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Films to Watch

So, shortly before Christmas I sat down with a friend and we made lists of the movies we want to watch before we die, as mentioned in A Weekend Off.  I know it’s a bit of a cheap and easy post but I thought I’d share with you my list and, hopefully, get a few insights from you about the movies on my list or recommendations of movies which really should be on my list.  Also, I’m a little swamped with options so I’m hoping you guys will help me decide where to start.

M501 Must See Moviesy book of 501 Must-See Movies is organised chronologically by genre so, as we started at the beginning of the book and worked through, so are our lists.  I’ll give V a call and see if he can email me his list so I can add it in.

In the mean time; here’s mine (many of the films cover more than one genre so I’ve used the categories as they appear in my book:

Action/Adventure & Epic

Enter the Dragon
North by Northwest

Comedy

Duck Soup
The Producers
The Breakfast Club
The Big Lebowski

Drama

12 Angry Men
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Dangerous Liaisons

Horror

The Birds
Angel Heart
Manhunter
Tremors

Musical

Viva Las Vegas
West Side Story

Romance

Brief Encounter
To Catch a Thief
The Apartment
Hua Yang Nian Hua

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Dr Strangelove
Fahrenheit 451
Mad Max 2
Brazil
Total Recall

Mystery & Thriller

Rebecca
The Maltese Falcon
Double Indemnity
The Big Sleep
The Third Man
Strangers on a Train
Touch of Evil
Point Blank

War

Good Morning Vietnam
Schindler’s List

Westerns

Once Upon a Time in the West
High Plains Drifter
Unforgiven

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the new films I want to watch and I’m sure they will be interspersed with rewatches of films from the DVD racks here but it’s a good start and a nice list to consider although, just flicking through the book again to check some of my facts, I’ve found another few films I might like to add in…

Love,
Jen

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Two Days, Two Journeys

The daily commute is an unreliable beast.

During the school holidays it is a joy to hop into my little A3 and pootle to work, listening to David Suchet reading Murder on the Orient Express to me with that delicately precice French Belgian accent, along with a range of others, some of which are so convincingly female it’s easy to lose myself in the snow-bound coaches.  It’s equally wonderful to be able to hop on my bike and coast along the clear streets, breathing the clean air, listening to Simon and Garfunkel singing in my head.

During term time the situation can change dramatically and I thought I would share my last two days with you.

The Car

On Monday I bundled the boys into the A3, my whole body tense as I turned the key (she’s not been starting well recently; taking longer and longer to kick in, now requiring a little pump of the accelerator before the engine catches).  I hugged them at the school gate as I sent them in for breakfast club and hurried back to the car.  7:45.

At the halfway point of my five mile journey I had an eta of around 8:30.  45 minutes for 5 miles; not bad.  Shortly after this I stalled in slow traffic.  Not a problem; I just needed to start the car again and catch up with the car in front.  It wouldn’t have been a problem if the car had started…  I turned the key a couple of times. listening to the fruitless “click” of the starter motor doing nothing before I got to the stage where I just needed to move my car out of the way of the traffic building up behind me.  A lovely chap heading in the other direction hopped out of his car to give me a shove so I could get out of the way and the traffic could flow again.  A call to my breakdown service revealed two things.  One, I still haven’t told them that I moved house two years ago; two, that it would be over an hour until anyone could get out to me.

Thank You

Thank you, to the nice gentleman in the yellow jumper.

I settled down to wait and pulled out my diary to catch up on the last few days.  After around half an hour there was a tap at the window.  The gentleman at the house I had pulled up outside was wondering if I was OK.  On hearing I was waiting to be rescued (I feel like such a Disney Princess) he offered me the use of his bathroom and a cup of tea.  I was deeply touched but politely declined.  A few minutes later there was another tap on the window, this time a familiar face.  One of my colleagues, who works part time, had thought the car she had nearly sideswiped had looked familiar so pulled in and called into work to ask if I was there.  She was told I had broken down so she came over to check on me and offer me a lift in.  With the breakdown truck less than half an hour away I declined the lift but by now I was very cold so I waved her off and nipped into the house next to me for a nice, hot cup of tea.

