Thursday, September 19, 2013

Clearoutageddon Part Four: The Toy Show Has a Lot to Answer For

When I was a kid, back when we only had two television channels, one of the TV highlights of the year was The Late Late Toy Show: a two and a half hour orgy of toys being paraded in front of you and even better, you got to stay up late to watch it. One of the definite lowlights though was when the host would make an impassioned plea to parents to not forget the gift of reading come Christmas time, before subjecting us to a good fifteen minutes of nerdy kids reviewing the dullest-sounding books imaginable. (That and those stage school brats singing and dancing every half hour; fuck that bullshit.) While my eyes might have been glazing over this segment, that obviously wasn't the case for some of my relatives.

Without fail, I'd get a bunch of books every year. And that was cool, until I turned about ten, after which point I never got one that wasn't educational in some way ever again. As you can imagine, in the face of video games and Lego and the like, educational Christmas gifts (once said relatives were safely away) got tossed to the side and never thought of again. Fast forward fifteen years and most of these were still cluttering up my parents' place, gathering dust. But no more, for the time of Clearoutageddon was at hand!

So, out of the numerous books I got over the years, this DK Encyclopaedia was the only one I ever wanted beforehand, and the last one I enjoyed or got any use out of. I got it for Christmas '95, just in time for a schools quiz I was taking part in a few weeks later. Unfortunately, the questions there turned out to be more about pop culture and current events than science and history, and the weeks I spent swotting up on various subjects from the encyclopaedia went entirely to waste. But I did get a free pen.

The illustrated bible I got another year. It's actually quite nice, but I can't say I was particularly thrilled to unwrap it at the time.

Engendering a similar lack of excitement was this this illustrated history book. Well, at least until I had a look inside, and discovered that...


You know, I sometimes genuinely wonder how differently my life would have turned out if I focused more on the knowledge contained in this book than the nudity. :D

After I got to secondary school and started learning French, various European language books started showing up at Christmas. I remember getting one of these Usborne books in English when I was younger. I quite liked the art style and the hidden rubber ducks throughout, but even that couldn't get me to learn any French of my own free will, or German for that mater. It was tough enough getting to grips with a third language, I certainly didn't need to get started on a fourth.

Not that I could explain that to the gift-givers though.

Also, a Geography counterpart to the World History book that proved to be, sadly, boob-free.

This lot are a bit different, in that I bought most of them for myself. Hey, remember the Filofax? No? Me neither, but the bottom four books here all sought to cash in on that. They were designed to fit into a sort of Filofax for children: a "Fun Fax" if you will.

Possibly the dumbest idea ever.

Knowing nothing about faxes of any sort, I  picked these up on various school trips because I thought they looked promisingly funny/scary. Boy, did I get a lesson in judging a book by it's (detachable) cover.

At the time I leant the two horror ones to a buddy. I don't remember getting any feedback afterwards, but knowing him, there's no way on Earth he possibly enjoyed these, especially Burning Secret which I remember having a sappy friendship between two teenage girls at its core and a distinct lack of gratuitous gun violence.

While we're on the subject of horror, one book that did genuinely freak me out when I was younger was the one in the top right: a selection of (purportedly) real life tales of the supernatural that I bought at a school book fair in '96. Looking back now, I'm pretty sure everything in there was complete toss, but that didn't stop the story about the waxworks coming to life from scaring the shit out of me for weeks on end, and holy shit, that back cover...


Purchased in the same one-off book fair by my brother was Into the 21st Century, a collection of short stories by viewers of The Den (in it's lame, post Zig and Zag incarnation). Hearing the shitty stories my classmates and I would come up for English class week in/week out, I think I made the right choice in steering clear of this.

Finally here, we have a novelization of the first Ninja Turtles movie - a nice little gift my dad picked up given my obsession with the cartoon at the time. As crazy as I was about that though, I've never actually seen the movie, or any of the Turtles movies. Not that I had any opportunity at the time mind. Cinema trips were never something we did, we didn't have a VCR until later and, as far as I know, none of those movies got shown on TV over here. Just think: I went through my entire childhood totally unaware of the Ninja Rap. As for the book itself, I don't remember a bit of it now. I think a Blu-ray purchase might be in order.

More after the jump...

Cooking: Cheese and Onion Soup with Cheese Bread

Having had a disgusting block of rubbery, Jameson-flavoured cheddar in the fridge for about two weeks, I finally decided to do something about it tonight. I was thinking macaroni and cheese at first, but this thing was so rank there's no way that wouldn't have been equally vile. No, what I really needed was some way cut down its sickly sweet faux whiskey flavour, and I thought hiding it away in a cheese bread might just do the trick.

After a quick search I landed on this recipe, which proved nice and easy and used up the vast majority of the stuff. I did still have a bit left over though, so with my bread in the oven, I decided that I'd mix the rest of it with some regular cheddar and try making a cheese and onion soup to go with it.

Aside from replacing three quarters of the milk with stock (I though all milk would make a bit too rich), I went with this recipe for the soup. Well, until I decided it wouldn't yield much soup at all and that I'd double the amount of stock and milk going in. That, of course, meant I didn't have enough flour in there for it to thicken so I ended up having to add a couple of tablespoons more (dissolved in water) before I could add the cheese.

Despite the last-minute alterations, the resulting soup was delicious - nice and creamy, with a tasty, well-balanced flavour, with only a hint of faux Jameson nastiness. Success! The bread, despite containing the vast majority of the cheese had even less of it. To be honest it was a bit bland; ideally I think you'd need to much stronger-flavoured cheese in there than cheddar. I did enjoy the crispiness it leant the outside crust though, and hey, it was fucking edible, which is more than I can say for the stuff that was sitting in my fridge a couple of hours previously. :D