to work out what I could do with what I have and give it a try.

Makeshift stop motion animation rostrum

One of the avenues I want to explore is using stop motion animation to capture the creation of an image, and then look at setting music to it afterwards. My first experiments involved using a free iPhone app to capture quick sketches. I don’t have a tripod so the results were very shaky, but they were enough to show me that watching an image take shape can be quite magical.

My grandiose ambitions demand something more than five second wobbly video clips, so I needed to come up with a way of working on longer projects and deal with stability and lighting issues. The obvious answer is to spend a little money – for around £70 I could pick up a HD webcam with a tripod and capture pad, or for £250 I could get a set up with a rostrum and lights instead of the tripod. However money is tight right now, and I can’t bring myself to throw cash at the problem until I prove to myself that I can do something worthwhile with this idea.

It was time to look around my home and find some way of approximating a stop motion animation studio using everyday items, and it turned out surprisingly well. I’m using my LCD daylight desk lamp (for treating my Seasonal Affective Disorder) to supplement natural light, a miniature easel to suspend my iPhone over my sketchbook, and a kitchen stepladder to support everything. I’m using an app called iMotion to capture the images, and running its companion app iMotion Remote on my iPad as a remote capture pad.

My crappy home made animation rostrum is a major step forward for me, but it’s far from ideal. Set up on the floor it makes for a very uncomfortable work position. I have the alternative of setting it up on my desk, but would have to rearrange my study furniture if I wanted to get it positioned close to the window for maximum natural light. I have no control over camera height, which means I am limited to drawing on a very small area of the page. All in all I’m happy though, as I can now do more in the way of experimenting and working on longer projects.

Check Out My Melons

Strange things happen when you stay up until 3am playing video games with strange people. You may share theories of life, the universe and everything. You may confess to something weird. You may get talked into trying Snapchat. You may develop urges to send pictures of your melons over social media just to try and get a cheap laugh.

IMG_0310

Can they take away your Responsible Adult Card? I’m asking for a friend…

One Password to Rule Them All

I was afraid of forgetting all my passwords until I got Lastpass. Now I’m afraid of forgetting my master password and losing access to everything.

Three passwords so email messages can fly, 

Seven social profiles are never alone, 

Nine shopping carts ready to buy,

One more for Lastpass on its dark throne 

In the land of memory where the shadows lie.

One word to rule them all, one word to find them,

One word to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

In the land of memory where the shadows lie.

Apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien for twisting his words from Lord of the Rings.