The breakdown man came (so many of the people I come across in my day-to-day life are lovely, helpful and friendly), tested my battery, which he said looked like the original in my ten year old car and, after discussing my options with me, replaced the battery with a shiny new one.  So now Chloe the A3 purrs like a kitten when I turn her key and one little corner of my mind has a fleecy blanket of peace wrapped around it.

The journey home was pretty nasty too, traffic-wise, but no mechanical or electrical failures.  I was five minutes late picking up my boys.

The Bike

On Tuesday, with a little encouragement from R, I squeezed into my Lycra and rescued my carbon racer, Sally, from the shed.  Bless her, she must have missed me!  Luckily all of her lights still had charge in them.  I always feel better about myself as a mother when my boys power themselves to school; it’s not far, only half a kilometer, but if I’m driving myself into work afterwards it is so much quicker to take the car round to the school and head off straight from there.

Riding past all the traffic on the way in I could only think to myself how glad I was that I had chosen my bike.  My local traffic jam was longer than usual but that paled in comparison to a later queue which was around three times its usual size!  I would have been lucky to have been in on time in my car. 25 minutes for 5 miles; not bad, but I’m faster on the way home, when the hills are in my favour.

The new changing room at work was crowded with two of us in there (more so this morning with three) and the new showers ran for barely lukewarm to bitterly cold in less than five minutes, making me shriek and leap out of the stream of water and leaving me shivering, wearing only a thin layer of shower gel, for ten minutes waiting for it to warm up again before I had to just grit my teeth and rinse off.  I treated myself to a cookie to celebrate the achievement of having got back on my bike.  Then another, but we’ll gloss over that one.

The ride home was uneventful.  I was aware of levels of traffic similar to Monday and most days last week, when I ran late for the end of after school club, but I made my way past them to arrive at the school with minutes to spare.

The Aftermath

I seem to be no more tired having ridden than I am when I drive, although I am missing David Suchet.  Having ridden in again this morning I found it was quite painful sitting on my saddle again, which is a little embarrassing as it is evidence of how little I have ridden recently.  As I sit here at lunchtime, I know I will need to rush at the end of the day to get all my stuff in order and get out of the office; I know I will have to push on the way home to make it there in time but I will be much less affected by how many other drivers happen to be on the same road at the same time as I am.  My destiny is in my own hands and I have the reassurance that whether I succeed or fail in my time keeping is down to how hard I try.

Love,
Jen

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A Weekend Off

As a mother, most of my weekends are taken up looking after my children.  They spend at least one weekend a month with their father though so sometimes, when the stars align and we don’t have my boyfriend’s children either, the two of us get a lovely weekend alone together.  What’s more rare is me having a weekend completely to myself.  Mostly though that’s because I don’t like my own company and very much enjoy that of my boyfriend so, on realising there was a danger of being by myself last weekend, I promptly invited an old friend round.

So Friday night I took my boys around to their Daddy’s house and my boyfriend’s ex delivered his boys.  Saturday morning was spent making the most of our last morning in bed together for a while before springing into action and getting everything ready for my boyfriend to take his children up to his parents’ house for a week (my boys and I will be joining them on Christmas Eve).  At ten to eleven (an hour after they were due to leave) I slipped out of the packing mayhem and headed into Waterloo by train to meet V, one of my oldest and best friends.

We mooched around Waterloo a little, contemplating having lunch there but, as we’d both had breakfast late (his work Christmas party was the previous night – it did not go well) we didn’t particularly want to eat lunch at half eleven so we headed back to Worcester Park and decided to stop into the brand new American restaurant on Central Road – Bronco’s.  I started to write up our meal here but it was making my lovely weekend post long (and depressing) so I pulled it out into its own post.

When we made it out of the restaurant we made a couple of stops in town (including WH Smiths to pick up V’s birthday present to me – yay!  Books!) before heading back home.

