Sunday, December 1, 2013

Hogswatch 2013 report - part 4

(Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3)

Writing from London right now, and once again picking up from where I left off yesterday - which means, the SAUSAGE SUPPER!
Of the three pubs in Wincanton, we had been assigned to The Dolphin, a charming blue-and-white building...

I'm dreadfully sorry I took no pics of the sausages themselves (which is so unlike me, now that I think about it)... but, to be totally frank with you guys, I was too busy eating them. What can I say? They were delightful, and well worth the wait! 
I got a flagon of a really nice dry cider too, while poor sweetie touched no booze at all, since the legal blood alcohol level for driving in the UK is an uncompromising 0% - plus, he's getting pretty paranoid about driving "the British way" tbh!

Right afterwards we hopped back to The Bear for a couple hours of naughty fun! 
It was nothing too ribald, really; just plenty of adult jokes. The main hostess of the show was bubbly and bodacious and all around awesome - I have such a huge girl crush on her!

This morning we relished our last breakfast at The Half Moon Inn, and by now we were pretty much aware of our fellow vacationers' identity. Some of them we had seen cosplaying even!

And, as always happens when I must leave a vacation place I've loved, I felt a little heartbreak right there. I snapped some more pics to remember it by, and the guy at the bar was nice enough to present me with a bag of pork scratchings (LOL!)

The other chips I bought myself btw. Expect a T&T post soon(ish)!

The last day of the convention run pretty smoothly, with everyone in town by now accustomed to guards and wizards and barbarians running to and fro, or the sight of DEATH's scythe propped casually against a wall.


Some of the guys we had met yesterday brought us on a tour of the nerdiest block in Wincanton, where even the street names mirror those of Ankh-Morpork...

...then there was more acting at the Memorial Hall, plus the Charity Auction that was a real delight to watch, if nothing else because the auctioneer was the only Brit I had no trouble at all understanding. He was also nice and funny, and really turned what might have resulted in the most boring event in the program - the one you wish you could skip but don't dare to, because Ewwww, come on, it's for charity! - into a veritable highlight. 

After that we headed back to The Bear - for the last time, alas! - where I got the most delightful pumpkin soup with a hint of curry, but still no pie. Sigh!

It would have been time for us to drive back to London if we were to return the rental car on time, but the next scheduled event was going to be a cake competition, and... well, you understand
 Plus, uncontrolled voices floating around were hinting at the chance of another visit by The Man Himself... and I knew how much meeting him meant to hun. To me as well, of course, but he'd been so crushed at our missed opportunity yesterday (although he'd sooner lose his tongue than admit such a thing), and anyway I had been vieing for a way to throw him in Mr Pratchett's general vicinity. 

So, in short, I kept rambling about teh cakes and how we owed so much money to the rental already that we could as well pay for an extra day. And, sure enough, we stayed.
And, weeeell... 

I am SO glad I was a little manipulative - fine, fine, let's make it a lot - because we now share a happy memory that I daresay will stay with us for a very long time. Just look at the two of us, the huge grins on our faces! 

This would be, I suppose, the point where you're expecting me to tell you about when and how it was that I read my first Discworld novel, and what meeting my favourite author felt like. Only I won't, mainly because it's complicated. 
My first literary brush with Terry Pratchett is a bit of a vexata quaestio. And, technically, he's not my favourite author; that would be Neil Gaiman - whom I met twice and in both instances approached with respect and trepidation, as the one that in my eyes incarnates perfection in writing. 
Gaiman is, and will always be, my favourite writer - but Pratchett, he's one of my favourite people in the world. I stood speechless with sheer admiration in Gaiman's presence, whereas in Pratchett's I was tempted to give him a big hug, and maybe cry a little on his shoulder. Neil is the master I look up to; Terry is the wise old uncle I wish I had. One made me a better critic, as well as an even more passionate reader; the other played a huge part in making me... me, for better or for worse. 
I'm not sure I can explain it any better than this, nor that I'd want to anyway. 

It was getting truly late though, so we reluctantly gave up on the closing events, greeted our new friends, and went to recover the blasted rental car. Turns up we'd been fined for leaving it parked for longer than we were supposed to... but honestly, we were way past minding at that point!

We are now staying in the tiniest hotel room ever - seriously, there's no room to swing a cat in, as the locals are fond of saying - and we're feeling rather peckish. 
So we're planning to look for an Indian restaurant or something, then go stick our noses around King's Cross station - it's where Platform 9 3/4 is supposed to be, folks! - and have a nice sleep, to recharge our energies for the long trip back tomorrow...


