Dot writes: recently Hugh found romance with a girl in his class. We heard from her parents that Ella was drawing love-hearts with ‘Hugh’ written in them in her books and proposed to marry him next week. He told me that the people he loved most in the world were me, Ken, Ella and Storm (Storm is a Senior Infant who is, says Hugh, ‘very cute’. We notice that Frank didn’t make the list).

But then it was all off. Whether Storm had something to do with this, we didn’t know, but apparently it was over. This evening, driving to Boys’ Brigade, Hugh decided to tell me and Frank about it.

Hugh, mournfully: I’ve lost my love. Ella has quitted marrying me.

Me: Why is that?

Hugh: I don’t know, she just quitted marrying me. She won’t give her permission and you need both people’s permission to get married. Now I can’t play chase the girls anymore. I will have to play a different game. [????]

Frank: In the Spiderman programme that girl says they aren’t ready.

Hugh: Yes, maybe we’re just not ready.

I texted Ella’s mum who said that perhaps they would feel ready when they had both turned seven.

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Dot writes: gosh, it’s been a while since I posted, hasn’t it? That’s the start of term for you. I should write something long and insightful to make up for the gap. In the mean time – look at the kitten!




She was born at Carraig Dúlra, an organic farm in Wicklow, as one of a litter of six. One of my colleagues volunteers there and advertised that they were looking for homes for kittens and I said we’d take one. I slightly wish I’d said we’d take two…isn’t she lovely?

Her sex is not absolutely certain but my colleague was fairly sure we were getting a female. Anyway, we are calling her Pepper, which seems gender neutral (though the boys suggested it thinking of Peppa Pig), at least for the moment.


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More of Dot’s musical adventures

Dot writes: I suspect that my pace of new listening is going to slow somewhat as I get sucked into the maelstrom of the teaching term, but here’s a little post on the three new albums I’ve been exploring over the past two weeks. Two of them I bought and the third one I was given. The third is much the obscurest and also, now they’ve all had time to grow on me, also the most interesting.

1. London Grammar, If You Wait

This was instantly appealing – lovely vocals, moody keyboards, and I really like the minimalist guitar style. I found a write-up in the Guardian that was a bit sniffy about how non-gritty they are (I’ve just searched for it and I can’t find it, but I don’t think I made it up), but not everyone has to be The Clash. They have got very popular very quickly and it’s easy to tell why.

2. Karnivool, Asymmetry

Oddly, I came to London Grammar through this utterly different band, Karnivool, because Karnivool did a cover of Hey Now for the Australian radio station Triple J and I saw it on YouTube and liked it. And I was investigating Karnivool because of another cover, their version of Gotye’s The Only Way (it works amazingly well as a hard rock song). Clearly they have a great taste in cover versions, but it has taken me a little time to attune to their original material as they’re much heavier than anything I have been into for a while, and also they give their songs portentous titles like Nachash and Eidolon. However, this song, We Are, is a real ear worm; and the video is magnificently creepy.

3. Zammuto, Anchor

So, I was aware of this before I was given it, but I wasn’t quite sure I was going to like it. I did find this clip extremely engaging as – hooray! – it has a trebuchet; indeed, it could hardly be further from your rubbish generic pop video.

However, at first I responded to the clip more than to the song. But the song has a disconcerting, ebullient quality that really does grow on you, and the album as a whole is full of complex textures and ideas. It’s a little spiky, but it’s not without melody and sweetness, and there’s lots to explore. The creative methods behind it are extremely original, as illustrated in this documentary. (We also note that Nick Zammuto grows amazing carrots, or rather his wife does – ours were riddled with carrot fly, alas… and he built the trebuchet himself, too. What a genius.)


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Dot writes: things I’ve learnt over the last few weeks:

1. Apparently there’s a kind of broken bone children can get that isn’t really broken, but rather bent. Their soft bones can deform under pressure where an adult’s would just split. It’s called a buckle fracture. In the course of a surprisingly efficient visit to A & E on Monday 1st September (triage nurse, doctor, x-ray, doctor again, application of back-slab cast, and visit to physio all in 2 and a half hours) I was told that Hugh had one of these. He was given a sweet little zimmer frame and an appointment at the fracture clinic for the following week.

2. It’s amazing how many people have stories of having told their children off for moaning and made them go for walks and things when they actually had broken bones.

3. Having a child who can’t walk any distance makes it even harder to solve a giant childcare crisis, because you can no longer fall back on arranging for them to be picked up by people from the after school place and walk back to it, supposing the after school place would return your calls.

4. However, even buckle fractures can usually be traced to a memorable event. Waking up with a sore foot and developing a limp that turns to a hop is not the way it usually goes. Also, A & E doctors sometimes get over-excited. The specialist we saw on Monday 8th cut the dressing off Hugh’s ankle and sent him off home with one bare foot, telling us that his ankle wasn’t broken at all, and we could return the zimmer frame when we got the chance. (Needless to say it’s still in the boot.)

