Views from atop Marvel Hill

The following posts have no fixed theme or style, but I hope you enjoy reading them!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Question #13

Question or nominate?

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Tamanian Tea: A Visit to Chado

Some time back in February I wrote to May King, the Autralian tea expert, to ask for some advice. I had a trip planned to Tasmania, and needed to find my fix of decent tea at some point. She recommended Chado : The Way of Tea as having the best reputation in the whole state of Tasmania, although she admitted that she had never got over to try it out. So, May King, this is my verdict... 10/10 This tea shop is run by one of the founding members of the Violent Femmes, Brian Ritchie, and his wife Varuni Kulasekera. Neither of them is Australian as I had first assumed, but now I have visited Tasmania and experienced it for myself, that they would want to move there is less of a surprise. Hobart is a metropolitan city in a wild land that is packed full of forests, hills and wildlife. Hobart is pretty intense, but Chado certainly breaks the mould. As you enter from the busy street, a meditational calm stretches out to you so that you are immersed before the door even closes behind you. We were welcomed by a very nice lady at the door, and our eyes were drawn towards the source of the japanese music in the room. It was Brian Ritchie himself, now an accomplished Japanese flute player, playing for the guests. We were taken into another room, decorated in red and black in keeping with the japanese style. Both walls were covered from top to bottom in shelves covered in tea tins with every type of tea. The menu is excellent, with descriptions of all of the teas to help with your decision. Unfortunately for me, that kind of detail always leaves me with more questions than answers, but luckily our waitress (I'd rather call her a Tea Advisor actually) knew every detail and helped us with our decision. My girlfriend Ange settled on a Chai, and I decided on Golden Buddha Oolong.
The tea is served in a small teapot, with a beatuiful ceramic cup to drink it from. Then there is a small dish to put the leaves on when they have brewed enough, and, best of all, a thermos flask of water for resteeping. I've never been to a tea shop that gives you a thermos of water like this, and it seems like the perfect solution, allowing you to resteep without either asking for more water, or having a pot of water that goes cold as quickly as the tea. In all, I brewed the tea four times, and every time it was brilliant. One of the best oolongs I have ever had, and it was still excellent and full of flavour on the fourth steep. Even Ange (who is not quite as much of a tea enthusiast as I am) was impressed with this. We stopped to talk to our Tea Advisor for quite a while in the end, she was very welcoming and willing to chat; she didn't even get impatient when we asked to smell tin after tin after tin of different teas and ended up buying three types of tea, all of which are now at home being enjoyed regularly. A peppermint tea, lemongrass and ginger, and of course my Golden Buddha Oolong. The only note of caution is: Don't go on a Monday like we did first time round... it's not open

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Advice #45

Rent/buy a house before you buy the furniture for it. It might not be as easy as you think to get it through the doorway to your old house...

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The National Interest

A recurring theme in the news these days is the abuse of human rights. It's a well known fact that there are conflicts between one right and another, and conflicts where protecting one person's rights violates another person's rights. However, there is another type of conflict that emerges from time to time.

To what extent should it be possible to violate someone's human rights if it is in the national interest? Who should be allowed to make the decision?

A while ago there came the news that the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was arrested. The Chinese government had decided that he was a bad influence in the country. It had calculated the pros and cons of locking him up and decided that it was better to arrest him. Like the Burmese government with Aung San Suu Kyi, it is likely to reconsider it if there is enough international pressure put on the government. Freeing him would allow him to enjoy freedom of movement and expression in accordance with his human rights. Article 9 of the internationally recognised "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" states
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile

So why does China keep him imprisoned? It takes a lot of resources. I don't think it is purely self-preservation on the part of the government. Instead, it can be argued that it is in the national interest to keep him and his ideas away from the general public. When an idea suddenly appears and spreads in a country, there tends to be a sudden revolution and, like a volcano, it causes a lot of damage before it settles and makes it a more fertile land. French revolutions caused violence for decades, and the breakup of the USSR left a vacuum in most of eastern Europe for years. The aim is to allow ideas to seep out gently to avoid political, social and economic collapse that would otherwise be possible.

OK OK, it's stretching it a bit to say that the government should be allowed to lock up any artists it doesn't like. I'm being provocative. But there is another story on the same spectrum that is being viewed differently.

The story I'm thinking of is the Julian Assange case and Wikileaks. Wikileaks is an interesting contradiction in itself, being on the one hand a breach of national security and on the other, the uncovering of the government's true feelings, which American voters might argue they have a right to know. Whatever you think about Wikileaks, the attempts to prosecute him for a long-forgotten sex crime are a thinly veiled cover for locking him away for the good of the nation.

So, with different situations, we arrive at the same conclusion. Governments feel that they can take away a citizen's freedom if their views, expressed as allowed under the principles of freedom of speech and information, are deemed to be potentially dangerous and disruptive to the nation as a whole.

Maybe that's fine and justified. But when we vote in a government, do we all realise that we are trusting them to the extent that we allow them to withdraw a person's human rights on our behalf?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011


The council (or their friends) have been digging up our road. So far this year they've spent more time digging up our road than I've spent drinking tea, and less time filling in potholes than I have spent drinking coffee!! I'm not sure they have their priorities quite right.

First they put in traffic calming and road crossings in at the entrance to the road. I'm convinced it makes the road less safe rather than more safe, as you have to swerve into the middle of the road and towards traffic coming road the corner off the main road. I could draw a diagram, but I want to tell you about the second digging project of the year, so I'll skip over it for now.

