The inevitability of _something_

To borrow some words from Neil Gaiman…

What’s the name of the word for things not being the same always.  You know, I’m sure there is one, isn’t there?  There must be a word for it…  The thing that lets you know time is happening. Is there a word?

Change.

Things change.  It’s inevitable.  The more it stays the same, the less it changes (Spinal Tap).  The problem is, while it’s bound to happen sooner or later, not everyone is happy with it.

We’re not talking the big, impossible, philosophical imponderables here, though if you read enough Sandman you’re going to be fairly well equipped to deal with them.  We’re talking Science Fiction.

Over the course of my life, we’ve had six different Star Trek series, and if they’ve taught me one thing it’s that Star Trek can’t handle continuity no matter how many devoted fans you’ve got maintaining the wikis.  And if it’s taught me another thing it’s that sometimes changes take a long time to explain (why the original series Klingons looked the way they did, f’rinstance.  It’s a long haul, but it is there).  Sometimes, though, you change things just a bit too much in one go and you end up with the Star Trek: Discovery Klingons and that’s just “nope, I’m out”.  Strangely, I’ve just stopped watching rather than popping up on the Discovery Facebook group complaining about the Klingons after every episode has aired.

Another big change is coming to Doctor Who this year.  In case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard the news, the latest actor to play the title role is Jodie Whittaker.

To say this announcement made some people unhappy would be fairly accurate.  I know people who have decided now to stop watching Dr Who completely.   In much the same way Stephen Fry did when he left Twitter or the way this last winter has been coming back and back and back.

Let’s ignore the fact that this is less science fiction and more story-driven space fantasy.  Let’s ignore the fact that the show has broken its own rules on more occasions than you can shake a big stick at for the sake of the story.  Okay, so a Timelord can only regenerate 12 times.  Fair enough.  Much has been made of The Master going on a quest for additional regeneration cycles.  Much was made of the big Story Arc Achievement Unlocked that gave Matt Smith the extra set of regenerations and brought us Peter Capaldi.  I mean, it was obviously going to happen, the BBC weren’t going to end Dr Who just to stick to this magic number.  Let’s ignore the fact that on at least one occasion the show has had details of regenerations before William Hartnell and this magic number should’ve been storied away around Sylvester McCoy.

The BBC like to telegraph things a long way in advance.  The writing was on the wall for a female Doctor when Michelle Gomez stepped into The Master’s shoes and delivered a delightful performance straight out of Green Wing.  And when a Timelord was shot on Gallifrey, regenerating smoothly from a bald, white guy into a black woman and no-one around her so much as raised an eyebrow.

Regenerations on Dr Who follow roughly the same procedure.

  1. Actor currently playing The Doctor announces they’re going to leave.  Much wailing and gnashing of teeth, how could they do this, who could ever play the role better, etc. etc. etc.
  2. BBC schedule an entire evening’s “entertainment” to revealing the new Doctor.  Cue much admiration of the current incumbent, interviews along the lines of “of course, when this actor did their audition we realised we’d got our new Doctor” without ever revealing anything, and cue me tuning in to Facebook about 10 seconds before the end of the show to find out who it is without having to watch this time filler.  Seriously, just tell us.  Stick it in Newsround that morning.
  3. Now we know who the new actor is, cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth, how could they do this, how is Tristan Farnon / Casanova / Malcolm Tucker going to fit? Why didn’t they pick Paterson Joseph / Idris Elba / Rufus Sewell / etc?  And, in the case of the 11th Doctor, cue a conversation that started, in a pub in Inverness with a friend I’d not seen for 3 years, not with “How are you?” or “What have you been up to?” but “Who the f*ck is Matt Smith?”  (By a curious coincidence, a year or so later, a friend of mine was returning from a University Dean’s dinner in Inverness, walking along the high street in full regalia, when a voice behind him commented on how cool his cape was.  Dean in question turned round to find Matt Smith, in Inverness having a tweed jacket made.)
  4. And after about 2 or 3 episodes of the new team, the new TARDIS console room, you’re wondering what all the fuss was about, of course <insert actor here> is The Doctor, how could it’ve been anyone else?
  5. And repeat.

Over the years, The Doctor has officially been played by 16 men.  Okay, so one of them was Peter Cushing for the Dalek movies, and that doesn’t entirely count, and one of them was an actor playing an actor playing The Doctor but who has now officially played that Doctor (wibbly wobbly timey wimey and so on).

Now I’ve not entirely enjoyed the last few series of Dr Who.  Not because of the actor playing The Doctor, but because the writing has been poor.  I miss the good old days of a story being strung out over 4 or 6 episodes, not wrapped up in 1.  Recently, the pacing of the episodes have been off, single-episode stories have felt rushed, two-parters have dragged along.  So for me, at least, the biggest change is that Stephen Moffat is stepping down from Dr Who.