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hogswatch 2013 report - part 3

It's beginning to look a lot like Hogswatch for sure!

But, before delving into this day's recap, I need to tell you what we did yesterday evening, after we came back from Stonehenge.
Which was, basically, heading back to The Bear Inn... where I ate another fish & chips (which was good, but not as delightful as the one I got from The Bridge IMHO) and sampled a nice pint of red ale while waiting for the reading to start. 

Eating at a pub in the evening is a different beast altogether btw, nothing at all like our restaurants in Italy. For one, you can stay for as long as you wish, even if you're done eating - I saw a lady who was happily knitting a scarf, and no one bothered her at all about that. 
Also, people you don't know in the slightest will think nothing of sitting down at your table and chatting away... which was real fun on the occasion, as all the people in there were obviously Pratchett fans, but - well, it takes some getting used to. 

The "Cautionary Tales" turned out to be a fun reading of a choice of short stories from A Blink of the Screen - good think I was already familiar with the collection too, because my grasp of spoken English is - how to put it? - somewhat disheartening for one who's been studying the language for most of her life. Ouch!

We left before it ended though, because we were so darn tired both of us... 

...which brings us back to the current day!

Our B&B in Horsington has filled up nicely for the weekend, so much so that we've been moved to a larger room for breakfast this morning - could it mean that all the (apparently normal) people around us were fellow geeks? We surely were wondering... 

Once in Wincanton, we had another go at The Cat Cafe - hun had a grudge against their fudge cake, I guess, since he was determined to demolish another chunk of it - then got ready to rock!

Unsurprisingly, the Discworld Emporium was super crowded, and the first brave cosplayers were in full regalia already... 

...but, we were done with our purchases (my budget's dwindling!) so we went to see the Makers Market instead. I've taken no pictures of it but, in a nutshell, it was an area where the artistically inclined were selling their Discworld-inspired creations. 

I bought tons of stuff from a two-people-company called Cowleys Fine Food, specializing in historically correct food i.e. meat and fish jerky, fruit leathers, and anything dried or smoked. 
They had "rats on a stick" for sale, both plain and ketchup-flavoured (LOL)... but also a whole line of horse jerkys under the hilarious name My Brittle Pony, dried llama strips - you can bet I got those, too! - and more yummy things such as absinthe-spiked marzipan. Squee!

Back to The Bear we went, for lunch - alas, no chance of a pie for today... - and Discworld-inspired games. 
Turns out those evil masterminds from the Emporium had set up a table in there too, so even while I managed to stay away from the shop itself, I still ended up buying more stuff. But hey, I'm not complaining - I was able to purchase a Vetinari miniature, so all is peachy indeed!

The other highlight of the event was Mr Peter Dennis, the guy who illustrated, among other things, the Ankh-Morpork guide and its even geekier counterpart, the iPad app (gotta LOVE IT btw!)

The picture alone won't suffice to describe it - this guy was just sitting there, at his impromptu art station amid all the craziness, blissfully inking a super-intricated, oh-so-detailed drawing while chatting away with fans OMG!

I could have watched him for hours! As it were, though, we had to run to the Memorial Hall for the main events, including the cosplay parade, some sort of variety show, a lecture about The Folklore of Hogswatch - and a chance to meet Terry Pratchett himself!

By that point the convention was in full swing, with lots of cosplayers...

...and, uh - chances to make new friends?

Well, anyway. The costumes were great fun. You'll have to take my word for that, unfortunately - I gave up trying to photograph the parade because of the time it took for my crappy camera to put things into focus.

What followed was a super-concentrated recounting of every Discworld book up to now, and God help me, it was so spoiler-dense I just turned off the language-processing part of my brain there and then, and tried my best to just sit still and make bubbles until it was over.

The variety show was fun, too! The Seamstresses' choir especially made me giggle a lot, because I have the mind of a twelve years old and rejoice in double entendres. 
(I kind of hoped to upload it here for you all to enjoy, but buggy Blogger won't let me. Drat!)

But, what of Sir Pratchett? 
He was there indeed, and was so nice as to invite fans to have a little personal chat with him. Only there were so many of us that there was no way he could talk to everyone, so all we saw of him was a retreating top hat... 

