Friday, October 2, 2015

I Made A Challah!

It being Friday, we like to have a challah with our evening meal. We haven't been able to find one in a shop recently, so Mrs Crox dug out a recipe and charged me with the construction of the traditional Shabbat loaf. As I am mainly at home (I work for the Submerged Log Company) I was able to do this at intervals during the day.

First I mixed up three eggs (thank you Ladies!)

Some Ladies, recently.
… some sugar, yeast and oil into a soupy mix with lukewarm water. Then, I sifted the salt and flour into a large bowl, added the liquid and started kneading. The quantities weren't quite as directed in the recipe, and the best vessel I had was my trusty jam kettle - the dough was definitely doughy and quite sticky.

Still, you can tell I'm broke by the way I kneaded the dough. (I'm here all week folks.)

I won the contest on points and left the dough to rise. Here it is an hour or so later.

Practising my plaiting skills, coating with egg and sesame seeds, leaving for another hour ...

… and baking for 30 mins at about 150C, the result was this.

Two fine challahs. We've already eaten one. And pretty decent it is too. I am now the family's designated Shabbat baker. And I don't even watch Bake-Off.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Zoology at the Maison des Girrafes

Every so often I post an update on the residents of our menagerie. At present we can boast representatives of all five vertebrate classes. In no particular order there are the dogs, Heidi and Saffron:
The rabbit, Buttons:
The four kittehs Elvis, Ted, Emma and Naughtypants (not pictured):

Thirteen hens - this one is Lady Buffington-Tuffington, one of two new inmates;
The snakes Yentl (royal python) and Syd (corn snake - not pictured);
The fish;
The axolotl, Squirty Benson Wilberforce III;
… and last and definitely not least, Geraldine the Girrafe!


Fascinating to see Who Do You Think You Are? -- a televisual emission from the BBC on genealogy -- which traced the ancestry of the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner back to William the Conqueror.

I suspect that lots of people are descended from remote royalty. After all, William the Conqueror was Mr Gardner's 29-times-great-grandparent, and we each have more than 500 million ancestors of that degree, yet there were only about 300 million people in the world in 1066. In other words, it's a fair bet that anyone alive in England, and possibly most other places, could number Willy the Conk among their ancestors.

Mr Gardner's case was interesting, therefore, not because he was descended from William the Bastard, but that this ancestry could be traced. It was helpful that he had various famous people in his pedigree concerning whom records have survived. For example, his ancestors included George Rolleston - Victorian zoologist and contemporary of Darwin - whose wife Grace was a niece of Humphry Davy. His mother's line could be traced back to Tudor courtier Sir Michael Stanhope - and thence back to Edward I, after which it was easy. All the notables above mentioned have their own Wikipedia entries.

What about the rest of us? Mrs Crox, for example, is an English Rose, so one way and another I suspect that the blood of Queens runs in her veins. She for her part thinks that on the evidence of my politics I am descended from Genghis Khan.

This is perhaps not such a daft idea.

My family on both sides are Jews from Eastern Europe, perhaps from the fabled Khanate of the Khazars, a Turkic-speaking realm in Medieval southern Russia, whose ruler is believed to have converted to Judaism. Could I have Khazar DNA? Maybe the Khazar DNA project could help. The Khazar Khanate must have stood in the path of the Mongol invasions, and simply hordes of people have DNA believed to have come from Genghis.

My mother's family was from Silesia in what is now Poland - my father's from somewhere in Russia. I don't know my paternal ancestry further back than my great-great-grandfather, one Aaron Israel Ginsberg, whose son, Grandpa Wolf, emigrated to England. He was a cabinet maker (I have inherited his mahogany dining chairs.) He was, apparently, a fairly irascible character. Perhaps he, like Mr Prosser in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, dreamed of horses galloping across the steppe?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Yes, It Can Be Done

I have been deluged with a small but significant piece of publishing news from my agent.

Many years ago when the world was young (ok, it was 2004) I published a book called Jacob's Ladder: the History of the Human Genome . It attracted a small advance, and was subsequently translated into Italian and Spanish. In all those years, though, it has never broken even, such that I could make a royalty.

Until today, when I received a statement saying that I've made ... wait for it ... Roll of drums ...


A moment, please, for quiet satisfaction. In the writing business you have to play a very long game.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Making My Day

Making my day - and indeed the start to a new working week - is switching on the social meeja and finding unexpected, unsolicited approbation for one's works. So, thank you, Mark Radburn!

