Marshmallow World

Oh, it’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts
Take a walk with your favorite girl
It’s a sugar date, what if spring is late
In winter it’s a marshmallow world

Some of you may be aware that cookin’ runs in the family. And because this is Christmas, and there’s a recipe that gets trotted out in the Sleeper household at this time every year, which was handed down to me down the ages, partially embellished from a recipe created by a football club majority shareholder. I give you:

Sleeper Junior’s Awesome Gingerbread House of Awesomeness!

To create an object of such awesomnity, you’ll need:

For The Gingerbread:

4oz soft brown sugar
11oz self-raising flour
2½ tbsp Golden Syrup
1½ tbsp Black Treacle
1½ tbsp water
4¾ oz butter, diced
1tsp baking soda
1¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1½ tsp ginger
pinch ground cloves

For the Decoration

60g white chocolate
240g chocolate buttons (assorted colours)
140g crispy M&Ms
Icing sugar

Other things

A four-year-old (optional)
A gingerbread house template. I used this one.
As many baking trays as you can lay your hands on
Baking parchment
A rolling pin. If you don’t have one, use Grandma Sleeper’s Patent-Pending Emergency Rolling Pin Substitute, as shown below:

Grandma Sleeper’s Patent-Pending Emergency Rolling Pin Substitute

Instructions

Sling the liquid ingredients into a saucepan with the spices and bring to the boil. Once they’ve reached boiling point, turn off the heat and stir in the butter. Once that’s melted, gradually add the flour and baking soda a little at a time until you have  something approximating a dough.

Shove a lid on the pan and leave it somewhere for half an hour, or alternatively, as long as it takes to walk down the road to the shop to buy mince pies.

Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Roll the dough to about 3mm thick, using Grandma’s rolling pin substitute if needed, out onto a well-floured surface, and cut it according to your templates.  Once you’ve got all the bits rolled out, bake for 12 minutes.

The instant that you remove the gingerbread from the oven, take your templates and trim off the edges from the hot gingerbread with a sharp knife so that they once again match the shape of the paper. Leave them to cool on the trays for a while. Don’t eat the offcuts, and don’t allow the four-year-old anywhere near them.

While you’re waiting for the gingerbread to cool, mix the icing sugar with water so that it’s about the consistency of the middle of a Creme egg (which is to say almost, but not entirely solid). Wonder why it’s December 23rd and the shop already had huge hoppers full of Creme Eggs even though it’s not even Christmas yet.

Assemble the four walls of the house on a plate, using copious quantities of your icing sugar glue. Apply more glue to the top edges of the standing walls, then attempt to add each of the roof pieces. Fail.

Note the temporary presence of cocktail sticks while the cement, sorry, icing dries

Inevitably you’ll find that they slide down, so scramble through your cupboard and find some cocktail sticks. Skewer each of the roof pieces in place until the icing dries, and hope that it’s before you need to decorate the top of the house.

Now, take your four-year-old, and help them stick the chocolate buttons onto the roof. Attempt to disrupt their attempt to alternate the colours by sneaking an extra button in every now and then, and try to stop them scoffing them all before you know if there are enough to cover the roof.

Similarly decorate the sides of the house with the M&Ms. For the most part you’ll spend more time sticking them back on after they fall off than you will adding new ones on, but eventually you’ll reach a point of equilibrium.

Finally, fill the gaps at the top where the roof meets with the offcuts you made after taking the gingerbread out of the oven. If your four-year-old is like mine and has scoffed them all, despite your earlier protestations, instead just hope for the best. Melt the white chocolate and pour it over the top to cover up the horrible gap that you have between the roof pieces. Hope it looks enough like snow.

Finally, convince your four-year-old to hold off from wanting to eat it for long enough that you can take a picture for Grandma Sleeper.

Devour before the entire structure collapses under the weight of chocolate.

24th December 2016Permalink Leave a comment

Looking for a Rainbow

Well, we’ve come down to the valley,
Yeah, we’re looking for the honey.
I see a rainbow- I said, “That’s the land of milk and honey”

Me and my cousin, 
Me and my brother,
Our little sister too…
We’re going looking for a rainbow.