Still, it felt strangely touching to even catch a glimpse of him, and the audience as a whole plainly shared the feeling. 
I've been to quite a few conventions in the past, mostly SF-centered (oh what the heck, I'm talking trekkies, 'nkay?) but the athmosphere here was completely different. 
TV fans approach their idols with an aggressive, almost proprietorial attitude, as in: "You're someone because of the likes of me, so shut up and humour us!" Here, on the other hand, the crowd practically radiated gratitude, concern and, well, love. 
At the risk of sounding mushy, I have to say I couldn't imagine another fandom being this considerate. I am SO proud of my fellow nerds!

The following conference, by a prof. Jacob Loefgren - whose writings I will make sure to keep an eye upon - was short but utterly fascinating, dealing with a topic which is close to my heart: fandom as the most fertile grounds for the establishing of "folklore", as humans in general love to share traditions, and  geeks in particular are the quintessential mythopoeic beasts. 

Now what else is in store for us? 
...Why, the SAUSAGE SUPPER of course! And later on, some naughty fun with the Pink Pussycat Cabaret!
I can't wait! I mean, sausage and innuendo aplenty... What else could this girl wish for?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Hogswatch 2013 report - part 2

Yay we did it! We actually visited Ankh-Morpork
Since, you know... the Discworld Emporium technically does count as diplomatic grounds and everything...

...but before that, we tried out The Cat Cafe
I got a nice, if a bit watery, Italian-style cappuccino (still better by far than anything I've had in Germany, Spain, or France btw), while sweetie scarfed down a giant slice of chocolate fudge cake! 

For once though, cake wasn't at the top of my mind!
Fellow nerds will understand me when I say that finally setting foot in this legendary place I had daydreamed about so much, nearly brought a tear to my eye. 

I was not sure I'd be allowed to take photographs inside, so I didn't (law-abiding gal that I am)... but I did secure a copy or three of the program, to keep as a souvenir. I had to recover them from under a gorgeous but sleepy black cat, too... 

And, boy, I bought so much stuff! Still not nearly as much as hun, though. Hah!
I got myself two kitchen aprons (that I will never use for fear of ruining them), a Discworld Almanak (so maybe I'll finally figure out how time is computed on the Disc), the official 2014 calendar illustrated by Marc Simonetti, and a couple trinkets to send to Allyn - a knitting buddy of mine on Ravelry, as well as a rabid Pratchett fan...

...and, heaven help me, miniatures! Can't resist miniatures GAH! Even if it's been, what, ten years or so since last time I've painted one, and my eyesight's gone so bad in the meantime that I doubt I'll ever dare touch them with a paintbrush.
Still, I got Nanny Ogg, Rincewind, the Luggage, the Librarian and Casanunda (LOL)... and it took me a great deal of willpower not to grab every available character. I was mighty affronted at the lack of a Patrician mini... sigh!

Back to food now - we thought we could as well have a look at The Bear Inn, since most of the events in the program (including the public reading tonight) will be held in its premises. 
The pub dates back to 1720 and specializes - why, of course! - in traditional English cuisine... so hun got himself some juicy meat, whereas I relished the most delightful baked potato ever, loaded with sour cream and melty Stilton cheese and bacon. So good I could have squealed!

Then, since there was going to be pretty much nothing to do in Wincanton till late in the evening, except maybe going back to the Emporium and shedding more money - which the two of us may or may not have done, incidentally - we went to see the Stonehenge circle, which is about half an hour from there. 

Soooo... here it is! 

Notwithstanding its fame and World Heritage status, the site can only be reached by means of some half-hidden dirt road. A slippery mesh path, laid on the ground and leading to the circle, and a rope surrounding it were all the "security measures" we met. 
Such a cavalier attitude towards a national treasure almost shocked me - yet on the other hand, it might simply mean that British people are much more respectful than we are... because, let's face it, Italians would have covered the standing stones with graffiti in a week's time. Ugh. 

All around us, grazing peacefully, were plenty of sheep...

...and the skeletal trees nearby were teeming with crows. 
Seriously, there were so many, it kind of puts the average British writer's obsession with them in the right perspective!

Hun decided he wanted to capture the flight of a raven with the stone circle as a backdrop, and was driven half crazy by the dastardly birds taking flight in the precise moment when he lowered his camera. 

Still, in the end he got his perfect shot!

