Archive for September, 2017

Gin tasting

Thursday, 28 September, 2017

With a couple of bottles of gin running low, I restocked with another couple of different brands. I realised I then had four different types of gin on hand – enough to do a taste and comparison test! So I recruited my wife to help me do a blind test. She poured a scant finger of each into four different glasses, and labelled them 1 to 4, without me knowing which was which. Then after I tasted them all, she revealed which was which. Here are my notes.

Procedure: I began with the aromas. I took a few sniffs of each glass, taking time to breathe clear air in between the different samples. After writing aroma notes, I took a sip of each gin, neat. In between each one I sipped water to clear the palate. Gin by itself is very strong, but it’s a good way to get the full effect of the flavours. After trying each one neat a couple of times, I added a small amount of soda (about 1:1 with the gin) to each and repeated the tastings. Finally, I added a good amount of soda to each, reducing it to about a 1:3 ratio – roughly what I’d normally mix for drinking. I didn’t use tonic, because (a) I think it would mask the flavours of the gin and (b) I normally use soda as my mixer because I don’t like the added sweetness of tonic.


Game of Thrones, Season 2, Ep 6 “The Old Gods and the New”

Monday, 25 September, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Winterfell: In the previous episode, Bran had also asked Osha about another dream image he’d seen: the ocean coming to Winterfell (which is inland) and lapping at its borders. Now we see what that meant: Theon’s forces have used their coastal attack to launch a raid inland as far as Winterfell, and succeed in overunning the town. This is rather surprising – it seems like a very long stretch for the meagre force he commands.

Anyway, Theon confronts Bran and reasons with him that Bran should declare that his people should bow to Theon’s rule, lest he be forced to slaughter them. Bran consents, but is not happy about it. He clearly feels the responsibility for his people. Bran also accuses Theon (rightly) of betraying the Starks, after they brought him up. Theon seems a bit unhinged over his divided loyalty, and in a courtyard when a loyal Stark follower spits at him, he orders the spitter’s death and hacks his head off himself.

Osha approaches Theon at night and seduces him. But it’s a ploy to get access to Bran, his younger brother, and Hodor, whom she releases and leads on an escape into the night. It looks like she’s grown fond of Bran and the Starks, and is going to be helpful to them.


Game of Thrones, Season 2, Ep 5 “The Ghost of Harrenhal”

Sunday, 24 September, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The Stormlands: Cat and Brienne are talking to Renly Baratheon in his tent, when suddenly a ghostly black shape enters and stabs Renly through the heart. This looks like the demonic thing that Stannis’s red witch woman (whose name I learn is Melisandre) gave birth to at the end of last episode. I thought Renly would last longer than this, but he keels over dead within the first minute of this episode! Alas, the guards rush in and assume Brienne killed Renly, so a fight breaks out. Brienne kills the two guards defending herself.

Brienne is distraught over the death of her liege, but Cat convinces her to flee and avenge him later, rather than die now. Later, as they travel away from Renly’s camp, Cat says she’s heading back to Winterfell. Brienne, impressed with Cat’s bearing, decides to swear allegiance to her. This gives Cat a formidable guard and ally. Perhaps she might need Brienne before much longer.

Meanwhile, Stannis is less than sad at his brother’s death, and Renly’s bannermen look to be switching to his side now. Stannis’s lieutenant (named Davos, the one who took Melisandre to give birth), questions what is going on, and obviously mistrusts Melisandre and her demonic connections. Davos insists that the campaign on King’s Landing not be accompanied by Melisandre, and Stannis agrees. I think he’s lying though… Stannis seems to think Melisandre is well worth having around. What happens next with the demon thing is going to be interesting to see… Was it a one-off thing just to kill Renly, or is it lurking around waiting to strike somewhere else??