Monday, August 31, 2015

In A Silent Way

Many years ago when the world was young (okay, it was in the early 2000s)  the Croxii used to holiday near Tenby in South Wales. Our vacation of the summer of 2003 was especially memorable, as the sun shone uninterruptedly for two weeks. Let me run that past you again:




I know, I know, it's hard to believe.

One of the attractions we visited, more than once, is called The Silent World. This remarkable aquarium and zoo is housed in a deconsecrated Victorian chapel of rest. Upstairs is a café, serving with displays of reptiles and diverse creepy crawlies, but downstairs, in the slaty cool gloom, is the most wonderful aquarium, concentrating on the extraordinarily diverse marine life of South Wales. They even managed to keep an octopus.

Well, we are just about finished setting up our own version. Not a chapel of rest in Tenby, but in the 10'-by-10' summerhouse at the far end of the Jardin des Girrafes. This has been mentioned in despatches as a possible writing space. It's long had a secure electrical supply, and is now fully insulated - ceiling, floor, walls and windows - so gets quite toasty even as autumn storms lash outside, as they are doing as I write. I had planned to do some writing in the summerhouse earlier this month but never got the chance.

It's now been pressed into service as an aquarium and reptile house.

Over the weekend just gone we relocated the fish, both snakes and Squirty Benson Wilberforce III (the axolotl) to what we have renamed 'The Silent World' in honour of fond memories of Pembrokeshire. It was quite a job, but all the animals are now resettled, and here they are.

SBW III enjoys her new digs. Much the same as the old digs.
But why, I hear you cry, have we moved the reptiles and aquatics to the far end of the garden? [More room for bookshelves in the house, maybe? Ed.] Apart, that it, from furnishing a wonderfully calm and contemplative space, ideal for writing, and, more especially, reading, at least, once we have moved mein kampfy chair down there?

The reason is mammalian. 

At this time of the year, the dogs (two) and cats (four) tend to bring their little friends in with them, which, when they get bored, burrow into the soft furnishings and emerge to bite the humans, especially Mrs Crox. 

It doesn't matter how many times we shampoo the mammals, how many times we medicate them, how many times we fit them out with flea collars - we need to fumigate the house. And of course we cannot do this without squirting the sofas, cushions and even mein kampfy chair liberally with insecticide. The sort of insecticide that's lethal to aquatic life, and probably not very nice for reptiles. Hence the need to move them out of the house.

We rid ourselves of carpets years ago - all except, that is, for the stairs. My next task is to rip all that out.

And, it being a wet Bank Holiday Monday and thus ideal for inside DIY jobs, I am now about to do just that. I shall need a stout pair of gloves and a crowbar. Not to rip up the carpet, but to fend off the fleas, which, enraged, attack me from their last remaining lair. Please understand that these fleas are the size of small wolves. They have midnight-black, diamond-hard carapaces, luminous red eyes and fangs like steak knives.

Before that I'm going to have a coffee.

I shall report back.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


This year has seen the combination of warmth and weather for our apples to crop early. The Jardin des Girrafes is dominated by a large, rambling and reliably productive Bramley apple tree of unknown age:

Although I've pruned it now and then, even lopping off the occasional branch, I am entirely the wrong physique for long ladders (think 'inverted pendulum') and so haven't been able to reach the topmost branches either to prune the tree or gather the fruit.

At this time of year, then, unpicked fruit, often starting its fall from altitudes of four or even five metres, hits the deck with the impact of a small asteroid. The peace of the garden is episodically interrupted by the ominous basso crump of an apple the size of a baby's head making landfall .  … if it doesn't come to a painful end en route.


Had Newton sat under our tree, he'd have discovered gravity several years sooner and history might have been irrevocably altered.

Now, this was all good and fine when the tree was all that there was in the Jardin des Gs apart from a lawn. Now that the garden is populated at ground level by several chickens …

                  … and a rabbit …

   … none of whom have been fitted with crash helmets, action has been deemed necessary. Enter, then, this rather wonderful long-handled apple-picker, recently purchased at a local emporium of gardening equipment.

Thanks to this, I can now harvest the highest apples with ease, so they can get corralled into a jam kettle before they can concuss a chicken or bash Bunny's brains out.

As you can see, the apple-collecting attachment can be removed and replaced with attachments for other tasks, notwithstanding inasmuch as which Mrs Crox has promised me the pruning attachment for Christmas.