Now I wish I could truthfully say the ancient magic that permeates the place sent a shiver down my spine yadda yadda yadda, but in all honesty, I was unsurprisingly underwhelmed.
I say "unsurprisingly" because I've never been one for monuments - I will admire them, sure, but to me any crowded street, buzzing with actual living people, is infinitely more precious and fascinating than the most grandiose building. 
And the stones, well... they aren't even particularly beautiful per se. If I can care about them at all, it is only as a tribute to the ingenuity of our Neolithic ancestors who somehow managed to drag them into place.

Once done with our bunch of prehistoric rocks, we sat briefly at the self service area just outside of the archaeological site. I bought a sausage pie for later, and sipped on a nice, cinnamon-spiked hot apple juice, while admiring the jewel-like starlings hopping about the place...

Some guy sitting nearby was eating cake, and it was vaguely disconcerting to see more and more birds flocking to his table, unashamedly aiming for a go at the crumbs. 
I, for one, couldn't help thinking of that movie... in the end, we left the hapless man to be ravaged by sharp little beaks charmed by his new feathered friends, and went to explore our little corner of Somerset, with its red-brick buildings that look like they're out of an episode of Murder! She wrote...

...the occasional semi-detached house, so reminiscent of old English textbooks...

...and even a few thatched roofs. D'aww! 

Time to drive back to Wincanton now - we definitely feel ready for some Cautionary Tales!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hogswatch 2013 report - part 1

So you read the header and are itching with curiosity already, aren't you? 
Geez, hold your horses, pard! Because the Discworld convention's technically starting tomorrow
Thus for now, I'm just going to ramble about food, me and sweetie, food, and my first glorious day in England. But mostly FOOD.
Are you thrilled or what?

First of all I want to show you the place where we're staying - the Half Moon Inn in Horsington, a delightful little B&B with an appropriately quaint name. 

See? Very picturesque!
(OMG am I sounding like Twoflower already?)

The best thing about the place, though, is the pub! Of course, of course!

See what I mean? It's to die for!
 The fireplace! The dried hops wreaths! The comfy sofas!

And well, yes - the beer!

We ended up in this place simply because all the hotels in Wincanton were fully booked already, but I'm so happy about it! 
The rooms are clean and super comfy and the breakfast buffet, while somewhat on the frugal side in comparison with some other places we've stayed at, includes homemade orange marmalade, which is one of my favourite things in the world... well as the traditional egg-and-sausages, if you're so inclined!

I didn't dare starting off my day like this, but sweetie did, and looked quite happy too!
Me, I fully mean to lose my English sausage virginity at the Hogswatch feast on Saturday - and gosh, this sounded way worse than I actually meant it to. 
Sorry for the mental picture, peeps! 

Well, since I grossed you all out just now, I'm going to show one more yukky pic...

Now this is actually not gross at all, as the bathroom was spotless like the rest of the room.
But, apart from the lack of a bidet - which I won't dwell upon, as it already is the butt of too many jokes among us debauched Continentals - I want you to notice how hot and cold water come from separate faucets (something I haven't seen in use for almost 3o years), and how the washbasin is placed at crotch height. Feel free to draw you conclusions - ewwwww!
(Once again, the brain bleach is on me...)

Right after breakfast we thought we could take our smart Italian arses to Wincanton and secure our picks from the Emporium before the con madness starts. 
Alas, the shop was closed! We could see the personnel inside, dusting shelves and getting stuff ready. I was so giddy with excitement that I didn't even curse that much, and was content with simply snapping pics of the outside for the time being. 

Apart from its geeky connection with everything Discworld, Wincanton is a lovely little rural town, so quintessentially English - like everything around here!

 It boasts many interesting buildings, like the old Town Hall... it comes with three pubs, a Chinese and an Indian take-away, an Italian-style cafeteria, a butcher...

...and a real British bakery OMG!

Of course I got my foodie shopping done right away (while I still have some money left, as you might be guessing...)

(Right, I'm buying booze. Sue me!)

Then we got ourselves some proper, honest-to-God fish & chips from The Bridge in Templecombe, which is famous around here for its fried fish fares. Yay allitteration!

(Sweetie actually did a thorough online search and compared feedbacks. No kidding!)

Somehow I had picked up the idea that it would be fish nuggets, so the huge battered fillet scared the heck out of me. But it really tasted wonderful, and in the end I cheerfully devoured it all!
(Sorry for the crappy pic btw - it was taken outside, late in the evening with my cheap camera's flash. That was because the fried oil smell was so powerful that hun squarely refused to go eat it in our room LOL)

And now, to bed we go. Tomorrow's when the fun starts for real!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

To England!