Pointless GameThe conversation, always lively, turned to one of my current guilty pleasures – Pointless.  It turns out we are both rather keen on it so the board game came out and we wiled away an hour or so.  It’s great fun watching the programme but sometimes we come up with a really good answer and are left with no idea how many points it would have scored us.  Another benefit of the board game is that when V and I came across the card prompting us to come up with the most obscure facts about Winston Churchill, we had the option of exchanging a look then exchanging the card.  He never really stood a chance though when the final topic was movies with Audrey Hepburn in them.

V is a kindred spirit of mine in many ways, on this occasion we discovered that, on the release and success of The Hunger Games movie, we both went out and bought the books to read.  The difference in this case was that I’d gone on to watch the movies, so we moved the Christmas tree into the other room, unrolled the projector screen, fired up the projector and put the blu-ray in the machine.  While I enjoyed watching the films with my boyfriend, it’s refreshing to watch a film with someone else who has also read the book and we compared notes on the differences.

501 Must See MoviesThe following morning, pancakes and pork three ways (bacon, sausages and black pudding) covered in maple syrup and washed down with coffee gave way to a thorough analysis of the contents of the coffee table movie book we’d glanced at the previous evening, with us each making a list of movies either we or each other decided we absolutely must watch.  I’ve just counted how many movies are in my list – 38!  That is a lot of movies!  That’s in addition to the stack of DVDs on the cabinet which my boyfriend thinks I need to watch.  Good news there too though; V (who has known me for around 12 years longer than my boyfriend has) assures me that, regardless of what my boyfriend says, I don’t need to watch Silence of the Lambs or Trainspotting.

Hope you had a good weekend too,
Jen

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Birthday Cakes – Phillip, Aged 6

FinnPhillip went through a brief obsession with the cartoon Adventure Time and it was during this that he requested “Finn from Adventure Time” as his birthday cake.  I was briefly worried but the cartoon is fairly simply drawn and I didn’t think I would have too much trouble approximating something.

Sure enough, this was a pretty basic bake of which I took few photos, unfortunately.  I baked a couple of square cakes, stuck them next to each other to make a rectangle which I tidied up and squared off with a bread knife.  I shaped the top of the head, cut the rectangle down so the body was in proportion and rounded off all the edges.

I had bought fondant icing in a range of colours.  I made my own once and decided life is too short; then I started buying white icing and colour pastes with which to colour it, which I still do when there’s only a small amount needed (for example, I would have coloured some white icing black for the shoes, if my cake board had been big enough for Finn’s feet to fit on it).  Now I pop round to my local sugarcraft shop (Surbiton Sugarcraft) and pick from their wide selection of coloured icing packs, although I still sometimes need to adapt the colours slightly.

First I covered the entire cake with the same “marshmallow” from a jar I used to stick the individual cakes together.  I will not be using that again.  Ever.  It was so unbelievably sticky as to be completely unforgiving with placement, it got absolutely everywhere, was almost impossible to tidy up off the cake board when I’d finished and it oozed out from under the icing.  I’m sorry I was unfaithful, buttercream; I thought I could replace you, but I was wrong.  Please forgive me?

I stared at my reference picture for a good five minutes, trying to work out the proportions needed for the shorts; t-shirt and hood.  I started at the bottom and worked my way up.  The dark blue went on first.  The top edge I left rough as the t-shirt would go on top of it and I would do the neat edge there.  If you’re going to do the same it’s worth rolling the rough edge a little thinner to create a tapering effect so the double layer of icing isn’t so obvious.  I cut the bottom corners so that the “seams” were at the bottom of the cake, where the legs would be and tidied up the edges with a small knife.  I rolled out the light blue for the t-shirt and cut the bottom edge straight.  I had to be more careful with the top edge of the t-shirt as the face was where all the detail was going to be.

I rolled out an oversized oval of skin-toned icing for the face then the white for the hood.  I cut an oval out of the white and oh, so carefully laid it over the face.  This was a little tricky as I’d left the bit under the face a little narrow but I managed somehow to get the hood on with no real issues.  I had to make a couple of cuts to fit the icing around the horns on the hood and got stuck a couple of times on the marshmallow (there was swearing).