Last week, holes appeared at intervals along the road. They were clearly working on a supply route for water, gas, electricity or sometime.

On Friday our gas was off. I had to resort to fast food when I discovered that our hob wasn't working. Still, it's not too important when the sun is out and summer is approaching. So I assumed it was all part of the process and didn't worry any more about it.

On Monday things were different though. I got back from a weekend away and Housemate Paul greeted me with the news that the gas was still off. This was a little more worrying, because the road was all filled in and the only reminder that anything had been there was a pile of cones and barriers ready to be picked up. I was starting to worry whether it was something in our house, but at 10pm I thought I'd look online on the off chance that there might be a helpline for this kind of thing. As it turned out, it was very easy and I was soon calling National Gas Grid plc.

A very kind gentleman calmly told me that he was very worried for my safety. I must not turn anything electrical on or off for fear of explosions, and I must isolate the gas supply to the house immediately and ventilate the house in any way possible. A gas man would call within an hour and make sure we weren't going to die in our sleep.

This all seemed a little over the top, but I was impressed by the fact that they were dealing with me seriously so I went along with it all. Except I turned on the telly. I've been turning electrical things on and off all the time and not had any problems, so I wasn't going to miss out on some TV for that. Somewhere across town a rather tired gas man got out of his bed and into his van so he could come and see me. He had a good sniff, using his rather tired nose, and a gas monitor. It turns out that there was no gas being supplied to our house, as we suspected. He reassured us, and we went off to our separate beds across town.

This afternoon, I came back from work to find this note through the door.

It turns out that they had managed to disconnect our gas supply during the road digging and had not reconnected it. This evening, there was also a brand new hole at the top of the road. A hole in the road, all for us! I feel so honoured!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Question #12

What makes some baldy heads shinier than others? Sweat perhaps? Or polishing? Or moisturising?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Undeniably sound logic

Still water is better value for money AND more thirst quenching than sparkling water.

After all, sparkling water has lots of holes in it

[thanks to Uncle David]

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Earl Grey with Raspberry

In the middle of last year I visited my friend Sonia and discovered a wonderful taste combination.

Earl Grey with Raspberry Flavoured Special K

My first thought was this : You could make a tea out of that! And then I pondered a little longer and realised that the effect would probably just as good without the Special K. Then I'd be left with

Earl Grey with Raspberry

The warm spicyness of Earl Grey would blend perfectly with the tart fruitiness of the raspberries to make what was sure to be the best tea ever.

I decided at that moment that Earl Grey would be my first tea blend. The Whittard's website offers the possibility of producing a personalised blend for you, but to my horror it didn't include raspberry as a possible fruit choice.

My solution was to find the ingredients to make my own. I found dried raspberries at the supermarket. This plan had taken several months to be put into action, so I had considered the problem that the tea is likely to brew much more quickly than the dried raspberries. To get the best taste, I chopped my raspberries into little pieces and added them to the tea strainer. I poured in the water and allowed it to start brewing. I kept the tea cosy on the pot to keep the water as hot as possible (Earl Grey should be brewed with water straight off the boil) and then added my Earl Grey after 5 minutes. 3 minutes later I was ready to try my first ever home-blended tea.

Well, I have to tell you that I was a bit disappointed with the outcome. The raspberries did not keep any of their sourness so the tea ended up being a bit sweet and unpleasant. I was amazed that my incredible idea was not a success.

I am deterred, but I shall try again at some point. When I do, it will be reported here!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Advice #44

On an icy day like today, be sure to wear sensible footwear when you go outside

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Advice #43

Button up your overcoat

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Collective Forgetfulness

The common cold is a horrific, terrible disease, forcing perfectly respectable people to lose their dignity into a pile of snotty tissues, sipping gingerly on a lemsip and wincing every time they have to swallow. For days at a time they become incapable of doing anything at all. Conversations become blocked by coughing fits and people failing to understand that there are certain words that are impossible to say with a blocked nose. Every hour brings a new symptom, whether it's a headache, blocked sinuses, a tickly cough: I can think of about another ten but I'm not here to write a list. Let's face it, we have all been in situations where we'd be much better off being back in bed, because there is nothing to be gained from being outside it.

But we all feel obliged to pretend that there is nothing wrong. Why?

Because we have all forgotten. I have a cold right now. And yet I, too, am already forgetting how nasty colds are, and I will once again laugh in the faces of people who claim to have "man-flu"

Three or four days into your average cold, it has whittled itself down to one or two symptoms that are a slight inconvenience and no more. Enough to carry tissues with you everywhere, or to have a bottle of cough medicine by your side, but no more. When you think of a cold, this is probably the stage you remember, because this is the stage that lasts weeks or months. It gets incredibly frustrating, but you can look back on your cold with a rosy glow that you could almost call nostalgia. Colds drag on and on with virtually nothing to mark it out from normal life, except a gentle reminder in the form of a sneeze every now and again, and that's no trouble at all!

But you have forgotten those first few painful days. DO NOT FORGET. There are so many victims out there, who are waiting for someone to tell them that they understand. Because the rest of the people in the world have forgotten already, and remember the good times that follow. Feel pity on those poor victims, who are pressurised into leaving their beds by a society that only remembers the second half of the common cold. Stand up for them by remembering.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Keeping yourself in suspense

Once you click "Poke" on facebook, you can leave up the pop-up saying "You are about to poke..." for as long as you like