Yes, yes, yes, I know. I was prattling about mudcake skyscrapers and Spider-Man cakes only yesterday, and now... I'M IN ENGLAND! For the first time ever! Wheeeee! 
Who's excited? I AM!

Our adventure started this morning, when we tried taking the bypass that connects Rogoredo station (which is conveniently close to hun's home) to Porta Garibaldi. 
Because we got here by train. From Italy. 
Seeing how airplanes, you know... it's not that I hate them for real. I have only one gripe with them - namely, the fact that they fly

The bypass train had some kind of problem, so we had to call a taxi to get to the correct station in time. But, we did it! Nothing else could possibly happen, right

Because once again, our train had some sort of mechanical hiccup - and dumped us all at some unheard-of station among the French Alps, waiting for a replacement train to pick us up.

Can you see the snow? Geez. SO COLD!

What was left of our first leg went smoothly afterwards, with our train crossing mile after mile of featureless French landscape... 

...until we reached the Gare de Lyon in Paris. 
Now before you ask: we did not see anything at all of the Ville Lumière - not that I, personally, cared in the least about it - as we had to madly dash to the Gare du Nord by mean of yet another bypass, which was horribly crowded, but thankfully punctual.

Even while the unexpected stop earlier on had eroded much of our time, we hopped on the next train just in time and enjoyed the ride under the English Channel and... 


Now you must understand I've been reading (and fantasizing) about London for so long that the town's largely a literary construct in my mind. Sherlock Holmes and Peter Pan and Harry Potter and Jack the Ripper, oh my! 
Actually being there, if just for a few minutes until we picked up our rental car - which was, by the way, a tiny cramped thing, and with the steering wheel on the wrong side as far as we're concerned - it felt, well... awesome. 

I squealed at each and every sighting of a familiar location - King's Cross! And Baker Street OMG! - while poor sweetie struggled to come to grips with Great Britain's utterly alien driving system. 
I am sorry to say we did damage the rearview mirror first thing. Boo!

Reaching our final destination, deep in the rural Somerset region, took a further two hours, and we were mighty sleepy by the time we got here, super late on our estimated arrival.  
Not that the fact prevented us from sampling our first ale right away, mind you! 

I'll tell you more tomorrow about this gorgeous place where we're staying - and stuff... 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Once more unto the breach!

Sorry sorry sorry!
I keep dropping off the blogging world, but... this time I have a good reason if nothing else! 
See, I am finally baking again - my biggest cake ever (it serves 24), and my first go at... stacked cakes OMG!
Nedless to say, I'm frantic, tired and overworked, and dead scared about everything that could (and probably will) go wrong. 
And I'm feeling more elated than I've been in a long time. 

I'm allowing you guys a sneak peek at my WIP...

(Please ignore the clutter...)
See? It's going to be for a Spiderman-themed birthday party, so there will be ol' Spidey climbing down the skyscraper once it's finished.
And I'm going to put silhouette buildings all around the bottom tier, to make it look a bit more like New York. 

BTW this reminds me that I haven't shared my trusty "sturdy chocolate cake recipe" yet.
I'm not even sure I have a right to call it mine, honestly, as it's 99% an average mudcake, with a few very minor tweaks I introduced to make it extra durable. 
It's an awesome base IMHO, for children especially - it's rich and fudgey and extremely chocolatey, so that a single slice will satisfy even the sweetest tooth in the world.
Plus it's dense and sturdy (for carving or stacking), and it keeps for up to three weeks in your refrigerator. For real!

I'll have to convert the recipe in cup measurements before I can post it, so please stay tuned.

For the finished cake too, of course! 

(...Er. You do want to see it, don't you?)

Monday, September 23, 2013


Who's the birthday girl then? 
WOOT! I am!

Lookie here, I even got my own doodle... 

Thanks Google! You rock!  <3

...and Etsy sent me this lovely "cake"!

I won't be celebrating that much today unfortunately, as I'm going to be stuck at work till midnight - but, I gave myself a nice little gift to enjoy in the meantime! 
Wanna see what it is? 

It's not one of those fancy cast iron skillets everyone keeps raving about, but the next best thing for sure: an aluminium one! 
I've collected a nice bunch of recipes already, and I can't wait to try it out! Wheeeeee! Can you see I'm excited?