The rucksack straps went on next: I made a semi circle of both the light and the dark green, stuck them together with a little water then cut the circle the other way to get two two-tone semi circles which I stuck to the side of the t-shirt, again with a little water.  After that I just had to roll sausages, trim them and stick them on for the arms and legs.  As I mentioned, the feet didn’t fit on the board.  Finally I used my trusty edible marker pen to draw on the face, proportions again being more important than artistic ability.
Finn Cake
Given the complexity of some of the cakes I’ve baked I didn’t expect myself to be quite so chuffed when this one turned out well, but it’s hard not to smile when your children make it clear that, for that moment, you are the most wonderful person they have ever known and they will love you forever.

Love,
Jen

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Birthday Cakes – Daniel, Aged 9

Wallace and Gromit, Candles Out

Wallace and Gromit, Candles Out

Sometimes it’s more fun and more interesting to post my failures and disasters than the bakes which turn out well, but the truth is that not all of my baking exploits are disasters; some of them turn out rather well, especially the birthday cakes, and my little boys think I am the most wonderful baker in the world.  They think they can ask for anything for their birthday cake and I will make it.  Phillip has asked for a Slime (Minecraft) for his seventh birthday.  He’s seen what I’m capable of and he has requested a green cube with a face on it.  I’m a little disappointed.

I haven’t fully documented any of my birthday bakes before, apart from posting pics on Facebook so I’m looking forward to getting a few out there. I’m going to be rather strict with myself and go back in a reverse-chronological order rather than skipping straight back to my favourite – Phillip’s 5th Birthday Cake (P5).

So let’s start with September 2014 – Daniel’s 9th birthday (D9)

Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures in the early stages so I don’t have anything to show you of how I put the cakes together, but my boyfriend was chatting on WhatsApp with a friend of his while I was decorating.  She was asking about the cake so he started taking a few photos to send to her.

I took the unusual step of asking Daniel what he wanted for his cake rather than my usual trick of knowing what they’re into and deciding for myself what I want to do.  Daniel asked for Wallace and Gromit.  That’s fine; I’m sure I can do Wallace and Gromit.

Wallace and Gromit on t'internet

Wallace and Gromit on t’internet

I found a nice looking picture on t’internet (I think it’s from a CD or something) and decided how best to adapt it.

I work with Madeira cake.  Years ago, a few short days before one of Daniel’s birthdays, my mother gave me a book about how to make birthday cakes for children and the author, Debbie Brown, recommended Madeira cake over sponge because it’s better able to take the weight of the icing on top.

A round cake is easy, obviously, you just bake it in a round cake tin, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the elbow on and didn’t trust the fondant icing to remain suspended well enough (also a problem with P5), so I decided to also bake a square cake the same size (or thereabouts – I just used the tins I already own) and use a couple of the corners to give a square bottom to the shape.  I used the base of the round cake tin to get the curves to match and cut off opposite corners of the square cake to use, leaving a leaf-shaped cake which the guys at work demolished in short order.

I stuck the pieces of cake together with buttercream icing then carefully leveled off the top with a bread knife (if you can make the cakes the day before and chill them overnight they hold together much better when you cut them).  I then spread more buttercream icing in a fairly generous layer over the top and the sides of the cake, not only does this help the fondant icing to stick but it is also useful for plugging any little holes and smoothing out the shape.  Plus it gives people like me something sweet to eat once I’ve picked off all the sickly-sweet fondant.  I make my own buttercream icing – it’s easy, if messy, and it tastes so much nicer than shop-bought buttercream.

 

On my very first cake, I made the fondant icing myself and coloured it with normal liquid food colouring.  I have since decided that both of these things were a mistake.  If you have enough time, dedication and arm strength to make fondant icing, you go for it!  I’ll keep on buying mine ready made.  Liquid food colours will make fondant icing sticky and will only produce pastel colours before you start getting into the realms of poisonous amounts.  Colouring pastes such as these are the way to go if you are going to colour your own icing.  For the last couple of years though I’ve been buying coloured icing whenever I have a large amount to do (my boyfriend is grateful for this as he used to be my chief kneader).