Game of Thrones, Season 2, Ep 4 “Garden of Bones”

Sunday, 17 September, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

It looks like Joffrey’s guards weren’t taking Arya, Gendry and the others to King’s Landing… they end up in a new location called Harrenhal: The place looks like a half-melted castle. As they’re marched in, Arya’s fat friend asks what can melt stone, and Arya replies, “dragonfire”.

It turns out this is where Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane is, and each day he chooses a prisoner, apparently at random, to torture to death for information. Over the episode we see a couple get taken away. During the night, Arya recites a list of the people she wants to kill: Cersei, Joffrey, one or two others, and now she adds The Mountain. Finally, Gendry is chosen and strapped to the torture chair. But then Tywin Lannister arrives and tells everyone off for killing valuable prisoners. He asks Gendry if he has a trade and Gendry says he’s a smith. Tywin instantly recognises Arya is a girl, and says she can be his new cup maiden. So they are saved from a terrible fate, at least temporarily.

It seems everything I try to predict about what will happen to Arya next is wrong. So I’ll say she won’t cut Tywin’s throat in his sleep, find her sword, rescue Gendry, and escape from the Lannister camp – because that’s what I want her to do.


Game of Thrones, Season 2, Ep 3 “What is Dead May Never Die”

Sunday, 17 September, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Let’s pick up from last episode’s cliffhanger, North of The Wall: The recap highlights before the opening credits reveal enough that I can now see that it’s the wildling farmer guy carrying a baby into the woods. We don’t see exactly what happens to the baby, but when Jon comes around with a bloodied face he tells his commander that the wildling – whose name is Craster – appeared to be giving a newborn son to some creature/thing. One guess what it was… [cough]white walkers[cough]. Commander Mormont tells Jon to mind his own business, they need allies like Craster north of The Wall. Jon accuses Mormont of knowing all along and Mormont gives him a guilty silence.

Craster has had enough of Jon’s snooping and orders the Watch to leave at first light. Samwell tempts fate by talking to the pregnant daughter again, and then forces her to accept a small thing – I think it’s a thimble, because he tells a story about how his mother used to do sewing with it. She conceals it and goes about her farmwork. Prediction: No doubt this will come back to bite Samwell and the Watch in some way in the future. I imagine Craster will find it and banish his daughter to the forest or something. Or maybe he’ll use it as an excuse to betray the Watch.


James Hartwell Williams

Saturday, 16 September, 2017

I was taking a walk from home today and passed through St Thomas Rest Park, an old cemetery, now used for exercising dogs by local residents, as it’s no longer actively used for new burials. I’ve been through here dozens of times but I’ve never taken a good look at the graves and inscriptions.

I did today and was surprised to find this one, which marked the grave of one James Hartwell Williams. The remains of his headstone, in rather bad repair, have been placed on a newer memorial, which lists his significance – he was the first United States Consul to Australia, appointed in 1836. (Well technically it would have been to the colony of New South Wales, as Australia didn’t exist as a nation yet.)

James Hartwell Williams

He didn’t arrive in Australia until 1839, where he served as Consul until resigning in 1858, except for a 6-month period in 1853-54 when he was removed by the American Whig government, before being reinstated by the newly elected Democrat government.

He did not return to the US, but instead sought naturalisation as a British subject of New South Wales. He died in 1881 in St Leonards, and was buried in the cemetery that later became St Thomas Rest Park, in the adjacent Sydney suburb of Crows Nest.

A new bird field guide

Wednesday, 13 September, 2017

After donating blood today (my 58th donation), I went over to one of my favourite bookshops, Abbey’s on York Street in Sydney. I hadn’t planned to buy anything in particular; mostly I wanted to check up on the status of an order I put in for Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie (Publisher | Amazon). Good news: a new shipment of these arrived in Australia today, and I should have my copy within a week.

I also saw that Volume IV of Peter Ackroyd’s History of England: Revolution (Publisher | Amazon) was finally out in the smaller paperback size that I have been collecting, so I picked up a copy of that.