Like Mr M, the new head honcho has written episodes of Dr Who in the past.  Unfortunately, they’re no “Blink”.  Instead he’s given us “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”.  He has written some unusual episodes, though, playing more with the pacing and the episode format.  He’s also written a large portion of Torchwood.  So this change is the one I’m really excited about.  This new Doctor will survive on the strength of the stories she’s given.

When is a rhetorical question not a rhetorical question?

A discussion over on Google+ had me wondering.

The original post was straightforward enough.  “Is anyone here?”.  Predictably, because this is the Internet, one of the first answers was “No.”  And then it descended into philosophy…

There must be a scientific name for questions like “Are you asleep?” or “Is there anyone in there?” where no response is an answer in and of itself.  Answering “no” to “Is there anyone in there?” or “yes” to “Are you asleep?” is also an answer, though perhaps not the one the questioner was expecting.

My Google-fu has failed me – or I can’t phrase my question well enough to get an answer – so, oh great minds of the internet, what do you call such a question?  Is there, in fact, an entire branch of philosophy devoted to such questions?  And if so, what’s it called?

Cookbooks? Prove yourselves worthy!

Every year since 2000, I’ve started by going on a massive diet.  Some years with more success than others, granted.  It’s a diet I think I’ve blogged about before.  Boils down to 3 simple rules:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more
  3. No alcohol until mid-February

Do all of the above and you’re golden.

I also find I spend more time reading about food and planning experimental cooking than I would otherwise.

Cookbooks on my shelves have to earn their place.  They’ve got to prove their worth in the kitchen otherwise they’re out.  I think I’ve got 4 on the shelves I’ve not done anything with yet – hopefully that’s just a matter of time.  Of course, there are some chefs who’s books are the equivalent of the next Blackmore’s Night album – they’ll be purchased without a thought and reviewed (and discarded) later.  Once such chef is Paul Prudhomme.

I’ve 4 of his books on the shelf right now.  Louisiana Kitchen, Fiery Foods, Seasoned America and, the latest addition, Louisiana Tastes.

I did have a 5th book, “A Fork in the Road”, but that was clearly written after he’d had a long reality-check conversation with his cardiologist and the recipes were substantially different!

Each of his books takes a slightly different approach to the recipes, giving you different snippets of information, history, back story, and so on.  This one gives you tasting notes as you go along, encouraging you to taste your food more and almost drawing back the curtain to show how the wizard works his magic.  Take this from “Bucktown soup”, the first recipe I cooked from this book:

An immediate saltiness rises above a very subdued middle taste, led by a sweet, boiled onion flavor. The final taste fades in the mouth.

This is what you should be tasting at the end of step 1.  And, by God, he’s right!  That sweet, boiled onion flavour wasn’t exactly what I was wanting the final thing to taste of, but trust me, this man knows what he’s talking about.  Moving on to the end of stage 2…

Now notice the very unusual taste produced by the combination of lime juice, cream and the natural sweetness of the vegetables. For a brief moment, the flavor suggests a lime dessert, then the taste changes to an herbal creaminess

And yes, there’s cream in this – a whole pint of double cream.  But man, it is good!  And then, 20 minutes later, you’re digging into a bowl of this Louisiana take on a smoked fish chowder, your tastebuds singing and dancing in joy.

So yeah, this book is seasoned liberally with tasting notes like this.  And it’s sprouted a veritable flock of post-it note sticky labels marking the page corners for the recipes we’re going to try this year.

My cookbooks are also living documents, each recipe we’ve done is scored, reviewed, and any alterations made are jotted down so we can either do the same next time or know what not to do!  Notes on the Bucktown soup recipe read “subbed paprika for half the cayenne, spice level about right for youngest.”  Notes on the next recipe, Harira, read “Soak your own chickpeas next time, don’t use tinned.  And remember the flour/water the night before.

I’ve a real love for street food.  Being a busy man, I know street food is going to be something that can either be cooked damn quickly or can be made well in advance and assembled on demand.  Harira is one of those “make well in advance” recipes.  It’s a rich, lightly spiced, Moroccan chicken soup from “Street Food From Around the World

If you’re coming to the Soup and Sweet Lunch at St John the Baptist Church, Baston, on February 2nd, this is what I’m making.

This book has been sat on my shelf, largely unread, for a few years now.  It was being given it’s last chance read-through when I came across Harira.  And now it’s firmly back on the shelf, festooned with page markers, all calling me to different countries for their street food delights.  It’s not the prettiest of books, only having a handful of colour plates, but the recipes are solid and the little snippets of back story to each of them are lovely.

Final cook book for this post isn’t available yet.  If you’ve ever been to The Curry Guy’s website, you’ll know his recipes are sound.  He’s finally managed to swing a publishing deal and I pre-ordered this as soon as I found out about it.

Go.  Buy his book.  Fund volume 2!

I wish all of you dieting good luck – you don’t have to change what you eat, you just have to eat less of it.

And please, recommend me cookbooks!