Trimming St George's CrossI started with a layer of plain white icing, even though not much of it was going to be on show; I just think it’s really the best way to do a Union flag.  Next I took out a little red icing, rolled it really thinly and cut nice wide strips for the St George’s Cross and thinner ones for the St Patrick’s Cross.  Please excuse the mess in our dining room – we had higher priorities.

Adding St Andrew's Blue

Adding St Andrew’s Blue

Next came the blue triangles for St Andrew’s Cross, cut from a large blob (technical term) of thinly rolled blue, the trick is shaping it around the curves and corners – it’s best if you can sort of smoosh the icing together so it’s a little thicker but you don’t need to cut out corners to make it fit.  Saying that, I was a little stingy with the blue so had to cut little bits out to fill in little gaps where the edges of the blob didn’t quite extend to the cake board.  The important thing to remember here is that THEY ARE CHILDREN!  They will love the cake and won’t care that the icing isn’t perfectly smooth; the only person who really cares will be you and the cake isn’t for you…

Basic Shapes in Place

Basic Shapes in Place

The next bit was like playing with play dough.  Nick Park is a genius – his shapes are so simple but he imbues them with such expression!  They are easy enough to copy roughly, the only limit on how well I copied them was how much time I had.  Honestly I could have kept fiddling with them long past midnight!  Because they were on a cake, all the shapes were a little flattened but there was still a huge amount of sugar there!Details

The devil is in the details and, while I’m sure you can spend a fortune on specialist tools, a short knife is perfect for marking knitting on a jumper or teeth.  A little more red for the tie then the eyes; balls of white icing with little disks of black made from tiny balls I flattened with my finger.  I (almost) always do the eyes last; I was told at one point, back when I was in a cross-stitch club, that if you do the eyes early on they stare at you throughout the whole project.  Not so much of an issue with a two hour bit of sugar-craft as with a two year cross-stitch masterpiece but it’s a habit now.  I had sort of finished by this point, then decided it really did look just a little wrong without Wallace’s left arm.  Fortunately, I had plenty of white left over.

All that was left to do was hide the cake away until the following afternoon; stab candles into their noses and anywhere else one seemed to fit and present it to a room full of small children already hyped up on birthday tea:

Lit UpI would love to do this kind of thing professionally but I’m not sure what sort of volume I could handle.  At the moment I do it for the love of it and of the people I do it for but it might be fun to practice more than twice a year…

Keep baking,
Jen

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Pact Coffee

I’m a big fan of coffee.  I have to limit how much I drink as I have enough trouble sleeping as it is but I could never cut it out completely, or go decaf as there just isn’t the range and variety available.

At home we have a Nespresso machine which I love dearly and which provides me with a delicious cup of coffee when I don’t have much time.  The only problems with Nespresso are that there are a limited number of flavours available (currently 22, I believe) which is further limited by my own fussiness, and that the pods are a little hard to come by, Harrods; Selfridges and direct from nespresso.com*.

With this in mind, I was keen to try a new service, called Pact Coffee**, which sends out pouches of coffee on a weekly or fortnightly basis (although it’s very simple to alter delivery dates or put your account on hold if the coffee is building up).  You choose between requesting beans to grind yourself or specifying the method you use and they will grind the beans for you to order.  The coffee is freshly roasted, usually lighter than you would get from a shop as they send it out so quickly.Cardboard Zombie Head

 They also send out a funky little magazine with your order once a month which contains a variety of interesting articles, staff profiles, cardboard zombie heads or disembodied deer to cut out and make and profiles of some of their customers, so I thought I’d give you my answers to their questions.

Hi, my name is  Jen
I’m from  Surrey
And I enjoy  reading; writing; crochet; cycling; skiing; sailing…  So many hobbies, so little time!
I got my first Pact delivery in  June 2014
And my favourite coffee so far has been  Black Forest Gâteau Espresso
Because  it was just perfect, although I only got one cup before everyone else drank it
I make my Pact coffee with  a moka at home, a professional, two handled espresso machine at work
It suits me because  I love trying new flavours
My coffee tastes best when  I have no deeds to do, no promises to keep
I was first introduced to coffee  so many years ago!  A jar of instant in my locker at school, black, no sugar, no fuss
When I’m drinking coffee I like listening to  my friends, failing that, Simon and Garfunkel
Because it’s  relaxing
I love coffee because  it’s warm, smooth and a soothing ritual
If coffee gave me a superpower, it would have to be  the ability to pause time
Because  then I could relax, drink my coffee and do all the other things I never have time for
If I could have a coffee with anyone in the world, it would have to be  Patrick Stewart
Because  I could listen to his voice for hours, although I suspect he might prefer tea, Earl Grey, hot

If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer them; if you fancy trying Pact Coffee, click here or go to their website and use my personal code MY-LIFE-BY-JEN to get your first bag for only £1.