I’ve seen plenty of my friends articulate exactly what the results of Thursday’s referendum on UK membership of the EU means to them. And while I can’t speak for experiences as someone with a foreign spouse, or as someone who’s moved here from elsewhere in Europe, I can talk about how I’m feeling at the moment.

I grew up on the Yorkshire coast. Wikipedia tells me that the current ethnic makeup there is 97.5% white. That sounds about right. As an area of ethnic diversity, it wasn’t exactly cosmopolitan. I’m not saying that there’s a problem intrinsically with that (though I do remember some racist bullying at school). It’s just fact.

After I left home, I went to university in Manchester. For two years I lived in Rusholme, right off the curry mile. As a district it couldn’t have been much further from the place I’d lived for the vast majority of the previous two decades. People of all faiths and nationalities, living beside each other and for the most part getting on perfectly well.  After I left university I went to work for a small company, with clients across Europe and a few further afield

Then I came to London. Working for a startup with global ambitions, and then two large international companies. I can talk to my colleagues in India and China in the morning, and Canada and the US in the afternoon. Every now and then Australia comes into the mix too. And that’s before I’ve even discussed the rainbow of nationalities I come across every time I go to the office in the morning.

I listen to Canadian and West-coast American music. I eat food made in Indian, Chinese and Mexican traditions among others, and drink beer made from New Zealand hops. I have friends and co-workers from pretty much every part of the planet. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t see myself as a citizen of the UK so much as the world. And the thing that’s upset me the most over the past few days is discovering that there are so many people in my country that don’t share my worldview.

People that insist that the UK is full, who aren’t interested in learning about different cultures. Who post racist graffiti, who claim to “just be saying what we’re al thinking”. Who stand outside the tube station draped in the Union Flag and cheering at the fact that the entire country and future has been plunged into a state of disarray and whose pensions just lost a huge chunk of their value. Who rail against difference because they don’t know any better and don’t want to learn.

Truth be told, I don’t know how I feel about the UK any more. Right now, I don’t feel like it’s the place I thought it was, or wanted it to be. And I don’t know if it’s even possible to turn it into the place it by all rights should be.

Electric Guitars

I had a dream that we were rockstars
And that flashbulbs popped the air
And girls fainted every time we shook our hair.
We were songbirds, we were Greek gods.
We were singled out by fate.
We were quoted out of context – it was great!

It seems to me that we are all rock stars. We all have our time in the foreground then we retreat in time to give the next generation time to make their mark. None of us give ourselves the due credit that we should accept for the difference we’ve made to other people. We all get at least one bite of the cherry of influence, it’s down to us how we choose to use it.

As the 1112th incarnation of the Warped President, I made a difference. There were those who came before me (Four More Years!) and those who came later (Four More Years!). To claim I didn’t have an impact on what happened next, however small, would be denying that I made a difference, however big or small. There are still pictures online, if you know where to look, of those days. Not long after, somewhere in the background, the Support Engineer started to come to the fore, educating anyone who wanted to listen to what he had to say.

After I moved to London, I faded into the South, a fate which had been prophesied for a long time. There are still those who remember me as the Warped President, but as time moves on, another guise takes shape. Depending on where you looked from, I became the Systems Administrator or the Municipal Liason, ready to answer any question about my domain I cared, hoping that you’d understand my point of view.

Look at me today, I’m Daddy, ready to answer a million and more questions that have no answer ( apart from maybe ‘Let’s talk about this tomorrow’). I’m the Application Engineer, ready to use the knowledge I have to come to a conclusion that inevitably causes someone else pain. I’m the bitter ex-ML, disheartened by the direction that something I associated with has taken.

Tomorrow I’ll be someone else again. Someone I haven’t predicted, but still someone who makes a difference somewhere, for good or for ill. And that’s all we can ever be, an influence on the others around us. I’m aiming for it to be for the better, and I don’t imagine anyone who’s come under my sphere of influence in those years can claim they’re doing anything different, one way or the other. I can only hope that all of us are acting in the best interests of everyone. But I can’t imagine that we don’t believe we are. Best is, at most, extremely subjective.

The short version – none of us are the caricatures that could be painted of us. We’re all complicated. Who’d have it any other way?