June 28th, 2011

Lisa Scream

questions from taldragon

1. talking of, what's your favourite cookie/muffin recipe? (bonus points for klutz-friendly ones)

Cookies? Muffins? I'll have no truck with either, damn you! I don't approve of cookies or muffins or cupcakes or, Christ in a nightdress, whoopie pies. These are all American baked good and all evoke the flaccidity and syrupyness of American culture at its worst. Cookies are literally flaccid, where a British biscuit has some structural integrity. All these items are too big and too sweet. An English muffin is an inoffensive item you can pile with scrambled egg and smoked salmon; an American muffin is a giant fairy cake, too large to be genteelly bitten into. A cupcake is a muffin with a load of oversugared goop on top. Anyway. you can have my adapted shortbread recipe that makes lovely biscuits. There is a very simple ratio to make decent biscuits: one part sugar, two parts butter, three parts flour.

Jane's Foolproof Grown Up Dark and Sinister Biscuit Recipe

2oz dark sugar
2oz self raising flour
1oz oatbran
1oz plain flour
1oz decent cocoa
4oz salted butter
1 tsp black treacle
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Make sure the butter is very cold. Stick everything else into a bowl, then slice the butter into small chips into the bowl. Get your hands in and rub the butter into the other ingredients. It will take a few minutes and not seem like a dough will form. the dough will be vaguely friable and crumbly, anyway. This is no bad thing. THESE ARE NOT COOKIES. When it's nearly one mass, heat up a spoon in a gas flame (or under a hot tap), dip it into the black treacle and drizzle the teaspoon of lovely unctuous black goop into your biscuit mixture. It is a testament to the fact that I am now irredeemably middle-aged that the only time I ever warm cutlery in a gasflame is to add treacle or honey to recipes. Sigh.

Once your dough is smoothly blended with your hands (don't use an implement, your hands will soften the butter through much better, and you can lick your fingers afterwards, wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave it in the fridge for half an hour or so. Heat the oven to about 180. When the dough is chilled you can roll it out and cut it into shapes with a cutter. Smallish shapes. THESE ARE NOT COOKIES. You are not some gun-toting gutbucket from Houston. It's a sensible dough and will take a lot of cutting, squishing up and re-rolling. If you don't have anything you can use as a cutter, roll the mixture into a long, even sausage and then just slice it into rounds. Place your biscuits (THESE ARE NOT BIKKITS) on baking paper on a tray and shove them in the oven for about fifteen minutes, and give them a poke. They might need another five mins or so. They are ready when you can move one off the baking sheet without it breaking. You can eat all the ones that break.

Unlike, e.g. Nigella Lawson's shortbread recipe, this one works. It has much less sugar than bought biscuits, and the oatbran gives a satifying solidity and massive fibre boost, countered by the lightness of the cornflour. Black treacle is full of iron and calcium; it's the opposite of the empty calories of corn syrup. You can always half-dip these babies in dark chocolate. Or cover one side and then gently dust with dried chili. Don't feed them to children. These are grown up biscuits. wardytron, these are the biscuits you had in your packed lunch last Friday.

2. marry/fuck/kill: Gary Oldman, Tom Cruise, Jake Gyllenhal

Someone clearly needs to fuck the Scientology right out of Tom Cruise. I'd take one for the team, even though he's so short and looks like he'd have unfortunate genitalia. I like a man with a future, so I guess that means I marry Jake Gyllenhal. I'd rather have his sister, though. Spose that means poor Gary Oldman's for the chop, then. He's a good actor, but he always looked a bit too rat-like for my liking, and not in a sexy way, like John Hurt.

3. through a freak time-travel wormhole StarTrekbabble accident, you end up in Nazi Germany. you know German and have money. what do you do?

Well, I don't think I could better this, really. I am not as optimistic or philanthropic as my former pupil though, so I think in addition to her plan I would use the money to buy lots and lost of small, portable souvenirs, to bring back to the future with me and make my fortune. I love that little story; I'd quite like someone to read it at my funeral in lieu of

4. you're setting the English (Lit and Lang) syllabus for a school. what's on it? what's currently studied that you'd ban?

I'd do pretty much what I did at the Virgin Queen's. English is all about stories; so of, course, is history. Grammar, punctuation and vocabulary are the tools you need to tell stories. You also need imagination, and this is the brilliant bit: stories feed your imagination, so even if you think you have none, you can grow some. In year seven (that's when you are eleven, what old-timers call the first year) you should revisit fairy tales, then read a whole load of classical myths and bible stories, so you can compare them to the fairy tales. That would be your prose with a bit of a focus of heroes and heroines (or lack thereof); poetry would be popular ballads from the ninteenth century and various bits of narrative stuff; for non-fiction you should pretty much only ever get topical news stories. We call them stories for a reason, and we should analyse them in a similar way, and they should be topical so you understand better what is going on in the world around you. Various of these topics can be used as prompts for creative writing. The following years would continue that pattern, with Beowulf (in mod translation with original text beside), Arthurian legends, and Chaucer in the second year, with a themed block of different kinds of writing about War, including war poets and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and War Horse. Then in the third year, tales from Shakespeare with key scenes to be read and staged, and themed texts about identity and alienation, so Of Mice and Men, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Animal Farm etc. More complex and abstract poetry than has been studied before. An extension of the stuff about identity would be a block of mixed texts about migration, covering everything from the Kindertransport to the Windrush and more recent stuff, too. Thsi would replace the bit I whige about below.

The GCSE syllabus as it now stands is alright, except the books for literature should be longer. Of Mice and Men and Animal Farm are presently deemed to be GCSE level texts, but they aren't challenging enough. The biggest changes I would make are an absolute distinction between Language and literature, so that those who wished to could drop lit. Lang would then include stuff like the precis and more complex reading comprehension that I did for O level. The distinction between reading tasks and writing tasks in lang would be scrapped, so you would be marked consistently for the standard of your writing across all tasks. Presently you can respond to reading tasks in pidgin/chavspeak English as long as you get the answer more or less right. Uni, jobs and so forth don't work like that, so this cop-out on the part of the education system is one of dozens of examples of the way it fails to prepare kids for real life and equip them with the transferable skills they need for it. The ridiculous fucking notion that everyone needs to do some SHakepeare at GCSE Language leaves teachers like me ploughing through Macbeth with kids who are struggling to write in sentences. I'd much rather spend my time focusing on the skills they really need, that will make a real difference to them.

I'd scrap the speaking and listening codswallop and replace it with a listening comprehension and an extended individual oral examined externally. I'd also scrap the 'texts from other cultures and traditions' bit, which was introduced by well-meaning middleclass lefties to try and make white working class British kids understand their minority ethnic peers better, and make those same minorities feel represented in the curriculum. The anthologies are mixed bag of some brilliant bits of writing and a lot of dreary third rate tosh that happens to have been written by someone from Afghanistan or Bangladesh. I've taught a lot of classes where white Brits were in the minority and the rest groaned at having to study out-dated codswallop about arranged marriages and sparkly saris and African heat and poverty. No one in the room gains anything form it, culturally, except boredom and a vagues sense of embarrassment, and much more would be gained by a deeper understanding of the complex culture whose living history is all around them.

5. you're made Queen. what's your first edict?

Every education secretary since the introduction of the comprehensive system to be lined up against the wall and shot. If you get a grade C in English language you are 1000 times less likely to go to jail than someone who didn't. It isn't very hard to get a grade C in English, and those who consigned approximately 40% of the population to a life of near-illiteracy with all its perils, indignities and mediocrity should pay for it with their blood.