Thanks for reading,
Jen

* My main criticism of this is that they use Yodel who once lobbed my box of precious coffee pods over the back gate from a distance of a couple of metres away (the wheelie bins would have prevented them from getting closer) then informed Nespresso they had left the box in the porch, as per my directions.  Nespresso had no hesitation in crediting my account for all the strips of pods which had been damaged.

** I have in no way been reimbursed by Pact Coffee (or Nespresso) for any of the contents of this post.  However, if either organisation would like to send me free coffee as a thank you I am unlikely to decline.

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Some Days I Wake Up Grumpy

That’s not accurate though. Very occasionally I wake up grumpy, maybe twice a year. The vast majority of days I wake up cocooned in an amber haze of dream remnants and my boyfriend’s strong arms and warm body. I never want to get out of bed when I’m the sole occupant; add in the love of my life and there doesn’t seem to be much in the outside world which could be more important than another five minutes of cuddling.

But eventually I do have to get up, pretty much always, and that’s when things often start to go downhill.  Unfortunately, every extra five minutes of cuddling we steal is five minutes less to get ready and, crucially, get my children ready to get out of the house.

Our standard getting up times are:

6:30 – Early start, for example for going to the gym before work
6:50 – Standard start, 87% chance of the boys getting ready without shouting
7:00 – Late start, there will be panic

Take this morning.  Last night, my boyfriend announced that he needed to go to the gym before work so this means an early start.  My alarm goes off at half six, I point this out to him, he mumbles something and hugs me a little tighter.  The alarm repeats at six forty, I mention that he really needs to get up while snuggling slightly closer to him, I receive another loving squeeze and still no-one moves.  His alarm goes off at quarter to seven, he rolls over to snooze it, I roll over too and he pulls my arm around him…  This continues until eventually, at five past seven, I can no longer resist the lure of the bathroom.

As I emerge, the day starts in earnest.  One child has wet the bed so I need to wash him before he can get dressed and help him strip his bed afterwards.  He doesn’t have any clean pants or socks in his drawer so is running, half naked, around the house to the laundry room to find them and back to the bedroom but doesn’t think to bring up extra pairs so he will do the same thing tomorrow.  The other child only told me last night that he needs a costume for his end of term assembly today and I forgot to do anything about it last night; fortunately I only have to magic a white sheet and a large safety pin for a toga, although the safety pin causes problems as most of ours are the kind used to fix numbers to running or cycling tops.

I don’t have the energy to cycle to work this morning although I wished I’d found it when confronted with the frost I needed to scrape off the car.  Daniel still doesn’t seem to have learned that he needs to close his car door after he has got out.  I snatched kisses and distributed reminders to apologise for being late for breakfast then hopped back in my car and drove the hundred yards to the end of the half mile queue of traffic at the lights.

The traffic is so unpredictable these days.  It had been so light yesterday (it’s normally heavy on Mondays) that I was lulled into thinking it might be so again today.  When the roads are like this it’s probably worth just driving straight home and donning the thermal lycra, time-wise, but I’m in the mindset to drive today and am already tasting the cheeky croissant I’ll buy on my way in, time allowing.  Are there more idiot drivers on the road when I’m grumpy or am I just less tolerant?  Seated at my desk with my cup of coffee, surrounded by the remnants of my breakfast and the associated guilt-feelings, I absorb the knowledge that, in my department of four, two are off sick and one will be late in.

I sit and dream of a soft bed, strong arms and warm breath on the back of my neck.

Love,
Jen
xx