5. It is possible to recruit a new au pair and have her move in within a week. She’s from Valencia. She’s great. (Though if it had been that easy when I was trying to recruit an au pair in August there would have been no giant childcare crisis.)

6. However, I still feel massively stressed because term is heading towards us like a train and, frankly, the last few weeks have been a bit of a disaster work-wise. Next summer the arrangements need to be simpler.


I’ve just learned another new thing: if you do a google image search for ‘child zimmer frame’, after a bit you get a picture of Bob Dylan. I wonder why?


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Messing about with malt, or the problems of ensuring consistency in a small brewery

Ken writes:

When thinking about the malted barley we use in our beer, there are three fixed points to consider. We have to keep the amount of potential alcohol the same from batch to batch. We have to keep the colour the same, since people tend to notice things like changes in colour. And we have to keep the flavour the same. The amount of potential alcohol is determined by the yeast we use and the amount of sugar we get out of the malt. Maltsters supply spec sheets listing the LDK (litre degrees per kilo), essentially how many ‘sugar points’ yielded by each kilo of malt. A kilo of malt with an LDK value of 300˚, for example, would yield 1 litre of wort with a specific gravity of 1.300 or 10 litres of wort with a specific gravity of 1.030 (i.e. 1 litre with an excess gravity of 300, what I’m calling ‘sugar points’, or 10 litres with an excess gravity of 30 (30 sugar points). If the LDK values change, then it is a simple matter to increase or reduce the weight of malt accordingly to keep the original gravity, and there the potential alcohol content, constant.

Maltsters also provide values for the colour of wort made from the different malts. As with strength, colour adjustments can be made by increasing or reducing the proportions of the different malts as necessary to accommodate changes in the colour from batch to batch.

Unfortunately, there is no objective reckoning for taste. I don’t even know if taste follows strength or colour. If the recipe calls for a certain proportion of the sugar points to come from a certain type of malt, then because the brewer just has to take the LDK and colour of the malt as it comes, the mass of malt and therefore its effect on the colour of the final beer will be determined. On the other hand, the recipe could be turned on its head, and we could specify what proportions of the overall colour of the beer come from what malts. Just as before given the colour specifications, the weight of malt will be determined, and therefore, how much sugar will be obtained and indirectly the strength. In other words, if the malt varies, then keeping colour fixed may mean a change of strength and vice versa.

I don’t really know how to solve this problem. I can see why large breweries would want to dictate to the maltster what malt specifications they will accept. It would be so much easier to keep a consistent product if you could rely on colour and potential strength not changing.

I think I’m going to sort of assume flavour follows colour. I don’t know how safe an assumption this is, but at least some of the compounds responsible for the colour of darker coloured malts are also responsible for some of the malt flavours (Maillard reaction products). I’ll try to have the coloured malts contribute as much colour as they previously did, but I’m not going to try to keep the colour contribution of the base malt the same. Instead, I’ll just adjust the base malt however I have to adjust it once the coloured malts are calculated to keep the original strength the same. There’s no real principles behind this; it’s a compromise to meet competing desiderata.

crystal 150
(image of crystal malt nicked off the internet from somewhere and used without attribution or permission)


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Frank starts school

Dot writes: Frank was so, so ready for school. He is already almost five, is physically tall and strong, draws and colours with confidence, can count pretty well, is sociable and confident, and was bored with the resources in his play school. But when, on Thursday, I finally dropped him off for the first time in Ms Hogan’s class, I couldn’t help but have a little snuffle as I left the building. It’s a cliché, but – where did my baby go?


Frank marched confidently into the classroom and said to the teacher “Hello. You remember me – I’m Frank.” Then he started playing. It was Hugh, now elevated to the ranks of first class, who wanted kisses and hugs and multiple goodbyes.

Here are another couple of nice photos of them from our trip to Wales with my parents a few weeks ago.

20140810_125940 20140815_152607


Filed under Family stuff, Sprouting

Martha and Mary

Dot writes: Here’s a post in praise of the contemplative life. In the middle ages the cloistered orders, those who thought and prayed, were thought to have taken a holier path than those who went out and got their hands dirty in the world. This reflects a mindset that is almost incomprehensible today. But really we should all do a bit less. All our busy-ness scribbles on the world, poking it, moving it, using it up. Ecosystems would be happier without thrusting proactive humans being innovative and industrious/industrial all over them. Here are some not-things we should do more of.

Looking out of windows
Staring at the sky
Listening to waves
Not bothering to replace stuff
Solving equations in our heads
Learning Gothic
Letting the grass grow

Please add more ideas of your own in the comments.

Picture credit: Sweet Like Cinnamon. The image was taken on Dollymount Strand, which is our nearest beach and somewhere I like to be contemplative.


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