And then browsing the science section, my eyes fell on not a book, but one of those notes that bookshops have nowadays handwritten by a staff member, telling you how much they enjoyed a particular book. It was sitting under copies of a book titled The Australian Bird Guide (Publisher | Amazon). The note said that the writer was a keen birdwatcher and had all the other Australian bird field guides, and really wasn’t sure if yet another one would be capable of adding anything. But she was converted by the unprecedented depth and detail of this guide, saying it contained hundreds of facts and distinguishing features not mentioned by any of the others. This really is the one Australian bird guide to Rule Them All.

So on that recommendation, I bought it. And flipping through it now at home, I too am blown away by how detailed and lovingly produced it is, with lashings of amazing quality illustrations – often 4, 5, 6, or even more different images of each species, showing both sexes, juveniles, intermediate growth stages, moulting phases, breeding phases, perched, in flight, and regional plumage variants. Picking a bird at random – the ubiquitous and boring silver gull – it has eleven different illustrations showing different growth stages and regional variations in the black and white plumage of the wing tips.

My previous guide was The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds (Publisher | Amazon), which I chose over the slightly more popular The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia by Pizzey and Knight (Publisher | Amazon) after browsing through both in a bookshop some years ago. I preferred Slater because it was lighter, I preferred the illustrations, and it had more description of bird behaviour and less of things that I wouldn’t normally see like nests and egg colouration. But this new book definitely wins on all fronts, except the lightness and portability.

I guess this is a recommendation, then! If you’re in the market for a field guide for Australian birds, look no further than the new Australian Bird Guide.

Game of Thrones, Season 2, Ep 2 “The Night Lands”

Monday, 11 September, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

I forgot to mention last time that Tyrion had reached King’s Landing and assumed the role of acting Hand of the King, after showing the written order from Tywin (whom Joffrey had earlier appointed Hand of the King in absentia, probably thinking he’d never show up and so wouldn’t actively meddle – ha!).

And again we get treated to another new location in the opening credits map: a small group of islands with the name “Pyke”. I assume this is the Iron Islands and Pyke is the capital. But let’s begin at…

Dothraki-land: I still don’t have a better name for this land, across the Narrow Sea. Daenerys and company are dying of starvation and thirst, when one of the scouts she sent out returns. Or at least his head does, in a saddlebag on his horse. Jorah says it could have been any of a number of other Khals. Khal is the Dothraki word for “king”, and Khaleesi, Daenerys’s title, means “queen”. (I figured this out some time ago, but never mentioned it before.) A distraught relative/wife of the scout says the other Khal has denied the man his passage to the afterlife by not burning his body. Daenerys orders a pyre built and promises the man will ride with his ancestors this night.


Game of Thrones, Season 2, Ep 1 “The North Remembers”

Saturday, 9 September, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

So I opened my media viewer and looked for season 1, episode 11… and there was none. It was only after a few panicked minutes when I searched online and found that season 1 only has 10 episodes in it, that I breathed a sigh of relief and turned to the first episode of season 2.

The opening credits show a new place on the map: an island called Dragonstone. I immediately thought this must have something to do with Daenerys. Maybe she takes her group of followers on a small ship to an island in the middle of the Narrow Sea and sets up a colony where she starts raising dragons. It turns out this didn’t happen at all.

Winterfell: Bran is still having weird dreams. The recap at the start of the episode reminds me of a bit from the previous episode which I think I forgot to mention last time. He dreamt that he heard Ned’s voice in the crypts where past Starks are buried, and then went down there later to investigate, and ran into his younger brother, who said he was also down there looking for their father! So something weird is going on with Ned Stark and some sort of influence from beyond the grave. I guess we might see his ghost or something at some point.


Heavenly limerick

Saturday, 9 September, 2017

There once was a lady so bold,
Who was sure all that glitters is gold.
It all makes me wonder
If it is a blunder
That a stairway to heaven is sold.